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Mom is in the kitchen as usual when I creep up on her. With her back to the exit, I tiptoe stealthily towards her and tickle her sides. Startled, she almost drops a plate of freshly-chopped onions and tomatoes as well as bell peppers meant for the stew she is cooking.
‘Good Lord Will! Will you behave yourself?,’ Mom scowls and with a tight frown, turns back to face the vegetable stew sizzling on the cooker.
‘Sorry Ma,’ I plead, not feeling the least remorseful.
‘But you used to like it when dad did that,’ I add mischievously, a naughty grin carving its way across my lips.
‘Oh please!, I almost dropped a plate!’ Mom snaps, her frown still tight in place, albeit, I can see through it like oil-stained paper that she’s actually very happy to have me worry her.
‘Almost…But you didn’t?,’ I continue my defense with goat-like stubbornness.
‘Whatever. Anyway, how may I help you mister?’ she asks, giving me this sideways look.
I jump up, and seat my posterior beside the sink, leaving my legs deliberately dangling in mid-air, to and fro.
‘Really, mom? How may you help me? Hmm,’ I scoff, ‘Sounds like something Fafa would say.’
‘I know right!’ Mom laughs, ‘That girl is a breath of fresh air. I really miss having her around.’
‘Me too,’ I reply quickly without second thought, kicking my legs against each other, and sucking air in between my teeth.
I don’t notice my mom’s puckish looks for a while because my head is bent down, admiring the designs on our kitchen floor tiles. Her impish sideways glares smell of mischief.
‘What mom? Am I not allowed to miss her?,’ I blurt out, after my eyes meet her gaze when I raise my head.
‘I haven’t said anything, have I?,’ she replies sweetly, almost as innocently.
‘Well those looks have!’
‘Really?’ she says giggling, ‘Well, I guess it’s just the way you said it. You know…’
‘And how exactly did I say it?’ I ask, a look of perplexion drawn on my face and hop down.
‘Isn’t there anything I can do around here. I’m bored to death in my room,’ I add quickly, in an attempt to change the conversation before it gets too awkward for my liking.
‘Why don’t you go out and spend some time with your friends dear,’ Mom suggests, while pushing a bowl of freshly washed carrots my way.
‘Here. Help me chop these, will you?’ she says.
‘Playing with my friends, hmm. That’s also there. But it’s been so long, I think I’ve forgotten how to do that. I’ve been in touch with David lately though. Says he has this basketball game coming on at his place around sundown. Says I can pass through, probably play, if only I’m interested. But, I’m still undecided.’
‘And why is that? Don’t you want to see your friends?’
‘I do. Sometimes. Other times, I’m unsure. Because it has been a while, and I’m not sure how the reception will be. I’m still a little scared to put myself out there again, honestly.’
I ask Mom to please pass me the knife and she does.
‘I wish everybody in this world could be like Fafa, you know. She makes talking to her so easy. I don’t know how she does it. But I just feel at home whenever I’m with her. It’s like I don’t have to hide or shield any parts of myself. It’s been a while though. Wonder what’s up with her?’
‘Well, since you miss her that much, I think you should at least try and find out for yourself.’
‘M-o-m…?’ I say raising my brows.
‘Call her or visit her house. It’s that simple.’ Mom retorts with a suspicious grin.
‘Why do I suspect that there’s something you’re not telling me?’
‘No. I’m in the dark myself. And this time round, you are finding out. You’ve gotten used to her always being around. It’s your turn now, young man.’ Mom responds with a matter-of-fact look.
‘Yeah, I guess you’re right. I should probably check on her. Here,’ I pass mom the chopped veggies and ask, ‘Where’s dad?’
‘Oh, your father? He should be sitting in the summer hut outside… I think. I haven’t really seen him all morning. But he is in the house somewhere for sure.’
‘You haven’t seen your own husband, mom?’
‘What? I’ve been busy all morning. Cooking…cleaning..’ Mom says in her own defence.
‘And that brings me to ask, why are you always cooking when there’s only just three of us in this house? I feel like you cook enough food to feed an entire neighbourhood.’ I say throwing
may hands in the air.
Mom bursts into fits of laughter.
‘You’re right honey, I don’t know. It’s just a hobby. And I love doing it. I don’t know what else to do,’ she says, still giggling while stirring her sizzling vegetable stew.
‘M-o-m,’ I call out to her suddenly, after a while of complete silence, except for the cluttering of plates being put in the sink to be washed later.
