One day customers woke up and went to the bank only to be told their bank had been shifted to another branch. No reason, no explanations. Just like that.
I wondered why the shift. Was money mysteriously disappearing from their vaults? Was the building haunted? Why then did they still maintain security staff and a fully functioning ATM at an abandoned bank building?
“Ek’ aaro oh!” Her greeting broke into my reverie. I looked at her. She carried her baby in the crock of her armpit and held 2 deep plates in each hand. Their contents were visible. One contained garri, our culinary lingua franca, the other held water.
“Ek’aaro!” I answered. My Yoruba was very shaky but at least I knew a greeting when I heard one.
I watched as she sat down and lay down the baby on one thigh, parallel to the ground. It was an odd position to keep a baby so I looked on fascinated. She then proceeded to turn all the water from one small bowl into the other that contained dry garri until the whole thing turned into that popular breakfast of champions called “G4” or “garium sulphate” or even better, “cassa-flakes”. She wanted to soak garri.
I noticed two other things. One, that she didn’t sieve (or filter, depending on your grammar) the garri to remove the particles of ash, cassava fibers and other such debris floating on top. Some people claimed that if you did, you took away the garri’s “power”. Second, she didn’t have a spoon with her.
She looked up and caught me watching as she did her “chemistry experiment”. “E wa jeun”, she said. I knew that one too. I was very amused. “Eseun ma!” I replied as I smiled and shook my head for emphasis.
She then turned the child (I could see it was a boy) on his side, wrestled his arms together behind him and pinned them with her elbow. The child, very much aware of what came next began wailing in a shrill voice that attracted the attention of other onlookers until one by one they looked away. They were probably used to this sight by now. I went back to my role as her only spectator.
I watched as she skillfully tilted the garri solution until it ran into her cupped palm placed around his mouth, all the while keeping the child trapped within the fortress of her arms and thighs. The mini-river began gushing in and each he opened his mouth to gasp, the liquid flowed in with each sob.
Somewhere inside him, an unyielding esophagus was reluctantly widening, trying in vain to block out the river which was building up behind his lips and yet responding to his body’s natural reflex for air. It even opened wider with each gasp. I had heard and read of the technique before but I had never seen it till now.
I just had to capture this. I brought out my phone and scrolled to the camera menu. She was a bit far off so I had to zoom in so as not to catch her attention. The picture quality wouldn’t be too good but I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the poor child choking to death! I even thought of making a video with my phone. This would probably make great material for CNN’s iReport. Or would they just turn it around and use it as propaganda to show the “primitiveness of Africa”?
I tried to change my phone to video mode but the stupid thing was acting up. I still watched the child and his mother as he choked and a huge fountain of garri shot out of his throat. His tummy widened more to let in the vital source of nutrition. Another river flowed, this time from his eyes. I was still debating the video question when my Boss walked out of the bank and we had to go.
I still think about the scene I had witnessed. That child had refused to eat. His mother had forced him to. Somewhere in his puny heart he hated her at the moment but he’d say “Mummy, I love you” hours later when she lay him on the mat to sleep. Rather than let him die without eating, she would nearly kill him just to feed him. Ironical. One way or the other feeding and death were involved. OK, maybe it wasn’t as drastic as that.
He would grow up someday to become a strapping young lad, probably the toast of the ladies. Or who knows, the MD of that bank with the mysterious building. Or maybe, President…
He will recall many things: his mother’s love, his personal milestones, his hometown, his first real kiss. He wouldn’t remember the times when his mother force-fed him as a child.
Or the Phoneparazzi that snapped her as she did…
Ek' aaro oh! -- Good morning
E wa jeun -- Come and (join me to) eat