The moment we arrived at the party, my wife only sat down for three minutes. Okay, that was an exaggeration, she sat down for like ninety seconds and straightaway she went greeting all the people she knew. Parties made her like that, as full of eager vigour as a mountain stream. She came back from her greeting sessions some minutes ago but she had gone again. I didn’t complain, I relaxed and sipped a little of the Chapman in front of me. I was used to this part of her. There was no need to be grumpy about it.
It was Aunty Shafii’s 50th Surprise Birthday Party. The whole hall was filled to overflow. Her husband really had it well planned out and organized. The sound was great and so was the music. The comedians present, about six of them, were really cracking us all up. In all, the ambience was beautiful. The celebrant came in a while back with a massive entourage and the hall was agog with so much paparazzi. And did she soak them all in? You bet!
Some calm returned after she settled in and that was the cue for wifey to do another ward round. We had a plethora of ladies with special songs, it almost looked like a musical concert. Everyone wanted to sing her something, it was actually getting tiring. A young and upcoming comedian later took the stage and treated us to some hilarious jokes.
Detoun was a good friend of the family. I noticed her as soon as she stepped into the hall, maybe for two reasons. From our table it was very easy to see guests as they came in. Two, the colour red was a bright colour and when red was put on Detoun, she was a distraction to anyone in the hall.
“How are you?” A brief hug.
“Your wife didn’t come?”
“Oh, she is around. She is somewhere in the hall. She went to greet one or two persons.” Make that 20 or 30 persons and you wouldn’t be mistaken.
“Okay. Is this seat vacant?”
“Yes it is.”
She settled on the second seat by my left and arranged her phones, car keys and purse on the table. We continued pleasantries. From pleasantries to other small talks. She narrated how she missed the direction to the venue and how she eventually got help.
Shortly after my wife was back.
“Hey Detoun! You made it! The two ladies embraced each other, sat down and started chatting instantly.
“Olami,” she turned to me, “I saw Onyekachi. He sends his greetings. He is on the same table with the Adeleyes.”
“Okay.” I nursed my chapman that was almost finished.
Detoun asked to be excused. She needed to use the restroom or something.
“I saw aunty B too, she asked after you. I said you will come over to say Hello.”
“How could you be so sure of that? I’m not leaving my seat.” I was frank and firm.
“Why? Go and greet her now.”
“I already told her you are coming.”
“And I am telling you I am not going.”
“She will be expecting you.”
“I’m too sure there’s so much fun to catch in this party than wait for a certain Juwon to come and say unrequired Hello.”
“It seems you don’t like her anymore.”
“Baby, stop!” I was at extreme tension, like a drawn bow.
“How could you say that? You left the minute we got here and started your greeting spree, I didn’t stop you. That’s you! I didn’t take offence neither did I complain that you took too long before coming back. You didn’t sit for too long, you got up again the second time when you sighted the Okolies. I wasn’t one bit bothered. You pressed that we greeted Mrs Ahmad together and I indulged you. I wouldn’t have moved an inch from here if not because I realized it was important to you. That you enjoy greeting the whole world doesn’t mean I have to be like that, come on! And if I didn’t stop you, I think you should also allow me be. Please.”
“Wow. I said I’m sorry.”
“No, you are not. You just want me to shut up.”
The comedians continued to treat the audience to rib-cracking jokes. It didn’t look like we were part of that audience because the tension between us was palpable. How could we laugh and enjoy comedy when we were upset with each other? We sat there, posed like a jolly couple, with fake and plastic smiles just for cover for passers-by and acquaintances. And when I thought of what could be going on in her mind it only made me even more livid. I knew she reprimanded me for not making effort to greet people enough. The same way I didn’t call people enough. And the same way I didn’t check on people frequently. I wasn’t making effort in my relationships. But am I an usher or greeter in church?! And even if she was right, do I have to be like you!
Seriously nine out of ten times, people don’t want to be bothered or disturbed, my opinion. And all that cottoning on might just be a disturbance. But she would never see it like that. And I understand if she doesn’t. We really don’t have to agree. So if I stay in my space many times and just let people be, why should that be hard for you to accept? There seemed to be a thin line between caring and being a bother as far as I’m concerned.
She wouldn’t buy all that. Always out there. Smiling at A, laughing at B. Asking after C, waiting till she heard from D. Following up on you, taking your issues to God in prayers. No. Toluwalogo wouldn’t be satisfied to remain an acquaintance, she would push for more. She would get involved. She would visit. She would call. She would spend and be spent. Yes.
And because I am so not like that, it could be very intimidating sometimes!
But the flip side to that is that your good-naturedness predisposes you to being taken for granted. Your large heart could be trampled upon repeatedly. And I have watched that happen to her on several occasions and I was left to cuddle the baby. Because people will always be what they are – fallible.
Men! I was just upset. And I feared it was showing on my face in the mammoth crowd.
I sighted Detoun was coming back to her seat. I quickly adjusted, wore a warm smile and became calm as the night. We were perceived as that couple that hardly quarrel, it was important to keep up that image.
