There are strangers in my house. Noisily, they move things about in my kitchen as if I am deaf and cannot hear them. I have abandoned my kitchen for Aishatu’s dinner. Her servants are busy chopping okra into green octagons trailing slime, and dicing beef into sharp cubes for the deep fryer.
Aishatu, my sister-in-law, supervises from the middle of my kitchen. She grabs a spatula from a maid frying plantains and wordlessly turns the brown-crisp wedges floating in boiling oil so that the yellow, puffed-up top, like a fat man floating on a rubber tube, has the bottom taken from under him. The maid, without Aishatu saying a word, knows she is being taught a lesson and pays avid, exaggerated attention. With a nod, Aishatu commands her to bring over the white plastic strainer lined with paper towels. The plantains will go in there.
Tonight is Aishatu’s big dinner. Those that matter in business in Lagos will be there. The Central Bank governor in a white frock and maroon cap will sit at one end of the table. Aishatu at the other. I will be at the
dinner, too. But only because I am married to Aishatu’s brother.
Danladi wooed me in his sister’s house. Now we have a place of our own. But at will, his sister seizes my kitchen and overwhelms me in my own home. Of course, there are reasons. He owes her a lot: she paid for his education, got him his first job, and her kitchen is broken—a freak fire. But no one asked me. No one put a hand on my arm and said, “I hope you don’t mind.”
It is evening, time for Aishatu’s dinner. I have two sons. They run up to me as I leave for Aishatu’s house. Idrisu, my older, gentler son, is holding onto my hand, mock-begging me not to go. His brother Ahmed stands in the middle of the hallway and petulantly asks me if I have forgotten I need to put him to bed. My husband blasts
the car horn. Even though the car is already down the driveway, I can hear his screaming complaint—”Come noooow, you are going to make us late.” The nanny is gathering the boys when I walk out the door. I see the glowing red brake lights of my husband’s car. I open the car door and step in.
The traffic is unexpectedly light on Victoria Island. Danladi keeps commenting on this as if it is a miracle. I don’t think of traffic. In the evening’s hazy dusk, if you keep your eyes off the road, you see the street boys
loitering at street corners. They are a dirty, ramshackle team.
Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Utah Jazz—soiled, second-hand jerseys, incongruously united on this street,
on these boys. “Poverty United,” I muse. Playfully they shove each other while they wait for traffic to slow so they can plead for small notes. Improvised squeegees
at hand, threatening the windscreen. “Strengthen your possession by giving Zakat and heal your sick by giving Sadqa and pray to deter any difficulties,” I recite quietly.
Aishatu is dressed in white. A flowing dress that hugs her hips before being released in a flurry to the ground. She has preserved her beauty well. Cunningly.
Like a shrewd shopkeeper placing the best fruits outside where they can be seen, she has framed those springs of her youth—her pert, full breasts—in the suggestive, deep cut of her white dress.
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About the book: Expert In All Styles explores the complex and often painful struggles of individuals with desire, despair, and hope within the social constructs of contemporary Nigeria. The twelve stories in the collection range in setting and tone – from the joys of a family excursion in Maiduguri to an American-Nigerian family’s return to Lagos. Expert In All Styles is a thoughtful, incisive collection with memorably-drawn characters whose lives are as universal as they are particular.
I.O. Echeruo spends his time between Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana. His short stories have appeared in Transition Magazine and Eclectica Magazine. His short story “Aishatu’s Dinner” was selected as one of Eclectica Magazine’s Top Thirteen Stories of 2013. Echeruo is currently at work on his first novel.