So, one day, mother leaves for the market or to a Catholic Action seminar or a Chai event (low-key fundraiser) or to an ithinga (activities revolving around construction of a mud house) or to help a friend weed her maize and beans field and carry out hilling to the potato crop; a friend who would in turn come to our place to help do the same.
She could have left for any of these places, I can’t remember which one.
Her instructions were clear as she left.
Mwakìrírie njùgù icio nìcio tùkùrìa hwaini (keep the fire burning and ensure the mbaazi cook appropriately.That’s what we will eat for dinner).
She was addressing my two younger brothers and I but particularly myself as I was a combined four years their senior. Father and our eldest brother were not in.
The mbaazi, being a special and rare dish, were cooking in a pot not in a sufuria like your ordinary githeri or ngwacì. This were a rare delicacy in the village. You only encountered it in special occasions like weddings and…eeh… yes. Like weddings. Oh yah, I remember we also encountered mbaazi at our grandmother’s place everytime we paid her a visit. She lived a few kilometers from our place and we happened to visit her each and every Sunday after school. Sunday school.
Mother left us left to our devices, playing football, fighting, climbing trees, catching grasshoppers, entering the house through the door and out through the windows or vice versa. All this while popping into the kitchen in turns to stoke the fire.
Initially it took a lot of haggling and contretemps on whose turn it was to go to the kitchen but as time went by no one was being pushed when their turns came.
The frequency of trips to the kitchen would increase significantly. Reason, Gratuity. As the mbaazi continued to cook, one would go to the kitchen, stoke the fire, check the level of water in the pot and scoop a “Kaiyùrifull” of mbaazi to taste and check whether they were really cooking. You know, tunaweza kuwa tulikuwa tunafanya kazi ya bure.
I should mention that the kaiyuri (kind of a serving spoon carved from wood) had a long handle and came in handy in “fishing” mbaazi from the narrow necked pot and draining the water back in.
This went on and on as the day grew older. We were not sure what dish mum would prepare to go together with the mbaazi stew but one thing was certain. It was going to be a classic meal and we were already salivating over it. We even chased (not running after them but by showing them madharau they couldn’t stomach even with empty bellies) the neighborhood boys from our place early enough in a bid to ensure that they would not in any way be part of the sumptuous feast. We could not wait for mum to get home.
Evening came. Mother arrived. We were huddled by the fireplace waiting for mum to do her thing. It was going to be rice and mbaazi. At least the suspense was over. She had asked me to sort a half kg of rice which I did with the speed of greased lightning. We were really hankering for the meal and were ready to do anything that would bring mealtime closer even if by a few minutes.
We observed as mother took a sufuria and drained all the mbaazi water from the pot holding it expertly be the neck.
Then, it happened. Still holding the pot, with eyes darting into the pot and then to us, to the pot again and menacingly to us, she said, “thiì toro ngoma ici.” (Go to sleep, little devils!)
This was said was a minacious tone so much so that we had to scamper from the kitchen to our shared bedroom. We nearly put our legs into sufurias or inside the fire as we scurried away from our visibly enraged mum.
The following morning we (safe for the youngest) would receive a championship beating. Mother said that the two of us had makosa chungu nzima from eating a potful of mbaazi that were intended for supper leaving only water to making a fool of her by watching her prepare to cook knowing too well there was nothing in the pot and many other sins.
I must confess though that I too believed and expected lots of mbaazi in that pot.
Mum insisted that she couldn’t have beaten us had we ensured the youngest brother ate with us too. She said she had to wake up in the middle of the night to feed him as his incessant hunger cries became unbearable while we snored away farting with full stomachs…. “mùtìngìrìa njùgù nyùngù ng’ima mùtakùhe mwana.”