Our parents were supposed to choose a high school for us.
With my father dead and mother remarried in another village, I had my grandmother, who was uneducated and didn’t know much about school. She depended on me for most information.
I had started writing letters for her since the fifth grade. She respected what I wrote and got responses from what we sent. She had a special way of dictating her letters. She would call me into her room and explain everything to me in our local language, Kono. She would not allow me to take notes.
I managed to memorize all she would say — my first letter was understood and there was a positive response. I feared my English may not have been anything to write home about, but my spelling was great.
She was boastful about me in the market or in cars on her way to see her family for food. Grade 7 brought out the good, bad and ugly in me.
We were given the documents needed to be filled out for our choices of high schools all over the country. The forms were distributed to everyone in the class, except for me. My exam and school fees were yet to be paid.
My grandmother was away, but she was still grappling with how we would pay my school and exams fees, and keep me in school. We were given a month to pay all that we owed. Life was critical at this point.
Augustine’s last chapter: Major Problems Won’t Dissuade Me Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale
My grandmother left no food for me while she was gone, thinking that she would be back soon. Thank God I was not big on eating rice. I could go without rice for weeks. Fruits were supportive, and I lived on them.
I tried finding out my grandmother’s whereabouts, to no avail. I then inquired about my mother and was told she moved with her husband to Kambia, Sierra Leone. I had no means of getting in touch with my mom and stepdad. Because he was my stepdad, he did not take me seriously.
The school issue was tense, and I was in tears as I would hear my friends talk about the schools they had chosen and what their expectations were. Some chose boarding schools or schools in Freetown, the capital city. I was just busy thinking hard.
My grandmother finally returned from her journey. I did not ask her where she went to, but told her how much money we needed for my exam and school fees. She burst into tears when I told her the whole school was only waiting for me — and that I was given only one month to pay. At least it was only the beginning of the one month.
My grandmother made up her mind to go see mom and her husband in Kambia, thinking they would be ashamed to say no to my school request.
The road to the place was far, and my grandmother did not know how to go there. She invited one of her family members from the other village, who would help us reach our destination. My grandmother could not speak Creole (English version) well. I was also not too confident in speaking it to outsiders. The man who accompanied us was half-educated.
Our journey was nice. We bought enough food to eat quite well. We had to cross a large river. The water was black, and it was an old ferry that they pulled across. It was fascinating. The river was the Little Scarsies. It was a very long river that ran through to Guinea, where it had its source. It was breathtaking going through the river on that archaic ferry.
We made it late in the evening. The town was overtaken by coconut trees. It had long, short or crooked trees. Coconut was sold in different versions. The oil, the nut, the cake or otherwise. I loved it all. We arrived at my mother’s home when my stepdad was away at work.
My mom was the happiest, but she was cash-strapped. She was only a housewife. I noticed the hard time we were going to face to gain money for my school.
My stepdad came home and started an argument with my grandmother. He did not want me in his house, saying there was no place to keep me there. I lived in fear there, but my mom and grandmother were my saviors. They protected me to the last.
We went to church, and for the first time, I would receive Communion away from home. It was all the same pattern. Catholic in Motema was Catholic everywhere. I loved my church more. I started getting the thought of becoming a priest to be able to visit all the different places a priest goes. I thought that was a cool idea. But my grandmother wanted me to become a teacher. My letters only added to the admiration she had for me, so she went all out for my education to save me in the future.
We stayed for a week with my mother and stepfather. The signs of gaining nothing on the visit were prominent. My stepdad would always come home angry and create an argument with my grandmother. We were always on the edge. So, we had to leave earlier than planned.
Grannie had some money she kept for the unknown. She was right to save it. My mom had my younger sister Theresa. She was our third family member. She was quiet and mature. My mom was always in tears when confusion arose between Grannie and my stepdad. It was never a good situation because he would turn against me, and my mother was left helpless. She loved her mom, but she could not say anything to her husband. It was not out of love of her husband, but respect for both parties.
Grannie waited for my stepdad to leave, then asked the man who accompanied us to get ready to leave. I virtually had nothing to pack — my grandmother had hoped to buy me some clothes if things went well. There was no luck.
When I thought about my disappointment, I burst into tears. The thought of leaving my mother so soon brought me more tears as we ate and started leaving the house for the park.
The park was near the sea. I could not understand why the sea would bang the edge of the wall that was cemented there to stop the water from intruding into the town. It was always very hard, with loud bangs. I hated the site, and thank God, we were not obliged to go down to the edge.
We met some taxis begging for passengers to fill out their trucks. We got the first one and my grandmother negotiated for a 12-year-old boy to pay nothing. She claimed I would sit on her lap and not take up a seat. I sat on her lap, but I was too tall to fit there. It was uncomfortable. I prayed hard for someone to alight, then I could fill in their seat. Grannie could not wait, either.
I was afraid of the bad road conditions and the heavy speed of the driver. We arrived back at the ferry. This was a death trap. It was a bare ferry. It had no engine, it was manpower and cables attached to each shore that pulled it. I think that was the last of its type in the country.
It was our turn to enter the naked ferry. The water was dark and fearful, but its speed was terrific in the center. We crossed and had nearly made it to the other side.
I then created a panic that remained in my grandmother’s mind for the rest of her days.
I was anxious to see whether I could swim and arrive before the ferry on the shore. It was a dangerous notion, but boys had to be boys. I braved it out as I left my grandmother’s hands to see how best I could make it. I looked for an open space to run very fast and jump to the shore.
But it was quite far, and my jump could not get me to the shore.
I dropped in front of the ferry as it advanced on me. I did know how to swim well and started showing signs of drowning. My swimming skills had all but vanished with the imminent danger I was facing. A good Samaritan stretched his hand and pulled me out very fast. I cried loudly and everyone spoke rudely to me, except my grandmother, who put me on her back to console me.
Our journey continued and I stayed close to my grandmother. Vacation was not the best this time. I returned very poor.
There was still time to pay my exam fee, but I had no idea where to get the money. My grandmother was strong, and determined to get me a proper education to become a teacher. She fought hard for the completion of our mighty new house. It was still incomplete when people started asking for rooms to rent. My grandmother stressed that it was a family house and she would not rent it all out. We were 10 and it was nine rooms.
Food was problem at home. My grandmother worked very hard to feed us, but the police had disturbed her business producing illegal hard liquor called “Omole.” Grannie was determined to restart the business, hoping the police would not see her this time. We resumed in order to pay my school and exams fee. I had gone to register without money, asking the headmaster to be patient. He understood, but refused to allow me to register.
I still had three weeks.
I hoped the poverty would have an end in sight, but my people suffered a lot. Our garden would have been a good place for practicing farming, but none of my uncles understood it that way.
My school was important. Time was running out. My grandmother prayed for divine intervention.
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