WALKING THE TALK

The Clean Slate

A short story by LolaA

Nine year old Mossa stirred in her sleep and then woke up with a start. She could hear noises, a bit like some sort of commotion outside their glassless window. She lay still for a few minutes trying to think, what could have happened… She cast her mind back to the night before but nothing rang a bell, then she scanned the barely lit room of the mud hut and involuntarily sprang to her feet. The room was lined with vessels of all shapes and sizes, big mini-bath like type of vessels and small cooking pans which could only hold a few cups of liquid at most. They were all filled with a very precious commodity, water, yes water, rain water to be precise.

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, to dance or stand still. At last God had answered their plea, their nightly ritual of asking Him to open the heavens and pour out some water in the form of rain. The rains had been more than four months overdue and everything was beginning to run out. Their food portions had been drastically reduced and water was rationed to the animals. Normally Akis, a remote village in the heart of Africa, was a friendly place but when things began to get tough the people seemed to harden also. Smiles turned into frown lines and nobody was willing to help the other with any form of supplies as no one had any idea when or how supplies would be replenished. The rain was definitely a reason to be happy but she was sad that she had managed to sleep through it all, or most of it.

Her elder brother must have long been awake his place on the mat-like mattress on which they slept was decisively empty. The only person still sleeping on the wafer thin mattress which was lain on the bare floor was her five year old sister, the only plus there was that someone managed to sleep deeper than she did. The thought brought a smile to her face as she was about to turn and go outside to see what service she’d be able to render.

She was cut short in her stride; her leg seemed to hang in mid-air as she remembered her slate, her ‘sums slate’. Having run very low on funds last year her father had had to withdraw her from the village school, only her brother had continued in the interim. Instead her father was teaching her from his limited knowledge at home, hoping that in the very near future she’d be able to resume formal schooling. In the last few days he had been teaching her to take-away a small number from a bigger number on her sums-slate. It wasn’t as straight forward as ‘adding up’ and she was struggling with it a bit, so her father had left five ‘take-aways’ on her slate for her to do and told her to memorise the answers once she’d done them.

That was all well and good; somehow she would have done her ‘homework’ possibly getting her brother to assist unnoticed by their father if it did prove too difficult. The real problem now was that she had left the chalkboard slate outside; as she thought of it her heart sank and almost touched her stomach. Her father always told her, or more or less warned her to always clear up after herself, putting things in their proper place, not being some type of a ‘dishevelled thing’ as he called it. But yesterday after her lessons she had been quite tired and after spending just a little while playing with her younger sister her mother had announced it was ‘dinnertime’. Dinnertime meant it was time to sit in the corner of their yard known as the kitchen watching and intermittently fanning the flames of the log fire on which their evening meal was cooking. After the meal and the eloquent prayers of her father she barely managed to stay awake long enough to roll out their ‘mattress’ before slumping into a deep sleep, she had no idea when her father or in the unlikely event her mother had lain her sister next to her. Putting her slate away had never even crossed her mind; after all it had been okay wherever she left it for as long as she could remember why was last night going to be different?

However last night was different, very different because last night Almighty God as her father and many of the villagers called Him had decided to answer their prayers and just imagining the state of her slate caused her knees to buckle. Suddenly she had an urgent call to answer, the call of nature.

She dashed out of the room and flew by the mini passage that separated the two rooms of which their hut consisted. In the process she almost knocked the big bowl of water her mother was carrying out of her hands. “Are you awake Mossa?” Her mother asked, startled by her sudden appearance. “No” she replied for some strange reason as darted into the yard and round to the side of the hut. She fought to open their aluminium sheet bathroom as she hopped from leg to leg, finally the sheets rattled apart and she entered and put the latch on. This was about the only place in the compound where one could truly have some privacy, except of course someone decided to climb their lone tree which had become severely over tanned in recent months.

She relaxed, as much as one could in the squatting position, as she relieved herself and tried to think of an excuse, a reason, something to justify her actions or should that be in-actions. Something, anything to stop her father from flying off the handle. She pushed both body and mind, her body produced but sadly her mind didn’t.

As she slammed the aluminium sheet that passed for a door she paused for a split second to breathe in the fresh wet air. Nobody seemed to be in her immediate vicinity as she attempted to do an ‘Usain Bolt’ towards the place she vaguely remembered leaving her slate. “Ah, at last you’re awake Mossa” she heard her father say behind her. “Yes father” she replied, as she turned to face him. “We’ve been working since very early this morning” he said with a smile. Fantastic she thought, her father still remembered how to smile. “The rain, the beautiful rain has almost subsided” he said, “but we’ve collected a fair amount in the outside drums, we need to transfer whatever we can into the pots inside the hut so that we can use it as drinking water and make room in the drums for when the heavens again decide to be gracious to us. Now go and assist your brother and remember no wastage”. “Yes father” she said again as she hurried off to the back of the hut where the make shift guttering fed into the drums.

By mid-morning they had finally finished. They had stopped midway for breakfast which consisted of fermented corn porridge and fried bean cakes. Their tiny hut had become smaller, literally over flowing with water and the remaining water had been securely stored outside the hut.

