Written by Jennifer Azubuike
“I did what I did to my boss because he was too cruel. He is lucky he survived. I regret nothing.” Willis said to his seatmate while looking aimlessly into the empty space ahead of him.
Someone served him a drink. He collected the cup from the young lad and sipped from it mindlessly before putting it down on the table. He watched the lad walk away then turned again to his mate, Yati.
“Isn’t he a little too young? What did he do to be put here?” He said as he nodded toward the lad.
“Yeah. Whatever his name is.”
“I don’t know his story. The boy hardly speaks about himself.”
“I can make him talk.” Willi’s face lit up in a mischievous smile as he took another sip from his cup.
“I suggest you let him be. The young chap is just happy serving everyone.”
“I am just curious.” Willis shrugged.
Yati Humped and gave his pal a warning look before leaving his company. Willis continued to watch Joe as he walked from one table to another refilling cups of the other prisoners or removing used food trays. He wanted to let go of the thought, but curiosity got the better of him.
* * * *
Meanwhile in the household of the Chief prison guard trouble was brewing because an expensive piece of jewelry had gone missing. It was one he had gifted his wife on their first anniversary. It is estimated to cost about one-fourth of his wealth and so was precious. If it could not be found, the chief housekeeper automatically becomes responsible for it. Chief Goti gave an ultimatum to the man to produce the piece of jewelry by three days or be arrested. Mr Bart, a deaf man in his forties, was in distress. He has served the Goti household for twenty years and has never stolen from them, however, he understood that the responsibility fell on him if the missing jewel was not found.
At home, Mr Bart sat up beside his sleeping wife then bent over and felt her protruding belly for their baby. The woman stirred and sat up.
She signed “What is wrong?” to him. She was the only one that knew sign language well enough to communicate with Bart effortlessly. It is one of the reasons he fell in love with her.
“Tomorrow is the last day to find the jewelry.” He replied.
“Oh! Are you worried?” She signed again to which Bart nodded. “What do you think he will do if it is not found?”
“I don’t know but he was so furious yesterday that I am afraid he might do more than fire me.” He groaned distressingly.
“Don’t talk like that. You have served him for two decades. I am sure he will put that into consideration.”
“I don’t think so. It is an expensive jewel.”
“What do we do now? Should we go beg him together? Maybe when he sees I am pregnant he might reconsider.”
“Oh no!” Bart waved vigorously in her face. “He must not see you. I don’t want him getting ideas. Here, I have saved some money in cash. I will leave them in a bag in the manure pit in the garden. I have also written to my sister. If I don’t return tomorrow, please wait for her and do whatever she tells you even if she asks you to move with her to Vexus.”
* * * *
Back in the prison, Willis found an opportunity to corner Joe as he was mopping the courtyard alone. Joe was handsome and of a quiet demeanor but Willis was convinced there was something sinister about him.
“Hi, can I help you with something?”
“Maybe. How old are you?”
Joe frowned. “Sixteen. What has that got to do with what you need?”
“Why are you here?”
“To mop the floor.” Joe snickered. This man’s presence, whoever he was, made him uncomfortable. He knew he was one of the new admits.
“Don’t play dumb with me. You know what I mean.” Joe ignored him. “I saw you sneak something into your pockets earlier. I could tell on you, you know.” Willis threatened.
“It is my job to search the pockets of clothes for items before they are taken away to the laundry. What I removed was a personal effect I intend to return to the rightful owner.”
“Who cares? I could make it look like you stole.”
“You will do no such thing!” Yati spoke up from behind Willis. “Will, what do you think you are doing?”
“Ah! My friend. Just having a little fun with the lad.” Willis turned around and smiled at Yati.
“I told you not to bother the boy.” Yati did not smile back.
“Relax, it was just a harmless question.”
“It makes him uncomfortable anyway.” Yati shot back
“Why are you so protective of him?”
“I was betrayed!” Joe said unexpectedly, making the other two men go quiet.
“What did you say?” Yati turned to Joe.
“I said I was betrayed, that is why I am here.”
“You don’t have to say anything Joe. Don’t let this bully make you speak if you don’t want to.” Yati sounded empathetic.
“It’s okay. It’s about time I put the rumors to rest anyway.” Joe dropped the mop and sat down. “My unfortunate journey started about two years ago. I accidentally walked in on my oldest stepbrother in the middle of a shady business. I just instinctively knew it was dangerous so I got away from there as fast as I could. Before then, I knew he had a quirky reputation, but it was different to have witnessed something like that. It was simply shocking for me. For the next one week following the incident, I was hardly myself when I worked for my mom. I tripped over things and broke jars easily. My brother must have feared I would expose him, so he arranged for me to be kidnapped. I knew it was him who arranged it because it was unmistakably his voice I heard bargaining a price for my sale. My own brother sold me for a price.” Joe beat his chest to emphasize the last line. The pain in his voice was unmistakable.
