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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Deliberate Mistakes

I know I got a strong heart but weak eyes

Cry when I'm angry, laugh when I'm sad

Don't mistake dem liquid for weakness

Wouldn't let hate burn me so I let it flow out through the windows of my soul

Bitterness turns to salt and water when my knees hit the floor

Not worried about any disrespects

I got God's respect

It is our month of moving forward after all

My Earliest Memory

The woman had a basket on her head full with fishes; there were little ones and big ones. I knew this because this was not the first time she had been to my grand-mother’s shop. I was standing there beside the half broken protector wrapping my fingers around the belt attached to my favorite navy blue colored gown.

“Were your mama, go tell am say fish don com”.

I stood there studying her as she let down the basket of fish from her head without dropping the piece of rag from her head that she uses to steady it; I found it intriguing and curious, but the curiosity vanished as soon as she removed the rag and stood akimbo looking tired and staring at the little girl who wouldn’t go call her grandmother.

“Were your mama na” she asked in an irritated tone, “abeg call am come, I get market to sell for olori road”.

Bashful me stood there staring and studying her with curiosity that I could not explain, until suddenly my aunt Jorfa (meaning: add another one) ran out,

“mama dey come, she dey backyard”.

Aunty Jorfa half-dragged me as I half-walked behind her through the passage to the backyard.
“Ayash!!!” I screamed as I felt the pain of a dry palm kernel under my feet.

“idiao?” my grandmother shouted from the mud kitchen, my aunt replied in Urhobo, I didn’t understand anything they said except that my grandmother left in a hurry to the front to meet the “fish-woman”.

“Come, let’s go to the front” she said with so much enthusiasm on her face.

“Why?” I asked as if I didn’t already know the answer.

“Because we’re going to take some fish from that woman and cook it here on the firewood with tin-tomato cup”.

"You mean steal right"?

"Call it anything else but that"

That was my aunt, very adventurous, she loved to break rules and always picked me as her partner in crime, never understood why she did it with me, I always thought it was because she was the youngest in the family, until my mum gave birth to me. Mama had always warned us to steer clear from the fire place in the kitchen, but not aunty Jorfa, she never listened.

So I went with her as we tip toed to the front through the compound small gate, the “fish-woman” was talking to mama with her hands standing akimbo. Mama had bought what looked like a dozen of fishes that she could smoke and re-sell to her customers.

“Go to the shop and bring one of mama’s empty cigarette packets so that we can put the small fishes inside”.

I hurried off on her instructions with the enthusiasm of a child that just got a new toy and that was up to mischief with it. I squeezed behind mama’s back and slid carefully through the half broken protector so that the sharp edges don’t scratch me, since mama and her “fish-friend” had taken all the space on the balcony where we sell food stuff, they were eating kola and chewing tobacco and did not notice me searching the cigarette baskets for gold colored empty packets of Benson&Hedges. 

“There, I found it!” I said to myself as I shook one packet and heard no sound of cigarettes inside, I hurried off to meet aunty Jorfa who was already stealing little fresh fishes from the basket.

“Come, be quick with the packet!” I gave it to her and she scooped the fishes from the basket to the cigarette packet.

“Wetin una dey do?” We stood up startled at my aunt; aunty Oke (Full name Okeoghene meaning: the gift of God).

“Una dey tiff mama-fish fish, I dey go tell mama” she said now walking towards my grand mum. “No tell mama, I go give you from the fish” replied aunty Jorfa dragging aunty Oke to the backyard so that mama and her friend wouldn’t get distracted from their gossip and notice our mischief. 

“No, I go tell mama” aunty Oke said flinging her wrist from her hold and attempting to walk towards my grand mum and her friend.

“Ok I go wash plate for you” said aunty Jorfa with a pleading voice, but she didn’t seem to pay any attention.

“For three-days”, she continued, trying to persuade her with a reasonable bribe, this time she stopped.

“One-week” replied aunty Oke shrugging.

“Ok, for one week, but I no go give you fish”, concluded aunty Jorfa.

 “Who talk say I want your fish, abeg e dey smell carry am comot”.

“Wetin dey smell?” Three of us looked and saw mama, right there in front of us, we were so engrossed in our discussion that we did not notice she had finished her talk with her friend. 

“Na Oke, she never baff” said aunty Jorfa, while hiding the cigarette of small fishes behind her and beckoning me to collect it.

