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Proverbs 25:17 “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house – too much of you, and they will hate you.”
We were halfway done with the preparation of lunch when the doorbell rang. Mother and I looked at each other wondering who it was.
“Who could it be?” she asked and I shrugged my lack of knowledge to her. She was sweating and had little beads of water on her forehead, upper lip and on the bridge of her nose. I was sweating in the exact same places also. I wished she would finally install the heat extractor she had been hammering about so the kitchen would stop feeling like a heated pot.
“Go and check,” she said pouring chicken stock into the soup. The rice was drained and covered; only the soup was outstanding. I wiped my hand on a hand towel and went out through the kitchen door. The smell of food followed me to the gate.
I could see a fair forehead through the iron bars and my heart began to sink. The person pressed the door bell again and I heard it ring shrilly from inside the house. I was sure father was grinding his teeth by now. He hated when people pressed the bell for too long. Just touch and let it go, he would say, no need to alert the whole street that you were at the door.
It was Auntie Risi.
She screamed when she saw me and I moved back startled, “who did you swallow?!!” she asked, her face comically aghast.
I smiled, “you” I wanted to say but said instead, “good afternoon Auntie.”
“My goodness,” she said pushing her frame through the door, two big bagco bags in her hands. I could see the ear of an ewedu stalk in one of them and felt my heart sink lower. “Look at how fat you have become. Your parents are feeding you well.”
I smiled some more, my cheeks hurting. I leaned and picked the two bags, hoping they weren’t both filled with ewedu. I always considered it a sort of wickedness, bringing ewedu as gifts; if you were going to bring ewedu, it was only fair that you picked them before presenting them.
“You people changed your door?” she asked as we reached the living room entrance.
“Hmmph. More solid.”
She entered the living room where dad was busy setting the table for lunch. He froze when he saw her but recovered quickly. He and Auntie Risi did not get along. She had vehemently opposed his marrying her sister (my mother) until she found out he worked in an oil and gas company.
“Risi,” he said, straightening “you didn’t call to say you were coming.”
“Do I need to call to visit my sister?”
“Of course not. You are always welcomed. But you know there would be days when she won’t be around. What if we had traveled?”
Aunt Risi huffed, and sat down, “but did you travel? Is she not around?”
He did not reply.
“Take the bags into the kitchen,” she said to me, “I brought enough ewedu for you people. I know how much you like ewedu. There are two more bags in my car outside.”
“All for us?” I asked trying and failing to sound grateful.
“Yes. I was going to bring more but I was in a hurry.”
I discreetly eyed her as I lifted the bags. I wasn’t sure whether I liked her or not. She was jovial and loud and talked a lot which made it easy to like her; she was however, jovial, loud and talked a lot, which made it easy to dislike her. There was also the bit of her dropping unannounced to visit. And bringing ewedu.
“It’s Auntie Risi.” I told mother, dropping my punishments by the oven.
“Hian! What does she want?”
I shrugged. She’s your sister, I wanted to say, ask her.
“I’m not giving her out of this egusi oh! I did not plan for her. Bring out some soup from the freezer.”
I snorted, “Mummy! Is it the egusi that is worrying you?”
She wiped her forehead with her sleeve, “yes. God, I’m tired of this woman. And she won’t come without eating. And if I give her small now, she will insist on taking some away. Please check the freezer.” She repeated.
I opened the white LG freezer and started looking through the unidentified forgotten soups I had packed at one point or the other over the past months. I needed to do a thorough cleaning; some of the transparent plastic had green moldy stuff on them.
“Be fast. If we don’t carry food to go and trap her there, she will find her way here.”
Finally, I came upon what looked like stew and put it in the microwave.
“Can I take part of the rice?”
I ladled the food in a tray with a bottle of coke and took it to meet her in the sitting room. She and dad were already bickering about something.
“Here’s food ma.”
She flashed her teeth, “you didn’t even ask if I was hungry. But I will eat it.” She opened the covered food and smiled, “but I thought I smelled egusi and chicken as I entered.”
I stammered, “e…gusi?”
“Yes. Where is that my sister sef? Why has she not come out to greet me?” She made to stand for the kitchen where the egusi she had perceived would be on full display. I leaned forward to grab or stop her or something when my mother came out of the kitchen.
“Sister! Good afternoon” they hugged without clasping each other too close and separated.
“How come you are here? And you didn’t call.” Mother’s tone was playful but firm, “you just come unannounced.”
“Your house is my house.” Aunt Risi replied picking up her spoon.
“Not really” dad muttered, so only I could hear. He looked at me and mouthed, “I’m hungry” and I smiled and mouthed “me too.”
She stayed for about one hour discussing her new business; she was making dish washing soap now. Over the period I have known her, she had been involved in fish rearing, poultry and catering business. One time, she dabbled in tailoring and made some truly hideous dresses before she caught a new fancy and abandoned it.
While she spoke, father’s stomach intermittently groaned with hunger. Mother kept looking at her wristwatch even though she had told me several times it was rude to do so.
After eating and belching satisfactorily, she said some choice insult-compliments and took her leave. We were careful to make sure she had driven off before we served lunch.
“You need to speak to her.” father said, looking more alive after three spoons, “or I will tell her myself.” I nodded in agreement.
The doorbell rang again, and we, sated from eating egusi and rice did not think to look through the window before I stepped out to open the door.
“I forgot to drop off the ewedu in my boot” Auntie Risi said stepping out her car and into the compound. There was no way to stop her or warn them. She entered the living room with me in her wake clutching two more bags of ewedu and saw them. My father had a piece of chicken in his mouth, while my mother was leaning to blanket her rice with some more soup.
“I knew I smelt egusi and chicken.” Auntie Risi said frowning.
I dropped the bags of ewedu, and watched my parents start to stutter.
1 Peter 4:9 “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”