In less than 40 minutes, the SUV had pulled into an impressive, but modest two-storey house on Okpannam road. Her uncle, Chief Alozie was not at home when they got back, but her cousins, Amaka and Chikodi were.
With just two years between them, they could pass for twins. They looked so alike, but they were very different.
Amaka, the 17-year old was tall, skinny with a figure that resembled a coke bottle. She was in SS2, and was the more daring of the two. Chikodi was 15 years old, and was in SS1. She was almost as tall as Amaka, but not as shapely. She had more of a boyish figure with smaller hips. She was more laid back, and not as adventurous as her sister, but hers was usually the voice of reason.
Both girls had inherited their mother’s beauty, but not her grace, evidenced by the noticeable clumsiness in their steps. Graceful or not, both girls were excited to see their cousin, Nene, and nearly fell over each other trying to hug her.
“Nene, Nene! We have missed you o! Welcome! Let me carry your bag.” That was Chikodi speaking for both of them. Amaka was busy rummaging through her purse to see what Nene could dash her, like she said jokingly. Finding nothing she particularly liked, she handed Nene’s purse back to her and told her to be ready to give them gist from Lagos.
“Haba! Won’t you let her rest?” their mother scolded. “And why are you calling her by her name? Does she look like your mate? You should be calling her ‘Sister Nene.’ “
“Ah, no Auntie. That won’t be necessary. That will make me feel really old,” Nene said laughing.
“Okay then. At least I tried. Okay girls, I hope you’ve set the table. We need to eat.”
The girls had not set the table. They had planned to dump it on Rita, the house girl, but their plan backfired. So, they were forced to set the table themselves and did it rather quickly. In no time at all, they were all downing copious amounts of ofe nsala with pounded yam. The soup was so good that Nene asked her Auntie if she could eat the same thing for dinner.
“My dear, doesn’t your mother cook ofe nsala for you people at home?” Auntie Dubem asked in wonder. “She is from Asaba. She should know how to cook it.”
“Auntie, she does. But your own tastes very different from my mother’s own. I don’t think my husband would complain if I cooked two different types of ofe nsala for him. I want to learn how you make it too.”
Auntie Dubem laughed. “It’s okay. I will teach you. As long as it’s not ogbono soup sha,” she said.
“Oh, don’t worry, Auntie. Mummy makes ogbono soup all the time at home. But ofe nsala is far superior.”
“Ehn! You people eat ogbono soup?” Auntie asked incredulously. “But your parents know that it is a taboo for Asaba people to eat ogbono? Or didn’t they tell you the story?”
“Auntie, they told me and Kamsi. But my mother cooks it anyway. Like Papa says, “Jesus paid it all.” We are no longer bound by that covenant.”
Auntie Dubem stared at Nene for one whole minute without saying a word, and then left her. As she walked away, Nene could hear her muttering to herself:
“No wonder her boyfriend left her. When she eats ogbono soup. Tufia!”
Nene did not know whether to be upset or let it go. She decided that she had shed enough Paul-related tears for one day. Auntie Dubem was entitled to her opinion. She knew that it was Boluke, not ogbono that had snatched Paul away from her. Besides, the pounded yam was working its magic, and combined with the fatigue of her journey, she fell asleep in Chikodi’s bed.
When she woke up, it was almost midnight. The whole house was quiet and Nene surmised that everyone was asleep. Needing a little snack, she tip-toed downstairs and made herself some bread and butter and a cup of tea. As she dropped two cubes of sugar into her cup of tea, she remembered how Boluke preferred to mix the powdered milk and milo together in a cup and munch it.
“How was this girl my friend, again? We were so different,” Nene wondered. The thought of eating Boluke’s milk and milo concoction was so off-putting that she hastily downed some of the hot beverage to wash away that memory.
As if …
Oddly enough, Boluke was everything Nene was not, which was partly why Paul had gone with her instead. But, Nene could not understand what Paul saw in Boluke. They were complete opposites alright: Boluke was the spontaneous, adventurous, disorganized, walking human experiment, who was obsessed with trying out different hairstyles almost every week. Her hairline told the story. Too many Ghana-weaving-like hairstyles had taken their toll on her hair, leaving her with a chop-chop hairline that was hard to miss. And yet, with her chop-chop hair, Paul had picked her, and told Nene that she, Nene, was boring.
So for five years he had endured boring Nene, and had hopped on the Boluke train at the slightest opportunity?
“Men are so fickle, and Paul is the most fickle of them all,” Nene thought to herself. It was best to forget him.
“Well, so much for forgetting Paul … and Boluke. Every little thing seems to stir up memories of them in my mind.”
That night, Nene decided that she would do everything possible to start afresh in Asaba. Little did she know that her resolve would be tested the very next day.
The following day was a Saturday. Nene sat to eat breakfast with the family, and met her uncle for the first time since her arrival in Asaba. He was happy to see her, and told her that he would do his best to find her a suitable job very soon.
“It might not be as glamorous as Lagos, but I will find something for you, okay?” Chief Alozie promised. Nene expressed her thanks and went off to help her auntie clean up.
Auntie Dubem told Nene that Rita and her daughters were able to handle most of the chores. But since Nene pressed her for something to do, she told her to empty the kitchen dustbin. Nene agreed.
As she carried the dustbin from the kitchen outside the gate to empty it into the larger trash can, she almost tripped and fell over one of the pavement stones that was out of place. She quickly regained her balance and continued on her mission.
Once outside the gate, she lifted the metal cover of the trash can. Something prompted her to look to her left, and as she did, she saw a young man standing outside the gate of a house, two doors down, about to do the same thing: empty the dustbin. As soon as he saw her, he paused and waved a greeting at her. Nene eyed him, and simply turned away without responding.
– to be continued –