(Friends, it is a pleasure to be back. Hope you enjoyed the first two chapters. The novella is gradually winding down. Enjoy the food of love, and as always, be unsparing with your comments. Thanks for the feedback and do read chapters 1 and 2 if you have not. Only on our unbeatable NS).
They became an item. For the first time Uzor knew what it meant to really care about a woman. He had secretly thought it was only a matter of time before Joy took a walk. But as months went by she consolidated her position. Joy was not the typical Nigerian woman. She was honest and did not care a kobo about her man’s relative penury. She had a mind of her own and her mind told her that Uzor was the man for her, in spite of his shortcomings.
She made him buy pots and other utensils. With her money she went to Obalende market and stocked up. Soon Uzor became sure of regular nourishing home cooking. She made him change the frame of his glasses, and gently but persistently nudged him to become more aggressive about getting published. She taught him to squeeze out money from his income to buy a colour TV set and a presentable Empire carpet.
Uzor learnt and enjoyed a few basics about caring for a woman. He discovered he was not shy about occasionally accompanying Joy to the hair-stylist. He figured out her moods even when she did not say a word, something he never gave a damn about with Oby, his ex. He learnt to quarrel with Joy without descending to meanness, let alone violence. Soon Uzor’s neighbours began to refer to Joy as ‘Iyawo Uzor.’ All of them knew her as she spent almost all her weekends at his place.
‘‘Girl, when are we getting our aso-ebi?’’ Tiwa bantered one rare Saturday evening her friend stayed at home. Joy had earlier introduced her beau.
‘‘Simplify the grammar,’’ replied Joy as she flicked TV channels with the remote control.
Tiwa tapped her head playfully. ‘‘Which grammar? Bo, this Uzor business is overdue for formalization, legislation and ratification.’’
Joy whooped. Tiwa was such a clown.
‘‘Na wa! Come, have I ever asked what is holding Adebayo? Can’t he formalize and legislate? Or does he just like eating the food of elders without fulfilling the demands of custom and tradition?’’
Tiwa laughed at this reference to her fiancé. Then she sobered up. ‘‘You know that once his mum is discharged from the hospital we are home and dry.’’ She stylishly raised her hand to display her engagement ring. Joy fought down a stab of envy. There was no ring on her finger.
‘‘Uzor is a good guy,’’ said Tiwa sincerely. ‘‘Hold on to him.’’
Joy took a deep breath. Let out a heartfelt sigh.
‘‘Can I?’’ Her voice was solemn.
Tiwa knew the cause of her agitation. She switched off the TV and looked at her squarely.
‘‘Have you told him?’’
Joy fought back the emotions gripping her throat.
‘‘No,’’ she replied.
Silence spoke. Tiwa’s heart beat for the young woman she often called her sister from east of the River Niger. She knew why she had not told her man the ultimate truth.
‘‘Unless you guys aren’t in this thing for the long haul he has to know. The sooner the better,’’ Tiwa counselled mildly.
Joy’s agitated look gave way to quiet tears but her voice was steady.
‘‘Ti, see what the truth has cost me. I told Ben in our final year and he practically disappeared into the jungle. Eleven months ago I was on the verge of marriage with Odinaka and he called off the whole thing when I told him. Since then I kept away from men. Only God knows why no non-Igbo guy has won my heart. Tribal prejudice, maybe. Now, Uzor has taken over. Oh God.’’ Then her dam burst.
Tiwa held her reassuringly. Joy’s well concealed sorrow at this ultimate truth was rarely revealed to other people. Tiwa was one of the very few who saw her pain. She waited till Joy wiped her tears.
‘‘Stop snivelling,’’ she said in a gruff tone that hid her feelings. ‘‘Listen to me.’’
Joy’s eyes were spaniel-like as she listened to her friend as if she was an Ifa priestess.
‘‘There is no other way, Joy. If commitment is on the agenda he must know.’’ She paused. ‘‘Both of you are eating the food of elders.’’
