Two days later, it all came to a head. We had a houseguest, Buchi, a family friend who we called cousin. Aunty Zubaida was sitting on the arm of the couch while the so-called cousin, Buchi, kept inching closer to her, leery as always. She was about an arm’s length from him, which was much closer than Muhmee would have approved of, laughing and soaking up his gist. The conversation was animated and loud enough for Muhmee and me to hear in the kitchen. All of a sudden, their voices dropped to a whisper. Muhmee seemed to have grown restless, her movements faster and her mouth lengthening in irritation. I knew my mother well, and I could sense that there was going to be some sort of recourse to the fact that Aunty Zubaida dared to entertain a visitor so flirtatiously while her big sister slaved away in the kitchen.
“Go call Zubaida!” Muhmee ordered, and I dashed out, knowing that this meant trouble. I went to the living room and started off complimenting Buchi’s shoes. As he basked in his own vanity, I chimed in, “Aunty Zubaida, Muhmee is calling you.”
Aunty Zubaida gave me a quick look midsentence and continued what she was saying. I went back into the kitchen and noticed that Muhmee had put the tomatoes and crayfish in the mortar with the pestle by the side, ready for pounding. I positioned myself to start the grinding without being told. That’s how it goes in a Nigerian home; you stay close to the matriarch in the kitchen, and on cue you perform duties that had been initiated. It was a perfectly orchestrated dance learned automatically. So when Muhmee coldly said, “Leave it,” I realized that minutes had passed since I called my aunt. Something big was about to happen. I got up and took my place at a safe distance from her, present for any service but far away enough from the wrath that was sure to come.
Muhmee washed her hands and, picking up her sweeping bubu dress, sashayed towards the living room.
“Aunty, well done, ma.” Buchi bowed as he welcomed her into their midst.
“My dear, how is your mum?” she drawled without a hint of cynicism in her voice.
I peeked into the living room just in time to see the mighty hand of justice land on my aunt’s face.
“Get inside that kitchen now!” Muhmee barked.
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