Loveth pulled the shirt of Jerry’s uniform above his head and frowned as her stomach grumbled. She was terribly hungry turned to Tessy, seeing her struggle with the button of her skirt. She popped the bottom and Tessy pushed down her skirt. “Lovey, I’m hungry”
“Me too” Jerry seconded.
Loveth nodded and put a small smile on her face. “I’ll go and check the kitchen for food, okay?” she looked into both her siblings’ eyes as they nodded. She pulled down Jerry’s uniform pants, folded it and nodded at Tessy. “Put on your clothes, Tess and help Jerry with his clothes” Loveth straightened and dusted the skirt of her uniform. “I’m coming”
Loveth left their bedroom and walked into the sitting room. Mr Peters wasn’t in but Loveth could hear the voice of Mrs Peters talking and laughing with her compound neighbour. It had been three days. Three days since she saw or heard from the other half of her family. She never thought she would miss home so much, but right now, Loveth wanted nothing more than to have her family back. Loveth didn’t like Mrs Peters and she knew undoubtedly that the feeling was mutual. She didn’t mind the chores Mrs Peters made her do because it helped to keep her mind off thoughts of Tim and her parents, but the woman seemed bent on making Loveth and her siblings feel unwelcome.
Loveth entered the kitchen, climbed a stool and opened the pots. She found them empty, save a pot of soup. Her face fell as her tummy rumbled in wild complaint. She stared at the pot of soup.
Tessy and Jerry entered the kitchen, looking at her with eyes brimming with hope. Suddenly, Loveth understood what their mother must have been going through all those times when there was no food in the house and they looked up to their mother to perform some magic. Loveth didn’t feel like an almost-nine-years-old girl, the feeling of being so young was so foreign to her now.
“There’s no food” Loveth declared and felt their pain as their eyes fell. Her own tummy was going wild in protest.
“I’m hungry” Jerry whined as his eyes watered. “I want to go to mummy”
“No. No crying now” Loveth said hastily. “You know what?” she smiled as she moved closer to her siblings. “I’ll cook rice”
Tessy smiled slowly. “You want to cook again” her smile faded. “Big mummy would talk”
Loveth thought of telling Mrs Peters but decided against it. Just last night, Loveth had asked for a biro and Mrs Peters had snapped at her sharply, Loveth regretted ever going to her. “She won’t talk. Both of you should go and play ball in the compound, I’ll be there soon”
When Jerry and Tessy were out of sight, Loveth turned to the cabinet and climbed back on the stool. She lit the stove, filled a pot moderately with water and put it on the stove.
Loveth climbed down from the stool and measured a cup of rice into a bowl. She was going to tell Tim that she prepared ordinary rice too, the thought brought a smile to her face. Still carried away by her stray thoughts, she made to climb the stool again and slipped.
Loveth landed on the floor with a painful thud, as she let out a loud yelp. The rice she had in her hand was scattered all over the ground as the pain from her fall brought tears to her eyes.
Mrs Peters dashed into the kitchen, followed by the running feet of Loveth’s siblings. “What is this?” she yelled at Loveth who was sprawled on the floor tried to stand up. Tears were on her cheeks as she held her head in pain. Gloria Peters eyes grew as large as doughnuts as she scanned the ground. “What is all these?” her voice was even louder now, her eyes issuing wordless threats. “Loveth. What is my rice doing on the floor”
Loveth pushed to her feet, wiping at her face with her small hand. Tessy and Jerry tried to push through Mrs Peters to Loveth but send them staggering back with one push. “Can’t you talk?”
Loveth blinked, looking at her shivering fingers. “Big mummy… I… I wanted to cook… rice” she stuttered.
Gloria Peters mimicked Loveth’s speech before glaring down at her. “Who gave you the right to cook anything in my kitchen, you stupid girl”
Loveth counted the grains of rice on the floor as she cringed. “We were… hungry” she wiped the tears on her cheeks with a single swipe of her hand. She always found it weird that she never cried when serious things happen, but a single fall was enough to bring tears coercing down her cheeks.
Mrs Peters hissed. “Hungry ehn? So, that gave you the right to come into my kitchen? Didn’t your parents teach you anything? This is not your father’s house where you can do whatever you want, do you understand?”
