We were less than 9 years old at that time and we had a habit of pleading, “Mummy, please, we would like to go and play in Mummy downstairs’ house. Each time, my siblings and I got the typical response of, “Ehn Ehn, that’s the only thing you know. Have you read any of your books today? Go and read your books and do not let me see you outdoors!”
My family used to live on the top floor of a two-story building while Mummy downstairs as we called her, together with her family, stayed downstairs. We found it distressing every time mummy gave us our default response since we wanted to play with mummy downstairs’ children, who were our friends. They appeared to be having more fun than we were at the moment. Interestingly, they also hardly ever came upstairs to play with us, which may be because their parents also insisted that they stay in their flat. However, since we sometimes heard them playing in the compound, it only meant one thing: life out there was exciting!
Because we could avoid having to read our books, we eagerly anticipated when our parents would leave the house. Whenever they did, our independence only lasted for brief moments because many times, we were given tasks to complete before their return. We did some of the assigned tasks hurriedly, spent more of our time playing and promptly assumed our various duty posts as soon as we heard any noise at the gate that suggested our parents’ return.
It was forbidden for us to accept things from people. We were aware of this so we adhered strictly to it. We politely refused to accept any item offered to us by strangers. If the givers were familiar people and our parents were present, we would decline. If the givers persisted, we would watch our parents’ faces for cues. It was usually either a scowl that said, “Go ahead, accept it, and see what type of punishment you will receive afterwards,” or a gaze that meant, “Won’t you say thank you?” In the case of the former, we would reject the gift and move away as quickly as possible while in the latter, we would graciously accept the gift. Whatever we received, had to be kept and shown to our parents after the giver leaves and permission has to be granted by them before such items become ours. If it was money, it was frequently taken from us with the assurance that it would be kept on our behalf, and if it was edible, we were either permitted to consume it or not. Some edibles typically vanished without a trace.
We were the only ones in the house on this memorable day. Daddy had left quite early in the morning, and mummy went to the market soon after. As usual, being the only people in the house thrilled us. It had only one meaning. We could play! In the heat of the play, we heard a knock at the door. It was an uncle who had come to visit. We informed him of our parents’ absence and as he turned to go, he slipped a coin into my sister’s palm. When the visitor left, we examined the shiny coin. We looked at one another. Each one of us had sparkling eyes and brilliant ideas in our little wise heads. We discussed our options and came to the conclusion that the money would only be sufficient to purchase the popular banana chewing gum. Because we could divide it among ourselves, it was the ideal choice for us. Thank goodness nobody was home! We exchanged sheepish smiles knowing we were safe.
Who would bell the cat? After careful deliberations, we decided that my elder brother should go and buy the goodie. Off he went at top speed. He had to do it before our parents’ returned. My sister and I stayed by the window watching and waiting for him to be back. Soon, he appeared. Back with the gum, and to our dismay, our Mummy! Oh, what a day! Since we all still clearly remember it, you can guess how the incident ended.