by Adachioma Ezeano
Papa didn’t drink the pap I passed him. Papa just picked six pieces of the bean-cakes, and pushed over his plates. Chinwoke would have run to Papa. He would have taken the remaining bean-cakes, carried the pap, run. He would not want me to get to the food before he does. Chinwoke would eat them, lick his lips, make faces at me. He ran with food as if he knew he would not be around to have much of it in this life. Chinwoke isn’t here today. Chinwoke wasn’t here yesterday. Chinwoke will not be here tomorrow.
I packed the plate and poured the pap away. I was cooking yam, serving the sympathisers. Foamy water spilled from the yam on fire, pushed up the pot cover while boiling, forming ball-like clouds. Chinwoke would describe the process as evaporation or something like that. Smoke from the firewood goes to heaven. I wish it sees Chinwoke. I wasn’t multi-tasking as Mama would love me to, but Mama didn’t snap at me as usual. If things were as things should be, Mama would pull my right ear, say, stop being lazy. But not today. We feared death. Death hovered around. We heard it on the lips of a new widow. We saw it lie in the eyes of a new widower, new orphans, new fatherless and motherless. We knew it as something that happened to others. We didn’t expect it to find us.
In our life before, by this time, Mama would have spread her legs on the raffia mat. And we would surround her, listening to her stories that tasted like our favourite foods. Papa too, would lie on his wooden seat, sniffing and staring. He gave orders sometimes, maybe to Chinwoke, maybe to me. Fetch me water. Get my tobacco. Bring me stool. Where is my mat.
However, tonight, the moon hid behind the dark and nobody told tales. Even Chinwoke, who always has something to tell, is silent too. Did Professor not promise to take him overseas? The Professor said Papa was also that brilliant when they were in elementary school, but Papa had to leave school because Papa’s Papa fell from the palm tree and died, and Papa’s Mama suddenly became sick and died. People said her husband, Papa’s Papa dragged her with him.
Papa did not let Chinwoke go overseas with Professor. He didn’t say a particular reason. He just kept saying you don’t know this boy, as my only son, will bear my name? But the day the Biafran soldiers came, carrying guns and swear words, took all the young men for conscription, Papa said nothing, and when they brought back Chinwoke’s corpse, Papa still said nothing. He shook his legs till Chinwoke was lowered in his grave.
Mama asked if I had brought the yam down. I stood up, dusted ash off my wrapper, brought down the yam, and sieved hot water from the yam. I served the food, kept a share for Chinwoke.
Adachioma Ezeano is an alumnus of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop and Writivism. Her works have appeared in Brittle Paper, Deyu African, 9jafeminista, Critical Literature Review and elsewhere. Her work, Becoming the Baby Girl, will be featured in the 56th issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly.
Image of Akara na Akamu (fried bean cakes and pap) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).