Whenever Juliet’s father got his end month salary, chicken would be cooked in the house. Daddy’s salary always came on the 30th and the children automatically knew the accompanying delicacy. It was the only time of the month when they could afford such a luxury dinner.
Daddy worked for a rich Indian man who owned a school uniform shop and factory. He had worked for the Indian for many years. Each time any of the children misbehaved, Mummy would bark, “You ungrateful child! Do you think your father would spend all day folding school uniforms for nothing?!”
The children had since interpreted that to mean their father was making such a huge sacrifice for them by working for the Indian. Mummy was a house wife. With 4 active children to raise, it would have been impossible for her to go to work.
There was Hannah, the first born who was 12 and in class 7. In recent times, Hannah had started to act all grown up so she was not such good company nowadays to the younger children. Peter was the second born at 10 and in class 5. He was the cheekiest of the lot and the one who would always get into trouble with Mummy. And there was Juliet, the 7 year old in class 2.
Peter was basically her role model. The one who taught her many of the things like tying her shoe laces being one of them. He also looked out for her in school. Nobody could bully Juliet if Peter was around.
And finally, Michael. The baby of the family who was just 3. He had recently joined pre-school and sang all those silly nursery school rhymes at home. Whenever any of the children asked him to stop, he would only raise his shrill toddler voice and sing louder much to their chagrin. Only when Mummy barked at him, did he fall silent.
Come to think of it, Mummy was always barking at the children for one thing or another. She was a small woman for her age. Short, slim and very active. She did most of the housework by herself. Washing the children’s clothes, daddy’s clothes which comprised mainly of pale colored shirts with worn out collars and black and grey trousers, cleaning the house and cooking. On Saturdays, Hannah had started helping out with the laundry but sometimes, reluctantly. Yet another reason for Mummy to bark orders at her.
Theirs was a modest lifestyle. Daddy rented a cheap one bedroom house in a habitable environment and the children attended public school. It was what he thought best and could afford since the Indian did not pay him much. Asking for a raise at work was akin to asking for trouble which daddy detested at least for his own sanity. Besides, getting sacked was out of the question for him. Jobs were hard to come by nowadays and with 5 extra mouths to feed and take care of, he would rather make do with the salary he got.
At the Indian’s shop, he worked long hours but he was the most trusted of all the employees. Daddy was mostly a quiet man. Tall and equally slim like mummy. He towered above everyone else in the family. In the late evenings when he came home from work, he would always be tired. But he would switch on the TV, the one the children were forbidden to watch, had seen better days and had been a gift from the Indian one Christmas season some years ago. Then he would watch the 7 o’ clock news in Kiswahili as he had his dinner which mummy diligently served him.
Whenever daddy got really angry, it was because of something very bad that the children or mummy had done, so little Juliet had come to learn. One time, Peter had thrown a stone over the fence to the neighbor’s house and had accidentally broken a window. When daddy came home later in the evening, the neighbor, a big man with a huge stomach, had come to complain.
That was one of the few times Juliet had seen daddy get really angry at Peter. He had whipped her brother’s bottom with a belt. Finally, daddy had paid the neighbor for the damaged window. By then the children knew better not to play with flying objects. When daddy got that angry at the children, mummy did not say a word. She would silently listen as he quarrelled.
Another time when daddy got really angry, was when mummy had stolen money from his trouser pocket, while he was in the shower. This Juliet learned when their sister Hannah, who had been eavesdropping came to tell them. She was a sneaky one, that one. Always hanging outside closed doors or in the corridor listening in on other people’s conversations. It was a shame neither of their parents had ever caught her in the act. Mummy would have whacked all that sneakiness from her. Daddy would probably have quarreled her for her bad manners. He was rather soft with his daughters and the toddler as compared to Peter.
It was money meant for daddy’s work Sacco, Hannah had disclosed, that mummy had stolen. Their father was furious because he had realized this, when he was about to pay at the Sacco. Hannah had gone on to say that daddy had admonished mummy for getting him into such an embarrassing situation. In the morning, daddy had left without breakfast and mummy, as expected, was in a foul mood.
She had barked at the children for making a racket in the morning. “Don’t you know that your father left this morning without taking the tea I had prepared for him?! Do you want me to send you to school without tea?! Shut up and drink your tea!” She shouted.
The thought of going to school without breakfast scared the children and more so Juliet and Peter, who had appetites the size of a mountain. It always seemed like they were ever hungry and the daily ugali and sukuma they ate at home, was hardly enough. No wonder the joy and anticipation on the 30th when chicken would accompany the usual dish.
