This was V’s first year in primary school. She was in class one. Most children her age knew that a year has 12 months, January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December. This was all theory though. She had been oblivious of all other years prior to this. She had become curious though why she had to write 1999 on every date. Since childhood, V had had the tendency to pick on small things like that. She would hear people complain that 99 was a very long year. Somehow she had this notion that when December came, the year would end. She was pleased to find out she was right. She was well aware that some children older than her still hadn’t grasped this concept.
Days went by and V longed to see her mother again. Janvick had escaped school to see his mother. He was old enough to get there on his own. He had pocket money so it had been easy for him. He was almost twelve then. If V recalled well, Janvick was in class five that year. He had waited for Leba’s visit for three weeks in a row and had finally heard the news. Janvick was a spoiled boy. He was the first born and their mother had chosen to invest in his education. She visited him every weekend to bring him food and other replenishments. She would then pick his dirty laundry and give him the ones she had washed and ironed for him, beats the logic of a boarding school. Janvick looked forward to these visits, and when they stopped he got curious. Titus had hired someone to look after their family business, one Rogers who never stopped giggling. Rogers was responsible for taking meat to Janvick’s school and so Janvick made it a point to find out why their mother had suddenly abandoned him. He didn’t take the news of her departure lightly, so he ran away and went to see her.
Lydia was already ten. She was an April baby. Being the eldest daughter, she was forced to take over caring for her younger ones. She was in class three, two years behind Janvick and two years ahead of V. V had started school very young and after she had caught on at an amazing rate, she was promoted to the subsequent levels despite her tiny size. She was four years younger than her sister but only two classes behind her. Bradil had not started school together with her, he had only just joined, which placed him two classes behind her. Her parents were still treating Harry like the baby of the house, and so despite being only one year younger than V, he had not started school. Naturally, V felt way older than the two of them and so any time there was a brawl between the three of them, she would hold their hands in one of hers and cane them. The thought of this still tickled her a bit. She wondered why they had never thought of ganging up against her and beating her up. The fights had only started in the absence of Leba though.
Titus must have grown weary of looking after two small girls and three small boys because one day he was gone. V could not recall how long it had been after their mother had left. In fact, she had no memories of living with a single father, so it must have taken him a day or two. She also had no idea how Janvick had left the boarding school because he was home with them at the time. She remembered though, that his irrational yet totally understandable act had not ended well and Titus had not been too happy about it. Janvick loved V of them all. He and Lydia had sibling rivalry between them. Lydia loved Harry, she and V barely got along. V loved Bradil. However, when an external intruder came on them, there was no picking sides, they were there for each other. Janvick had grown into a strong boy, with his father’s cursed temper. He could beat up boys older than him, and sometimes two at a time. They survived. The whole five of them. V had no idea how. She remembered though that their grandparents gave them food. They had transformed from rich kids to orphan-like sufferers in such a short time that they had had no time to adjust. People made fun of them. Sometimes their cousins, and sometimes their cousins’ parents. The parents treated them like expendables. They had become the homestead servants. Janvick always tried to protect them but he was too young to carry the weight of the family, let alone the world. He became a bitter boy, always ready to pick a fight. A paranoid boy who would not allow people to laugh in his presence without explaining why. He almost ventured into drugs, but a good samaritan scared him off.
Aunt Doris had once taken V to go help her babysit one holiday, uncle Sammy’s wife had picked on Lydia to help with the house chores. V did not remember this in detail though. V, Lydia and Bradil went to the same school. Someone took Harry to a nursery school next door, where it took him over a year to finally accept he was in school. At some point Aunt Edna had picked on Lydia to babysit for her. But by class six, Lydia was tired of being pushed around and had tried to run away. People claimed that she had tried to get married. V knew that anyone would say anything and get away with it. After all, they were all having fun, pushing the abandoned children around.
Those years, V had no idea how many they had been, went by. Titus stayed somewhere in a rental house with the woman who had been behind the entire fallout. Her name was Rhoda. She was a teacher too. She taught in the same school Titus did. That was how they had met. That was who Titus had chosen over his family. That was why Titus had come home one evening furious and had locked an oblivious Leba in the house and had beaten her almost to death had it not been for Stanley, his younger brother who had intervened and had almost broken their door down to save a hoarse-voiced Leba from the grasp of death. Titus had gone to reinforce the door and a wounded Leba had barely escaped through the back door. All this had happened because Leba had gone to Titus’ school to confront his lover. Rhoda had reported this to her snatched boyfriend who had then turned on his wife and thrown a beautiful family to disarray.
V had stayed without a mother for so long that she’d started to forget what her mother looked like. She remembered running to a woman who resembled her mother strikingly and had innocently asked, “Do you know me? are you my mother?” The woman had been kind. She must have understood the longing that V felt. She had shown V her home, which fortunately wasn’t far from the stream from which they got water. She’d then told V “Visit whenever you feel like. From today, I will be your mother.” V visited, but she began to understand that Rosalia was Mercy and Eva’s mother, not her’s. They became friends all the same.
V remembered that Titus gave bread to Tabitha on several occasions and instructed her to give it to V to share it with the rest. Tabitha was V’s classmate who also happened to be living with her family in the same building Titus and Rhoda lived. She was like the mediator. For this reason, V grew fond of Tabitha. Not for the bread, well maybe a little, but because Tabitha was the only person who knew how and where her father was. V missed her father too, and Tabitha was his semblance. She longed to hearing “your father says hi” from Tabitha. These words accorded her peace. She derived in them the strength to face her relatives who had transformed them into pushovers. Her days in school were hard. She went to school with children from rich families. There had been no one to transfer them from their school when all of this had gone down. So she went to school, almost late everyday. Some teachers liked her. Teacher Paul, Teacher Jane, teacher Philisters and teacher Reuben, the principle, were her favourites. She amazed them how she kept her brains despite everything. V’s performance was independent of the limited number of days she spent in class. She was often away. Every time she was sent away to bring school fees, she would go home until her sister told her it was okay to go back to school. The principle would then leave them alone because he understood their situation and because V was one of his outstanding students. He wanted to promote V faster that the system allowed, because to him, she did not need the entire eight years, but he had to consult Titus who would not hear of it.
Somewhere in class three though she remembers spotting KXT on her way back home from school. At that time, Rhoda had been transferred to a different school, a public school near V’s school. V went by Rhoda’s school every morning and every evening. Only she knew Rhoda. The rest of her siblings only heard stories of her and her amazing beauty. Her father had introduced her twice, once while their mother was still around. Titus had taken V to his school to flaunt her like he liked to do. Rhoda was constantly in his office playing nice perhaps with Titus’ favourite child to impress him. They would speak English every time knowing only too well that she was too young to understand.
Her dad stopped at the entrance to Rhoda’s school and beckoned V to join him. Rhoda joined next and he left with the both of them. That evening, V helped her father and stepmother to move out of their rental house to V’s home. They arrived at around nine or ten in the night. KXT woke up everyone just in time to welcome a new member and a long-lost member to the homestead. V could only hope that things would be different from then on. She was right.