“For about twenty-two days,” He continued “I was locked up in a little room somewhere. At first, I cried non-stop until my tear bag ran dry, I think. Then I started to pray. I prayed that someone would find me and take me back to my mother. I prayed so much that I believed a miracle would certainly happen, but nothing happened. At least, nothing in my favor.” All three men fell silent.
“How did you end up in prison?” Willis wanted him to continue.
“One thing led to the other. It’s a long story. I just remember being angry for a long time.”
“You said you prayed.” Yati turned to Joe who nodded a yes. “Who taught you how?”
“My mother. She could bet on her life that there is a God in heaven who hears prayers.”
“And you believed?” Willis chuckled.
“Well, at the time, yes. I mean who wouldn’t believe it when my mother talked about God? She practically had her evidence. She said I was one of them; that my conception, birth and life are a miracle. Many times too, when we had a need at home, she would just pray about it and believe it is taken care of, and just like that the need would be met. Now I am not sure if they were mere coincidence or maybe there is truly a God up there. I don’t know, but if there is, maybe I just don’t worth his attention.” Joe paused and swallowed hard. “Anyway, it is my mother I pity. I can picture her kneeling and praying day and night for my return.” He shook his head pitifully.
“Well, your return would be one of her biggest tests for her God.” Willis laughed heartily.
“Please forgive Will.” Yati tried to be sensitive. “You worked for your mother? What does she do?”
“She sells herbs.”
“Is that why you know so much about them?” Yati tried to change the subject.
“He can heal too? Boy! There’s so much I don’t know about this lad.” Willis quipped. His mind suddenly whirling in the potential proceeds the boy could yield.
“Well, partly. Naturally, I just know what to do with herbs when someone is sick.”
“Was that how the business started?”
“Yes. When people frequented our house for treatment, mostly the poor who could not afford to pay physicians, my mother decided to put together the herbs she has seen me use for the most common ailments, and business started that way. I don’t have all the herbs memorized. I just know what to do when in a situation.”
Yati noticed how Joe’s face lit up whenever he talked about his mother. “Your mother is smart.” Yati smiled at him.
Just then the emergency bell rang. Joe shot up and ran off.
“Where is he going?”
“That was the bell. I think his attention is needed.”
“Oh! He has yet to answer my question.”
“How did he get here? What was his crime?”
Yati stared at Willis like the man had lost his mind. He shook his head and walked away.
* * * *
Nine months later, Joe was on kitchen duty one day when someone ran into the kitchen and raised an alarm about something. There was a bit of commotion as everybody ran in a specific direction. Joe threw aside his apron and followed the stream of running prisoners to see what was happening.
Just outside one of the cells, Mr. Bart was convulsing violently while everyone stood around him and watched. Joe immediately cleared the area around him and instructed some men there to ensure he did not move into anything that could hurt him. In the twinkle of an eye, he dashed back to the kitchen to get something. With his hands moving quickly and with the smoothness of a craftsman, he threw some herbs together, concocted a tincture before running back to the scene with the mix. By the time he arrived back, the man had finished his third subsequent and longest convulsion and seemed lifeless. Joe asked for help turning him over then checked for signs of life. When he noticed the presence of a pulse, he placed the strongest tincture just under his nostril until the man stirred. Joe continued to work until he regained consciousness then he started proper treatment to prevent recurrence.
One week later, Mr. Bart’s release was filed due to his health condition. A couple days later he was released even though he did not get his job back at the Goti’s. Before leaving the prison, he made it a point to see Joe and thank him for saving his life.
“What do you plan to do now?” Joe wrote on Bart’s clipboard.
“I am not sure, but I am happy to be free. I may be deaf, but I have skills and experience and I believe I will find work eventually. Right now, I am just looking forward to seeing my wife and baby.” His eyes shone with excitement as he spoke.
“Well, good luck with everything. Don’t forget me.” Joe wrote again.
“I certainly won’t. In fact, I have decided to name my baby after you. I am eternally grateful.” Mr. Bart said and bowed his head in gratitude. Joe smiled and wondered if he would ever see the other side of the high-rise prison walls. Unless his crime was pardoned – if that was ever possible.
—Thank you for reading! Read the rest of the story here—
3 thoughts on “A Priceless Puzzle Piece”
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Inspiring and educative, may God help us not to be self centeredness rather to show loves to others even when its not convenient. Keep the good work dear
Amen! Thank you for reading.