>> Friday, May 29, 2009
Extra-long edition for you guys this weekend. I hope you like.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The repeated, dull sound of the spoon hitting the metal plate. He stared down at the rotten pieces of cassava.
His stomach was rumbling.
Oh the gnawing feeling of hunger!
He had become way too familiar with that feeling recently.
“You can manage with this” , his grandmother had grunted after handing the plate to him. He could spot the small wiggling worms inside every broken piece of cassava. He felt disgusted, yet so hungry.
As he continued staring at the worms his vision became increasingly more blurry. He got lost in his own thoughts. Thoughts of the days he used to ride on his fathers shoulders, singing songs with him.
What kind of life was this? Is this what he deserved?
He picked up one of the cassava pieces and picked out the worms before carefully placing them inside his mouth, pressing down sensing the sour, raw taste. Swallowed. Another one. And another one. Nausea.
He craved something with more protein. Something like meat. But his grandmother would never give that to him. He had to go out in the forest and find it by himself. He made his own traps, and sometimes if he was lucky enough, he’d catch a rat and roast it over a small fire. He’d look for garden eggs and other fruits. This had become his diet since mama left for Cameroun. Uncle A was rarely around, it was only B and grandma.
He sharpened his vision and looked out to the yard. She stood bent down, only wearing her ugly wrapper. Her breasts were thin, long and saggy. She was humming some unrecognizable song with her squeaky voice as she did the garden work. He hated her.
My husband, she called him. My husband reincarnated! It scared him to death. That woman really scared him.
He left the plate and snuck out the backdoor. He wanted to go to the field to play football with his friends. That was the only time he could pretend life was like before. That was the only time he got the chance to play and pretend he was a normal child.
He shocked and immediately looked around to all sides. It was Mama Rose, the neighbour. She was the same age as his grandmother, but unlike her, she resembled a real grandmother.
”B, come over here I have something for you.”
He looked around to see if his grandmother would see, but she was nowhere in sight. He ran over to Mama Rose.
”Here” , she said and handed him a small bag of groundnuts and patted him on the head. If you come back later I can give you the left over of our evening food. He nodded with a slight smile and ran away.
It was already dark as B was walking home. Quickly, barefoot in the sand of the unpaved road as the crickets buzzed their familiar songs. He was hoping grandmother would be asleep by the time he reached the house. If not, she would most definitely flog him for not coming home earlier. He dreaded. But coming home earlier wasn’t an option to him either because it was nothing but dreadful discomfort.
As he reached the house, he opened the thin, broken wooden door silently and quietly snuck in. He stood still for a moment, trying to hear whether she was awake or not. Nothing. Not a sound. He exhaled silently. Maybe, just maybe, he would be able to go to bed without any flogging today. He waited for another minute, just to make sure she wasn’t waking up. Then he continued sneaking down the hallway towards his room.
”My husband, my SON! You are welcome my love!”
He jumped from the shock. There stood his grandmother in the darkness, all happy with him. Although he could never get used to her calling him her husband, he felt relieved. That meant she was in a good mood tonight and everything would be ok.
”Come here boy. Come to mama it’s ok?” , she said. He hesitated. He didn’t really want to talk to her at all, just sleep. He was so tired and hungry.
”Come boy, come here” , she said with a smile. She rarely smiled at him. He hesitantly took a few steps closer.
“OGBANJE! YOU ARE AN OGBANJE!” , she shouted as she threw herself over him. Grabbed him by the throat and repeatedly hit him in the face and kicked on his feet and legs.
“YOU ARE A THIEF; A WITCH; AN OGBANJE! YOU CURSED CHILD!”
“Aw aw aw aw! Please grandmother, please I am sorry. Biko. I am sorry for coming late! Please!”. She continued to beat him.
“Have you no sense, you stupid child! Here I am, taking care of you every day, feeding you because your mother doesn’t care about you, and this is the thanks you give me?!”
”I know grandmother, I know. I am sorry, Please stop. Please stop!”
"Tufia kwa! You only cause trouble. That is the only thing you know how to do. You can go and sleep outside tonight. There is no way I am letting you sleep in this house.”
”I am not discussing with you. Get out!”
He turned around and walked silently out of the house again. He hated this house. He hated this woman. He hated his father for leaving him on this earth. He hated his mother for leaving him in this land. He hated her for bringing his brothers with her but not him. Why didn’t anybody love him enough? What was wrong with him?He didn’t even want to sleep in this compound. This evil compound. He went over to Mama Rose’s house and lied down on the small porch.
In spite of his discomfort, it didn’t take him more than a few minutes to drift off to sleep.
”Child, what are you doing here?” he heard a soft voice saying and felt a gentle hand on his forehead. He opened his eyes. It was Mama Rose. He looked down and did not know what to say. ”Child, what has happened to you? Did she beat you again?"
”Come, wake up my child. Come inside. Let me give you some food. But you have to go back to your house right after. If not she will just get more angry."
He wished it wasn’t true, but he knew it was. He went over to the house, got the broom and started sweeping. His grandmother was awake, but didn’t acknowledge his presence. He just continued working. After some time, she told him to start working in the garden. He started pulling out the weeds.
Some time later, suddenly, Uncle A entered the compound. He did not acknowledge him either. B knew he had been to Cameroun for some time, but had no idea he would be back so soon. Uncle A had really changed since his mother left. He was never nice to him anymore, in fact he barely cared for him at all. Most of the time he just gave B a mean look or simply ignored him. B didn't understand why. This was his father's brother. He thought that Uncle A would at least like him, but it didn't seem like he did.
