The first thing Njideka saw when she opened her eyes was her children standing in front of her with wide eyes and mouths bent in a frown. They had been standing there and staring until the sheer force of their sadness woke Njideka up from her deep slumber. Olachi, Njideka’s eldest daughter who was the king, led the charge while her brothers, Chunwa and Bobo, stood behind her like foot soldiers. Njideka sat up on the couch, using her loosened wrapper to wipe her bleary eyes.
“What is it?” She asked.
Olachi stepped forward. “Me and my brothers are hungry.”
Njideka moved her gaze from Olachi to Chunwa and then noticed the plate Bobo clutched to his chest. She smiled. Njideka knew her children like a mother hen knew her chicks. She knew that when her children encroached on her space, it was because they had held a meeting behind her back and, as usual, Olachi was their spokesperson. Njideka sighed as she looked up at the time and realized they were due their afternoon meal. She got up from where she sat, adjusted her wrapper, knotted it by the side, and proceeded to the kitchen. Olachi, Chunwa and Bobo trotted behind her.
As she stood over the sink, rinsing a pot, Njideka noticed that their frowns became more pronounced with every move she made. She quickly sliced onions, tomatoes and peppers and measured out cups of rice inside a bowl. She then brought out frozen chicken from the fridge, just so her children could see and smile at the progress being made. But the more she brought out, the more miserable they looked. By the time Njideka placed a pot on the stove and tried to pour some oil into it, Bobo started crying.
Njideka looked perplexed. As she transferred her gaze from her first child to the last, she wondered what the outcome of their meeting was and feared she wasn’t sticking to plans the council had agreed on. Njideka tried diplomacy. “Bobo, I am making you some jollof rice, don’t you want jollof rice on your plate?” she asked, looking down at Bobo.
Bobo shook his head while covering his face with the plate he held in his hand.
“What does he want?” Njideka asked, this time she directed the question to Olachi.
“He wants to drink garri,” Olachi said.
“He wants to drink garri?” Njideka asked, and they nodded tersely.
At the mention of garri, Njideka noticed Bobo stopped crying and looked up from his plate. Amused, she turned off the stove and set the oil she was about to pour into the pot down on the kitchen counter.
“So you are saying that if I give you garri to drink, I can go back to the couch and continue my sleep?”
“And milk, chocolate and sugar,” Chunwa chirped.
“And ganuts,” Bobo added, and then he stretched out his hands with his plate to Njideka.
She took it from him.
“So you don’t want jollof rice and chicken, what you want is to drink garri?”
Njideka scoffed. She knew that when her children held a meeting and decided what they wanted, there was no room for negotiation. She placed the ingredients for jollof rice back into their respective cabinets and brought out her bucket of garri. She took out two more plates and then measured small amounts into them, she opened the fridge and brought out a pack of sugar and put three cubes on each plate. She then carefully poured groundnuts and then gave Bobo a baby handful to eat, and after that, she added chocolates and then milk. Njideka noticed that with each spoon of milk she added to the plates, the smiles on her children’s faces stretched. Their smiles continued to stretch until she was done and their faces looked like they were slashed into two. This was what she liked to see.
“I have given you what you want and I am going back to that couch” Njideka said, pointing towards the sitting room. “You know where the water is so I don’t want anyone of you to come there and disturb me again. And don’t touch anything else in this kitchen – this portion is enough, unless you want me to bring out my ‘Mr. Do Good’ and teach you a good lesson.” Njideka said, “Chunwa, let your sister choose a plate first, and then you and then Bobo.”
When Njideka left the kitchen, Olachi, Chunwa and Bobo sprang at their plates with laughter in their mouths. They took water from the fridge and then took their plates of garri into the room they shared with each other. When they got there they placed their plates on the floor and sat in a circle.
“I told you the plan was going to work, next time trust me and don’t be afraid,” Chunwa said.
They got ready to drink the garri by pouring water inside it.
“I know a game. If we sing to the garri it will swell up and become plenty so we can drink enough,” Olachi said.
“Sing to the garri?” Chunwa asked, he looked puzzled but his eyes lit up to show he was interested in the idea. Bobo just sat there, quietly munching on the groundnuts he was given by their mother.
“Yes, there is a song we can sing to the garri to make it plenty,”
“Teach us the song,”
Olachi cleared her throat and closed her eyes as if preparing for prayer. After some seconds, she began to sing softly.
“Garri swell up, garri swell up, and feed the family,” she sang solemnly before reopening her eyes.
“But the garri did not swell up,” Chunwa said.
“For the garri to swell up we have to pour water inside and turn it and then sing with our eyes closed,”
“Is that how you were taught?”
“Who taught you?”
“Does it matter where I learned it from, are you going to play or not?”
“I will play,”
“Okay then, follow my lead and then you do the same for Bobo,”
“Wait,” Chunwa said, “I have an idea, why don’t we add all our garri together and pour water and sing so it will be plenty?”
