It was the eve of Christmas. Chaka went to bed looking forward to waking up to a sumptuous meal the next morning. Being the second of three children to a single mother, he always looked forward to festive occasions since they were the only times Mama made them eat something “fancy”: New Year; Nene, his big brother’s birthday; Easter; His own birthday; Sheeka, his little sister’s birthday; and his favourite festive occasion, Christmas. He often wondered why Mama did nothing special on her birthday too and often confronted her to let them “enjoy” but deep down he knew he was just looking for another day to drink a bottle of Coke, “Kaka-kola” as he called it.
His excitement for this particular Christmas was soaring at new heights because Uncle George was back from *abrokyire to spend the holidays in the country. He had visited them earlier that day with lots of foodstuff and goodies: Two big bags of rice, a gallon of cooking oil, a pack of biscuits, a crate of soft drinks (yes, his favourite kaka-kola). And oh, the two fowls he also brought them.
Mama had quickly prepared chicken stew as soon as they had finished eating their usual banku and pepper for supper with fried fish they bought from Maa Akweley, the kenkey seller at their junction. Chaka did not even have appetite for their evening meal as his mind kept wondering off to the chicken stew Mama was about to prepare for the next day. He twice choked from salivation, earning a stern warning from Mama.
It was later that night when everyone was fast asleep that Chaka woke up to go and weewee. Returning from the washroom, he caught a whiff of the aroma of Mama’s chicken stew wafting sweetly from the kitchen, beckoning him to treat his nostrils. Their chamber-and-hall apartment offered little privacy so he stealthily tip-toed into the kitchen trying hard not bump into anything in the crammed space.
In what seemed like forever in his mind, Chaka slowly took the lid off the cooking pot and instantaneously felt his stomach rumble with hunger as a new wave of aroma hit his face. He knew he should’ve eaten the banku earlier. He firmly came to the conclusion that he was going to do more than merely inhale the aroma, especially not when he was so close to it and Mama was so far away. His stomach gave another low rumble in agreement and he instinctively clutched his midsection trying to muffle the sound.
The effect of his mischief was that, the tiniest bit of sound was magnified in his ears and he thought his heart might actually burst of out his chest running with a pair of legs of its own from beating so hard. In the semi-darkness, he dipped his hand into the cooking pot. Scenes from a raffle draw he had seen the other day in town came to his mind and he couldn’t help but quietly giggle. He touched a chunk of chicken meat on his first dip and claimed it. He smiled and carefully placed the lid on the pot as he prepared to back out of the kitchen with his prize in hand.
He had only taken two steps when the dilemma hit him. He turned to look back at the cooking pot wondering if it was fully covered with the lid or half covered when he took it off. Standing there puzzled, he finally decided to shift the lid to the side like he had always seen Mama do. Confident that he had covered his tracks well and that there’d be no suspicion of mischief, he tip-toed his way out of the kitchen.
He was almost at the door when he hit his foot against the crate of soft drinks on the floor which was obscured in the darkness.
The bottles momentarily clinked against each other but Chaka was oblivious to it. He couldn’t cry out of pain for fear of waking Mama up as he hopped up and down in silence in the kitchen, trying to shake off the pain.
“Who’s in the kitchen?!” Chaka heard Mama’s voice booming from the bedroom. “Who’s there?!” He froze at the spot, not knowing what to do or how to respond. He worked his brains quickly, trying to quell the crisis in which he found himself.
“I asked who’s there… Won’t whoever or whatever is there respond?” Mama let out again, a hint of irritation in her tone.
“Meooowww,” Chaka mimically purred back, hoping the squeaking he heard wasn’t his mother getting off bed to come to the kitchen.
In the silence that followed, Chaka knew he had made a big mistake upon realizing that they didn’t even own a cat. On cue he heard Mama’s footsteps approaching the kitchen. Succumbing to the ordeal he knew was about to follow, he just knelt down on the floor and raised his arms, the chunk of chicken meat still clutched in his right hand. He knew he would soon go to bed with a sore bottom and he would also probably not get chicken to eat with his rice the next day. Mama finally entered the kitchen and fumbled to flick the light switch on.
Already kneeling down, the first thing that caught Chaka’s eye when the light got switched on was the crate of coca-cola that had alerted his mother and he glared at his annoyingly. He felt tense as Mama stood in front of him, but the scolding never came. He raised his head to look at his mother face and was shocked to tears flowing down her face. In a wave of emotions he couldn’t comprehend, he hugged his mother, sobbing too.
*abrokyire – Abroad/Overseas