Where were we… ah yes, Badara and what he did to his grandpa on that fateful day.
It was Friday, and if you know anything about Gambian Fridays, you’d know that Friday is Mbahal day. And because Badara’s favorite dish is Mbahal, his favorite day is Friday.
Fridays at Mbowene are usually bustling and cheerful. The week’s washing hangs on a line in the yard – a rainbow of clothing starched stiff, making a pleasant crackling noise with every gust of wind. Badara’s mother always makes sure to throw in an extra handful of goweh (burning incense) to mask the deliciously-offensive scent of mbahal, just incase a neighbor or relative decides to ziyareh (pay a visit) after the mid-afternoon congregational prayer.
Badara on his way home from school, always looks forward to the scent of the goweh mingling with the mbahal. He usually catches it 50 meters away from the house, causing him to abandon his friends and quicken his pace.
That Friday as with every other, he found his Grandpa, Pa Mbowe sitting under the shade of the Sadaym tree (I sincerely don’t know the English name). The tree is one of four in the Mbowene compound and it has the least leaves of the lot. It provides very little shade and just why Pa Mbowe preferred it to the others remains a mystery to the household. Perhaps it was out of habit, but rumor has it that it has something to do with the little fruit which falls on his laps every so often and boy does he love to munch. No one alive has ever seen Pa Mbowe’s mouth at rest. The man always has a piece of something in there. If it isn’t the many meals or the frequent snacks he takes, it is a lobe of colanut, bitter cola, candy or saydaym. He vehemently denies chewing saydaym, as if that is some crime of great magnitude. One can always tell when it is candy he has in his mouth because of all the slurpy noises and the occasional showers of spittle.
The one thing the old man enjoys almost as much as sitting and nibbling, is his weekly walks to his barber’s and back. He and his barber were tight! As he loves to say when someone voices a concern about the barber’s shaky arthritis ravaged hands, “maa kii du legi! Dipi 1962 la cha aaf-die Banjul, tejal ma!” They’ve been together for eons!
Every Thursday evening after the late afternoon snack, he walks off to the barber three streets away and comes back with his scalp so spotless and shiny you could just about use it as a mirror.
That afternoon they had guests, a friend of Pa Mbowe’s called Karafa and his two grandsons who were 9 and 12. Every one had eaten already except Badara and a portion had been set aside, just enough for him to eat his fill and leave some to share with his boys sometime later in the afternoon, after a good deal of running and sweating.
He was somewhere between his second and third spoonful when he heard his grandpa say, haral nyu tibal len ngen agne (let’s get you fellas some lunch). He paused, contemplating the possibility of losing his food. Before he had time to think of a plan, Pa Mbowe walked in with his mum and the negotiations began. If you’d put your ear to the door, you’d hear hushed voices alternating between soft cajoling murmurs and seething threats as mother and grandfather tried desperately to convince the child to part with his Mbahal. Badara held his ground and resisted to the very end, but alas, he did not really have a choice, the negotiations were only meant to soften the blow. If feeding the guests meant someone had to go hungry, so be it – that was the way.
So he stood there and watched his Mbahal get transferred into another container and taken out to the living room. He sat in the kitchen and waited for 30 minutes, chanting all the Quranic verses he knew in prayer, until Pa Mbowe brought back the container. There was not a single grain of rice in it and Badara launched himself to the ground wailing (his favorite thing to do when he is upset). The guests, with their full tummies and unpleasant breaths yawned and wondered what must’ve happened to the child to make him wail so.
In a bid to save himself from embarrassment, Pa Mbowe dug in his pockets and found a 5 dalasi note which he handed to Alieu. He walked off thinking he had appeased the child and restored peace to their lives.
He was wrong… and he was in for some nasty surprises.
Badara wiped off his tears and dusted himself off, he puffed out his chest and stuck out his chin, then with his arms held away from his body, he walked with great pomp out of the compound, only stopping to mean-mug his grandfather and the guests who were being seen off.
He went around the neighborhood and gathered his gang. They all made sure to gasp and curse at appropriate moments as Badara recounted the afternoon’s events, and in unnecessarily hushed tones, they schemed their revenge (which was actually his revenge).
The plan involved the tedious task of walking a mile to this one baobab tree where they will then attempt to knock down the yellow-tinged baobab pods. Then they will scrape the hairy outsides of the pods onto a piece of paper and of course, because all work and no play makes jack a dull boy, they will eat the insides of the pods in grand style. Pa Mbowe’s 5 dalasi was exchanged for a sachet of milk which went into a used mineral water bottle with the baobab fruits, some water and a palmful of scavenged sugar.
Then they all went to Badara’s compound and hung around the yard until it was time for the late afternoon prayer and Pa Mbowe had laid out his mat. He took off his slip-ons (those shoes with the pointy toes referred to as jiitu ma si jaaka b) as he got on the mat. Soon as he got into the prayer proper, Badara slipped the piece of paper with the scrappings out of his pocket and poured a generous amount into both shoes, shaking them rigorously to make sure the dust touches all the surfaces inside.
I expect that we all know the purpose this dust was intended to serve, but for the sake of the few who amazingly don’t, the dust off the outer part of the pod is known as “bala nganyaa”, which translates as that which itches the body.
When this was done, all the boys crept as close to the exit as possible, close enough to afford them a good view of what was to happen next and far enough to allow them enough time get away when it happens. All the boys except Badara. He stayed back and rubbed his palms together hard, in anticipation of the moment Pa Mbowe sits up from ruku. Pa Mbowe’s scalp glowed and glittered, as it rose up to meet the small vengeful hands of mbahal-deprived Badara. There was a sharp clap as they met, a clap which sent shivers down spines and caused the angels to weep. Oh what sacrilege! What blasphemy! For two seconds it appeared Pa Mbowe was going to finish his prayer, but perhaps the sting was too much to bear, the insult too outrageous. He shot off the mat, wielding his prayer beads as Thor would his hammer. A vein bulged from his scalp and his eyed reddened. Some would even say his eyes welled up.
Why oh why did he stop to wear his shoes? Why a man in such a fit of rage would stop to wear his shoes I cannot understand. But you know what they say about what is destined to happen to you! Wearing his shoes afforded Badara enough time to sprint out of reach, looking back to make sure he was being chased – the little rascal.
Perhaps Pa Mbowe realized a bit too late that something didn’t feel quite right, perhaps he only did at the time when the sting on his head simmered down enough to allow him notice other feelings.
He was halfway down the street at this point, he stopped to scratch at his feet. How I wished he hadn’t, the poor man. Everyone knows that scratching only aggravates the effects of bala nganyaa. He only made it a few meters further until he couldn’t take it anymore. Badara’s father found him there a few minutes later, crouched on the ground, his knees between his arms, frenziedly scratching at his feet. Shaking his head in disbelief and self-pity, screaming curses upon that “devil child”. Obscenities which were thought extinct came back to life that evening – curses in tongues the streets and the walls had never heard until then.
It will be disrespectful to say that he had tears rolling down his cheeks as he was helped back to the house, so we’ll just say he was in a very sadden state.
Badara, our hero and our villain, went into hiding for as long as he could. When he crept home several hours later, he was stretched over the table and whopped with a thin branch plucked from a tree. When he recovered shortly after, much to the dismay of Pa Mbowe, he went over what had happened and laughed at it all, already creating an exaggerated version to add to his collection.
He couldn’t wait for the next adventure!