NUNA SQUINTED AT the basket on the ground and steadied her hand. She and her siblings were competing with their cousins. Her seed was the decider.
“Nuna!” her mother yelled. She ignored her. Not this time. She needed to concentrate. She lifted the seed and with a flick threw it just as her mother yelled loudly, “NUNA!” She was startled so much that her hand moved slightly which caused the seed to fly and hit the tip of the basket. She watched in disappointment as it fell to the ground.
“Yaaay,” Adjei and his two brothers crowed.
“Nuna!” her mother yelled again.
“I’m coming ma,” she responded finally in a disgruntled voice. Fiko and Dela shook their head trying to hide their tears as they watched Adjei and co prance about. They had been so close, too close to the win they had been cheering for. Nuna saw the look on their faces and smiled at them reassuringly. She knew how important this win was to them. Perhaps more than it did her. She walked towards the main compound door. Fiko and Dela watched her taller frame disappear through the doorway and wondered what their mom wanted from their big sis.
NUNA WALKED TOWARDS the trap door leading to their room and opened it. Her mother, Asor, was seated in front of the dressing mirror covering her hair with a scarf.
“Nuna, I’ve been calling you all this while. Where were you?”
“I was out playing,” she mumbled.
“That’s all that you do, playing instead of helping me with my scarf.”
She paused. Nuna quickly went to help her tie the scarf. Her mum beamed at her reflection on the mirror as she turned her face this way and that way, satisfied with how pretty she’s looking. She got up and quickly walked towards the door. Nuna stared at her walk away, wondering why her mother called her all the way from outside to help her tie her scarf. Just that morning, her mother called her from outside to pick up her comb for her. She’d stopped oware to do her bidding only to find her mother standing by the wardrobe, just a foot away. Nuna sighed inwardly. Mothers!
“Come. I have to go out for an emergency. Pastor needs me to take his wife to the hospital. I want to serve your father’s food for him. Make sure you keep an eye on it okay?”
“Okay.” Nuna gave a heartfelt sigh. She’d thought tying the scarf was all her mother wanted. She didn’t need this extra chore. She had to claim a rematch otherwise Adjei, Sowa, and Nii would tease her and her siblings for days. Being teased like that was annoying because Adjei was sure to go and inform their school mates which would mean more teasing. She had never lost a seed match and didn’t want to but to guard the food meant…sigh.
She followed her mother outside and watched as Eno Asor, her dad’s pet name for her mum, walked to the coal pot near the door to check on the meal cooking.
They were all living in her dad’s family house. Her grandfather had built single-room units, 9 in all, and had given one each to his 8 children before dying some years before her parents got married. The 8 rooms faced each other in the form of a square. There was a room at the tail end which was the kitchen but her grandmother used that place.
Nuna, her siblings and her parents stayed in one of the rooms. Her parents slept on the bed, she on the only sofa and her younger siblings on the floor. She was proud that as the eldest she could sleep on the sofa. It was high enough to watch a bit of TV before her parents finally switched it off.
Her dad was a cocoa krakye (secretary) and it was through this job that he could afford a TV which his siblings saw as a luxury, and was always on the move. His job was very important and as he’d told Nuna, something which would always bring home money as long as he lived.
Eno didn’t like the smell of food inside their room so they always ate outside. Not strange because everyone else in the house did the same. The kids usually sat together to eat except Nuna. Adjei was fond of stealing her meat. The only time she sat to eat near him was when her grandmother served the usual Sunday fufu. They all ate from the same apotᴐyiwa (earthenware bowl). The adults ate in front of their doors. It wasn’t peculiar to find all the brothers eating in front of their porches around the same time, seated behind small tables and uncovering bowls of food with a smaller one filled with water. Her father was usually late for this as he was the last to leave the office so after cooking, her mother would always cover the food and place it on a small table in front of the sieved door. They usually had to wait till their father came to eat together but sometimes, their mother served them separately.
“NUNA, HERE’S YOUR dad’s food. Watch over it for me okay? I’ll be back soon.”
Nuna nodded as her mum quickly walked out. Asor had covered two ceramic pots with a white checkered napkin. Nuna sat on the tiny wall in front of their door and swung her feet against it.