Olachi’s face lit up at Chunwa’s suggestion and soon they were both nodding in agreement. Bobo continued to sit there silently, eating his groundnuts and watching the exchange.
“We are going to add all our garri together so it will be plenty,” Olachi explained to Bobo, spreading her arms apart to gesticulate how much the garri will amount to.
Bobo nodded, “Yesh.”
“We need a bowl, Chunwa you should go and get it,”
“I am afraid mommy will catch me in the kitchen and flog me, and then you will be here laughing at me,”
“But you are the one who insisted we add our garri together to play the game, and so the job falls on you.”
Chunwa got up and hurried off to the kitchen and in no time he returned with a bowl he felt was big enough to contain the garri; he turned all the contents of their plates into the bowl and then set it on the floor. He sat down, and looked at Olachi to carry on with the procession. Olachi took a sachet of water from the floor and opened it with her teeth. She poured the water into the bowl of garri and then stirred it until it turned into a creamy mixture with honey coloured nuts floating on the surface.
“Repeat after me. Garri swell up, garri swell up, and feed the family,” Olachi sang with her eyes closed.
Chunwa sang along while Bobo just closed his eyes. Soon they opened their eyes and saw that the garri had soaked in the water and risen to the surface. The smiles on their faces were radiant.
“What did I tell you?” Olachi said. She took a spoon and dug it into the garri and took it to her mouth. Her eyes widened and then a smile grew on her face, “It’s so sweet.”
Chunwa took a spoon and dug in, when he tasted it he smiled at Olachi’s genius, he gave Bobo a taste and he licked and smacked his lips. Bobo and Chunwa dug in for more garri to drink but Olachi stopped them with her spoon.
“I have my own idea, let’s add more water, and then we will sing longer maybe it will raise faster,”
“Good idea.” Chunwa opened another sachet of water and poured it into the bowl and then stirred the already thick mass of garri, and then he closed his eyes and sang. Bobo and Olachi joined. They sang for what seemed like ten minutes and then when they opened their eyes the garri had swollen past the water level. Immediately, they added more water to the solution and dug in with their spoons. They drank the garri hastily, but each with grimaces on their faces.
“It’s not shweet again!” Bobo whimpered and dropped his spoon on the ground; he folded his arm around himself and looked at Olachi and Chunwa for answers.
“We can add more sugar and milk,” Olachi said.
“Where did all the milk and sugar go to?” Chunwa asked. He searched the bowl, even the groundnuts seemed to have disappeared from the surface of the garri.
“Let us just add more sugar, milk and more water to make the taste come out so we can enjoy and finish all the garri because mommy will give us a good beating if we waste it,” Olachi said.
“Why don’t you go and get more ingredients for our garri to work because you’re the cause of this problem,” Chunwa said.
“Cool down, you think it’s like the bowl you went to bring, if mommy catches me in the kitchen she will flog me and I am too scared,”
“But you are the one who insisted we added more water to the garri solution, you are the one who knew the game.”
With the weight of responsibility on her shoulders, Olachi reluctantly tiptoed to the kitchen in fear of Njideka and “Mr. Do Good”.
She soon returned with more condiments mixed in a small plate and a sachet of water under her arm. She quickly added the extra sugar, milk and groundnuts into the garri and then more water before their mother woke up and emerged from the room. As they stirred the contents their spoons clanged together. As they ate, the garri soaked up the water, and as they added more water, the garri became tasteless. They ate and ate until they couldn’t eat anymore. Soon, they called another meeting on what to do with the leftovers.
“We can hide it in the fridge and eat it later, maybe at night with the suya daddy will bring on his way back from work,” Chunwa suggested, picking cassava sticks out of his teeth.
“You know Mommy will find out and give us a good beating,” Olachi said.
“So what do you suggest we do with the garri, you are the reason we’re in this mess,”
“I told you about the game but you insisted that we should add our garri together, and now look,”
“Listen, Olachi, you are the oldest and you will be blamed, Mommy will say you are the mouthpiece, so think of another idea,” Chunwa said.
Olachi went silent. She put a finger on her chin and closed her eyes. “I suggest we dump the garri inside the toilet and flush it down the drain, that way nobody can ever find it, and then we can rinse the bowls and wash our plates like nothing happened,” she said.
Chunwa turned to Bobo but he was already fast asleep with garri smeared all over his mouth. It was left to him and Olachi to get rid of the evidence. Together they got up and took the bowl of garri into their bathroom. They frantically dumped the contents into the toilet bowl, using their spoons to scrape the sides and turning every so often to ensure they weren’t being watched.
“There are people out there who have nothing to eat and you want to waste the food I gave you?” Njideka had rhetorically asked on the several occasions her children had suggested wasting food before, “When I serve you and you see you can’t finish it, you say so. We do not waste food in this house.”
As the last clumps of garri fell into the toilet and Olachi repeatedly pulled the lever, she and Chunwa stood back and watched in horror as their milky, sugary dream showed signs of clogging up the drain.