I have known poverty and it is not just the scarcity of wealth but the dearth of hope.
I remember that morning in June when papa came in much earlier, the schools were on break and Adanna and I played video games in the parlour. He walked briskly past us with a gloomy face, not uttering a word. We would later find out from mama that he had lost his job after 20 years of committed service with no benefits.
Six years later and nothing had changed.
Papa would sit on the corridor all day, with no words; just staring at everyone who went by. I couldn’t bear to see how much he had sunk, how he wailed in silence and drowned in liquor.
Mama, a woman in her forties had aged a decade; she had grown thin, her hands darkened and the veins shot through her skin. Under her eyes were bags—of the burden and a lack of sleep.
The once peaceful family now had amity on the line, unsure of what the next trigger could be. These days the little things set everyone off; eating leftovers meant for another and having an extra cooking spoon of a plain dish…
And then the viral respiratory infection hit, they called it the COVID. We had to stay home to survive but it felt like it was the quickest way to our demise.
In the single room we shared, dimly lit by the moonlight peering through the blinds, I woke up to muffled sobs, from where I slept, I saw Mama with her back against the wall and her head buried in her hands. I crawled up to her, sure not to step over my siblings or awaken papa who snored loudly.
I took mama’s arms in mine and now her cries could be heard but not enough to awaken papa who turned slightly only to continue his sleep.
Since the lockdown, Mama hadn’t made sales; the vegetables were ruined and she couldn’t repay her debts. Danko, the money lender had come just before we slept and carted the only thing of value—our sleeping bed.
The food buckets were empty and the kerosene in the cooking stove was out. Mama wept helplessly, resting her head on my shoulder. She could starve and papa too, but how do you explain to a five year old wailing from the pangs of hunger that there was nothing to eat and nowhere to go get it from?
I sat beside her with tears trickling down my cheeks but I had to be strong for mama so I wiped them with the back of my hand and whispered to her, “Ndoh mama, ndoh, this one too will pass”.
And we waited for dawn and prayed that Ogbunabali was done.
© SHELU JOYCE, June 2020.