"Boule" and Grenades

Over twenty years had passed since Richard's last visit to Africa. His life and work there had taken a solid place in the back of his memory but now rarely forced its way to the forefront. But the news came as a shock and forced some painful memories upon him. He had never talked to anyone about that day. The one time he had tried, his wife had shut him up. For her, it was too painful to relive. She just wanted to push it as far back as possible and keep it there. But now 20 years later his TV and computer screens were telling of the same warped terror. Rebels attacking, shells going off left right and centre, hand to hand fighting just a few hundred yards away. People fleeing, others pillaging the houses of the former. Chaos and disorder supreme.

But those weren't the only memories he had. There were unseen things which had marked him and made him what he was today. Uncertainty - what decision should he take? Stay or leave? He took it. It was the wrong one. Ever since decisions were weighed up so long, they were rarely taken. His wife was always nagging him about it. But she had been only too ready to remind him the one time he had taken the wrong decision.

She'd left him that day. It seemed the right thing to do at the time. Most expats were being evacuated and with an 11 month old son it was only normal that she should go. Richard knew he had to stay, so she went alone with their son. He agreed with her decision but the sense of abandonment never left him. She never returned and so just seventh months later Richard was forced to abandon his work at the dispensary and return to the home which had never been his, only to be greeted by 18 month old son who cried when he took him into his arms.

The next few years were disastrous. Nobody wanted a doctor who'd not worked in a proper hospital for years. And the feelings of abandonment and indecision played havoc on his marriage. But they'd made it through. They'd sought help and been given some good counsel, helping them to slowly rebuild. But the real reasons for their demise remained untouched. It was only now, reliving these events from far away, that Richard began to realise. And he had to talk. He had to get these things out.

His wife came in and crossed over to the desk where he sat, kissing him gently on the top of his head.

"Dinner's ready."

He followed her into the kitchen where he was greeted by his expectant family sitting on a mat around a steaming pot of sauce and an upturned calebasse.

Boule!!! It must have been months since they'd last had boule. So many wonderful memories of shared moments around the boule. Other more colourful memories of Africa, of shared stories and shared lives. Boule meant more than food. It meant conversation, sharing, giving of oneself to another. Richard knew now was the time to put to rest ghosts of the past.


If you're wondering about boule, it consists of a millet paste made with flour and water and quite thick in consistency. It is in itself tasteless, but together with the sauce it is excellent. It's a shared meal with everyone sitting on a mat on the floor, breaking off a piece of boule and dipping it in the sauce. Its the staple diet of most people where I lived for several years. It's name comes from the round form given it by the calebasse it's put into.

29 February 2008 at 09:44  

Fine bit of writing Paul...

small typo in the last sentence (now instead of know).

29 February 2008 at 10:20  

I really liked this. A good meal is always a great way to talk about anything.

29 February 2008 at 15:06  

Lovely post! Breaking bread, meeting round a table, comfort food, it always works doesn't it?

1 March 2008 at 10:51  

I appreciated this- it seemed like a page from a longer story. Well-written and heartfelt.

2 March 2008 at 05:38  

What a wonderful story. It was so engaging. Boule sounds so delightful. Is it the sauce spicy? What a great way to spend time with friends.

2 March 2008 at 21:43  

You are a truly talented writer. The symbolism of the last paragraph was so well chosen and a bit of surprise, even though foreshadowed in title.

3 March 2008 at 00:37  

i know i must be the last known person that never thought about this... but eating as a group out of a common bowl.. i have read and seen it so much lately,, and you know,, never before in my life was i exposed to this concept.. i am not sure if you eat boule like that,, as i will not even know what boule is till i google it... but i am drawn in by this intimate custom,, and feel it is an expression of intimacy... lovely post.....

3 March 2008 at 01:30  

lovely post! very well written

My time capsule

3 March 2008 at 21:14  

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