Garuba didn't think it was proper for me to leave all of the arrangements for tonight's party to Abu, Ukpong and her friends. He prevailed on me that it was his view that I ought to be playing a more active role in the preparations. So although this quite displeased me, after leaving Usman's place we drove back to my house. I admired the way Garuba got involved immediately with Abu who was busy butchering the goat. "Those two get on like a house on fire", I thought, as I settled in, peeling and chopping onions, not really happy that I was back at this house, since I'd hoped that Garuba's arrival earlier would mean escape, and that I would be spared having to do this. I didn't find it at all funny when Ukpong's friend, who by now I'd learned was called Jumoke, passed me a tray of even more onions to be peeled and chopped, while she went on to light a charcoal fire in a makeshift fireplace that was specially prepared for the cooking for this party. After lighting the fire, she placed a large wok-shaped vat over it, into which she emptied an entire 4 litre keg of vegetable oil. They had brought the kitchen table outside to the back yard and it was there that I sat carrying out this odious task.
Ukpong was bubbling with excitement. The excited chatter between herself, Jumoke and Yetunde her other friend was relentless, speaking intermittently in Yoruba and pidgin English. And although I was wearing a long face because I wanted everyone, and especially Garuba, to know that I was not terribly keen on what I was having to do at the moment, I couldn't help eavesdropping on the women's conversation since both are languages with which I am familiar. Probably because I remained silent, the women might have assumed that I wasn't interested in, or that I couldn't hear or understand what they were saying as they carried on with their preparations, Ukpong slicing vegetables and Yetunde washing out the rice. Apparently, neither of Ukpong's friends had a steady boyfriend and both were hopeful that they would meet someone tonight. So it became apparent to me the reason for all their excitement. There was chatter about what each of them would wear and Jumoke at Ukpong's suggestion, agreed to wear that low-cut blouse that showed off her assets. Just then Yetunde cut in sharply with something like, "girl, you've got it, so flaunt it", or words to that effect, and all three of them burst out in a fit of giggling. The chatter was lighthearted and jovial, the mood was lively and even Garuba and Abu too on the other side of the yard across from us, were obviously delighting in whatever it was that they were talking and laughing about. I wished Garuba would take just one look at me, so that he would see that I wasn't enjoying this. But maybe even on purpose, he had turned his back to me. I was livid!
It carried on in this vein for what seemed like hours. After the onions, I had assisted Ukpong with the other vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, carrots and all the other stuff, and I was starting to think that at this pace the food would not be ready before sunset. But I was put to shame when the women dug in and Yetunde assumed command of the huge ladle, with which using both hands she expertly stirred the vegetables and the goat stock into the by now pre-cooked rice. As principal chef, she would shout sharp commands at each of us, "fetch the tomato puree", she would yell at me. Garuba and Abu were long since done with the goat, and they both sat at the other end of the yard, still chatting, Abu cradling a bottle of Heineken. I stole a glance at Garuba and could see that there was a look of mild amusement on his face as he observed the goings on before him. And he was still avoiding looking at me! "I'll kill him", I muttered to myself, sulking. "I wonder what he and that man are talking about!" Ukpong in the meantime was at the second fireplace, in charge of frying the goat meat, which by now had been steamed. This didn't seem too hard I thought, so I offered to help her with frying the meat, even if only to find refuge from Yetunde's tongue. Gladly Ukpong obliged, so I made sure to remain seated in front of the goat meat that was frying, studiously manipulating the pieces of meat in the boiling oil with a wooden spatula, taking my time, slowly, even reducing the heat when necessary, to be sure that Yetunde would be done with her jollof rice by the time I finished.
"I survived it", I exclaimed to Garuba as he entered through the door of my room where I'd gone to prepare for a shower. To my surprise, saying nothing and without warning he came straight towards me, put his arms round my waist pulled me in a tight embrace and kissed me on the lips and again on the cheek. I knew immediately that this was his own way of saying that he knew that I was unhappy about having to come back to the house to join in the cooking and that I'd come back to join the others only because he had insisted. With his arms still around me, he pulled back a little. Looking into his eyes, I realised how truly I loved this man. In all honesty, I realised too that joining in the preparations had indeed been a good idea, because I knew that I'd earned for myself some respect from my housemate. And it was all thanks to Garuba, who now stood before me, smiling into my eyes. Being a little taller than him I had to bend a little, but what came naturally to me at that moment was to place my head on his shoulder, my cheek laying flat on the shoulder and my nose caressing the slight roughness of his Adam's apple and his chin. The maleness of this man, I could smell the man that he was. There was so much feeling between us at that moment as he responded by pulling me even closer and nudging me towards the bed. I stalled. Firstly, I thought, there were too many people about the house to risk doing anything heavy. Secondly, I reckoned that I reeked of smoke from the charcoal fire and was in no mood for anything until I'd showered. So, still smiling I quietly explained why he must absolutely let me go to the shower room, but added that he could join me if he wished..
