♦ Episode 1: Love at first serving
The basin toppled to the hard concrete floor with a clank; and pink, enthusing grains of groundnuts rolled; rushing off into the gutters and crevices. Onya sighed exasperatedly, looking down at the basin as it lay motionless on its side.
“I’m so sorry,” a husky voice said.
Shebent to salvage what she could and seeing that it was no good poured the remaining contents out. Her hands shook, thoughts of breaking the empty basin on the stranger’s head flooded her mind.
“I said I’m sorry,” he said again.
She glared at him and was a bit surprised at the sudden childishness of his voice. The man looked young, probably mid-twenties, and carried himself with the casual disposition of the rich.
“Sorry for yourself. Are you blind? Or you could not see past your baggy agbada?”
“Calm down. It was a mistake. How much?” he asked.
“Oga, please leave me. Your money can’t help me,” she spat back.
“I’m serious. It was a mistake and paying won’t be any trouble.”
“Unless you have harvested groundnuts this week, there’s nothing you can do.”
“As a matter of fact, I have.” His eyes brightened. “At least my father has,” he added.
“Let me give you my address.” she looked uncertain, slightly amused at the way he beat and squeeze the pockets of his over-starched agbada. He found a fancy fountain pen, tore a sheet from a notepad and handed it to her. She scribbled her home address and gave him.
“Thank you,” he said, obviously relieved. His eyes sparkled with triumph and he stared at her like he was seeing her for the first time. Her large eyes caught him and he dropped his gaze.
“Consider yourself paid for all damages. You have my word.”
“Sure, because a man’s word is such a weighty thing.”
He laughed with the ease of an infant, shook his head and adjusted the cap on his head.
“Arrest me then.” He raised both hands in mockery and maybe it was because of how the agbada hung on him like a casing or the fact that he stretched his heels to tower over her, Onya covered her face and laughed heartily.
“You’re a funny one,” she said.
“I’ll send your groundnuts, Okay?”
They engaged in a staring contest for a few seconds and she lost, because she was memorizing his features, the smoothness of his skin, like clay, the length of his nose, too symmetrical, his eyes, almost translucent, his lips, finely shaped, like moon crescents. Memorizing his features in the event that he did not fulfill his promise, she reminded herself.
“No problem. It shall be done,” he said, snapping her out of her reverie.
“Mmm, whatever you say.” She tucked the basin under her arm and hastily walked away.
“Wait!” She heard his agbada swish as he ran lightly after her.
“What now?” She turned to ask.
“I’m hungry.” He panted. “Any recommendations?”
She looked bewildered. “I don’t understand, have I somehow progressed from an accident victim to a food consultant?”
“Accident victims are in hospitals, this was really just a minor incident, so please, food?”
A light bulb lit in Onya’s head. She could take him to her mother’s restaurant and overcharge him. It will be an indirect payment of sorts.
“Follow me,” she said. “I know a place.”
“MAMA’S FOOD IS READY” was an oasis that brought individuals from all works of life to share one common goal: Quench Hunger. The customers mostly comprised of men, male bankers, street hustlers, G-boys, bus drivers and the occasional woman. Bones being crushed, requests for second servings and wraps of swallow smoothly washed down with sachet water blended together to create a pleasant cacophony in the busy restaurant. She ushered him into the crowded hall and found him a seat in a corner, relishing the fact that the little money they’ll make of him will serve as a lesson to his royal richness.
“What will you have?”
“I’ll speak to a waitress,” he answered tersely.
Onya gave him a smug, mischievous smile, “I work here.”
“Oh really?” He asked.
“Yes, what will you eat?”
“For swallow, we have Eba, Pounded Yam and Semo. For soup, Egusi, Ogbono and Pepper Soup. We also have Jollof rice, white rice and salad.” She stopped to breathe.
“Wow,” He said, clearly impressed. “What will I have… is that all?” He asked, ogling her, “Any specials? For the generous customers of course…”
“Well, we’d have groundnut soup if a certain obnoxious individual hadn’t single-handedly ruled that out of the menu.”
“You speak well for a waitress.”
“You mean I speak well for a girl of humble background, save me your petty compliments and make your order.” She said impatiently.
“And just so you know, my mother owns the restaurant.” she added. “Cat got your tongue?”
“Oh no.” He paused. “What do you like eating?”
Onya took a little while before she was sure that he wasn’t teasing. “Ogbono and Semo.”
“Okay,” he said almost quietly. “I’ll eat that.”
“How much?” she asked.
“Just give me exactly what you would have.”
She nodded and went to the kitchen. Her mother was sitting on a low stool in front of a large native pot, bathed in sweat, dark splotches decorated the under arms of her floral blouse.
“Onya,” She looked up at her, gently pushing pieces of wood into the fire.
“Mama, well done,” Onya said. “There’s a customer who wants Ogbono and Semo.”
“Okay. Where is the groundnut? This has been boiling since, waiting for you,” she pointed at the blackened native pot.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Onya bit her lower lip. “The basin just fell off my head on the way to the grinding place. Somebody pushed me,” her whole body stood still, waiting for her mother’s reaction.
“Onya! What were you thinking? I have told you about this absent mindedness of yours, walking the streets carelessly, daydreaming.”
“I’m sorry, Mama, The man promised to pay me,” Onya said quietly.
“It’s alright. As long as you’re okay.” She continued to stir the pot and held her chest to cough.
“Go and give food to the customer. I don’t want anybody running away today,” she said lightly.
As much as the handsome stranger annoyed her, Onya found herself selecting large pieces of meat for him, “to scam him” she thought. She watched him eat. He ate slowly at first, like a child with its first solid. It was almost adorable, the way he struggled with the sleeves of his agbada, until he got ravenous, crunching bone after bone and finishing with several gulps of water. He asked for the bill and Onya thought, “To dupe or not to dupe” and shaking her head at the fragile nature of her conscience, gave him the correct bill.
“Keep the change,” he said, taking a deep, satisfied breath.
“I hope you don’t think this will make me forget the earlier incident,” she remarked casually.
His glassy eyes looked at her and she stared back, transfixed, completely carried away by their clarity.
“Ah, that is your street sense talking. I am not that kind of man. I already gave you my word.”
“Just like that? I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Faisal.” He said, stretching his hand to shake hers’. “What’s yours?”
She hesitated, looking at him with a bit of scepticism before taking his hand.
…to be continued
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