CHIDINMA OKONTA CONFIDENCE
Mama’s dark skin shines. My first love, she smells like coconuts. Slightly built, yet strong, with smooth round face radiating bliss, she is comely with that ever present coconuty scent about her. Supple, delicate fingers, nails neatly trimmed, her hands are the tenderest. Hands that caressed me, nurtured me; Mama’s hands are pure magic. On cold rainy days, I dream of Mama’s mud hut…
Warm, inviting orange-blue flames light up her hut, different smells wafting from within. Clad in khaki school uniform, splattered with mucky red sand, and my threadbare shoes squishy, I looked like Red Indians smeared with bright, almost dazzling, eye catching colours in a festival; a sorry sight. Mama’s loving hands scoop me into a warm embrace, and I am squashed against her bosomy self. She rids me of my damp entanglements, cleans me up and massages my fragile frame. Afterwards, I smell like cocoa butter and coconut milk. A carnivore would have drooled! I salivate at the lip-smacking yam pottage served in earthenware, freshly cooked on Mama’s fire. Well oiled, with sprinkles of prawn, slices of chili and sweet peppers and sweet basil leaves emitting aroma like darts aimed at a dartboard. I dig in greedily.
On hot sunny days, knapsack dragging behind my weary soul, I trudge along. Mama seems to know my scent, coconuty like hers, as she often receives me at the low front gate, otherwise, I’d trip. Smile like a Cheshire cat’s, her tender hands caress my distressed curls. Her bosom is inviting, and I lean in, yawning heavily, her coconuty scent therapeutic like the array of aromatic oils, bottled in a corner of her hut. Sometimes, I’m half asleep by the time I arrive home into her embrace. The cool bath water that revives me comes from Mama’s earthen pot just outside her hut.
As situation demands, she gives the most appropriate responses: a good blow with her spread out palm when I try to jump over the earthen pot in my childish games, a cuff on the ear for my naughtiness, a piece of smoked fish dipped in palm oil gravy for running an errand; indulgent when I lay in her bed curled up, struck with iba; soothing as she applies coconut oil to my grazed knees and elbow from stumbling over the grindstone, while I whimper…
Mary pushed something down my pocket. Long lashes slightly lowered, she faltered.
“I brought this for you. I hope you like it.”
“I hope it’s not a snake,” I teased.
She smiled timidly and darted off without looking back. Fingering my pocket to make out its content, I hurry into the school farm, away from prying eyes. Sweet Mary, I muse. Recessed in my left pocket, I took out my gift gingerly. Carefully wrapped in broad banana leaves, my favourite snack stared back at me; Mama’s magic: Ukwa, fried slightly brown, just the way Mama made it for me. Soft, luscious, almost white palm kernel nuts meet my already glistening eyes.
In the distance, from the head teacher’s block, the bell resonated, signalling end of recess. I refuse to leave the school farm. I clutch the memories of Mama in its brown leaves. Momentarily, Mama’s smile flashed and I scowled, discontent at the distance separating us. Mama is over forty far miles away from Uli.
“Hurry along! And don’t be a sluggard,” I hear the head teacher’s voice boom from the distance.
Soon, I would hurry off to class, and brush Mary’s delicate fingers on her desk as I take my seat behind her.
“Thank you very much,” I would whisper. “I loved it.” Her face would flush, and she would bury it in her palms…
Feelings of nostalgia set in; Mama’s round face blissful, eyes smiling, curls shiny, smile inviting. I glided over the rest of the school day. After classes, Mary bade me goodbye and I made my way to the farm. I balanced myself on a trunk and hoisted my lean frame effortlessly onto the low branch facing me and climbed up the fruit tree, retrieving Mary’s gift. I climbed down and sat facing the breadfruit tree. I unwrapped the leaves and still cannot believe my eyes. I never told Mary I craved Mama’s special snack, nor did I tell anyone else Mama made these as a special treat for me…
Mama stood up from tending the fire. She made it seem effortless. Graceful motions like an experienced artist. Yam pottage, freshly cooked, made my stomach rumble. I couldn’t resist my favourite food. As I looked longingly at the pot, Mama burst out laughing in her singsong voice.
“Nkem, you don’t think I might end up going with you to Uli?” she teased.
“I don’t want to go to far away Uli, Mama,” I grumbled. “I prefer going to school here.”
She entered her hut and brought me a bundle. Enthusiastic, I tore it open to reveal a cream coloured shirt, a pair of checkered purple shorts, and a new pair of oversized sandals. I imagine myself in class with boys and girls my age and smile joyfully.
“My bookworm will go to Uli and make me proud,” she encouraged, setting my portion before me. “You cannot cheat that big brain by refusing to go to the white man’s school. Besides, I didn’t win the scholarship with you,” she finished.
I dig in, forgetting my tantrum.
A week later, face swollen and eyes puffy, I hug Mama back. She ruffled my hair, adjusted a crooked collar, wiped my eyes with the tip of her wrapper and kissed my face.
“I made your favourite snack, Nkem. You can eat it on the way,” Mama stifled a tear. “And always remember to write and tell me everything. Inugo?” she choked.
With my small trunk, and Mama’s presents, and blessings, I travelled to Uli in the company of the Time Changes Yesterday lorry driver. Mama’s round smiling face remains etched in my mind. I wondered if she would miss me already, if she would cry thinking about me, if she would enjoy yam pottage without me, if…
It is getting dark. An ant bit my right foot, bringing me back to my reality in the school farm. Slapping it away and moving out of their way, I take a handful of ukwa and palm kernel nuts and chewed with gusto. I wrapped the rest carefully and put the parcel in my pocket. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and dusted my behind.
It was almost evening when I returned to the hostel. Placing the parcel on my reading table, I changed into more comfortable clothing and slept. Dreams of Mary and Mama fill my head. I woke up to the sounds of nocturnal birds and insects chirpping away on the mango tree outside the hostel. An owl hooted in the distance. The moon smiled in all her glory, casting shadows in the sparsely furnished room. Picking a pen and paper, my kerosene lamp dimly lit, I wrote to my first love.
“Dearest Mama,” I began, fingering the parcel, lost in my reverie.
OKONTA CHIDINMA CONFIDENCE
is a Nigerian who dabbles in writing, with many poems and short stories, unpublished, to her credit. She holds a BA Ed. in Educational Management from the University of Lagos. She tells her stories, sometimes with a tang. She hopes to “show” better stories, too. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.