Chike Nwosu joined the queue under the wooden shed. He looked around him and saw some people seated on long wooden benches eating a combination of bean cake and pap or with bread. He caught a glimpse of Bukky. She was seated on a stool, bent before a large basin of blended beans. She turned the mixture with one hand and scooped the paste into the hot oil with another hand. Beads of sweat gathered on her forehead, dripped down her neckline and soaked her red short-sleeve blouse. Her plaited hair in ‘police-cap’ style made her look like an African beauty. When he went home for the holidays, he missed her tasty akara. If he was truthful to himself, he might have to admit that he missed her too. They were not even close, just acquaintances and he was already missing her. He cleared his thoughts and tried to think of his courses at school.
“Happy New Year,” she looked up at him and grinned.
“Same to you,” he smiled back at her. It was almost his turn. The person in front of him paid for his purchase and walked away.
“When did you arrive?”
“Three days ago.”
“What did you bring for me?”
He scratched a spot on his head.
“Don’t tell me you went to Owerri for the holidays and you returned empty handed?”
He started to laugh.
She turned to her neighbour’s daughter, who was helping her to attend to the customers, “Please, whatever he buys, no jara.”
The girl nodded with understanding and smiled.
“Bukky, don’t be a fair weather friend,” he teased her.
“Abeg, let me hear word,” she hissed and eyed him, “What sort of friend travels and returns empty handed.”
He laughed louder and held his waist.
“You can laugh all you want, no jara for you today.”
“Eh… I don die ooo.”
“How much?” the girl looked up at him.
“Please give me two hundred naira own.”
The girl used a long fork to pick the bean cake and gather it in a large paper. She wrapped it and placed it in a small black polythene bag.
“I have packaged your Christmas and New Year gift,” he turned to his friend.
She eyed him, “Where is it?”
“At home,” he grinned.
“You are not serious,” she hissed.
Chike collected the polythene bag from the girl and paid for the bean cake, “Don’t worry, I will bring it when I return from school today.”
“Not until I set my two eyes on your so called gift.”
He laughed and shook his head at her, “Oh ye of little faith.”
“See you later,” he waved at her and walked away.
She watched him leave and smiled.
A nagging headache made her leave the market and return home earlier than usual. She met her niece seated by the doorway sieving corn pap.
“Good afternoon Aunt Kike,” she was surprised to see her at home at that time.
Kike mumbled inaudibly and went in. Bukky returned her attention to the blended corn in the basin in front of her. She hoped it would be enough for that week. Several people come to buy the corn pap from her, even if the bean cake was exhausted. At times, they come to knock on her door as late as nine in the night.
She raised her head and saw Chike walking towards her. Her heart missed a beat when she noticed the two heavy polythene bags he was carrying.
“Don’t you rest at all,” he placed the bags beside the basin and placed his hands on his hips.
“What is this?” she pointed at the bags.
He grinned, “Your Christmas slash New Year gift.”
Her pretty dark eyes widened in surprise. She opened the bags one after the other and found tubers of yam, sweet potatoes, onions, a bottle of palm oil, yellow garri, dried fish and rice.
She looked up at him with gratitude, “These are for me?”
“What are friends for? I am expecting my gift tomorrow morning seven sharp.”
She started to laugh.
“Inclusive the jara you deprived me of this morning.”
“No wahala. I am ready for you.”
Their gazes locked.
“Thank you. I am, am… blown away.”
His smile broadened, “I am glad.”
She washed her hands and got to her feet. She adjusted the red and black coloured wrapper around her waist and looked up at him.
“When is your lecture starting at the Adult education centre?” he started off towards the exit.
“At the end of the month,” she walked beside him.
“I am here for you if you need any help,” he glanced at her.
“Okay, thanks,” she sighed with relief.
They strode out of the building and headed down the street.
“How long have you been living with your aunt?”
“A couple of months.”
“Nice, I am not the only one that is new in the area.”
She started to laugh.
He turned a corner and pointed at a green painted house, “I live there.”
She followed his direction and saw the bungalow. It was one of the nice houses in the area. She believed it had about seven or eight self-contain apartments.
“Do you want to come in?” he glanced at her.
She gave a shake of head, “Maybe another day. I have to finish sieving that pap before night fall. I don’t trust NEPA.”
“Okay. My flat is the third on your right. Brown door.”
“Okay,” she looked up at him, “Thanks for the foodstuff.”
“You are welcome.”
“See you later.”
She waved, turned around and walked back home.
Chike stood at the road side and watched her. How old was she? Facially, she looked younger than twenty. Physically, she had the body of a twenty-one year old. He couldn’t place her real age. He needed to come up with a genuine excuse and ask her.