I sit, drumming my fingers on the steering wheel in tune with the random music playing on my car radio, as I wait for Nneamaka to come out with Nuella. We are going to drop the kids off at school, and she is uncharacteristically late.
Just then, she walks out of their gate really fast, all flustered and out of breath, sagging under the combined weight of Nuella, the child’s school bag, her hand bag and an exercise book.
I open the passenger seat door for her. She drops all her ngwongwo on the floor first, then, opens the back door to strap Nuella in with the car seatbelt. This is a method we devised so that Nuella won’t distract my driving. Then, Nneamaka enters the car beside me.
“I’m so, so sorry!” she gushes apologetically as I engage the gear and drive off. “I kept forgetting one thing after the other,” she says, strapping on her seatbelt.
“Welcome to my world,” I say, silently reassuring her that I am not upset with her tardiness. “Some days are just like that jaré! How was your night?”
“It was okay, my dear. Yours?”
“It was cool. So” – I flick her a glance as I navigate a turn on the road – “I thought about that rice and stew issue last night, and I came up with a solution.”
“Ehn? What is the solution?”
“Mix the rice and stew before packing it inside the flask. Because, think about it, if you pack jollof rice, how can Winifred separate them? So, mix the rice and stew very well before packing. That way, she won’t have a choice but to feed your baby what you want her to eat,” I finish with a smile, feeling like a genius.
“Wow!” Nneamaka says, and scrambles for Nuella’s school bag, before rummaging inside it.
“What are you looking for?” I ask.
“Ah! To mix the rice and stew now nah! No time!” she answers with a seriousness that makes me laugh.
She uncovers the small flask, and wielding a spoon, she proceeds to mix the content thoroughly, filling my car with the aroma of the meal.
“So” – she pauses mid-stir to glance at me – “what solution have you thought up about her eating the children’s food?”
“Oh! That. I was unable to think of something constructive to stop that. So, I’m settling on reporting her to the head teacher.”
“Hmmm,” Nneamaka hums, recovering the flask and reaching for a piece of tissue out of the box on my dashboard to wipe the spoon clean.
“Well, that, and prayers,” I say. “It’s only God that keeps children safe. It you want an absolutely safe environment for your kids, then, you’ll have to home-school them. Once they go out of our immediate line of vision, it is only God that can take care of them.”
“Hallelujah, sister!” Nneamaka hollers jokingly, with a slight wave of her hand to the heavens. “Should I say the closing prayers now?”
“Isi adiro gi mma!” I say, thumping her arm and laughing heartily.
Soon, we get to the school, and I maneuver my car into a spot just vacated by another vehicle, and park. We unstrap the kids and join the throng of parents, dropping off their wards.
“O gini kwa?” Nneamaka exclaims under her breath.
I look at her face, and then, follow her gaze to see Winifred briskly walking toward us.
“Uh-oh!” I mutter. “Let’s keep walking. She might be going to another place.”
Winifred keeps walking toward us, her stride purposeful, her eyes firmly fixed on us. When she gets closer, we stop on impulse.
“Good morning, ma,” she directs at Nneamaka, then at me.
We mumble our response, still a bit surprised.
“Ma,” she begins, facing Nneamaka now. “I’m very sorry about what happened yesterday.” She divides two looks between Nneamaka and I – apologetic for Nneamaka, and pleading for me.
“How did you know the food was peppery?” Nneamaka fires without preamble.
“I did not know for sure… Ella was doing” – she makes an inhalation sound with her mouth, drawing two sharp breaths in through her lips – “So I thought it was pepper that was the cause.”
“Did you not notice she does that even when she is eating cereals?” Nneamaka asks, warming up to her belligerence. “She does that every time she is eating! Please, whatever I pack for my baby, give it to her like that.”
“Yes, ma,” Winifred answers promptly. “I am very sorry, ma.”
“It’s ok,” Nneamaka returns in a calmer tone. The other woman’s apparent remorse appears to have punctured the wind out of her angry sail.
“So, you don’t taste the children’s food?” I pipe up.
“Ah! No, ma! I don’t!” Winifred bursts out in vehement denial.
“Ok!” I say, thinking of the permanent solution that I’d already devised, and smiling.
We hand our children over to her, and continue to the school room, where the head teacher receives us warmly, enquiring about Nuella’s feeding and our overall health.
As we walk back to the car, Nneamaka starts laughing.
“Now what?” I ask.
“That girl is smart!” she says.
“Of course! See how she came to apologize as if she is a good girl. It’s because the head teacher is around, and she figured I might report her.”
“Ooohhh!” I say, chuckling. “And here I am, hailing her in my heart for being a good person.”
“Good person, my foot!” Nneamaka counters. “If you see the way she talked back at me yesterday ehn! If she were my younger sister, akaram ama ya aka nti!”
“Are you serious?” I say. “Well, the fear of losing your job is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Abi oh, my sister,” she concurs.
“Where are you going to from here?” I ask.
“To NIHOTOUR,” she answers, then, as though she has remembered something, she continues, “Ehen! About your party…my book is in your car, let’s go back there.”
We walk back to the car and get in. She opens the exercise book she was clutching earlier and starts to speak. “Small chops include puff-puff, spring rolls, samosa, gizzard, fried chicken and beef, etcetera. So, you’ll pick the ones you want to be in a pack.”
“Pack? No! I did not plan the pack-thing. I was thinking, you’ll make the small chops, line them in a tray with tooth picks, so that people will take them from the tray like that.”
“Ok. That will be good too.”
“So, I will take spring rolls, samosa and peppered gizzard, since we’ll use chicken to cook the rice.”
“What will it cost?”
