“Fola! Is this how to pound amala?” Papa glared at me, his hands shivering underneath the table.
I knew what the look meant. It was his frustrated expression. His pupils contracted, his eyebrows looked like they were fighting to touch each other and his lips, usually full and plump went flat into a snarl. He was going to beat me until I was swollen and no longer had a voice to cry.
“I can still see the elubo!” He scooped a handful of the hot steaming amala and threw it across the room at me.
My mouth turned dry as I scurried over to his side and knelt down, praying for Mama’s appearance; because that was the only thing that could save me from Papa’s strokes of his well-trimmed and soaked koboko. She would caress his bald head, focusing on the centre and sing him his oriki.
Akande, Olowo ori mi, Ajayi, Ogidi Olu.
Then his lips would become full again, and he would send me off with a stern warning. But Mama wasn’t home. She was at the Balogun market buying her special ingredients for Papa’s efo riro. Papa was too hungry to wait for her return, so he said he would eat the leftover ila alasepo in the fridge.
“Oole soro ni?” His deep Ibadan accent cut my prayers off.
“I’m not strong enough, baami. The omorogun is too big for my hands.”
He made me fetch the same omorogun I told him was too big then beat me. Hard. I was twelve years old then. Four feet tall, skinny and fragile. So there was no flesh to take the pain. Every stroke hit my bone directly and when I could not take the pain any longer, I reached to his ankles and bowed my head to kiss his feet. I begged him to stop but he would not listen. There was a rhythm to his strokes. Two seconds after one stroke, and then one second after the next.
I was still wailing and trying to draw back the mucus that had run past my upper lip when I realized I was not being hit anymore; just the throbbing sensation remained on my body. It was Mama who had come to postpone my dying day. She held Papa by the collar, shook him vehemently and yelled at him; her voice trembling with fear and hindered sobs.
“You will not kill my baby! Lai Lai! Agbaya oshi.” Papa didn’t speak. It was just Mama’s loud words that could be heard around the house.
I climbed up the stairs through the kitchen, where the pots and utensils I had cooked with lay unwashed; too weak to care that Mama hated pots being soaked overnight. Tomorrow, she too would beat me like a herdsman leading his cows; forgetting that tonight, she cried for me. That night, my bones shivered even in the heat of my room. Again, as always, I put a knife to my stomach and chickened out as the sharp end dug deeper; scared that I would only be badly injured and not dead.
- Amala: Nigerian food made from cassava flour (mainly eaten by Yoruba people)
- Lai Lai! – never
- Agbaya oshi – old fool. Someone who misuses control and authority because they are older.
- Omorogun – a big spatula
- efo riro – vegetable soup with assorted meats and fish
- Oole soro ni? – Can’t you speak?
- baami – my father
- oriki – praise poetry, eulogy.