Kindly enjoy this excerpt from my forthcoming anthology of short stories.
On the morning Gogo recovered from flu, she rushed to the kitchen hut where Mother was boiling fresh groundnuts. Gogo’s full-length apron announced her intention to resume all her household duties. She stopped at the door and smiled at her daughter-in-law. From the centre of the hut, Mother smiled back.
‘Thank-you my dear for holding the fort during my little cough. I am back.’
Mother slowly lifted up the lid of the pot and inspected the groundnuts. ‘My pot is coming up well,’ she sighed.
‘Young lady,’ Gogo hissed inching forward, ‘I am talking to you. ‘I said ‘I am back.”
‘I heard you the first time,’ Mother said straightening herself up. She was a big woman and towered over Gogo. ‘Old lady, things have changed in this home. I’m now in charge of the kitchen and….’
Gogo blinked and shook her head in disbelief. ‘Right up to this present day, my son, your husband, has never dared to speak back to me, let alone disobey me. Who then do you think you are to…?’
‘Leave my husband out of this. This is between you and I.’
‘Between you and I!’ Gogo exclaimed, her eyes rolling up to look at the soot on the grass roof and beating her thigh in a rhythmic way. ‘What bad omen is this when a daughter-in-law defies her mother-in-law?’
‘Mother who bore for me a husband,’ Mother said in a calm voice, ‘I left my father’s home and came here to start my own home. I’ll cook for my children, just as you once cooked for your children. As our people say – you dance and then leave the centre stage for others. Now it’s my turn to be at the centre. Yours is to be on the side lines singing and clapping for me.’
Eyes fixed on Mother, chest expanding and contracting, Gogo stepped forward in a threatening manner. ‘Listen Goliath; don’t let your size fool you. I’m in charge of the kitchen.’
Mother stood her ground and arms akimbo, stared down at Gogo. ‘Cooking is now my territory.’
‘We will see about that,’ Gogo yelled, swirling round. Fury lent her wings. She flew along the yard to where Grandpa was sitting on a three legged stool. A cool breeze was blowing under the big marula tree on the edge of the yard. Grandpa was carving a hoe handle when the eagle landed.
‘You won’t believe what that cheeky daughter-in-law of yours has just done!’ Gogo gasped.
‘What happened?’ Grandpa drawled.
‘This time she has gone too far. She screamed at me to get out of her kitchen, her kitchen! She says I am now too old to cook; from now on she will do all the cooking. What insolence is this when…?”
Grandpa sighed. ‘I don’t agree with the screaming but I see nothing wrong with her cooking.’
She glared at her husband. ‘Nothing wrong with her cooking even though I have fully recovered! Did you actually say that?’
‘Yes Honey. The thing is….’
‘Go on; admit it, after forty years of devouring my food, you now prefer her cooking to mine. You want this upstart to take over the running of this home.’
Grandpa shook his head. ‘No beautiful maiden of the Ndlovu family, Gatsheni, Boyabenyathi, the great elephants that graze at home….’
‘Listen Mr. Aspiring Praise Poet,’ Gogo cut it, ‘clan praises are for individuals that have not achieved anything in life. I have.’
Gogo put down the adze and smiled at his wife. ‘I was just reminding you of the great clan you come from.’
‘If you want to acknowledge my greatness, dwell on my achievements. Ask the ladies of this district, who cooks for pastors at church gatherings? I do. Who cooks for leaders at political gatherings? I do? Who cooks for the high table at weddings? Of course I do. Now in my own home, you want to reduce me to just a consumer. A cow will birth a human baby before that happens!’
Again Grandpa shook his head. ‘No one will take over from you. You will remain overall in charge of all housework. I just want you to be released from running around all day so that we spend more time together.’
‘Spend time with you doing what? I’m not a loafer like you. I love work. That daughter-in-law of yours has often hinted that my cooking is not up to the standard taught at those Young Women Christian Association courses she attends. According to her, the time-honoured practice of tasting relish using a stirring spoon is unhygienic. My isitshwala is too thick. My vegetables are overcooked and vitamin less. What I want to know is how did my children – including her husband – grow up to be healthy adults if my cooking was unhygienic? More important, why was she one of the many girls who fell for my son like flies tumbling into a bowl of milk? Once in, she elbowed out all the other girls.’
Slowly, Grandpa stood up and started to walk away. He stopped, looked back and said, ‘we will conclude this discussion when our son comes. Meanwhile, our daughter-in-law cooks.’
Father arrived that Friday evening and the following morning all four adults gathered for a great indaba under the marula tree. We loitered around the tree to be entertained by the arguments. Grandpa would have none of this. He instructed us to go and herd cattle. I pretended not to have heard the instruction. Louder, Grandpa repeated the order. We dragged our feet along the path towards the stream.
Although we missed out on the arguments, we knew the results that evening. Mother won. She continued to cook.
Gogo did not speak to Grandpa for a whole month. ‘Poor kids,’ she would say to us, ‘you have a sellout for a grandfather. How many years have I been his wife? Gave him seven children. Nursed him through countless illnesses. Yet, that did not stop him from stabbing me in the back at the first opportunity. Men!’
‘What a pig-headed grandma you have!’ Grandpa often whispered to us. ‘She won’t give up doing some things even though everybody can see that the change would be good for all. Women!’