In Your Mother’s Kitchen
Today is Sunday. After the longer than usual morning devotion, the sun is already breaking in through the curtain when your mother asks you to go into the kitchen and bring down the deep pot from the shelf; she wants to make vegetable soup.
“Won’t you go to church?” you ask her. You’d already pressed her heavy, blue, lace blouse and skirt last night. The creases weren’t easy to iron out, especially with the dress’s many folds and roundabouts.
“No,” she says, lips pushed forward in a pout. She will not go to church. You ask why. She reclines against the sofa closest to the door, and her protruding stomach shifts under her nightgown like water inside a polythene nylon bag. She folds her hands together across her breasts, clicks her tongue, and says, “God’s spirit has left that church.” Her voice is taut, her eyes unblinking. “I think I’ll have to find a different church.” Her cheeks, you note, are still wrinkled from sleep. Her brows – or what’s left after she shaved most of them yesterday to draw thick, crooked lines with a black eye pencil for a wedding she didn’t attend because of the unrelenting rain that deluged the roads – are twisted in deep worry.
Yesterday, your brother Dikachi, returned in the evening from your mother’s cloth store at Onitsha Main Market. Drenched, he ran inside the bathroom, peeling his muddy, wet clothes off as you mixed cold water with the hot water he’d earlier phoned to remind you to boil. He took a quick bath, hopped out of the bathroom, only a towel around his waist, shivering. He was putting Vaseline on his chest when he turned to you and asked if you’d heard the latest.
“What latest?” you asked. You sat up on the bed, your phone between your palms, its flashlight the only lightsource in the room, casting your brother’s shifty shadow on the wall behind him. (E. was telling you on WhatsApp about this new queer movie he thinks you both should see when the strike is called off.) The sky outside was dark, and the rain had reduced to a soft pattering on the zinc.
“So you never hear?” asked your brother. “Hmm, they said your Ụkọchukwu impregnated somebody’s wife.” Right leg raised on the bed’s edge, beneath the towel you could see his flaccid penis swinging. He smoothed a blob of Vaseline down his hairy thigh. Your mother walked into the room right then, the soles of her slippers slapping noisily on the tiles.
“What did you say?” she asked, easing her weight onto the bed. Your brother repeated what he’d said earlier. Your mother’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Ọ wụ asị,” she said. “A very fat lie. How can?”
“It’s not a lie o,” your brother said, both hands working the jelly up-down his shimmering torso. “The story has spread everywhere.”
“I don’t believe it.” Your mother sat fixed in her resolve. It could not be true. An anointed man of God. How can? “Of course,” she said, “It is just a ploy from the kingdom of the enemies to truncate the marvellous works God is doing through the fine man.” But it was true, the rumour. You told her that your spiritual guardian, Bro. Arinze had confirmed it two weeks before. He’d asked that you tell no one. You didn’t even believe him, so you’d forgotten the mere gossip, until your brother brought it up again.
Bro. Arinze is the youth coordinator at your church. Tall, square-shouldered, broad-chested. He was your sponsor during your first Holy Communion two years ago. By virtue, even though you’d barely kept in touch since that time, he became your spiritual guardian, lecturing you on the scriptures and, now that the university was on hold, inviting you to fellowship on Saturdays at 4pm. Afterward, when every other person had left the fellowship venue, you’d kneel before him and he’d lay both hands on your head for an impartation of the Holy Spirit. He’d draw so close that the fly of his plain, brown trousers would brush against your jaw, your nose ambushed by the smell of Ariel detergent and was it Nivea? So close you’d feel the warmth of his erection pushing your lips into a purse. And he’d be blasting in a foreign tongue, lost completely in another realm, spittle flying from his mouth, raining down your forehead, penetrating skin.
It was after one such impartation that he told you about it. You were both standing outside the hall when the priest walked out from the church in his brilliant white cassock. You didn’t notice then, but yesterday, as you thought back to that day from two weeks ago, the priest had responded impatiently to your greetings. He didn’t stop to sign your foreheads and say “bless you” as he would have on a regular day. He’d only muttered good evening back and was swept away in the billowing of his garment. After he passed, Bro. Arinze sighed and said that the priest was looking rather pale, did you notice? You said maybe the priest was sick or tired from the day’s activities. With a scoff, Bro. Arinze responded: “Why won’t he be sick when all he does is go about sharing his penis like it’s communion bread?”
