First Character

It was the 25th of October, 1989. I even marked it on the new calendar uncle Jim brought us from Cameroun. Me, mama, Adama and big brother Traore had gone to Bamako to welcome papa. Mama said papa had gone somewhere faraway for some time and he was coming back to us today. I’d jumped excitedly around mama, nearly pulling down her wrapper. ‘Yeeeebo, Will he buy us fish, mama?’ ‘Will he bring karakas?’ (My friends and I like karakas, the biscuit they only eat in white man’s land) ‘Will he bring daala? (My teacher says it is called bread. But mama explains that it is made from daala so it is only proper that we call it what it is). ‘Will he bring nuts for Moussa?’ I said pointing to my little brother. I don’t know what it was about what I said, but mama got very cross with me. She hit me for the first time. I remember asking Adama if she knew why mama was cross with me as I had asked several other things before I asked about Moussa. I even asked brother Traore how he felt about papa coming back. He shoved me away too.
As the buses made the final stops at the station, Adama and I waved every bus that stopped at the station. We didn’t stop doing that. Even brother Traore’s sternest look didn’t dissuade us. Not even when the ugly old lady tried to make us stop because we were raising dust as we jumped excitedly. I think our jumping made her cough violently. Mama got us wrapped bean balls to keep us on our feet. But even that did little to help me.
‘You didn’t finish yours did you?’, inquired Adama.
‘Not I. I was so happy I dropped the balls. Mama got cross with me again for the second time that day’. I turned to brother Traore. ‘You probably remember a lot more than we both can manage, combined. You never even looked at papa the whole time. Why?’
Brother Traore refused to speak to us. He continued polishing papa’s shoes, absentmindedly.
‘N’di, are you unhappy with us?’, Adama touched his arm.
He shrugged it off and picked up the other shoe. He got up and left the room. I tiptoed over to Adama and hugged her close. Mama said papa needed to rest so we shouldn’t drag our feet in the house tonight.
‘I hugged him first’. Announced Adama.
‘If you look at it like that. Another way of looking at is he hugged meee first’, I returned jealously.
We laughed and hugged again.
Brother Traore walked in again. He had finished polishing papa’s shoes. He didn’t even look at us. Adama got up as he was leaving and yelled at the top of her tiny voice ‘I still love my papa. No matter how many bad faces you make at me or not talk to me about papa. He’s your papa too!’
He stopped, folded his arms and turned to us. I knew the worst was coming. ‘Papa? You think say he come back from a nice place eh?’ brother Traore didn’t speak very good English. My teacher says it is called Pidgin English. He mixed it with Ku’uji, our patwa (is it patois? Hmmm, how did my teacher spell it?)Brother Traore did not go to school. Mama says when papa went to the far journey; she had to send brother Traore with Uncle Jim to Cameroun to become a tailor. Maybe that’s why he’s so angry. Why didn’t I think of this before?
As Adama trembled, he shouted more. ‘Papa do something a very bad thing and the Koopu (police) come take him away. He only come back now because papa have bad disease and koopu afraid papa come kill other people who do bad things at koopu house with iron bar where them keep papa. Now they bring papa here to give us bad disease and you want to be like a festival here? You look it as good happiness? Ei? Ku’ulu ma’ne siri’ku ‘ndi ka? (Yes? Will a bereaved woman throw parties on her husband’s grave?). He turned to me. ‘And you, Moussa not little brother. Mama go bring another papa child come your papa house, you call am little brother’.
He stormed out of the room so saying, leaving Adama and me to hug ourselves a third time.
‘Did you remember the ugly old woman yelling at us to stop jumping?’, I asked Adama.
‘Yes, Sow. I remember how you made faces at her and mama had to pull your ears. And you rubbed the oil from your wrapped bean balls on her wrapper afterwards’, my older sister added. She was 3 years older than me but I considered her my mate and best friend. ‘Tomorrow, it’ll be three days since papa got back. I can ask him to show me what he bought for me’.
‘No, Sow. We’ve waited three days. We can wait another four days. I think he’ll be happy after a week when he has rested’.
I agreed.


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