“Oya, nya hor!” Mama shouted to Oke in Urhobo, meaning she should go have her bath. As aunty Oke left the backyard, mama drove us out of the kitchen to the store to watch over and sell her food stuff.

Aunty Jorfa being the shrewd person that she is quickly took the cigarette packet from me and hid it near her bag in the girls’ room. I wasn’t worried about the fish smelling because our room smelled anyway. There were no window outlets, the one available was already closed because leaving it open would invite mosquitoes, the window doors were made of wood, there were no louvers like the ones in my mum’s school room in Benin City.

The room was packed with ghana-must-go bags of my aunts’ clothes. Four medium sized tin basins were stacked up in another corner one for each of my aunts’, another corner situated a spring bed, that my aunty Takpo (Full name is Etakpobuno meaning: the talk of life is much) slept because she was the eldest of us, and on the wall just over the bed hung a calendar that told a story of an angel defeating the devil in a boxing match. 

Under the bed were our thin mattresses that would pass for sleeping mats, save for the foams that tear out of it constantly. There were two mattresses, one big and one small, the big one was for aunty genero (Full name is Oghenero meaning: God’s here), aunty Oke and aunty Jorfa, and the small one was for me. Towards the top of the room just over the window was a rope tied to hang our wrappers and our clothes whether dirty or clean. An old shelf/cupboard was situated at the other part of the room opposite the spring bed; this was where my aunts kept their sack school bags, stacked their books, uniforms, and some of their important stuff that they didn’t want to lose to the untidiness of the room. On the floor just beside the shelf/cupboard was where we kept our foot wears, and sometimes where we threw our dirty clothes when the rope near the window was full of hung clothes.

Aunty Oke came running naked and wet into the room with a small rag that looked like a towel for cleaning her body.

“Oke” aunt Jorfa shouted in a concerned tone.

“Idiao, why you dey shout my name like that na”.

“Sẹ mama don tell you say make you no dey baff for outside again”.

Mama had warned aunty Oke to bath in the bathroom, because she was now developing “odibo”.

“Bicko e bathroom ina u ogbo”, that was urhobo for the bathroom is smelling.

 Aunty Jorfa mumbled some words in urhobo to her and she in-turn mumbled more until apparently, it looked like they came to an understanding on something, and I never understood what it was.

Aunty Takpo and aunty Genero walked into the room, they just got back from hawking fish and we all greeted them.

“Migwo” we chorused (an urhobo greeting from a younger person to an elder that meant: I’m on my knees). 

“Una don baff” asked aunty genero. 

“Na only me” replied aunty Oke who was now going through the ghana-must-go-bag for clean clothes to wear.

“Oya make una go baff, jophere” (jophere means: make it snappy, or, chop chop).

I and aunty jorfa took buckets to go fetch water from the nearby well for our evening bath.

“What of the fish”, I asked as we walked to the next compound to fetch water.

“We wi fry it before we go and baff, mama has left the kitchen”, “ok” I replied with much mania. 

We got to the well and had to wait to borrow a neighbor’s fetching bucket because we forgot ours, I watched as she tenaciously drew the water out of the well even though the fetching bucket filled with water was a little more than she could handle, she finally filled our bathing bucket, we carried the bucket of water to the front of the house near the street, which was the spot where we had our bath.

Aunty Jorfa was allowed to bathe outside, mama always said that this year would be the last year she would bathe outside, because she had started developing “odibo”.

The next trick aunty Jorfa had to pull was to sneak the fish out of the room without alerting the prying nature of aunty Takpo and Genero. I was beginning to think like aunty Jorfa, I conceived a plan on how I would distract them. Aunty Jorfa went to the room to act like she was picking up our sponge and soap, and immediately I started screaming and calling out aunty Takpo and Genero’s name, they rushed out both with faces showing fear and surprise. I pointed to the ground showing them a harmless little earth worm that was crawling its way under a stone. With a sigh of relief they looked at me like you would look at a mischievous child who just played one on you just for the fun of it. I had done this a countless number of times but one time it was a millipede, and I’m dreadfully irritated by them, I wouldn’t kill them, I would just drive them away, with so much irritation.

