by Favour Ogbue
My name is Jude Afson. I am eight years old. I have two younger siblings: my six-year old brother, James, who was in nursery three before we stopped going to school two years ago and my baby sister, Maria, two months short of being three years. I was also in Primary Two just two years ago. We stopped going to school because Daddy and Mummy died.
Our neighbour then told me “The brake of Daddy’s car failed and ran into an oncoming vehicle. The collision caused a fire and your parents died because of the first degree burns they sustained”. I think he means that my parents were involved in a motor accident and had died as a result. We spent the night with our neighbour that fateful day.
Uncle Peter, daddy’s younger brother, came the next day and took us to the village. On the day after we arrived, there was a small ceremony. My siblings and I saw daddy and mummy in coffins side by side but they looked very dark and ugly. Maria began to cry very loudly and they let us out of the room while my aunty tried to get Maria to stop crying. Later, we saw some men lower the coffins into big holes and it dawned on me that we were never going to see daddy and mummy again. I cried and James cried too.
next few days, almost everyone had left. The only people left were my siblings
and I, Aunty Mary, daddy’s elder sister and the young teacher that lived in our
house in the village. Aunty Mary wanted to go back to her family too but we’d
be left alone all by ourselves when she left. She called Uncle Peter and the
rest of daddy’s siblings but no one wanted take us in. I even heard part of her
conversation with Uncle Peter over the phone:
“I can’t take them in now, my husband is not in support of it. You’re the head of your home and you can stand your ground before your wife…”
“…so I should just leave them here and pretend that they don’t exist? That’s callous!…”
“…at least, send some money to the teacher for their feeding. You’re not the only one facing financial difficulties… Oh! Peter, I’m disturbing you right?…
“No problem. I’m taking Maria along with me. She’s too small to stay without adult care. You can come for the boys when your conscience returns from its journey. I even wonder why I believed you when you were running off to your so called ‘urgent call’ from the office. I should have known better.”
I started to cry. Being in the village house alone is very frightening. What was even more frightening was that Aunty Mary wanted to take Maria away from us. I wanted us to stay together because I had watched a movie where a brother and a sister were separated when their parents died and they never got to see each other again until they were both very old. I didn’t want that to happen to us. Aunty Mary called us later that evening to discuss with us her plan. When she was speaking, I held my brother and sister firmly and I told her when she asked me to say something, that she should not bother taking Maria if she wasn’t going with James and I as well. I also begged her to take us back home, there was electricity and there was also food in the refrigerator so she didn’t have to worry.
“We can also ride the bus to school, so please, take us home”, I said with a voice drowned in tears.
“What do you think will happen when the rent expires?”, she asked me. “Or when the food in the refrigerator runs out? Or even when your school fees are due to be paid? Who would look after you?”
She went on, “The best way is for me to go with Maria. I’d leave some money with the teacher for your feeding. She’s a good woman and she’ll take care of you well. Also, you can stay here for as long as you can. You won’t be kicked out because this is your father’s house. When all else is settled, Uncle Peter will come and take you back to school.”
All three of us were crying by this time. It was so unfair. The more Aunty Mary tried to persuade us, the more resistant James and I were of the whole idea; all we wanted was to stay together. Aunty Mary was frustrated; she had no choice so she obliged us. The next morning, with a small pot of jollof rice and okpa to serve as our breakfast and lunch, Aunty Mary bade us goodbye. She gave the teacher some money and told her to look after us well; she was going to return in a week’s time to take all of us to her house.
That was the last we saw of her. Not because she did not come back for us, but because we left. We were often afraid because the teacher always went to work early and returned hours after the sun has gone down. Sometimes, she’d come back with a man, both drunk to stupor and they would make loud and terrifying noises. I decided that we were going home; we would live at our home until the rent expired and then we would go to Father John-Paul, our parish priest. I was sure he’d give us food and we can live with him. I had two five hundred naira notes from the money Aunty Mary gave us.
One morning, after the teacher had left for school, I carried Maria on my back, strapped my big school bag containing a few of our clothes and some of our books to James’ back and held James firmly with my right hand. On my left hand, I had a plastic bag which held our sandals; we were wearing our shoes and had to leave Maria’s and James’ bags because we couldn’t carry everything. We left for the bus park with the intention of going home. We went to one of the buses where a young man in very worn clothes was shouting, “Town! Town!”, and asked him how much the fare was.
As he sized us with his eyes, fear gripped me. I felt like he could see through us and know that we were running away from the village. He asked us where we were going and with the last ounce of courage in me, I replied “Home.”