Our house was incomplete — still — but my thoughts were on school and soccer.
I was quite a local champion among my peers. I was the only boy to constantly provide a ball for every game we had. Of course, I was stealing — still — from the little money my grandmother and I were saving from the omolé sales. I was popular, but too lazy for many people’s comfort.
My grandmother’s thoughts stayed focused on fulfilling her promise to provide me a good education.
My first cousin Alex, commonly called Tamba or T-Boy, was my admirer, but I never let him know where I got the money to buy soccer balls. I was quite skillful; no one in my house knew. I was also called Tamba Magician (Tamba Ngofo, in Kono). Our house boomed with omolé.
T-Boy had watched the omolé flow in the house. We were constantly selling and brewing. Many came to the house to get their shots. T-Boy had made arrangements to take some bottles out to sell. We were uncertain about his true motives.
One day, he watched everyone keenly, understanding that we were concentrating in the kitchen. He entered the house quickly, picked up a couple of bottles and placed them at the window before passing through the back door. Soba Peppeh, my grandmother, had seen him rush out, and became suspicious. She quickly entered the room and went close to the window.
T-Boy, not watching, quickly put in his hand to take a bottle. Grannie caught him in his first attempt. He shouted when he was caught. He had no excuse and felt very ashamed, which eventually led to his going to live in Yengema, Sierra Leone, for good. But I loved him. I searched for him from school to our house, but to no avail. I had been his mentor.
He took to his heels and walked to Yengema, which is where I trekked to get to school. That walk was not fun, especially when you were hungry.
Augustine’s last chapter: Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.
We were all always hungry going to school. T-Boy had started a new, struggling life. He was lucky his mother, Tamba Dae, had sisters and brothers scattered all over the place. He went to live with one of them; it was a new life he could not bear at all.
I would miss him, wondering if he missed me at all. First, he should not have run away to Yengema; that was wrong. My grandmother was quite a forgiving woman, and she would have let go of it, as she had been doing for me. Unlike my cousin, I had no one to go to. My mother, who lived in a faraway village with my stepfather, had no cousins or sisters; she only had three brothers (and they lived with my grandmother and me). We depended on each other.
I had gone to school one day when I decided to search for T-Boy. I went to his school, RC Boys Primary School (otherwise known as Christ the King Primary School). I enquired of the teachers, who directed me to his house. I went to the house, but he was not there.
They told me my cousin had returned to his father in Sewafe, where I had unsuccessfully gone seeking school admission. His parents were there.
More recent entries from Augustine:
- School and Home Collide
- My School of Hard Knocks
- Will My School Dreams Become a Nightmare?
- Beyond My Limit
- A Good Result Leaves Me in Tears
He eventually started executing the skills in goalkeeping I had taught him on our bed, behind our house and on the street. I was a goalie myself, so I passed on the skills to him. He became his school’s goalkeeper. They came to play against us one day. Everyone told me T-Boy was the goalkeeper.
That evening, even without money, his former teammates and I had to go see how he would perform. They called him “Robber Man” for a nickname. They also called him “Rubber Stretching” in recognition of the stretches he made to knock away potential scores. But something happened that distracted us from going to see my cousin.
We were gathered to play under the famous cotton tree that stood right on top of our house. Its leaves were something, and it also produced fruit made into country black soap by the women around there.
My grandmother was an expert. Having just completed organizing our teams, we suddenly saw people gathering at our new, uncompleted house. It was difficult to tell what was happening. It was a problem, as people were yelling and crying. We all dispersed and ran in different directions.
In tears, my grandmother explained how a tall, lanky woman had knocked her toes on a small rock in front of our house, fell and died. According to my grandmother, the woman was an ‘’omolé sucker,’’ meaning someone who drinks without end, a drunkard. The woman looked very hungry and pale. Her lips and ankles were swollen, She had an inflated stomach for her size.
It was scary, because it happened in front of our house, which was evidence for the police in itself. There was blood all over the woman’s chest, from the mouth. I detested looking at her. The situation was exciting and fearful — exciting because children were not allowed to look at dead bodies then. It was a taboo.
