The white Ford bus came to a gradual halt, tyres mildly sinking into the soft foliage surrounding the cabin. Its engine hummed a silent vibration, doing little to disturb the serenity of the coming sunrise.
Sister Hazel slid the bus-door open and hopped out, kicking and stretching. She yawned into a smile as Brother Brown came from the sides of the car to meet her. “Trust me, the driver’s even more tired” She reached for his hands and cupped it into hers, kissing it lightly. “We are grateful for the driver”.
Slowly they carried the children inside, one after the other, carefully avoiding a happenstance of waking even one up. Like an army of bees, the hornets’ nest was not to be stirred.
After the last of the children was tucked in, they sat down behind a kitchen table to a kettle of hot coffee. In silence, they sipped from their mugs.
The children balled up in a circle to listen to Sister Hazels announcement, excitedly pinching and giggling at themselves. She clapped a few more times before they fell into order.
“We are tired from the trip so today we won’t be going anywhere”
Their murmur of disapproval was resounding.
“You should be excited! It means more time for fun and games!”
The noise returned. It was Brother Brown, all the while leaned against the fence, who clapped them to silence this time.
“Lunch will be in an hour, Dinner at 6. I have said this already, and I am repeating it, no one is allowed to go into the woods without Brother Brown or myself. If for any reason any of you needs to, come see us and we will go with you. Daniel!”
A giggle went through the crowd. Daniel looked down at his feet, embarrassed.
“Have you heard!?”
The meeting was soon dismissed, with an understanding that Sister Hazel was to lie down but would after lunch join them in an Ampe ‘battle-of-the-sexes’ game. She strolled lazily into the cabin, falling into one of the settees.
Outside, the children run around in little groups, falling and screaming in jovial play. The sound of their voices carried for miles around. Paa Kwesi sat underneath a large tree watching his friends. So desperately, he wished he could join them. He wished he could laugh as loudly as they did, be as carefree, be happy, but he couldn’t. His 7 year old head lay heavy with the biggest burden his young mind had ever been faced with: asking Tabitha, the love of his life, to be his girlfriend. She was seated between her friends even now, twirling a flower between her fingers. She looked up and met his eyes.
“Hey…” The voice startled him, coming seemingly out of nowhere. He looked around him.
“Hey…” It came again, louder this time, a throaty whisper. He got up to his feet and stared at the space at which he was sat.
“Daniel? Is that you? This isn’t funny!”
Beyond the tree, his vision was blocked by the tall growth of weeds surrounding the compound. The voice had come from beyond the weeds. Going beyond the weeds meant going into the woods. Didn’t it?
“Paa Kwesi! Paa Kwesi!”
Sister Hazel’s lantern was a soft orange glow in an endless spread of darkness. Some distance from her, she heard the muffled sound of Browns voice, an echo of the helpless frustration in hers. She picked her steps through invisible twigs and pines, doing the most she could to avoid more bruises to the ones she had already acquired on her legs.
“Paa Kwesi! Paa Kwesi!”
As one hand buckled under the weight of a lantern she had been holding up for hours, the other gripped firmly at the beadings of her rosary. Between her screams, her lips whispered a prayer – that the boy would be found, that the boy would be okay.
It was some time before she realized her ears had stopped picking Brother Browns muffled cries. It frightened her. How long had she been out for? How far off from the children was she? She turned around.
Her steps changed in pace from hurried strides into a run as she got closer. A distance from her, she saw the furious thrusts of a cloud of smoke. The lantern dangled in her hands, threatening to slam into her heaving chest.
The cabin was in flames, casting a bright glow over the entire clearing. On weak legs she walked towards the fire, towards a silhouette of the boy standing in front of.
Paa Kwesi turned to look at her, a smile on his face.
“They are dead, Sister Hazel. I killed them.”