This is one of my favourite books. I first read it when I was 12 or so, after my father read it. At that time I thought it was fantastic and beautiful, but of course reading it as an adult was a completely different experience. The following passage is one of the few involving food that is somewhat joyous - yet at the same time is also deeply ominous and foreboding (if you've read the book, this will be particularly clear to you). And in terms of this blog, it's a big a change from the crumpets, toast, tea and cake that have so far dominated the excerpts here.
When we got to our new home the children ran out to meet us. The men came to help Dad with the sack, but he didn't want any help. The women talked excitedly. Our door was open. Folding chairs had been arranged all around the tiny space. The centre table was loaded with drinks. There was a bowl of kola-nuts and kaoline on the floor. There was the potent aroma of fresh stew in the air. The room was empty. Dad went to the backyard and we found Mum in the kitchen. She was fanning the wood fire, tears running down her face, a mighty pot on the grate. When she saw us she came out and held Dad tight and picked me up. Dad put the sack down on the kitchen floor. He looked at me for a moment, and said: 'I have kept my promise.'
Then he went out of the kitchen, to the room, came back with towel and soap, fetched water from the well, and had a long bath. I stayed with Mum in the kitchen, coughing when she coughed. The water boiled in the pot. Women of the compound came and helped her with getting the boar out of the sack. They poured boiling water on its skin, loosening its hair. They shaved it. Five men helped them butcher the fierce-looking animal. They decapitated it, cut it to pieces, and gutted out its monstrous intestines. Then the woman began the cooking of the wild animal that Dad had caught in the forest.
When the meat was cooking, on another fire a great pan was sizzling with oil. The whole compound smelt of aromatic stew, peppers, onion, wild earthy herbs and frying bushmeat. When everyone could be seen salivating in anticipation, Mum made me go and bathe. I wore a new set of clothes. Visitors and compound-dwellers came one by one to our room. They took their seats. Mum combed my hair and gave me a parting. Dad also had a parting. Mum bathed. In the bathroom she dressed up in her fine clothes. She did her hair and made her face up in the passage.
Soon our little room was crowded with all kinds of people. Many of them were from our compound, one or two were from our previous habitation, a few of them were total strangers, and a lot of them were children. It was hot in the room and everyone sweated. All the chairs were filled and all the floor space was taken. A woman struck up a song. A man struck up a more vigorous song. The children looked on. Mum came in with a plate of alligator pepper seeds, a saucer of cigarettes, and breadfruit. And then we heard a flourish outside.
It was Dad. He was at the doorway with an empty bottle in one hand, a spoon in the other. He was beating a tune out of glass. He wore a black French suit and had a fresh change of bandages. An eagle's feather stuck out from the back of his head. He looked happy and a little drunk. He came in, beating his metallic tune on glass, dancing and singing to music of his own invention. The crowd laughed, cheering in appreciation. Everyone began to chatter. Voices rose in volume. Jokes passed across the sweating faces. I felt a stranger amidst the celebration of my homecoming.
Then to our delight a woman appeared at the door, sounding a heraldic song. Mum came in with three women, carrying a great steaming pot of stew. Behind her were three more women, bearing basins of jollof rice, yams, beans, eba and fried plaintains. Children brought in paper plates and plastic cutlery. The aroma of the marvellous cooking overpowered the room. Everyone straightened. Faces were bright with aroused appetites. There wasn't a single throat that didn't betray the hopes for a feast of abundant cooking in which all anticipation would be fully rewarded.