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Nonye was tidying up the kitchen when she heard a knock at her screen door. She froze for a moment, then tiptoed to the kitchen doorway. Her heart sank as, peeping through, she confirmed what she already knew. It was her neighbor Taribo, smile in place. She leaned against the wall and tried to breathe quietly. Maybe if she stayed absolutely still he would be convinced she no longer existed. But she knew he would not leave. He was not stupid enough to believe that Nonye would go out leaving only her screen door locked, especially with the recent burglaries around off-campus housing like theirs. Plus, and more damning, Nonye knew that with his hound’s nose Taribo would have smelled her cooking as always, appearing like a ghoul whenever there was something on her stove.
‘Nor-nor,’ Taribo called, his over-familiar tone even more grating than the shortening of her name. ‘It’s like something good is happening in that your kitchen, ehn.’
He would not leave.
Forcing a smile, Nonye went to open the door. Taribo’s dark face gleamed with sweat and delight as she undid the door latch. He moved to take a step in, but Nonye remained standing in the doorway. Taribo stretched his neck to look past her, toward the kitchen.
‘Nor-nor, are you cooking?’
I don’t know; are you an idiot?
‘Ehn,’ Nonye muttered.
‘It’s smelling like jollof rice.’
Is that a question?
‘I’m bringing my plate o.’
Nonye considered Taribo’s hopeful face. Should she take the same approach as Justina, the girl from three rooms down, who had declared right in Taribo’s face one day – and loud enough for the whole compound to hear – that her parents hadn’t sent her to Uniport to be his personal cook? Nonye had imagined Taribo slunk away after that, to lick his wounds in private. For a couple of weeks he stopped showing up at Nonye’s door, and in gratitude Nonye had said several prayers for Justina. She had never expected that he would recover, but Taribo’s shame wore off and he resumed his visits, avoiding Justina’s room like the devil lived with her. Justina said Taribo persisted with Nonye because she was ‘too nice’. But Nonye found Justina’s approach, effective as it was, too direct for her tastes.
‘It’s not ready,’ Nonye finally said.
‘Ehen? Okay, no wahala.’
Taribo started to leave and Nonye’s heart soared. Was he taking a hint, after all this time? People did change!
He turned to Nonye again.
‘What time should I come back?’
How about quarter to never!
Nonye watched Taribo until he disappeared. She went into her kitchen. Humming a tune, she found her 350-gram salt container and emptied all of its contents into the simmering pot.
Nonye was sweet when Taribo returned. She served him a steaming heap of jollof rice on her best plate and insisted he ate in her room. She set out a smaller portion for herself and they settled down on the floor, Taribo’s tongue hanging loose and wet with anticipation.
Nonye raised the first forkful.
‘Bon appétit,’ she said, her smile so tight she thought her face would rip apart.