My trick obviously worked because now aunty Jorfa was out with the cigarette pack of fishes, and luck was on our side because mama was having her bath leaving a pot of beans on the fire which was obviously our dinner. We quickly set to work, cleaning our tomato cup pot and pouring in some palm oil that we got from mama’s kitchen. We quickly put the fish in the tin cup, and added some “ajinomoto” seasoning with salt. After our playful preparation of our fishes, we put the tin cup on the corner of the fire wood where the heat could get to it. As soon as we heard mama leave the bathroom, we tip toed out of the kitchen into the backyard and slid through the back door to the front to have our baths. Quickly we bathe praying that mama does not discover our tin tomato pot of oil fishes. As soon as we were through we dressed up and quickly headed for the kitchen, half way there we heard mama in the kitchen calling our names.

 “E Jorfa o”, ‘jiru” (that was the name she gave me when I was born, the full name is Oghenejirukevwe, it means something like: God has still done for me even though this is not what I wanted). 

As soon as we heard our names, our hearts nearly jumped out of our mouths because we thought she had found our mischief, we mustered courage and replied in chorus, “Mama” and we entered the kitchen. We breathed a sigh of relief when she handed us our plates of beans and garri, she has a tradition of dishing food to the youngest kids in the house first before the eldest. We took our plates to the room praying silently that she doesn’t find it and waiting impatiently for her to leave the kitchen so we could go pick it.

She was still in the kitchen dishing the food and calling my aunties from the youngest to the eldest. She had given me mine first, then aunty Jorfa, aunty Oke, aunty Genero and finally aunty Takpo. As soon as we heard her come out of the kitchen, we half ran, half walked to collect our tin-tomato pot of fishes. The fire was now put out; mama separates the fire wood and wets the red charcoal but not the wood. I thought to myself, if she has put out the fire, it means she would have found it. 

The sound of Jorfa’s troubled voice stopped my thoughts “ewẹ, mama don see our fish”.

I understood what that meant, and then she said “go beg mama na”.

“Why me?” I asked, I have this habit of asking questions to which I already know the answers. So I slowly walked to the front to talk to mama with nervous nerves because my charm didn’t always work with mama when she was terribly angry, I just hoped she wasn’t. Aunty Jorfa tiptoed behind me like a husband that tip-toe behind his wife for fear of the unknown. I got to the front to meet mama, fidgeting; I gulped a mixture of air and saliva before calling her. “Mama”, I called with faint voice for my throat was now dry. Jorfa hid behind the curtains listening to our conversations and possibly will hide there if mama flares up and starts the spanking.

“Diae” mama responded.

“Mama abeg you fit give me the fish, I promise say I no go do am again” I said with shaky voice. Mama looked down at me and smiled, revealing her tobacco stained teeth.

“You sure say you no go do am again?”

“No, but e go tey before I go do am again”.

Mama laughed heartily, I loved that about her, and then she handed me the tin-tomato pot of oil fish from a corner of her provision-shelf. I took it with joy and thanked her by saying, “Migwo”

“Vren-do” (vrendo means: get up and well done, it’s a reply to migwo) she replied, ‘oya go chop your food’.

I ran out to the room with so much joy like a joy a child would if she had just won a trophy for bravery. Jorfa ran behind me from the curtains, I was so happy I had forgotten that she was hiding there, we took the fish out of the tin, and shared it between ourselves, since mama already knew about the fishes, there was no need to share with our other aunts to bribe them, if they had tried to bully us into taking it, I would have reported to mama, and she would punish them, so all they could do was beg us, but we wouldn’t budge. Aunty Genero begged aunty Jorfa and she cut one very tiny part of one fish for her, aunty Genero wasn’t happy at all with it.

“Sẹ you don dey do your own, if na me I go cut better tin commot give you o, see the chengele fish wen you dey give me, no worry, I go do you back”. 

Aunty Jorfa who was now priding herself on the fish squinted her face with outstretched hands and replied, “if you no like the fish give me back”. Aunty Genero couldn’t deny it, the fish looked very inviting, and she just threw it in her mouth to enjoy the taste.

“Pepper” I said.

“Wetin” replied aunty Jorfa.

“We should put pepper next time”.

As soon as we were done, I took everyone’s plates to the kitchen, which was my only chore in the house; I went to the front to take mama’s plate to the kitchen and said good night to her with a hug. After our light chats about how our various days went, we dragged our mattresses out and made our beds to sleep, slowly the voices of my aunties grew quiet and I was drawn to my little world of thoughts.

I stayed awake thinking of my mum, I missed her a lot, and did not understand why I was with grand ma even though I loved her and the company of my aunts, I heard the sounds of my grandmother locking up the doors as these thoughts rummaged my mind till sleep finally took over and closed my weary four-year-old eyes.