Let Us Be Mothers
The children rejected supper; five of them staring at her with fists clenched into little balls, deep scowls and red eyes. Each one plagued with the disease. Their massive heads tethered on long scrawny necks, which projected into flat chests and stomachs so huge, they belied hunger. This anatomy gravitated to the earth aided by wobbly spindle legs. Clara laughed when the doctor prescribed a diet of beans, meat, eggs and milk.
These children were her curse. The spell of poverty, want and hunger passed down her family line for generations. A deep hatred engulfed her every time she considered their ugly withering forms. They lived on what she could offer; fufu made from fermented cassava and soup so watery, it put Oliver Twist’s workhouse gruel to shame.
***Forever the obedient child, Clara shed no tears when her mother sold her to Mama Yeti. She held onto the nylon bag containing her only other dress and pair of slippers and walked to the Peugeot 504. Her escape from monotonous poverty. Mama Yeti's current husband; Papa Sonny worked in the timber industry and the family lived in the city, in a house with running water and a television set. She was worked like a mule and fed very little. Chastisement came daily for salty food, poor cleaning, or being too comfortable.
Papa Sonny often visited. She'd spread her legs, raise her hips and shut her eyes distancing herself from the activity. Her thoughts ran to her farm where green and yellow speckled grasshoppers fed on the cassava leaves. She thought of their crunchy taste in the soup after frying. The mornings covered up the misdeeds of the nights. Then, she got pregnant and Mama Yeti beat her within an inch of her life while her husband looked on with an unconcerned air. The next day, she designed a sickle from a clothes hanger.
Yeti came courting next. He whispered words of love while she worked and stole food for her when she starved. He composed poems to praise her beauty, but she set her eyes on favored Sonny, who drank all day and partied every week. She cooked special meals for him, washed and ironed his clothes yet, he didn’t notice. Her desperation drove her to one last resort. Stealing into his room on a fateful night, she took off her wrapper and lay stark naked on his bed.
Sonny came in and gazed at the form on his bed surprised and angry but, unmoved. His words, like his heart were cold.
“Get out of here you smelly village prostitute. The next time I see you around my room, you’ll be back to your hamlet.” She fled.
The next week brought an explanation of his strange resistance. She entered the security man’s quarters with his lunch and met a sight.
Victor on his knees, mouth full, pumping and ministering to the needs of a naked standing Sonny, lost in ecstasy.
It was back to Yeti and bad poetry for her. She gave herself to him, body and soul. They made plans for a quiet life away from his mother and stepfather.
Clara fed Yeti, their children and herself from her small cassava farm. He never worked a day instead, he stole her money for liquor and women. The day after the fifth child was born, he left for the city with the village harlot.
Gathering together his things, he spoke whilst she suckled their baby. “I wish you and your children all the best but I am tired of your bad luck. You have brought me nothing but suffering ever since I married you.” Brown eyes which once shown with love now sparkled with anger, venom and vengeful hatred. She spat at him cursing and scratching as he fled for safety. The children knew to keep their distance that day. The baby too, sensed the tension and suckled without crying.
Outside, her eager eyes ran over the fireplace Mama Caro quitted. The woman would know if she used her firewood even, to heat soup. From where she stood, the aroma of freshly prepared fish stew whiffed past. A desperate longing for a different life overwhelmed her. As the stories went, rich Mama Caro had run off to the city and sold herself to bidder after bidder until she met her husband. Now, they lived on her savings, eating rice, fish and eggs.
She limped back inside and uncovered the two rusted iron plates before her little demons.
“When you people are hungry, there is food. I ate what my mother gave me and you will eat what I give you. Shall I sell myself to feed five ugly ducklings?”
She rolled the fufu into little round balls and placed each inside the soup before swallowing without chewing. The children watched the balls glide down and marched out in disgust. When her stomach could take no more, she kept the leftovers for them and stretched, preparatory to sleep.
Her kids would be raiding people’s bins. If they got enough, the fufu could serve as tomorrow’s breakfast.
The chewing stick was between her teeth the next morning as she cleaned and performed ablutions when the town-crier’s gong sounded.
“Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. An abomination in our land my people. I say an abomination in this village. Ding. Ding….”
“An unnatural death Mama Caro” she said, lowering her voice.
The women stopped her halfway to the shrine. They held her close, scared of an even greater evil. Her five children, swollen, twisted and dead paid the price for gulping down the oracle’s sacrifice.
“That was twenty three years ago my son” said Clara in a broken voice. "We still had our shrines those days. The king ordered your father to marry me lest, I run mad or harm myself.”
“My son obey your master. Wash his clothes, cook his meals, run his errands and help in the shop. Learn his trade so you may earn a living for yourself. Make a little money and only then, think of marriage and children.”
“May the gods favor you,” said the old frail woman running shaky palms over the young lad's head.