Joy could not help smiling through her tears. Tiwa nodded emphatically.
‘‘What if the food multiplies into the food of the young, nko? And don’t tell me you are using protection. One hot night of input-output can change things.’’
‘‘Onye aara!’’ howled Joy, unable to hold back the words.
Tiwa was delighted at the return of her humour. ‘‘Beeni! Weere of the highest order! But it is the truth. Think about it.’’
Sudden, fire-hot anger seized Joy.
‘‘Damned, blazing, godforsaken, rotten, fucking culture! In this day and age!’’
Tiwa shrugged. ‘‘Ask the Indians. Theirs is worse,’’ she said.
Joy nodded, her blaze gone as quickly as it had raged.
‘‘I pray he is different. I am scared.’’ Her voice was small.
Tiwa hugged her. God will help you, she prayed silently.
Uzor made up his mind.
That Sunday night was like the last night of Noah’s Food. The tears of heaven uprooted houses. Joy had gone to her lover’s place on Saturday with the aim of returning home on Sunday afternoon. But the rain which began in the morning washed away her plan.
They were sitting on the mattress watching Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade Ekeinde strut their stuff in ‘Ije,’ one of the new era Nollywood movies that was more than a match for many big budget Hollywood offerings. Joy was engrossed in the film, unaware of Uzor’s apparent tune-out.
‘‘Switch off the telly. I want to tell you something important.’’
Joy looked at him. Knots began to form in her stomach. She obeyed.
‘‘Come closer,’’ Uzor said gently.
She folded her cloth more snugly around her and rested in his arms.
‘‘What is it?’’
Uzor took a deep breath. ‘‘Nne, I don’t have up to three hundred thousand naira in my account. My room is in a squatter’s den. I may be blocking you from solid good men. But I care a lot about you. I want to marry you.’’ There, it is all out, he thought with relief. Let her burst into derisive laughter.
But Joy did not laugh. There was no other sound in the room for an almost eternal minute. Even the patter of raindrops on the window sill dissolved into nothingness. The, to his shock, Uzor heard Joy sniffing, her head on his chest. He raised her face to his.
‘‘Joy, what is it? Did I say something wrong?’’
Joy could not answer. She felt like a fish being dragged out of the sea as a dainty, much-longed for morsel was dangled before it.
Uzor could never get used to grown female tears. On the few occasions he had quarrelled with Joy her tears had reduced his towering rage and hard words to a softness he did not know he possessed. Oby’s tears never removed his mean streak but they usually sent him out of the house. He kept on stroking her beautifully braided hair and asking her what was wrong. But he felt no qualms about the question he had popped.
Finally Joy quit snivelling. Her face became calm.
‘‘You long-eared man, do I care about the lack of Clement Isong in your pocket?’’ Her cheeky reference to the onetime Central Bank governor whose face was depicted on the one thousand naira note pleased Uzor; this was the Joy he was used to. Most likely his prayer was about to be answered.
‘‘Darling, I love you more than you can imagine. Just give me a little time to sort out my thoughts.’’
Uzor nodded. Not what he wanted but it would do for now. He was on the road to Jerusalem and the city gates would show up soon.
‘‘So why were you crying?’’
‘‘Thought you would never ask. Thought I was just…you know.’’ She shrugged coquettishly.
The heat that transmitted from her eyes to Uzor’s was too much for him. ‘‘What a thought. I will make you pay for it,’’ he threatened.
Before she could half-heartedly wriggle out, giggling, the cloth was gone. Her nipples involuntarily stood at attention as he got hold of them and gently pushed her back on the mattress. He was deep inside her, thrusting with all the passion he had, moaning as her ‘‘ahs’’ and ‘‘ohs’’ drowned out the sound of the rain. As his seed burst in her fresh tears rolled down her cheeks.
None of them had remembered a condom.