Sapphire worked with Kelvin every evening to no avail. Its all so boring! Kelvin groaned. “And its nice outside. I really want to go outside to have fun. This reading of a thing is almost getting me depressed.”

Sapphire slapped him across the back of his head. “That’s nothing compared to what I’ll get if you don’t concentrate. ”

He pushed his chair back. “As soon as I’m old enough, I’m quitting and going into the army. ”

She went to Mama. “Please speak to him,Mama. He wont listen to me.” Maybe if Mama beseeched kelvin, he might try harder. “What hope have I of going back to school when that dolt refuses to use the brain he has?

Dr. Afang’s cataplasms and elixirs had done little to help mama’s cough. She looked lean and pale; her clothes hung loosely on her thin frame. The bones of her wrists looked as fragile as fowl’s wings.

“There’s not a thing I can do, Sapphire. You can’t change a hound into a sheep. ”

Sapphire hurled herself into a chair and put her head in her hands. Because he’s hopeless, I have no hope. ”

Mama left her needle tucked into a fabric as she reached over to cover Sapphire’s hand. “You’re learning new things everyday, from the Cokers and the doctor. You must wait and see what God will do. ”

Sighing, Sapphire threaded a needle to help mama. “Every penny I earn will be used to pay kelvin’s school expenses. And he doesn’t care Mama. Not a bit. ” Her voice broke. “Its not fair! ”

“God has plans for you, too, Sapphire. ”

“It’s papa who makes the plans. ” She stabbed her needle into the wool.

“God says to trust and obey. ”

“So I must submit to one who despises me and crushes every hope I have? ”

“God does not despise you. He loves you. He is the hope that can never get crushed and he’s also the life to wavering hopes. ”

“I meant Papa. ”

Mama didn’t disagree. Sapphire stopped and watched her mother’s slender fingers dip the needle in and out of the cloth. Mama took up a yellow thread to make tiny knots at the center of the cloth. When she finished, she smiled at Sapphire. “You can find pleasure in work well done. ”

Sapphire’s chest squeezed tight with pain. “I’m not like you, mama. You see the world through different eyes. ” Mama found blessings everywhere because she sees them. How often had Sapphire seen Mama leaning against the work counter in the kitchen, bent with exhaustion, sweat pouring from her brow as she watched the neighbouring kids litter the compound through the window? A soft word from Papa would bring a tender smile. Despite his cruelty, his selfishness, Mama found something to love in him. Sometimes Sapphire would see a look of pity come into her mother’s face when she looked at papa.

“Do you know what you want? ”

“To make something of my life. To be more than someone’s servant. “Her eyes grew hot and grainy. “I knew it was too much to dream of going to the university, Mama, but I would’ve liked to finish secondary school. ”

“What about now? ”

“Now? I’d like to learn French. I’d like to learn English and other native languages like urhobo, too. “She stabbed her needle through the dress. “Anyone who can speak multiple languages can find a good job and can go into trades. “She pulled the thread through too quickly and it tangled. “But I’ll never have the…. ”

“Stop, Sapphire. “Mama reached over and touched her gently. You’re making it worse. ”

Turning the black dress over, Sapphire plucked at the loops, loosening them.

“If the opportunity arose for you to learn more…..? Mama looked at her in question.

I’d find a good job and save money until I had enough to buy a land and make a building.

“You want a place like Relish, don’t you? Mama began on another design.

“I’ll never dream of having anything as grand as that. I’d be happy with a building. “She gave a bleak laugh. ‘I’d be happy to work in a nice shop in the city selling to different people of intellect! “She yanked the thread through. “But that’s not likely, is it? What’s the use of dreaming? “She thrust the wool aside and rose. If she sat another minute, she’d suffocate.

“Its good the dream is in your head. ”

“Why? ”

“To teach you patience. ”

“Oh Mama….. ” Sapphire groaned. “Don’t I show patience teaching that mulish brother of mine? Haven’t I shown patience hoping Papa might change his mind and let me go back to school? Its been two years, Mama! I’ve done everything he’s asked me to do. I’m fifteen! Precious doesn’t ask me to help her anymore. I grow more stupid every year! What good is patience when nothing will ever change? ”

“Nonsense. Come and sit, darling. “Mama put her work aside and took Sapphire’s hands firmly. “Look at what you’ve gained through the Cokers, Dr. Afang and the bakery. You’ve learnt to bake, tend for children and you’ve seen what it takes to run a fine restaurant. Doesn’t that show you God is preparing you….?

Her hands tightened when Sapphire opened her mouth to protest.

“Hush sapphire, and listen to me. Listen carefully. It doesn’t matter what your father plans, nor what his motives might be. God will prevail. God will use everything to his good purpose if you trust him.

Sapphire went cold. She saw something in her other’s expression that warned her. “Papa’s made plans for me, hasn’t he? What plans, Mama?

Mama’s eyes grew moist. “You must search out the usefulness in every situation. ”

Sapphire snatched her hands from Mama’s. “Tell me, Mama. ”

“I can’t. It’s for your father to explain. “She took up her sewing and said nothing more.

Papa laid out his plans for Martha the next morning. “You will be pleased to know I’m sending you to school. I would’ve sent you sooner, but Squeakyclean school of housekeeping only takes girls from fifteen and older. Your instructors are one of the richest people in this state. You should be happy! I’ve been assured that any girl who graduates from housekeeping school will have no difficulty in finding a job and a good position at that. You’ll be in the school for six months. You can pay me back when you come home and find a job.