Now with the heavy lifting over Mossa’s mind wandered back to her slate. The smile of accomplishment left her face, she pulled herself up off of the bench on which she was sitting and with aching arms went in search of her slate dreading the moment she’d set eyes on it. She found it all alone by the stone on which she had been sitting the day before trying to figure out how to do ‘take-aways’, she could only remember the first one, nineteen take away five. The slate was completely washed clean on both sides and was still quite damp. Trying not to attract the attention of her father Mossa quietly went to put slate in the kitchen area hoping the residue heat would help to dry the slate. The area was still slightly warm from the cooking of the morning meal, but the flames wouldn’t be lit again until the evening. Lunch was a luxury that wasn’t enjoyed in Mossa’s household. If your stomach really began to turn very badly you were permitted to soak some gari (grated and fried cassava) in water and eat.

To the casual onlooker Mossa’s father appeared to be sleeping but very little escaped his eagle eyes. “Mossa!” He called out loudly as Mossa left the kitchen area; one of the birds flew to a higher branch. “Yes father” Mossa answered as she promptly arrived in front of him. “What were you doing over there?” He asked in a subdued voice. Mossa opened her mouth and attempted to speak but no words came out. “I can’t hear you” he said as he sat upright in the wooden chair stationed in front of the hut. Mossa clasped her hands behind her back in a bid to hide her trembling. She cleared her throat and again endeavoured to say something but she couldn’t imagine what she could have done to her voice it just refused to cooperate. With her chin pressing strongly against her chest she willed the ground to open and swallow her up. She decided to pray in her mind to the Almighty God to please this minute take her to the place where good people go when they die but she couldn’t think of any eloquent words to say. In frustration she could do nothing but stand trembling in the presence of her father only hoping that she would somehow be able to withstand his wrath. She stood there with her father’s eyes blazing at her for a good five minutes to Mossa it seemed like five hours. “What were you doing with your slate in the kitchen?” her father said sternly. She tried to lift her head and answer her father but it was an effort in futility, neither her head nor her voice cooperated. “Get out of my sight” her father seemed to growl, “I’ll deal with you later”.

Mossa went to sit on the tree trunk stump at the far edge of the yard. She knew that ‘later’ meant after supper just before prayers when whoever needed a dressing down got it in full force before the whole family. She bowed her head not even attempting to imagine the humiliation she would suffer and she’d probably get a punishment to boot as well. The minutes began to tick very very slowly.

Eventually supper was over, a kerosene lantern was burning near the door of the hut and the family was seated for the nightly prayers. The children and even Mossa’s mother were hoping for a brief outing as their beds / mattresses were calling them. Most of them had been up since the wee hours of the morning and it had been a long and tiring day.

“Who can tell me the most significant event of today?” Mossa’s father began. Mossa’s head dropped, the only thing she could think of was her slate that had been washed clean. “The rain” her brother ventured timidly. “Exactly” said their father with excitement in his voice. Mossa felt one of the many weights on her shoulders lift, maybe just maybe it wasn’t going to be as bad as she imagined. “The Almighty God indeed answered our prayers today and gave us an abundance of rain, blessed be the Almighty God!” their father exclaimed, “Amen” they chorused in unison. “Our God is gracious, He is magnificent, He is awesome, He is benevolent, He is the thrice holy God, He is the God that answers by fire, He is the God that answers by rain”, he continued, “amen, amen and amen” they responded.

Their father turned and looked at her, “Mossa” he said “what did you do today?” Mossa stood to her feet as was expected of her in such circumstances. As the family had praised God with joy and sincerity tensions had eased and the tangle on her tongue had unwound. Treading gently she said, “I am very, very sorry sir that I left my slate outside instead of packing it away neatly. The rain washed everything that was written on my slate away so I couldn’t complete my work and the slate itself is still damp”. “Mossa” their father called her name again, “yes father” she responded. “Today has been a beautiful day” he said, “the Lord has washed away all the dust, dryness and cracked ground with the rain, and it reminds us of how Jesus washed away our sins with His blood when He died at Calvary. Just like your slate was washed clean by the rain our hearts are washed clean by the blood of Jesus, when we receive Him (Jesus) as Lord and Saviour. You were naughty and disobedient to leave your slate outside when I had specifically instructed you not to. The rains were delayed for a while and maybe you were not expecting it to rain, you were not expecting the Almighty God to answer despite our earnest prayers each night” her father said as he looked at her sternly. Mossa drooped her head in despair at the mere thought of her, small, little Mossa, even contemplating doubting the Almighty God. She would never, ever do a thing like that she told herself with her head still bowed.

“As today is such a special day” their father continued, “and the soothing rain reminds us of the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, just this once I’m going to let Mossa off without any repercussions”. His words were definitely music in Mossa’s ears; in her nine years of existence she couldn’t remember anyone being allowed to go ‘scot free’ by her father. “I will not tolerate a repeat performance” said her father in finality. “I will always endeavour to keep my things neat, tidy and in their proper places” said Mossa as she could barely contain her joy at escaping all forms of punishment.    

But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have
fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from
all sin.
(1 John 1:7 New Living Translation)

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