Fiko and Dela watched sadly as Adjei made faces at them. Their mother came out of the door and waved at them before hurrying off. Fiko quickly entered and saw Nuna staring at the ground looking bored.
“Adjei is such a beast,” he grumbled.
“I know. He’s going to do that annoying dance of his for everyone to see. Mtscheew.”
The two identical faces turned to look about 3 meters away, where true to her prediction, Adjei had followed Fiko onto the compound and was now dancing like a chicken. He called it his triumphant dance since it signified a cockerel strutting proudly after conquering a hen. Nuna rolled her eyes. Dela walked in and shook her head at her cousin’s antics. She turned her head towards her siblings and walked in their direction completely ignoring the Cockrel walk.
Nuna turned her eyes from Adjei to watch her sister walk towards her and her gaze softened with love. Dela was so beautiful and the shortest but was born with a club foot. This had earned her a lot of taunts when she was younger but people had stopped after Nuna kept on defending her. Gone were the days when she would beat up any kid who mimicked Dela’s walk.
“HEY NUNA, WON’T you congratulate me?” Adjei shouted when he realized that she had shifted her attention from him.
At 10 years, she was beautiful but wouldn’t even talk to him unless he challenged her to a game. He hated the fact that she no longer sat beside him to eat. She always smelled of the sweet perfume she sneakily spritzed on herself. He was sure her mother wouldn’t like to know that she sprayed herself a tiny bit anytime she returned home from school. She always smelled good. Far better than all the girls in their house. Though 13 years, he’d made up his mind that he was going to marry her. He’d asked his mother last year and she had told him that because they were matrilineal, he could marry any of her brother’s kids. He’d chosen Nuna as his future bride. She just didn’t know yet.
Nuna rolled her eyes and snorted. Adjei could be so frustrating.
“You have to say, ‘Adjei, you’re so good. You’re such a pro,’” he prodded.
“The only reason why you won the game is that my mother called me so my aim got affected. Stop behaving like a chicken about to get its neck cut off,” she angrily retorted.
Adjei stopped dancing and watched as she bounded off the wall in one leap. The look on her face meant there was going to be hell to pay. He knew what she was capable of. 3 years ago, she beat him up for daring to tease Dela. She’d trounced him painfully in front of their school mates. The teasing had gone beyond the school to their neighborhood making everyone laugh at him that he was too weak to face a girl. Beating her at games was the only way he could redeem himself. Even that was hard because she was very good and until today, had never lost.
“I dare you to a rematch,” Nuna thundered, still fuming.
“No Nuna. Remember that Eno told you to watch over Dada’s food,” Fiko quietly spoke. He hardly spoke but when he did, it was about something important.
“Yes, Nuna. Eno wouldn’t be happy,” Dela chipped in. Nuna sighed. The teasing in school was going to be annoying, she sighed.
“Oh yes, Nuna. Let’s not hastily enter into another game. We can play another one tomorrow and see if you can finally beat me,” Adjei knew he had made a grave mistake by speaking after Nuna frowned at him. He could see the challenge gleaming in her eyes and knew that if the game came on, all his mates were going to tease him for having lost to her…again.
“We are not waiting tomorrow, we are going to play again…today.”
Nii quickly grabbed the basket, “no way,” and ran through the small corridor which led outside from the compound. Dela and Fiko protested as Nuna followed the boy outside. Adjei wished he could kick himself. She had looked like she’d changed her mind about the game until he opened his big mouth and put his big foot in it. Sowa shook his head and followed them outside. Adjei had no other choice than to follow them outside. He had to gather vim. Who knows? He could win again.
20 MINUTES LATER, Adjei counted the seeds left in his palm. 3. They had each thrown 9 and he’d missed 2. Nuna had also missed 2. He had to make sure he sank all his seeds in the basket and prayed Nuna missed just once. That was the only way he could win. Playing with other kids was easy. Sowa and Nii always yelled and shouted to distract them to lose focus but not Nuna. Unless her mother called, she would always give 100% concentration to the game.
NUNA HAD JUST made Adjei groan by sinking a seed into the basket when her father, Nuku arrived. He had walked for almost 45 minutes and was tired. Beredze wasn’t a town where cars regularly passed by. He wished to own a bicycle and had been saving towards it. He was going to buy one for his birthday next month. He smiled at that. Nuku, cocoa krakye owning a bicycle. If only his late dad could see him now. He watched the game for a moment and entered the house. He saw the covered food and entered the room. Eno wasn’t in? He frowned. She hadn’t told him she’ll be going anywhere too.
