Little Nigeria

Akiba and his fiancé sat on the couch while his mother stood in the kitchen making banga and looking in on them. Akiba was busily biting off his fingernails and the dead skin around his cuticles. His fiancé was staring at the television but did not appear to be paying attention to the program. Her legs were locked together and her back was stiff. Akiba’s mother viciously chopped the meat for the soup into chunks and tossed it into the pot, then added more spices. She stopped to taste the concoction and added still more spices. Akiba reached for his fiancé’s hand and she responded by stroking the top of his hand with her thumb. “Will you come help me in the kitchen Akiba?” called his mother. The girl’s grasp tightened on his when he tried to rise; he squeezed her hand and then extracted his, walking toward the kitchen.

– – –

He sat on the couch beside his fiancé pretending to watch TV while his mother looked in on them through the kitchen, making banga. In fact, he was so nervous and totally uninterested in the television that he was mostly looking down into his lap and tending to the state of his fingernails- pushing back the cuticles, scraping dirt from underneath the nails, peeling off dead skin –so that his mother could not scold him for “poor hygiene” later. He wanted so badly not to set her off because he was going to drop a bombshell tonight. He had not yet told his family about his engagement. He hoped they (his mother mostly) would take it well. He knew she would like it a whole lot better if he at least dated an African girl, if not a Nigerian one. Instead his fiancé was not only American, but white. Her backward African way of looking at things, even in the twenty-first century, always drove him up the wall. He took his fiancé’s hand in his, resolved. “Will you come help me in the kitchen Akiba?” his mother called. His fiancé clutched his hand, turning to look at him with frantic eyes—a silent plea for him not to abandon her in unfamiliar territory. He squeezed her hand in reassurance and went into the kitchen.

– – –

She stood in the kitchen stirring soup and looking in on her son and his ‘girlfriend’— such a coarse, juvenile American term in her opinion —sitting on the couch; him practically eating his fingers, her with eyes glued to the TV. Typical American behavior, she thought. She wondered why he didn’t find a nice, Nigerian girl to settle down with rather than this white tramp, someone who would scold him for his bad manners. She chopped the meat into chunks and tossed it into the pot, then added more spices. Banga was his favorite, something the girl would not know how to cook for him and, if she had seasoned it well enough, would not be able to stomach either. She saw the girl clutching at her son’s hand and rubbing the skin raw with her thumb. Her nostrils flared. “Will you come help me in the kitchen Akiba?” she called.

– – –

Osa sat at the dining room table, whittling a reed pipe and listening to the drone of the television. He had strategically picked this position because he could see into both the living room, where his son sat with his girlfriend, and the kitchen, where is wife was busily—perhaps angrily–making banga. He was prepared to serve as mediator tonight. He knew his wife had it out for the girl, holding tight to long-engrained prejudices. He shook his head at his son, gnawing at his fingers in front of his girlfriend. He had taught his son better. The girl didn’t seem to mind though- she was preoccupied with the television. He didn’t judge her for it though; she was most likely too nervous to really interact with anyone. He heard the plop of ingredients being tossed into the pot. He looked up from the carving to see his wife vehemently chopping vegetables. She really was a ticking time bomb, and he was here to diffuse it. Her eyes went suddenly hard and narrow and she called to their son, “Will you come help me in the kitchen Akiba?” He started to rise to intercept his son.

– – –

The house was located on a quiet street, the light seeping through the blinds making it seem perfectly normal to passersby. But within there was a palpable tension in the air. Akiba sat with his fiancé Brittany on the couch in the living room, anxiously awaiting the perfect opportunity to inform his parents of their engagement. Akiba was using his teeth to give himself a crude manicure in an effort to avoid his mother’s inevitable reprimand. Brittany was staring straight ahead, back rigid, knees clamped together, trying to appear as inoffensive as possible. She felt a bead of sweat roll down her skin between her shoulder blades. She was extremely intimidated by his mother- a large, loud, boldly dressed woman. His father Osa was using the pretense of whittling a reed pipe to keep an eye on his wife Nebthet and hopefully prevent her from bullying Brittany. Nebthet was busily chopping meat and vegetables for banga in the kitchen, using the satisfying slice of the knife as an outlet for her irritation at the intrusion of Brittany’s presence. Spurred by Akiba and Brittany’s hand holding, Nebthet called out, “Will you come help me in the kitchen Akiba?”

kate

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