Strange things happened at night; really strange things. We considered them minor until Mother started noticing that pieces of meat would go missing in her pot. That was when I became an FBI agent—it was after all, a sensitive household security investigation. I created my list of suspects meticulously, ranging from Father to Mother herself, to baby. But I ruled them all out and settled on the most conspicuous.
Hannah was our robust Togolese maid. I didn’t like her. She couldn’t keep her hands off food. She’d even eat Baby’s Cerellac when he refused it. She was my prime suspect only because of her history of gluttony. Sometimes I caught her eating paper even.
The first time Mother said meat was missing from the stew she had just made, dad, barely raising his nose from a newspaper he had been reading said she obviously miscounted the meat in her stew. His voice was barely convincing—he knew it wasn’t possible. With a scrupulous Mother like ours, there was no way her count was incorrect.
He’d tried to patronise her when she brought up the argument
“You know we are both getting old Asake love—” He’d started to say but she hissed and left the room.
Two mornings after, her wails disturbed the peace of the seven a.m sleep that still lingered in our eyes. I thought someone was dying. I didn’t want to miss any action, so I stood up from my bed as quickly as my mind and body would let me and dragged myself to the parlour where she was seated on the couch, her legs spread apart, and the stainless pot on the floor below her. She held her head with her hands. She seemed aggrieved, a woman who had lost more than meat.
Motunrayo had her hands on Mother’s shoulders. She had a sweet U-Shaped smile spread across her face. She had obviously whispered disturbing words into Mother’s ears.
“Oya, kia kia,” Mother said taking no notice of me “Wake everybody up, I’m going to smell their mouths”
She clapped her hands and began to ramble in Yoruba. “Am I raising thieves? Olorun o ni je? I reject it. Let me embarrass you, before you go out there and embarrass me. Awon omo jati jati”
We all had to line up, even Motunrayo, the one with the idea lined up, while Mother inhaled our stinky breaths and inspected our dentitions. Since we all washed our mouths before bed every night, it seemed like a good idea. But she wasn’t able to find the culprit through those means. We were all good, even Hannah, my prime suspect was good.
“This theiv is more clever than athink and I will catch him” she said eyeing us all one by one.
The next time it happened, weeks had passed, the dust had settled. It seemed forgotten, almost like an occurrence that I had merely imagined. We were already way past the stage of being criminals. We were back to being babies. It was why I was so infuriated when it happened the third time, that I decided to investigate by myself. I was furious because we all received five strokes of cane on our buttocks. I had bent low without flinching as the cane tore through me. She had made remarks about drawing the Map of America on our back, so alongside plotting vengeance against the thief when I found him or her, I was wondering if indeed my back would resemble the map of America.
After she’d finished and was breathless, she said “Now, children, if you like don’t talk among yourselves and agree to cooperate to confess.” She stopped short, her breathing heavier. She began to speak slower in Yoruba. “Children please don’t give me hypertension. What I’m doing, it’s for your own good. I’m trying to make sure you don’t go out there and become criminals. Y’understand. Please, don’t kill me. E ma pa mi ejo. I don’t see why anyone should go into my kitchen in the night while the lights are out to steal from my pot. Is there anything I don’t give you? Sometimes, I even give you extra meat, ehn, children”
The little speech sent the appropriate wires inside of me sparking and I decided I would stay up that night to catch the thief. I had to be a better detective than I’d ever been. I slept all afternoon so that I could be awake all night but by dinner, sleep stole into my eyes. I promised to sleep only five minutes before starting my duty.
It was while I slept that I felt a hard hand hit my back; an Abara. . It sent me screaming. Had I fallen asleep on duty? What time was it anyway? My eyes wasted no time opening. I observed my surrounding. I was outside and it was almost pitch black, except for the electric bulb and the moon’s romance. I strained my eyes and then rubbed them. As I rubbed them, I felt a slap on my cheeks.
‘ah-an’ I grumbled, fully awake now. I was outside in my pyjamas, holding tightly to a small travelling bag. My father and Mother stood in front of me. Just behind them, above the steps, were two of my siblings and Hannah, peering through the veranda net.
There was a peppery taste in my mouth and meat stuck to my teeth. Meat???!! I swiftly grasped what was going on at that point. Hannah was framing me for stealing the meat. How could she do this to me? I glanced piercingly at her, knowing there was certainly nothing I could do. But it was still mysterious. If Hannah wanted to frame me, she could have easily rubbed pepper on my hands and mouth. Why bring me outside?
Probably amazed at my cluelessness, Mother and Father burst into laughter. Mother clasped her hands, Father held his back. What was so funny?
“Let’s go inside” Mother said, “Don’t let mosquito eat us”
Mother narrated the story without flinching but it was hard to believe. She said I’d been sleepwalking and sleep talking. She said she’d stayed awake to catch the culprit, only to hear shuffles from my room. She decided to let it go, maybe it was a mouse. Then I came out to the parlour, travelling bag in hand, converse at my feet. She asked to know where I was going. I said I was going to America, and that I had a map on my back. She decided to watch for my next move. She saw that I opened the stew pot and dipped my dirty hands to pick two gizzards.
She said that she had no doubt that I was the one guilty of the previous crimes, and the others including peeing inside the kitchen dustbin, setting our dining table in the middle of the night, rearranging father’s work table and so on.
I didn’t believe it. I was the police officer, not the criminal. Two nights later, they caught me acting out similar crimes. The slap I received this time was probably the reason I never sleepwalked again. I don’t know for sure but what I’m sure of was, I was both the executive officer and the felon.