He could hear sonorous voices piercing the warm evening air. Craning his neck to get a better view of the children, he smiled. They were so tiny, so innocent.
The headline he had read that morning flashed in his mind. Another child molester caught.
He shook his head and adjusted the sleeves of his kaftan. He felt nothing but disgust everytime he read a news story of someone molesting a young child. How could anyone even think of tainting these young souls? There were better ways to play with kids without scarring them and still get excited.
He collected the packs of sweets from Iya Sunbo and told her to keep the change.
The frail woman put the money in her pouch and firmly retied her wrapper as she danced and prayed fervently for him. Paul was such a nice boy and a regular customer. Three days in each week saw him coming to play with the children during their evening play time. The mothers would complain of tooth decay but still smile their thanks at him for his attention.
His thick lips parted to reveal a set of perfect dentition. He nodded an ‘amen’ and started making his way towards the children.
The suburban nature of the area gave the kids an opportunity to mingle and play games with minimal supervision. The elderly grandparents sat on the balconys to enjoy a little breeze while chewing on tobacco or reading a bible.
Paul bent stiffly to greet them. Their veiny hands waved in reply and brown-toothed smiles told him he was welcome.
The kids screamed wildly when they saw him coming. Their tiny hands grabbing the hem of his long kaftan. Their four to six year old cheeks swelled with anticipation. They all knew what was coming. It was the height of their evening playtime with Paul.
”So, whooo’s ready to play?”, he lulled in his usual playful voice.
The kids screamed again.
Paul tore open the packs of sweet and poured them into the side pockets of the flowing gown.
”Ok, you know the rules”.
The children yelped and nodded their heads.
Paul started moving to his favourite spot, a pavement just behind one of the smaller flats. From the corner of his eye, he saw Emily, the youngest kid of the new neighbour, Mrs Olaolu. It had been a few weeks since he first saw her playing with the other children. Yet she never wanted to join them when they played the game with him. He had thought she would soon overcome her shyness and join the game. Now he knew he had to draw the fresh faced cherub out. No child deserved to be a loner.
He called her name and watched her dawdle towards them.
She stood a distance from the other kids and watched intently.
Paul whisked one of the little cute girls and placed her beside himself on the pavement.
He relaxed against the wall and counted to three. At the mention of ‘GO’, the kids shrieked with excitement and plunged their tiny hands into his pockets.
The game was simple. All the kids had to do was pick sweets from his pocket. . .whilst trying to kill a snake-like thing inside his trousers poking through the holes in his pockets.
The kids yelped as the ‘snake’ moved from one hand or the other, trying hard to be the one to squeeze the hardest, and make it cry.
Emily Olaolu’s face remained without the excitement of the others. Paul squeezed his face and tried to laugh, and tease the kids. He called Emily and asked the others to let her try. The little girl moved closer and did as the other kids were doing.
”Squeeze the snake”, one girl chimed.
”It does not bite”, a little boy offered with a sweet in his mouth.
Emily’s hand lasted a second on the ‘snake’ before she jerked back with a look of bemusement.
Paul breathed in deeply to have a grasp at the words he wanted to say.
”What is the problem Emily?”, he asked with a look of surprised concern. ”Are you afraid of snakes?”
She shook her head slowly and took a step back.
The other kids laughed at her. She must be the most scared girl ever.
Paul asked her what was wrong again.
Emily shook her head.
”That’s not a snake”
Paul lost an ounce of his excitement.
”What did you. . . what else can it be”
Emily took a few more steps back.
”My mommy told me it’s a penis”
Paul felt a quick spin in his head. He tried to laugh but instead produced a nervous chuckle.
Emily turned and ran.
He quickly tried to get up and go after her.
But the dozen or more kids clamouring for sweets and trying to squish the snake till it cried itself to death restricted his movements.
His head started calculating possibilities. He knew he didn’t want to find out what would happen.
He put his hand in his pockets and emptied them. Pouring the sweets on the pavement, he yelled at the kids to move back from him.
He gathered his kaftan to cover the damp patch on it.
He did not follow the girl to see what she would do. He knew. And he knew he had to run.
A stone in front of him had other plans.
He tripped on it,and landed on the half dead ‘snake’ as he heard Mrs Olaolu shouting his name.
Do the bit you can do and watch it go the distance it requires. Keeping your kids safe starts with you and how well you empower them.