Your mother trusts Bro. Arinze so much. She always told you to try and stay close to him, especially now, so you can learn to be a good child of God and not stray with the crop of insolent, futureless young boys parading the streets. She calls him a full-grounded born-again Christian. Last Saturday when you told her that he’d invited you to his house, she didn’t think twice before saying you could go. “Look how he is drawing young boys closer to God in fellowship. I want you to be like him, do you hear?” She asked that you leave the dishes unwashed, the water drums half-empty, just so you could go early.
“But he preached last Sunday,” your mother said. “Why haven’t I heard this news?”
“The church is trying to sweep it under the carpet na,” your brother said, coating his sides with menthol balm and causing the entire room to be suffused with the pungent scent.
“I heard the woman’s husband is a knight,” you added. “He is the one pushing the matter. I heard he wants to report to the Archbishop sef.”
“Hei!” Your mother clapped her palms together, heaved her shoulders. “Tufiakwa!” she spat. An abomination. She turned to you. “Did you say Bro. Arinze told you this?”
“Then it must be true.” She squeezed her face and shook her legs, disappointed. As she walked out of the room she muttered, “This world is coming to an end.”
Your brother untied the towel and slipped into his boxers.
In the kitchen, you stand on tiptoes, stretch your hands to grab the sides of the pot, pull it down. You are rinsing dust off the cover when your mother walks in untying and retying the roll of her faded Mothers’ Union wrapper under her armpit. She sits on the low wooden kitchen stool, draws the basket containing okra fingers and various bunched vegetable leaves between her legs. You turn on the gas cooker, light a match. The fire hisses and fans into a small explosion that jerks your body away from the cooker. Your mother cusses at you, says, one day you will burn down people’s houses. She prays she won’t be present to witness the disaster.
“Is this how you light your cooker in school?” she asks. “Abi you don’t use to cook?”
“Ahn-ahn na, Mummy,” you say, chuckling. Of course, you cook by yourself in school, you tell her.
E. cooks all the meals you both eat. Before him, your ex-roommate. He’d always tried to teach you but, in his words, with those perfectly shaped lips of his, “You are a constant mess!” And you blush each time E. calls you a mess. You are his mess, you tell him. He’d stopped trying after the night you added plenty of salt to the 350-naira eggs you both bought to make mai shai. “Lot’s wife would be proud,” he’d said, dumping the travesty in the kitchen sink. Then, on a second occasion, after he called to tell you that Doctor Angina had extended his class, which was between 2pm and 6pm, and that he was dying of devilish hunger, you told him not to worry, you were going to treat him to a special delicacy of porridge yam garnished with stockfish. He laughed over the phone, said you were joking. But you eagerly peeled the yam tuber, washed and cut it into round slices, then put them inside a pot half-filled with water. You set the pot on the cooker and, turning the ceiling fan to the highest, you unbuckled your jeans, hibernating into an unintentional slumber. It was the banging on the metal door that travelled into your dreamless sleep and pulled you back to life, into a room stuffed with smoke. When you opened the door, E. stood there with his fist raised, his face oiled with exhaustion, his white shirt and black trousers uniform rumpled.
He pushed past you, entered the room, dropped his bag on the floor, and headed straight to the kitchen screaming, “Cheta, what the hell have you done?” He switched off the cooker, pulled a towel from the kitchen door and took the pot down. He turned to face you with mortified eyes, tilting the pot so you could see inside. “What the fuck?” he said. The pot was empty, black, and there was a gaping hole underneath. You stood by the door like a child admonished, still reeling from sleep, your trousers hanging low at your knees. E. dropped the pot in the sink, coughing raggedly. He stepped on the bed, pulled the curtains and Alumaco windows wide open to let the smoke escape. “Don’t just stand there, maifren. Open the door,” he said with a scowl, his eyes reddening. You jolted back to wakefulness and pulled the curtain behind the open door.
After the smoke had cleared, E. came down from the bed, held your face, looked into your eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked. The scowl had disappeared. “Can you breathe?” He raised three fingers to your face and asked, “How many am I holding up?” You thought he was overreacting but still responded. “Jeez, you scared me, babe,” he said. “What kind of sleep was that?”
Later that evening he dragged you to the pharmacy opposite Small Gate, even though you’d told him you were fine. You’d just fallen asleep because you were exhausted. Your supervisor had asked you to rewrite, for the third time, an entire chapter of your project because the one you’d previously submitted was below his standards. You told him you were dead sure the man was only being a dick because you refused to grease his palm as the other students had.
