One hour after closing time, Timothy wasn’t back yet. Bola was beside herself with worry. She couldn’t keep herself calm as she paced the small confines of her roadside shop. Bola rubbed one sweaty palm nervously against the other as her eyes remained glued to the road, scanning every commercial bus that rolled by for her son. He should be back by now!
Bola came out of her shop, avoiding the small puddle of water on the floor – an aftermath of the downpour of rain barely an hour ago – and walked a few steps to the shop directly beside hers to check the time for probably the hundredth time. “He is not back yet?” Mama Ngozi asked upon seeing her.
Bola swallowed, trying her best to keep calm. “No” she said stiffly, her eyes on every bus her eyes sighted.
“Calm down, I’m sure he would be here soon, besides, he is just an hour late” she pointed out. “Don’t kill yourself before he arrives”
And if he doesn’t arrive? Bola swallowed. She was torturing herself beyond necessary but she couldn’t help it. Timothy wasn’t usually this late. At most, he gets back thirty minutes after closing hour. She never should have allowed him to go to school, especially after what happened the previous night. Bola bit her lip nervously as she walked back to her shop.
A bus pulled to a stop and her eyes instantly snapped up, scanning every passenger that alighted for her son’s familiar figure. Once again, she was left with increased fear and frustration when the bus rolled away without her son in view. She contemplated going over to George’s office to tell him but she didn’t want to add to his worries, especially since she wasn’t even certain if anything was wrong. She could hear the fast beating of her heart, the screeching sounds of cars rolling past the road, and something else… The familiar sound of chattering children made her turn to see Loveth and her siblings approach the shop. She was happy to see them but that only further heightened her worry. Timothy always arrived before his siblings. Bola blinked back unshed tears and put a plastic smile on her face for her children as they drew up to the shop.
“Good afternoon ma” they greeted unanimously as they trodded into the shop.
Bola smiled tightly, responding to their greeting without the usual enthusiasm. “How was school?” she asked more out of necessity as she removed Jerry’s small schoolbag from the small of his back.
Loveth smirked. “We had a new comer in class today”
Bola could tell with that simple look in Loveth’s face that she doesn’t exactly like the development but she was too worried to indulge Loveth now.
“Where is T.boy?” Tessy asked.
Bola raised her eyes to scan the road again and nearly sagged with relief as she spotted Timothy afar off, walking towards the shop. She had never been more relieved in her life. She smiled genuinely, for the first time all afternoon. “That’s him coming” she pointed in the direction and Loveth took off instantly. Bola released a sigh of relief as she took an apple from the shed and sliced it in two for Jerry and Tessy who were already complaining of hunger. They were obviously eating into her capital but there was nothing she could do about that. She couldn’t keep her children hungry because she wouldn’t dare touch her capital, could she?
Timothy drew up to the shop and Bola was up in an instant. The relief she felt at having her son in one piece was unexplainable, but she still wanted to know why a commercial bus hadn’t dropped him off like it usually did.
“Good afternoon ma” Timothy greeted, prostrating to greet Bola.
Arms akimbo, Bola shook her head. “My God, Timothy, you’ve almost given me a heart attack. I thought something had happened to you. You’ve never been this late; what happened?” she queried without even answering his greeting. “Why didn’t a bus drop you off at this junction?”
Timothy blinked and looked at the wooden floor of the shop. “I… I didn’t take a bus”
Bola frowned, not understanding. “What do you mean by that?”
“You trekked?” Bola’s voice rang out. “From where? School?” Bola couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She knew the distance to his school and could not imagine any sane person walking that distance. “Did you lose your money?”
Tim shook his head.
Bola swallowed and lowered her voice. “Then, why did you trek, Tim?” his siblings stared silently at the unfolding drama.
“I…” Tim raised his eyes to his mother. “There is no money at home, so I thought I should… save the money for my transport so we can use it” he put his hand into his pocket and brought out forty Naira.
Bola stared at Timothy, shocked beyond reason. Timothy had always been the sweetest kid she had ever met – a blessing that she happened to be his mother – but never in her wildest imagination did she imagine that he would do something like this. Something so thoughtful… Bola blinked back tears as she leaned forward slightly, dropping to Timothy’s height. “You… you shouldn’t have, Tim” Bola’s voice broke as she put her hand gently on his cheek. “It is the duty of your Daddy and I to provide for you and your siblings, you never should have trekked that distance, especially after what happened last night…” Bola took a deep breath. “Promise me you won’t do that again” she said sternly, swallowing the lump that formed in her throat as she kept her tears at bay.
“I… I just wanted to help” Timothy mouthed quietly.
Bola nodded several times. She should be telling him just how wonderful a son he is but she was so overwhelmed with mixed feelings. Her children shouldn’t have to go through such hardship. She had envisaged a happy and stress-free life for her children; never did she imagine that her son would have to trek to school in a bid to save money. “You trekked to school in the morning; you must have arrived school late”
“They did not flog me” he answered.
“Oh, my son…” Bola pulled Timothy into a tight hug, holding on to him like she never wanted to let go. She sniffed and pulled back. “How is your chest now? Did you feel any pain? Anything?” she asked seriously.
“No. I am fine, mummy” Timothy grinned.
Bola sighed in relief. “Okay” she rose to her full height. For the first, she collected the money from Timothy, palming it with a tight smile on her face. She took her purse and went to Mummy Ngozi’s shop beside hers to buy some food items. Minutes later, she returned to the shop with rice and some ingredients. “You kids should go home now” she said, handing over the rice to Loveth. She faced Timothy. “Prepare jollof rice for you and your siblings”
“What of you and daddy?”
