STEP TWO: GOING BEYOND THE FRIENDZONE
The ever thumping sound of your heartbeat thump
Recognizes the moment you have tried to neglect
Your words are calculated, everything must be perfect
Your mind is in turmoil
Fixated on all your practiced sayings
Others disappear from your rear view
Because you just realized how to say it.
For the final slur of mismatches
For the final out breath from all in breath
Now you are sure
To gather all day’s work.
Make a way to your highlight
And make a path to your genesis
For, it’s finally time.
So I’m slicing an onion with the dexterity of a ninja. Like Samurai X. It falls in perfect rings on the cutting board, like the knife is an extension of me. This should make me proud of myself, right? But I’m not. I’m boiling with anger. Slicing the onion had been the duty of one of my junior staff, Tamunothe thin one, but one look at the amoeba shaped slices and I’d had to drag the knife from her.
The Marigold Restaurant, where I’m the head chef, is oftentimes referred to as the Hilton of Nigeria. It’s not as well-known as Sheraton or as fancy as Intercontinental, but all the same it is fast rising. So you can imagine the pressure. I’m to nurse the taste buds of the high and mighty, making sure that as they saunter out of those revolving doors in their thousand dollar heels and custom made Italian shoes, they’re highly satisfied. Five years I have been doing it, and in five more years I’m pretty sure I’ll have people asking ‘What is Sheraton?’
A loud clank rends the air, breaking into my reverie. I raise my head to meet the shaky eyes of the culprit – Jide the jittery one. All around him stainless trays wobble noisily on the tiled floor. See what I have to deal with? My scowl travels from the service boy to the other staff standing like contestants for a mannequin challenge, staring at me as if expecting me to shout. Aahhh! I scream inside, while gifting them with an angry eye roll. My face is red now I know, so I return to slicing the onion, allowing myself to be soothed by the soft sound of steel meeting wet vegetable. I’m trying to get lost in the sting of the onion, something that makes others teary eyed, but seems to have no effect on me. When last did I even cry while slicing an onion?
But it doesn’t distract me, and now my mind is going back to the lagging workers all around me. “Amateurs” I hiss before I can stop myself. My inner man is telling me to give them a break, ‘they are all beginners’ he’s saying. But the perfectionist side of me, the dominant side, just can’t justify their incompetence. He doesn’t understand the word beginner. I don’t blame him though because I have never been one. I’d known exactly what to do with food the moment I was privy to the knowledge that food should be cooked and not eaten raw and I’d taken to cooking the first day I tried my hands at it. That tale is courtesy of my mom by the way.
“Sir, your phone is ringing.” I hear a tiny voice say beside me. They can’t allow someone soliloquize in peace in this place. I follow the direction of the voice to see one of the dish washers, Mary the slow one, holding my phone up and on it is a smiling picture of my mother as the iPhone ringtone plays. The tune immediately reminds me of a skit by CrazeClown and Ade. Hehehe!
My mother is not one to be ignored. Still I watch my phone ring till it stops and the screen changes to reveal 14 missed calls. I roll my eyes at it, dismissing the girl with a wave. Yeah, head chefs have the power to do that. Look it up.
My mother has been disturbing me with messages. She has systematically made her way through every social media, sending me messages. I blame myself. She joined them when I changed her phone from Nokia torchlight to a Techno Phantom 6. If I had just listened to my instincts then, none of this would be happening.
The thing is, I don’t even have to pick up to know what she wants to talk about. It’s another girl she has only just heard about but is convinced is my soul mate.
Without meaning to, the second I think soul mate, my mind starts to drift off to the lady I just met but is already taking up residence in my mind. Sarah.
Sarah, the pretty. Sarah, the artsy. Sarah the…
Okay no, this can’t happen. At least not now.I really need a distraction. Raising my head, I immediately find one in the person of Emekathe lazy one.
“Please tell me you have diced the Ugwu?” I demand, prompting him to cut short whatever he was discussing with two others. He nods and I continue, “Long thin vertical stripes?”
Okay, now Emeka looks unsure, although he says a yes.
“Did you cut it before washing, or wash it before cutting?”
Now Emeka looks guilty, and he starts to stammer.
Typical Emeka, I sigh, “Just go.”
Okay, so my mouth is pushing to break into a Sound of Music song. Please don’t be weird mouth. Hold it in until we get into the car and I promise to whip out the album for a sing along session.
It falls for it, so I watch in silence, as sublime joy transforms my client’s faces. The five year old boy is bouncing up and down in his tiny Timberlands yelling, “I love it I love it I love it” while his parents are smiling and nodding in approval.
