Story: Jasper

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.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 two 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.

Polythene: my best effort at the local cor­rup­tion of ‘poly­eth­yl­ene’, which may not even be the type of plas­tic used to make the ubiq­ui­tous car­rier bag.

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.