Fiction by Akorfa Dawson
WON’T YOU EAT AGAIN?
We used to eat together in one big bowl, all of us: the six Baidoo children. Immediately you see us anywhere, no one needs to tell you that we are related, from the way we squint when we are deep in thoughts, to the lopsided smirk that spells mischief on our faces occasionally. We all inherited Mama’s patch of grey hair that grows right above our left temples. Our ears stand out too. And on days we are naughty, Mama doesn’t mince words when she describes us as “children with rabbit ears that have been clogged with stubbornness.”
Mama and Daddy also ate together, in the sitting room. But we, the six Baidoo children, ate in the kitchen because we always made a mess and somehow, the kitchen was easier to clean. When food was ready, we gathered around a low wooden table to eat, each of us seated on a kitchen stool. Jollof was a special meal eaten on special occasions like Christmas and Our Day, when Mama packed food for us to take to school. On other days of school, we would buy food from the women at the canteen.
Once in a while, Mama made our days with jollof. I recall one of those days. It was a Saturday, after we had finished the laundry and cleaned the house thoroughly. By we, I mean Bea, Fanny and the twins doing all the work, with Ofori slyly dodging work and me trying not to get in the way of my older sisters.
Bea and Fanny helped Mama cook the jollof with Panyin and Kakra on standby to run errands. Ofori had sneaked out to play football with his friends. As if he had a pre-installed timer in his being, this brother of mine returned home as soon as Mama took the jollof off the coal pot and put water on for my evening bath.
The aroma of the jollof had created a good first impression in our minds already. When Bea, brought the food to our small kitchen table, she did not need to shout our names like she had to do when we were having ampesi, banku or any other uninteresting meal. Those were everyday meals, nothing special. For this steaming bowl of rich orange rice, we were already present. There were also two big chunks of crispy and spicy chicken and a few smaller ones. Of course, we had to share. It was Bea’s duty to ensure that every one of us was satisfied with the portion of rice we ate from our communal bowl, and that the chicken was equitably distributed. I say equitably because, the size of chicken each of us got was directly proportional to our rank of birth. The older ones always got bigger portions, and I, the smallest. At a point in my life, I used to wonder if this would be my eternal predicament, as it was through no fault of mine that I was the last Baidoo child.
Panyin, our self-appointed reverend minister, as usual, said the grace. Our hands were already in the bowl before she concluded with “Amen”. Then the battle began: runny noses, sniffles, burning tongues, teary eyes, sweaty foreheads, and oily fingers. This was a fastest-takes-the-most affair.
We all gulped down morsels of hastily masticated jollof down our eager throats, even Bea, who behaves like she doesn’t fart when she is with Kwei. Kwei is her boyfriend, and if Daddy finds out about him, he would stop Bea from going for choir practice, which will be a good thing, because Kakra sings better, she should be the one in the choir.
As hot as the jollof was, there was no time to wait for it to cool. The best we could individually do was to attempt to blow air over handfuls of rice we dug from the bowl before swallowing. I suspect Mama puts a lot of pepper in her jollof so that we can fill our tummies with water while struggling to appease our burning tongues. That way, we would be satisfied with the first bowl of jollof; no second helping.
As usual, the best part of the meal, the chicken, was saved for last. Bea, in order to make easier the duty that nature had bestowed on her by virtue of her being the first Baidoo child, which included, sharing the chicken for her younger siblings and making sure that no one felt cheated, brought the pieces of chicken closer to her side.
“Kakra! Eat from your side!” Fanny, the second Baidoo child reprimanded the fifth Baidoo child whose twin sister had shared the grace to begin the meal. “There is food in front of you! Hoh!”
You could count the individual rice grains that made up the jollof rice. But this wasn’t the time to practise what I learnt in KG, or else my siblings would finish the food. The taste lingered in our mouths after every swallow, hugging our tongues. The jollof’s base taste was a cross between chicken and beef stock. And by the time we were 5/6th done with the whole show, Bea had already began sharing the chicken. She thought she was smart. She insisted she took the bones which she had left a sizeable chunk of flesh on. When she finally gave me, the sixth and last Baidoo child, my portion, all I could do was accept it, but not without grumbling.
“Ungrateful child!” Fanny made sure I heard it as it was said in a tone too harsh to be just a self-directed whisper.
That was when Ofori, the first son and third Baidoo child, decided to strike; the lopsided smirk played around the left corner of his lip. Oh, that naughty brother of mine! We had all just received our share of the chicken. Then, we heard the clearing of throat, the gathering of sputum, then, “Tueh!” The greedy boy spat into the bowl containing the 1/6th of the jollof! He snickered.
I must admit, the look of disgust on Fanny’s face was priceless! Her hand was still in the bowl when Ofori spat into it. Bea let out a scream of exasperation and landed a reverberating knock on Ofori’s incorrigible head. Ofori’s head is immune to knocks, I promise you. After all the knocks he had received from my parents and his notorious primary 4 teacher who gives the best knocks in the whole school, Ofori’s head had become knock-immune.
“Ah!” Kakra kicked Ofori on his shin.
“You silly boy!” Panyin dropped the remainder of her chicken in the bowl.
I could only look on. I was by then too young to do or say anything that would hurt this mischievous brother of mine. He snickered and asked us all, “Won’t you eat again?” He munched away in delight. If looks could kill, Ofori would have died from Bea’s intense side-eye which she accompanied with a bout of steups. “Mtchew!”
Bea took me outside to the shed under which we washed the dishes and helped me wash my hands.
* * *
Two decades later, and I am at Ofori’s house for his youngest son’s birthday party. There are eleven Baidoo-descending grandchildren between the ages of twelve and three; Bea’s, Fanny’s, Kakra’s and Ofori’s. Panyin’s is on the way, two months due. She comes to the hospital I work at as a dentist.
The meals of the children have been dished out into separate plates. The three pre-teens are using ceramic plates while the younger ones eat from colourful plastic plates. It is a special occasion, so the meal is jollof.
Bea is feeding her three-year old daughter who is insisting she can take care of herself. A scoff escapes my lips. When I was her age, I couldn’t even stand up for myself against my older siblings who found cunning ways to get me to ask our parents for some candies and cookies they had stashed for times we had visitors.
Fanny’s twelve-year old wouldn’t even get off her phone to eat her food. Fanny blames her husband for spoiling her daughter, you see. The man is never home and keeps bribing his daughter with the latest gadgets just so he would have a verisimilitude of a relationship with her.
I observe them closely as they consume their portions of the jolly jollof, each in their separate plates, a luxury we the Baidoos couldn’t afford while we were growing up.
Junior, Ofori’s eldest son, realises I am musing.
“Uncle Fiifi,” Junior pats my knee. “Won’t you eat again?”