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“Why did you kick me?” Ibekwe asked her. “I did not kick you. I only passed by you. And if did, so what? You are in my way.” “There is...

“Why did you kick me?” Ibekwe asked her. “I did not kick you. I only passed by you. And if did, so what? You are in my way.” “There is ample room for ten people in this kitchen,” Ibekwe exaggerated. “You should not kick me again.” She stirred her pot of soup gently, placed a speck on her palm and tasted it. Sensing it was almost done, she removed some of the firewood from the front of the fire. Ibekwe watched her closely fearing that his goat meat might be compromised. 

Assured that his meat had not been touched, he resolved to endure her hostile treatment. She washed her hands in a small basin, raised them in the air, and as if she did not know he was there. She flicked her hands in his direction spraying water over his face. Infuriated, he charged at her head-on. She slapped and kicked him. He fought back, matching her for every blow. Onyeoma felt a rush of frustration rush through her. She kicked even harder.

“Mad woman! What have I done to you?” Ibekwe yelled as he punched her back. He attempted a head butt but Onyeoma ducked in time to evade it. “You are cramping my style; get out of the kitchen.” “You think I do not know why you are mad? It’s because you are afraid I would tell mom if you serve yourself half of the soup under the guise of tasting it.” “So that it what this is about right? Mom told you to watch me right?” “Nobody told me to watch you. I am just doing my own thing.” “Your own thing will soon land you in big trouble. Ka afuuchata ka mgbo ji daa enwe n’isi (A bullet sends the meddling monkey to the grave),” she warned him proverbially, in a feat of raging anger. She was convinced that her mother had told Ibekwe to keep an eye on her. She pictured the work she put into cooking, washing, mopping and many more. 

Her anger intensified. How could she do that? She thought. Is it too much to ask? Just an extra scoop of soup and she sends Ibekwe to watch me. Realizing that the soup may burn, she pushed Ibekwe away. She stirred the soup again. Her hands were shaking in ire. She finally put the soup down and began to put out the fire. Ibekwe looked beyond her. He could see that his meat was beginning to char; he dived forward, picked it up and placed it in a nearby plate. Flabbergasted, Onyeoma stared at him for a moment. “What is that?” “None of your business.” He picked it up quickly and placed it in his pocket. The heat burned his right thigh forcing him to jerk backwards.

“I want to see that Ibekwe. Did you steal a piece of fish from the soup and roast it in the fire or what?” “You have an elegant imagination. I wish you luck with that,” he said nonchalantly heading for the door. Onyeoma held him by the hand and insisted on having a closer look at his secret ‘roast’. “I will tell mom and dad you stole from the pot of soup.” “He stuck his hand in his pocket, took out the meat and showed it to her. He kept it away from her, making sure she did not pounce on it. “You did not cook with meat, and this is a piece of goat meat. So, does that satisfy your curiosity?” “And where did you get that from?” “None of your business Onyeoma, please leave me alone. Let go of me, at last you can drink all the egusi soup if you want.” Onyeoma wanted a piece of the meat too. Meat had not made it to their dining table in a long time. “Can I have a bite please?” She asked kindly; deliberately carving out a phony smile across her face as she tried to win him over.

Frowning, he took the piece of meat from his pocket, stuck one end of it in his mouth and tore off a small chunk with his teeth. He put the rest back in his pocket. “Will I have some soup with you then?” He asked, dangling the small chunk he had bitten off at her. “Okay, but you have to give me more than this tiny chunk, stingy man.” “No problem,” Ibekwe agreed. She chewed on the meat delightfully. “It tastes good. It is goat meat. Where did you get it from?” She asked as she dished some soup in a plate. Ibekwe recounted his visit to the Anisiebis to her. 

