About the book
Isabella Ennison meets Orlando West, a black American visiting Sierra Leone after the rebel war, and is immediately struck by his remarkable resemblance to her husband, Yao. She brings the two men together and Yao soon comes to the conclusion that Orlando must be the child his mother gave us for adoption many years before. He decides to risk surprising her...
?Yema Lucilda Hunter takes the reader on a literary excursion through some of the highlights of Sierra Leone?s socio-political history since 1945. Cobola?s story deals with some of the inter-racial and inter-ethnic prejudices of the colonial days, sexual abuse, domestic violence, clinical depression, marital infidelity and African belief in magical powers...?
J. Sorie Conteh
Author of the trilogy:
In Search of Son; Family Affairs; and Kigba?s Fate
About the author
Lucilda Hunter was born and grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She had her secondary education at the Annie Walsh Memorial School in Freetown, and finished her studies in the United Kingdom, qualifying as a graduate librarian. She later specialised in medical librarianship and information for health workers, obtaining an MPhil in that subject area from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom . For many years she was employed by the Ministry of Health as the librarian at the Connaught Hospital in Freetown before leaving to head the Library and Health Information Services at the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization in Congo, Brazzaville. She took early retirement in 1999 and that same year was made a Fellow of the British Library Association, since renamed: The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. She now lives with her husband in Accra, Ghana.
Writing as Yema Lucilda Hunter, she is the author of four novels relating to Sierra Leone, and Freetown in particular: Road to Freedom (African Universities Press, Ibadan, Nigeria), Bittersweet (Macmillan, UK), Redemption Song (SLWS).
Lucilda Hunter is also the author of a self-published biography - An African treasure: in search of Gladys Casely-Hayford, as a result of which she was invited to write the article on Gladys Casely-Hayford which appears in the Dictionary of African Biography (Oxford University Press).
That unforgettable weekend began with a rare visit from my former neighbour, Manny Martin. He and his girlfriend, Hamida, came to see me on the Friday afternoon. Hamida, too, used to live here with her family, but all that changed when fighters from the so-called People?s Redemption Army attacked us in 1997. Manny?s parents and their house were no more; and Hamida?s family?what was left of it?now lived a few miles away on Fourah Bay Road.
After an hour or so, my young visitors asked my permission to leave, saying they had to visit Hamida?s parents before going back to college. I went out to the porch with them to say goodbye and afterwards, leant on the wooden ledge watching them stroll down to the highway. They were hand in hand and deep in conversation. I had been so pleased to hear that Manny was close to obtaining an honours degree in English that, in my usual way, I had raised my eyes and arms, saying aloud, ?Praise God Almighty!?
?Oh, Gramma Cobola,? Manny had said, shaking with quiet laughter. Hamida?s amusement stayed in her eyes, but it was plain to see. Perhaps I had exaggerated the verbal praise, but thankfulness came from deep within my heart. She, too, seemed to be doing well?in her first year at university, studying accountancy. As I watched them go, I recalled how much they had suffered when those PRA fighters came here that day, and said to myself: thank God for love. I had no doubt that having each other was what had helped them recover from the tragedies that had befallen them.
They finally disappeared from view, but I continued to gaze out on George Town?s apology for a main street, brooding over the state of affairs in our country in the three years since the rebel war ended. So much to sigh over still; somehow the place didn?t feel completely peaceful yet. There were too many people as poor as church mice and just as hungry. Even those like me, who were not in actual want, were finding life hard with the dry water pipes and endless power cuts. For weeks there had been hardly any of my favourite fish in the market?mostly pollock, pollock, pollock, with a few baskets of herring or bonga; ordinary palm oil and rice now cost an arm and a leg. And as for corruption! From all accounts that was even worse than before the war. It seemed people were grabbing any chance to steal from the government and to cheat each other, as if they no longer believed in Judgment Day.
My young friends had left me smiling, but those gloomy thoughts must have been showing on my face by the time Obi and Ransolina Davies passed my house on their way home. They were dressed in black, obviously returning from a funeral. As always when they saw me on the porch, they called out a greeting.
?Welcome, my dears,? I called back; but my voice, too, must have reflected my darkening mood because when I went on to ask about the funeral they merely said, ?Everything went well, Gramma,? and continued up the hill. Normally, they would have paused for a chat.
Not long after they disappeared, I straightened up to go back inside. With my first step, pain stabbed my right heel again. I let out a small groan and went gingerly indoors, calling out to Ida?my third house help since Modu?s abrupt departure to join the new army. She emerged from the pantry, drying her hands on her pinafore.
