“You want help us to cook, Tarnue?” Garmai said, smiling.
“I do not know how to cook,” I said, sitting in a plastic chair in the kitchen.
“Do not mind him,” Patience said. “He is waiting for his woman to cook for him.” And she gave me a knowing look as though I knew full well what she was talking about.
“And who might be his woman?” Garmai asked, looking up from the fish she was filleting.
“Ask him,” Patience said.
“I do not know what she is talking about, so do not ask me,” I said to Garmai.
“He likes to pretend so,” Patience said. “But everybody in this place knows his woman.”
“You heard that, Tarnue?” Garmai exclaimed.
“I heard it,” I said. “But I am telling you, I do not know what she talking about.”
“You swear to God?” Garmai pressed.
“Yes, I swear,” I said. “But unless you are talking about Korwu. In that case we are just friends.”
“Who in this kitchen said anything about Korwu,” exclaimed Garmai, throwing down the knife as she turned to look at Patience in mock surprise.
“You did not say anything about Korwu,” Patience said, “and I did not even mention her name. The truth is that Tarnue is guilty.”
“Oh, I am not guilty of anything,” I said, and the two of them laughed.
“You are guilty,” Garmai said, “and now I know why you come here every day. You loving to my cousin.”
“That is not true,” I said, shaking my head.
“Only a fool would believe you,” Garmai said. “But I must warn you oh, Tarnue. If you ever leave my cousin for another girl you will go to jail.”
They were only making guesses and really did not know my feelings toward Korwu. But even so, I felt that they had exposed the secret in my heart, and, as Patience had said, I did in fact feel guilty. But I knew that I was never going to admit it, even if they had put my head on the chopping board. And after more accusations, claims and counter-claims, in which I denied everything, like the Apostle Peter, the conversation was turned to another subject, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
“How is school, Tarnue?” Garmai asked.
“School is all right,” I said, and at once my looming failure came to mind, so that my heart began to beat rapidly. But somehow I took hold of myself, and soon there was calm.
“I heard that you are very clever,” Garmai said.
“One day Tarnue will be President of this country,” Patience said.
“Oh, Patience, you like to make things big too much,” I said, smiling. “Besides I have even heard that Garmai herself is clever.”
“Yes, of course,” Garmai said. “I dux the Eleventh Grade the year last. A boy came second to me.”
“What do you want to do when you finish school?” I asked.
“I want to be an eye surgeon,” she said. “What about you?”
“I want to be a doctor, too,” I said. “But I have not yet decided on the field in which I would work.”
“It does not matter,” Patience said. “For with both of you as doctors I would not worry about hospital bills.”
“I am hoping for a scholarship to study abroad,” Garmai said, when our laughter had subsided. “Our people need doctors, and very good ones. They do not need quacks that are ready to squeeze every cent out of you at the slightest sign of a headache, when in fact they do more harm than good.”
“We must have ourselves to blame,” I said. “Most of our people who get educated abroad do not return home. They stay in Europe and America to make money and forget where they have come from: the poor people to whom they belonged, and even their roots.”
“We Liberians do not love our own country,” Patience said, “and we do not love one another.”
“You have said it all in a few words only, Patience,” Garmai said, “and I must thank you. This is the same reason for which being one of the oldest countries in Africa to have gained independence means little or nothing to us. We are still living in huts, still living in darkness, and still can’t produce our own food because we are too selfish.”
“And again,” I added, “most of us are lazy.”
“And the worst of it all, is that most of us pretend to know book when we do not know nothing,” Garmai said. “While the Lebanese and Indians are every day on their feet making money, we sit in our offices running chi-chi-poly, envying one another, and loving to our workmates. And then in the evening we go drink Club Beer and talk nonsense.”