Uncle A sat down in one of the plastic chairs on the porch and was shortly joined by B’s grandmother. B wanted to hear what they were saying. He pretended to be working on pulling out the weeds, but was secretly eavesdropping to their conversation.
” I told U to not come back here, that this house belongs to me and you now. I am trying to take over the house in Cameroun too. We need to sell it, but U is giving me a hard time. That woman got some nerve. I already got the motorbike as well and we brought back all his goods from his shop. I gave the second motorbike to Bonyface .Won’t be much left for that woman to eat now! Hehehe..”.
”Well done, my son. It was time we got back our rightful belongings. Let her stay there. Let her not come back here to claim this house o! She thinks she can just carry everything because she was married to my son. What kind of woman is that? She should practice humility and submit to us. She is following this new, modern style, trying to speak up against her mother-in-law. That is not a woman's role. An abomination, I tell you! Who is she to think she can eat from our hands?”.
What? Was this what was happening? Were they taking all his fathers belongings and leaving them with nothing? Was this why his mother had still not been back to pick him up from this hell-hole?
He could hear the sound of a motorbike. Whenever he heard that familiar sound, he would run out to see who it was. He was always hoping it would be his mother, coming to pick him up and take him away. But he hadn’t seen her for 4 months now. Ever since that day they separated. His hope of her coming back was rapidly fading.
He could not believe what he was seeing. The familiar purple wrapper. A being shaped just like his mother. It couldn’t be her. The being walked closer to him. He felt paralyzed. He tried to sharpen his vision, but it was blurry again. He blinked again, and could gradually see more features of her face. It was her. She hurried up to him and embraced him. He didn’t move. He couldn’t. He was frozen.
”Oh, my son. My precious son. How are you holding up? You are going to come with me soon , I promise".
She let go and looked at him. He couldn’t face her eyes. He looked down. She patted him on the head and stroked his cheek.”My pikin, I have missed you. So much!”
“My daughter! It is so nice to see you!” , his grandmother shouted and came running out of the house. She gave U a hug.
”See how well we are doing? I am taking very well care of your son! He is a hard worker, I tell you. He is a son of C!”
U looked at her critically, examining granny’s face. Granny had put on her most innocent look again.
U didn’t say anything, but started walking up the house.
”Come. We need to talk.”
”What do you mean my daughter. What is there to talk about? Are you not doing your business in Cameroun? As you can see, B is doing great and I am taking good care of him. It is better that he stays here and learns some Nigerian culture instead of staying over there in Cameroun”.
This evil woman was trying to convince his mother to let him stay there even longer!B started praying. Please God. Don’t leave me behind again. I want my mama. I want to stay with her.
He could hear loud voices from inside the house.
”I could not believe what A was telling me, that I should not come back to my house here in the village? I thought it was only his crazy opinion. He was always jealous of C. But you too? I knew you were old fashioned, but you want to take all of this away from us, including my first-born son? You are a wicked, crazy old woman. I swear to God Allmighty I will kill you myself if you ever hurt my son. You are lucky I do not have any possibility of bringing him back with me now, but I assure you I will come back to get him. How dare you do this to me. I am the wife of your son!”
"I don’t know if you remember, but he is dead now. You are no longer part of this family. Neither are your children. You have to find your own way now. The only rightful thing is that I keep one of your sons, as payment for all the hardship you put me through from stealing my son away from me.”
”You said WHAT? Evil woman! Evil, evil woman! You carry the spirit of the devil within you. God help me!”
U came running out of the house.
”B. I promise you this will end soon. I have to go. I have to get help from someone. You have to be a big boy now. See, they have taken all our money. I have almost nothing left and I cannot bring you back with me. I have to gather up enough to move from Cameroun, then I am coming for you. Be strong.”
”But, mama.. Mama please don’t leave me again. I can’t stay here! Anywhere else but I can’t stay here!”.
His mother gave him a kiss on the forehead and ran out of the compound.
He could feel a tear travelling down his cheek. A lump in his throat. But he felt resigned. Apathetic. He sat down on the ground, grabbed a leaf and started shredding it into pieces, allowing his eyes to get lost in the eternity of the unknown.
Later that night, when it was bedtime, B sat down in his room, the room that used to be his father’s room, and looked at the mask his father had hung up on the wall. His father used to love dressing up with these wooden masks, walking around in the house, trying to scare them. It was a little bit scary, but most of all it was fun. He lied down in the bed, feeling very drowsy and tired. The room was filled with darkness. The only hint of light was that of the half moon hanging up in the sky. He looked at the roof, and felt the lump coming back to his throat again. The tears were pressing behind his eyes. He let out a few, but remembered what his mother had said. He had to be strong. He felt sleep creeping up to him. The door to the room was shaking. Was it really shaking? He sat up in the bed to get a better view.
Boom. Boom. Chrrrrrr. Chrrrrrr.
It sounded like someone was hitting on the door, followed by some rattling sound. The noise scared him. He curled his legs up and formed his arms around them.
Boom. BOOM! Chrrrrrrrrrrrr......................
He moved backwards in the bed to get further away from the door.
BOOM! The mask fell off the wall onto the ground. B started shivering of fear, feeling his warm tears, now streaming down his face.
BOOM BOOM BOOM. Chrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
MAMA! I want my mama, he cried out into the darkness. Mama...