by Favour Ogbue
“Where you think say be ‘home’? Who even carry una comot here this early mormor?” He asked in pidgin.
“My mummy is waiting for us in the Town. She said that we should board a bus to the Town, that she is going to be there waiting to pick us up.” I replied, hoping that the beads of sweat on my forehead that chilly morning were invisible.
“You sure?” He asked again.
“Yes,” I replied with my confidence returning and then continued. “My aunty brought us to the park but because she was already running late for school. She told us to come to this bus, that you would understand.” I turned towards the exit looming with people and waved. When he asked me for our fare, two hundred naira per seat, I was sure I had convinced him.
Maria sat on my laps while James sat behind me on the ride to Town. The worn-clothes-wearing boy positioned us close to him, making sure that after every bus stop, we were still on our seats. James asked me in whispers if I really knew the way home and I told him to trust me. I had often heard daddy tell mummy those same words whenever she was disturbed about anything, and she calmed down. I hoped it would calm James down too.
After some minutes of riding in the bus, accompanied by my successful attempts to stay awake, the bus came to a halt in another park – this one was bigger, busier and noisier than the one we just left behind. Conductor – I had heard people in the bus call the worn-clothes-wearing boy that and he answered – fetched our bags from the remaining luggage and asked us where our mother was. I told him that I had not seen her; maybe she hadn’t arrived, or had arrived but was looking for us, or … but I was sure she was going to come.
I felt hot all over as I remembered how those men lowered mummy and daddy into the ground. I fought back the tears. Could my words become true? Could mummy come right now and tell us that it was all a huge mistake and we could go home now? These thought ran through my mind. The thoughts were comforting until I was jolted back to reality.
“Make una sidon here,” he said pointing at a wooden platform he had just set up in front of a closed stall, just beside where the driver had parked the bus.
“When una mama come, make she come meet me for una bag. I dey go find passenger. Una go see me for that side,” he said as he pointed to one of the entrances of the park before leaving, beckoning on different people to enter his bus. I was dismayed and so was James.
“You should have told him the truth!” James cried.
“Sssh!” I shunned, “someone can hear you.”
“If I had told him the truth, he would have sent us back to Aunty Teacher, and she may flog us with her big cane. Do you want that?” I whispered to him.
“No,” he replied still crying.
“Do you want to go back home?”
“But how can we go now that Conductor has refused to give us our bags?”
“Trust me,” I repeated those words again.
In no time, the bus was almost full. Conductor returned and asked if our mother had arrived, and we chorused a ‘No’. Murmuring and complaining about how careless some parents can be with children that some barren women were crying day and night for, he took us to the kiosk of a fat but pretty woman. He had a brief conversation with her that we did not hear, and began to go back to his bus.
As we began to settle down into the seat we were ushered into, the fat woman called out to him, “What if the person no con come?”
“That one no go be problem; I dey come back. If she no come, I go carry them go back go find their aunty.”
There was no turning back now. James looked at me with fear in his eyes. Maria began to cry; she was hungry. I bought some snacks with the hundred naira note that Conductor had given to us as balance. While James and Maria ate, I thought hard about what to do. The only way there was, was to board another bus back to Port-Harcourt; I knew we lived there at least. I sneaked out to find a bus going to Port-Harcourt and I found one.
I said to one of the men there, “My mummy is eating over there and she sent me to ask you how much the fare to Port-Harcourt is.”
He looked briefly at the kiosk overflowing with people and then replied, “Two thousand naira.”
“Two thousand naira?!” I almost screamed, shocked, because I had only five hundred naira for the three of us.
However, surprisingly though, he responded. “That’s how we saw it this morning o, my son! From one thousand four hundred naira to two thousand for no reason at all. Just go and tell your mother that the fare is now two thousand.”
“Thank you very much, sir!” I replied, dejected.
I sneaked back before the fat woman would notice my absence only to find my brother searching for me with his eyes. He smiled in relief when he saw me; I could only fight back tears.
We sat there in silence – Maria sleeping in my arms, James drawing weird pictures with his feet and I, thinking of what next to do. The sun was shining brightly now and I knew it was approaching noon, and by this time in school, we would be going for break. Conductor would be going to be back soon and I was determined to go home because mummy had told me on few occasions that whatever good thing I set my mind to achieve, with determination and hard work, I could achieve it. Going home was my goal and somehow, I was going to get my siblings and I home.
I had the determination, what was left was hard work. What kind of hard work could get us home? The idea came with an entourage of smiles on my face. So I sneaked out of the kiosk again; this time, with James, Maria and our bags.