This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on June 15, 2015.
Hello. It’s been a while. I haven’t felt like writing much. But I decided to do so this week, to fix a brooding phase which wasn’t helped much by an impressive bout of stomach flu. There were equally remarkable moments, when it was clear that somebody in Cosmic HQ was trying to help me laugh. Highlight: a delightful fifteen minutes in the bathroom stall next to the source of the most melodious flatulence outside of a college movie. Highlight: an awkward fifteen minutes spent with a cab driver in very short shorts, which at some point in the ride hitched even higher as the guy made his leg comfortable on the dashboard so he could inspect his athlete’s foot. Highlight: discovering the remarkable Akotowaa’s work, especially the bit titled Acting Fishy. Another highlight: listening as my friends discussed how to save money when you have kids. I promised them I would try to make a story out of it, and I promised myself that I would try to be fun, so here’s Jasper.
(Or, Bↄ Me Tea.)
The woman paused. Her hand had instinctively reached for the Thermos, but it wasn’t there. She raised an eyebrow. Was there hope? But Jasper’s son knew better. His resigned gaze met the tea lady’s own as his father brought out the good old flask and patted it on the head.
“Bↄ me tea”, Jasper said. Hit me with the tea.
He said that every day. His son spared a single glance at him, and then thoughtfully kicked the table. The woman shrugged helplessly at the poor kid and began to pour.
Bro Jasper had moved over to the bread table, where he began weighing the loaves. Brown bread. It was always brown bread, but the boy couldn’t resist another glance. He began biting at the insides of his lower lip. The tea lady– also oats, Tom Brown and Indomie lady, not that Jasper cared– tried to catch his eye. Her heart went out to him. And so did her hand, with a boiled egg in it…
“This one,” Jasper decided, smiling his bright smile. He paused and cocked his head. “Something wrong?”
Tea lady shook her head, cursing him in her spirit.
Jasper’s smile returned. “Because I know I didn’t order egg.” The smile grew even wider. “Egg paah, at 6 pm– can you imagine? Eh, Joe?”
Joe was the young man’s name. Joe could imagine. Indeed, Joe had proceeded to do so. Eggs in general felt like a distant memory, but Joe did his best.
The tea lady wrapped up 2 slices of brown bread, and stuck them in a polythene with the Thermos. Jasper thanked her in his jolliest voice and steered his son around by the shoulder.
This is the plight of the boy whose mother works and sleeps outside of town. Tea and brown bread. No egg, no margarine. Five nights a week. Twenty nights a month. Some days Jasper would actually say to Joe, “Don’t you feel like drinking tea today?” It wasn’t a question. Jasper couldn’t possibly imagine somebody not feeling like tea. What he meant was: “Isn’t this a particularly beautiful night for the joyful consumption of Lipton’s finest?” And Joe would weakly nod. Once, he had whispered of waakye. A serious talk followed, with diagrams of digestive cycles. ‘Miliki’ and ‘miliki’ alone, Jasper had confided. Nothing else could be trusted. Joe tried to believe. Alone in his room, his lips trembled with self-pity as he stirred his tea, but he drank it.
The next day, at break time, Joe attacked the kenkey and fish with even more vim than usual. But there are so many hours between break and 6 pm…
“Bↄ me tea”, his father was saying.
Joe looked hopefully at the tea lady when his father turned to the bread. The lady did not return the hungry gaze. Joe thoughtfully kicked the table and wondered what he would buy when he was a man. Turkey and ‘check-check’ and kelewele was the sensible choice, of course. But today he indulged in fancies of meat pie and iced kenkey until his father steered him around by the shoulder. As they walked home, an inspiration began to grow. Iced kenkey! It’s practically tea. Maybe not meat pie, but definitely chips? Surely, chips were innocent? His little body grew tense with unspoken rebellion. No, not rebellion. Iced kenkey is good for little boys. It must be! The thoughts raged in his ear until he could not hear his father’s cheerful humming. Even as he filled his cup and trudged to his room, he entertained these sinful thoughts with a delicious thrill.
He set his tray on his stool. Tea has milk. Iced kenkey has milk.
He paced to his bed. Tea comes from plants. Iced kenkey comes from corn. Corn is a plant.
He flopped down on the bed. Tea is hot. Iced–
He glared at the tray. The lights were out. It was already warm. Tea is too hot. It would probably burn him inside. He felt nauseous thinking about it. Iced kenkey is cool. It would help him sleep.
With a sudden jolt of determination he leapt to his feet. He would go and present his charts and diagrams. I shall arise, Joe declared in his noble little heart, and go unto my father. And, skirting the tray without a glance, he did.
Jasper enjoyed his ‘miliki’ in his room. Joe was trained to knock before entering his parents’ bedroom, but the fever swept this away from his mind. He burst in, panting.
“Da, I was thinking,” he said– and then everything went red.
When the neighbours came running, they found the man on the floor. It was the boy who was screaming ‘Aiieee!’ in that unsettling manner. The boy, that gentle soul, was also straddling the man’s chest and smacking his head determinedly with a metal flask. When the three men, two women and one hysterical house girl had succeeded in removing the Thermos from the boy’s grasp, he grew silent and sat down on the floor. The largest man shook him vigorously and shouted a great deal. If he sought a reaction to soothe his wounded pride, he did not find one. One of the women crossed herself.
“Ei! These last days,” she said, and shook her head. “Jasper, this is the work of the enemy.”
Jasper slowly eased up against the wall and wiped his mouth.
“The devil will not prevail, Jasper! Have faith.” The kind woman made a wide detour around the boy as she went to pat the father’s swollen head. She slipped, caught herself and clucked as she looked around at the floor strewn with noodle strands and oil. She looked back at demon-possessed Joe. He had not moved. His gaze was focused on the opposite wall, where a take-away pack lay upside-down. Underneath, a large fried wing peeked.
It was turkey.
Waakye. Shikafa da waakye. The Hausa equivalent of rice-and-peas from the Caribbean. Topped with salad, pasta, kelewele, various meats and fishes, eggs and gari. Gari is cassava in grain form.
‘Miliki’ is milk. The corruption probably originated from one interesting TV advert by a canned milk company. Or perhaps it only caught on then.
Kelewele is little cubes of plantain, dunked in a pepper-and-spice concoction and fried.
Kenkey is a sort of dough thing made of fermented corn, and boiled in a husk. Or is Fanti kenkey baked? Not sure. Anyway. With the Fanti variation, baked or boiled as it may be, you get a very interesting beverage/porridge by blending it. Or a sort of smoothie, if you will. Instead of sprinkles, you have roasted peanuts.
I feel hungry.