by Favour Ogbue
My plan was to walk some distance on the way home and then board a bus from where our remaining fare could take us home. We set out. We went through the exit gate, all the while looking over our shoulders to make sure that the fat woman had not noticed our absence from the bench. The bus I had earlier gone to inquire about the rate was already leaving the park. I watched as it sped off to the right, a long express road ahead of it. I told James that we were going to walk for a while in that direction and that if he got tired, all he had to do was tell me and we will take some rest; complaining was not allowed.
I was the first to get tired. What? With Maria fast asleep on my back, my feet were almost giving way under me, we stopped to rest under a tree. We were exhausted and hungry, with nothing to eat and I didn’t know how much longer the way was.
“Go back to the village. You still have enough to take you back. Go back and wait for Aunty Mary. It’s only a few days before she comes.”
The voice in my head wouldn’t stop. I cried and James comforted me; Maria, now awake, cleaned my tears with her little palm. Seeing no other way out, I told them we were going back to the village.
“Won’t Aunty Teacher flog you?” James asked totally afraid for the fate that befell us if we went back.
“No, she won’t”, I replied, “If we go now, we would return before she comes back from school and she wouldn’t know where we went. We only have to make sure that that fat woman does not see us – and Conductor too!”
“What will happen if they see us?” James asked innocently.
“They’d go and report to Aunty Teacher that we tried to go home. Then she’ll flog all of us.”
“Okay” was his short reply.
We headed back to the park. Avoiding the fat woman’s kiosk, I found a small space in front of another closed stall and sat my siblings down. After we had a brunch of biscuits and water, I went to find us a bus to go back to the village. We met a girl in school uniform going to board a bus and I begged her to join us and pretend that she was our elder sister because she looked older than us and no one seemed to look at her the way people were staring at us. She agreed, as long as we were paying for her. She carried James while I carried Maria.
One thing kept bothering me though; I couldn’t recall the name of our village. All the names sounded alike to me so, I decided to board a bus whose fare was two hundred naira per seat. The girl with us also confirmed to me that there was a primary school and a catholic church in the village we were headed when I told her that the village had a primary school and a catholic church which was very close to the park. I had felt at ease until, minutes into the drive, I could not see any familiar places; the way seemed longer and there were a few checkpoints on the road.
When we got to the final
destination of the bus, I discovered to my utter dismay that we had indeed been
on the wrong bus. I told the girl that this was not our village.
“Na im be say una go go back na”, she replied in pidgin, not in the least bothered.
“Please, help us. Please, we don’t have any more money and we’re very hungry too”, I said frantically, trying to brush off the fears that now clouded my mind.
“Toh! Me I no know wetin I go do for una oo!” She continued in pidgin. “Take this one”, she said while handing a two hundred naira note to me.”Na the money wey I suppose pay for bus. I don give una back oo! Me I no want trouble.”
We looked on helplessly as she took brisk steps away from us, and some few feet away, she began to run without looking back. We turned to look around us; we were at the end of a tarred road. No park, two or three closed stalls on either side of the road, with so little activity – in fact, in the middle of nowhere. And for the first time since my parents died, I thought to pray. I prayed asking God to forgive us for trying to run away.
But why did He have to take my parents away? What did we do to offend Him? If He hadn’t started it, we wouldn’t have run away. I tried to get us back to ‘Town’ but no one was willing to let us ride in their bus. My lies did not convince them. Even if it did, my eyes swollen and red from crying gave me away. With no other option left, I bought some food with the money the girl who pretended to be our elder sister gave me.
“So how did you get here? How did you come about working for Iya Suliat?”
“I will not be able to tell you all that has happened since then”, I say.
A hen comes to peck at the small pieces of yam in a tray that Iya Suliat left to dry under the sun. I chase it away and return to the stone I was sitting on.
I continue, “We were taken to the Local Government office by the women who noticed us wandering about and begging for money. We also stayed in the home of one of them for about three days, going everyday to the local governemt office until someone called to say that they knew us.
It was Aunty Mary.
A report had been made that very evening we had been discovered, of lost children who had been found. I was happy that she was coming to rescue us and also sad because I knew that we may have caused her a lot of pain and fear by running away. She told the man that was in charge of us that she was going to be there first thing in the morning of the next day but, she never came.
From that time, we have been taken to three different orphanage homes, run away a number of times, escaped being kidnapped and survived through various diseases. We came to this town when we escaped from the last orphanage because a couple wanted to adopt Maria. I was initially working for Mama Patrick along the express road but she said she would not pay me with money. She paid me with food for my siblings and myself.
I was content with it at first because we were famished. But after a few months, I began to look for an alternative because I had not given up on my dream of returning home. We needed money to travel. That was how I found Iya Suliat. Iya Suliat agreed to pay me one hundred naira everyday for washing dishes and two plates of food per day. She has been very kind to us and we sleep inside her buka at night under the tables and get up early in the morning before business starts for the day. We bathe and ease ourselves at the stream a few metres away behind her buka. I have been saving some of the money Iya Suliat paid me. I intend to work for a few more months to save enough money for us to go back to Port Harcourt.”
I smile with a tinge of pride. I see the tears in her eyes – this lady that just moved into the neighbourhood a week ago with her husband, and is now asking me about why we were here and not going to school. She had given us some food twice since she moved in.
“You’re a very strong boy”, she says at last.
I smile and reply, “Thank you.”
She gets up to leave and says, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Meanwhile, you’ll follow me to the house and have dinner with me. My husband is not in town.”
“Thank you, ma,” I say again as we all get up to leave.
We’re back from the Aunty’s house. She gave us fried eggs, vegetables and boiled yam. My siblings ate eagerly; we had not eaten eggs since we left the orphanage home. I’m happy. I have to sleep now. My siblings and I pray and I ask God to make our plans for our journey home successful.