(An excerpt from the novel August 1990)
By Saah Millimono
“Hey, small girl?” he called. “Come here.”
She came quickly, swinging her hips, and stood in front of him. “You wan water?”
“Yes,” he said. “I wan drink but ahna geh money.”
The small girl looked at Kollie and her eyes opened wide. Obviously his request had taken her by surprise. She was dressed in a white dress that hugged her tightly and that had a tear under each arm. On her feet was a pair of one brown and red slipper. From beneath the bucket on her head strands of hair stuck out over her forehead. She removed the bucket from her head and placed it next to the tarred road. Reaching inside for the plastic cup which she used as a sort of measurement, she took out a drink of water and handed it over to Kollie.
Kollie drank and handed the cup back to her, licking his lips. “Thank you yah, small girl.”
“All right,” she said. “But you still wan drink?”
He nodded his head.
She handed him another drink of water, then a third and a fourth. He drank and felt his belly swell like a balloon.
The small girl looked at him and smiled. “Cha! All da water, you wuh thirsty-o.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Wuh yor name?” she asked.
He looked at her and hesitated, wondering if he should tell her what his name was. She seemed innocent enough and did not look like someone who would betray him. But he was hiding and afraid for his life. He had to be careful.
“Kollie,” he told her finally.
“My name Patience,” she said.
“You my friend, eh?”
“Here, take ten cents.” She handed him a piece of silver coin.
He took the money and nodded his thanks.
“You mun buy water when you thirsty,” she said. “But call any time you see me. I can be selling in de market here.”
“Okay, Patience, and thank you-o,” he said.
The small girl set the container back on her head. She turned and proceeded along the tarred road.
Immediately Kollie found himself thinking about how nice she had been to him, about the money she had given him, and about how eager she had been to get to know him. She had even wished to meet him again, as though convinced already that they were colleagues. How surprising! ‘Where could one find such courtesy in children nowadays?’ he wondered, thinking about the rebel child soldiers who, like himself, were fighting with the NPFL and had learned nothing other than to smoke marijuana and kill people. But he liked the small girl, he decided.
He turned and proceeded along the tarred road, getting his foot caught in dirty polythene bags. There was so much trash by the roadside that the tarred road literally seemed to disappear beneath it. Kollie kicked out his foot. The bags fell off, sending particles of dust into the air.
A small crowd had gathered to watch the man dancing and singing next to the roadside. Others who knew the tune had joined in, singing and clapping. Then the man went from reggae to breakdance. He half summersaulted and fell flat on his back. The crowd cheered. A few people threw coins into the square. The man got up and began to dance again. He looked unsteady on his feet. Kollie wondered, as he stood among the crowd until he was directly in front of the man, if he had been drinking.
Suddenly the man came forward. He grabbed Kollie by both hands and pulled him into the square. He pointed at the money strewn over the ground. Then he motioned at Kollie to pick them up and continued dancing.
Kollie looked at the crowd around him. His mouth fell open and his legs began trembling. He threw his hands to his face in order to hide it. But he felt his arms grow heavy and weak, as though paralyzed. Cold sweat broke out over his body. He made as if to go back into the crowd and away from the square. But his legs, locked with fear, felt even heavier than his arms. He must be having a nightmare, he decided.
The reggae man danced, flailing his arms and hopping from one foot to another. The crowd cheered and clapped louder than before. There were now more people gathered in the vacant space, swelling the earlier crowd to twice its size.
Kollie stood in shocked silence, not knowing what to do and afraid for his life. For soon someone would point him out and say this was the so and so NPFL child soldier who once killed my relatives. But as fearfully as he thought about it, for some reason, it just did not happen. Instead, the crowd had its gaze still fixed on the reggae man. Kollie sighed. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Then slowly he started to pick the money up off the ground, looking up every now and again and wondering if he was being watched.
To be cont’d.