Fiction

On the Mat: A Short Story by Sandra A. Mushi

Karibu yakhe,” Baba Amina calls out at a passerby.

Baba Amina is lying on the mkeka Mama Amina has laid on the baraza, positioned in a strategic corner where he can see and enjoy the morning sunlight.

Mama Amina curses when she sees the visitor approaching the verandah happily.  They always stay whenever they see food, she muses angrily.  Bloody leeches, she lets out a long annoyed hiss under her breath.

“Karibu shemeji,” Mama Amina stretches her lips into a smile though her eyes remain unmoved.

“Aksante shemeji.  I am just coming from the mosque.”

The visitor joins Baba Amina on the straw mat.  The mat moves with the new weight on it as he shifts.  Baba Amina sits up to shake his visitor’s hand.  With his left hand the visitor holds down his worn-out kibarakashe covering his balding head.

“You are just in time then,” Baba Amina says, “I guess you haven’t had breakfast.”

Mama Amina angrily puts down the plastic tray with floral designs carrying a red tea flask, a porcelain cup and saucer and a plate covered with a straw kawa.  The visitor eyes the words decorating the straw cover, ‘fungua tule.’

“Let me go get an extra cup for shemeji” Mama Amina announces sullenly, her lips still stretched to a smile.

Mama Amina walks inside to the cabinet in the dimly lit corridor that holds her cutlery she has been collecting over years, with most sets missing a piece or two.  Her red and yellow dira with white flowers moves with her big frame as she walks, her embroidered white gaguro almost touching the red floor.  She lifts both the dress and the long underskirt so she doesn’t trip.

She looks at the cutlery set she had received on her wedding and decides that the leech did not deserve such good china.  Instead she settles for the chipped porcelain set she had inherited from a friend who had passed on.  Mama Amina returns with the chipped cup and saucer, bends over and places them on the tray then proceeds to lifting the straw cover.  The strong aroma of cardamom in the maandazi makes the visitor lick his lips greedily.  The puffy pastry brown from deep frying, gleaming invitingly.

“If there is viazi vitamu, maybe you should add some, Mama Amina,” Baba Amina smiles at his wife, “these will not be enough for two strong men.”

He just had to, Mama Amina muses.  She doesn’t say anything, at least not in front of the visitor.  She knows very well not to raise her mouth in front of the visitor lest he tells the whole neighbourhood that she is a bad, disobedient wife – and these leeches are so good at defamation of character, she ponders silently.

Lifting her dress and embroidered underskirt, she walks back to the cabinet, then goes to the back with a plate in her hand.

“Amina, yule mdoezi kaja!  His timing is always so precise!”

“Not him again!”  Her daughter laughed heartily.

Amina, Mama Amina’s first born is bent over the low dhobi sink washing a mount of clothes.  She pauses and looks at her mother who is bent over the coal stove that is near the backyard entrance door.

Carefully, Mama Amina lifts with folds of her dress the hot flat metal lid covering the pot with the sweet potatoes.  She then places one small piece on the plate, blows at it, and then tastes it.  Closing her eyes she chews slowly.

“Mmh, the cardamom and coconut cream is just right,” she announces, “this is so delicious.  I hope your father won’t ask for more for that leech.”

“Remember the day before yesterday he did that.”

“Has Abdallah and Ahmed eaten?”  Mama Amina asks, looking for her two grandsons.

“A while back, Mama”, Amina replied with a chuckle, “they have gone to Salum’s to play.  I was worried that the leech might finish their shares.  I’m just waiting for you, whenever you are ready.”

“You go ahead.  I had promised Somo to go see her.  I will be back in time to make your father lunch.  Ask Babu Athumani for one changu when he rides by.  Tell him I will pay him on Friday.”

“Okay Mama.”

Mama Amina then dishes a few pieces of sweet potatoes into the plate before taking the plate outside to the verandah to the two men.

Smiling, Amina wipes her hands that are full of soap suds on the khanga she has wrapped around her dress.  Humming a taarab song she walks to the make-shift wooden stand that has a few dishes drying, she takes a plastic plate and cup then walks back to the coal stove and dishes for herself.  Still humming she walks to the straw mat under the tree next to the dhobi sink, places her breakfast on the mat before making herself comfortable.

After the filling breakfast, Amina lazily stretches herself on the mat, gazing at the sun with her eyes wide open, the rays making her drunk with laziness.  Looking at the mount of laundry, she suddenly feels the urge to stand up, lift her body and go finish it, but instead she shifts to a more comfortable position.

“Ashura!”  She calls out to her younger sister after a few minutes of nodding off.

“Abe dada Amina,” Ashura answers from one of the rooms inside.

“Bring me a plate of tende.” Amina shouts the instructions before closing her eyes.

As she allows herself to drift back to sleep, she hears the tiptoes of her sister and the weight of something on the mat.

“Shoga mambo!”  A voice awakens her, “I haven’t seen you in a while.’

Waking up she finds Salome from the house next door helping herself to the plate of dates and Ashura bent over the laundry finishing it off.

“Ashura, get me some tea,” Salome commands, “the dryness of the dates will choke me.”

As Ashura walks inside to get a cup, she gives her sister a knowing look.  Leech.

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