Mama Put… A short story

mamaput1

An assortment of okada, keke, and several kabu’kabu/taxi’s, park lackadaisically on the hard-packed earthen kerb, beside the gutter that Mama Put used as her frontage. This is a busy corner of the road side, which teems with human traffic.

Mama Put’s shack is brimming with customers going in and coming out. Some still have their toothpicks in-between their teeth, sucking in air, in an attempt to dislodge a tiny morsel that had stolen into a gap, whilst some insert a finger in their mouths, using it as a wrench to pluck out remnants of chewed meat.

Lunch time is one of Mama’s busiest period. These rushed gathering of men jostle each other for space on the worn wooden benches and the few mismatched plastic chairs inside the crowded shambolic tent of the popular buka.

The men are taking a proper break from the morning rush. Most times they leave their homes on empty stomach as early as 5:00am for the quick business turnaround of taking passengers to their places of work and trade. Leaving early not only helps to put more money in their pockets, but it is also a means of beating the unbelievable go-slow which builds up as early as 6:30 in the morning.

Hasty gobbles of softย  Agege bread, slathered with blue band butter chased down with hot tea from the local Mai shayi, serves as a respite till lunch time. On days when there is a lag between passengers, then it could be a quick meal of hot fried akara balls and ogi or kunu.

Hot Akara Balls

Hot Akara Balls

From 6.00am in the morning till she closes shop in the evening, Mama Put’s domain is a place of systematic chaos. She endeavors to start early to cater to her early bird customers and it was not a strange sight to see a flashy car or two with a customer carrying a food warmer to make purchase and eat in the comfort of their office, shop or home.

Her rivals spread snippets of malicious gossip that mama uses spiritual powers to keep her customers enraptured, but these back talks neither stopped her nor did it deter her customers. Nkoyo – Mama Put’s real name – could cook. Her food is always tasty, fresh and her demeanor pleasant.

The men look forward to their lunch. It is a place of camaraderie; a place you need to be, to keep abreast with the goings on in the vicinity. Heads crowd the steaming pots of jollof and dodo, white rice and stew, porridge beans and yam; each customer making their request and pointing out their particular choice of a piece of assorted meat or fish, whilst those who waited on the next round of pounded yam straddled their benches and engaged in idle chatter.

As they crowd the eating arena, an overpowering smell of dried human perspiration clings to the air, mingling with the divergent aroma wafting from pots of food and this creates a unique smell in itself.

The deep hums of their voices rhyme with the kpom, kpom, kpom beat of the pestle and the mortar at the back of the tent where a young lad mashes the boiled yam – which occasionally mingles with beads of his sweat – into softer lumps for swallowing with native soup. Pounded yam is a heavy meal appreciated by the hardworking men. It kept the hunger pangs at bay for hours on end.

Pounded Yam

Pounded Yam

Over their hot plates of food, their loud voices compete to regale each other with anecdotes of the days events. Of cantankerous, corrupt officials who dot every few meters of the road, casing the riders and extorting money from them. Sometimes, it would be the story of an irksome passenger or a tussle with another rider. They argue over football, a division of thoughts depending on the persons Premier League of support and their gist’s are often interspersed with ribald jokes. They talk politics, share their opinionated advise about women, touching on this and that.

“Ha!” “Mama, na wa o!” exclaims a stocky regular. This poundo fit belleful person so? E small o, he carries on talking as he receives his plate of pounded yam and afang soup.

Mama generously cuts a little extra portion and adds to the lumpy mound on his plate.

A beg give me pure water, another customer known as Sadiq requests.

Mercy, one of Mama’s kitchen girl heeds his request and ambles over with a cold sachet of pure water, which is kept cool with the ice blocks purchased from the ice block supplier.

Sadiq, calls her “my wife, my wife”, pats her ample waist and Mercy giggles as she steps away to answer another customer.

Jollof Rice and Dodo

Jollof Rice and Dodo

It’s a typical selling day and nothing is amiss until a customer rushes in, breathless with news of calamity. A demolition order from the new local government chairman is taking place. Makeshift stalls, shacks and all are being callously pulled down. They say it is to make way for modern stalls that Mr. Chairman wants to construct and sell or rent to the highest bidders.

Grumbling of mistreatment of poor masses in the hands of elected officials ensues. The men disperse quickly in order not to be caught in the backlash and have their properties impounded, as the rumble of the crushing Bulldozer is heard chugging it’s way slowly and surely, leaving destruction, tears and anguish in its wake.

Mama flounders as they hasten to gather crockery, aluminum pots, pans and other items that they can move quickly. Her thoughts are scattered to the four winds as she glumly watches her modest enterprise bulldozed to the ground. Tears leak out of her gritty eyes, rolling down her face unashamedly. She is caught in a wave of abject despondency.

Her sweat and efforts of many hard months fast turn into a crumpled heap of rubbish. It has taken so much to get to this point. To get to a point where she had a steady stream of customers and feasible income. Her family existed from hand to mouth; from the sweat of her brows and thoughts of her children, Uduak and Kufre’s school fees which is due in a couple of weeks cause more tears to well and brim over.

The bitterness of her situation pools and curdles her spirit. She rails and rants in anger, her vitriolic emotions overflowing its bounds. Her life has been a deep struggle; from one point to the other, that it sometimes feels as if the current sweeping her is too strong for her to keep her head up.

“Where will I start from?” Nkoyo mutters to no one in particular.

“How will I now catch up with my book me down customers?” She ponders fleetingly?

The vote she that she cast for the imbecilic Chairman a thought to regret and hiss over.

