The suds knew everything.
At least, that’s what She told us. They drew rumours far from the outskirts of town and mixed them all into one giant basin. Her giant basin. Little wonder that She could always tell when Omah and his wife had been fighting again, or the exact moment the bus driver arrived home the night before from his two-day trip to Isale-Eko. We no longer questioned Her knowledge of the charms tucked under the Chief’s pillow, or how She’d known about the new-born that Bolaji clandestinely dropped down the well. The suds knew all and told all and She never shied from relaying the information to us.
This arrangement was routine. The Washing, we called it. We coloured it a chore, so our parents would not suspect that we were up to nothing and put us to actual work. The Washing was not actual work. Far from that. Under the guise of helping the poor widow who made a living selling food from her ramshackle excuse of a canteen, it was the gathering of many to hear whatever the suds had to say. And the suds had the world to say. Her canteen was a seductive little thing, whispering promises of good local food to travellers who had had their fill of the pretentious delicacies the urban life offered. It was a convenient spot, teetering on the outskirts of the village. A sanctuary to the sojourner and a goldmine to the city dweller. But we children (about five of us) knew it was more than that.
You must know that gathering information is a delicate matter. Eavesdropping is an art only the best of spies could perfect. It is for this reason that She carefully selected soldiers; informants who would march into the battlefield, ears to the ground and march home pregnant with news. Her spoons were the best gatherers. Wide, open and hardened by years of use, they were made just for the job. Wedged firmly in a man’s palm, they could tell if the jittery tremor following every bite was a tell-tale sign of old age or nicotine withdrawal. Brought to a man’s lips, they could show you the beginnings of an alcohol addiction or the end of one. We children always tried our best to be soldiers. We would run about the dusty clearing surrounding the canteen, carrying food to the hungry customers and carrying empty crockery back to the basin in the hopes of catching a sly comment here or hushed conversation there. Unfortunately, we could never gather as well as the spoons. Human beings, it turned out, were always so careful around other human beings, but had little regard for the inanimate. Our futile attempts at espionage became something of a ritual. A quid pro quo of sorts. The basin became a god, and we would offer sacrifices of dirty plates and used cups for the secrets it held in its belly. We knew, however, that the basin, important as it was, was a mere container. The secret was in the suds.
On days when we assembled, She would gather us round Her stool, one arm stirring the foam, sloshing back and forth as though She were searching for something. Searching for the next secret to tell our young, impressionable and expectant ears. Last month, the suds revealed that Baba Seriki had just sold a portion of his farm to the neighbours. These were hard times for him, and She could tell from the meagre amount of soap needed to wash off his plate. The month before that, we learnt that Iyabo (the old woman with the bad back) was meddling with rituals again. She had poured out a portion of her food as libation to whatever deity she was currently in covenant with. There was much to be learnt at each Washing. We began to thrive on other’s secrets, but She always warned that the suds told all. They spared no person, and, as time went on, we understood the gravity of secrets. They were chains. Alone, they could pass off as little trinkets, ornaments we carried on our wrists and pinkie fingers. But as they piled on, they wrapped around our ankles and hung on our necks. They aged our infantile minds and we became ghosts, carrying the secrets of the entire village around our necks. They dragged behind us like a ball and chain, reminders of the warning She always gave: secrets are bubbles, fragile and floating. They travel far and burst at the slightest provocation.