A Mother’s Challenge
Reginald Ofodile
Illustration of a woman on a street carrying a bag

A Mother’s Challenge

Reginald Ofodile

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  • Fiction
Narrated by





Three middle-aged women, obviously of slender means. They are meeting in the deprived lodgings of Modupe, one of the group. Adaku has pen and paper, and they draw up a list for their next catering job.

GOLI              Adaku, you say we should cook for those people?

ADAKU          They are ok.  They can pay well.  They’re rich.

GOLI              Rich?  You forget what we don suffer from rich people?

ADAKU          You’re still thinking of Mrs Kifeni?  

MODUPE       That one!  Said she wanted two hundred wraps of moi-moi.          How I worked, worked, as if it was my daughter Lola’s wedding I was preparing for.              

ADAKU          You and Goli worked.

MODUPE       Then Mrs Kifeni came.  (She mimics the woman’s disdainful               gestures as she picks up the moi-moi and speaks in very haughty tones).

‘Mm.  The texture.  Almost dripping.  You women, moi-moi is a fine art, you know.  The mixture has to be absolutely right.  The temperature has to be right… This is not right at all, and you’re asking for so much money.  I could have called any woman from Mpape and she would have made it for half the price.’

GOLI             Modupe!  She didn’t say it quite like that.

MODUPE      How did she say it?  But she’ll never forget me.

ADAKU         You know I’d gone to Kaduna that day.  What exactly did you say to her?

MODUPE      E mi ke?  (Mimes tying her sash firmly round her waist)  ‘Madam, you’re a rich woman, wife of a rich man, but all your money na yeye.  Your compound is full of jeeps, you always dey go overseas, and you see poor women, women who fit born you, wey dey struggle, and you dey haggle?  (Shows incredulous contempt) Moi-moi!  You can’t pay for common moi-moi. If you no pay every kobo, me and you go reach Aso Rock today.’

ADAKU         Modupe, you no dey hear.

MODUPE      Of course she paid.

ADAKU        But when we worked for Chief Mrs Yakubu…

GOLI            That woman, the Lord go bless her.

MODUPE      Amen o!  He go bless her, double and treble, again and again.

ADAKU         Chief Mrs Yakubu.  That is a truly rich woman.  A woman who gives to people who don’t have.  Just paid, gave us so much to take home.

MODUPE      You forget the money she added on top.  

GOLI              How can I forget?

ADAKU         You know, when I counted mine, I went to her, ‘Madam, you make mistake o! You gave me too much.’  She said, ‘No, just my gratitude for the excellent job you did.’

MODUPE      How can I forget that woman?  With that money she gave me, I bought my generator.  This face me I face you, everybody gen dey go for night, na me be only person wey no get gen.  When I bought it, my neighbours were looking at me as if to say, ‘who dash monkey banana?How could this wretched woman buy a gen?’  Now, when light goes and their gens dey go, my own dey go too.  Chief Mrs Yakubu…(She sways and raises a hand to the absent benefactor).

GOLI              (Businesslike, reverting to the job in hand)  Ok, ok, for this job. We’re cooking two sacks of rice.  Write the bags’ cost, Adaku. (ADAKU writes) Is it jollof?

ADAKU          They want jollof, they want fried, and they also want rice with sauce.  

GOLI              Na we go buy meat?

ADAKU          Yes. Fifty chickens. Old layers.  Two legs of cow.  Two goats.  (She writes some more).

MODUPE        Moi-moi nko?

ADAKU           Hundred and fifty.

MODUPE        Salad?

ADAKU           They say another person go make salad.

MODUPE        Nonsense.  They think we be local women wey no fit make salad. Wetin dey am?  No be vegetable, vegetable, nonsense raw food our people like because oyinbo people eat it?  

ADAKU           We’re buying the oil, onions, tomatoes, other vegetables, spices and magi-cubes.

MODUPE        And our workmanship?  (ADAKU is uncomfortable)  How much are they paying?

ADAKU           They said fifty thousand.

MODUPE        Fifty thousand?  How much do those women pay to eat at those big hotels?  How much do they pay for a pair of shoes?  Two hundred thousand.  No.  Mm mm.  If they can’t pay hundred thousand, forget it.

ADAKU             There’s an oyinbo saying…

MODUPE         (Impatiently)  What?

ADAKU           ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’

MODUPE         What bathwater?

ADAKU             Is half a loaf not better than no bread?  Is it better to beg and borrow?

GOLI                 Modupe, chill.  Chill.  She’s making sense.  It’s better than begging.  You have respect when you are not asking people for help.  Like my friend Dendi, always, ‘Please give me money to pay okada. Please, just hundred naira for keke.’  She’s become a thing of fun.

