DIMGA’S PLACE (II)

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“Are you Ugomma?” he asked pointing at her bracelets.
“No, Ugbomma,”she said and took a spoonful of her fish pepper soup.
“Ugbomma, that’s a beautiful name.” And she smiled, the kind of smile that told him that she had heard that so many times before. “I’m sorry if that sounded a little clichéd,” he said as he sipped more wine.
“It was terribly clichéd.”

“But your name is beautiful,” he repeated.
“Thank you,” 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. “Don’t just take the soup, take the fish too.”

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, “This is so good.”
She smiled, fulfilled. “I told you so” she said as she finished her glass of wine and poured another. Ebube took another piece of his Nkwobi.

“So, it’s your birthday, eh?” she said a few minutes later. “Why are you here?”
“Where?”

“Here and not at a party or perhaps the mall.”
“The mall is such a pedestrian thing to do on ones birthday,” he said, dismissively. She smiled and put her spoon back on the plate then kept her head on her hand.

“Really?”
“Everybody 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.”

“Hmm,” she nodded slowly
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said “I 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.”
“So, you are here.”

“Yes,” 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. “As 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.”

She chuckled.
“So you’re a student,” she said

“I am, at Umudike.”
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.

“Can I have another bottle of palmy, please”
“Me too,” 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.
“What are you studying there?” she asked
“Mechanical engineering.”

“Really?” she asked, she drank her last glass of wine. “I was expecting you to mention an art discipline, that is exactly how you sound.”
“You don’t look like one to stereotype.”
“I know, right.”

“Well, I write too,” he said as he picked the last piece of meat from the mortar.
“That’s awesome, what do you write?”
“For now, short stories, spoken word.”
“About?”
“Africa.”
“Huh?”
“I 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, Africa”. He dumped the last bone in the Nkwobi mortar and faced the goat head.

“That is just beautiful,” she said, her eyes expressing just how much in awe she was.
“I must read something of yours.”
“I have a blog.”
“Great, send me the link on WhatsApp,” she pushed her phone to him. “Type in your number,” 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.
“That’s me calling,” Ugbomma said as he reached into his pockets. “Save my number.”
“What do you do?” he asked after saving her number.
“I am a student, computer science at Ife,” she answered. “I am an artist also, I paint.”
“Nice”
“Let me show you some of my work,” 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 façade of a building, on the top were three letters REX.
“I know this place, it is Aba, it is Park, Aba.”
“Yes it is.”
“This is so beautiful, so realistic, I feel like I can touch the man in red shirt.”
“This painting is on display at the National Art Gallery.”
“Wow that is awesome, congrats.”
“Thank you,” she said. “What rules your mind, your machines or your stories?” she asked later.
“Africa, how I can contribute to her greatness, be it by my stories or my machines,” he replied. “And you, computers or the canvass?”
“Computers, 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.”
Ebube nodded and tore flesh away from the goat head and ate, it was divine – the goat meat flavour, different from that of any other meat, coated in the spicy oil goo.
“This is better than the nkwobi, even better than your point-and-kill,” he said.
She chuckled and pushed away the now empty fish pepper soup plate and tore a piece from the goat head and ate. “It is very good, almost as good as the fish,” she said as she chewed. “You know that they boil the brain, then mash it and mix it with the oil paste, it adds to the unique taste.”
The long intro of Fela’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.
“You know Olanna is premiering this weekend,” Ebube mentioned.
“Yes, Genevieve Nnaji and Nwokoye, my two best actresses. The trailer almost brought me to tears.”
“Kunle Afolayan cannot disappoint.”
“Very true.”
“You want to go see it with me?” Ebube ventured, “On Friday.”
She smiled, “Of course.”
Ebube smiled too, his heart returned to its normal beating pace, he hadn’t realised it was racing.
“What’s it with the Fela songs?” Ebube asked a moment later as ITT ended.
“Dimga is obsessed with very old songs” she said laughing “he claims that it adds character to his establishment.
“It does though.”

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. “I love this song,” she said, dancing in her seat.

“Do you want to dance?” Ebube asked. He didn’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.
“Take your hands off my daughter, osiso,” 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 woman’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 hadn’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.

“Mummy, good evening,”Ugbomma greeted as if she did not see the rage that burned in her mother’s eyes.
“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you come to prayers, eh?” the woman bellowed
“We were in church yesterday, and the day before, and the one before that,” Ugbomma said looking around, carefully avoiding her mother’s gaze, then adding under her breath so that her mother won’t hear “if Jesus wanted us to live in his house, he would have said so”

“Eh?” her mother asked “What did you say?” Ugbomma didn’t say answer, “instead of coming to church, you are here frolicking with some boy.” She threw Ebube a dirty look, then grabbed her daughter’s wrist “Oya let’s go home,” she dragged her “you always feel like you know so much, stupid girl”

“See you Friday,” 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. “And what is this you are wearing?” he heard her mother ask
“It is very hot, mum, I would melt if I was to dress like you…” 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.