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Burnt Potato Chips

It all started with the spoon with plenty holes, or rather when mummy said she would fry my potato chips, mummy never did anything in the house except watch soap operas which she followed faithfully and whined when she missed an episode, sometimes she would call Adamu ahead of time to put on the generator so the DSTV can start scanning before time.

Aunty Iheoma did all the work, she cooked, cleaned, bathed me and even did as far as change the channel for mummy and clear the plates she used to eat from the side table beside the Brown patterned sofa with matching throw pillows which she spent the whole day on. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to mummy when aunty Iheoma took up her other duties but it did.

So she was pacing round the kitchen looking for the spoon with plenty holes, she needed it to scoop the burning shapelessly cut irish potatoes out of the frying pan, the heat in the kitchen was unbearable, she wouldn’t let aunty near her kitchen, I wanted my potato chips. But aunty Iheoma was busy packing, mummy had asked her to leave. she kept saying she would wait for ‘oga’ to come back first. Mummy got angry and threw the sieve at her, the one that was meant to be draining the oil from my potato chips. “The chips is burning” I said but nobody heard me or if they did they didn’t seem to care.

Daddy had come home that day his face was doing that thing it did when he gets really mad, his nose flaring, the vein on his neck ticking, in and out they went as his adam apple bobbled while he spoke, he shouted at mummy, he shouted at aunty, he slapped Adamu for no reason, his hand clenching and unclenching like he was contemplating whether to slap my mum as she let out a loud shriek like a spoilt child.

I watched the potato chips get blacker in the sizzling oil but I was the only one who remembered it. My tummy rumbled but like the chip they ignored it or didn’t notice. Aunty Iheoma didn’t leave the house that morning, mummy and I did. Mummy cried the whole time as uncle Sule our driver drove us to ‘see grandma’, seeing grandma turned to a days, days to weeks and weeks to months.

Mummy would sit and talk about how daddy would come back crawling but he never did, grandma didnt have cable or DSTV so mummy started her own drama, throwing tantrums, refusing to eat, screaming at the maid and then staring into space, tears dropping from her eyes. “Wasted years” she kept saying to herself.

It was November whem grandma snapped. She was tired of us, mummy was spoilt and lazy she said “no wonder your husband threw you out” she would end every statement with that. “I left” mummy would shout, like it was somehow better. Visitors started asking when we were going back, grandma probably got tired of covering up for us so instead she would talk in a voice loud enough for mama to hear “ask her o ask her”.

The day daddy came back, he held a squabbling child in his hand, the boy kept shrieking and won’t stop till mummy held him and changed his pampers which was worn backwards along with the mix matching outfit, he smelt of baby powder and vomit. I didn’t carry him. I just sat at the back beside his car seat and listened.

Aunty Iheoma didn’t make it out of labour room. I watched daddy’s mouth move but the words didn’t register then I was too busy watching him, he has lost so much weight his once hard pot belly sagged, his cheek bones pointing out, his eyes had this sleepy look like he would fall asleep on the starring wheel, I watched his eye bags tick as he talked, his voice sounding hollow and tired. “The baby wont stop crying” he repeated over and over again, like that was the only reason he came back for us.

Everything seemed back to normal, they acted like nothing happened as if we weren’t away for almost a year, as if Obiora, that’s what they called him, was my real brother and his mother didn’t just die. Nobody spoke of that fateful day, we never had a female staff work for us again, mummy still watched soap operas while Victor the new house boy took care of Obiora and cleared her plates.

Nobody asked where we had been but that didn’t stop mummy from telling her story on how we traveled out and how she gave birth to her son in America,’obodo oyingbo baby’ she would call him, carrying him only when we had visitors.

Now when I think of that day, I remember just the smell of burning shapeless Irish potatoes writhing in the pan and the spoon with plenty holes which we never found.

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