“But that is not enough reason to want to burn the room down, eh,” E. said, squeezing your palm in his and grinning. “Oya, I’ll help you rewrite the chapter as many times over as you want; you’ll just tell me what to write shaa. But, you have to promise me you will not come near the kitchen again, you hear?” He was holding his pointing finger up to your face, a deadpan expression spreading on his. “Say it!”
“I will not come near the kitchen again,” you said, head bowed.
“Good boy.” He popped two tablets of Panadol Extra out of the pill pack and put them in your right palm. “Make sure you swallow them or else,” he said as he opened the bottle of water.
E. is in his second year, a medical student. You are in your final, architecture. You’ve known each other since the first semester of the previous session. That remorselessly hot afternoon at Lagos building, he’d been wearing his oversized lab coat and a sky-blue hairnet. He bumped into you while running down the stairs. You were rounding the corner, your drawing board under your armpit, when your body collided with his, shoving you straight into the pavement. You’d staggered, screamed fuck, fuck as you steadied yourself on the pillar. When you raised your head, he stood there with his hands clasping his mouth, looking so small and innocent.
“I’m so sorry, God, I’m so sorry,” he said, his palms folded in a plea. “Are you hurt? I was in such a haste.” He puckered his lips, and his hands twisted the hem of his lab coat. He had a sparse moustache, the first thing you noticed, and a small nose fitted into his round face as if an afterthought. He reminded you of papier-mâché projects you did in secondary school. His eyes, hooded under dark semicircles, were the same shade of brown as his skin.
“Watch where you’re going next time,” you said as you bent down to gather your board and T-square. He bent down with you, asking to help.
“I’m not usually like this,” he said. “Just that I mistakenly broke a test tube in the lab and the coordinator won’t stamp my manual if I don’t get a new one.”
You didn’t respond. And as you stood up to leave, he called back and asked for your name.
“Chetachukwu,” you said.
“Nice to meet you, Cheta. I’m E.” And then he’d run off to the store down the corridor, his lab coat flying like a cape behind him. You didn’t care then. You didn’t ask if E. was his real name or just a short form.
You met again in front of Akanu Ibiam hostel, a Saturday evening. You were waiting for your coursemate, Linda, to lend you her copy of Professor Ndu’s quiz materials when he tapped your shoulder from behind.
“Cheta, right?” he said. He was smiling, teeth bared. He had uneven dimples.
“Yes,” you said. You didn’t remember him immediately.
“E.,” he said, pushing his hand forward for a shake, something in the way the hand bent at the wrist. “We met last week.” He blinked twice and you remembered the dark circles.
“Oh, yes, E. Nice to meet you again.”
“Is it? Thought you might still be pissed,” he said, his lips turned downward, arms swaying gently by the sides.
“Not anymore.” You half-grinned. “Did you get your manual stamped?”
He tilted his head, arched a brow, as if he hadn’t expected you to remember. “I didn’t,” he said. “The coordinator wanted me to lick his ass first.” He paused. “Not literally.”
You nodded. You admired the way he spoke, the way his lips, a shiny pink, did not open too far apart to produce sound. You wanted him to keep talking. You both chatted till Linda came down with the notes, till the sun’s glow softened to a dull orange and the hostel security lights came on, and students milled around, linked by the arms, walking to night class. You walked together.
“Where do you stay,” he asked.
“I’m staying in Maryland,” he said. “Are you free next weekend? My friend’s hosting a party. I’d…like you to come?” He cocked his head.
“You barely know me,” you said, folding the notebook in your hand.
“Would be a great chance to, don’t you think?” He winked. He was terrible at it, both eyes closing halfway. That was the instant you became certain he swung that way.
At Dick Tiger Avenue you exchanged contacts.
“I’ll text the address later,” he said.
As he turned to leave, you called back, “E., as in…?”
“Your full name.”
“Oh. It’s Echezona.”
You moved in with him in the first week of the second semester, after you had a fight with your cultist roommate who threatened to call Eke boys to break your head.
“Check inside the freezer for the ponmo,” says your mother. You pull out the white ice cream bowl with the rubbery cow hides curled into themselves. She tells you to wash them. “Use salt but not too much,” she says. And when you are done, she asks you to put the ponmo together with the beef inside the pot heating on the cooker. “Add a cube of Knorr Maggi. Dice the onion bulb into small rings.” The acid stings your eyes, and you blink rapidly to stave off tears. “Don’t add water o,” she says. “Let the spices marinate well-well. The meat will produce its own water.”
You put the lid in place and lean against the kitchen wall with its peeling blue paint, staring up at the blackened ceiling.