This, this is why I love my job.
The parents on the bidding of their child had asked for a Ben10 meets FC Barcelona themed paint job. Although it had taken a lot of brain racking trying to fuse the Ben10 green with the blue, maroon and red of FC Barcelona, I cannot be more proud of myself. Even the Omnitrix symbol looks perfect in the middle of the 6×4 space. Okay so I’m not a tears of joy person, but it’s all so beautiful. Still I’m not a tears of joy person so… sniff.
If only my parents had been liberal enough to paint my room anything but white and pink maybe I wouldn’t have been so depressed as a kid. But that’s another story for another time.
Little Billy is too eager to cross the yellow tapes to touch the still wet wall – yes I’m that kind of painter who uses a yellow police-style tape to guard my opus. Parents give me the weird look for that. Hahaha! Wait till it’s all said and done and then that look will be replaced with contentment.
Mr. Onoja is super impressed, “This is a really great job, Sara.” One hand is over his wife’s shoulder, the other holding Billy back from crossing the yellow tape. Awww love. Okay did he just say Sara again?
“Um, it’s Sarah,” I hear myself correcting him for the seventeenth time, pronouncing it Say-rah and not Seh-ra. “But it’s okay.” I add, even though it’s a lie.
“Yes, this is great, wow.” His wife agrees.
“I want Ninjago on my bathroom wall.” His tiny voice rings in my ears as his tiny feet thuds the hard wood floor.
Everyone is laughing and I join in … but wait oh that’s five ninjas on the tiny bathroom tiles. Chai!!
Okay don’t change the topic, let’s talk about my money. “Erm, so I hope this would move you to pay the amount we agreed o,” I say and Mr. Onoja laughs. He must think I’m Basketmouth.
“Haba, Sarah, in this Buhari regime,” he says.
I can’t help but roll my eye, fast and unnoticed though. It is so annoying how clients can easily go from ‘wow, so great’ to ‘in this Buhari regime?’
“Mr. Onoja,me too I live in this Buhrai regime o,” and they both laugh. Anhanh!
“Oya we’ll see what we can do,” Mr.Onoja says, leading the family out.
That is never a good answer.
Whew! After eight hours of culinary marathon, I retreat to my office feeling fulfilled. The little space is at the far end of the busy kitchen, lavishly furnished. As cool as it is, the office is just a waste, another attempt to glorify my position as head chef. As if that was necessary – I’m head chef and that alone says something with a wink. I hardly ever even use the office, so most of the furniture still have their factory wraps on.
My reclining chair makes a nylony sound when I drop into it.I feast my eyes on the best thing about the office, the view outside the east window. The sun is setting behind the sea, casting an orange glow on the surface, rippled now and then by the subtle wind. I love how the view changes from time to time. While it isn’t a picturesque scenery worthy of a million dollar canvas, it is a scene of filthy rich men docking their yachts to throw the most extravagant party of all time, or -my personal favourite – lovely couples relishing their meal at the outdoor tables –my handiwork- as the light fades.
Okay, now stop stalling Jer, pick up your phone and answer your mother.
Chimo! 127 BBM messages, 5 text messages, 3 Facebook messages, 4 IMO missed calls, 16 missed phone calls, all from dearest Ma.
She definitely doesn’t understand the concept of an ignoring act. One tap and the BBM messenger opens. Arrgh! Over 30 photo-shopped pre-wedding pictures. Make ‘em stop!Oya time to read Ma’s messages.
Jeremiah answer your mother now!
That cough has come back.
I have a girl for you o.
She is your Uncle’s friend’s secretary’s cousin’s elder sister…She is so pretty. LOL… Let me send you a picture.
Sigh. My mother.
The picture downloads and …wow, she is actually pretty. The kind of face one wants to see every morning. But one look at her and I know that’s all she is— a pretty face. Still I can’t blame Ma. She is getting restless at her son’s snail-speed love life. She won’t understand where I am coming from and I don’t think I can explain it to her or anyone else really.
I have seen divorce and I know what it can do to a family. My mother always thought my father was handsome. She had been proud that other girls thought it too, until other girls started sharing him and then other girls convinced her handsome husband to get a lawyer to draft divorce papers. Now Ma is alone, lonely, picking a new hobby one day and discarding it the next. Her latest is me and I just want it to be over soon.
“Thanks, but no thanks mom.” I send it to her and the reply comes immediately. Her fingers are practically glued to her phone.
I’m trying to help Jerry. I want you to find someone.