We were lucky to be first responders. Police were always on the lookout for omolé brewing storing and consumption — it remained illegal.
She was lifted from the ground, but we soon left her due to the blood on her face and chest. It was too much, too soon. I wondered if what was happening was real.
My grandmother was smart, too smart for the police. I told her that a particularly notorious policeman would be coming to take the body, which would lead to an interrogation. It was my grandmother who first had the idea to get rid of any locally brewed gin in the house. Even though the woman had only come by, and fell and died before buying more from us, they would see us as suspects in her death.
It was a quick, hard decision to hide all evidence in our neighbors’ houses and pretend we had nothing in the house. We got rid of a few bottles and the remaining bit was left. I made a quick decision to just write that the toilet was not functioning. I took the gallon in and wrote on the door “no entry, not in use,” and closed the door tight.
There was a policeman who thought this was suspicious. He insisted on going in there, but he found nothing as the overwhelming smell chased him away.
We all moved together with a handful of onlookers who were my supporters. My grandmother was being interrogated for her role in the woman’s death. But she was essentially an uneducated lawyer, and she knew what to say in instances of trouble or in quick decision-making times. She was praised by our neighbors for being very clever.
The lady who died had drunk hard liquor all her life, and ate too little. She was not allowed to drink wine at our house, but would come to eat when she felt like it. That was exactly what she was coming for that day.
Everyone believed she was fit for death. She had sold all her clothes to buy wine. Palm wine was no exception. That was her water. No one knew her village or people. There was no newspaper or radio to disseminate the news about her death, to alert those who may have known her. My grandmother was there to undertake all her funeral expenses. She became the woman’s mother.
This led to another setback for me at school. My schooling had been halted for lack of school fees. It was only the first semester at high school.
The incident at home drew me in, because my grandmother needed help. But I was afraid that the week of problems would not spare me. I thought about giving up standing by my grandmother, but she had stood by me at all times. I had to obey my conscience. I prayed with her. We stayed together.
I had attended only for the first month when the matter of school fees surfaced again. The principal sent someone from the bursary to my class to call names that were paid up. I tried to escape, but he was already standing at the door. He asked all the students to stand up. When he called a name, the person had to sit. I sat down before I was detected.
At the end, he counted those sitting without receipts. I was caught red-handed. I was caught in shame. I was taken to the principal and was given 12 lashes on my bare back for cheating. I had to kneel down for the rest of the day.
I was sent home and asked to bring my school fees. I was afraid to return to the school without the money. I returned home with my friend, Mohamed. We talked about soccer, but I had little interest as I thought about how I could try to finish the first semester.
Mohamed was the one close enough to me to know about my problem with school fees. I bore the pain in secret. I laughed and made fun of it, but deep down I was in tears. That semester, I thought that was the end of my schooling. My grandmother was striving very hard to raise the amount we needed. One of my uncles had taken some of her money, only to get his girlfriend to come. I was with my grandmother, and they called me ‘’Granny Pikin,’’ meaning a son of a grandmother. I was very proud of that name. She was my everything. I made her feel proud.
I had no money from anywhere to pay. Richard Moiwa was Pa Kanjia’s first son. He had left school when our dad died. He returned home to inherit our dad’s riches. But I think he failed in every aspect of taking over Dad’s properties. He ended up working at the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC). He commanded respect, but did not show respect for my education.
I wondered if he wanted me to fail in life, but who was I to judge his intentions?
Finally close to the end of the semester, two weeks before our first-semester exam in December, Soba Peppeh got the full three Leones to pay my school fees.
It was quite unusual to see boys leaving school amid the school year. I will not leave school because of poverty, I assured myself.
Mohamed’s father was a good man. He had a small car, but would endeavor very hard to pick me up every morning to take us to school. This way I wouldn’t fall asleep in class following the very long walk from home.
There were no more omolé sales, though, and that was keeping my grandmother up nights.
She was in tears as we talked. She was determined to let me return to school without counting on omolé. This was another challenge. We decided we were all going to do this together, the whole family.
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