I succeeded in preparing for the party without my husband knowing what was going on. I mean, he almost caught me at first, but I told him that Nneamaka was teaching me how to prepare some snacks, and that she will be coming over after service to teach me a new style of making fried rice.
And then Ifeanyi had to open his big mouth.
“Ada, shey I can invite Leticia for the party?” he asks.
It is Sunday morning, and we are all in the sitting room, about to leave for church. Gabby is in my arms and I am about to open the front door.
I turn sharply to be sure my husband did not hear the question, but he did.
“Which party?” he asks, the confusion on his face complete.
“Ah! You don’t know?” Ifeanyi barrels on, oblivious, or ignoring my signal to shush. “Your birthday party now! Is today not your birthday?”
“Yeah, by all means, tell him about the party,” I snap, feeling a bubble of annoyance inside me. “It was only meant to be a surprise.” And I turn and storm out of the room.
“I am sorry now!” Ifeanyi wheedles from the back of the car, as we drive to church. My husband is driving. I am seated at the passenger’s side while Gabby and Ifeanyi are seated behind, with Gabby strapped to his booster seat. “I did not know it was a surprise. I thought he already knew…” he explains for the umpteenth time.
I stare on at the windscreen, my face set in very straight lines.
“Sweetie, please, forgive him,” my husband chips in.
“Ok!” I grumble. “I have heard.”
“I can still act surprised, if you want me to,” my husband says again, turning his face to me and wriggling his brows.
“Go joor!” I say, laughing out loud. “Don’t act anything, biko.”
“So, can she come?” Ifeanyi says from behind.
“Who?” My husband and I ask in unison.
“Leticia… Can I invite her?”
Can you just imagine, I begin to fume silently. All this one is concerned about is inviting that his blasted girlfriend to come and sour the party whose surprise he has already ruined, ehn? I am of the mind to say no, but realizing how petulant that will make me seem, I respond tartly, “Yes, you can. As long as she respects herself, no problem.”
“You really don’t like that lady, do you?” my husband observes.
“Well, news flash!” I say, rolling my eyes.
My phone rings while I am scooping the fried chicken from the frying oil into a paper towel-lined tray. I pause to look at my phone screen. It is Ijeoma.
“Hello?” I say uncertainly when I answer the call. I’d earlier called her to invite her and her husband for my husband’s party, but she did not pick up my call. So, I sent her a text message. She never acknowledged the text either. So, I am a bit wary, as I do not know if she is calling to annoy me.
“Ada, kee ka i mere?” she bursts out from the other end, sounding cheery.
“Adim mma, nne, ginwa kwanu?” I enthuse, relaxing a bit.
“I’m ok. I saw your text message. Don’t mind me. I kept saying I’ll respond, but it kept escaping my memory.”
“Oh! Mummy brain,” I say.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“Something I read on the internet. They say it happens to pregnant women and new mothers. Makes you forget stuff,” I explain, excusing her failure to respond to my text.
“I see. Maybe that is what I’m suffering from. It’s worse now that I have few weeks to go.”
“It is well, my dear. So, are you guys coming?”
“Yes, we are. Actually, we are about to leave the house. Make we gist small now, before the party starts,” she says boisterously.
“Ok, I’m waiting,” I say, uncertain if I should be happy that she wants to see me, or scoff that she wants to see me after ignoring for more than a month now.
“Alright, see you in a bit.” And she clicks off.
Finally, we are done arranging the cake, the small chops and the fried meat. The remaining space on the dining table is meant for the rice, which is still cooking. Nneamaka, Chinwe and I are conversing and laughing in the kitchen, while we wait for the rice to cook.
Just then, the kitchen door is pulled slightly open and Ijeoma looks in, causing Chinwe to shriek in greeting, moving towards her to hug her.
“See this agadi nwanyi o!” Chinwe exclaims, giving her an appreciative once-over. “You look good!”
I come close and hug her as well, before making the introductions. “Ijee, meet Nneamaka, my friend and my neighbor, she lives in the next compound. Nne, meet my friend, Ijeoma.”
Nneamaka, rooted to where she has been standing, says “Hi!” with a smile. Ijeoma simply waves her acknowledgement at her. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Ijeoma says, “Seems the kitchen is already crowded, so, I’ll just go the parlour and sit.”
“It’s not even okay for you to be here,” Chinwe says, leading her out. “We’re almost done here anyway.”
Nneamaka then turns to open the pot of rice, before declaring, “It’s time for the vegetables.”
I set down the very huge and long-ish transparent dish I got as a wedding gift – which is now filled with fried rice – on the dining table, moving the tray laden with fried chicken a bit to make adequate room for the dish. I look towards the parlour at Chinwe and Ijeoma who are engaged in a discussion while looking at something on a phone screen.