For as long as she can remember, she pays the local government touts protection money in cash and with free plates of food too. They extorted sums of pin money with promises that her space will always be maintained. She even contributed when all the vendors were approached to add their meager support to the Chairman’s campaign kitty.

Now that trouble had come calling, where were they to flex their lying muscles? Where were the thieving local government officials and their area boys? The Area fathers have slunk away like sly foxes with their tails tucked in-between their legs.

Nkoyo sits on an overturned mortar beside the rubble in weariness, her ambitions of expanding her business callously truncated. Her leaden legs are too tired to carry her home.

Glossary for words in italics that you may not know:

Afang soup: A vegetable soup originating from the South Eastern part of Nigeria – Cross River states.

Agege bread: A very popular low class bread baked in Lagos and favored by laborers. Usually very soft and eaten with so many variations of items e.g eggs, beans, bean cakes, etc

Akara: Bean cakes made from peeled black eyed peas and fried in hot oil.

Area boys/fathers:ย  These are loosely organized gangs of young men, who roam the streets of Lagos. They extort money from passers-by, act as informal security guards, and perform other “odd jobs” in return for compensation.

Book me down: Customers who purchase food on credit and keep an account with the food vendor.

Buka: Local food canteen a step below restaurants. Food cheaper than the restaurants.

Dodo: Fried ripe plantain

Go slow: Slow crawling traffic

Jollof: A popular meal eaten in most West African homes, a one-pot meal made with fried tomato and pepper stew, rice, meat and spices

Keke: Tricycles

Kabu’kabu: Shared taxi

Kpom, kpom: Typical sound made from pounding.

Kunu: Popular drink consumed throughout Nigeria but mostly in the North. Made out of millet or sorghum

Mama Put: Road side food seller so called because her customers are known to beg for extra food for their plates ”mama abeg put more now”

Mai Shayi: Road side hot tea sellers

Na wa o: Exclamation which expresses so many things such as surprise, woe, you don’t say etc

Ogi: Liquefied maize meal which is thickened with hot water and sweetened with sugar and/or milk.

Okada: Commercial motorcycle used as vehicle for hire in Nigeria.

Pure Water: Water bagged in disposable sachets.

This poundo fit belleful person so?: Will this pounded yam fill me up?

ยฉ Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha

Image credits: Nairaland.com

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82 thoughts on “Mama Put… A short story

  1. I love how you add the definition of words to some of your posts…it saves a lot of time googling!!! Hey, are you in the process of writing a book now? I would LOVE to read one of your novels. I know you’d mentioned writing a book before but I can’t remember whether you said you were actually writing something or wanting to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good idea to add the glossary, right? I thought that would help too. Yes I am in the process of writing one. A page or two a day. Wish I could go faster really, but with all other responsibilities sitting on top on one’s head, it makes it unfeasible. Though on some days I have a good spurt of energy and just write till I am limp.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your description of life around the food stand. It’s a basic part of the community. Watching it all crumble in the end was very saddening. I bet this sort of thing really does happen in Nigeria?

    I remember when I was a little girl living in Nigeria (for a year). A lady would bring a food cart to my school. She’d have sweet pastries in the food cart. It was so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Woke up this morning, sat down to catch up with some friends. One of the first posts I read is this wonderful piece of writing that takes me far away to a beautiful country and another culture. The pictures added so much to the story because they represent Nkoyo’s art and her life’s work. Those in power may be able to take down a building, but Nkoyo’s talent is within and may be carried wherever she goes. That cannot be destroyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can state for a fact that some of the best meals I’ve had were made by the road.
    This post, the pictures and description, make me want to travel so much. My side of this continent isn’t as crazy about most foods in this, such as the pounded yams.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Mama Put… A short story | Sighs of a Thinker

  6. The story has reminded of Nigeria. Jacqueline. Do you know that I worked with Unity Party of Nigeria? Do you know that I drove Chief Obafemi Awolowo through the principal Streets of Calabar? Do you know that I fell in love with a pretty Calabar lady and we had a son and now lives with me in Belgium? He wedded his Hungarian girlfriend eight months ago and now expecting their first child. The story of Mama put has brought me sweet memories. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh wow! It is a small World indeed. Oh the great late Chief Obafemi Awolowo! His wife just died last week I think at 99 years. Wow! I am tickled about this ๐Ÿ™‚ Calabar ladies are renowned in Nigeria for stealing men’s hearts away! Congratulations on your sons wedding and the grandchild on the way. You are a Naija man ๐Ÿ™‚ No wonder your reviews are so in-depth.

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  7. Thank you Jacqueline. I know that sometimes I sound bitter in my articles but that’s the way it should be, because it means to many especially in Belgium, being black is a door-mat to be walked on, but I see myself as a human being, likewise every black man. If people will learn to respect each other and put aside the foolish pride of ‘I am the best or superior’ we shall enjoy a healthy peaceful society. Thanks for the information, I don’t know that Mrs. Awolowo has passed away.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I understand your sentiments! Sometimes, it almost feels as if it is a gang up to pull the black race down, but I mentally decided that I will not allow the prejudice of ill informed persons to determine the state of my peace and being and it has been working for me. The struggle is real indeed!

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  8. Aww, what a shame about Mama Put’s shack! I feel like crying!

    Very good story and it’s so colorful. I think that “go slow” is universal because I knew what you were talking about before I took a look at your glossary. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the like on my blog and good luck on your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to read. I know that feeling because I would feel so sad myself when I see poor people’s means of earning an honest livelihood snatched away from them. I guess it must be a universal term ‘go slow’ Once again, thank you very much for your lovely comments. I appreciate. Do have a good weekend

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I love it when you decorate my heart with your words..

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