I found the car park.
It was a little area with lots of old cabs parked waiting for passengers. They would rush at you as soon as you appeared at the park, but my attention was focused on reaching my destination.
I had to figure out how I could arrive easily without raising alarm. My school was almost closing for the final semester, called third term. I began crying thinking of the time I wasted with my brother. I wondered why Duran, who was supposed to push me to higher heights, would keep me out of school to do his chores and nearly be eaten by a crocodile by the river or killed by a cobra in his house. Well, I had to move.
The first van apprentice that came looked smart; it was only poverty that kept him dirty and uneducated. I did not want to deal with him because he was also quite strong. He would have beaten me up if he found out that I was only trying to hide from paying him.
I remained quiet, waiting and watching to see who was the next apprentice. I dared not move from near my heavy luggage. My secret would be revealed easily.
I quickly saw an old driver with an elderly apprentice who, in his big voice, called out passengers for Kono, the diamond mining district where I come from. The road there was muddy with very deep potholes. I was also scared of that in case we had an accident. I prayed the Our Father and Hail Mary; they were the most popular prayers in those days and we knew them by rote. I was quite good at memorizing.
I then tied my bundles together, and held on tight. I approached their old car with the inscription, “Slow but Sure.” At first I was skeptical, but the word “sure” encouraged me. I was sure to arrive safely, I thought.
The apprentice, an elder man, put my baggage right up on the carrier and tied it under other baggage. Mine was under everyone else’s. I thanked God, because no one would see it. In fact, I told the driver that I was going to the end of their journey, to Kono.
More recent entries from Augustine:
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- Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep
He gave me a seat toward the back. He was anticipating that I would be of help by bringing passenger luggage down. I anticipated that, too. He spoke to me nicely and asked me not to forget him as we moved along. The van was full, but they still wanted more passengers to fill their pockets. I was asked to get down to make space for elderly riders. I ended up on top of the van, right atop the baggage. It was terrifying to see the potholes and everything around the bush.
We left about 12:30 p.m. with the bearings straining and making an excruciating noise. But they managed. My mind was only focused on where I would escape. I helped the apprentice, so he never thought I would escape without paying.
I was quite hungry but knew I must get to my grandmother in Motema, our village in Kono. I sang songs she had taught me, and others I had just memorized from hearing her sing. I cried at some points for the unnecessary struggles I was going through for my education.
It was almost rainy season. I was afraid about the road’s condition. I worried whether “Slow but sure” was ready for the journey. The 10-passenger van had about 16 riders. Cigarette smoking was rampant then, and I would throw up each time someone smoked. I was weak and uncomfortable, about to pass out.
I had to open the tarpaulin to breathe fresh air, but it didn’t help. I wondered what I could do to stop the punishment. The only good thing was that we would stop at every village to drop off and pick up passengers.
We were proceeding carefully, and arrived at Koidu, some 10 miles from Motema. I started seeing familiar houses and scenery. Koidu was a city by the 1960s, but my home was still struggling to graduate from a village to a full-fledged town.
I did not know Koidu too well, but I remembered the car transit area. I had used it several times to go home with my grandmother. I felt joy; I could recognize the place. I prayed and thought about how I would escape without a trace. I waited a little to let the driver arrive at the big parking lot.
I became an apprentice at that instant.
I was ready to help the driver’s assistant. It was a game, and I had to play it wisely. I volunteered to help carry a load for a certain woman. She was old and her luggage was heavy, and I had to suffer going to her house. But that was the way I would escape. I did not have the 20 cents to get to Motema.
I had been gone for far too long. The vehicle was engaged, its driver still thinking I was on my way back. Walking on the other side of the road, I passed by slowly without looking to see what was going on at the van. I walked fast, and made my way between houses where no one knew me. I had no shoes. My flip-flops were old and broke when I started running. I could not pick them up to fix them. But I was cautious because I didn’t know that part of town.
I continued walking. I passed through many unknown areas. I walked nearly the whole night. It was frightening covering those 14 miles alone.
I finally made it to Motema, arriving at about 1 a.m. My grandmother was in a deep sleep, so I left to see my friends at play. When the moon shined in Sierra Leone, all young boys and girls would go out to play in the middle of the night. The town would be quiet through the early hours of the morning, except for the young children running around or telling a communal story. I was notable for storytelling and making my friends laugh.
I decided to play till my grandmother had rested well. I told the story about my journey from Daru to Motema. I got thunderous applause. They knew my other stories eventually, too, but some I had to keep secret.
It got to be about 4:30 a.m. My friends followed me to see if my grandmother would let me in or stay asleep. I knocked once and the door opened. She was shocked. I had no clean clothes to wear, and the ones on me did not smell good.
My grandmother was quite happy to see me.
She jumped to hug me and burst into tears. It was dark in the house; the handmade lamp had no kerosene, but it was almost morning. My grandmother could feel me but not see me. Our people were all sleeping. My late aunt, Digba, had woken up as her children Juliana and Thomas were the first to see me. She hugged me as if I had been lost.
I washed well, but there were no clothes to wear. My grandmother asked about my baggage. I explained about the ordeal I went through reaching her, and told her the snake episode. Above all, I told her about my staying with Duran for a year without being allowed to go to school. Both of us burst into tears and she hugged me more. It was quite emotional.
She had kept some money for my school. She knew how much I loved school. I was going to attend in September, she said. She continued selling vegetables and cooking to bring in more money, but we kept eating it at the same time. We were going to need more in September, I told her.
My grandmother bought me some secondhand clothing. I had a neighbor; Pa Borway was the head of their family, Sahr Borway was his eldest son. I was older than him. He was a thief. He was ready to steal my new clothes. He watched me keenly. When I washed my clothes and hung them outside our house to dry, they disappeared by the time I returned home from soccer practice.
I waited impatiently for our schools to reopen, but my friends prayed for more time. They were apparently tired of school. My grandmother and I did a lot to raise funds. No one understood our story. Our neighbors called us names. Pa Borway argued with my grandmother and even insulted her for simple things. He wanted to claim our portion of the land, but he could not because my grandmother was steadfast and honest.
They called us poor. Sahr Borway would tell my grandmother that she was as poor as a churchmouse.
Was I really a poor man? I was rich with knowledge and I tried to maintain it. And I was finally home. But my next school year was coming closer, and I was not that ready.
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