And Korzu had gone over to Marwolo’s. She had that evening met him bent over a game of checkers with a man who was older than he.
“My sister has put me out of her house, Marwolo,” Korzu said.
“You two are always fussing and fighting.” Marwolo said, not looking up from his game of checkers.
“My sister is to blame,” Korzu said. “She is a jealous woman who has got no shame for herself. Do you know that she wears my underclothes, even?”
“Do not mind her,” Marwolo said. “She is an old woman. I do not see why she must behave like a young girl.”
Marwolo and the man with him burst into laughter, and Korzu joined in.
“Thank you,Marwolo,” Korzu said, when her laughter had subsided. “I’ll bring my things today.”
“You’re welcome, Korzu,” Marwolo said. “You know I love you.”
She had then moved in with him, bringing along a small polythene bag in which she had her belongings, propping it up against the corrugated wall of Marwolo’s room in which were his personal effects: a rotting mattress, a plastic container in which he stowed his drinking water, a few cooking utensils in a corner, and two pairs of used sneakers. Not long after Korzu’s children came in quick successions, like burst of automatic fire.
She had been toting her third pregnancy when she decided to visit with her sister, because she felt ashamed of herself and wanted to mend their relationship.
“My God, you’re pregnant again, Korzu?” Patience had said in surprise, as Korzu sat beside her on the wooden bench.
“Yes, Patience, and I’m feeling sorry for myself.”
“Where is Marwolo?”
“I do not know, and do not even want to think about him. He is such a useless man!”
“How is that?”
“He has got two children to feed, I’m carrying another pregnancy for him, and he behaves as though he’s a small boy.”
“Well, how are your children?”
“I left them with one of my friends.”
“That is a bad habit, Korzu.”
“Yes. But things are not easy.”
“I warned you about all this a long time ago, but you did not listen. Now look what you have come to.”
“Yes. And I am so ashamed I wish the ground would open and swallow me. Can you help me, Patience?”
“Help you, with what?”
“Please take care of me and the children until I have delivered and am able to help.”
“That is not an easy thing to ask for, Korzu? You know that things are just as tough with me, and-”
“Please, sister. Marwolo is of no use to me and the children except when he wants to lie down with me. The children cry every day because there is hardly a cup of rice in the house. Besides I’m pregnant and hardly of use to myself. It’s terrible.” She buried her hands in her face and began to cry.
Patience was silent for a while, wondering how she could feed the mouths of her own and Korzu’s children, along with a pregnant Korzu. At long last she said, “I want to help you, Korzu, but ...”
Korzu went down on her knees. “I beg you, sister. Do it for God’s sake, if not for mine. I made a mistake to have followed such a foolish young man.”
“All right, you and the children can come tomorrow. But you must understand that I’m not working and that I have got my own children to feed. I think you had better start selling oranges and saving money to rent your own room. My room is packed already, and there is hardly enough space for myself.”
“Thank you Patience. God will bless you.”
“You’remy sister, Korzu.”
They had embraced, and Korzu had wept as if her life depended on it. And then she had left.
At dusk, just after Marwolo had come home from selling,Korzu said:
“Tomorrow the children and I will go to live with my sister, Marwolo.”
“That will be much better,” Marwolo said, lying on his back and blowing opium smoke towards the ceiling with holes large enough to pass his head and through which one could get a clear view of the sky through holes in the equally perforated roof. “If you and the children stay here I do not know how you people will eat. My business is bad, and I too am starving,” he added.
“I know your business is bad,” Korzu said. “But can you buy half bag of rice for me and the children?”
“Half bag of rice?” Marwolo said, as if he had not heard.
“Yes,” Korzu said, and her voice was filled with defiance.
“You must be joking,” Marwolo said, shaking his head. “Do you think it’s easy to earn money?”
“But half bag of rice does not cost much?” Korzu said.
“Shut up,” Marwolo said. “You’re not the one who looks for the money. You only sit here and eat.”
“But I can’t carry the children to my sister as it is,” Korzu said. “My sister is not working, and she has got her own children.”
“I don’t have a cent.” Marwolo sat up suddenly on the mattress, his eyes flashing with anger.
“I’m ashamed of you,” Korzu said. You have given me two children, and here I’m pregnant again, and you can’t even buy half bag of rice! ”
“Go to the devil!”
“It is you who should go to the devil, you useless man.”
“All right, between the two of us I’ll show you who’s useless.”
And by the time Korzu managed to stumble out the door, yelling at the top of her voice, Marwolo had already broken two teeth out of her mouth.
The Slipway Community Clinic was crowded. The cries of babies merged and mingled with the buzz of conversation. On wooden benches sat several people, mostly women, with babies and toddlers cradled in their arms or slung halfway across their shoulders. Pregnant women, most of them barely in their teens, gaunt and sallow, thin arms dangling from their shoulders, sat also among the crowd. A girl no more than thirteen years old and big with child, lay on one of the benches, curled up like a fetus and crying at the top of her voice. Among the women sat Korzu, her sick little boy clasped to her breasts. Now and again a nurse emerged from a partition and shouted a patient’s turn, indicated by numbered cards each of the patients held in their hand. Whoever turn it was would rise and go into the partition, and then come out a few minutes later.
After several of the patients had gone and come out of the partition, Korzu heard her number called, and in she went carrying her son.
In a small room formed by the partition and furnished with a wooden table and two chairs sat a doctor. He was middle-age, balding, and dressed in a doctor’s white coat. He motioned Korzu to the chair in front of him, and she sat down, adjusting her son so that he sat facing the doctor, the child’s sickly, yellow eyes looking feebly up at the doctor.
“What is the name of the boy?” the doctor asked.
“His name is Kollie,” Korzu said.
“His last name?” the doctor asked.
“Sumerwood,” Korzu said.
The doctor wrote down the name on a writing pad he held in his hand.
“What happened to him?” the doctor asked.
“I think he has got malaria,” Korzu said.
The doctor opened wide the child’s left eye, looked into it, and then wrote down on his writing pad again.
“How long has he been sick?” the doctor asked.
“It must have been two weeks now,” Korzu said.
“And you did not bring him to the clinic ever since?” the doctor said.
“I do not havemoney, doctor,” Korzu said, and sounded annoyed.
The doctor sighed and shook his head. Next he took the baby’s temperature, wrote again on his pad, and into another partition sent Korzu. Here her son’s blood sample and stool were examined by another doctor who was younger than the first and was dressed in a nurse’s blue scrub. To each doctor Korzu paid a total of five hundred Liberian dollars. And then from the second doctor she received a piece of paper showing further expenses for medicines to be paid for at the clinic dispensary. Korzu looked down at the piece of paper and could not believe her eyes. On it were written a total of three thousand Liberty. And from where could she get that amount of money?