“Guess who I saw, Tolu.” Detoun sat down. “Mama Habila!”
“Oh yes! The old woman came. She looks magnificent.” And with that they began sharing their thoughts about the party, the good and the not-so-good. And that was how I was ignored.
I became angrier at the fact that Detoun became a gist mate and they were just cackling away with scant regard for my sullenness. The old man that sat to my right had been on the phone all evening. Not that I would have initiated any conversation, anyway, but I could have at least pretended I had company too, even if it were small gist or shared laughter during the comedy sessions. Again my phone battery was down to the last bar, I had to turn off the data so it didn’t go off. So I sat there, staring at the empty glass of Chapman and fiddling with an unusable phone. Was I bored?
“I still cannot understand how Abuja people do parties.” My wife was saying to Detoun. “When you go to a party in Lagos, they serve you food immediately you are seated. It’s not so here!”
“It’s not. It’s fear that people would leave as soon as they eat.”
“I know. I see it happen every time. As soon as people finish eating in a party in Abuja, watch the hall begin to empty out. It’s ridiculous. You should have just stayed in your house and eat if you were that hungry. How can you come to someone’s party and as soon as you are done eating, you pack your bag and leave? It’s totally unfair and rude.”
“Maybe Abuja needs some education in manners.” Detoun smiled.
“We don’t do that in Lagos o. In fact, they feed you early so you have enough energy to get the party started. Honestly!”
I couldn’t be bothered by their dry gist. The MC began taking goodwill messages from family and friends. It was then the waitress arrived to take our order. And it was then I realized Biobak was the one catering. That was some good news. You were guaranteed lots of options. Some good food could heal some sour mood.
“What will you like to eat? Do you want swallow?” I wouldn’t know why she was talking to me now.
“Jollof rice is fine.”
We placed our order and the waitress left.
Food came. She was served Ofada rice, with cat fish, some sumptous assorted meat, a massive stew-soaked ponmo and some plantain on the side. Only her! My jollof rice came with moinmoin, chicken and some plantain too. Detoun got busy with her food.
As these two dishes were carefully placed on our table, wifey picked her cutlery and guess where they landed? On my jollof rice!
How do you make a switch like that? Seriously! How do you make a switch from being upset with someone to being jolly with them? I don’t get it. We are supposed to be angry with each other. And I still am, by the way. But it seems she has forgotten. Even if it is customary of us to have a taste of each other’s food at parties, which is why we deliberately never order the same thing, but we are quarrelling! Shouldn’t that be reason enough for her to respect herself a little and mind her own food? She has switched! And it beats me. How is she like that?
She took the first scoop. And she took the second.
How do people do that? How do they switch like that?
“Hmmmn…the jollof really tastes nice. Try it.”
Hellooooo. It is my dish. It isn’t here for decoration. I am going to eat it. Can you stay in your lane?
I started eating. On a good day, I would reciprocate the gesture and taste her food. But this wasn’t a good day, and I apparently didn’t know how to switch.
“Hmmmn…The ofada stew is delicious. You should taste it.”
Of course I want to. I want a slice of the fish too. To know if the shredded shaki is soft or hard. And to feel the softness and succulent taste of the ponmo. But I’m still angry with you. And I don’t know how to make such swift transition from being upset with you to being cheerful with you. I’m stuck here. And in all honesty I envy you right now.
I was suffering.
“Olami, you need to taste this ofada, Biobak knows how to do this thing well, I’m not joking…”
If I switch she will not know the import of what she did. I need to stay angry so she can feel the weight of her offence. The quicker the switch the lesser she feels the gravity of it. I have to stay angry so it registers in her mind not to repeat this again. But I want a bite of this ponmo. And I should taste that ofada rice and stew too.
I kept my poker face with me and pretended I wasn’t interested. But with the corner of my left eye, I could see her mountain of food becoming a plain.
She noticed my struggle. She dipped her spoon into her food and scooped a large portion of the stew with some little ofada rice and plenty orisirisi. With the same corner of my left eye I saw the spoon coming in the direction of my mouth. I grumbled but my mouth opened. Grudgingly it received the delicacies. “…thrrr mtsche jes ingt…” I spoke gibberish.
Oh boy! It was tasty.
She watched me savor the taste and when I didn’t say anything, she said, “You are welcome.” And continued her meal.
I waited for her to cut me a portion of the ponmo and feed me too. And just as I imagined, she cut a slice and I watched with side-eye as she raised it up but not in my direction this time, it went straight into her mouth. I swallowed my saliva. The next one will be my turn. It didn’t take long before she cut another slice and again it went into her mouth. It looked like the ponmo didn’t have my name on it. She cut another slice. And ate it again.
I couldn’t hold it any longer. “Is the ponmo soft?” it was a rhetorical question. My fork was in her dish with the speed of light and it picked the remaining half left.
My wife giggled. “It wasn’t that difficult after all.”
A discreet smile played across my lips.
“It’s okay. I got your message. Let’s not spoil a beautiful evening.” She whispered.
“Please pass me the bottle of water.”
And we lived happily ever after.