“Ni nani ule tena?” (Who is this again?) asked Mama Ngalula as she peered through the brownish curtains looking at the silver Mercedes pulling in her driveway. It’s not like she didn’t who she was, but she was asking to no one in particular because she was already having a bad day and now the invitees had started to show up for the Thanksgiving party she organized for the family. Why am I doing this? She asked herself earlier that day as she sweated in the kitchen. The doctor had told her way too many times to not engage in any activity that could cause her stress. I guess this could easily qualify as one, she said to herself as she put the finishing touches to her famous rice. The chicken was spiced and cooked as a whole. The head, the neck and the feet were also cooked, but everything on the inside was thrown away. Mpondu (cassava leaves)had some beef meat and had just enough oil to not turn one’s mouth dry. There was some fufu ( cassava bread) and some boiled sweet corn. She also made some broiled meat and put them on a stick just like they do it back home and to finish some beignets (donuts à l’africaine). The whole house shivered with the perfumed and illegible smells that had spread everywhere.
She had earlier sent her ungrateful daughter to buy her all the ingredients for the meal and she remembered how Carinne- her husband’s idea of a nice name, had kissed on the cheek before leaving and telling her that she was finally going to get to meet Jason. Jason, the one who was taking her one and only daughter away from her, from her family, from her tribe and culture. Then again, it was my husband’s fault, she thought to herself, if he hadn’t raised her like these white people who call their parents by their first names and leave her alone to deal with this now that they lived in Portland maybe all this wouldn’t have happened and…The door bell rang. She put on her winning smile and went to answer it.
A couple of hours later, as the conversation was well in its way thanks to her brother Paul, she looked around the table pensively. Her brother Paul, six younger than her, but the most brilliant and accomplished one of the whole family. Only God knows how he did it to keep his sanity with everything he has been through. Divorced once, lost a child due to sickness, his only son came out as gay in high school and now despite the fact that he’s been dating,there was nothing serious in sight. But he was the one who had helped her to get settled down in Portland ten years ago when she didn’t know her north from her south. He has been working as an engineer at Intel for fifteen years no, he had a nice sports car and a big house, but no wife. She kept an eye out for the one though. Sitting next to him was his son, Pierre who kept texting and winking at her once in awhile. He knew she didn’t like him and it seemed amusing to him. The first time she had met him, she thought he wasn’t like all the boys at his age, always talking about fashion and dance. Paul had insisted for him to be there, but if it was up to her, he wouldn’t be here. Her friend and colleague Rebecca, from Senegal, was a store manager and the owner of that silver mercedes. Maman Ngalula couldn’t afford the same with her salary of a nurse, but she didn’t care. What annoyed was the way Rebecca always flaunted her possessions as if she was better than her while it was her white husband, ten years her senior and coming from a wealthy family who had most of the money between them. Richard was already slurring his words as he was drinking his 8th glass, he was of a good nature and naive sometimes, but he has been helpful when she was in bind despite the subtle disapproval of Rebecca. The only reason they were friends was because they always could laugh together at how these Americans were crazy and talk with nostalgia about life in Africa. Her daughter was on her best behavior that night, going above and beyond to win her approval for her boyfriend who, conveniently, happened to be sitting next to her. Jason,your typical blue eyed, blond, smart, well educated suburban boy who had always dreamed of going to Africa until Africa came to him in the form of Carinne. He was in Medical school and hoped to work in Africa one day. She hoped to God that this was nothing serious and they would eventually move on to find other people. He had even learnt a few words in swahili and had tried to impress her by saying how excellent the meal was: Tshakula vizuri sana, mama. Mungu akubariki (This meal is excellent. May God bless you.) She barely smiled as he chopped up her language. She noticed how her daughter kept looking at their interactions from the corner of her eye. She got up to get some more food.
This is all your fault! She screamed to the picture of her husband who seemed to be looking at her with his deep brown eyes. Carinne came quickly and asked what’s wrong, she said she was fine. Why are you crying then? She wiped her tears and said she wasn’t. Carinne tried to give her hug but she brushed her off.
Then she hugged from her back and said: “Do you remember when you used to carry me on your back?”
She smiled and said: “How can I forget?” She turned to look at her daughter who looked like her mother the more she grew up.
“You know I love you right? ”
“I know mama.”
“So tell your boyfriend to talk to me in English and to stop with that nonsense he thinks to be Swahili.” Carinne threw her head back laughing and for a moment, maman Ngalula saw her little child.
“Ok, I will. You ready to get back?”
“Yes I am.”
“Ok let me carry this for you.”
” I will follow you.”
She let out a sigh and said to no one in particular: “Mungu atusaidie.” (God help us all)
This is still experimental, but a major step toward having more stories talking about the African, in this case Congolese, reality in the US. These characters are entirely fictional, but their realities are not.