“Nne, we’re all set o,” I say when I get back into the kitchen. She had cleared the kitchen counter and was washing up. “Ah! Leave those things, biko,” I protest. “Go and prepare for the party.”
“No, let me just wash them now, because more plates will pile up after the party. At least, let’s make space for those ones.”
“Ok. Thank you very much,” I say, for what is probably the umpteenth time since yesterday.
“You’re welcome,” she replies. “I had fun, really. I love cooking.” A smile stretches slowly across her face.
“Ok now. I might not say that I love cooking sha. I don’t mind it, that’s all,” I say, making small talk while waiting for her to finish up. I remove the plates from the rack where we left them to drain water, and proceed to wipe them clean, one by one.
“Whenever I am sad or stressed, I just keep cooking,” Nneamaka says. “In fact, any time the freezer is filled with covered plastic plates, my husband will know I’m worried about something.”
“Imagine! Please, when next are you going to be sad or stressed or worried?” I ask, causing the two of us to break out in laughter.
“If you want me to cook for you, tell me. Inukwa when next will I be sad,” she says, chuckling and shaking her head.
“Mba nu, if you cook for me when you’re sad, then you’ll be the one to say ‘Thank you’ when I collect the food. Because I am relieving you of a burden, and freeing your plastic plates for more cooking,” I quip, still laughing.
“Chai! You no be am o!”
Finally, we are done with the chore.
“I’ll pass through the back,” Nneamaka says. “I can’t walk past the guests looking like this.” She makes a small hand-sweeping gesture over her slightly-disheveled appearance.
I nod in acquiescence and lock the kitchen door after she has gone past it. Then, walking through the second kitchen door, the one that goes straight to the passage, in order to circumvent the living room area and the sight of my guests, I go to the bedroom to dress up and rouse my sleeping husband for the party.
It is some several minutes before we finally emerge into the parlour, beaming and looking well-put-together, to cheers and cries of ‘Happy Birthday!’
“I can see that I have been replaced in a hurry,” Ijeoma says to me.
I am rinsing a glass cup for a guest, while she is leaning her behind against the kitchen counter, rubbing her expansive midriff.
“Replaced, how?” I ask, even though I know exactly what she means. She is not pleased with my friendship with Nneamaka. She has been trying to mask her displeasure during the course of the party, but I can read her like a book.
“Your little caterer friend… You’re more attentive to her than to me,” she sulks.
“Wait! You’re jealous!” I screech. “Ijeoma is jealous o!” I laugh.
“No joor –” she starts to say.
“Hello!” a voice interrupts her.
We both turn to see Leticia enter the kitchen.
“Yes? Do you need anything?” I ask, feeling instantly riled. The spontaneity of my reaction to the woman’s presence has made me realize that I can never be friends with her.
“No, not really. Is there anything I can do to help?” she says.
“No,” I answer curtly, before turning my attention back to Ijeoma. And then, remembering the glass cup in my hand, I turn back to her. “Or… you can help me give this glass to Mr. Ogbodo. You know him, abi? The man that his talk turned to preaching…” I place the glass cup inside a small tray and hold it out to her.
She stands there, refusing to take it.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” I say sneeringly, before pointing to the door. “Please, get out.”
In response, she gives a mirthless laugh, clapping her hands along with the sound. “I know you are scared of me.”
“You wish,” I scoff, too annoyed to roll my eyes at her remark.
“Don’t worry,” she continues, her face a mask of disdain, “when Anyi and I get married, we won’t be staying here with you. In fact, we will be leaving the shores of this country. God knows I can’t stand you too. But just take it as a gift from me. I mean this whole house” – she gestures around the kitchen – “and this fabulous kitchen.”
I give my own mirthless laugh. “If,” I say, dropping a heavy stress on the word, “if you ever get married to Anyi, my dear, not when. Let me advise you, you this mannerless pig, if I were you, I wouldn’t make me an enemy. But of course, you’re senseless too. Now, please, get out of my kitchen!” I almost scream, pointing at the door again, this time, walking toward her as if I am going to shove her out.
Recognizing my intent, she backs away from me, turns and walks out of the kitchen.
“Can you imagine this girl?” I seethe, turning to Ijeoma.
“Who is she?” she asks, making the fact that we have lost so much touch due to our disagreement painfully obvious.
“She’s the woman my brother-in-law was going to marry o…” I start to say.
“Was going to marry?” Ijeoma interjects.
“Yes, ‘was going to marry’. It’s a long story. The idiot does not even know that all it takes is one word from me, and her eyes will not even see that ring, not to talk of her fingers wearing it!” I hiss, before saying, “Let me go and give this man this glass cup. I’m coming.” And I pull open the door, in time to see Leticia scurrying away from the doorway.
The little bitch had been eavesdropping!
Kee ka i mere – How do you do
Adim mma, nne, ginwa kwanu – I’m fine, dear. How about you?
Written by Adaku J.