?Start warming water for my bath and get the lanterns ready.?
?And don?t forget to melt my ori-o,? I called after her departing back.
Ida always sounded eager to please, but I suspected that she was saying to herself: why does this old woman have to tell me the same thing every evening, as if I ever forget? Indeed; I didn?t know why I kept reminding her about melting the shea butter. It would have made more sense to allow her to forget so I could discover how reliable she was. Oh, well, I thought, it must be one of those old age things; like the slightly dry voice I sometimes heard when I spoke. I swallowed an Indocid capsule for the pain, and then limped towards my armchair by the window thinking that Ida, too, would probably start helping herself to my things before long. Or she would do something else that I couldn?t stand; then the search for a helper would have to start all over again. That prospect so deepened my gloom that I let out an audible sigh and muttered: thank God I am approaching the departure lounge. It was a reference to my only journey by air. I had gone to Banjul to spend a month with Yao?s room-mate at university.
Yao. Every single day I thanked God for my precious son, but much as I adored him, my other daily prayer was that my transition from time to eternity would happen before I became too weak to look after myself. I dreaded the thought of some lingering illness that would force me to end my days living with him and Isabella. Not that I disliked his wife?far from it. She was a good girl, and had been kindness itself when Yao?s father died. But they had got on my nerves when I stayed with them after the PRA invasion in 1997?so much so, that I insisted on being brought back here just one month after those young devils attacked us?even before the official announcement that it was safe to return. The problem? Isabella?s bossiness, and the way Yao gave in to her all the time. Almost every day when I lived with them, I had had to bite my tongue to stop myself from telling him to act like a man who had risen to be head of the personnel department in an oil company.
I was still in the armchair feeling rather low when my mobile rang. It was Yao, of course, checking up on me as he did every evening. The phone was his Christmas present, and I had to admit that the thing was useful. All the same, I still missed my fixed line with its hand piece which had places to put my mouth and ear, and only a monthly bill to pay. The long and frequent power cuts made it necessary to send Ida down to the petrol station every few days to charge the phone from the generator that kept their pumps going; and I had to pay for that favour every time. There were also the top-up charges; but I had no choice. My other phone had been dead for more than a year; ever since a terrible storm brought the lines down again.
?M.A., are you alright?? Yao asked the moment he heard my voice. I sensed suppressed excitement; wondered what could be causing it but waited for him to enlighten me?if he chose to. That had been my policy ever since I had overheard Isabella complaining that I always wanted to know everything. I tried to make my voice sound brighter than I was feeling.
?Yes, my dear. I have had a very good day; not so much pain in my foot, and Manny and Hamida came to see me. You know how they lift my spirits??
Since Yao had never shown much interest in Manny and Hamida, I was neither surprised nor put out when he interrupted before I could go into any details about their visit. In the same eager voice he said,
?M.A., listen. You always say your heart can stand anything, but I am not going to risk it. Get ready for a big surprise tomorrow. ?
?My dear, nothing has shaken me for a long time,? I replied with a snort. ?You know that.?
?This one will knock you off your feet. I?m telling you??
Just then Ida came to say my water was ready and since I like a hot bath, I soon brought the conversation to an end; though not before asking Yao to hug Adora and the twins for me. He assured me that he would do as I asked, but I knew he would only hug my seven-year-old granddaughter. The boys, he would tell that Gramma sent them hugs. Now eleven years old, Eric and Derek disliked physical displays of affection.
?And about tomorrow,? Yao said. ?Have a good breakfast-o, and have it early. I don?t have to go to work, so I?ll be there around nine o?clock.?
?Alright, my dear, I hear you. God bless. And say hello to Isabella for me, ya??
?Will do,? he said and clicked off.
I had another reason to sigh after my bath, but this time it was with pleasure as Ida massaged my feet and ankles using the softened shea butter. She then served me a small pollock fried dry, the way I liked it, with one piece of boiled plantain and a little gravy. As always, a cup of Milo sent the food down nicely, as well as the tablet I took to control my blood pressure. Later, I used the commode beside my bed then, having affirmed that goodness and mercy would follow me all the days of my life, blew out my lantern, climbed under the mosquito net and draped my legs with the soft folds of my country cloth. I took a few deep breaths and floated on the surface of sleep.
