Read Part 1 HERE
Read Part 2 HERE
Read Part 3 HERE
Read Part 4 HERE
Read Part 5 HERE
Read Part 6 HERE
"My name is Mr. Essien. Do you know where you are?" the man asked.
Kola swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. "Hospital...Am I going to die?"
The question slipped out. He knew people died in hospitals. His mother for one.
The man's eyes narrowed for a brief moment before his smile returned. "No, son. You were hit by a bullet but the doctors and nurses are taking very good care of you. You will live. Is the pain too much?"
"No." There was only a gentle throbbing on his thigh. The nurses gave him injections every time they came to check on him.
Mr. Essien sat in the straight-back chair next to his bed.
"The nurse said you can start eating so I brought you some food." He lifted the flask and unwrapped stainless steel cutlery from paper napkins.
Kola had never seen spoons or forks that shone that much. The ones he'd used before had been dull metallic grey. He watched as the man scooped jollof rice from the flask into the bowl-like top and held it out for him.
The delicious spicy aroma of the food made his mouth water and the rich orange-red colour of the sauce along with the dark fried meat he assumed was beef or something similar just ramped up his hunger. But how could he accept food from a stranger, a man who could well want him dead after his offences?
"It's okay," Mr. Essien said gently. He picked out a piece of meat and popped it into his mouth, chewing with relish. "This is delicious. Go on. Give it a taste."
The loud rumble of his stomach meant he couldn’t resist any longer and he grabbed the bowl and spoon the man held out. He shovelled the food into his mouth, his hunger making him eat like the wild boy he was.
"Hey, take it easy," the man chided.
His cheeks heated. He slowed down and chewed his food, now actually tasting the loveliness of the tomatoes and herbs in the meal.
"That's better." Mr. Essien took out a bottle of Fanta and used an opener in his key ring to pop the top off. He held it out.
Kola grabbed it and chugged down a third of it in one go, letting the sweet orange flavour chase the spice down his throat. He put it down on the side table and returned to the rice.
"So, what's your name?" the man asked.
He raised his head, eyeing the man who still had a smile on his face with caution.
"Kola," he said finally.
"Well, Kola. I need to get hold of your parents and let them know you are okay. I'm sure they must be worried about you. Can you tell me how to reach them?"
Kola stiffened, his appetite receding. He knew this question would come but he hadn't been prepared for it. "I—I don't have parents."
"No? Oh." Mr. Essien tilted his head. "What about relatives? Uncles. Aunties?"
"I don't have anyone apart from Olori." Kola swallowed hard. He'd said too much. Olori had taken him in and he'd had brothers with the gang of boys. Mentioning his name would get him into trouble. Then again, he didn't know what happened that night since it seemed the men abandoned him at the house.
"Olori. Who is that?"
"He is someone who helped me after my mother died. But he's not a relative." He tried to sound casual, hoping Mr. Essien wouldn't probe further.
"Okay. Where does he stay?"
Mr. Essien looked at him, his face screwed up for a little while. It seemed he'd figured out who Olori was by the hardening of his expression briefly. "So you don't have anyone else to take care of you?"
"I can take care of myself." He tried to sound brave. But the thought of leaving the hospital and not having anywhere to go scared him. He didn't particularly want to go back to Olori. What would happen next time they took him out on a job?
"I'm sure you can." Mr. Essien smiled and pulled out Polaroid photos from his wallet. "I have three sons. Two of them are close to your age. Here, take a look."
Kola held the edge of the Polaroid and stared at the picture of two boys who looked about his age. The two of them looked similar. It was easy to tell they were brothers although one was light-skinned and the other dark-skinned. They were smiling up at whoever took the photo, dressed in button-down shirts and jeans trousers with mixed-colour sneakers. He could tell from the design and logos on the shoes that they must have been very expensive. It reminded him of Tunji who was a sneakers fanatic. But these boys looked so different from Tunji or any of the other gang members. They appeared smart and spotless, their clothes creaseless.
"Felix, who is ten, is a very good at football. Do you like football?"
Kola nodded as he remembered kicking around with the other boys in the dusty space that formed their front yard.
"Mark is the younger one. He loves books and school. Do you like school?"
"Yes," Kola said, but he hadn't attended school since his mother died.
"So you'll get on very well with my boys." Mr. Essien said, his smile even wider. "When you are discharged from hospital, I want to take you to my home to live with us. Would you like that?"
Kola was shocked he couldn’t speak for a while.
When he finally found his voice he managed a tentative, "Yes."
This is the end of the Prologue section of Kola. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
As it's #mancandyMonday, did you know Tyson Beckford is the inspiration for Kola?
To read the rest of the story and find out what became of Kola, download a copy of the book today.