“I still can’t believe what you and your brother are saying,” your mother says, untying snails from a small carton. She asks you to pass her a bowl from the shelf; she counts the snails inside. She takes the bowl to the sink, breaks the shells with a ladle, sprinkles Potash Alum on the escargots. She turns on the tap. “My question is, how did they find out that Ụkọchukwu did it?” She turns off the water, faces you.
“The woman confessed na,” you say.
She turns her back to the sink and starts scrubbing the meat. “Confessed to who?”
“I didn’t ask.”
You hear the squishing of the escargots between her fingers. “Yet you believe it?”
“Why won’t I believe?” you say, suddenly thinking of Bro. Arinze, and your toes twist together as exasperation clumps your blood. You swallow. “So many things are going wrong in that church, but they just keep deceiving you people.”
“Things like what?” she asks. She doesn’t wait for a response. “Abeg, go and separate these vegetables for me.” Her tone, dismissive.
You sit on the low stool separating the ụgụ from the arụgbe from the ụtazi leaves. You put the ụgụ in a sieve, piece the maculated green leaves from the stalk. You’ve never understood why your mother insists on using all these leaves to cook at once. You tell her she’s not a goat that eats weeds and she says, “Shut up! What do you know?” The leaves are all essential; they replenish the blood. Her doctor says she should eat more vegetables, fewer carbohydrates, especially at her age. Last month, your mother turned 50, and she now walks around with the existential dread of old age shawling her shoulders like a pashmina. You told E. about this on the phone, and he called it gerascophobia. It is why she chews garlic every Saturday morning, the obnoxious scent permeating her breath, her room now reeking of it. It is why, when she found a strand of grey on her head, she cried and cried. Then she wore a turban to the hairdresser’s, bought a dye, and in her bathroom at night, squeezed and thoroughly massaged the liquid into her scalp till all traces of grey transformed into a mesmerising black.
“Do you want me to be too old when you and your brother finally give me grandchildren?” she asks. “I want to be fresh and healthy when I visit for ọmụgwọ.” She uncovers the pot, picks out beef from the boiling broth, unflinching, and bites into it.
She sets the pot aside on the kitchen counter and places a kettle of water on the cooker.
“Cheta,” she says, her expression crinkled. “Careful, don’t put the stalk so the soup won’t be too bitter. Is this how you will cook for your future wife?” You roll your eyes and twist your lips, but she doesn’t see it. “Abi, are you the kind of man that won’t cook for his wife?”
“Mummy, I don’t know,” you say. You twist the ends of the leaves with impatience, and they fall off in shreds. Your mother shoots you an awkward glare.
“When do you ever know, eh? You’re almost a graduate, you should be getting ready for marriage.”
“But I am just 21,” you say.
“Gịnị mezie?” she asks. So what? Your father married her at 20 – do you think you’re still that young? She picks out nine fresh balls of red pepper and throws them into the mortar. Then she unties a nylon of crayfish, pours it into an enamel plate. She mutters something about how expensive things are getting in the market. How this small portion of chaff-crayfish that won’t even fit into her fist cost 200 naira, four times the price last year. She empties the plate into the mortar too and begins pounding.
“Remember, I told you that it’s either you marry a doctor or a lawyer.”
Your shoulders drop. The devil’s spawn inside of you claws at your throat, wants to use your voice to scream out that you are a bloody—. Shh, collect yourself, it is Sunday today. Swallow your voice, banish the devil to the depths of your stomach. Continue plucking the vegetables. Smile and say to your mother in a rehearsed tone preinstalled for situations like this: “I will marry a doctor.” Your throat itches. Straighten your spine. “Fine doctor from a rich family. I can’t be poor and marry into a poor home, you know?”
Your mother stops pounding. She looks at you and the corners of her lips spread in the beginnings of a smile. You can tell that she is proud. You smile back, good son, even though you know how quickly this pride can switch to disgust, with speed faster than light.
“I know you’ll always make me proud, Che-che,” she says. “Unlike your brother who insists on wasting his time with that girl with no solid background. Where is he sef?” She shouts for your brother, still slumbering in the room, to come and glimpse common sense from the boy he gaps with five full years.