‘So, what would you have done if…,’ I pause, ‘…if I had really gone that time?’
As soon as the words tumble out of my mouth, I regret having uttered them in the first place. Mom turns swiftly, her expression crisp and curt, her eyes glinting and a little doleful. She drops her wooden ladle and reaches for the salt atop the kitchen cabinets. She doesn’t speak for what seems like ages.
Then slowly, she says, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know my son, because I have never thought of it. I don’t know what would have become of me. I didn’t think of it then, I don’t think of it now. So never think or talk of such things.’
The glint in her eyes slowly giving way to tears causes me to mutter gently, ‘I’m sorry mom. Sorry for asking, sorry for doing that, sorry for thinking about that, sorry for being selfish. I am sorry for everything.’
I go behind her and give her a big teddy bear back hug; one that lasts long enough to start to feel uncomfortable.
‘You better not squeeze the life out of me boy,’ Mom grumbles affectionately and giggles.
I smile and let go. I give her gentle pecks on her cheeks and forehead and tell her, while looking straight in her eyes, how much I love and cherish her. She smiles and reciprocates the kiss, saying she’s always grateful for my life.
‘Mmm. You know what mom? I think I just might go and play that basketball game.’
‘You should dear,’ Mom responds cheerily. ‘Have fun. And be safe as well.’
‘Sure, mom. I’ll see you later.’
I skid to my room, change clothes, and five minutes later, I’m hauling down the street to David’s in my sleeveless, bright-yellow jersey and my black and white sneakers. I don’t know what will happen but I feel ready to allow myself to live again. David meets me at the gate with our usual greeting and call signs.
‘Man, it’s good to have you back bro,’ he quips excitedly, while we shake each others hands vigorously.
‘Yeah. Me too.’
‘Some of the boys are here so…’ David hardly finishes his sentence before I am buried in a clatter of hugs and high-fives and ‘Yo, is that Will?’, ‘Oh boy, long time charley’ and ‘What’s ups’ from a couple of old schoolmates and friends.
It isn’t as scary as I had anticipated at all. In fact, I could only think to myself, ‘Why did it take you so long?’
I return home around six in the evening to meet my mom and dad in the living room. Although, the TV is on, they are discussing something else, rather than watching it.
‘Mom, dad, good evening,’ I greet them, all sweaty and puffed out.
‘Good evening,’ they each respond.
‘Looks like someone had a good time. How was the game?’ Mom chips pleasantly.
‘It was alright,’ I say casually in response, ‘Everything went fine.’
She smiles and nods and as I leave, I see her whispering something to my dad after which they both smile. I couldn’t hear but I needn’t hear to know it was definitely something good, and about me.
After freshening up, loosening myself under a cold shower, I plop on my bed and bring out the sparkling rose wine that Fafa had given me weeks ago. I turn it this way and that, as though expecting to see something strange inside it. I’ve kept it in my drawer for almost two weeks now, waiting for the perfect time, if there’s anything like that; that is. Today feels like it. Anyway, it’s actually because I want to call her but I can’t. Because I know it would be the first thing she’d want to find out from me. Sighing, I go downstairs, to the kitchen and get two wine glasses. Mom’s eyes light up immediately she spots me from the corner, even before I pop into the living room. She is too smart to not figure what I am about.
‘You know what Patrick? Erm, there’s actually some few stuff I need to tidy up in the bedroom okay. I’ll be back shortly.’
With that said, she leaves, smiling broadly, her eyes shining from so much excitement and joy, winking at me along the stairways to her room. I return the gestures.
‘Mm-mm,’ I clear my throat as I fully enter the living room. Dad turns to look at me with his dull, watery, almost-yellow eyes that were fixed on the TV seconds ago.
‘Hi dad,’ I mange to roll out, although most of my words are starting to stick in my throat already, ‘Care to share a drink with me?’
Dad chuckles, a bit taken by surprise. Then he nods, and smiles.
‘Have a seat boy. Let me see that,’ he finally voices.
I sit beside him, a few inches away, and politely hand him the wine.
‘Looks good. Excellent choice,’ he says after examining the wine for some time. He starts to open it and I offer to help.
I smile silently to myself, knowing it’s going to be a long night. But I have never been so ready. This is the time I’ve been waiting for.
‘Thanks dad. Actually, it was a gift. From someone,’ I say smilingly while pouring the wine.
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