We were eating porridge at your parents’ place in Bulawayo what feels like yesterday but was actually about 17 years ago. The porridge wasn’t made the way I was used, there was not much flavour, sweetness or love. It was bland as cardboard but I ate it all without complaint. Why? I wouldn’t be upstaged by the little girl sitting across the table from me silently wolfing down her meal. After all I was older than her by a year and a bit, I still am.
Sunlight lazily trickled in through a slit between the curtains. Inside the lights were still on as it was actually quite early in the morning; the rooster next door had only just cleared his throat. Our fathers chatted and joked about something in a distant room, annoyingly energetic. Soon – alongside the clinking of metal spoons against ceramic bowls and slurping of kids with minimal table manners – came the excited chirps of a bird outside, presumably waking from its slumber. Not long after there was a sudden squeak and then silence…
“Ah!” I figured, “The neighbourhood cat has got it. After all it’s black. It must belong to a witch.”
That had to be it. I went back to eating that porridge, slow half spoonful after painfully slow half spoonful, reluctant but also determined because every so often the little girl would look up from her bowl to check my progress as if curious if I was eating live worms or something equally disgusting. I guess that’s what my face portrayed. That’s when I noticed the room was quiet. Too quiet. Wasn’t there muted conversation a minute ago? Didn’t I hear laughter from Dad earl- DAD!
That’s when I heard it. The car engine running just outside. It certainly wasn’t running as fast as my feet as I opened the door even before my spoon finally clunked against the floor. My father was leaving with the little girl’s father in their truck. I could see him smiling as they reversed into the street. As soon as the the wheel left the driveway and hit the tarmac so too did warm, salty tears hit my cheek. Personally I would like to forget this little outburst ever happened.
“Dad don’t leave me! I want to come too! Don’t leave meeeeeeehhhhhhh!”
But I can’t forget. I doubt I ever will. Why? Because the little girl casually sauntered up to me puzzled beyond belief and laughed:
“You’re older than me and still cry when your dad goes to work? And you’re a boy? Aa! He’ll be back in the evening.”
She was right. I went back to finish my porridge, salty tears drying on my cheeks. I couldn’t be bested twice in succession. The porridge had to go. As for my dad, he did come back just as the little girl had predicted. She may be graceful now but back then there was none of that. As soon as he walked into the house she whispered into my ear:
“I told you.”
P.S. Happy 21st baby cousin. I wish you many more fun-filled days in the future and may you always remain wise beyond your years.