Loveth nodded vigorously.
Gloria Peters hissed again. “C’mon take a broom and sweep this rice. And you better keep it because that’s what I’ll cook for you tomorrow. As for today, no food for you; that’s your punishment”
Loveth’s distraught eyes snapped up, looking at the glowering face of Mrs Peters. An image loomed over her.
“What is going on in here?” Mr Peters boomed as he stood at the entrance of the kitchen, glaring particularly at his wife.
Mrs Peters turned in shock and seemed to go pale as she stared at her husband. “Erm… Honey welcome. I didn’t know… you had erm… arrived” she stuttered.
Mr Peters stared unsmiling at her, glancing briefly at the children. He saw the way Loveth held her head and walked to her. “Did you fall, my dear?” he asked. Loveth managed to nod as he massaged a spot on her head. “Sorry” he mouthed. Mr Peters turned to glare at his wife. “Come with me, Gloria”
Mr Peters stormed out of the kitchen looking terribly furious and his wife followed with her heart in her mouth. He entered their bedroom, waited for her to enter before slamming the door against its hinges. He turned to his wife, his eyes blazing. “What are you doing to those kids?”
Gloria swallowed. “Nothing. I was just scolding Loveth for pouring the rice away. You know I…”
“Don’t lie in my face, Gloria” he snapped. “I was at the entrance and heard all that transpired. Why didn’t you prepare something for those children to eat?” he barked. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed your ill treatments of them for the past three days. Are you without feelings for these young ones?”
Gloria shifted. “I meant no harm honey, I only wanted to train them to be better” she stuttered.
Mr Peters snarled. “Really! Train. Do you train your children this way? Our fifteen years old son doesn’t even enter the kitchen to do anything since you refused to train him. I’m sure he can’t even wash a spoon” he hissed through clenched teeth. “You are the wife of a pastor, these children call you big mummy and you in return treat them like trash, especially knowing what they are going through. You should be ashamed of yourself.” His wife looked down at the floor, her face sober. “I am warning you, Gloria, I won’t have you maltreat these kids, and if you want peace in this house, you’ll respect that”
Mr Peters stormed out of the room, grabbing his car keys from the sitting room’s center table. He walked to the kids who stood with sadness written all over their faces. He squatted before them and smiled. “Who wants to go to Mr Biggs?” he mouthed. In an instant, the sadness on their faces vanished as their eyes snapped up. Mr Peters chuckled. “C’mon let’s go. Everyone of you would eat fried rice and chicken. Do you like that?”
“Yes, big daddy” they chorused. Jerry’s stomach growled and Mr Peters chuckled, though he hated they were so hungry under his watch.
He stood. “Loveth, change out of your uniform and meet us in the car now, okay?” Loveth nodded and rushed into their room as Mr Peters walked with Tessy and Jerry towards the car.
Loveth changed in a flash and rushed out of the house. Gloria walked to the door and watched the car zoom off with a bitter look in her eyes.
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George stood with his mechanic in his garage. So many faulty cars were scattered around but his eyes were on the black one right in front of him.
“Why do you want to sell this car, Pastor?” the mechanic asked, looking stunned. “The car is still very strong, you only need little money to fix the problem”
George’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “The car is the least of my worries, right now” he swallowed. “I need the money”. It had been three days but it seemed like forever. He had been moving from the hospital to the blood bank to get pints of blood for Tim. George’s feet weighed a thousand pounds from excessive trekking, and the worst part was, Timothy wasn’t improving. George couldn’t even remember the last time he had a descent sleep. The most he had been doing was dozing off once in a while.
The mechanic looked at George with concern in his eyes. “What’s wrong Pastor? Is there any way I can help”
George blinked. He glanced at the mechanic and smiled faintly. “No. Everything is fine. Just put the car up for sale, please, okay? I need the money as soon as possible”
The mechanic looked at George. He had always admired George’s strength. He needed no one to tell him that George was going through hard times, he wished George would confide in him. Probably he could help. “You said you are not in your house, how would I reach you?”
