Idia was doing her usual Saturday shopping; she was standing in the middle of Wuse market buying fresh peppers when she realized that her boyfriend did not love her.
It was very hot in Abuja that morning, despite the grey clouds that framed the sky.
Idia wiped sweat from her brow as she selected fresh peppers which she would use to make the very peppery stew that Nnamdi liked. She actually didn’t like pepper very much; it gave her stomach pains and the smell lingered on her fingertips for hours after cooking.
‘He doesn’t love you’.
The thought came to her suddenly, almost as if someone had hit a gong inside her head.
Idia was so stunned by this realization that she almost lost her balance, swaying forward towards the woman whom she was buying pepper from.
‘Aunty! Are you okay?’ The woman asked, her eyes seemingly torn between concern for her ‘best customer’ and fear that Idia would fall head-first on to her neatly arranged stacks of pepper.
‘I’m okay…I…I just feel dizzy’. A lopsided wooden stool appeared and the woman gingerly lowered Idia so that she could sit down.
‘He doesn’t love you’. The thought seemed to mock her.
Idia shook her head and looked around her; people were going around their business, buying food, haggling over prices, wheelbarrow boys not far behind waiting to offer their services. She felt tired suddenly; like she had just run a race that she could not remember being a part of.
She was sweating through her t-shirt and jeans, and she glanced at her toe nails; most of the brown polish had chipped off. She had made plans to go to the saloon after cooking Nnamdi’s stew before she went to see him, because he found unpainted toe nails ‘unladylike’.
‘Aunty, take this water’, the trader said, pushing a sachet of pure water towards her. Idia smiled at her, but refused her kind offer. No amount of emotional breakdown in the middle of the market would make her drink that water.
‘Madam, I’m sorry. I’m just tired. Let me pay for the pepper’.
‘No Aunty, don’t worry, pay me when you come here next Saturday’. Idia stood her ground and pushed money into the trader’s hands, and the lady waved at her enthusiastically as she walked away from her stall towards the car park.
Idia was deep in thought as she walked to her car, ignoring the traders who sold cucumbers and oranges, things she would have ordinarily bought. She sat in her car for a while, thinking back to earlier that morning when she had been scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, until she saw a post Nnamdi had shared the day before.
‘It’s my beautiful colleague’s birthday today! So much cake, hahaha!’ Nnamdi stood with his arm around a pretty lady who was carrying a massive pink cake. The picture had been taken after working hours, so the banking hall in the background was empty.
Idia had stared at the picture for a while, not quite able to express what it was about it that had rubbed her the wrong way. Was it because he held another woman? No, that wasn’t it.
In the end, Idia had given up and went about her Saturday morning chores, cleaning half-heartedly. It was on the drive to the market that she realized what it was that bugged her: Nnamdi had dated her for two years, but she could not recall him ever calling her beautiful.
Nor could she remember him paying her a compliment that was not related to food.
As she drove home, she thought really hard to the last nice thing he had said to her. It had been the previous weekend, when she had taken stew to him. ‘Baby, your last stew was fantastic!’ She remembered preening like a foolish peacock at his (food) compliment. ‘But next time, make a little extra so I can give my friends when they visit’. ‘Okay love’, she had replied.
When Idia returned home from the market, she set the bag of pepper down on the kitchen counter, and looked around her. All the other ingredients for the stew were ready; she just needed to blend the pepper and begin the cooking process. She switched on the cooker, and then switched it off.
She picked up her bag and car keys, and left the house.
She had some questions for Nnamdi.
The drive to Nnamdi’s house was stressful; there was a large hoard of protesters near the Federal Secretariat obstructing traffic, so Idia had to take a circuitous route to get to his house in Garki 2. She wasn’t quite sure what she would say to him when she saw him.
As she pressed the door bell, Idia wondered what had drawn her to him in the first place.
When Nnamdi opened the door wearing only his black joggers, his sculpted abs and a startled expression, she remembered why: he was a very handsome man.
‘Wow. You’re here early’.
She stared at him, not saying a word.
After a moment, Nnamdi looked down at her hands, and saw that she was stew-less.
‘Baby, what happened? Did you forget the stew?’
‘Can I come in?’ She asked, ignoring his question.
‘Sure’. He stood aside to let her in.
She walked down the short corridor into the living room, which was spare in furniture but heavy with electronics.
‘I need to talk to you’.
‘Wow, so serious. Okay. Is something wrong? Is that why you didn’t bring the stew?’
Nnamdi spoke without looking at her, as he picked up the DSTV remote control and flipped through channels at an alarmingly fast rate.
Idia sighed and sat down on the black leather sofa.
‘Men, Baby, today’s gym session was tough! My trainer increased my weights and I also did more pull-ups than I’ve even done before’.
‘That’s great. So, what I was saying…’
‘And I broke my own record on the treadmill! It’s been a good day’.
‘Do you love me?’
Nnamdi blinked, and turned to look at Idia. ‘What?’
‘I heard what you said. Baby, where’s this coming from?’
‘You haven’t answered the question’. Idia pointed out.
Nnamdi stared at her for a moment, and then turned back to the TV.
They sat like this for a while, Idia looking at Nnamdi, and Nnamdi looking at the TV…
(The concluding part of the story will be up on Wednesday!).
Ivie M. Eke