My mind drifted towards Yao and the coming surprise. What, I wondered, could possibly astonish me enough to endanger my heart? This faithful organ had withstood some terrible shocks, the most recent being the PRA attack on George Town in 1997. Only one possibility came to mind?a deep and secret longing I had nursed for most of my life. I instantly dismissed it, though. Far too unlikely now I thought with a sigh, and allowed my drooping eyelids to close.
My old dog, Whisky, had joined the dear departed the year before and had not been replaced, so there was no barking to warn me of approaching visitors the next morning. I was still at the breakfast table, washing down my last piece of bread with my usual cup of strong, sweet, milky tea, when a forceful knock shook the front door. It was followed immediately by a hearty, ?Good morning to this house?.
The voice was Yao?s. I called out to Ida at once, but before she could come, Yao had pushed open the door and stepped into the parlour with a smile broad enough to reveal his last molars.
?Jesus!? I gasped, after just one look at the shaven-headed man who entered the house right behind him. My cup clattered onto the saucer and I clutched at the embroidered insertions decorating the front of my old print dress. Except for a few faint lines across his forehead, his pale biscuit complexion, and a slightly higher nose, the man bore a striking resemblance to Yao who, so everybody said, looked like me, apart from that little dimple he got from his father. The resemblance was truly remarkable, especially since Yao had started cutting his hair so close to his scalp that he might as well have been bald himself. My heartbeats skipped, skipped again and, even after regaining their normal steady rhythm, continued to pound against my ribs. Perhaps I swayed for a moment, because Yao?s grin vanished as if an invisible hand had suddenly wiped it away. He cried out, ?M.A.?, and took a rapid step further into the room; so did the man behind him, who reached for my pulse while watching my face with a questioning frown. Yao hovered beside us, anxiety written all over his face.
?I?m alright, I?m alright,? I assured them, but in such a weak voice that even when the stranger nodded and gently released my wrist, it took Yao a little while to satisfy himself that there was no cause for alarm. He finally let out a huge sigh of relief.
?M.A., you frightened me-o. It looks like you already know who this person is??
I gave a slight nod. The two men exchanged glances. The stranger smiled down at me, and I managed a smile in return; but then he went and introduced himself as Orlando West, and tears filled my eyes.
Yao must have thought it was joy that was making me tearful, but it wasn?t that at all. It was the shock of hearing that name: Orlando West. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that the people who adopted Sani would have changed his name. Through the long years of our separation, I had always called him Sani in my mind. This new name made him seem like any other overseas visitor?so much so, that as I struggled up from behind the table and moved towards my armchair, I was regretting that I had not yet plaited my hair into the two neat cornrows I did every day. My head was still wrapped in a faded head tie. In my confusion, when we had all sat down, I found myself falling into the role of gracious hostess, and using the kind of fake English accent we call ?speaking?.
?And how was your journey, my dear?? I asked.
Yao?s eyes widened with renewed concern.
He emphasised every word as if he thought my heart might be all right but I had suddenly entered my second childhood.
I said, ?I know.?
?Then why are you behaving as if he is a complete stranger? I thought the first thing you would ask was how he found us. Don?t you want to know??
Of course, I wanted to know, but not yet, so I didn?t answer. Yao said rather sulkily, ?Well, I?m going to tell you anyhow. It was Bella who made the connection...?
He threw me a quick glance as if to gauge my reaction to the news that it was Isabella who deserved the credit for bringing my other son back into my life. I?m sure my face revealed nothing as he went on,
?You know she works for that NGO, Health for the World. Well, yesterday, around half past three, she rang me to say she wanted to show me something, and that it was very urgent. Less than ten minutes later, she burst into my office with Orlando, pushed him towards me and said, ?Yao, who does he look like? Look at his mouth...Look at his eyes.? After a moment, I realised that the answer was, me?except for the colour, and the nose. Orlando, too, was staring at me as if he could not believe what he was seeing. Then Bella told me he was an American and my brain went into overdrive. I asked him how old he was. He told me, and I began to put two and two together??
Yao?s eyes signalled, ?That?s better,? when I complimented him on his cleverness. By this time, I was also composed enough to ask Orlando West what was, for me, a more pressing question.
?What made you decide to come back here after all these years??
Yao tipped his head towards him, as if to say, ?Your turn??
