Nguper emerged from our inner Atê–round thatched hut, draping a wrapper over her breasts. Her birthday party had got the entire family in a frenzy. She was turning eighteen, so Mama said.
A serene breeze wafted down the chocolatey hills, I glanced around the compound and gazed at Doofan and Torkwase pounding yam in our large mortar–which stood above their knees’ level.
‘Orvaa! Orvaa! Orvaa!’ Mama called out to me.
I ran to meet her, gasping for breath. Beside her on the table was the birthday cake, Doofan had made for Nguper. She said her Home Economics teacher taught her class how to make one.
‘You see this cake, don’t temper with it, especially the icing. Our vanya–the guests and Ator a Ukpande have to see this beauty before we all can eat our cake.’ Mama said.
Ator a Ukpande–the tax collectors would come and finish this cake. No! The other day, the head and his men, five of them and Orya–Papa sat in the Atê, tema imiôngo and drank the freshest palm wine, ate chicken and fried potatoes and soya milk by the side to keep the alcohol in check. I felt like knocking down one of the Ator a Ukpande when he had said: ‘Chicken is not meant for children like you. You’re just nine.’ They all laughed out loud over it in their mouthful of wine, chicken and potatoes.
Around the kitchen mounded the pounded yam like Zuma Rock on a large tray. And dishing out sweet, pleasant aroma was egusi soup. Mama, Doofan and Torkwase lifted the Zuma Rock, placing it a bit apart from the cake.
And when everyone was enmeshed getting other things ready outside, I carved out a cave and hid the cake–with the inscription Nguper is 18 intact–inside the pounded yam.