My childhood was delightful though private. Father was always travelling as a salesman and mother, a school teacher. We lived in a one storey building for the early seasons of growing up and from the balcony I learned a lot about the street and things an ordinary girl wouldn’t learn. Funny how many people refuse to believe I wasn’t bread and buttered in the uptown part of the city. Our balcony faced the street and a look towards the opposite compound was Mama Chichi’s house. Her’s was a family apartment and a single bungalow.
Mama Chichi was a fair Igbo woman with a thick black hair covering most of her temple, she was always packing it in a ponytail style, and from her luscious skin, I guessed she was in her mid thirties. She had two daughters and the last, a boy named Chukwuebuka. Her husband was rarely at home like my father, though he usually came back before dusk, that’s Papa Chichi.
Before I started visiting our balcony, my life was always in the house with my little brother, Moses. It was usually lonely, my brother to his games or other stuffs, mother was always preparing lesson notes and father, you already know. So one day, I told mother I was always lonely and though I didn’t know what her reaction would be, she empathized with me and instead of rebuking me, she asked what alternatives I had.
Knowing that outdoor play in the compound was out of it because of the rude behaviors of the landlady’s children, I asked if I could convert the balcony to a recreation space, mother didn’t object, so I cleared away the dirt and put up a little decoration and few touches to make it lively. Mother even had it repainted for me in a color I choose and she made sure it had nice decorations every festive season.
My first fear that she wouldn’t oblige me was for fear of casualty but knowing that my parents believed we grow by taking risk, I was overjoyed that mother was cooperative.
That was how the balcony became our leisure space at home. I was always delighted to go home after school and lose myself in the beauty of the outside world from my balcony. I watch the evening turn to-night as the fireflies fly away their life and when Nepa refused to supply power, we all would sit there chatting about what transpired in the day. It was grandeur.
Something happened one evening as I took my spot to relax after helping mother in the kitchen. A strange sound caught my ears – literary, it was rhythmical, Kpom-Kpom-Kpom-Kpom it went and then stopped, after a few seconds it returned in the same pattern. I was curious and began to trace the direction of it and when I found out where and what, I exclaimed. Mama Chichi was the DJ behind this melody, ewoooo. She had her wrappers to her waist with a blouse that allowed for free movement and the instrument of this marvelous rhythm.
The mortar and the pestle rested on the big lump of Akpu popularly known as ‘fufu’ white as snow and flawless. She was sweating and with the tip of her wrapper wiped her face. She twisted the pestle on the fufu, raised it and dipped it in a big bowl of clean water, and then she poured the water from the pot in little measure into the mortar atop the huge lump. After that, she tightened her wrapper with her left hand and then the music continued, Kpom-Kpom-Kpom-Kpom. I opened my mouth watching as the cycle went on, a fly would have easily had it way into my intestine, I held my breath, such amazement!
She finally brought her mortar down, turned the fufu with a last twist and dropped the pestle, brought out the food cutter not the oyinbo kind ooo, ehn, she scrapped out the fufu in large quantity into a stainless bowl, when she finished, she carefully covered it, called to her daughter who took it inside. Then she washed the great machinery of local invention, clean within and without.
Moses came out, saw what I was looking at and was surprised at my deep focus. I explained everything that happened and he smiled. He said the rhythm was like that of the ‘Kpangolo’ the neighborhood children played with on Saturdays. We talked about the musical rhythm in our local instruments which we don’t even count for worth but what was more amazing was the skill of the mortar and pestle.
These were two warriors conquering the hunger-territory for man. I imagined the joy that will light up their hearts when such delicious food is swallowed, it made me remember “Eze Goes to School” the part about eating a leftover fufu lingered on my mind. Eze’s leftover was for survival but Mama Chichi’s was an enjoyment, a luxury compared to Eze’s.
Her little boy Chukwuebuka came out, he looked hungry but his protruding tummy betrayed that. Moses was marveled as he looked at the little boy in deep concentration. He whispered to me, “That tummy is the living witness of the power of fufu, a creation of the mortar and pestle”, we laughed but it was the truth. So every evening, Moses and I went to the balcony to witness another theatrics between the mortar and the pestle.
Flash forward to now, it’s been eight years we moved away from Mama Chichi’s Neighborhood and to be frank it has never been the same. All that disturbs our ears here is ceaseless generators and loud music coming from the nearby market. Inside the house was as it was in the beginning though we have the latest technological gadgets but I will forever miss the companionship of the Mortar and Pestle. And though new means of culinary practice may make housewives and career wives forget you, your rhythm will always ring in my ears, Kpom-Kpom-Kpom-Kpom.
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