A MATTER OF HEIGHT IV
A MATTER OF HEIGHT IV
Chinwe was enjoying Gbemi’s confusion. Not only had he been unable to hide his look of shock as she made her pronouncement, he looked uncomfortable as he walked beside her. She smiled softly to herself.
Gbemi on the other hand had not planned for Chinwe’s sudden appearance and desire to go lunch; and therefore was quite unprepared. But he was determined to make a good impression, so he did his best to appear unruffled. As they walked out of his store’s parking space and into the noon sunshine, he turned slightly towards her and spoke.
“So; I’m thinking we might want to go traditional today – or would you rather oyinbo food?” He asked, indicating the Tastee Fried Chicken joint just up ahead.
Chinwe smiled. “I’ll just follow your lead. You’re taking me to lunch na,” she concluded.
“Traditional it is then,” Gbemi said, scratching his close-cropped head.He suddenly made to cross the road – and then darted back as an okada screamed past with the okada man screaming curses at him. He turned to see Chinwe laughing behind her palm.
“What were you trying to do; run out on me?” she asked amidst gales of laughter. “You can at least pretend to enjoy my company for the moment; and then afterwards leave and never call again!”
Gbemi smiled ruefully. “I wasn’t trying to do that. I just – I guess I got carried away.” He looked across the road carefully, and then seeing no vehicles offered her his hand. “Shall we?” he asked.
The ‘buka’ was quite neat, even though it was crowded. The crowd did not faze Gbemi one bit, as he held on to Chinwe’s hand gently but firmly and navigated his way past the noisy feeders and boisterous buyers. They made their way across the room and into another much smaller one. Gbemi ushered Chinwe in, and then closed the door, immediately drowning out the noise from the main part of the buka.The room was neat and sparsely furnished with two tables neatly laid. Gbemi choose the one farthest away from the door and seated Chinwe before sitting down.
“So – what would you like?” he asked her, leaning forward and putting his forearms on the table. Chinwe thought for a moment and then answered, “I haven’t had pounded yam in a while. Some of that would be good.” She paused and then said, “Some of that sweet smelling stew too, if it’s not too much to ask.”
As though by magic, a smiling urchin showed up at the door, grinning at Gbemi.
Gbemi smiled back at her. “Tell mama I want two wraps of iyan, efo riro and goat meat. Oya, go get that one quickly.”
The little girl nodded and scooted away as Gbemi faced Chinwe. “I hope you’re really hungry – because no one starts on mama’s food and does not finish it,” he warned, half seriously.
“I have nothing to say – except I hope the food is as sweet as your tongue,” Chinwe retorted and they both laughed.
The food was a lot better than he had hoped; Gbemi thought,watching Chinwe pop the last of two pieces of meat in her mouth. He watched as she chewed gently but thoroughly, washing her hands with the Morning Fresh mama had thoughtfully provided.
“Okay, Gbemi. I do want to see mama so I can thank her. I’ve had iyan before; but not quite like that. And the efo…”
Gbemi smiled. “Mama’s efo is an adventure in sensory experience.First time I ate it, I thought I had opened my tongue. I kept checking if there were holes in it, because I became aware of some parts of it I didn’t know existed.”
“Maybe she can teach me,” Chinwe said,cleaning the corners of her mouth with serviette paper.“I would like to learn to make vegetable soup like that.” At Gbemi’s raised eyebrows she smiled, and then looked at him from underneath her lashes. “Why do you look like that, uncle? I want to get married too, you know. And I don’t want my husband constantly lured away by buka food.”
As Gbemi blushed and looked away, Chinwe chuckled and placed a hand on his forearm. “I was just teasing -”
He waved her explanation away. “Of course I know you were teasing. I’m not married; not yet anyway.” As Chinwe made to draw back he added, “You can keep your hand there if you like,” he finished.
Chinwe looked down and snatched her hand away amidst Gbemi quiet chuckle.
“So…why art?” Gbemi asked.
They were still seated in the back room, but all the plates had been packed away and they were sipping on drinks. Gbemi was having a Schweppes while Chinwe had water.
“I’ve always drawn – as far back as I can remember. That was something that came naturally and I loved it. It was what influenced my decision to study graphic arts in Yaba Tech.”
“I would have thought your parents would object vehemently to that,” Gbemi said.
“No o. Mum always had father wrapped around her tiny little finger, and she always told me to only do whatever my heart was in, so I had their support from the first day.”
“You sound like you’re really close to your mum. How is she? It would be something to see her, won’t it?”
“She’s…she’s fine,” Chinwe said hastily, almost spilling her water as Gbemi looked on in surprise. “How about you? I’ve never seen a man own a supermarket – except in the movies.”
“It was actually -”
The ringing of a phone interrupted him, and he stopped as Chinwe, with a small frown reached into her pocket to pull out a Blackberry.
“Yes?” she answered, sounding a bit put out which made Gbemi smile to himself.
“Now? But I already…” there was another pause while the frown on her face got heavier. But after a few moments her brow cleared. “Okay,” she continued. “I’ll be right there.”
She hung up and looked at Gbemi, an apology on her face. “It seems my boss needs me at the office – a little something requires my expertise,” she finished, half-grinning.
Gbemi grinned back, standing up. “Okay then. Let’s walk back to your office – I’ll go see how my guys are doing,” he finished.
Chinwe shook her head, lovely tresses bouncing. “No – just let me hurry and get there.” She came from behind the table and put a hand on Gbemi’s arm. “Thank you. The food was great.”
She paused for a moment, and then her eyes softened. “I’m sorry for bailing out like this – I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”
She swung away – moving quickly while Gbemi slowly sat back down.
He looked confused.