When the driver of the silver colored Mercedes sped by the bus stop where I was patiently waiting for the church bus, splashing brown muddy water on the only church attire I possessed in the world, I didn’t need a fortune teller to tell me that today was going to be a bad day.
I had woken up tired – as usual – this morning. My bones had groaned with complaint and frustration as I had readied myself to drag out of bed and start the day. Beside me was Delia, my younger sister. She and I shared our smaller-than-twin mattress while my two younger brothers, Sam and Kwame slept in the parlor – on the floor. My mother, once a beautiful woman but who had now lost a lot of shine and vigor due to constant hardship living, usually slept alone on the single worn out couch in the parlor, her equally worn out bible spread on her knees.
“Must you always be an early riser?” Delia had complained as I got out of the bed.
“I have no choice as you’re always kicking me in sleep.” I retorted, heading for the back of the house to start my daily morning hygiene absolutions.
“I kick you because you are so big and tall, you cram up the whole space in the bed.” My sister replied angrily.
I chose to ignore what she said and headed out instead.
The harmattan winds were blowing surreptiously, and I automatically tucked my hands under my armpits to tap some warmth from there. At the back of our house is the makeshift kitchen and bathroom – side by side. I say makeshift, because both are compartments with no roof, and with precociously placed corrugated iron sheets to provide privacy. Beside the bathroom compartment is the black gourd that can comfortably store six gallons of water, daily replenished to provide water for cooking, bathing and laundry. My younger ones and I take turns fetching water from the village pond located a half mile away from the house. Yesterday, it had been my turn to fetch the water, and I had fetched enough to last the needs for a day and half.
Picking up a metal pail, I had walked over to the gourd to get water for my bath and my discovery had left me screaming.
“What? What? What?”
Before I knew it, my whole family had surrounded me, their astonished, worry filled looks enveloping me. My brothers held cutlasses, my mother had the long stick broom in one hand, and my sister, still half-asleep was tying her wrap skirt across her slim waist unsuccessfully.
I was shaking furiously…not from the cold but anger.
“What’s the matter?” My mother spoke up first.
“The water gourd. It’s empty.” I barked.
“What?” Kwame replied, not understanding. His affect was similarly reflected on the faces of the rest of my family.
Rounding up on all of them in livid anger, I shouted, “I said, the water gourd is empty. I filled it up with water last night. And now there is none left in here.”
They all continued staring at me dazedly like I was talking in a strange tongue.
“You’ve all used the water. Now there is none left for me to take my bath.” I was visibly weeping now.
“Is that why you screamed, enough to wake up the whole village?” Delia was asking, her voice just as equally furious as mine. “Over some blasted water?”
That only made me angrier. I lunged at her, ready for a fight while my sister braced herself for the sure attack. My mother quickly stepped in between us.
“Please. No fighting today. Please, my children.” She pleaded.
“No one used up the water.” Kwame, the youngest in our family spoke up. “That gourd is leaking. Look. Look at the floor.”
He was right. The floor was muddy and wet, very wet, for a dry harmattan morning.
Sam bent down to take a closer look. “It’s leaking from here.” He said, pointing to a long thin slash at the bottom of the gourd.
I heard Kwame sigh. “As if life wasn’t hard enough, we’ll now have to scrape for money to buy another gourd?”
My mother turned to me. “Anya, you can see now that no one used the water. The gourd is only leaking.”
Like that was supposed to ease the disappointment that I had no water for my bath this morning.
My disgruntled sister was already heading back into the house. “Please Mama, just tell her not to scream like that again. If one must scream, must it be over unimportant issues, enough to wake us all up from our sleep? Selfish. Selfish, I tell you.”
My brothers were already going with Delia into the house, their bodies shivering from the hostile cold. I could hear Kwame still complaining about money for the now useless water gourd. Only my mother stayed with me as tears seeped from my eyes, down my face.
“Anya, Anya.” My mother was rubbing my back, her voice soothing. “Please don’t cry. Don’t cry. It’s only water.”
When I turned around sharply to face her in my hardly subdued anger, she continued hastily. “Look, if it will make you better, I’ll go fetch some water from you from the stream. Just don’t cry. Please.”
“What else am I supposed to do?” I replied helplessly. “ If I don’t get to church in the next one hour, Choir master will not let me sing. Not only that, I will be his subject of ridicule at the next choir practice.”
“Anya, your choir master is not that bad.”
I snorted amidst tears. “Sheba, our assistant choir leader was late last week Sunday. Choir master not only refused to let her sing, he also fired her from choir.”
My mother smiled dryly. “I am sure Sheba’s crime was worse than tardiness. She is a wild one, that girl.”
