â€œAre you Ugomma?â€ he asked pointing at her bracelets.
â€œNo, Ugbomma,â€she said and took a spoonful of her fish pepper soup.
â€œUgbomma, thatâ€™s a beautiful name.â€ And she smiled, the kind of smile that told him that she had heard that so many times before. â€œI’m sorry if that sounded a little clichÃ©d,â€ he said as he sipped more wine.
â€œIt was terribly clichÃ©d.â€
â€œBut your name is beautiful,â€ he repeated.
â€œThank you,â€ and she chewed the fish. The waiter came and handed Ebube the spoon. He rinsed his oily hand and took a spoonful of the steaming soup. â€œDonâ€™t just take the soup, take the fish too.â€
He obeyed, and as he chewed the fish, she watched him keenly, expecting him to maybe have an epiphany of sorts. He did enjoy it, the way the fish melted in his mouth, the taste that he could not compare with anything else he had ever eaten, he nodded, â€œThis is so good.â€
She smiled, fulfilled. â€œI told you soâ€ she said as she finished her glass of wine and poured another. Ebube took another piece of his Nkwobi.
â€œSo, it’s your birthday, eh?â€ she said a few minutes later. â€œWhy are you here?â€
â€œHere and not at a party or perhaps the mall.â€
â€œThe mall is such a pedestrian thing to do on ones birthday,â€ he said, dismissively. She smiled and put her spoon back on the plate then kept her head on her hand.
â€œEverybody does that, go to the mall on their birthday, roam around the shops, buy cake and maybe ice cream, take a gazillion selfies and flood Facebook with the photos.â€
â€œHmm,â€ she nodded slowly
â€œDonâ€™t get me wrong,â€ he said â€œI love the mall, I go when I can, mainly to the cinema or to Coldstone, the ice cream is to die for. But to go on my birthday, like there is something special about malls, is not something I want to do.â€
â€œSo, you are here.â€
â€œYes,â€ he said and poured himself another cup of palm wine, only to find out that he had finished the bottle. He became disappointed, he wanted another one. â€œAs for the party, I am sure there is one waiting for me at home, my room mate is trying to surprise me. Discretion is not really his strong suit.â€
â€œSo you’re a student,â€ she said
â€œI am, at Umudike.â€
The waiter came again with a large mortar containing a goat head soaked in oil like the Nkwobi and garnished with onion rings and vegetables.
â€œCan I have another bottle of palmy, pleaseâ€
â€œMe too,â€ Ugbomma said, the waiter nodded and left.
It was already dark now, night had crept up on them. The compound was now lit by coloured bulbs on the trees, there was a green bulb in the tree just behind Ugbomma and Ebube marvelled at how beautiful she looked, even in green light. Fela’s ITT saxophone solo filled the night air, a couple danced close by.
â€œWhat are you studying there?â€ she asked
â€œReally?â€ she asked, she drank her last glass of wine. â€œI was expecting you to mention an art discipline, that is exactly how you sound.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t look like one to stereotype.â€
â€œI know, right.â€
â€œWell, I write too,â€ he said as he picked the last piece of meat from the mortar.
â€œThatâ€™s awesome, what do you write?â€
â€œFor now, short stories, spoken word.â€
â€œI have a burden, I feel that every young African should know, that Africa is moving forward. That our place is not in the rear, that it is time we stop running away and wear Africa proudly, that it is time we stop conforming and be who we are supposed to be, else we might be left behind, because the change is inevitable. So it is a subplot or the main plot in many of my stories, Africaâ€. He dumped the last bone in the Nkwobi mortar and faced the goat head.
â€œThat is just beautiful,â€ she said, her eyes expressing just how much in awe she was.
â€œI must read something of yours.â€
â€œI have a blog.â€
â€œGreat, send me the link on WhatsApp,â€ she pushed her phone to him. â€œType in your number,â€ he smiled when he saw her Game of thrones wallpaper. He typed with his free left hand and pushed the phone back to her.
The waiter came back with their bottles of palm wine and left after placing them on the table.
Ebube’s phone vibrated in his pocket.
â€œThatâ€™s me calling,â€ Ugbomma said as he reached into his pockets. â€œSave my number.â€
â€œWhat do you do?â€ he asked after saving her number.
â€œI am a student, computer science at Ife,â€ she answered. â€œI am an artist also, I paint.â€
â€œLet me show you some of my work,â€ she took her phone and opened its photo gallery, then showed him a picture of the painting. It was a painting of a road, a busy road, with cars and buses littered all over and people struggling to get across. It was chaotic, beautiful chaos. In the background was the large faÃ§ade of a building, on the top were three letters REX.
â€œI know this place, it is Aba, it is Park, Aba.â€
â€œYes it is.â€
â€œThis is so beautiful, so realistic, I feel like I can touch the man in red shirt.â€
â€œThis painting is on display at the National Art Gallery.â€
â€œWow that is awesome, congrats.â€
â€œThank you,â€ she said. â€œWhat rules your mind, your machines or your stories?â€ she asked later.