That annoying name again. “I will find someone mom…” I start to type when… Sarah… she pops up in my mind again. I can’t help but smile foolishly now. Before I can stop myself, I hold down the backspace and type instead,
I’ve found her already.
Time to go.
I remove the yellow tape carefully and dump it in a basket with the rest of my things. I pause to take one more look. Wow…I’ve really become very good. No pride intended.
As a kid I didn’t instinctively know how to draw. I never thrived in fine art classes. I never drew amazing portraits that were hung in class. But my teacher, Miss Amina, had seen an untapped and gestating flair for painting that I didn’t even notice.
“Open up your mind and you can do a lot,” Miss Amina had said. It had sounded like gibberishthen- even confirmed by my parents who concluded I should move from Fine Arts to Home Economics. Now I realize she was right and my parents were the opposite.
I head outside and look up. The moon is already high in the sky. I can’t believe I worked so late. I throw my work basket into the boot, and as I circle to the driver’s seat, my phone buzzes. OMG it has to be Jeremiah texting.
Sarah, get it together woman. Control them ovaries, and please stop smiling as you open the message.
Okay, so it’s not Jeremiah, but it’s on the same level of important. My best kinda message – 60,000 naira from Mr Onoja.
‘I don get alert, God huwin’ the song is reeling in my head now as I drive the next 5 miles to my house.
The Aniekan residence is a lavish duplex in Lekki Gardens. I frown at the car I’m parking behind, check the plates to be sure…LSD-67…. oh jeez my parents are home early.
Johnson and Petra Aniekan are both high priced lawyers. The Aneikan chambers is one of the top ten in the country, defending big names- even some politicians during the recent witch-hunting fiasco. Now imagine how it was when I told them I wasn’t going to be a part of the family’s law firm, even after five years in University and Law School.I’m still haunted by the disgust in my mother’s eyes when I mentioned painting kid’s rooms as my chosen profession. My dad had been colder, replying with a tsk and then completely ignoring me.
It didn’t sway me though. I have no intention of giving in to what they want. They have two other daughters to mould into their robots. I pity Sandra and Silvia though, just 19 and 15 yet their names are already printed on name plates waiting to be hung on office doors at Aniekan Chambers.
Getting out of the car, I take one look at my appearance- my usual work dungarees has numerous green, red, maroon and blue paint splatters. One button is undone leaving the front flapping and revealing an equally stained black short sleeved shirt. My black loafers though have just a few green stains, and they are even artistically arranged to look like a design of its own.
My appearance is actually very picturesque, worthy of Vogue, but knowing my parents it will not stand. I know the minute I walk through the front door, my mother will say something like,“You look like you robbed a crayon factory.” In some houses that might pass as a joke and even turn into an anecdote, but not in mine. Here, the statement will be made with a serious face and a tone of disgust, and it will be received just as sombrely. Although I trust my sister’ssha, we shall laugh about it in private.
Bottom line, I can’t let my parents see me like this.
Sandra is my best bet; Silvia is not a person to trust during emergencies.
Come and open the back door, I text Sandra.
Thirty minutes later, I’m in a faded pink shirt on blue denim trousers and seated between my sisters at the long dining table in the white washed dining room. Every time I look at these walls, my mind can’t help but go over all the colours it is missing. Our fancy Oakwood table can sit eight people so the three empty chairs on the other side makes the room even gloomier. I used to tell Sandra and Silvia that on the empty chairs sat our parent’s invincible best friends, Mr. Pride, Mrs. Snob and Miss Perfection.
Oh God, the room is too quiet. Even the sound of steel cutlery seems non-existent. Why am I even complaining? This is normal. No one talks at the table or makes any unnecessary sound. Even the chewing of crackers has to somehow be muffled. Breaking the rule was punishable by derogatory looks and captious remarks.
It is suffocating.
I can’t even touch my jollof rice or the salad, or even – my favourite – a piece of fried chicken wing. I don’t feel like eating, I feel like talking. I want to talk about work, about the colour fusion I managed to make an artwork out of, about the joy on my client’s faces, or the new equipment I plan to use my money to get, heck I even want to talk about Jeremiah.
But I can’t. Mr. and Mrs. Table Manners and their three friends are around.
Just then, my phone chimes on my lap. Thank God it’s not a China phone, I think, but the deed is already done. The looks have already started rolling in. One apologetic look coming right up. Whether they fall for it or not I can’t even tell. Stylishly, I look to see who pinged me. O MY GOD!! I know I’m breaking one rule by smiling right now but I can’t help it. Who cares, let them look.
Jeremiah just said hi.