In the good old days when the owner of a black and white television in a compound house was automatically elected the House Overseer by his or her fellow tenants, when children ensured they had bathed before 7 pm because they could be asked to go bath just when Talking Point finally wrapped up and either ‘Obraaaaaa…’ or ‘We are going…’ started playing, those days of mobile portable TV sets which were brought out and off their cabinet-like stands which doubled as the display spaces for long-emptied Milo tins and Quaker Oats containers…in those days, actors and actresses didn’t need any emotions to make their tears flow during performances. Directors favoured the application of Robb ointment, spelt R-O-Doubled Boh-Boh-Boh! A judicious application just below the lower eyelid was sure to produce copious rivers of denkyemic proportions. Ah, I miss those days of Abyssinia, Kojo Kwakye, Esi Kom, Station Master and them thems.
But, do not despair, fellow countrymen and women. The world has moved on and we have also gone organic. These days, all one needs to produce tears is to slap the tear-inducing aromatic chemicals from onions.
Yes, good old sabolai!
And I should know about sabolai. For in those old days again, when it was hip to walk from Abavanna Junction to Mallam Atta and back, when send to buy foodstuff from the famed market of that name, which was located behind Oxford Cinema – where we had great times watching films like I Trust My Leg, The Drunken Master and Snake in the Monkey Shadow – so that we could use the lorry fare we had saved to go watch watch new films at Maxwell Hotel…in those days, mum mine used to sell plantain in Mallam Atta market. I visited often and go to know most of her colleagues, who sold everything, from salmon to sabolai. So I got to know the scent of sabolai.
My friend Oklu, whose mum – the Iron Lady who was before Thatcher was, the lady we all called Manye Yo – sold smoked fish at Makola Market, will tell you about our escapades as kids, where we did NCNC – no contribution, no chop. When our trader-mums were away, we partied. Okay, I won’t be tempted to tell you here about the Maame ni Paapa games; Oklu will do the telling. At our parties, we served food we had cooked ourselves, with ingredients which had been contributed by each of us. And, like in the story of Esau and Jacob, each brought what was readily available by the trade of their mums. Some provided fish, some brought palm oil, some brought tomatoes. I usually provided ripe plantain and, with time, I developed the knack of outwitting my mum who arranged the plantains in a pyramid, with a signature secret design at the base of the pyramid which, when disturbed on her return, showed her that her stock had been tampered with! Her secret keys would have impressed James Bond, the 007!
But, thinking back now, I don’t ever remember anyone bringing onions, good old sabolai. Because sabolai has a great attribute: the scent nu. In those days, many homes favoured the Angola shallots. According to Efo Gabriel Ahiabor, writing in the Daily Graffiti, when raw chopped shallots, interspersed into ground pepper tomatoes, is used to tackle kenkey, banku, etsew or abolo, atop some grilled tilapia, the eater will sing Halleluyah Chorus in Ewe! But onions will leave an incriminating scent behind, so when a child stole them, it was much easier for the mum to find out that her child had the scent nu.
The elders say that when there is a charge that someone has farted, that is not the time for the ant called kehini to go strolling around where they are looking for the Farter. For, you see, the kehini smells. Worse that the average fart. Which is the reason why onion sellers don’t like trouble. They hardly go where trouble brews or trouble slaps.
Up atop this roof of mine, I saw trouble. Oh yes I did. I saw it all. I saw the approach. Then I saw the flash. Then, I saw the slap in slow motion. Like on the screen at Oxford Cinema. A snake in a monkey’s shadow? The sound of the landing hand on the succulent cheek reached me up here. Then I heard “Oh!” But, as quickly as the slap had been administered, I heard the enquiry, “Aren’t you the sabolai seller who refused to give me my change the last time I was at Mallam Atta?”
As Amakye the town crier likes to say, appearance might be deceptive, but not smell. We might be clear about how an onion seller smells like, but how does an onion seller look like?
It was Sam the Awoken who woke up the Slapper from her somnambulistic state and told her that she had slapped an innocent person.
And Aijah Itaf wept. The Slapper wept.
It was a deluge of tears of humongous proportions! The Slapper put on ash and knelt and rolled on the brown ground. She offered to massage the cheek of the Slappee who refused to turn the other cheek. The Slapper called the Slapee her sister and said the incident was just a tale between two sisters which must be settled at home.
The Slapper wept.
I was so touched that my eyes watered. But, just as I took out my wife’s cover cloth to wipe my tears, reports reached me up atop my roof so high that the tears were induced by sabolai. Kai!
Yesi yesi, Sam the Awoken passed on a bag of minced sabolai and asked Aijah Itaf to apply it just like mascara. And that did the trick. It made sense too. For, indeed, Aijah Itaf sheds copious denkyemic tears.
Cry, Our Beloved Fatti.