He removed his shoes and tie. He thought of changing into a Tshirt but changed his mind. His singlet would do. He went out and looked around. Where was Eno? He hated coming home to meet her absence. She was the only bright thing in his life and coming home to her every day was basically the highlight of his day. He thought of going to ask the kids but decided against it. They were enjoying himself. Eno would return and start sending them up and down. Best to leave them to enjoy the little daylight left.
None of his siblings too seemed to be around. Not an unusual phenomenon. They were all farmers, well except for him, and usually returned by evening. He cleared sputum from his throat and hurled it onto the ground. A cockerel pecking at seeds on the ground nearby squawked and ran away.
He sat down and removed the napkin. The aroma of freshly prepared nkantsenkwan wafted into the slight breeze cooling his face. He smiled again. Eno always knew what to do to make him happy. Nkatsenkwan was his favorite. He felt his annoyance at being alone fade away as he dipped a forefinger into the soup to taste. Mmmmm. Perfect blend of ginger and prekese. He quickly washed his hands and opened the second bowl. He took out a morsel of fufu and dipped it into the soup. He quickly pulled out his hand. The initial finger dip hadn’t prepared him for how really hot the soup was. He took another morsel and another. He felt a slight painful twinge in his side. He looked around for water and saw the sachet water lying on the small tray. He drank a bit and ate again. Pain gone.
NUNA THREW THE next seed and watched it sink straight into the basket. Yes! She saw the fear on Adjei’s face and smiled inwardly. She didn’t want to gloat yet but she was going to win no matter what.
Adjei could feel the sweat glistening on his face as he stared at the basket. He took a careful aim and threw the seed. It flew, flew, flew, hit the side of the basket and sank onto the floor.
Dela and Fiko watched Nuna quietly. They knew that look on her face. She was going in for the kill. Fiko watched quietly as Nuna threw the seed and plop, it fell into the basket. He couldn’t stop the shout of joy which escaped. He ran and grabbed his sister by the legs and lifted her up. “Yes! Yes!” he shouted. Dela hobbled around them also ecstatic.
ENO RUSHED HOME on foot. She’d thought the first lady (pastor’s wife) had been critically ill but it was just a fever. Sigh. Her husband should be home by now and she’d had to rush out to take care of someone who didn’t need it. She rounded the house and saw Nuna with her hands up in the air, being twirled around by Fiko. She took a quick look at the situation and knew her girl must have won the game. She’d known how Nuna had had to fight her in-law’s kids just for them to respect Dela. She was so proud of her girl. A pride that quickly vanished when she remembered what she’d told Nuna to do.
Fiko let go of Nuna suddenly making her land awkwardly. She knew they were in trouble. The three siblings turned to look at their mother in trepidation.
“What did I tell you to do?” Eno demanded. “Come on!”
Nuna grimaced and quickly followed her mother inside the compound, Fiko and Dela quick on their tails.
ENO ENTERED THE compound and zoomed in on her husband. He was seated with his head on the ledge behind him, the opened bowls in front of him inviting flies.
“Nuku, are you sleeping?” she asked gently. No sound. She turned to her kids. “Nuna, cover the food and put it on the table near the cupboard. Fiko, go and fetch water for your father to take his bath.” She watched as Dela followed her sister to the place on her side of the porch designated as the kitchen. She looked around the compound. Seemed her in-laws weren’t around. Nuku had to get up and go inside. It must be 6 pm now. Perhaps he could have an early night. She walked to him and tapped him to wake him up.
“Nuku.” Silence. She frowned and tapped him again. “Nukunu?” she tapped him harder and watched in fear as his lifeless body slid towards the ground. “Nukunu!”
Nuna turned to face her mother from where she’d placed the food. She watched as her father’s body nearly fell onto the ground but for her mother’s quick reflexes. Something was wrong. She walked towards her parents and saw the frantic look on her mum’s face as she kept on screaming.
Adjei and his brothers heard the screams and entered the compound at a run. They saw their uncle lying unmoving in their auntie’s arms. Adjei knew he had to get help quickly and went out to call neighbors.
TO BE CONTINUED…