Bola stood at the door of the hospital ward as tears streamed down her face. Her lips shook wildly and she made no effort to stop the tears flowing down her cheeks. She walked slowly into the room, staring at the hospital bed, just a few steps away. Her bloodshot eyes were blind to the two other occupants of the room, as she walked like a zombie towards the bed that held her interest. She got to the bed and stared through streaming eyes at the frail form of her son lying on the bed, unconscious. She ran her eyes over his pale innocent face as tears made a fast trek down her hot cheeks. No! She couldn’t accept this. Never in her wildest dreams and nightmares did she even imagine that her son would be a candidate of an hospital ward, looking like a complete shadow of himself. Leukemia… Cancer of the blood… The doctor’s words echoed in her ears, causing her chest to squeeze painfully until she was sure she could hardly breathe.
Bola took a deep breath and eased herself onto the bed beside Timothy, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. She lightly ran her hand over his short hair as tear drops fell onto the top of her blouse. “Mummy is here” she said in uneven broken voice as her lips shook from the force of holding her tears back. “Mummy is here now, my son”. She bent and kissed the top of Timothy’s head lingeringly, her tears disappearing into his hair.
Bola straightened and wiped at her tears. “Nothing… nothing would happen to you, Timothy” she murmured as she stared at Timothy’s face. “I promise”. Her lips shook as despite her struggle, tears ran down her eyes again. “I promise you, my son” she cried, running her shaking fingers around Timothy’s hair.
Footsteps approached and Bola lifted her eyes to George. He looked completely shattered, looking every bit his age and more. Lines of worry and beads of perspiration shone on his forehead and his lips were tightly drawn against his teeth. Bola had left George with the doctor when she hadn’t been able to stand what he was saying anymore. She realized now that she shouldn’t have. George looked on the verge of tears and the only thing that kept him hanging there was probably his fierce male pride.
“George” she cried as she stood and held on to him like her life depended on it. She cried onto his chest as her tears created a damp patch on her husband’s shirt. “Oh George…”
“Shhhhhh” George held Bola so close, they could hardly draw a descent breath. Pain tore at his heart as he held his crying wife in his arms staring at his son, lying on the bed. It was all he could do not to burst into tears. “Hush now” he murmured into Bola’s hair, feeling the dampness of his shirt seer the shattered pieces of his heart. He could not accept it! He would not accept it.
George stared hard at Timothy. He knew just what cancer was and knew without a doubt that the survival rate was incredibly slim. But he could not accept it. His son couldn’t have leukemia. He couldn’t open his eyes wide and watch while his first fruit faded before his very eyes. Tears burned at the back of his eyes as he stared at Timothy’s pale body. He blinked back his tears furiously as his arms tightened around Bola.
“That report is a lie” Bola muttered amidst tears. “My son cannot have cancer. I refuse to believe it”
George swallowed and pulled back enough to look into Bola’s eyes. He didn’t disprove or approve her claim because he had the strong feeling that the report was accurate. “Everything would be fine. I promise”
Bola blinked, sending the tears on her lashes flowing down. “I’m afraid this is a promise you won’t be able to keep, George” her lips shook. “Nothing would be okay from now onwards”
George swallowed. “Don’t say that, Bola. Everything is possible with God, if I have to climb every mountain in this country to pray for my son, I will. Timothy would be fine”
Bola stared at George and nodded. She swallowed as he wiped at her face. Bola turned back and sat on the bed, watching Timothy like a hawk.
“The doctor said we can take Timothy home tonight and bring him back in two days.” George said.
Bola turned. “How are we going to do that? If Timothy would be admitted here, what about the children? This place is too far from home, the car has been at the mechanics for weeks with no money to repair it.” Bola continued blabbing as thoughts kept pouring in her head, making their situation more precarious. Worry took over her features. “How would we foot the hospital bills, George? I’ve spent almost all my capital on drugs. My God, what are we going to do?”
George swallowed, taking a deep breath. “I’ll take care of it.”
Loveth watched her siblings play in the veranda of Aunty Elizabeth’s apartment. It seemed a century ago since she saw the bit of excitement. Loveth smiled, feeling like a child again, for the first time in days. She was so young but felt so old already. She had always loved to be called a big girl. She hated being called a child that she wanted to grow up so bad. She wanted to do the things adults did, feel what adults feel. But now, she wasn’t sure anymore…
She had seen the pain in her parents’ eyes, seen their excessive worry over Timothy, she had seen tears on her mother’s cheeks when she thought no one was looking. If that’s what it took to be an adult, Loveth didn’t think she wanted to grow up just yet. If only she could play like a kid again… If only she could be as naive as her younger ones, maybe she wouldn’t worry so much about Timothy.
Something crossed Loveth’s mind and she straightened, jumping to her feet instantly as she walked into the house. the tension at home had been so much the past few days, Loveth wanted to do something to alleviate it, and if what she had in mind worked, she was sure they would be little laughter in the house today. She had told Timothy that she would cook rice and beans, he would be in for a good surprise when he arrives, Loveth thought, smiling to herself.
“Finally, you are smiling”
Elizabeth approached Loveth with a smile. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going home”
Elizabeth frowned. “To do what?”
“I want to cook” Loveth grinned, looking all confident.
Elizabeth chuckled. “You… Cook” she shook her head. “can you cook? Can you even light a stone to boil water? “
“Ahan, Yes now” Loveth lied. “I can cook very well. I can cook rice”
“Ehen” Lizzy folded her hands beneath her bosom. “So what do you want to cook now?”
