Saved by a Smile (Part 1)…Chess in The Slums

Episode 1
“16 on 16 her dental formation, a novel portrait of chess
Except hers is all white, so she goes first
The world could be seen through her grinders.
A warfront torn apart
Choices beyond her reach
Yet a smile she ekes out
A handheld reflection of royalty
This she recognizes
The patterns of hope
The positioning of dreams beyond a squared environmental template
The sacrifice of daring to smile in the dark
The light could not but find its way
her smile to capture…”We had just returned to the studio after a really exhaustive but fulfilling day of going into the Majidun slum community to introduce the game of chess to the children in the community for the very first time.
I was reminiscing…A community I had made so much plans for with extensive research on how we could tell a new story of the Nigerian child through the game of chess.
It finally became experiential for me as I was finally with about 70 of them
explaining the chess board coordinates.

I had told them “Chess players OBSERVE”.
I had them chorus the “OBSERVE” whenever I called “Chess players” out loud.
They listened with rapt attention.
They learned the names of the pieces with ease.
They learned how to annotate all the 64 squares on the chess board.
They learned how to arrange the black and white pieces on either side.
They had learned so much in just a day
I was humbled. I was awed.

But there was this really small girl that kept following me.
She kept tugging at my trousers.
I lifted her up and asked what she wanted.
She pointed to the bag of chess pieces I was holding.
She wanted to hold on to a piece.
I smiled. She had the cutest look on her face.
I gave her a queen and put her down.
I watched her run off with the widest grin I had ever seen on a child’s face.
She started showing off to all her friends,
while clinging on to it tightly.

Michael Ossai had captured the moment instantaneously with a professional camera in his custody.

While we were checking through the pictures we had taken, back at the studio, I saw hers.
It was the most captivating picture I had ever seen.
I could not get over why this girl chose to smile so cheerfully in the midst of so much darkness and uncertainty in this world.
She was unfazed,
Without showing vulnerabilities.
She smiled like she held the world in her little hands.
I kept thinking about her.
I wanted to know her name,
know her dreams and her ambitions.
I would give anything to see her smile that way again.

The smile that makes the world stop…

The next time we were in the community to profile the children,
I spotted her from afar.
She ran towards me. I was elated.
She remembered me.
I lifted her up and asked for her name.

She said in a low squeaky voice, “Basirat”.
I asked “What do you want to become when you grow up?”
She said, “A Nurse”, with a deep Yoruba accent.
I was marveled.
She sounded so sure.
I asked again and she repeated the same thing and gave off that smile that could melt gold in a matter of seconds.
She is just five years old.

Basirat …Chess in the Slum

The chess classes resumed properly on Sunday afternoon
after a successful launching of the initiative the previous day.
We taught them how to move the pawns and had them spar against each other
it was fun.
I watched them play with so much glee in their eyes
I looked out for Basirat
I watched her with great admiration, as one of our instructors showed her how to move a pawn.
I watched her stretch her hands to make her first move.
Hitherto, she was playing chess!

Little did she know that she wasn’t just playing chess,
she was playing the game that could affect everything about her life positively in a matter of time; after all, in chess, a pawn could march on to become a queen.

I thought about her dream and ambitions.
She wants to be a nurse.
She knows that at this age.
She dares to dream.
She wants to save lives.
However, she needs to be saved from the slums first.

I might not have all the money in the world
but one thing is for sure,
I will watch her grow for the next few years
and I will get people to help her grow towards this great dream
without her missing it along the line all because of our expired educational system.

I hope this picture saves her, so she can be in a better place to save other lives.
I hope she goes global.
I hope she trends on all social media platforms.
I hope she becomes the muse for every writer’s pen.
I hope she becomes Royalty.

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