I have finally found Rita in the smoke. She is breathing really funny, and cannot tell me what is wrong. There is no noise from the classroom downstairs. Where has everyone gone, and why is there smoke everywhere? As fast as I can, I try to run down the stairs. Perhaps I can get someone to come and help Rita breathe well again.
I do not go all the way down when I notice the red flames. The flames are coming towards me. Rita! I find my way back to my newfound friend, She looks like she wants to sleep. I want to tell her that it is too hot to sleep, but I cannot.
I think she gets the message when I shake her and put her hand around my shoulder. We go back into the room and close the door. My mind flashes back to a time when the matron was trying to cook and someone poured water on the stove. The stove went off. The fire coming towards us is definitely bigger than the stove, so we will need much more water. The bathroom is close to our room. I run in and try to tilt the drum which is under the tap. It is too heavy for me. I put on the tap. Perhaps, it will overflow and stop the fire.
Rita is still breathing funny and trying to sleep. I go towards the window; people are gathered just beneath it-teachers and pupils who came with Rita. I do not know how, but this smoke is affecting Rita, I do not want her to sleep in it. I rip the blanket off one bed and throw it out the window. If Rita falls on it, she might not get hurt. I lead her to the window. “It’s Rita!” someone screams. I throw down another blanket. If these people cannot understand me, then number two children are not as smart as I thought.
A teacher picks up the blanket. She holds down one edge of it, and gives another teacher another edge. Soon there are five people holding out the blanket. They look up at me, signaling me to throw Rita down.
I never thought I would see this place again. When mother and I dropped her, I thought it was finally over. But I see it every day, in my dreams, in my thoughts. When I look in Rita’s eyes, I wonder what happened to her sister. The memories that have haunted me for years stare me in the face right now. The blazing flames mirror the turmoil in my heart. There is commotion at the back of the building, children are pointing upwards. Some adults are holding out a large blanket.
“Aritesioma, drop her now!” someone shouted. A pink dress with red petals: that is what Rita wore this morning. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone in the same dress, tumbling down a window of what is left of the two story building and landing unto the blanket. I can hear my heart in my ears; Pounding, afraid for Rita’s wellbeing. But something else also gets attention. Someone just mentioned… Aritesioma.
A child is a child… Let her at least go with her name… Someone administers first aid to Rita. I want to run to her, but my feet cannot move. I am planted firmly in place. By guilt and shame and respect and a sudden kind of love.
“Aritesioma, it’s your turn. Jump!” They are holding out the blanket again. My eyes are glued to hers. My daughter. The one I never loved. The one I suddenly do not want to lose again. The flames are coming closer now, but our eyes remain locked.
“Arit, please jump.” I do not know whether the words that escape my lips are louder than a whisper.
“Arit, jump.” It is a chorus now, the entire crowd chanting along.
Two little black birds sitting on the wall,
One named Rita, one named Arit
Fly away Rita, fly away Arit
I am Arit, it is my turn to fly
So what if I cannot speak, and look different from other children? I am a number one child, and I can do something others can’t. I can fly
Children with special needs have had an extra special place in my heart since these encounters. Have You Eaten has since visited orphanages for special children. If you ever have the time, you can visit Lady Atinuke memorial home at Ota, or Favid Orphanage at Alagbado. They both have lots of special children. If you can’t go alone, there’s a great opportunity for you to volunteer with Have You Eaten on December 26th. To volunteer, send an email with your name and phone number to email@example.com. In this episode, I chose to include a few photos from our outings to both homes just to convince you about how much volunteering would mean to these kids.