He took a seat with spoon in hand and his meat in a plate as they both began to share their spoils. “I am going to tell mom that you had so much soup again in the name of tasting. And you, for holding out at Anisiebi’s house like a scrounger for a piece of meat, I will tell dad about it. You know how he hates it when we go acting like we were the hungriest children in town,” Nzo announced, standing at the door. He had been following the proceedings between Onyeoma and Ibekwe from his vantage point.

“Okay, you can come and have some meat and soup. I know that is all you want. Else, you can tell dad and mom while we have them both alone,” Onyeoma replied. He joined them without hesitation. Ibekwe served up a chunk of his meat to him. They laughed and joked, as they feasted. The tensions of the past minutes had completely dissipated. “By the way Nzo, don’t you think we are truly the hungriest children in Atiza Quarters?” Ibekwe asked jokingly, but the earnestness in his voice was evident. 

“I have yet to find hungrier children in the whole quarters,” he answered gulping down a spoonful of soup. He had placed his share of Ibekwe’s goat meat in his pocket. It was a rarity that should not be devoured with relative simplicity or speed. He planned to take it back to the mat with him. With one tiny bite at a time, he intended to savor every miniscule bit of it. Not treating such windfall with respect was akin to folly. He would lie down after the marathon soup tasting spree, stare into the empty sky and extract every flavored juice from the goat meat, between his eager teeth and tongue.

“Be fast guys. Mom and dad went to visit mama and papa Ireche’s with Chukwuma, Uzor and the twins. I am sure they will be back soon. Let us clean things up. Neither of you should mention a word of my meat to anybody,” Ibekwe warned them. “I will not say a word, and be sure not to say anything about the soup you two,” replied Onyeoma. “As far as you two are nice to me I will not say a word.” Nzo added to their shock. “What do you mean Nzochukwu?” Onyeoma asked. “Well, you have to offer me a piece of your dinner tonight and some of your lunch tomorrow, and some of your rice on Easter Sunday; else I will spill the beans.” Ibekwe gazed at him in frustration. 

“If you say a word, I will beat you.” “That will be after dad must have finished whipping you,” Nzo reminded him. “Okay I will give you a little bit of my food, but remember, it will not be long before you break some rule, and I will be treating you just the same,” threatened Ibekwe. “Yes!” added Onyeoma. “We will wait for that. In the meantime, you both owe me some of your food,” he said with a tone of finality. He went back to the mat satisfied. The last time, he played football after school after their dad had warned that he should not do so, Ibekwe ripped him off for weeks, taking a slice of his dinner every night. He grew tired of paying back and stood up to him. While the wound was still fresh, he was delighted to poke a stick in it to get the best he could out of the both of them.

“Chukwuma!” “Yes mom.” “Call your siblings to come get their dinner,” Iheoma called to her second son. Like soldiers, they trooped into the kitchen at the mention of food. They had been having two meals a day, a downgrade from what they had been used to. This had left them cranky and hungry, nearly round the clock. Brunch and dinner times had become sacred rituals nobody wanted to miss. “This is for your dad, me and the twins. Place it near your dad and tell the twins to be patient. I will feed them myself. I do not want them making a mess of themselves again.” She handed a tray of garri and egusi soup with two glasses of water to Chukwuma, who proceeded as directed. She placed another bowl of garri and egusi by the fireplace and covered them both. It was for Jidenna who had been out.

He was in the habit of returning late. He would not have to tamper with the pot of soup late in the night, because of the high likelihood that the soup would turn sour if touched late at night. “This is for you and Uzor.” She attempted to hand Nzo their plates of soup and garri, but he objected. “I want to share with Ibekwe.” “Why is that?” “Uzor tends to scoop the whole soup. He shapes his balls of garri like a cup and siphons the whole soup. Mom, I am really hungry, and I know you do not like us coming back for more soup. I’d rather finish the garri with the soup provided. With Uzor, that is unlikely.” He had concealed his true reason for preferring Ibekwe, who wanted to object but he did not want to run the risk of getting the whipping should Nzo follow through on his threat.  Iheoma concurred reluctantly. 

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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