Literary Zone

Short Story--- A Secret with Endimbaekena

31 October 2005 at 20:10 | 563 views

By Karamoh Kabba.

When it rains, it pours: And it has been pouring on and off since April. Past halfway into the rainy season in mid August, it rains for seven days and seven nights on end. And it’s been six days now since the seven-days-rain had begun this rainy season.
August is not a welcome month for my mother because of the acute food shortage. But not for the orchard, that engulfs her house. Abounds in nutrient from the showers, it blooms green and glossy leaves beneath films of dew and raindrops that constantly shed and drench in dripping drains. And decaying red, brown and black leaves, carpet the orchard floor in colors along the path from my mother’s house.
Green fruits hung heavy on the trees on both sides of the path; mangoes barely have seeds while guavas belly seeds that are as tough as tiny ball bearings. And beneath the belly of the hill fifty yards down the road, my mother’s rice meadow blossoms with chubby green seeds of white milky fillings.

Yesterday’s rain was a combination of torrential downpour, some shower, and drizzle. A pall of darkness reigned in the orchard from overhanging clouds that formed a weather condition that was as shady as the prospect for the next meal, especially when the harvest time was few months away.
Though, we are imbued with anticipation of a prosperous upcoming dry season when the blooming orchard and rice meadow will hang heavy with pale green, red or yellow produce, which they would have swapped for the green ones.
Here, in this orchard on the southern edge of Sefadu, I live. Sefadu is a densely populated metropolis of Kono District, with over a hundred thousand residents. But its outskirt bears a sharp contrast with the city center. Downtown Sefadu is flamboyant around the clock. During the day, its busy residents move helter-skelter along its sidewalks in search of good deals. Like pollinating flowers, wealthy merchants hoist roll-up steel double gates of merchandise crammed supermarkets on both sides of the main roads. Diamond traders show off plush cars in driveways and lush offices to attract diamond miners. A mushroom of theaters and nightclubs glow with neon lights in the evenings.

Many of its residents are diamond miners, but for some reason I do not know, my parents have little or no interest in diamond mining. Thus, this city suburb is an attractive settlement for them, where previously excavated diamond fields transform into luxuriant swamplands that are suitable for rice cultivation.
For now, we depend on imported rice. We ate dinner late last night and I found it difficult to sleep, because of a stomachache from indigestion. It’s one of those days that my mother barely makes it through her daily struggle to provide us our bread. Otherwise, dinner is ready at about two hours earlier most of the time, which gives me time just for some activities before my bedtime.
And tomorrow will be the last day of the seven-days-rain. Indeed last night’s rain was the heaviest of the seven-days-rain. The sound of raindrops on the leaves in the orchard floor was soothing, which brought some succor that relieved my stomachache last night: The gentle mix or muddle of all the three types of rain on our corrugated zinc roof was almost spiritual.

And that was comforting. It sounded like a ballad from smooth voices of traditional instruments: drums, ago-goes, kaylanes and batas. And I would barter my stomachache with a sound sleep through the rest of the night in this mix of traditional tunes on the roof and the soothing raindrops in the orchard floor.
A slap on my back from my mother with her bare hands woke me up suddenly. This was because I was not only late for school, but had also urinated in my uniform shorts.
“Who asked you to sleep in your uniform?” she asked.
I jumped down from my bunk bed, crossed my right hand over my shoulder blades down to my upper spines, and my left hand up to my lower spines. I thrust my chest out, rubbed the spot and screamed in excruciating pain so loud that the rest of my eleven siblings lined outside to look on in great fear. Because, when my mother is angry, it trickles down the family. She unearths everyone’s mischief from the past and beats each one of us to complete her frustration and anger.