On those days, even mummy would be in exceptionally good moods. Smiling and laughing and looking bright. But there was a tradition in the house of how the chicken parts would be served.
Daddy would get one drumstick and a large piece of the chicken’s back. Mummy would get the other drumstick. The rest of the pieces were distributed among the children.
Since Hannah liked to help in the kitchen on those chicken days, mummy always rewarded her with the largest piece of chicken among the children. You can imagine the envy that would be written all over Peter and Juliet’s faces. Michael never seemed to care as long as he ate chicken.
He was too young to understand the importance of this occasion and always fell asleep before he had finished his supper. Mummy on the other hand, never trusted Peter to do a good job in the kitchen, even though he understood the magnitude of the offer and the accompanying rewards and many times offered to help. So much to Hannah’s glee, she was the most trusted of the children in the kitchen.
“Do you know what day it is?” Peter began brightly, one Friday evening, eyeing his younger sister, Juliet on their way home from school.
“Friday!” Juliet replied feeling all important that Peter preferred her company this evening, to that of the naughty boys from his class.
“Friday alright silly, But it’s the 30th!” Peter announced, puffing his chest. “The Indian pays daddy on the 30th!” He continued, reminding Juliet of this auspicious occasion in their home.
She could already feel her stomach start to rumble.
“Do you think we will eat chicken again?” She inquired hopefully, wide eyed.
“Of course we will!” Peter declared gleefully.
“I hope Mummy gives me a bigger piece than last time. She said I’m a big girl now.” Juliet murmured, wondering why she always felt hungry. “Hannah always gets the biggest.”
“That’s because she’s the only one who helps with the cooking. But I’ve got a plan this time round.” Peter remarked thoughtfully.
“What is it? Oh do tell me!” Juliet immediately grew excited.
“Wait till we get home then I will tell you.” Peter promised skipping ahead to join his friends who were kicking an empty can in turns as they walked.
All evening, Juliet wondered what plan Peter referred to. They had taken a shower and done their homework and still Peter had not told her what it was. Michael was wailing for mummy’s attention and she kept barking at him to keep quiet. Then daddy had finally walked in earlier than usual, with a telltale black paper bag. Peter knowingly nudged Juliet.
As Hannah and mummy began preparing dinner in the kitchen, Peter took his sister to the back of the house and told her of his plan. The plan was to sneak into the kitchen when Hannah and mummy were not there and steal some pieces of chicken from the sufuria.
“What if we get caught?!” Juliet immediately sounded horrified although her mouth was beginning to water at the thought of getting more chicken tonight.
“No we won’t silly! We’ll sneak in when the ugali is cooking. They would have left the kitchen by then.” Peter assured.
And so while pretending to be engrossed in a game of sorts, the two mischievous children lingered around the outdoor kitchen area, waiting with bated breath, for mummy and Hannah to leave the kitchen. Eventually, they could smell the steaming ugali and Peter tiptoed into the kitchen, careful not to make a sound as little Juliet followed closely on his heels.
Taking the wet cloth they used to wipe the table with, Peter opened the lid as quietly as possible. He was immediately accosted by the delicious aroma of the chicken stew and in his urgency, shot his hand into the sufuria aiming for a drumstick. The hot piece of chicken burnt his fingers in the process.
“Ouch!” Peter whispered fiercely, blowing vigorously at his fingers.
“Get me a serving spoon quick! And a newspaper. Don’t just stand there!” He hissed.
Juliet turned to do as she had been told. Her stomach growled with anticipation as she quickly handed her brother a serving spoon and crumpled newspaper. The only one that she could find which mummy used to light the jiko with. She could not wait to dig her teeth into the delicious chicken piece.
Quickly, Peter placed two drumsticks on the newspaper, quietly closed the lid and wiped the serving spoon clean with the underside of his t-shirt. As he hurried out of the kitchen through the back door, almost running, he collided with the last person he expected to see.
Their older sister, Hannah.
“What are you two doing in the kitchen? Mummy only left me in charge!” She began suspiciously.
Juliet could immediately feel her face growing hot.
“We wanted water to drink!” Peter retorted defiantly.
“Wait, what’s that you are hiding?” Hannah was not one to be easily fooled.
“Nothing!” Peter lied holding the newspaper with the chicken pieces behind his back, away from his nosy sister’s view.
Without warning, Hannah grabbed the newspaper from him and two chicken drumsticks fell to the floor just as mummy walked into the kitchen.
“What is going…” She began to speak only for her eyes to travel to the floor, where two exposed drumsticks and a crumpled newspaper lay.
The next look on her face was one that signaled, going to bed with sore limbs for the culprits.