A BEFRIENDED ENEMY

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THE PREPAREDNESS

CHAPTER 3

At Obi's House, Adaora his wife beamed with joy as she went about preparing for the joint party. Their house was chosen because of the availability of space, enough to accommodate their guests. There were four other women there, Nnenna inclusive, to assist with the cooking.

She was delighted at both the sizes and the irresistible looks of the bush-meat roasting nicely over low heat. Those would be accompanied by freshly tapped palm-wine which had been delivered earlier that morning.

The sight of the gourds of palm-wine and the chunks of roasted meat made all the women giggle because they know how much their men love this combination.

Adaora perused the other side of the cooking arena and couldn’t help but praise Nnenna who was making the Abacha (African salad).

“Nne, the great cook, I greet you. No doubt, you are the best in making Abacha in the whole of Ohia. Look at the thin slices of cassava and vegetables, It’s so inviting! Our people who say *the eyes eat first* have spoken well and all our guests will testify to that at this party.”

The first woman flattered the second. The latter only smiled sheepishly.

The salad would be an appetizer while the bush meat and palm-wine; the dessert. Indeed, a splendid way to begin and end an eating spree!

From yet another corner, the delicious aroma of ofe-oweri soup emanated, filling the whole neighbourhood. By just perceiving the aroma, one could tell how rich the soup is with native ingredients.

A peep into the pot of soup awoke the butterflies in Adaora’s stomach. Just at a glance, she sighted dry fish, stock fish, snail and various assorted meat. It was still simmering over low heat as the vegetables were just added. That was the last step in cooking the delicacy.

The soup will go with the already prepared Akpu (Cassava fufu), the main meal of the day. She salivated but swallowed hard just to keep her craving in check. She quickened her steps away from the spot before she fell into temptation of giving in to eating.

At the far end of the compound, the making of Okpa (Bambara nut pudding) begged for attention. Normally, it should take about forty-five minutes to cook the meal but it’s taking forever.

Everything seems wrong with the section. Nothing had been achieved all morning except for the thick smoke from an unyielding fire.

These fumes had done no good to the two women at this wing. Their nostrils were running and their eyes teary from the futile kindling. But they couldn’t give up neither did they ask for help. They've been busy but have achieved next to nothing.

The firewoods, first and foremost, were wrong picks from the bush. They were wet and had enough moisture to frustrate the ignition.

Secondly, there was a big heap of plantain leaves that would be used to wrap the pudding. These leaves probably came from the most forsaken part of the farm it was gotten. The supposed green leaves were very dirty and dusty. The women took pain to clean the leaves thoroughly. But the smoke settled as stubborn coat back on them.

The process of wrapping the pudding itself, especially for a big quantity that was to be made, needed more than the four hands that were on it. Hence Adaora urged the other women to assist at that end.

All hands soon came on deck. Seasoned firewoods from other cooking points were introduced there. In no time, the fire came to life.

The leaves were re-washed and the wrapping began in earnest. They did justice to the process that seemed difficult earlier and were done with a giant pot of Okpa in a short time. It started boiling. They heaved a sigh of relief.

While waiting for the meal to cook, they began to clean their work stations, as every little space available in that compound will be needed to receive guests.

A troupe of dancers in a uniform attire announced their arrival with a tune from a bamboo flute followed by a rhythm from ekwe (a drum with rectangular cavities). The women stopped what they were doing at once and went wild with excitement.

“The entertainers of the day have arrived" one woman announced joyfully to the others, like a child.

She must have deprived herself of fun times in ages and was ready to enjoy herself to the fullest, this very day. She left the work at once and moved rhythmically towards the instruments playing. Others watched her, captivated by the scene unfolding before their eyes, hailing her every now and then.

The entertainers heightened the women's ecstacy by introducing other percussion instruments. A short dance followed as well as a local song known by all. That tickled the other women's fancies and everyone soon joined the first woman in dancing.

All the women wriggled their bodies to the rhythm of the song. It however ended abruptly.

It was meant to be a tip of the iceberg from the loads of entertainment prepared for the day. But the women refused bluntly. They demanded for more fun.

When they insisted, the artistes yielded. They performed some more and the women got even merrier! They were so engrossed with the excitement that no one paid attention to the meal they were cooking.

Soon, the smell of the burnt Okpa filled the air. The show ended abruptly once again, this time for the wrong reason. The entertainment spree ended rather in a race to the burning food and then in hisses and scornful looks at one another.

When the food was checked, more than half of the pot was outrightly condemned. Only the ones in uppermost layer of pot were spared. They still looked good but tasted awful. The smoke from the burnt part had penetrated to the topmost layer. A major damage had been done.

They had forgotten that were cooking and still had more to do before the arrival of the invited guests.

No one of the cooks had the zeal to go through another round of stress. The sight and stench of the burnt food demoralised them the more. Away from that, they were all exhausted from the just concluded dance.

“I suggest we use garden eggs as substitute for Okpa. Our people love both” One woman suggested to the others.

They all bought the idea immediately, not because it was perfect, but because it was the least stressful opinion viable at that time.

The day’s cooking officially ended with the Okpa, although it turned out a disaster. They would rather save their energies for more dancing than right the cooking that had gone wrong.

The success of any party in their world is rated by the availability of variety of foods and drinks. Bearing this in mind, Nnenna volunteered to quickly go get the garden eggs from the market while remaining women tidied the other arrangements.

The food tables were set. Seats arranged. The performers took their places. After which they awaited the heroes of the day.


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