We did take that shower together, kissing and nibbling as we did so and after a lunch that Ukpong had so graciously served up, we spent about an hour just lying in bed, being close to each other. I said something about missing him in the mornings when I woke up and that it wasn't the same as it was when I'd lived at his house. Nowadays, when he came to pick me up for work in the mornings, I was already freshened up and dressed and I missed those early morning times we used to enjoy together. It was just about dusk and Garuba needed to go to his house to change clothes. He asked if I would accompany him. Well, I wasn't about to voluntarily lose his company, so of course I said yes. As we drove away, Garuba said that Abu had informed him that a DJ had been arranged commercially who was expected soon at the house to set up the equipment. I replied that I thought this was turning out to be a more spectacular event than I had envisioned at the beginning. In my mind I had flashes of Usman and Audu, Garuba and me and I wondered what the reaction of the others at the party would be, seeing as I had no intention whatsoever of letting anyone doubt that Garuba was taken and was not available. At my urging, Garuba and I remained at his place until quite late when undoubtably guests at the party would have been arriving.
We drove through the gate, Garuba in a spectacular burgundy Ralph Lauren button-down collar long-sleeved shirt, black corduroy trousers and black pumps, looking gorgeous. I raced to my room, through the small crowd standing around chatting in the living room, holding glasses of bubbly and wine, none of whom was familiar to me. Minutes later, I returned to the front room having changed into a torquoise lace buba, black baggy trousers and black sandals. I thought loose comfortable clothing was preferable in this climate, but being one of the stars of the party, I thought this particular combination was distinctive enough. Garuba didn't drink alcohol, so I found him with a glass of juice in his hand standing with Abu and another man who I thought was rather attractive too. Yetunde and Jumoke were darting about in the dimly lit room, handing out drinks to guests as they arrived and making sure that everyone had what they wanted. There was music too, Victor Uwaifo's 'mammy water', but it was low and predominantly what one heard was the hum of people talking excitedly and the odd laughter now and again. Akin, the gentleman who was standing with Abu and Garuba was introduced to me, then after scanning the room briefly, I returned my attention to what Akin, Garuba and Abu were talking about. I heard Akin say something like, "It isn't very often that people have such a southern style party in Bauchi." And then I understood why Garuba had been excited about this party from the start.
From where I was standing I had a clear view of the front door and I was the first to see the tall imposing figure of Usman as he entered the room. Wanting the honour of being the one to welcome him, I excused myself from Garuba's group and walked across the floor extending my hand as I reached him. Usman flashed that smile at me again and I was annoyed at myself for reacting to him in the nervous way that I did. Behind him was another figure. "This must be Audu", I thought, and I was right. Usman introduced us to each other. I liked Audu instantly. He had lovely eyes, as of someone who is sincere and open and his smile was so engaging. I moved Usman on to where Garuba and Abu were standing, handing him over, then took Audu aside. It was so natural, he seemed keen to get to know me too, since apparently he'd heard of me. In no time, Audu and I were perched cosily on one of the sofas with drinks in our hands engaged in conversation. He was easy to talk to and we saw that we were so much alike and had a lot in common. It surprised me that he thought that I was lucky because I had Garuba. "Well honey, Usman isn't that bad either..if only I'd met him before I met Garuba, I'd have given you a run for your money..." This brought on heartfelt laughter. Audu said he had always wanted Garuba, but that Garuba had rejected him. In fact, it was through Garuba that he had met Usman. He was so gentle and warm and nice, I wondered why Garuba had turned him down. Anyhow, I felt very comfortable with Audu whom I'd only just met. It was almost as if our friendship was made in heaven. As we sat together, I noticed that Garuba couldn't stop staring at us, trying to figure out what was going on between us. I also observed that Jumoke was all over Usman, holding out her bosoms in front of her provocatively. I was just whispering to Audu the joke about Jumoke and Usman, when someone familiar walked in, Femi, and another young man who was even more handsome than he. Having seen the two men enter the room Audu's eyes lit up too, then we looked at each other and smiled knowingly, giving each other a high five, as I left him to welcome Femi and his friend..