Life is meant to be beautiful. But at times, Life is ugly and sad. You, me, them and us can either make life beautiful or ugly.
I’m not sure am ready for this. The fact that Aunt May is around on my first try makes me anxious. I have a few memories of how my mother did this ever since I was a nipper. But then, Life teaches us that those vague memories must be assembled if one is to survive perilous times. Unprepared for what awaits, I conjecture that it won't be an easy task to cook dinner for me and Aunt May.
Aunt May stands hunched in front of the grass-thatched house that belonged to my father, slim bodied clad in a gray dress, a leopard spotted veil shielding her grizzled hair, her dark face, horsey and seared with wrinkles with two tiny twinkling eyes. She’s off to see her friends at the village pub. They drink from a single clay-baked pot, a sorghum brew, that makes even strong men give in to gravity. These red eyed men smoke tobacco rolled in scraps of waste-paper, as they recount the springtime of their lives.
She hisses before strutting down the street barefooted. She lost the rubber flip flops and she’s still piqued that I haven't crafted her new ones from the tyre Ms. Amber gave me.
‘Dinner should be ready by 8pm, Maggie is not here.’ She bellows.
She has been drinking at that Joint four days in a row. I hope everything is going well. For men have often gotten into ferocious quarrels with a series of brawls after guzzling several gallons of their favorite sorghum brew.
Maggie makes everything look easy. From knitting the fluffy sweaters to patching our torn clothes. Her hands are swift while knitting and steady while peeling. Her absence means that the burden of making dinner falls on my shoulders. So far, I have two cuts from the blunt knife. I took notice when Maggie advised me not to use the sharp knife. I look at my bleeding thumb with regret for not being careful. Covering it will make the peeling process harder for me. I glance at the pile of potatoes in the brown papyrus basket that await to be denuded. I compare it to the two irregularly peeled potatoes laying in the contorted old pan, disfigured by decades of use, with a thick dark coating of soot that no one cares to scrape off - for it is useless to do so.
Aunt May needs the potato peels for her two gaunt boars. She is aversed to the idea of modern feeds. She thinks it's some kind conspiracy aimed at slowly wiping out the human race , but doesn't think so of the alcohol and tobacco. The boars can't eat the peels if they are contaminated with stones. I realize that all the peels are scattered on the gritty ground. Maggie never forgets to do the peeling without the old ragged sack. I missed this. I quickly start to pick the microscopic stones from the peels. I know I shouldn't waste time if dinner is to be ready by 8. It's not always good when Aunt May barks. I try to hold back the tears.
The things Life teaches.
The Sun is going to rest behind the lonely hills. The evening sets in with a chill, everything retiring to rest. The boars oink, they will need their feed in an hour. The brown hen broods over her five chicks. The hawk recently snatched two of her little ones. I wonder if she ever grieves, or she looks on the bright side, and thanks the heavens for the five left. I think of mom and dad, the unseen hawk snatched them. She would be brooding over me now. I open the barred door for the caring hen to lead her little ones to their home.
I swing the old axe, my palms holding it tightly. Small pieces of wood disintegrate from the dry tree trunk. I need the small pieces to light a fire. Maggie splits the wood with ease. I wonder if she feels the same pain I feel as the axe kisses the wood and flies out of my hands. I sense a late dinner from my slow pace. Aunt May doesn't tolerate such.
Peeling and swinging the axe seem easy when it comes to lighting a fire. Life teaches us that yesterday seems better than today. You seem to have made more progress yesterday than today.
I pick some dry grass from our the house. Soon it will be without roof. Maggie usually takes more than is required. It's a grass-thatched home, she has to be considerate. I remove yesterday's heap of ash from the fire place. Nothing is special about it. Just three sizable stones making a triangle. Without them it's just another spot in the kitchen. The ash is still warm, pushing it behind the baked stones, I gently place down the small pieces of wood with the dry spear-grass on top. The matchbox has enough sticks, usually one box lasts a month. A stick per day. I strike the first one, hoping it will be the last.
The ashen face and grizzled hair I now bear isn't a sign of old age but a sign of my struggles to bring a fire to life after a thousand puffs. I hold the empty matchbox in my left hand, the last stick in my right hand. I sigh as I glance around the kitchen. I wonder if the great fire discovery happened like this. A small cave-boy rubbing a dry stick against a trivial rock that claimed his toe nail. After several puffs, my cheek muscles yearn for a rest, all that lies before my eyes is a dead fireplace that is adamant to come to life. The headless match sticks bear witness to my efforts and naivety. At last the fire comes to life, it crackles as I add small dry twigs. Staring at it, I see a great monster taking different forms.
But Life isn’t a monster, it teaches us to be patient, like attaining a fire so valuable after striking 40 match-sticks.
At full strength, I place the old pan (stuffed with potatoes and asparagus wrapped in banana leaves) onto the stones to be scotched and attain another layer of soot. On top of it I place the peels for the boars. I plump my body into the basket chair with an air of one at home. I stare at the red fire as it savagely engulfs the defenseless pan.
Outside, the darkness slowly devours the last bits of light. Soon it will be a cold starless sky. I patiently wait for Aunt May, seated in a fire lit small wooden kitchen.
Weary and haggard, I recall how mom always told fairy tales at such moments. Every time she made dinner she had a tale. It's now that I realize they were all her life experiences and lessons. Am more than convinced that the hare she told me about was her personality (hares don't cook, they can't hold knives).
Every object in the kitchen stares at me coldly. They aren't interested in my fairy tales. ‘Save them for your children.’ They seem to say. ‘Teach them what Life teaches.’
Struggling to keep my eyes open I move out of the kitchen. The night sky now somber and starless, I see flickering lights in a distance from neighboring families, my ears catch their chuckles and laughter. To my right, a rangy staggering figure approaches. My heart lightens as Aunt May approaches, stoned as usual, but am sure I will feel safe with her around now that Maggie is away. All she needs is a bowl of steamed potatoes and all I need is her presence.