‘This soup reminds me of River Niger,’ Kelechi muttered as her fingers navigated round the soup.
‘I think I’d need a straw,’ Chioma chuckled.
‘You girls should at least be grateful that you have food on your table,’ mama scolded my two siblings.
‘Mama is right,’ I lent my voice; ‘half a loaf, is better than none.’
‘Half a loaf my foot!’ Papa blurted in fury, ‘enough of that nonsense talk!’ then turning to mama, he shook his head in dismay.
‘Cynthia, are we so poor that we can’t afford at least fifty naira vegetables?’
Mama was silent. As she shifted her gaze to me, somehow, I assured her with my eyes that her secret was very safe with me.
‘Cynthia, I’m waiting,’ papa persisted, ‘I demand an explanation for this insult.’
‘Insult?’ she burst into tears, ‘Livinus, you call all my labours insult? No problem, God knows the numerous sacrifices I’ve done for this family…’
Papa became subdued.
‘I know you’re trying, but the point I’m making is that although circumstances had made you the temporary breadwinner, that doesn’t mean you should just prepare any…’
‘Papa!’ Chioma screamed.
‘What is it?’ Papa shook the ten-year old girl.
‘It’s over there!’ she pointed towards the door, ‘the big rat is behind the curtain.’
‘Rat!’ Kelechi and I ran behind our father’s back, flinging our morsels of fufu on the floor in panic.
‘Livinus, please do something fast!’ mama’s voice urged him on.
‘What’s this fuss about rat?’ papa sprang to his feet facing us all as though he was delivering a lecture. ‘You people had better come and watch how I’m going to kill it; very soon, I would cease to be the official rat killer in this house.’
‘Livinus, please kill that thing…’
Picking one pair of slippers, he walked towards the door, shook the curtains slightly and as the rodent made to escape; he dealt with it in one stroke and then held up the carcass.
‘The size of this thing tells me something that it is actually feeding well, that is, we’re not really as poor as most of you think.’
‘Papa, please throw it away,’ Chioma cringed.
He hurled the remains through the window and then turned to mama.
‘Cynthia, please, let this be the first and last time you’d serve me soup without vegetables again. No matter how bad it is we can still afford ordinary fifty naira vegetables.’
And so the night wore on. Kelechi and Chioma both fell asleep an hour after supper, while I tossed from one side of the foam to the other.
Papa’s outburst that night over the state of the soup got me thinking. Ever since he lost his job, mama had made several sacrifices at the expense of her comfort to keep the family going. So why had he suddenly thrown up tantrums over a little mistake?
Maybe Madam Felicia was right; papa must have been a wrong choice for her. Could it be what the poor woman admitted she was fed up with yesterday? Papa is definitely…
‘Livinus, please leave me alone, I’m not in the mood…’ I heard mama’s voice from the other room.
‘Nkem, why are you pushing me away?’ papa sounded as though intoxicated with new wine.
Nkem was the nickname he usually calls mama whenever he is in a relaxed and happy mood.
‘You seem not to appreciate all my sacrifices in this house. Most women would not even go half the extra mile as I do.’
‘Okay, I’m sorry.’
‘I have toiled day by day just to make sure I meet the basic needs of the family…’
‘Nkem, I’m sorry… in fact, I’m sorry raised to the power one thousand.’
‘You’re such a comedian. Livinus, the way you’re saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ someone would think it came from your heart.’
‘Oh woman of little faith,’ papa laughed, ‘if you’re doubting me then place your ears close to my heart and tell me what you hear.’
Papa sure has a funny way of making up.
‘To be frank with you,’ papa continued, ‘I really appreciate all your labours, but do you know what? The sight of that soup reminded me of the type they serve in the refugee camps…’
The conversation was getting more interesting and in a bid to stifle laughter, my long legs accidentally toppled a stool at the end of the bed…
‘Can you hear that sound?’ mama’s voice rang in alarm, ‘I think it would be better you check the children.’
‘My dear, never mind any sound for now… I guess it must be one of those rats; let’s face our own business…’
‘Business? At the expense of our children?’
‘You worry too much, Nkem,’ papa persisted, ‘those girls would one day be married off and after that what now happens to the Livinus Okoronkwo family? Who would preserve the legacy of that name?’
‘In other words…’ mama stopped midway.
‘In other words, Nkem, I want a son, an heir and a voice in this family…’
Silence hung in the air.
A wave of insecurity shook me. So does it mean papa does not think much about girls? My perplexed mind probed.
‘So what gives you the assurance that it’s going to be a boy?’
‘It is no secret, what God can do…’ papa sang, ‘what he’s done for others; he’d do for you…’
‘My husband has turned a Chorister overnight…’ mama laughed.
Before I realized my naughtiness, I laughed out aloud.
‘Nkem,’ papa declared, ‘please you’d excuse me for a moment, let me check the children…’
The moment I heard the creaking sound of the bed, I quickly shut my eyes tightly and pretended to be fast asleep.
A few seconds later, I sensed the presence of someone flashing torchlight around the room…
Catch me if you can! I dared him in my mind.
‘You’re right Nkem…’ papa confirmed, ‘please come and see this big rat close to Nnenna’s…’
I sprang immediately, even before he completed the statement.
‘So, you’re the human rat?’