My neighbour’s girlfriend is pounding yam again, the echo of the thud of the pestle on the yam slices against the mortar seeps through the concrete decking into my room, the vibrations make my windows rattle. She pounds every day, rattling my window in the mid-morning when I try to catch the second wave of sleep after losing the first round in the hours after I return from my night shift at the factory. Her pounding always delays that second round of sleep but I smile when it starts, it means I would eat baby-face smooth pounded yam in a few hours.
She always lovingly wraps the ceramic plate she puts the pounded yam in the green and red patterned, soft knitted cloth that Jerry calls an antimacassar and she leaves the soup in an enamel bowl for Jerry to warm up when he gets home. She puts four hefty pieces of beef in his soup, two thick sections of oporoko- not the head o, the main cord of stockfish which you can only get at Onyigbo market or from abroad. She also adds smoked fish, dry like plywood before cooking but soft enough to make my teeth and tongue dance when I bite into the big chunks she decorates the soup bowl with.
If she knew Jerry as well as I did, she would have known that all that effort was a waste of time and her money, there was no difference between her dazzling soup presentations and Ijebu garri soaked in cold water, sugar and groundnuts as garnish, in his mind. He would pick at one of the pieces of beef throughout the meal while I demolished most of the pounded yam and all the fish and the remaining beef. Jerry would talk about sure odds and tickets cutting at the last minute while we ate, I nodded as he spoke, his voice was a fitting soundtrack for the meal. He liked to jiggle my breasts as he ate, sometimes he would interrupt his monologue to tell me how he wished he was snacking on a nipple instead of the bland pounded yam.
I would close my eyes when he says that and the stupid man still thinks it was in appreciation of his compliment, but how can he compare ordinary boobs to the divine white moulded mass Sally/Sandra/Sarah (I always forget which S name she bears) spends the best part of an hour making every morning. The yam is smoother than any baby’s face and tastes like love and sacrifice and devotion.
“I don’t like how he doesn’t appreciate her efforts to make him happy, he is not worthy of getting such delicious meals.” I would whine to Jacob as I paced the length of our section of the factory.
“Why are you angry at him, why you dey vex?” He would mutter as he wrote down the readings from the monitors of the filler machines we were supposed to man.
“Her pounded yam is perfection in a plate, so smooth that you do not need to swallow it, it melts against your mouth’s walls and gets absorbed. Her soups? I taste them even in my dreams.”
“Na wa o”
“And he doesn’t even treat her well!” I tended to slap my thigh at this point, for emphasis.
“Yes he doesn’t, imagine him eating her food with you, just before climbing the bed with you.”
I would hiss and continue pacing while he made his little notes, I was supposed to make notes too but he did it better than me and we both decided it was my job to keep him awake while he did the actual work.
Who is arguing on the staircase for heaven’s sake? I get up and walk towards the sounds that jolted me from the beginning of my third round of sleep and I think I can identify Jerry’s low rumble and a high pitched voice. I open the door to find Jerry and his girlfriend with him leading her down the stairs.
“Neighbour, wetin dey happen?” I croak as I wonder if he is breaking up with the babe.
“Why you dey fight with our wife na?”
“Please help me and beg him, I love him and he is my life, my whole life” she sobs and I want to hug her, she has an ugly cry and that should be hidden from the world.
“I’m so glad you’re here” he pauses, looks at me and bites his lower lip.
“I didn’t want to say this just yet but providence has brought us all together and the truth must be said.”
“What providence?” I bellow as my heart begins to pound.
“Sophia” he begins. So that’s her name!
“The reason I’m breaking up with you is because I am desperately in love with Celine here and I want to marry her as soon as possible.”
“In love with who?!” Sophia and I chorus at the same time.
“What, what mad-ness!” I stammer, “don’t mind him o, I barely even know him. Oga neighbour if you want to break up, break up without involving me. How is all this my business?”
“You snatched my man?” she says with a tiny voice and my heart clenches.
“She didn’t snatch me, I feel in love with her for her awesomeness and how she lets me breathes unlike you who suffocates me with your love and care.” Jerry looks at his crocs, the ugly shoes suddenly seems interesting to him.
“Make una no involve me for una matter, I don’t even know you and you are telling your babe you want to marry me. You want them to kill me in this Lagos for what I know nothing about?”
“Sylvia, your boyfriend has nothing to do with me. Don’t pour acid on me because of him, please!”
I’m pleased at how indignant I sound; I turn around to see if anyone is holding my best actress Oscar.
“My name is Sophia” she snaps and I smile in the dark corridor, so the little cat has claws.
“Sort una matter by yourselves,” I declare and turn back into my flat and shut the door, I press my right palm on my chest to still my galloping heart.
A few minutes later, he knocks on my door and I debate about opening it.
“Celine, please open the door.” He calls from behind the locked door.
“Open for what? So that your Samantha would disfigure my face with acid, this face that I’m managing.”
“Celine, this is important. I love you truly and want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
I cough to mask the laughter bubbling in my throat, the coughing increases in intensity after the first ten and I realize that I must have needed to cough.
“I don’t love you like that Jerry. The only reason I climb the stairs every day is for that girl’s pounded yam, that heavenly Iyan! and not you or your boring conversation. Better bring that girl back, she loves you and she’s a better choice for you than me.”
“Celine please open this door, please!” he knocks on the door with extra vigour.
“Did she finish making lunch for you?”
“Celine, I am talking about the rest of our lives and you are talking about food? Really?!”
“Will we talk about it on an empty stomach?”
“If I give you food, will you be serious?” his voice has gained an edge I do not quite like
“All serious people are in the hospital”
“You’ve got jokes, anyway there’s food upstairs.” He’s smiling now, I can hear it in his voice.
I wait for him to start climbing the stairs before I open my door and join him. When I was a child, my mother always said it is food that would kill me. I smile at the thought as I open the door and walk into his flat, from the corner of my eye I can see the red and green antimacassar on the kitchen counter and my stomach rumbles with joy.