â€œAfrica, how I can contribute to her greatness, be it by my stories or my machines,â€ he replied. â€œAnd you, computers or the canvass?â€
â€œComputers, they are such intricate beings, there is so much sophistication to them in the way that can be so small and yet so big at the same time. They enthral me. The canvas comes second, a close second.â€
Ebube nodded and tore flesh away from the goat head and ate, it was divine â€“ the goat meat flavour, different from that of any other meat, coated in the spicy oil goo.
â€œThis is better than the nkwobi, even better than your point-and-kill,â€ he said.
She chuckled and pushed away the now empty fish pepper soup plate and tore a piece from the goat head and ate. â€œIt is very good, almost as good as the fish,â€ she said as she chewed. â€œYou know that they boil the brain, then mash it and mix it with the oil paste, it adds to the unique taste.â€
The long intro of Felaâ€™s ITT was playing as they ate the goat head until there was nothing left. They drank and talked and talked, about books, movies, Game of Thrones, school, aspirations after school and the future.
â€œYou know Olanna is premiering this weekend,â€ Ebube mentioned.
â€œYes, Genevieve Nnaji and Nwokoye, my two best actresses. The trailer almost brought me to tears.â€
â€œKunle Afolayan cannot disappoint.â€
â€œYou want to go see it with me?â€ Ebube ventured, â€œOn Friday.â€
She smiled, â€œOf course.â€
Ebube smiled too, his heart returned to its normal beating pace, he hadnâ€™t realised it was racing.
â€œWhatâ€™s it with the Fela songs?â€ Ebube asked a moment later as ITT ended.
â€œDimga is obsessed with very old songsâ€ she said laughing â€œhe claims that it adds character to his establishment.
â€œIt does though.â€
As if Dimga had heard Ebube’s question, another song filled the night, this time Onyeka Onwenu’s Iyogogo. Ugbomma laughed loudly as the afro beats rose into the air. â€œI love this song,â€ she said, dancing in her seat.
â€œDo you want to dance?â€ Ebube asked. He didnâ€™t know when the question left his mouth, the palmwine had pushed then out. She nodded and he stood and stretched out his hand to her, she took it and they walked to the middle of the compound. They danced and danced and danced, till their feet ached and they were lost in the sounds of their laughter.
Ebube did not hear Dimga’s gate being rudely pushed open, his ears were filled with Ugbomma’s laughter as he unsuccessfully tried to sing along with Sir Victor Uwaifo’s Joromi. He had his hands on her tiny waist as they danced to the song, Ugbomma twisting her waist this way and that. He let out a shriek as a blow landed on his shoulder and he immediately turned to see where the blow had come from.
â€œTake your hands off my daughter, osiso,â€ a heavy set woman standing before him barked. Ebube, saw the resemblance even in the dim lights, the short nose and the dark eyes. Only that this womanâ€™s eyes looked tired, like the many stories they had to tell weighed them down. Ebube removed his hands immediately from Ugbomma’s waist as the woman raised her hand to hit him again. She looked like a raging bull wrapped in many layers of cloth. She wore a long skirt that would have been sweeping the ground if she hadnâ€™t pulled it up to her stomach, an unflattering shirt that seemed to want to bury her and a head scarf that swallowed her hair, ears and most of her face. Ebube decided she was coming from church.
â€œMummy, good evening,â€Ugbomma greeted as if she did not see the rage that burned in her motherâ€™s eyes.
â€œWhat are you doing here? Why didnâ€™t you come to prayers, eh?â€ the woman bellowed
â€œWe were in church yesterday, and the day before, and the one before that,â€ Ugbomma said looking around, carefully avoiding her motherâ€™s gaze, then adding under her breath so that her mother wonâ€™t hear â€œif Jesus wanted us to live in his house, he would have said soâ€
â€œEh?â€ her mother asked â€œWhat did you say?â€ Ugbomma didnâ€™t say answer, â€œinstead of coming to church, you are here frolicking with some boy.â€ She threw Ebube a dirty look, then grabbed her daughterâ€™s wrist â€œOya letâ€™s go home,â€ she dragged her â€œyou always feel like you know so much, stupid girlâ€
â€œSee you Friday,â€ Ugbomma said to Ebube as she allowed her mother drag her away. Ebube stood transfixed as he watched her being pulled away and he missed her immediately. â€œAnd what is this you are wearing?â€ he heard her mother ask
â€œIt is very hot, mum, I would melt if I was to dress like you…â€ she said and her voice faded into the night. Ebube discovered then that Sir Victor Uwaifo’s Joromi was still playing, albeit coming to an end, that only a few people had taken notice of the little scene that had just played out, that he had found that little scene very amusing, that he was still smiling, that he would always come back here to Dimga’s place, to eat Nkwobi, isi ewu and even point-and-kill and drink Palmwine and that Ugbomma would never leave his thoughts.