Orlando warned me that it was a longish story. I told him that I didn?t mind at all but, as if he was deciding where to start, several moments passed before he took a deep breath and said,
?Okay, here goes?The man I knew as my dad originally came from Liberia: Mom was an African-American. They met at college in the States, got married, and went to live in Liberia for six years before deciding to settle in the States. Dad had a very dark complexion, but Mom was like me. I had no brothers or sisters for comparison, so it never occurred to me that I wasn?t their blood child. I thought I took after Mom?s side of the family who were all light-skinned... I was all of ten before they told me I was adopted??
Up to this point I had listened to Orlando almost without blinking; but now I simply had to know how that little boy had felt when he learned the truth about himself.
?Hmm,? he said when I interrupted him to ask the question. ?How did I feel??
The creases across his brow deepened as he cast his mind back fifty years.
?Well, first of all, let me tell you how they broke the news...Dad was a great storyteller. One evening after dinner, he began telling me about a couple who had longed for a child then fell in love with a little boy they saw when they were visiting the country next to Liberia, which was called Sierra Leone. Dad described the boy in glowing terms?you know, cute as a button, smart as a whip, remarkably well behaved for his age, and so on and so forth ? as well as telling me how thrilled they were to be able to adopt him. That was when I began to suspect that the boy in the story might be me. For one thing, I thought Dad?s description made him sound just too perfect; and for another, it was unusual for Mom to be sitting with us after dinner. Normally she would have gone to the kitchen to clean up?There was also something about the way she was sitting?very straight, with her eyes fixed on my face. So I wasn?t all that surprised when, at the end of the story, Dad said, ?Son, that little boy was you.? Mom quickly put her hand over mine and added, ?We were specially blessed, honey. Other people have to take what God gives them, but we got to choose.? She gave me such a loving look that my first reaction was to give her hug and a kiss and do the same to Dad?It was only when I was alone in bed that I began to think about what being adopted meant?that I had had other parents at one time?that perhaps they were still alive. I also vaguely remembered being confused about my name at some point. The next day, I almost drove my folks nuts with questions. When I asked, they told me my original name, but they didn?t know anything about my blood father and very little about you apart from you being a young woman who had fallen on very hard times. I was a happy, contented child, so although being adopted popped into my mind from time to time and made me feel funny, it wasn?t too difficult accept the situation...?
I heard this account with mixed feelings: a jealous pang that Sani had been so ?happy and contented? with his new parents, but also a deep sense of relief that being separated from me seemed to have done him no lasting harm.
?Thank you, my dear,? I said, with a smile. ?Please carry on.?
?After high school I was in the army for a couple of years ?fighting in Vietnam, you know; luckily I came through in one piece. Then I went to college, and on to study medicine. After that, I concentrated on making a career for myself, getting married, raising my own family?that is until the night I saw an African diplomat being interviewed on CNN. He was talking about a horrible war going on some place in Africa...To be honest, ma?am, bad news from Africa isn?t news anymore. It was only when I heard him mention Sierra Leone, that my ears pricked up and I gave the interview my full attention...It took another couple of years, though, for me to start thinking about coming over here?? He included Yao in his somewhat guilty smile. ?One of these international aid workers appeared on TV. She was saying that the war was over, but that people here desperately needed all kinds of help. Beverly?that?s my wife?already knew I was adopted, of course, and from where. She encouraged me to come. So I here I am...?
He gave a little shrug as he stopped speaking.
?Tell her how you found yourself in Bella?s office,? Yao prompted. Orlando?s eyes lit up.
?Now, that was something! But perhaps it was meant to be. I managed to identify a local contact before coming over here?a guy who works for USAID. For the past eight days he has been taking me to see different places in Freetown and beyond, where health care is offered. Bella?s office just happened to be one of them? She went absolutely bug-eyed when she saw me. I mean bug-eyed.?
Orlando West?s recollection of Isabella?s incredulous stare made him curl up with laughter. All at once I remembered Sani?s belly laughs when people tickled him. Tears welled up again as he continued to speak. ?Even before I introduced myself, Bella said: ?I beg, I beg; I have to show you something first.? She made a quick phone call?I now know that it was to Yao?and almost dragged me out of her office??
?M.A., isn?t that amazing!? Yao cut in just as I was saying to myself, but with fondness this time: typical of Isabella.
Yao must have expected me to show some real excitement at last?to raise my eyes and arms with a shout of praise; but I was still too stunned for any dramatic gesture. I simply continued to gaze at my other son with misty eyes, marvelling, once again, at God?s mercy. I thought I had said goodbye to joy when my husband died, yet here it was again overwhelming me. I heard Orlando mutter,
?Looks like this is an even bigger deal for her than it was for us, Yao. Let?s leave her to get used to the idea that I?m here.?