Your brother, Dikachi, is a graduate of mass communication. First class. Your mother never missed brandishing that detail when he’d graduated freshly. But two years later, all his mates were bagging scholarships to study abroad, and your brother remained here, eating Mama, thank ma. Your mother simply wrapped that arsenal up, tucked it away. She maintains it’s a spiritual problem, not normal. Her enemies from your father’s village were at work. She’d taken Dikachi to the mountain to see a prophet one time. And the man, after his gyrations, confirmed your mother’s suspicion. Yes, it was someone from your father’s side who’d bottled your brother’s destiny. But it wasn’t something serious prayers and fastings could not solve. Dikachi did the fastings. More like, he was denied food. He was more of a drinker than an eater anyway. But the prayers? You’d never catch your brother dead praying. Strong-headed, he didn’t believe in that. He didn’t believe there was any damn being, spirit or flesh, sitting up there in the clouds. If there was, he said, then he bet his ass the fucker would be having one hell of a laugh watching all your lives go to shit, sipping his eternal bottle of Smirnoff Ice. And he never missed a chance to argue religion with your mother. She’d locked him outside the house on so many nights because of his blasphemous leanings.
Dikachi became erratic after your father passed, like water from a broken bottle streaming in no specific direction, plotless. He was 16 and you were 11. He moved through life with a resignation, like an insurmountable load weighed him down, like he didn’t belong here and couldn’t wait to take the next exit. Until he met Agnes, a literature teacher at the church’s grammar school, and somehow, his life took a U-turn. Hemmed by her charm, your brother quit drinking, started attending church even though he still didn’t believe in God, and took over your mother’s cloth business (a miracle your mother deems too divine to attribute to some silly girl). He was considering marrying her but over your mother’s dead body. Agnes’s parents were separated, and per your mother’s logic, you can’t expect to have a peaceful home with a girl who doesn’t come from a solid background, gbọ? So, no, it would not work.
Chop the vegetables. Ahn-ahn, steady your hand, please. Don’t come and chop your fingers off, too, in the process. Afterward, soak them inside a basin of hot water. Don’t leave them soaking for too long, else the nutrients will wash away and they’ll become nothing but goat fodder. Watch your mother as she washes and, with pursed lips, cuts the okra into thin stars that slip off the edge of the kitchen knife into the bowl trapped between her thighs. There is a delicateness to the way her fingers, nails coated in nude polish, curve around the seed, and a quiet gracefulness in her grip on the knife. Like it was a mere toy, incapable of inflicting hurt. The knuckles of her fingers are calloused, and as you watch her, you suddenly think of E. with his small hands either peeling an orange or jerking off your penis. All the blood in your body suddenly redirects to the area, and you trap the growing erection with your thighs and excuse yourself out of the kitchen.
You enter the toilet. Lock the door. Pull your joggers down. Sit. Your penis in your hand, growing harder, bigger, you think of E. Does he know how much you miss him? His fingers stroking the hairs on your chest, his lips swallowed in yours, or wrapped around you – does he know how much you miss that? Of course, you both schedule midnight sex chats twice a week, share favourite porn scenes on WhatsApp and masturbate over them. But that isn’t enough. You need to hold him. You need this damn strike to be called off. The university union is steadily shouting into a void while the government is dancing achikolo on a highway with the futures of thousands of students. Behind your eyelids, you sift and pull up memories with E. You rub, slow, vigorous, slow, creating an efficient rhythm, till your body, in spasmodic ecstasy, ripples over and you spill. Stark white behind your eyes. You wipe yourself. And, although you haven’t taken a shit, you put the lid over the toilet and flush. (E. told you, there is a 95 percent chance of swallowing swirling bacteria when you flush with the lid uncovered.)
Back in your mother’s kitchen.
“Did you wash your hands very well?” she asks, stirring the pot simmering on the cooker. Wisps of smoke partially cloud her face, and her eyes become slits, the air thick with the aroma of spices. The wrapper is loosening around her armpit. She hooks it with an elbow.
“Yes, ma,” you say. You lean on the wall behind her and stretch your neck to see inside the pot.
“Pass me the red oil,” says your mother.
You reach for the jerrican on the shelf, remove the cap, and hand it to her. She measures one ladle, then, as if realising the quantity will be insufficient, measures a second. You cap the jerrican and put it back. Your mother stirs and stirs. She flicks the sauce from the ladle with her index, licks it off, and smacks her lips.
“Shebi, you washed your hands thoroughly?” she asks again.
You say yes. She asks you to stretch out your palm. She stirs inside the pot, smears the back of the ladle on your palm. You lick.
“Is it too salty?” she asks. “Should I add more Maggi?” Her brows crease. You roll the taste inside your cheek, unable to decipher if there’s too much or too little of the ingredients. She waits for your response.
“It’s delicious,” you tell her.
She smiles, picks up the basin with the vegetables, and starts throwing fistfuls inside the pot.