Loveth could see that Lizzy was making fun of her but she didn’t care. She was so excited, thinking of the expression on her brother and parents’ face when they discovered she made their meal. “Rice and beans”
“Together?” Loveth nodded. “Sounds delicious already. Unfortunately, I can’t let you do this. What if you burn the house down or hurt yourself. No. You are too small to cook”
Loveth looked crestfallen. “No, but I can” she whined. “I told T.boy that I would make rice and beans but he said I couldn’t. I want to prove him wrong… and it would make him laugh”
Elizabeth stared at Loveth as her face took on that sober pout that always won her over.
“You can come watch me if you want, but…” she raised her finger in warning. “…don’t tell me what to do” she grinned. “I want to cook the food myself”
Elizabeth shook her head in wonder and laughed. “Okay, you win”
“Yes” Loveth hopped excitedly and Lizzy was glad she agreed to it. It had been a while she saw the child in Loveth. It was a relief to see.
“You be careful, okay?” she warned sternly and Loveth made a cross over her heart. “Go on now. Be careful putting on the stove, okay. I’ll watch your siblings for a while then come check on you. Dont add too much salt”
Loveth skipped out of the house and down the stairs, wearing a king-sized smile. She was as excited as a child who just got her first gift. She yanked open the door to their apartment and skipped all the way to the kitchen. “Rice and beans” she muttered to herself. Now that she was in the kitchen, she felt completely clueless. But nothing ever stopped her from achieving her goal, it wasn’t about to start now.
Bringing out the pot, she rinsed and set it aside. Filled the pot halfway with clean water, lit the stove and put the pot on it. Loveth stared at the pot on fire, wondering what would go in first. Would she put the rice and beans together at once? No. She vaguely knew that her mum always put one before the other. She smiled. “Rice and beans” Loveth muttered as she brought out the rice. She took a sizeable amount, washed it and poured it in the pot. She poured beans onto a flat tray and settled down to pick it. When I’m done picking out the dirt, the rice would be soft, so I can put the beans, Loveth said to herself, smiling happily. She pictures Timothy’s face and wished he would get back faster. Today, he would eat rice and beans made by me. Loveth grinned excitedly.
Bola hugged her children so tight, she wanted to infuse them into herself. She wanted their distinct childlike scent to wash away her fears, wash away the awful news she got today. It was very dark when they arrived home and nothing gave her more joy than seeing her children, alive and well. She put a strained smile on her face for the sake of the children. They shouldn’t see her sad, they shouldn’t know that something was gravely wrong – especially Timothy. He couldn’t know; Bola couldn’t bear the thought of telling him he had cancer.
Timothy sat with them now, beside George in the sitting room as Loveth hopped beside him, wearing a suspiciously wide grin as she talked endlessly to Tim. Timothy smiled and answered Loveth’s numerous questions. Bola squatted before her children, inspecting them much more than she usually did. She couldn’t help it. “How are you? Did you enjoy yourselves at Aunty Lizzy’s place today?”
Tessy and Jerry bobbed their heads. “Yes mummy, we ate spaghetti and fish” Tessy said.
Bola smiled. She didn’t think she would be able to thank Elizabeth enough for taking care of her children in her absence. “Did you now? It was sweet, right?” They nodded.
Tessy turned suddenly with a big smile. “Loveth cooked rice and beans”
“What?” George and Bola echoed as their eyes flashed to Loveth.
“You didn’t” Timothy muttered, his eyes wide.
“I did” Loveth grinned at him.
“When did she start cooking?” George asked Bola, looking astounded.
Loveth looked at the priceless expression on Tim’s face and grinned so widely, her mouth engulfed her entire face. She gave him the ‘I-told-you-I-would-do-it’ look.
“You cooked rice and beans” he echoed, looking bewildered.
“Yes, I made dinner” Loveth had never been more proud in her life.
Bola sat on the edge of her seat. “Would you stop smiling, young lady? Who asked you to cook anything? Did you tell Aunty Lizzy before doing this?”
“Yes, and she let me”
For the first time since they arrived, George was smiling mischievously. Loveth surely took that trait from him. Bola couldn’t see what George was smiling about. What if Loveth had hurt herself with her little cooking experiment? God knew she couldn’t stand any more source of worry. “Tell me, lady chef, how did you cook it?” George asked.
Loveth looked uncertain now, as her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “I put the rice on fire. When the rice was soft, I put beans. I put salt, oil, pepper, crayfish and Maggi. I did not know how many Maggi I should put but I put four” she stared at their faces, trying to justify herself. “The food is very sweet ooo…” she pointed out and blinked, looking at her fingers as her shoulders fell, “…but, the beans is not very soft”.
The was a brief silence, then everyone busted into laughter. Loveth didn’t like that one bit that they were making jest of her ‘hard work’ but she never felt happier. Timothy and her parents was laughing so hard. It had been such a long time since she saw that.
“Of course, the beans can’t be soft.” Bola muttered laughing. “You should have cooked the beans first”
It was the same thing Aunty Lizzy had said. Loveth sighed in defeat. “I thought, since it is ‘rice and beans’, I would cook the rice first.” she explained.
George shook his head with a smile. “You are something else” he muttered with a grin. He adjusted on his seat. “Oh well, I am very hungry now. Why don’t you serve us this delicacy, Loveth”
Loveth smiled widely, flashing her tiny white teeth as she stared at Timothy with a victorious look on her face. Timothy shook his head, unable to stop himself from smiling as Loveth marched into the kitchen with her shoulders high.