She’s a very determined mother, but surely not the hedonistic type. Her physical disposition is indicative of her belligerence even before she says a word. She’s often imbued with a plan to turn a penny into two pennies or to discipline all of us for one person’s slightest bad deed. She’s always in a hurry to do something or to go somewhere with very little time for us. She has no room for petulance-it’s rather a stoic approach to life unlike an utter disregard. And it’s quite a difficult situation for me, especially when I see other children in good times with their parents during PTA meetings, which my mother never has time to attend.
My father is just here, coming in and going out. I quite don’t understand his role in the family. It’s possible he is contributing financially, but I don’t know how. All I see is my mother all day in the marketplace haggling with wholesalers to make ends meet, or hoeing or weeding on the rice meadow, or cooking our meal or simply cleaning the house.

“I thought you had on your prayday (Ramadan) suit yesterday when you left for the concert? How did you end up sleeping in your uniform and urinating in it? Bane neh!, Maobally (This way! You shameless thing)”
“Whack! Whack!” she slapped my right and left jaws with her right and left hands in quick succession. My jaws were left vulnerable to her hanger as I rubbed my back in pain from the first slap on my back.
“You are going to school regardless, and in this wet trousers. Hurry-up!” she exclaimed, turned around and left everyone galloping away in fear.
But the prayday gown she took out for me to wear to the school concert yesterday was not appropriate for the occasion. The concert is a once a year, mandatory to attend, school extra curricular activity that is staged by the Literary and Debating Society (L&DS), which was my only chance to impress many people who only see me in my prayday gown.

Besides the prayday gown, which she keeps in her trunk for special days like yesterday, I actually have no other decent clothes. I have only one uniform set that I wear Monday through Friday before my mother washes it on the weekends. It’s always very shabby by the end of the school year before I am ready for another uniform set, which my mother purchases at the beginning of each new school year. Nonetheless, it’s always been the coolest set of clothes I have, which instills self-confidence in me, unlike the well-kept prayday gown that is not so cool.
Luckily, it’s at the beginning of the school year and the uniform I have now is new: a brown khaki shorts and a blue cotton shirt, tailored to my size by a youths’ fashion tailor. I particularly like the shorts; French cut that has straight pockets on the sides, two back pockets, and three splits on both sides in the front with gold thread double stitches. It’s not common for a little boy’s uniform to be so stylish like mine. The short fits me so well that I hardly take it off after school. Indeed my mother has beaten me several times for failing to take it off after school. But I am fed up with wearing a gown or a locally weaved clothes and a little white hat like a little imam on every special occasion.

“Here’s a banana. Food will be ready by the time you return,” she had said and sent me off to the concert that evening. I had a banana for breakfast that morning before I left for school. These are green banana she keeps in a cupboard in her room where the heat ripens them slowly. On some days that she does not have ripe bananas in the cupboard, she boils the green ones for us. She alternates bananas with mangoes or guavas during harvest time or in a time of plenty; she cooks enough rice and saves some for us to eat for breakfast before we go to school.
She keeps the bananas in her room so that we will not eat them all at once. But it is good she does that, because our house has many mice burrows, a large seven-room mud brick house with an unfurnished livingroom that does not have any pavement. Compounded by the strong smell of ripe bananas and food crumbs from our late dinners, it’s vulnerable to mice burrowing. In fact, the mice eat of under our feet if we do not wash them properly before bedtime.

My mother cooks outside on a makeshift fireplace of tree large rocks that hold the pot over a blazing log fire. When it rains, she moves the rocks in the veranda, and they have been there permanently since the seven-days-rain began this August.
But no sooner, she engaged my elder sister in a discussion, did I sneak back into the house, changed into my school khaki shorts, my sister’s V-neck T-shirt and left for the concert. When I returned, I forgot to take the shorts off again. My mind was so preoccupied with the conversation I had with a female students who would have otherwise snubbed me in my little gown and a hat that makes me look like I was wearing a protective headgear. And my mother too was very busy last night during dinnertime to notice who was wearing what.

I ate my late dinner, washed it down with plenty of water and went to bed watching the ceiling in a mix of great satisfaction in fulfillment of my concert night, stomachache, soothing sound from the raindrops and the showers.