MODUPE         (Pause. She moves with difficulty)  These legs… pain.  My back, pain.  I’m getting old.  When will the struggle end?  From age fifteen, when I left school, forty years ago, cooking, cooking at the roadside, cooking in a school… will I be buried with my pots and pans?  (The women laugh).

GOLI                You know the saying.  If the blessing doesn’t come to you, it will come through your child.  Where’s your Christianity?  Nothing is impossible with our Lord.  

MODUPE          My sisters, o.  Let me have hope.  Let me have hope that it will all happen through Lola.

GOLI                 But where is she?

MODUPE          Went to Lagos last month.  Four years now since she left university.  No job.  So, her friend invited her to Lagos to try her luck.  

ADAKU              It will be well.  

MODUPE          Amen o.  See this room. If I don’t pay by end of this month, I’ll be sleeping in the street.  Landlord don give me last warning.

ADAKU             Eh he. And you were saying we shouldn’t do this new job?

MODUPE          This life. This life of widowhood and suffering.

ADAKU             Widowhood. Of course you’ll say I’m married.

GOLI                 But your husband is alive.

ADAKU             You call that life?  Five years since that stroke.  You see him, don’t you?  Can he do anything?  Just manages to move from bed to chair.  Sometimes, I come home, the place smell, smell, and I have to carry shit and urine.  

GOLI                  It’s ok. It’s ok.

ADAKU             I know we are Christians, but ... See my husband.  Very strong man, doing so well.  You didn’t know him when he was himself. When he dressed up and got into his car, you knew a man was moving.

Then suddenly, that stroke.  No warning.  A woman from his village told me his brother caused it.  Did some juju things.  His brother was always jealous of him, never wanted him to progress.  It must be true. That kind of strange illness, and doctors don’t know the cause.

GOLI                  Adaku, you’re a Christian.

ADAKU              I am a Christian, but there are forces in this world.  I can’t explain what happened to my husband. Now, how I suffer.  In those days, any money I made from any little business, was my money.  My husband provided everything for the house.  And now, the way my sons have been acting.  Those three boys.  Modupe, at least your daughter Lola took her studies seriously and went to university.  This term, my sons have been playing with their books.  I pay school fees, buy books, all with my sweat money, my sweat money.  They prefer to play football and roam about with their friends.  That brother of their father’s knows what spell he has put on my household to ruin me.

GOLI                 Now you’re not talking like a Christian.  You’re talking like someone without faith.  Think of women disabled, without hands or feet, or those sick and lying down for years, who can’t get up. Or eat, or do anything.  Let’s thank the Lord that we have the strength to struggle.  (She starts to clap and sing and the others join her).

Jesus is a winner man, Jesus is a winner man

Jesus is a winner man, a winner man all the time.

(They do this twice, then…)

He has done for me, he has done for me

He has done for me, he has done for me

What my Papa cannot do, he has done for me

What my Mama cannot do, he has done for me.  

(ADAKU and GOLI stand)

ADAKU          We’ll be going.  I’ll see Mrs Beho today, then phone you.  We’ll go to the market early on Friday, then start work.

MODUPE       Go well, my sisters and I’ll… (Persistent rattling of the door) Wait, who wants to break down a poor widow’s house?  (She exits).

ADAKU          You handled it well.  You’re wise o, this woman.

GOLI                Poor Modupe was feeling the pain.  Her body is hurting.

ADAKU           All our bodies are hurting.

GOLI               But we have a rock.  He teaches us in poverty as well as in riches.  In poverty, we build endurance.  We build faith.  Without faith, it is impossible to please Him…(From off comes surprisingly joyous singing by MODUPE).

MODUPE                  He has done for me, he has done for me.

          What my Papa cannot, he has done for me.  

(She lumbers in with two suitcases or the checked, plastic ‘Ghana must go’ bags.  She also clutches an envelope)

See, from Lola.  Somebody brought this from Lagos and… (Her phone rings.  It is a very basic phone)  Hello, hello… Lola.  How are you?  Yes. He just brought it.  This big man in the biggest jeep I’ve ever seen… Yes, I have the envelope… Ah, Lola, blessings, blessings, my daughter.  Bye bye.  (She opens her hands to her friends in delighted amazement. Then she opens the bags. One contains costly clothing items, the other expensive food items. ADAKU begins a song and they sing and dance in a circle).

My Lord give me children, give me money

My Lord give me children, give me money

Rather than deny me children, deny me money

Rather than deny me children, deny me money

When my child is grown, my wealth will increase

When my child is grown, my wealth will increase

Lord give me children, give me money.

