About the book
Alhaji and his three brothers ans a sister grow up in poverty but yet they are happy. However, trouble is looming and it would come in the form of civil war that would hit and shatter their world. Alhaji meets Claire, a young girl with her own fair share of loss. the friendship they form helps them overcome the sorrows the war brings. They find strength and love in each other. The story also tells about their parting, their individual battles and fanally a love too strong to be forgotten. It is story of hope, courage and love.
About the author
Jedidah who has a passion for medicine and writing, is a fourth year medical student at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone. She attended the Eastern Polytechnic Secondary School in Bo, Sierra Leone.
Read Chapter 1 of Youthful Yearnings...
Silence hung over us like death, and indeed death was among us. It was like a snake lashing out and striking us and from which there was no escape. Dad was first. No one actually saw him die. In our hearts, we all hoped it had not happened, but with each gunshot we heard, we had less reason to hope until we knew he was surely gone.
My baby sister eventually was next. Ribsey was her name, and a well-deserved name too, for Ribsey meant sunshine and to us that is what she was. She had a beautiful smile and a laugh that brought us joy when we were facing the very worst times. She was two, yet she wielded so much power. When she smiled, she calmed everyone; when she laughed, she eased our tensions. She might have been a queen, the way everyone would queue up to do her bidding. But then she was a queen, or rather a princess. True, her subjects comprised of Mum, Dad (when he was sober), my two brothers, and me, yet no princess ever wished for more loyal subjects who would love her more.
Her kingdom was our little house made of corrugated iron sheets, our "pan-bodi" house in Kalaba village. The little house had two rooms. The larger of the two was where Mum and Dad slept with Ribsey in a little bed. In the other room, my brothers and I slept on our mats. Everywhere around the house during the rainy season were pots and pans, for our roof leaked, and we did not want the water to ruin the very little we had.
In prosperous times, we shared our house with chickens and sometimes even with a goat, but since the war started, there was nothing; nothing but hunger, nothing but suffering, nothing but death. We had nothing. For as long as I could remember, we had little, but my mother was an industrious woman, and somehow, almost incredibly, she handled everything life threw at us. She kept us whole, she kept us happy, and she kept us fed. We went to the forest and hewed firewood. She would split some of it, and sometimes, she would burn wood to make coal, which she sold. With this money, she paid our school fees and took care of our needs.
She also used this money to buy seeds. She planted these seeds, and it was from our farm that we got most of our foodstuff. What was left, she sold. She was a business woman at heart, but she was essentially a mother who wanted a better life for us. She didn?t have much to offer us, but she gave us all she had, and the greatest gift she gave us was education.
My mother was a clever woman although she could not write a letter to save her life. Despite her lack of education, her sound judgment, wise decisions, and her compassion made up for it. She enrolled my brothers and I in school as soon as we turned six and while school was on, she did not allow us anywhere near the farm or the forest. Somehow she managed on her own. She did it all alone with little Ribsey strapped to her back. To this day, thinking about her sacrifices brings tears to my eyes.
My mother, my inspiration! I remember coming home from school and seeing her looking so tired, yet she would not sleep until we came home. In the most motherly way, she insisted that we have our lunch immediately, and while we ate, she hovered around us asking how school was. We told her our little stories, and she listened to all of them. Then we all took a nap. She was always there to wake us up from our sleep. We knew that it was time to start studying. The thing about her that I most appreciate whenever I look back is that she sat with us while we read our books. I never understood why then, for she had no idea what we were reading, yet she sat there smiling, looking at us, just looking at us.
As time passes, I think more about her, more about her sacrifices, more about her unconditional love. She had so little to give us, yet she gave us everything. She dealt with everything life threw at us. She dealt with my father. Abdul was his name, and because he was my father and because I have always known that in his own way he loved us, I loved him too.
When I was a little boy, he was a mystery to me, probably because I rarely saw him; he was almost always absent. When he did come home, he seemed to be absent minded for half of the time, and the other half of the time he was asleep. As I grew up, the mystery unraveled.
I remember the occasion when one of my friends had a party. The idea of having a party was a novelty to me. True, his parents had just cooked a lot of rice and asked him to bring his friends to eat, but I was impressed. I had never had a party, and I knew without asking that my parents could not afford one. I remember my mum scrubbing me until I was almost sore; then she put on me my very best clothes. She also combed my hair. I remember that my brothers looked on enviously, for they had not been invited. I felt very important that day as I set off for the party. On my way to the house, I saw two of my friends playing hand ball. Now, when I think of what happened that day, I smile.
"Alhaji, where are you going dressed like a girl?"
I swelled up in anger at the provocation. Holding my head up in pride, I answered, ?None of you has ever looked this neat; you are just jealous."
They laughed then, saying, ?Real boys don?t go about smelling of soap. Only girls do.? My manly pride had been hurt, so I had to act.
?I bet I can beat the two of you at this game." The die was cast; there was no turning back. It was a fight for our dignity, and we were going to defend it to the death. We played like boys possessed and at the end of the game I had won 6 ? 4. My heart was full of joy. I had won a game against two players, and I was on my way to a party, my first party. The day was perfect.
I remember reaching the house and going in. I smiled at the familiar faces that were seated eating heartily. All of a sudden, my friend?s mother shouted, ?Who is that scruffy boy? Who let him in here?? She held me by the scruff of my neck. I felt humiliated.
Then suddenly one of her relatives spoke, ?Leave the poor boy alone.? I remember then that she slackened her grip and relief washed over me. ?Don?t you know him? He is the son of Abdul the drunkard. What do you expect from the poor boy??
I didn?t really know what a drunkard meant, but I knew there was nothing good about being one. I ran out of the house and ran all the way home. Ordinarily, my mother might have wanted to scold me for coming home in such an untidy state, but as soon as she saw me, she sensed that something was wrong, so she just let me be.
Later she came to speak to me; she asked me what was wrong, and I told her in a shaky voice full of emotion. She smiled and told me, ?You are not your father; you are not me. You are Alhaji, and you are better.? Then she served me the most delicious food, rice and potato leaves, food I enjoyed more than what I would have eaten at the party.
My father was a drunkard and a gambler. In moments that were both few and far between, he was sober. In those times, he said to us, ?Don?t be like me, your father.?
At times, Mama also said, ?Your father is a good man.? She would shake her head then and say, ?It is the drinking that is his problem.? She loved him unconditionally. She never stopped loving him.
I was the youngest of my brothers. Pat was the eldest, Kunt was second, and I was the ?small boy.? I was undoubtedly Mother?s favorite child for eleven years before Ribsey was born, and then I lost that position. But I didn?t mind that Ribsey was everyone?s favourite.
Looking back, I know that my main flaw was that as a little boy I was not content, I craved for everything I knew I could not have, but on the whole I was happy. We all were. When the war started, and things started going horribly wrong, I looked back on those years and sighed, thinking of the simple pleasure of waking up and not having to worry whether the day would be my last. Also, I missed the days when there was a full moon and the simple pleasure of running around at night, of seeing the people you love the most each day; of not having to watch your little sister die.
I remember watching her taking her last few breaths and praying silently, ?God if you let my baby sister live, I will be grateful for every little mercy.? God did not answer my prayer. Since then, however, I have learned to count my blessings and to draw strength from every difficult situation.