And this morning, my mother escorted me halfway down the road in my wet pants, shouting and pushing the back of my head to “hurry up before you are late.”
It’s very embarrassing for me to go to school in a uniform that was drenched in my own urine. Instead of going to school, I tried to hangout with some wayward boys in the township. But they didn’t want me around. They always hangout on the street corners because they don’t like to go to school. They gamble, pickpocket and steal money and food from local merchants. They call me a coward because I don’t have the nerve to join them to pickpocket and rob shoppers and local merchants.

At school, I have few friends and mockery awaited me if I dared to go in soiled and stinking pants. They provoke me for everything, from ragged and dirty uniform to my barefoot and lack of money or food to eat during lunchtime. Thus, many students don’t want to befriend me, which always attracts provocation upon those who do so. On such days like today that I didn’t go to school, I will spend all alone.

About 2:00 pm, I sat in my usual lookout post on a concrete slab by a building in Maraka-compound. At a corner, at the edge of a cluster of houses, I sat hunched against the wall, patiently looking straight ahead for the women to come out with food remnants. Food is always in plenty here in this overpopulated immigrant community of Gambians whose main occupation is diamond mining and trade. It is a very congested neighborhood; the roofs of the houses almost touch each other. The drainage system is shoddy. Overflowing rubbish runs down half-open gutters into a little river called Mwende. Mwende runs down adjacent of Maraka-compound at a viewable distant from where I could see the garbage that is constantly being dumped in it afloat. Many people in this community along the banks of Mwende throw their garbage directly into the river. The stench of food, flooded gutters and human waste is very strong during the day at Maraka-compound.
Every household is either eating or dishing food at this time. At around the same time in the afternoon, every day, a waste truck pulls up to pump out human excrement from a latrine, or a broken pipe oozes waste, especially those at the back of the buildings; emitting foul-smelling steam forcefully like a mini volcano.

Nonetheless, Maraka-compound is entirely unlike everything in my own neighborhood where our bodies feed on their own muscles during the rainy season. Basic human needs, from food to clothing, are plentiful here all year round. Even the food remnant that I was here patiently waiting for is sufficient to feed several families in my neighborhood.
As I pondered how these Maraka immigrants live in such wealth in Sefadu while we the locals go on empty stomachs, I saw Endimbaekena, our family dog. Endimbaekena and Fidel were only puppies when my brother and I found them in this same place just few days after they were born. We took both puppies home with us, away from their mother who was out fending for food in the garbage bins.
We named the other puppy Fidel because he was a hot-tempered puppy. My brother and I had listened to a European evangelist who had mentioned in his sermon, the name of a hot-tempered communist called Fidel Castro. A carpenter who needed a hot-tempered puppy took Fidel off our hands. I’ve brought Endimbaekena here once after that and he has since remembered to come back on time, on a daily basis.

He’s also seated at a visible distance from me, but too focused to notice me. The acute concentration had overcome even his powerful olfactory sense. We were both looking in the same direction from different angles, and in great expectation for the Maraka women to bring forth the food remnant to the trash bins. Many other dogs had taken strategic positions. They too were waiting patiently for the women to bring forth the food remnant. But others growled, snarled and barked at each other, making a brave dogs’ battle spectacle.

From houses’ rooftops on the opposite side from my position, vultures clasped their open wings and clutched crooked claws on mango trees close by the garbage bins in this no man’s land. They landed in the bins in single clasps to scavenge on carcasses. They scared away agama lizards from feeding on other little scavengers as they drew in on the carcasses, and the lizards then glided up sidewalls of the buildings in haste.
Each time I crossed Endimbaekena’s path at the garbage bins, we both walk back home together bellyful and my mother expresses great appreciation and love for him. Indeed, she does not know of my secret with Endimbaekena.

* Endimbaekena = “where there’s little for survival”

Photo: Karamoh.