(At the end, they hug one another)

ADAKU           We’ll be going.

MODUPE        Today, I must pray for forgiveness.  I failed the test of patience.  I was almost committing blasphemy… I’m just like the Israelites in the wilderness.  A trial came and they were: ‘Oh, we had bread to eat in Egypt.  Let’s return to Egypt.’  (Gesturing at the presents received and addressing GOLI and ADAKU) Once I go through these, I’ll send you parcels.  We suffer together, we must enjoy together.

ADAKU/GOLI    It is well.  

MODUPE         Adaku, the blessings will come to you.  Those boys who are giving you headaches will prove your pride.  You will see.  It will soon happen.

ADAKU            Amen o.  (She and GOLI leave.  Alone, MODUPE opens the packages and appraises the gifts.  She holds up fabrics and other items, exalts, jubilates.  Then she counts the money.  In rapture, she falls unto her knees).

MODUPE         My Lord, forgive me for my sin of impatience.  While I was shooting my mouth, all these were on their way to me from the airport, carried by that important, big man… I was beating myself for twenty thousand naira rent.  And here is hundred thousand… Rent all paid.  My slippers wey don tear, no more repairer.  I go buy new one – two self – body cream, everything.  Lord, thank you.  Thank you for Lola, thank… (She grows reflective, has discomfiting thoughts) Last week, Lola told me she was squatting at her friend Bisi’s.  She hadn’t found a job.  Yet today, she sends me all this through that man.  Says he is helping her… (Pause)  Lord, I don’t want to think bad thoughts of my own daughter, but …(Long pause)  Lord, how can I not be open before you?  Am I to enjoy money from my daughter’s prostitution?  The Lord forbid.  (Suddenly from outside come ADAKU’s ecstatic yells).

ADAKU         Modupe, you’re a spirit.  Modupe, you’re… Idi egwu!  I fear you.  (She bursts in, hugs MODUPE, dances, tries to lift her).

MODUPE       What?

ADAKU           You’re a spirit. You know what you told me just this afternoon, that my boys giving me headaches would prove my pride?  Just now, I got home, they received their results today.  All three boys, passed so well, all within top five in their classes, all moving to new classes next year.  It was ... So all the time I thought they were fooling about, they were studying.  Your prayer is powerful.  Now I start to fear you.  When you talk, I’ll listen.  (She dances off).

MODUPE        (Again surveys the presents from her daughter, then phones her). Lola?  Yes, it’s mum.  Lola, last week you said you had nothing… Let me finish…. This big man from Lagos, staying at Hilton, what is he to you?...  Wait.  Listen, I’m your mother.  (Quietly) The presents are from the big man.  I guessed.  What is he to you?... What are you giving him for what he’s bought me?… Don’t tell me I ask too many questions… You won’t tell me.  Ok, bye bye. (End of call.  She resumes her prayer). Lord, Lord, I should reject these… Be homeless, and start begging Adaku and Goli to squat me… I can go shoeless and wear rags and drink garri every day, but shelter I can’t do without… Lord, forgive me.  Please protect Lola from evil men.  When I see her, I’ll speak to her.  But these presents, although she sent them, they were sent by you Lord, to solve my problems.  How can I start looking for where to beg and borrow when you’ve already sent me all I need… (She shakes her head decisively, then sings in thanksgiving, gesturing upwards at heaven and the Almighty…)

You have done for me, you have done for me

What my Papa cannot do, you have done for me

What my Mama cannot do, you have done for me.


©R.C. Ofodile


Aso Rock - The seat of Nigeria’s federal government

Emi ke? - Yoruba question meaning ‘Me?’ or ‘I?’

Ghana must go - Check-patterned plastic bags popular with travelers

Idi egwu! - Igbo exclamation meaning ‘you are amazing’ or ‘you’re awesome!’

Keke - Popular, three-wheeled transport vehicle

Moi-moi - Steamed bean cakes  

Na yeye - It’s all a farce/hollow

Nko - Yoruba word meaning ‘what about?’ It usually has a subject.  

Oyinbo - Caucasian

Wetin dey am? - what’s in it?/It’s no big task/not at all taxing or complex

Who dash monkey banana? -  Allusion to an improbable possession or unlikely benefit

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Reginald Ofodile

Reginald Ofodile is a polymath. He is an award-winning poet, playwright, author, and editor whose short story collection, From Sin to Splendour, won the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA)/ Abubakar Gimba Prize for a short-story collection in 2016. His play Magnetism also won the ANA Drama Prize in 2017 He is an actor, and has appeared in several popular Films, most notably, in the 2013 film, Half of a Yellow Sun.

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