My mother was right. Sheba had been caught writing and receiving love notes from a secret boyfriend, a no-no for the choir members. The Girls choir of Saint Peter’s Church Holy assembly had a strict rule of conduct, which included a complete ban of boyfriends. We girls were supposed to be as pure as the angels in heaven above, and purity included a ban on make-up and jewelry – which was a good thing, as I really couldn’t afford any of those luxuries.
But I wasn’t about to tell my mother that she was right in her astute assessment about Sheba ‘s scope of violation, enough to have been dealt such a hard blow by our choirmaster. I was still sore over the fact that I had no water for my bath and I needed someone to pour my frustration on.
“You know what? Why don’t I go get some water for you from the stream instead of all this talk?” My mother spoke up.
That somehow relieved my anger. “I’ll go get the water myself, Mama.” I said quietly. “Thanks for offering.”
I nodded, a slight smile on my face. “Thank you mama. I am sure.” Like I would ever have her go fetch water for me, especially in this cold.
“Okay my daughter.” Mama replied.
Impulsively, I gathered her small frame to my bosom and kissed her on the check. “I love you mama.”
She breathed deeply against me, like she was trying to soak up my scent. “You remind me so much of your father. ” She said, taking another deep breath. “I love you too, Anya. I love you very very much.”
I released her. “I’ll take my bath at the stream and fetch you some water for your own bath.” I informed her as I took hold of the pail again.
My mother looked me over carefully, the worry frown back on her face. “You don’t have to fetch a pail for me. The boys can always get my water for me later in the day. You fetch your water and come take your bath in the house. I don’t like the idea of you bathing in the stream. You are too old for that now. What if some boy sees you naked?”
“It’s still too early for anyone to be at the stream at this time, mama.” I assured her. Kissing her again on her forehead, I said, “I’ll be careful. I promise. I’ll be back soon.”
I had kept my promise. My bath had been quick and thankfully, no one had seen me. By the time I reached the house with the pail of water for Mama’s bath, Mama already had yams roasting on coals.
My stomach growled in hunger and mama could hear the rumbling sounds from the kitchen as I set down the pail in the bathroom.
“Someone is hungry.” She chuckled.
I walked over to her, a stern disapproving look on me. “Mama, why didn’t you go back to sleep?”
“I can’t have you going to church so early in the morning with nothing in your stomach now, can I?” She replied gently. “Here, take.” She said, handing me a piece of roasted yam wrapped nicely in a green cocoyam leaf. “You can eat that on the bus. You are almost late.”
I hugged her with gratitude and ran inside the house to put on my white church dress. My siblings were still sleeping, their snores loud as I stepped out of the house.
“Bye mama.” I called out cheerily. “Please don’t be late for service.”
“We won’t. Bye.”
It was turning out to be good day already, I thought to myself after walking the mile to the bus stop. Saint Peter’s church of Holy assembly’s bus did three runs every Sunday morning to pick up parishioners living in the village and take them to the church located in the neighboring township. Often, I was the only passenger for the first ride. Today was no different. Currently, there was no one at the stop except Dan, the driver of the Township water tank. He was seated in the passenger’s side of the large trailer. He waved as soon as he saw me.
“Getting ready to sing us all the way to way to heaven, I see.” He said.
I smiled. “How am I supposed to sing you to heaven when you hardly come to church?”
He shook his head ruefully. “It’s not my fault Anya. By the time I finish delivering water to the township people, church service is over.”
All around, there was water streaming from the tank and it was beginning to form a small poodle.
“Where is your partner?” I asked.
He sighed and signaled to the surrounding bushes. “Went for a piss, but I think he’s doing the number two instead.” He winked mischievously.
I smiled and sat down on the bench.
Just then, Mustapha, Dan’s partner came out of the bushes. Covered with sweat despite the dry chill of the harmattan, he was zipping up his pants as he walked over to the truck.
“Anya, the singing sparrow.” He called out as soon as he saw me.
“Hey, get over here, Man.” Dan shouted at him. “What have you been doing? Giving birth to a baby?”
“None of your business.” Mustapha shouted back.
“We are running late as it is.” The other man complained.
“I’m coming.” Mustapha retorted. Stepping into the truck, he waved goodbye at me. “You sing well today okay, Anya? We are all proud of you.”
I waved back as the truck moved on and I thought to myself that these two men knew just how to make a girl feel special on a Sunday morning.
It was getting to be a nice day indeed.
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than a car sped past me, and in its furious speed, it ran over the little pond the water truck had deposited at the bus stop. The muddied water splashed on me without much compulsion, drenching me to the skin.
I screamed. Water was going to be my downfall today.