THE DARK SOUP

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Nigeria's Leading Fictional Story Blog: Fatherly love, unconditional love, poverty and hunger, faith and courage, resilience in the face of difficulty, African household



Anxiously, he scoured their garden in a frantic search for vegetables...any vegetable at all. He had managed to buy some corn flour having borrowed some money from a friend. Garri (processed cassava) was his preferred choice, as with his hungry children but he could not afford garri tonight. The little money he had borrowed was just enough to buy a few cups of corn flour and two cubes of maggi seasoning. Darkness was fast enveloping the horizon, so he moved briskly, rummaging through every nook and cranny of the garden. The corn flour would be useless if he could not put together some kind of soup to to facilitate the treacherous journey of the corn flower from the mouth to the stomach. Dry season was already breathing down on the country, scooping heaps of dust onto leaves, stems and houses.

Persistently, he squinted with the patience of a fisherman, plucking every little piece of dry spinach and pumpkin he could find. Eventually, darkness won the battle sending him back to the kitchen. Izunna washed the vegetables quickly and chopped them haphazardly. He poured some water into a small pot and dumped the chopped vegetables in the pot. "Ngalele!" He called to one of his daughters. "Yes papa!" She answered. "Get me some firewood, quickly!" He ordered. His seven children were in the living room, bemoaning their fate. They had managed a paltry breakfast in the morning before heading to school. As usual, there was nothing to eat at lunch time when they returned from school. Ravaged by hunger, they lay on the floor; the only sensible place to lie in the steaming hot apartment, as they wondered when their sufferings would come to an end.

Their mother Olachi, lived in Umuahia, the capital of the neighboring Abia State, where she did a small job to help augment their father's measly salary. Their father worked for the coal corporation of Nigeria, and staff of the coal corporation had gone for nearly a year without being paid. The power company had struck as they often did, so the children were lying in darkness. Izunna was using the only available lantern in his household in the kitchen to concoct soup and corn flour. Ngalele was the second youngest of his children. She dragged her hunger-ravaged body up from the floor where she was lying with her siblings, went outside and fetched some firewood. "Food will soon be ready, okay!" He encouraged her as she handed him the firewood.

"Okay papa," Ngalele answered. She thought of joining her whining siblings in the living room, but on as second thought, she stayed back in the kitchen and helped her father. There was no kerosene in the house, so Izunna improvised. He folded some old newspapers, placed them at the base of the fireplace and then threw firewood on top of them. He picked up a broom, tilted the lantern globe to an angle and lit the broom from the burning lantern flame. Quickly, he placed the fast burning broom onto the papers and thankfully, they ignited. The fire was soon burning with ravenous, chaotic energy, sending the woods into a burning frenzy. Ngalele placed the pot of vegetable and water on the fire, while her father unwrapped the two cubes of maggi seasoning, which he crushed between his fingers and dropped the powder into the pot.

He tilted the salt container and shook some grains of salt into the pot. Then, he reached for the container of oil. The moment he touched it, he realized what Ngalele had known all along. “There is no oil in that container papa,” she said demurely. A frown swept through Izunna’s face. He had not planned for this. He raised the lantern and placed the oil container against it. A quick scan revealed few specks of oil clinging doggedly to the walls of the container. He opened the now boiling pot, took it off the fire and carefully poured some hot water into the oil container. He placed the pot back on the fire, closed the oil container and shook it as hard as he could. Then, he reopened it and poured the resulting mixture into the pot. “Go and wash those plates, my daughter,” he said to Ngalele. She obliged him. In about twenty minutes, the greenish, oil-starved soup was done. Izunna placed the pot of soup on the ground and boiled some water in another pot. Before long, he prepared corn fufu, which he dished out in flat plates for his children with the watery, greenish soup in bowls.

“Come and eat, children!” He announced. Delighted they raced to the kitchen and took their respective plates. The sight of the soup was nothing to behold. It was watery and greenish in color, attesting loudly to the lack of oil in it. A shake of the plate revealed the flow of the soup, like a river galloping down the slopes of a hill. Having starved nearly all day, they were eager to refill their gaping stomachs once again. The portions were frustratingly tiny, but it was better than nothing. Ending the raging rampage that hunger had been staging in their stomachs was their priority. “Where is yours, papa?” Oleka asked their father. He was Izunna’s oldest son. “I am fine my son. I ate not long ago.” Izunna lied. Oleka knew he was lying. “You can share mine with me,” Oleka offered. He was holding out his plates of corn fufu and soup; the fufu was a miserable morsel sitting pathetically in the center of a flat plate. “Go and eat, my child,” Izunna insisted with a feeble smile on his face.