“Pay you back? ”

His eyes cooled. “The tuition cost me ten thousand naira and another five thousand naira for books. You should be pleased. You wanted to go to school.” His voice hardened. “You’re going!

“This isn’t the kind of school I had in mind, Papa. “As well as he knew!

“You’re so smart, let’s see you make the most of the opportunity I’m giving you. This is my thanks for Kelvin passing his examinations. Who knows? If you do well enough in the school, you might end up working there! The idea seemed to please him.” That would be something to boast about. You leave in three days. ”

“But how about the Cokers, Papa? and the doctor and baker? ”

“I told them yesterday I was sending you to school. They said they wish you well. ”

Mama sat silent at the end of the table, hands in her lap. Angry, Sapphire looked at her. How could mama look so unruffled? She remembered mama’s plea. “Search out the usefulness…. Count your blessings…. “

She would be away from home for the first time. She would live in the school. She wouldn’t have to look at Papa or listen to his constant complaints.

“Thank you, papa. I look forward to it. ”

Jane gave a soft cry and fled the table.

“What’s wrong with that girl now? “Papa muttered.

“Sapphire’s leaving home, Jonathan. ”

“She’s coming back! ” He waved his hand in exasperation. “Its not as though she’s leaving for good. She’ll only be gone for six months and then she’ll be home forever. ”

The hair on the back of Sapphire’s neck rose. Forever!!!.

As soon as Papa left the table, Mama asked Sapphire to find Jane. “She’ll probably be down by the river. You know how she loves to listen to the sound from the river.

Sapphire found her where the river is. She sat beside her on a small rock by the river. “I have to go sometime, Jane.”

Jane clasped her knees against her chest and stared at the ripples below. “But the school is so far away. ” Her eyes filed with tears. “Do you want to go? ”

“I’d rather be going to the university, but housekeeping school will have to do.”

“What will I do without you? “Tears slipped down Jane’s pale cheeks.

“What you always do. ” Sapphire wiped the tears away. “Help Mama. ”

“But I’ll be alone in our room at night. You know I’m afraid of the dark. ”

“Take no fear in anything. There is no fear in love. God is always with you. ”

Jane started to cry. “Why can’t things stay as they are? Why can’t Papa let you stay here?

“Things can’t stay the same. “She pushes curl behind Jane’s hair. “Someday, you’ll marry, Jane. You’ll have a husband who loves you. You’ll have a home of your own. You’ll have children.” She gave Jane a rueful smile. “When you go, Jane, where will I be?” Papa said no man would ever want such a plain, ill-tempered girl.

Jane blinked, like a child walking to a bad dream. “I thought you’d always be here. ”

In this place, in Papa’s tailor shop, under Papa’s thumb, doing Papa’s will. “That’s what Papa thinks. Is that what you wish for me, Jane?

“Aren’t you afraid to leave? “Tears slipped down her pale cheeks. “I want to stay home with Mama. ”

“You’re not going anywhere, Jane. “Sapphire lay her back on the rock and flung her arms over her head. “And I’m only going to be away for six months. ”

Jane lay back and rated her head against Sapphire’s shoulder. ‘I wish you could stay here and not go at all. ”

Sapphire put her arm around her sister and stared up at the dark sky. “Every time you think of me, Jane, pray. Pray I learn something useful. Pray I learn more in the school than how I’ll be someone’s maid. ”

Sapphire went to thank the Cokers and the doctor and to say goodbye. And she went to the bakers the day before she left. The baker served tea and cookies. Henry Coker gave her two thousand naira. “This is for you, Sapphire. ” He closed her fingers around it. Sapphire couldn’t speak past the blob in her throat.

Henry coker suggested Sapphire and Rosie go for a nice walk down the road. Precious took her hand. “Mama doesn’t think you’ll come back. She thinks you’ll find a job in Warri and stay there, that I’ll have to wait until our family goes up there before I see you again. ” The Cokers went up every few months to buy things for the restaurant. Sometimes Precious and her sisters came back with ready made dresses from one of the shops in the state.

When they sat on their favorite fallen log, Precious lifted her white apron and dug in to the deep pocket of her skirt. “I have something for you. ”

“A book! “Sapphire took it with pleasure. Finding no title on the spine, she opened it. “Blank pages. ”

“So you can write all your adventures. “Precious grinned. “I expect you to let me read it when I see you. I want to know about all the handsome city boys you meet, the places you see, all the wonderful things you’re going to do. ”

Blinking back her tears, Sapphire ran her hand over the fine leather. “I’ve never had anything so fine. ”

“I wish I were going with you. There’s so much to see and do. What fun we’d have! When you’ve finished school, you’ll be hired by a handsome noble man who’ll fall in love with you, and……..”

“Don’t be silly. No one will ever want to marry me. ”

Precious took Sapphire’s hand and wove her fingers tightly together. “You may not be as beautiful as Jane, but you have fine qualities. Everyone knows so. My mother and father think you could do anything you set your mind to. ”

“Did you tell them about my dream? ” Sapphire pulled her hand away.

“In a weak moment, and go ahead and show your discontent, but I’m not sorry I did. Why do you think my mum told you so much about what it takes to run a restaurant? ”

As they walked down the hill, Precious took Sapphire’s hand again. “Promise you’ll write and tell me everything. ”

Sapphire wove her fingers with Precious’s. “Only if you promise to write back and not fill every line with dribble about James. ”

They both laughed.

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