In those days, Ovaltine was it! Mother had just bought a tin of it and all week, we looked forward to Sundays when we could have bread and cocoa drink for breakfast. There was no question of taking some spoonfuls of the delicious brown powder to indulge yourself; it was an unwritten rule and we had learnt – not with words, mind you – by exemplary training to eat what was set and be satisfied with it.
I was a regular sweet-tooth and so were my five siblings; and so from time to time, we visited, during the day, the cupboard where the precious tin was kept together with the tins of sugar, tea and milk. Sometimes, with me at the helm and the others in tow, we went there together and each one received a fraction of a spoonful according to her age. Aside those group visits, personal visits were also made and the ‘visitors’ register’ was full with my name and that of my immediate younger sister. We were enjoying life!
“Who has been taking from the Ovaltine?” Mother asked quietly. Silence answered back as each one, eyes veiled, surreptitiously looked at her neighbour, expecting her to admit it. Mother was about to make the cocoa drink for our breakfast before we left for church that Sunday and the tin of Ovaltine spoke eloquently of the recent happenings during the week, while Mother was at the shop.
Wise Mother! She didn’t bother to repeat herself. Making do with what was left in the tin, Mother prepared breakfast and we ate. Rushing off, we only managed to get to church in time for Mass. The matter was laid to rest there. Afterwards, still feeling guilty, we cleaned the house and prepared and had lunch. There was still no mention of Ovaltine. The silence was overwhelming but to start with, my sister and I were not prepared to own up to ourselves, least of going to confess to dear Mother.
“Who has been taking from the Ovaltine?” Mother asked again, bringing all our dread back to cap our guilt. By now, it was quite dark and the next agenda for us was dinner and bed.
“Adaeze, Oñuanyi” My younger sister and I shuddered to hear her call our names that way. Normally, we were called ‘Deze and ‘Ñuan. “Wear your slippers and come with me.” Like a dry leaf in the thick of harmattan, but stoic exteriorly, we put on our slippers and stepped out with her; we had carried on thus far and we were determined to see it through.
“Did you take from the Ovaltine” she asked; her tone had changed from general to personal
“No Mother” we chorused, finding strength in our unity.
Mother replied “No problem. We are going to the church and you’ll swear before ‘fada’ that you are innocent and are not lying to me.”
Impossible! Or so we thought. Mother was not one to employ such methods –she didn’t believe in third party interference in bringing up her children, or in her marriage with Father for that matter. Besides, Father was not back yet and the others were alone at home. Plus, church was ‘a whole’ 25 minutes walk from our house. Nevertheless, we started to walk towards the church, expecting Mother to call off this expedition any moment. Darkness drew closer with each step, echoing the shadows and in rhythm with the fast beating of our little hearts. Undaunted, Mother walked on slowly so that, with our little lying feet, we could walk closely behind her.
We had covered more than half the distance when panic struck us – Mother really meant to execute her statement. Now, two ways were open before us – own up to our misdeed and face Mother’s gentle wrath or wash our dirty linen in public before ‘fada’ of all people. What with some of those ‘altar boys’ who stay behind sometimes to help ‘fada’, we may soon become the classic example of childish sinfulness in the various families that make up our church.
Deciding quickly, I stopped abruptly and my sister followed suit. Sensing our action, Mother stopped and turned to face us.
“What is it?” she asked, a triumphant note in her voice as she realised that once more, she had won. These children were still hers and she knew them inside out because she loved them greatly.
“Mother, I was the one” I finally admitted; my sister was saying the same with her eyes. “We are sorry, Mother” we chorused.
She smiled and came to where we stood in the direction of the church.
“Don’t do it again” she admonished
“Yes!” we shamefacedly and contritely agreed, and as we walked back in grateful silence, the full moon was out to light and guide our steps home.