“Don’t worry about us, okay? Just make sure you all are satisfied” Bola answered.
Bola watched her children shrug on their school bags and walk out of the shop. At last, Bola allowed the tears hanging on her lashes to break free. She stared at the disappearing back of Timothy, wondering just what she had done to deserve such an amazing child.
Timothy ignored the sting in his buttocks as he walked home with his siblings bouncing along. He was really happy with himself. He knew his mother hadn’t exactly praised him or endorsed what he did but he had glimpsed that happiness in her eyes. That look that said louder than words that she was proud of him. That was all that mattered. It more than made up for the lashes of cane he got for arriving school late. Seeing his siblings happy at the prospect of good food was all he needed. He truly felt like their big brother.
Tessy and Jerry went ahead, running at intervals, carefully avoiding the water puddles. “How was school, Love?” Timothy asked Loveth who walked quietly by his side. She wasn’t her usual chatty self.
“We had a new comer today” she stated.
“The whole class likes her” she frowned.
Loveth twisted her mouth. “She answered so many questions today, even my teacher likes her already”
Timothy saw what the problem was and hid a smile. “She must be very brilliant. That means you would have to read a lot for your exams”
“I don’t read a lot but I
always come first” she said proudly.
Timothy smiled. Loveth wasn’t exaggerating. Even without reading, she always came first. But he didn’t want her to rely on that so much. He didn’t think this ‘new comer’ was a threat to Loveth but she didn’t have to know that. “That was before this new comer arrived. You don’t want her topping you in class, do you?”
Loveth’s eyes flashed. “Never. I would read everyday. Lydia is not taking my first position from me”.
That was the fierce determination Timothy was hoping for. And knowing Loveth, this ‘Lydia’ wouldn’t have a prayer.
They walked into the house and Timothy soon started cooking. “When would you teach me how to cook?” Loveth asked as she watched her brother put ingredients in the pot of rice on fire.
“You are still too young for that” Timothy answered.
“I’m not young” Loveth said aggressively. “You are just four years older than me”
Timothy noticed her emphasis on ‘just’ and shook his head. “Well then, when you are four years older, you’d be allowed to cook”
Loveth smirked, her small mouth moving to the side. “I would make rice and beans all by myself, you’ll see”
Timothy noticed that determined glint in her eyes and frowned. “Don’t go doing something stupid now.”
Loveth kept mute as she stared longingly at the bubbling pot of rice. She could already perceive the aroma. “It has been so long we ate meat” she said absently.
Timothy glanced at his sister and saw the wishful look on her small eight years old face. Tessy and Jerry finally entered the kitchen and he knew without asking that the hunger was digging deep. Inspiration struck and his face lit up. “You know what? We would eat meat today”
“We would?” He watched the faces of his siblings lighten up and he felt like a giant.
Timothy glanced outside. “Yes” he added some water to the pot on fire and put the lid. “Follow me” he said and walked out with his siblings on his tail.
As the day wore on, Bola forgot all about her fearful inclinations and unease, all she could think about was the wonder which was her son. She didn’t know what her life would be like, without her wonderful husband and exceptional children. Despite the hardships they had to face, her children were her joy and comfort.
She went to George’s office which was just a walking distance from her shop and thankfully, was able to get some money from him. She left him to finish up for the day, bought some foodstuffs which would last a few days and finally closed the shop for the day. It had been an exceptional day and she prayed nothing would turn this day sour.
The sound of cutlery rang out as the four children devoured their meals of jollof rice and snails. It was the sweetest thing they had eaten in a long time. Timothy was so happy the idea of snails had popped into his head. They had all gone out, including Jerry, searching for snails in the compound. Thanks to the rain that fell during the day, they were able to find a good number of snails, though they were all small. Everyone seemed to forget about hunger as they worked together. It was the most fun thing they had done in a while.
After soaking the snails in hot water, they all – excluding Jerry – worked on the shells, removing the meat inside after Timothy had shown them how. Now eating the deep fried snails, it almost tasted better than any other they had ever eaten. Timothy made sure he reserved some food for his parents, despite what his mother had told him.
They were eating and chatting cheerfully amongst themselves when Timothy felt it again. His spoon dropped noisily from his fingers as mind-numbing pain struck is chest, sending him breathless.
Loveth glanced at her brother. “Tim?” she called. “What is it?” her hands grew cold as she saw the same look she had seen the previous day in her brother’s eye. “Tim?”
Timothy tried to shake his head in a bid to dismiss the worries of his siblings, but the pain was too much. His gaze grew blurry as sweats pebbled on his forehead. Loveth ran over to his side as Tessy and Jerry crowded around them. Loveth tried to rub Tim’s chest the way she had seen her dad do the previous day but it only seemed to get worse as Tim doubled over, falling off the chair onto the floor as pain engulfed him. Jerry and Tessy started crying as fear and confusion settled. “Sorry Tim” Tessy said, crying in confusion as Loveth remembered the balm of yesterday.
She ran in search of it, willing herself not to cry as tears clawed at her lids. “Let us go and call mummy” Tessy cried out as Loveth returned with the balm and started rubbing it on her brother’s chest, but it didn’t seem to be doing the magic it did the previous day. “Tim…” she called over and over again. She was scared of leaving him. Scared that if she left him alone, something bad would happen. Timothy seemed to be falling unconscious and the noise of her younger ones crying was making Loveth crazy.
Suddenly the front door opened and she flew up. “Mummy” she yelled.
Bola flew into the sitting room, flinging everything in her hands carelessly. “Tim” she yelled as she pushed his siblings out of the way, lifting her son in her arms. “Timothy…”
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