“I’m ready to leave, sir.”
I came out of the room and saw Josephine and all her packed boxes.
“Are you truly leaving?” I teased.
She smiled. “Yes sir.”
My wife came out and brushed me aside to have a view. “You are set?”
Christmas always meant Josephine traveled home. And when she traveled home, our schedule got readjusted. Either we carried the children wherever we went or we took turns in any outings or we shipped them upstairs to our neighbor-turned-friends if the getaway was PG 18. Tasks became shared and nursing became communal.
The transition wasn’t always easy because Josephine was a fantastic girl. She went the extra-mile in her responsibilities. She was proactive in any errand. She delivered 24/7. I could be difficult sometimes but Josephine would swallow all my obscenities, still smiled and did her work. God knew our schedules and sent us an angel, He sent us Josephine. It was one of the easiest decision ever to make her family. The young lady had our back always.
“Let us pray.” Wifey led us to the living room.
I shuffled into my slippers and followed.
“Olami, please pray for us.”
The children gathered round and took positions. Their cousins joined and when prayer was over there was a queue of huggers taking their turns to get a share of Josephine. It was quite emotional. I noticed she was teary about it.
And Josephine was gone. All the children moved from the living room to our bedroom. Four was a big number; a 7-year old, a 4-year old, a 3-year old and an 18-months old. We had our hands full. We temporarily lost our space, our agenda and ultimately our lives.
“Baby, you said you would be taking them out.”
“That will be later in the day.”
“Why not now?”
“It’s too early. And by the way, I’m only taking three, Champion is staying back at home with you.”
“What?! How can you do that?”
Not that I didn’t know that was going to happen. It was just deliciously tempting to see if I could convince her otherwise.
“Try harder. That wasn’t strong enough.”
Three hours later.
She dressed the three of them up – the three she could manage, that is, and they left for Wonderland.
Champion was a good sport. He relaxed on the bed with me, allowed me my space while he watched TV. The pounded yam we ate that afternoon was very helpful, in no time sleep came calling. Yes, for both of us. And before I could do two pages we had both gone off.
I woke up 6:45pm, before him. On a normal Josephine-around day, the aroma of dinner would have filled the house. But, that was not the case. I strolled to the kitchen and everywhere was dreary. Harsh reality, Josephine was gone. The weight of it was distressing. Dinner usually was 7pm. Few hours after her exit, that routine was about to witness a shift.
I went into the room, Champion was still sleeping. Fair enough. I changed into shorts and went back into the kitchen. Let’s bring some life into this kitchen. Washing all the dishes in the zinc was a good place to start. That cleared, I brought rice out, measured a few cups and washed. Rinsed the pot. Lit the gas. Cooking began. I brought out pepper from the freezer to thaw. Found where the chicken was kept. The microwave helped some and I poured some of the pepper into the heated oil. By this time I had started to sweat. Apparently, the windows were closed and I could also do with opening the back door. I did and the place felt better. I carried the remaining pepper to return to the freezer.
I slipped and the big bowl of pepper splattered all over the floor. Pepper everywhere! My face, my shirt, the cupboards, the floor, everywhere.
I was transfixed. For ten seconds, I couldn’t move.
I was mad. I didn’t really know who or what I was mad at, I was just angry mad. With barely open eyes I stretched my hand and picked the roll of tissue. I cleaned my face. Then I was able to see the terrible state of the floor and the cupboards. I bent down and started with the cupboard.
Then I remembered.
The bowl of pepper fell and it was all quiet in the house. No, that wasn’t the story four months ago. Josephine was in this position one evening, four months ago. The only difference, I observed, was hers was a smaller bowl. And I remembered, vividly how I rained all manners of scolding on her. I remembered how I told her how hard it was to make money and how things had become expensive in the market. I remembered, with my voice a pitch high, how I nagged on how careless and wasteful she was becoming. I remembered how I quoted a few scriptures in Proverbs on the consequences of sloppiness and penalties of frugality and disorderliness. Of course I didn’t forget to lecture her on how Nigeria was going through recession and its unfortunate toll on our finances. By the time I finished with her, I was too sure she wondered if what fell was more than pepper. As I cleaned the cupboard, I remembered. As I pulled off my shirt and bent down to clean the floor, I remembered.
I had done the same thing, committed the same offence, but it was all quiet. No one was pouring invectives on me. No one was reprimanding me for being wasteful. No one was breathing down my neck. No one. And no one would know if I refused to tell. Unless of course, wifey kept a tab on her bowls of pepper. God has a devilish sense of humour. He set me up for this. He couldn’t even wait for her be gone a day, 24 hours, before pulling this one on me. Come on!
Humbled and shamed, I continued cleaning. I stopped the cleaning halfway just early enough to check the rice was parboiled. I changed the water and used the other hand to work the stew.
I had just finished cleaning up and was dicing the plantain to fry when my son woke up. And he woke up very hungry. And when Champion was hungry, he was like his father. Enough said. I got his bowl out and made cereal quickly. I sat him down to eat. Thank Goodness he could feed himself. I poured the diced plantain in the hot oil and shrunk back to dodge oil splattering on my shirtless skin.
Rice done. Plantain ready. Stew made. Kitchen cleaned up. Table arranged. And dinner was set.
As if that was the cue they were waiting for, the doorbell rang. And the rest of the team stormed in noisily. They needed no prompting, they rushed to the dining area and settled for what, I dare say, was a sumptuous dinner.
“Well done, Olami.” My exhausted wife commented.
No, she didn’t need to hear my pepper story. At least not at that moment.
Enjoy your meal, children.
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