“How is Bro. Arinze?” she asks, apropos of nothing. You hesitate. She eyes you. You try to keep your expression neutral.
“He is fine,” you say. “I guess.”
“I saw him on my way from the market on Friday.” She picks up the ladle, starts stirring again, more laboriously now. “He had a bandage on his face, did you know?”
“No, I d-didn’t,” you stutter. “I haven’t seen him since last week.”
“He said he had an accident. Thank God it didn’t claim his life.”
You nod. “Mm-hmm.”
“You should go and see him,” she says. “Maybe this evening. Take some fruits as you go.”
You roll your eyes and nod. You will never go to see Bro. Arinze, you know it. Such a snake he is. When your mind traces a recourse back to Bro. Arinze’s house last Saturday, the anger in your chest burns fiercer than the blooming flames from the cooker. You feel it, the anger, with a bit of guile – a haunting presence that clenches its fist around your throat and asks that you acknowledge its presence.
His parlour was a tiny sugar cube. In the space: a dusty brown rug, two small speakers that seemed to serve no use, a centre table on which a tray of diced apples and a table knife lay, and a portrait of him in a graduation gown hanging from the it-was-white wall with a damp-stained ceiling. One minute, he was sitting in one of the two blue plastic chairs, a Bible open in his hand, reading a verse. The next, he was standing over you with his hands roving from your head to neck to chest. Blasting foreign tongues. Then, all of a sudden, his eyes closed, he said, “I know what you are. I’ve seen your Facebook. I know that you like boys.” Your heart packed itself up, leaped from your chest into your stomach. And slowly, he unbuckled himself and sprang into your face, hard, full, and red at the tip, that smell of Ariel detergent and was it Nivea? now tinged with musk. He said, his eyes glistening with an alien ardour, he would not tell your mother of your inordinate proclivities if you let him fuck you.
You were stunned by the casualness with which he’d said the word “fuck”. Like he wasn’t speaking tongues moments ago, high in the spirit. You, glued to the plastic seat, stared at him in wide-eyed horror, thinking what the hell? Then he actually said, “if you don’t, eh,” he’d tell your mother, and the entire church, that you like boys. And that, he’d leaned in to say subtly so you almost did not hear, you’d tried to kiss him.
You’d blinked twice just to be certain you were in real-time, not dreaming. But the ugly, hulking thing still brandished itself in your face. Your stomach rearranged into dense knots. You’d clenched your fist, swung it upward with force, collecting his left jaw in a hard punch, so hard he staggered to a fall. The door was locked and there was no key in sight. He’d dragged you with his two-by-two ply arms back into the centre of the room, your back jabbing against the glass centre table. His face had transmogrified into something grotesque, unrecognisable, as he pinned you down and wrestled your jeans. When your hand found the knife on the table, it was his throat that you’d aimed for first. But it’d landed on his face instead. Two quick slices to the side of his right eye, he fell off of you screaming and crouching on the floor, face buried in his palms, blood leaking from between his fingers. You frisked his trousers, panting, took the keys from his pocket and fled, the knife still in your hand, his blood on the blade. Your mother was in her room when you got home, and your brother hadn’t returned from the market. You pulled off your torn shirt, wrapped the knife with it, placed it under the clothes heaped in the wardrobe.
“Chetachukwu!” your mother screams. You jump. “Where is your head, nwokem?”
“It’s like my phone is ringing inside the room,” she says. “Go and get it. Hurry.” The phone keeps blaring when you bring it into the kitchen. You stretch it to her and she rebukes you. “Don’t you see gas, eh? Do you want this house to explode?” She snatches the device from your hand, waits till she walks out to the corridor, then picks up. The call is on speaker. A woman on the other end is asking your mother why she didn’t attend the church service today. She missed out on premium gossip, did she know?
Your mother asks, what? “Gbaa m ụkwụ n’eze.”
“Reverend Okongwu impregnated a member’s wife,” the woman says.
Your mother yelps, asks the woman to repeat herself, as though she is only hearing the news for the first time. The woman does. Your mother snaps her fingers, shudders, screams abomination three times, the phone still pressed to her ear. The conversation stretches as she walks into the parlour to sit and process the gist.
On the stove, under your watch, an abandoned soup pot seethes and burns.
Daniel Ogba is a Nigerian writer and medical student. He was a finalist for the 2022 Toyin Falola Short Story Prize and was longlisted for the 2022 Awele Creative Trust Award. In 2020, he won the Kreative Diadem Prize in the flash fiction category.
*Image from Iwaria