Friday, February 3, 2012


I'm going on a blogging break for a while (a few weeks, maybe). I'll make the usual noises when I get back. But as a temporary-signing-off post, here's an excerpt from a piece I'm doing.

Image from here
It was another Sunday afternoon, and the Okon family marched home from church. The sun’s heat had seared frowns onto their faces and made their clothes damp with sweat. They walked in a single file, Papa Friday in front, Mama Friday bringing up the rear, and between them, Friday and his two younger brothers, Akpan and Uwem. The newest addition to the family, eleven-month-old Emem, had pride of place riding on her mother’s back.

There was something special about Sundays. It wasn’t dressing up in their best clothes or the draining, four-hour church service. It wasn’t the sermons or the memory verses the children were forced to learn. It was not Mama Friday’s thirty-minute, after-church meet and greets, which inevitably led to quarrels with the less sociable Papa Friday. It was Sunday Rice. The Okons had rice on other days, but there was just something about Sunday Rice. Maybe it was that they never ate breakfast on Sundays, so that by the time they got home after church they were almost crazed with hunger. Maybe that was what gave Sunday Rice that extra white fineness, that heavenly sheen that could start their hearts singing with more sincerity than they could ever muster in church. Or maybe it was because with Sunday Rice the children each got a whole egg to themselves, whereas on other days they had to share, if they had any at all. The Okons didn’t know what made Sunday Rice so special; they just knew that it was. The thing about Sunday Rice, though, was that it was never quite enough.

It was for this reason that Akpan, the second and by far the most devious of the children, had devised a plan to rob his brothers of their share. Even as they walked home, he walked through his plan again, looking for loopholes. Finding none, he smiled to himself. If his brothers could have seen his face they might have had fair warning.

They got to the two-room apartment they called home, and Mama Friday immediately started to take out her cooking paraphernalia to the shared kitchen at the backyard. As usual there was no light, and the heat inside the room was stifling. The boys had no energy to play yet, so they lay on the mattress inside the hot room, content to close their eyes and imagine their rice in all its white glory. They had watched their mother prepare the rice several times, so they knew that by now she would be washing it lovingly, careful not to let any of the precious grains fall to the ground. They could see the pot, the red flames from the kerosene stove gradually bringing their rice to the desired state. They could smell it, the rich, heady scent of the rice, and it made their mouths water. 

They knew the exact moment when Mama Friday would warm the palm oil stew and they knew that was their cue. They trooped to the kitchen and stood watch, mesmerized, as the white grains, splendidly separate, fell from Mama’s serving spoon and onto the proffered plate. Steam curled up from the plate, enveloping their oily, eager faces in the fragrant heat. Mama Friday filled her and Papa Friday’s plate first, like she always did; then she gave it to the person standing nearest to her – Friday – to take to their father. She would join Papa Friday after she was done in the kitchen. Akpan had deliberately avoided standing next to his mother. For his plan to work, he needed to not be the one to take Papa’s food. Things were going perfectly. 

Who can guess what Akpan's plan is?