The sunset was brighter than usual, and the pedalling noise filled in my ears as I watched him disappear.
Sweat beads inch their way down as I recall that evening once more, the atmosphere getting muggier by the minute. That lonely night, we acknowledged the import of sustenance, the momentousness of a parent. Watching your father leave you hope but never returning became a scar; I can never forget it.
“Are you ready to leave?” My elder brother’s voice.
Before I can respond, he walks in; an envelope clutched in hand.
“Affirmative,” I reply, taking hasty steps towards the cupboard. I unlock its door and start rummaging through, searching for my purse.
“There are so many kids out of our house, waiting.”
“What, already?” I get dumbstruck and look at him in the eyes. “How many of them?”
He shrugs. “Too many for me to count.”
“Okay,” I say, looking back at the cupboard. My hand grips the handbag and takes out each last penny, handing them to my brother. “Go.” I say imperatively. “I’ll watch them.”
“Only me?” He asks, stupefied. “But you wanted to be there so bad. You know, watching the boxes stacked up and bringing them here, something about boosting your incentive.”
I smile. “I can’t forget who I’m doing this for though.”
He gazes at me for a moment with pure admiration. “You’re doing so well. I could never think of this, or have the guts to do it, but you… I’m so proud of you, honestly.”
My cheeks redden. “Please, I could never handle this without your assistance.”
He grins, turning around. “Okay, I better go. Take care of them.”
As he steps out of the door, I hear noises of God knows how many little ones. It puts a smile on my face, and I hear the jolly treads of my slippers as I make my way out.
No sooner had I taken a pace out than some guests looked up at me, astonishment in their eyes and a smidge of trepidation.
“Hey guys,” I break the ice with a heartfelt smile. “How have you been doing?”
A black-skinned boy sitting by the fissured wall answers, “Not bad. My name’s Ethan, and these are my friends: Amy and Clara, and then there’s…” He points to each of them while stating the names.
Some of them freeze in fear, some wave, while some beam. Everyone is burned by the scorching heat, yet the glimmer of hope to quench the thirst, to satisfy the hunger, is crystal clear in their eyes.
The only beauty in this war-torn country.
The introduction phase ends, and I invite them inside. There are roughly 40 of them, and they seem to get along well. Although our abode isn’t extensive enough, I hope there will be enough space for them to sit snugly.
“I’ll get some water,” I say, sitting them. “You sweeties must be parched from sitting under the sun for so long.”
A girl, perhaps eight, raises her hand.
“Why are you feeding us and not saving money for yourself?”
My heart drops. A place where it’s unusual to share, what are these children learning?
Only what they’ve been taught. Save for yourself.
“You mustn’t hoard, that’ll never increase your blessings. However, if you share, there’ll be no dearth of resources. Even in a situation like this, you must help the others. Or, in need, there’ll be no one by your side.”
They gaze at me quietly and share a few glances among themselves.
An hour passes. Two. Three.
Tears are at the edge of my eyes; I don’t know what to do.
“Hey, the brother’s here!” One of them shouts from the door.
I sprint outside and see my brother huffing.
“Wha-at?” My voice twitches. “Where’s the food?”
He pants, shaking his head. “There was an explosion again. The building’s demolished.”
The teardrop escapes. “So…”
“It’s fine,” he says with assurance. “I found another place, and I was there, helping. Mr Tibbs is fine; he was outside during…”
“Anyway, I’m here only to inform you. Otherwise, the kids might think… that we tricked them, and at a time like this.”
“Yes.” The word barely makes out.
“Okay,” he says, getting on the cycle. “I’ll be back within an hour, and you will feed those orphans.”
There’s a moment of silence, and then he smiles vaguely, a one filled with belief. “Sister, don’t you lose hope. The war is going to end one day, you’ll see. And children will laugh and play, without the fear of losing their families.”
I stare at him, that hopeful face. And he turns back; the wheels advance along the narrow path of the gravelly lane.
It’s almost night. The scenery is so familiar.
The sunset is brighter than usual, and the pedalling noise fills my ears as I watch him disappear.
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