The power company, NEPA restored power as they ate. They sat in the living room while Izunna sat outside; soaking up much needed fresh air. Voraciously, the children devoured their dinner. It was their first real meal all day; at least it was a bigger portion than their breakfast. “The soup is almost black in color,” Udemba teased. “I wonder what my feces will look like in the morning,” he added. He had a remarkable sense of humor. “Not when we are eating!” Ngalele protested. "Please don't talk about your poop while I am eating," Ngalele added vehemently. “I was thinking the same thing. I am sure the toilet will be painted black in the morning,” Idika added, ignoring Ngalele's protest. “Stop it, you two,” Oleka warned his younger brothers. Chioma tried so hard to suppress the laughter that was rumbling deep within her. “Whether the toilet is painted black or yellow, I don’t care. At least I will sleep with something in my stomach tonight, compared to last night. You know last night I had a dream where some ghosts were chasing after me and I could not run. They beat me silly, and I could only watch helplessly. If I had eaten dinner last night, I could have run away from them or put up some fight at the least,” Ibekwe added.

“You had better get ready to run fast this night, because this small portion of food and the green or black soup won’t do you any good. Those ghosts will torture you to death in your sleep tonight,” Udemba teased. “If the ghosts come chasing you tonight, Ibekwe, defecate on them,” Idika said. He could hardly stop laughing as he spoke. “With this black soup, I am sure the smell of your poop will poison those ghosts like nerve gas,” he added still laughing uncontrollably. The rest of his siblings were laughing too. By now, Chioma was sprawled out on the floor, fully possessed by rib-cracking laughter. “No need to defecate,” Eriola chipped in. Just fart and those ghosts will think that stronger more powerful demons have come after them,” she added. The ensuing round of humorous exchanges doused their pains. Somehow, they felt filled after having the small ration that their father had managed to put together, against all odds.

Soon after eating, his children thronged outside and sat with their father. They all squeezed onto a single mat, the only surviving one in their household. Izunna sat on a wooden chair. The moon was hiding behind thick clouds, while stars gazed down with curious interest on the happenings on mother earth. They sat at their father’s feet in a scene reminiscent of ancient African households, where children sat submissively before their father for counsel and direction. Izunna told them a tale about tortoise and the lion. Almost every night, he had a fresh story to tell. It was his way of imparting the teachings of his own father to them. They listened with bright-eyed excitement and rapt attention, which were slowly replaced by dull, sleep-infested eyes as nature ran its course. One at a time, they began to nod to the tunes composed by the power of sleep. “You are falling asleep Chioma,” Eriola pointed out.

“No I am not. I am listening,” Chioma insisted. “So, what did the tortoise request of the lion in order to marry his daughter?” Eriola persisted. “Let her sleep Eri,” Izunna intervened. Soon, they were all asleep with the exception of Oleka. “Ole, help me carry your sibling inside,” Izunna instructed him. “Yes, papa,” he replied obsequiously. One at a time, they carried the children into their apartment and laid them down on their respective mattresses, with Eriola, Ngalele and Chioma sharing one mattress, while Udemba, Ibekwe and Oleka shared another. Idika had the luxury of sleeping on the same narrow mattress with their father. Giving up his spot on daddy’s bed was what he hated about their mother’s visits, because when their mother was in town, he was relegated to a spot on the dying mat.

After they had all been tucked into bed, Izunna took his spot on the bed beside Idika. It was an old bed with a very old spring mattress. He could feel the metal springs poking inhospitably at his ribs through the skinny, flat foam that was supposed to offer him protection. That was not the only pinch he was experiencing. His stomach and intestines were growling and churning with violent rage. He had not eaten since morning. He rolled over to lie on his stomach in an attempt to quieten his unhappy digestive system. Despite the biting hunger, he lay quietly in the dark with a smile on his face. My children did not go to sleep without food tonight, he thought to himself. It does not matter how hungry I may be now, as far as my children have had something to fill their stomachs before going to be, I am thankful to God. Someday, things will get better, he consoled himself. Soon, sleep descended on the corridors of his eyes and slammed them shot. His stomach continued to growl in anger but he couldn't hear it in his sleep, as he merrily snored away.


This story was written by:

Victor Chinoo

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