The African woman’s worries
(excerpts from The Whore; Chapter 9)
The priest’s wife knocked on Kengua’s spare room door with his late lunch. Her baby wasn’t on her back this time and she was a lot more relaxed. She returned his salutation with a very slight hint of a smile, balancing the flat tray holding a covered plate of food and cutleries. She left behind the tray on a reading table. Kengua had expected the Revered to look in on him with the food himself because Kengua had heard the very heated exchanges between husband and wife earlier. He feared that might have made his situation more difficult with the wife.
It would appear they fought over everything, they looked like that sort of couple. The priest appears like the type that queries even the side of the table she places his plates of food on. That incidently was the cue this time around. As an ardent lover of the tradition heavy African dishes of succulent molded solids and thickly well spiced vegetable soups, the priest treated his meals at home with such ceremonial panache. As it is traditional, he uses his bare right hand only when he ate and with the full compliments of two deep plates; one for the solid and the other for the rich soup. It is strictly forbidden for anyone to use their left hand to eat, which it is the same hand that wipes excrement. The process of eating requires him to cut an average mouthful size of the solid, dip it in the soup plate to caress some of the richly cooked assortment of ingredients onto the lump before carrying it into his open mouth in a smooth continuous flow. Hence the process usually would be more comfortable if it commences from his right side, move easily to his left and then ends up at his mouth. In this sense he prefers the plate of solids are placed on his right and the soup plate to his left. This means he wouldn’t have to go across his body when he lifts the soup garnished solid to his mouth and risk soiling his clothes in the process.
Somehow the priest’s wife tends to repeatedly mix up his left to hers, when she is facing him and this complication again causes her to confuse the side she places each plate. The priest mumbled complaint had reached Kengua clearly across the thin walls. His wife had ignored his initials angry words at first. The baby had started to cry so she had walked away to soothe the child. The baby was hardly quiet when Kengua heard the priest choke on his food. He must have gobble down the hot food while talking and then noticed she forgot to set aside some drinking water for him. Without any water to calm down the burning pain and agony of the wrongly channeled food, the Revered coughed profusely. The priest’s situation came across clearly to Kengua but his wife didn’t respond, even to the priest’s angrily calls.
The Revered father accused his wife of deliberately doing this, of plotting to kill him. She answered him with equal venom and like two rival cockerel they were soon at it.
“Do you think I am one of your silly alter boys who loaf all around you at mass?”
“What is difficult in just getting me a glass of water while I eat? Don’t you know you could kill me?” They went on like this, asking each other question after question and not answering any but asking more questions instead. They didn’t use any real abusive word, but they were always at the brink of doing so with each statement like question they spat at each other.
The priest said she was lazy and inconsiderate. She said he was snobbish and ungrateful. Given the chance, Kengua thought he would have exchanged the descriptions. So it came to him as a mild surprise that she was more pleasant when she served him his lunch. Maybe being able to vent at her intended original target had eased up the pressure on him somewhat. Instead, it was the priest who looked tensed when he peeped in to remind Kengua of their departure time.
The priest gave Kengua a Christian clergyman’s shirt and the white collar band he was to wear in disguise, as they headed out for their eight hours night long drive to the Niger border. An hour later Kengua had finished eaten, cleaned up and dressed up in his borrowed clergyman’s short-sleeve top-shirt, with the white plastic collar fitted into the flapless collar.
Kengua stepped into the sitting room to meet yet another round of argument between the couple. The priest was dressed like Kengua and the woman was heavily dressed in very thick textured textile material, which she wore in the conventional blouse and wrapper style unique to West African women. Her head-gear was of a completely different leathery fabric and she had it flamboyantly tied on her small head like a loose-fitting turban. There were assortment of shinny bangles on each of her arms and a very thick string of corral beads circled twice around her neck.
“You look like a Christmas tree,” the priest threw at her.
“Thank you.” She replied, indifferently.
“What?” He asked, not sure she had actually agreed.
“I said thank you, sir.”
“It wasn’t a complement.” The Revered giggled and looked at Kengua, hopefully checking to see if he shared the joke too. Kengua made sure he angled his face away from the lady, so she didn’t see the polite smile of agreement he offered the priest. But she sensed he had smiled and had seen the flesh around his jaw twitch as he did. She didn’t say anything but her eyes misted up with sudden rage. She made sure Kengua saw her face and heard her loud hiss of contempt. Kengua cringed from the sound and immediately thought of Laraba.
The priest wouldn’t let it rest at that, he never ever does.
“Why are these our Nigerian women always so overdressed?” He asked no one in particular.
“This is a married woman with a baby, about to go on an eight hours long drive to one of the hottest places on earth and she chooses to dress up like a circus clown on opening night.” He looked at Kengua as he spoke, then decide to addressed his wife directly next.
“With all these many bangles, trinkets and rings you are labouriously adorned with, all these different facial colourings and inches long artificial eyelashes, plastic finger and toe nails set in long curved fang like settings, all brightly painted and matching your bright clothes and wide head-tie, make you look like a masquerade. You look worse than a clown.
“Actually, you look like one of those European weird hippy sorts of old, with their thickly styled starched and braided hair, deliberately disarrayed and in four contrasting loud shades, their belted high heeled boots, leather mini-skirts and matching scanty jackets all well strapped up in some kind of personal harnesses with tens of buckles, all in shining well polished silver. Believe me you look no different right now. You are so coloured up right now in bright and dull like a cross between a badly made up Christmas tree and Santa’s reindeer pulled sledge cart.”
Kengua wasn’t quite successful in fully suppressing his laugher at that last bit about Santa Claus as he watched her pick up the baby and walk out. She walked accompanied with the varied jingling sounds of her bangles and neck beads. Kengua enjoyed the joke and secretly thought of what a hilarious clincher it would have been if the priest had started to sing out loud the words ‘Jiggle bell, jiggle bell, jiggle all the way.’
The priest’s wife’s dressing reminded Kengua of their cleaning lady back at the Lara ken Inc. offices. She is fat old lady with a reddish skin that made her look like a coloured albino, but she was just a normal black woman with a skin colouring impairment. She was overdressed most times and loved it, whatever the occasion. She didn’t care for all the jokes made of her.
With her reddish glow, she looked like an overdressed open injury, a wide bruise over an over laying multiple fold of fattened flesh. Some days the obese lady would be wrapped up in clothes that she would appear to be a wound, still bleeding like an unstitched bleeding slash set in much bandaging that has yet failed to clot and hold back the seeping flow of flesh and blood.