“Well, since you’re my person, I decided to just give you the list of required ingredients. You’ll buy them. Then, we’ll prepare them together in your house.” She is scribbling as she speaks, on a fresh page in the exercise book. Then she mutters, “You’re not using my gas free of charge joor!”
“Huh? You’re such an akpika!” I say with a laugh.
“What’s that? What’s akpika?” she asks, looking up briefly from what she is writing.
“It means stingy, as in, onye na-akpi akpikpi. That’s how my brother-in-law refers to a stingy person.”
“Ooohhh!” she exclaims, laughing.
“But that’s so nice of you!” I gush. “I’m so grateful. The cake nko?” I ask, pushing my luck.
“Wetin do the cake?” she asks, furrowing her brows. “Who is the akpika now?”
“Ah! I say make I ask nau!” I say, laughing. “The promo is over already?”
“It’s over biko!” Nneamaka says, laughing along.
“So, how much for the cake?” I ask.
“Four thousand for 8-inch and six thousand for 10-inch,” she replies.
“Which one is better? Which one should I take?”
“I don’t know! Anyone you prefer…” She stops, and then says, “In fact, take the 10-inch.”
“OK. The 10-inch it is,” I declare. “I want it to be something simple. Write ‘Happy birthday, sweetheart’ on it.”
“No wahala,” she says, still scribbling in her book.
“I’m actually planning this with a friend, she too might order cake. I’ll convince her to order from you.”
“Al—right!” Nneamaka draws out, tearing out the page of the book she has been writing on. “This is the list of the required ingredients… What date is the birthday sef?”
“Sunday,” I reply. “Upper Sunday, that is, after this Sunday, the next one…”
“OK. Buy your stuff on Saturday morning, so that in the evening, we will make the small chops. Then, on Sunday afternoon, we will make the rice, so that it’ll still be fresh by evening.”
“Afternoon? Hope we will finish way before time o,” I protest with a smile, “because I have to take time and rub my make-up o!”
“O sooso make-up bu mkpa gi? This woman will not kill me!” Nneamaka laughs with a shake of her head. “Don’t worry, we will finish. We will boil and fry the meat on Saturday sha, then cut up the vegetables too and refrigerate.”
“Ok. Thanks a lot!” I say, folding up the piece of paper she handed to me and sticking it into the pigeon hole.
“Let me be going. Twenty minutes more, and I’ll be late,” she says.
“Maybe I should drop you off,” I offer out of courtesy, hoping she’ll decline.
“Mba. Let me take bike. It’ll be faster that way,” She opens the car door as she speaks.
“Ok then. Be safe,” I call out, starting the car as she jams the door shut.
“No oooooone… Can get in the way of what I feeeel…” I croon, imagining myself on stage, using the handle-end of the mop stick as a standing microphone for the two seconds it took to sing that line. I continue with my chore – cleaning the floors. I’ve cleaned out the master bedroom, Gabby’s room and the corridor. I am cleaning the sitting room now, ear buds plugged into my ear, and singing along to the lines of the music that I know.
I still have to cook today, but it seems as though I’ll leave that for tomorrow, otherwise, I’ll be super bored. I mentally check the freezer. There’s stew… I could boil rice for dinner… There’s pepper sauce… Or I could roast yams and plantains. I think that’s what I’ll do. It’s been a while I prepared roasted yam and plantain.
I continue my chore, moving my body a little to the beat of the music resounding in my ears. Then, I catch a movement with my peripheral vision. I turn sharply to see Ifeanyi pointing his phone at me and laughing, with devilry sparkling in his eyes.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” I scream, dropping the mop and lunging for his phone.
He darts away from me. Laughingly, he responds, “I was just videoing your American-Idol-worthy, off-key rendition.”
I give up the chase, and go back to my cleaning. “Nke ahu gbasara gi,” I mumble with a smile, before saying, “Who will you show it to?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll see,” he says, playing back what he recorded. My hideous voice fills the room, making us laugh hysterically
“Come, this man,” I say, wagging a warning finger at him, “better delete that thing o! I know I don’t have nice singing voice, but not this bad nau! I’m sure you edited it to sound worse!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll delete it,” he soothes, plopping down on one of the sofa in the area that I had already cleaned.
“I did not know you were around o,” I say. “You did not go out today?”
“I haven’t o. I’ll still go out anyway.”
“That’s ok.” I resume mopping the floor.
“Ehen! I want you to advise me on something,” he suddenly says in a loud I-just-remembered-something voice. “Hold on…” He gets to his feet and hurries out of the living room. I hear the door of his bedroom jerked open, and seconds later, it is shut, before he returns to the living room and sits back on the sofa.
I stand where I am, looking at him expectantly.
“Ok. I’ll go straight to the point,” he says, before revealing in his hand a small square velvet box which he places on the center table.
“Is that what I think it is?” I ask, my eyes going round with surprise.
He snaps open the box, and I give a small gasp when I set my eyes on the sparkling piece of jewelry nestled inside. It is a gold band, centered with a small setting of stones which sparkled softly in the morning light. My hands drop the mop stick and flutter upwards, one to my chest and the other to my mouth as I gape at the understated beauty of the ring.
Observing my reaction, Ifeanyi says, “If what you thought was that it’s an engagement ring, then, yes. It is what you think it is.”
Ngwongwo – Slang for ‘Everything’
Isi adiro gi mma – Your head is not right.
O gini kwa? – What is it now?
Akaram ama ya aka nti – I would have slapped her.
O sooso make-up bu mkpa gi? – Is it only make-up that is your problem?
Nke ahu gbasara gi – That is your concern.
Written by Adaku J.