One after the other, they silently trooped down the stairs in a single file, stopping briefly once they got to the bottom where I stood. Their expressions displayed varying degrees of impassive, apprehension, or dread.
One after the other, I asked each the same question: “What is this on the mat?” Pointing to a clump of coloured rice grains smack in the middle of the grey house accessory.
The first three – Smarty pants, Boss & Angel – gave the same response: “Aunty, it’s rice.” Then descended the staircase and formed a growing group to the left of it as I instructed them to. There were three stages to this inquisition; they had just glossed over the first.
The American, eager to showcase his intellect, broke the building tension with his answer as he was next in line: “It’s a mat.”
A ripple of laughter went through all of us as I acknowledged his brilliance and repeated the question, more firmly this time.
“It’s rice.” His tiny voice solemn in reply.
By the time I had gone down the line to the last child, I was none the wiser as to how some jollof rice particles had made their way to the bottom of the stairs, and I wasn’t finding the situation funny in any way.
All huddled together now whispering among themselves, I informed them in a tone that brooked no argument: “Nobody is going anywhere until whoever made this mess is flushed out!” As I marched away in the direction of the kitchen, I heard Boss, the oldest of the lot and truly rising to her name, taking charge instantly as she used the elimination process to narrow down possible suspects.
Due to their number, the children ate in groups of five, the number of people the dining table could hold at any given time. Sometimes however, some determined late comers brought extra seats to the large table so that all nine of them could be seated at the same time, thus camping there during meal times and carrying on conversations that could outlast their meals or stretch out forever until an adult shouted them to silence or off the table.
This particular afternoon however, they had eaten in groups of four or five; best buddies on the table together for a more palatable dining experience. So it was easy to examine each group on its merits and demerits as concerned the errant jollof rice.
Boss’s investigative skills, helped along by one or two of her cousins, zeroed in on the last group to lunch earlier on. Three people formed the suspicious company – Pumpkin, Baby and Yellow face.
It didn’t take long before Yellow Face, the oldest among them, spilled out the story which she was at the centre of, spraying her two cousins with Zobo juice as they ate and causing them to flee from the table and up the stairs, with mouthfuls of jollof rice while screaming in protest.
To laugh or yell in anger were my options as I listened to this ridiculous recount that could only spew out of a child’s mouth. In the end, the trio cleared up the mess, filled up the bottles and Yellow Face tackled the mountain of afternoon dishes all by herself as the instigator of the mess.
There were nine of them ranging from ages six to twelve years. Besides my children – T (12) & Pumpkin (8) – their cousins had descended on the house. From my elder brother came Smarty Pants (12), The Entertainer (11) & Baby (8); another elder brother’s children – Boss (12) & Yellow Face (9); and my sister’s children – Angel (9) & The American (6) – completed the cousins’ pack.
Welcome to my life for the next six weeks.
Thank goodness I wasn’t flying solo in this ordeal (to me!, holidays to the children). My mum, younger sis, Pru, and sister-in-law, E, were also in for the long haul. We were all in this together – raising our voices, frowning at their antics, cooking up a storm, preventing the house from toppling over, etc.
It was going to be a tedious stretch of the Summer holidays.