That evening, she sat by the dim light of her flashlight, decobbing corn. Peju sat next to her, bent, scratching the dirt floor with a broomstick. The silence carried dull tunes in it. Only sounds of corn grains falling into the bowl on the ground made noise.
In this quiet, Peju suddenly spoke;
Seyi looked at her younger sister, pausing her activity for a while.
Peju's face was small. Small, but grieving, and hurt, and weak. She turned her head towards her elder sister and asked. A small question, but deep.
"What happens now?"
The question hit her painfully in the chest. Of course, the young ones understood. They knew that things were going to be extremely difficult from then on. But still, she felt hurt. The least she could do was to assure the little girl. But how could she, when she was lost herself?
"What happens next?" She echoed but with some more courage in her voice than her sister's young, wavering tone.
"Nothing happens, Peju. Nothing happens." She said as if trying to convince herself.
"You, Bolu, and Timi will go to school." She said lovingly.
"But what about you?" Peju asked.
"Me?" Seyi said, straining to add ease to her tone. How quickly had she grown up! Now, she could feel how it felt, why, and in what way parents often lied to their children to assure them.
She felt the need to protect these children, sacrifice for them. Mama was still alive but she also felt like their mother now. Their second mother. And she would care for them as such.
So, she said; "I'll be fine." "I'll be very fine. We'll all be fine."
"Do you know what to do?" Peju asked innocently.
Seyi choked inside, but she said; "Of course. Of course, I know what to do. Things are settled. Don't you worry."
And she buried herself in the dry corn cobs again. It was sad to know she lied to the little girl.
But she felt it was more of an assurance, motivation. For the child, but in some way, mostly for herself. She prayed hard, wishing what she had told Peju was true. Did she know what she would do? Did she have any idea what the way would be? She only knew how the path must appear- rough, tough, and unsteady, but not the route she had to take. But she had to think, a step, make a plan. At least, for the sake of her siblings. For the sake of them.
She didn't need a soothsayer... It was glaring, obvious, real... Things had changed and she was at the center of it all, her life decisions will shape the lives of her younger siblings. She knew now, how lucky someone who had people to lean on was. Even if the person bore heavy burdens, he had someone to ask for advice, to find motivation from, to source strength, and draw hope. But it was she now, who had to do everything.
The new semester was to begin in two weeks. Seyi knew that she ought to prepare for school. There were tons of things to finish up. But she also knew that there was no leaving, especially with the problems at hand.
"There would be no school for me yet, Màámi." She had said when her mother inquired about her resumption. The elderly lady, of course, objected to her daughter's skipping school.
"No. I'm not dropping out, ma. I just need time to get everything in place. I have to find the money."
"No, Màámi, you can't take a loan."
Five years ago, Seyi was in her second year in Senior Secondary School. There had been a seminar organized by the school. Four life coaches spoke that day, she remembered. Apart from that and the fact that they had been made to summarise the event as an English test, all she remembered was the final lecture of the second speaker. Not the whole lecture, just a phrase;
"Sometimes, all you need is determination, grit, and a strong will to survive."
Now, it seemed this had been for her. When Life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
With this in mind, Seyi took a step, a leap of faith. A world depended on her now- the lives of three young children thrust prematurely at her. She began to take her decisions. And she was a survivor.
The complex was dark when Seyi reached there, but the shop was illuminated by led lamps.
About four young girls and a middle-aged woman were seated inside, all at work with sewing machines. A brief silence from an almost simultaneous pause of the working women greeted Seyi's arrival. As she walked silently in, the middle-aged woman rose from her position and met her midway into the working space.
"Seyitan." She called as if to ascertain the identity of the entrant although, she knew quite well who it was. It was just an impulsive action.
"Ma," She answered.
Seyi could feel the penetrating stares of her colleagues. Ex colleagues. She had come to inform her boss that she would be quitting. There was no funding. She could do something else sometime, but she had to work fully for her family now. She hoped the kind-hearted lady would understand.
"I'm quitting, ma." She said, without preamble.
The madam; Aunty Simi, didn't say anything. Instead, she looked at the young girl and asked;
"How is your mother?" Quietly.
Seyi's eyes brimmed slowly with tears at her boss' consideration.
"She's fine, ma."
"And how are you?"
"Managing." A lump formed in her throat now. Managing. She was barely surviving.
Aunty Simi paused for a while. The clattering of machines had resumed now, she pulled Seyi in a small corner of the room- the changing space.
"I had your things packed up for you," She said.
Seyi felt weak at the lady's kindness. She knew, of course. Aunty Simi knew that Seyi wouldn't be able to attend the workshop anymore, and she had discreetly put her things together. Guilt and grief tugged at Seyi's heart. But she had made up her mind. It's for the best.
"I'm so sorry ma..."
"No, no, no. Of course not. I understand, my dear. May the Lord be with you. " The madam said kindly.
"Thanks, ma." She curtseyed to greet her boss farewell.
And turning back, she never returned.
Next Episode: 04 - Thrown a new path