Ade holds onto Mama’s faded wrapper as she pounds the life out of the fufu in front of her. He wishes he could have a taste of the steamy yam before it becomes the sticky mold he equally loves but Mama would not let him. She pounds with the strength of ten men, using her feet to keep the mortar firmly on the ground and tying and untying her wrapper that keeps coming loose. She always pounds the fufu by herself even when Dare, his older brother, offers to help. She is stubborn like that. Mama believes that no one can get the consistency, the drawy, yet firm feel that well-pounded yam has when eaten with rich egusi soup; the feeling one has when eating a large marshmallow. Beads of sweat flow down her thin face in generous trickles. This will be the first time in many days when they will eat a rich meal, a delicacy that does not include akara balls, the hot bean cakes Mama sells, or moi moi, a snack also made from beans that is eaten with pap; another that has been frequent on the menu.
They did not have much, Mama always told them. Their father was a fisherman in the local river that certainly did not have near enough fish for everyone. Poor Papa. Papa never came back with anything more than three fishes everyday despite being at the water all day, from dawn to dusk. Whatever extra he caught, he sold in the market at miserly prices before coming home. Ade always wondered why the story of the big catch never happened, whether it was just the exclusive right of the white people in the Bible, why loving soft hearted Jesus never came to fill his father’s boat with fish like he did for the Zebedee brothers, James and John. Was it because of their black complexion or because of the sorry state of their river? He knew it had to be one of the two.
He looks at his mother as she pounds away, her veins showing through her arm with every move she makes. He wants to help her, like his sister, Funke, who comes back every first day of the month with a large bundle of money in her small purse. “Yes, Sister,” he would answer whenever she woke him from his sleep, every first day of the month, smelling of alcohol and whispering into his ears with her red coated lips that reminded him of a baboon’s behind. She always gave him the money, telling him to give it to Mama, and to tell her that it was from the charity that funded the church while she would on the same morning give Mama a little sum which was from her job at the post office. Funke always did this, never failing, and Ade knew that the mere fact that they were able to find food to eat or put clothes on their body was because of Funke.
Mama never questioned him when he gave her the money, rather, she would tug him along as she raced, shouting hysterically in Yoruba and sobbing, to thank the Reverend Father who always looked more and more confused when she came to thank him every month. “The Lord gives to those who serve him. Whoever has given, may his pocket never run dry,” the Father always said. Mama would respond rapidly and excitedly in her native tongue, leaving the baffled white man, pink with fright. Mama would then leave after this, blessing him and the entire body of Christ for their consideration, for helping a poor family in their time of need, without knowing the truth. Ade often wondered why it was him Funke gave the money to and on one occasion, asked her. In response, he got a good slap toasting on his chubby cheeks accompanied with warnings to never ask her the nonsense again. Why she didn’t give it to Mama herself and why his mother never wondered why her ten-year-old son was the one receiving the “charity” money was an issue that would remain in his thought processes for a long time. Mama pounds away, smiling at him on occasion, telling him to sing her his favorite song. Mama loves music and she always tells him what a lovely voice he has and how he would use that talent to feed the family one day. In his own little way, he could see the tiredness written on her face, the pain in her eyes and the pretense in her toothy smile whenever she wanted to change the mood. Kind-hearted Mama.
The whole village is in an uproar today. Something truly spectacular happened at the river. The story was that a particular fisherman whose name had been mixed up in the gossip had caught a large load of fish, so big that he had to call for not one but two boats to come and help him. It happened so close to the end of the day that it got people from the village and the suburbs packing for the day and leaving their shops in a rush in order to see the rare sight. They said it was the biggest catch the village had heard of in generations and where the fish came from, in such a mind-blowing quantity, they could not explain. Mama leaves her pounding, tugging Ade along as they race to see, after Mama Obum, whose husband is also a fisherman, comes to tell her the news. They run through Papa Emeka’s cornfields, trying not to step on the carefully made mounds that resemble pyramids or uproot his cassava stems that lie in cross sections with the ears of corn. The ears stand majestically, casting a shadow on their running silhouettes, that stand out in the late afternoon sun. His farm leads to a popular shortcut to the river.
The whole village is standing on the banks of the Monifa River when we get there; waiting with songs, to see who this miracle man is, if it is really true. Papa emerges on the shoulders of about seven fishermen as the sun is about to set, like a war hero, head high above his wrinkled brow, holding his fishing rod like a flag. A flag of victory. He is laughing so heartily. I have never seen Papa laugh this much before. It’s a good laugh, a hearty laugh. It fits him. They set him down and, leaving everyone behind, he runs, with glee on his face, to where Ade and his wife are and picks Mama up, hugging her so tightly that Ade fears that he might break her in two, or at least break a part of her. Mama floods his Ankara shirt with her tears and holds Ade’s hand afterward as she begins her dance.
Everyone had their fill of fish that night. Mama roasted it over the fire and put supple chunks in the egusi that they ate with the well-pounded fufu. Mama Obum sat with Mama in the kitchen afterward and talked of how it was the work of God, how Mama’s Chi had favoured her, how the fishes were divine.
Mama believes God is big and mighty. Ade always imagined God as a warm fuzzy being that sits in the clouds and showers people with his garden hose and dries wet clothes like okporoko with his cooking fire. He thinks his fire is the sun that He cooks his stew on while the rainbows are the radiant clothes that he allows to dry, once in a while, after it rains. It makes him wonder if Jesus is often hungry when there is no sun for days, as God is not cooking, which is why he happily puts his money in the offering box on Sundays so Jesus can buy something, anything, from the kind angels in heaven. Mama says this is stupid as God owns everything, even humans, and he loves everyone and definitely does not need Ade’s money to survive but he doesn’t believe her. Dare says that it is that pleasurable feeling that laces every foggy morning, when the mist settles on our nchoanwu in the backyard, leaving little droplets of moisture on the green leaves; or that satisfaction he has after eating his fill of food filled with protein. He would have to think about that later.
Ade went to bed that night with a belly like the bottom of Papa’s miracle boat, protruding, satisfied. Perhaps Jesus actually likes black people or maybe his Papa was just very lucky, a very lucky rich man.
Sedo Elijah Ebinne is a writer and undergraduate student of Law at the University of Nigeria. His work has been published in a variety of local journals and blogs, and is forthcoming in Eskimo Pie, After the Pause and The Tin House.