Yao nodded and came to crouch beside my chair. If he was still disappointed that I had not followed the script he had written in his mind, he did not show it anymore.
?M.A., M.A.,? he urged quietly. I tore my gaze from one son to the other.
?We are leaving now. I will bring Orlando to spend the whole afternoon with you tomorrow, okay? Bella will make lunch for you both?something special.?
I made a half-hearted attempt to rise, but Yao pressed me down gently, and kissed my cheek. I slumped again?gladly, and remained in that position for quite some time after they had gone.
My mind was in turmoil. No doubt, one of the first things Orlando West would want to know would be why I had given him away. A complete and honest answer would mean not only reopening old wounds but also talking about things I didn?t want to have to discuss with a stranger, even if he was over fifty years old and a doctor. I had carried this man inside me for nine months, suckled him for more than a year, wiped his snotty nose and smelly bottom, but I didn?t know him anymore.
My eyesight had improved enough, after having my cataracts removed, to allow me to read and do some embroidery now and then. To calm myself, I called out to Ida to fetch my needlework basket. She helped me down the high step to the porch and I settled into my chair, telling her to clear the table and finish the Saturday cleaning which had been interrupted by the arrival of the visitors.
?That man, who was here just now with Mr. Yao, is coming back tomorrow.? I felt a glow of pride as I added, ?He is a big doctor in America-o.?
Looking impressed, Ida answered, ?Yes, Gramma? in her obliging way. She set to work straight after washing the dishes, humming under her breath at first, then singing quietly as she applied a mop to the fancy vinyl square that brightened the dark wooden floor, and a duster to the beige paint on the walls, the ornate gilt frame of the large mirror opposite the front door, to the clock on the wall, to the two armchairs, and to the pitted wood on the old dining table. She had begun to clean the dark green trellises that screened the bottom halves of the two windows facing Macaulay Street, when she suddenly allowed her thin high voice to soar.
?Cast your burden, unto Jesus, he cares for you...?
?I hope I am not the burden you want to cast unto Jesus-o,? I joked from the porch when she repeated the line.
Ida answered quickly and with a guilty laugh, ?Oh, no, Gramma. It is a new chorus that they taught us in church.?
Self-conscious now, she finished the rest of the cleaning in silence and left me to myself. For a while, my rug needle went steadily in and out of the piece of canvas on which I was making a design for carpet slippers. I continued not only to marvel at the miracle of seeing Sani again, but also to worry about having to expose certain parts of my life to him. Eventually, I let the canvas fall onto my lap, sucked my teeth and shrugged. What did it matter now what he or anyone else thought? That was simply the way my life had unfolded in the days when I was called Stella.
The next day, Sunday, Yao and Orlando showed up around one o?clock. I had had a restless night, but I was properly dressed this time, guessing correctly, that they would want to take pictures. Ida had already set the table and soon after Yao left us, I unpacked Isabella?s basket. It was brand new?red and green, and beautifully woven. She had sent a bottle of red wine, a packet of fruit juice, Jollof rice, and rich gravy with generous amounts of the traditional meats that had become too dear for most people: salt beef, brisket, pigs? feet, and imported chicken. There was also a platter of salad with lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, onion rings, and flakes of tinned salmon, as well as Heinz baked beans and Heinz mixed vegetables. She had even included a small bottle of Heinz salad dressing, which she knew I loved. Normally, such a luxurious salad would have included hardboiled eggs, but Isabella knew that I only ate eggs in mayonnaise and cakes. For dessert, she had provided two generous slices of Madeira cake?my lifetime favourite. I said to myself: with food like this, I will, surely need milk of magnesia before the end of the day.
For about half an hour Orlando and I concentrated on eating, making only small talk; then he leaned away from the table, rubbing his belly with both hands,
?Wow,? he said with a guilty laugh. ?I?ve eaten enough salt and fat to last me a whole year, but boy, was it worth it! Bella is a great cook.?
?That she is,? I said, belching as discreetly as I could.
I called Ida to clear the table. Orlando excused himself to use the latrine outside and, in his absence, I decided to call Isabella and thank her for the feast. She expressed such humble delight that I wondered for a moment whether she could be changing her ways. Obviously not. Her next words were the kind of bossy remark guaranteed to annoy me.
?Now go and relax, M.A. Get to know your other son again.?
?You don?t have to tell me that,? I retorted.
