To read part one, go HERE
Before he finished speaking, two of the boys grabbed him and turned the pockets of his shorts inside out.
"He is empty," Tunji said, confirming what everyone else could see.
Olori shook his head and went back to leaning against the wall. "Then your parents have to pay. You have to ask your mother to give you the money."
Muscles jumped under Kola's skin and his hands clenched as he fought back tears. Nobody had mentioned his mother in weeks. The sympathy he'd received from his old neighbours had vanished not long after she was buried. He didn't blame them. They all had their own concerns. Life in the slum wasn't easy for anyone. Why would they add taking care of the son of a dead prostitute to their worries?
He sucked in another deep breath. "My mother is dead."
"What about your father?" Olori didn't even blink, although one of the other boys shifted his stance.
Parental death wouldn't be a new thing for this gang. They probably were all orphans like him. Although he didn't know if his father was alive or dead.
"I don't have one," he replied.
"So who do you live with?"
Kola shrugged, shoved his hands into his pockets, and stared at the ground under his tattered sandals. Weed grew between the holes in the broken concrete.
Olori sighed. "You broke the laws of the garbage dump by scavenging without permission. On top of that, you owe me for working on my turf. What do you think I should do with you?"
Kola lifted his head, meeting Olori's gaze. The older boy didn't look angry but he didn't look as if he'd be willing to let Kola go free without some form of compensation.
"I don't know. Perhaps if you let me forage some more, I can make some money to pay you back," he said, squeezing the hands in his pockets into fists.
It probably meant going hungry for a few more days. But he couldn't dare think of what these boys would do to him if he didn't pay up. And if he couldn't search in the refuse dump, how would he survive?
"Humm." Olori tilted his head as if he was thinking about Kola's proposal. Then he gave a toothy grin of a shark. "Okay. I'll let work on my patch but you'll pay half of everything you earn and stay with us here. This is your new home."
The other boys cheered and smacked him on the shoulders, now welcoming him into their gang. It took a few moments for Kola's shock to wear off after Olori's announcement.
"Is he serious?" Kola asked in a low voice, not wanting to jinx his luck.
"Of course he is," Tunji replied with a huge grin. "You are just like the rest of us, runaways and orphans. You'll fit in."
Kola nodded and surveyed his new home. It had four walls and a roof, although the two windows lay bare so that a small breeze swept through in cross ventilation. The boys used piles of breeze blocks as chairs and a centre table was formed out of clustered blocks with a sheet of plywood on top. Soon, they were playing cards on it.
Tunji pulled him aside. "Come, let me show you where you will sleep."
He led Kola down a short corridor with two shut doors opposite each other. He pushed open the one on the left, revealing a shadowed room with bare walls, a boarded-up window, and uncovered foam mattresses on the floor.
That night for the first time in days, he had food in his stomach when he went to bed. He shared a loaf of bread and lukewarm coke with the rest of the boys. They ate as the sun set, the room lit with a kerosene lamp. The power outlets were not connected in this unfinished house. Not that it made much difference to him. There'd been a patchy power supply to the one room face-me-I-face-you flat he'd lived with his mother. And since he'd been homeless, lack of electricity had been the least of his problems.
Instead of sleeping alone on a hard cardboard sheet with a torn Ghana-must-go bag as cover, he had a soft mattress to sleep on and other boys sleeping beside him. Instead of being exposed to the elements, he was in a room with a roof over his head and a window that wouldn't let in sunshine or rain. Or wind. Yes, it felt stuffy in the room. But he preferred the hot and airless space as long as he had company.
Being alone had been the worst part of the past few weeks.
To be continued.
Come back tomorrow for more.
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