It was exactly eight days to Maawe’s tenth birthday and she was thrilled. Celebrating your birthday in Class 5A was no joke. You wouldn’t lift a finger that day, or for that matter that week if you had a large following. Your friends would get your lunch for you and run all your little errands for you. It was exhilarating.
A birthday also meant she would get to talk to her class crush, Tate Sarpong. She couldn’t stop thinking about it. She’d wear her almost new navy blue loafers with bows; she’d made sure she ironed her school uniform well (with no creases whatsoever), and she’d let her mother braid her hair into pretty medium sized corn rows.
Her mother was excited too. Her father, after being unemployed for six years had finally gotten a job and now there was enough money to go around. Her father had bought her big brother in the university a laptop, and her other sister some new dresses for church. Maawe knew this meant one thing; she’d get something pretty amazing for her birthday. Yet two days later, her mother came to her room and told her that her father had given her some money for Maawe. She was going to bake the best pies for her and her class!
“Plus, of course some beverages! I’m sure some will be left to get you something small”.
Maawe, instead of looking as excited as her mother, stared at her in dismay. “You-You’ll bring pies to my class?”
“Yes! These will be my best pies ever”, Ma said.
Maawe’s excitement died down. She didn’t want Ma to come to her school. The month before her school had held a PTA meeting. Her mother had been out of town and so hadn’t made it. Her classmates’ parents, who had introduced themselves at the gathering as lawyers and doctors and engineers and bankers, had also come in luxurious and flashy cars.
Maawe had been amazed and then jealous of their apparent wealth. Her father’s weathered old car had finally given up the ghost.
“And my father is unemployed, and my mother is just a pie seller”, she’d told herself.
No, she didn’t want her mother to come to her school.
“What’s wrong Maawe?” her mother asked.
The young girl shrugged. “Oh I just don’t want you to worry yourself Ma. We’re a class of forty students! You wouldn’t waste your time with forty pies, would you?” she said, trying not to cringe at
Ma laughed. “Maawe darling, I’ve been baking over three hundred pies daily. Forty is just a piece of cake.”
“Okay then can you let Mrs. Benson bring it, so you don’t worry yourself?” she asked.
Mrs Benson, their neighbour, drove a sleek matte black Benz. If she brought the pies, hopefully her classmates would assume that was her mother…
Ma looked confused. “Maawe, is it that you want something special for your birthday so that I don’t make the pies?”
Maawe nodded. It was better this way, than for Ma to guess she just wasn’t needed at school.
“Yes Ma. I really wanted some new dresses for church.”
“Oh. Alright then”, Ma said. “New clothes for you, no pies for your class. But I will wake up early to make your favourite, jollof and grilled tilapia. Does that sound good?” Ma asked, giving her a hug.
Maawe nodded, but couldn’t shake away the shameful and guilty feeling of lying to her mother.
The night before her birthday it rained heavily, and so when Maawe woke up the next morning it was freezing cold. Ma had already heated water for her to bath, and her school uniform had been freshly pressed and in place of her navy blue shoes was beautiful red ones, and this would be her first birthday present.
Maawe squealed in surprise. The whole family sang for her, and her big brother told her she could watch a movie on his laptop when she returned. Breakfast was porridge with bread and boiled eggs, and her lunch, the jollof, was dished out just before she rushed out to catch the school bus. Maawe was excited, but she still couldn’t shake away the dull feeling of lying to her mother.
As expected, her classmates gave her the royal treatment, and Tate said he liked her red shoes. Maawe beamed; this day would go down as one of her best days in her life.
Just before the English class ended, Mrs Anaman, their teacher, said she had a surprise for someone. Maawe watched in wonder as her mother entered, holding a large tray of pies. Her brother and father were bringing in crates of Coca Cola and Sprite, and Fanta. Maawe did not know whether to laugh or cry. What was this? She tried to smile as they all sang a happy birthday to her, and Ma started sharing the pies.
“You’ll still get your three dresses”, she whispered to Maawe, grinning.
Maawe nodded, and so tense and distracted was she that she did not even realize the pies were delicious. Her mother had made extra for all the teachers. Her family left shortly after, in a taxi. The whole day they went on about Maawe’s mother’s pies, and Maawe silently willed for the bell to ring so she could go home. She hadn’t impressed her friends and classmates.
Last year Afia Hesse’s parents brought everyone personalized ‘Afia is ten’ T shirts and handkerchiefs, and after that brought a lovely chocolate cake which they served with ice cream. She’d just given out some measly pies with drinks! She tried not to scowl on her way home. Her ‘perfect day’ had been spoilt.
Later that night as she relaxed in her brother’s bed watching a movie, her mother knocked and entered. She sat at the side of the bed.
“Maawe you did not seem too happy to see me today”, she went straight to the subject.
The young girl was too ashamed to deny it.
“At first I told myself, my daughter really seems to want new clothes, and so I’ll add up to the birthday money and do both. I made a hundred pies, Maawe, so your friends could have more than enough and your teachers could help themselves as well
And yet when I came you looked so unhappy”.
“Ma, I-“, Maawe tried to cut in, but her mother shook her head. Maawe’s tummy curled into knots.
“You didn’t want me to come did you?”
Maawe shook her head.
“Are you ashamed because I bake and sell pies?”
Maawe looked away. “Maawe would you rather I stole to allow you enjoy some lavish lifestyle?”
“No Ma! I didn’t say that. It’s just my friends gave out nice gifts for their birthdays, and cake, and ice cream, and…” her voice trailed off.
“Your mother could only bring pies. Did your friends’ parents also get to sit with the headmistress, and discuss business opportunities just because the teachers told her about how good the pies were and had her eat some? Were they told to bring different dishes the next time so if they were equally as good she’d be hired as the matron of the school?”
“Ma! That is great!” Maawe’s eyes widened in surprise.
Mrs Johnson, the impossible to please headmistress loved her mother’s pies?
“What’s great about that if your own daughter supposed to be your greatest fan in the school doesn’t even want you there?”
Maawe’s eyes were welled with tears.
“Ma I’m sorry.”
“See these scars and marks?” Ma asked, showing Maawe her hands. The little girl had never noticed it. “This one was when I mistakenly cut myself with a knife when I was cutting up the pies to be baked. That one was when I tripped over a cooking utensil and fell.
This one was when some hot oil on fire spilled and landed on my elbow….”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“I did this job and several others especially when your father was unemployed, just to keep our heads above water. To keep you and your sister and brother in school. This job has paid your school fees and books and sustained you. So you should never look down on it,” Ma told her.
Maawe felt terrible. The tears, free to flow now, trickled down her eyes. “I’m so sorry Ma. Please forgive me.”
And Ma did. She enveloped Maawe into a hug, and for a few minutes they just hang there, quiet.
Then as they smiled at each other, Ma asked, “So this Mrs. Johnson how is she like?”
“Well let’s just say if she was pepper, she’d be the hottest kind”, Maawe started, and mother and daughter burst out into laughter. “I’ll tell her”, Ma threatened playfully. And as they made plans on what Ma had to make to woo her headmistress Maawe thought about how silly she’d been.
“I love you Ma”, she burst out in the middle of their conversation.
“I love you more, Maawe”, Ma said, and leaned over for another hug.
And right there, Maawe knew she’d got the perfect ending to her birthday.