?I was only teasing you,? she said reproachfully. Perhaps; but it had come across as her usual bossiness.
It was in a much more formal tone that she went on to tell me that Yao would come for Orlando when the family returned from their weekly drive to Lumley Beach.
?Around seven o?clock, I think. I hope that is alright, M.A.?
?That will be fine,? I said, though the prospect of so many hours of conversation with Orlando made me quite uneasy.
As I clicked off, I imagined Isabella saying to Yao, ?That your mother! All I said was?,?And Yao replying, ?Don?t mind her, ya? She?s only jealous because she knows how much I love you,? and then going on to show her how much. Foolish boy, I thought, sucking my teeth; but I wasn?t really angry with him. Orange trees do not bear limes. He was just like his father in that regard, and perhaps I was a little jealous.
Orlando returned and sat down again, dismissing my apologies over the inconvenience of an outside toilet.
?Oh, you are just being kind,? I said.
?Not at all,? he laughed. ?It reminded me of going to see some of Mom?s folks when I was a kid. They lived on a farm deep in the country and had a washroom just like yours.?
?Yes, ma?am. In America. Not every place is like New York??
Even as I chuckled, I remained acutely aware of the question hanging in the air. It was to delay having to start telling Orlando my own story, that I introduced another topic of conversation.
?What kind of doctor are you, my dear, a surgeon??
?I do a quite a bit of surgery, but I wouldn?t call myself a surgeon: I specialise in eye problems.?
?I had eye problems for some time.? I told him. ?Cataracts. They were removed two years ago??
?And you are happy with the results??
?Very happy. The world has taken on a new look, and I can read and do embroidery again, though not for very long. My eyes let me know when they have had enough??
He chuckled at my little joke and asked whether there were many eye specialists in the country.
?We don?t have enough of any kind of doctor here,? I snorted. ?I was on the waiting list for a long time, going more and more blind. A missionary doctor used to come every year with a team of eye specialists and give free treatments; but he hasn?t been back since the war ended and...?
I stopped in mid-sentence as an idea struck me. Orlando interpreted my expression correctly and sat further back in his chair.
?Don?t look at me?I am not a missionary,? he laughed. ?It would mean having to find some organisation willing to take up most of the cost.?
However, a thoughtful expression came over his face as he continued to speak.
?Perhaps that is one way I could help out?that is, if I can swing it financially. Beverly is an eye care specialist, too. We could come together??
?My dear, that would be more than wonderful,? I beamed, overjoyed at the possibility that I might see him again before long.
?But can you both leave your work at the same time?? I asked.
?Sure; if it?s only for a few weeks. We have partners.?
?But your house??
?Oh, Bev and I are free agents these days. We can just lock up and leave. Our kids no longer live with us. One of them is married, and the other one has his own place. Let me show you their pictures.?
He put on a pair of rimless glasses he had taken from his breast pocket, and brought an old leather wallet from the back pocket of his khaki trousers. He removed three photographs from the wallet and showed them to me one by one.
?This is Beverly.? His wife was much darker than him, quite plump, but with pretty features and short greying hair, nicely arranged. ?And this is Ronald. He is twenty-five and an electronics engineer. That?s his wife, Wendy, and my sweet pea of a granddaughter, Keisha.?
Ronald and Wendy were a dignified-looking couple, their baby chubby and cute. She was wearing a pink and white striped dress and a pink flower in her mop of curly hair. The last picture was of a tall young man with a wide smile. He had on a long, loose, red and white singlet, with matching shorts that reached his knees.
?This is Michael. He is twenty-three. We had a few problems with him when he was a teenager, but he?s settled down now, thank goodness. He teaches math at a junior high school and just loves basketball, hence the outfit and the big smile. ?
?To think I have all this close family I knew nothing about!? I breathed, gazing from the photos to Orlando and back. ?Two more grandsons and a great-granddaughter. Oh, Sani!?
Orlando ignored the embarrassed gasp that followed my exclamation. I had given him a perfect opening to the topic of conversation that interested him the most and he wasn?t about to miss the opportunity.
He said, ?I know that Sani was my original name; my parents told me.?
?Actually it was Hasani,? I said as my heart began to race. ?I know you want me to tell you why I gave you away.?
?Yes, please; if you don?t mind.?
?Well, it?s a lo-ong story,? I warned in my turn. ?I shall have to start from the beginning??
?We have all afternoon, ma?am,? he reminded me with a smile, and moved his chair closer to mine as if he did not want to miss a single word.