George hesitated. “I’ll… I’ll be coming here from time to time”
“No” the mechanic put his hand in his pocket and removed a phone which had a small antenna attached to its top. “Take this phone, you can use it to reach me”
George shook his head with a smile. “No, no, I can’t” he murmured, feeling embarrassed. “You can’t give me your phone, Baba Sodiq” he laughed slightly.
The mechanic sighed. “Pastor, I have been your mechanic for years, you can’t refuse this gift. Besides, I have another phone.” he brought out a similar looking phone and showed George. He pocketed it and stretched the initial phone towards George.
George swallowed and collected it. This gesture meant the whole world to George. It was like he had just been given a million Naira. “Thank you, Baba Sodiq. I really appreciate this” he smiled genuinely. Thank you even seemed inadequate.
Baba Sodiq smiled. “Ko t’ope” he answered in Yoruba. “My Number is on the phone. Don’t worry, I’ll get a good price for the car”
George left the mechanic’s place, feeling lighter than before. He pulled out his old sim card and replaced it with the one in the phone. He trekked the distance to his office, gave the phone number of his new phone to the landlord, then proceeded to his office. Fred looked shocked to see him as he stood nervously from the chair.
“Brother! I wasn’t expecting you. Is everything alright?” Fred rushed.
George nodded with a smile. “Yes, Fred, everything is fine. I just came around here to do something and decided to check up on you. How’s the office?”
Fred nodded awkwardly, sitting on the chair George should normally sit on. “Okay, thus far. I can go an entire day without seeing a single soul but it’s fine. Some people came asking for properties but nothing serious”
George nodded. He had been hoping for some miracle money but then, he himself knew how unpredictable the business was. “I hope the office hasn’t been a burden on you. If it is, I can… just close it up for the mean time”
“No” Fred snapped. George frowned and Fred smiled awkwardly. “It’s just that err… you know I don’t have a stable job, this office is keeping me occupied” he rushed.
George nodded. “Yes. Thank you so much” he stood. “I have to go now but I have a phone you can call me on now, in case you need me”
“You have a phone” Fred’s eyes were unreadable and George couldn’t even read any meaning to anything at the moment. He only smiled and nodded as he picked a pen and wrote down his phone number.
“You can call me if anything happens” he said. George paused, frowning. “Didn’t Mr Haruna come here? He promised to come the day after I left”
Fred blinked. “Ugh? Oh… Mr Haruna. I waited for him that day but he didn’t show up o. I didn’t see him”
George frowned and dropped the pen with a sigh. He was used to such in this business. But he had thought Mr Haruna was actually serious, he had prayed…
“Okay. Just keep me informed. Thank you, Fred” he smiled and walked out of the office.
“Please, the doctor has to see my son, nurse”Bola pleaded. It had been three days and Timothy had taken several pints of blood without anything serious being done for him. “Timothy is getting weaker and he has taken several pints of blood. All the doctor has been talking about has been bone marrow test. Isn’t he supposed to go through Chemotherapy?” Bola stared at the faces of the two unconcerned nurses, pleading. “Please nurse” she looked from one nurse to the other.
Nurse Chinwe rolled her eyes. “Chimooo… Save me from this woman” she shook her head. “Come, are you the only one with a child here? Everytime Timothy, everytime Timothy; what is it? There are many sick people here madam, your son is not the only patient we have and our doctors are busy”
Bola bit her lip in frustration. “But Doctor Ramon was assigned to us. C’mon nurses, I just want him to attend to my son. Have human feelings please”
“What is going on”
Bola turned. She stared at the nurse before her with teary eyes. She hadn’t seen this nurse before, or maybe she had but didn’t remember. “My son” she explained. Not caring who she was. “He is not being attended to. He should have started Chemotherapy, I think, but no one is attending to him. Please help me nurse”
The nurse looked at her with concern. “He is a cancer patient” she stated with empathy in her voice. Bola nodded. The nurse looked at her coworkers, shaking her head in disappointment. They paid her no heed. “I’m sorry ma. I’m Nurse Abigail. I’ll make sure the doctor attends to him at once”
Bola sagged in relief. “Oh, thank you, nurse” she wiped tears from her eyes. “God bless you”
“It’s my duty” she glared at the nurses on the table, emphasizing ‘duty’ before turning back to Bola. “Come with me” she said and Bola eagerly followed her.
STARLESS NIGHTS continues