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Thread: A short story.

  1. #1
    A. Igoni Barrett

    A short story.


    There was only one place to find Mrs. Uju (Augustina ****rose Patience Odenigbo ‘Mama Uzor’) Orjinta at five o’clock – post meridiem – on a Wednesday, and that was plumb in front of her TV set. Come rain or shine, or, more likely, power failure or military putsch, Uju Orjinta never missed ‘pot-pourri’. It was her favourite programme, ever. Though unaware of it, this was no small coup for ‘pot-pourri’ – Uju Orjinta never gave her loyalties lightly.

    ‘Pot-pourri’ was a half-hour live feature on African cuisine that was shot on the grounds of the second most exclusive hotel in the city. Uju Orjinta loved cooking – but she loved eating even more. She devoured everything that met one of her three criteria for toothsome food: starchy, greasy or crunchy. Her all-time favourite delicacy however was fried fish. She consumed it as a whole meal or in combination; she nibbled it as a snack, or as an appetizer; she even used it as an analgesic. As a consequence of this craving Uju Orjinta reeked of the stuff (or so her husband complained).

    Five Styrofoam packs of fried fish and a thermos flask of ice-cold beer held themselves in the ready on Uju Orjinta’s lap as the seconds counted down to H-hour. She picked up the woven-raffia fan that lay beside her on the sofa, and, adjusting herself with a dolorous sigh, she began to beat the air before her face. The sitting room was oppressively hot, but she couldn’t put on the air conditioner as its current load was too heavy for the generator. Neither could she open the windows: the deafening grumble and the fumes of the generator would interfere with her enjoyment of ‘pot-pourri’. And that she couldn’t have.

    Uju Orjinta stilled her working hand as soon as the TV screen beamed forth the red light of ‘pot-pourri’s’ opening credits. She tore open a pack and grasped one of the grease-crusted fishes by the tail. The screen changed colour again, and the presenter, the bubbly, delightful Joyce, walked on camera. Uju Orjinta dug hungrily into the parade-stiff carcass and set about opening the flask of beer.

    It was Joyce, apart from the sheer luxuriousness of the cooking, that kept Uju Orjinta coming back for more. She felt like she knew her, like she was a friend or a sister – a soul mate. Never mind that Joyce was a loquacious, plucked-chicken complexioned woman with a penchant for hoop earrings and bulbous neck-beads. There was no denying these differences – but it was their similarities that Uju Orjinta preferred to focus on. Of these the most conspicuous was Joyce’s size, which filled the screen with rosy folds and straining bulges. And then there was her endearing, and unashamed, gourmandise. This shared passion of course, more than anything else, was the compost from which the attraction sprouted.

    ‘The guest chef today is Francois...’ Joyce said, and the camera cut to a tall white man in an equatorially flowered shirt. He stood behind a table laden with Pyrex bowls and steel cutlery and aluminium pots and pans and china jugs and spice bottles and a chopping board and a sherry decanter and a four-ring gas burner and caramel-hued baskets bursting with the ingredients for the day’s cooking. He looked ill at ease. He was a Frenchman: Uju Orjinta could tell by the way he pursed his lips and clasped strings of air between forefinger and thumb as he endlessly inspected his nails. And then there was his name.

    ‘Our main course today is called...’ Joyce announced as she moved into the frame with the Frenchman, dwarfing him, and then held the microphone up to his mouth for him to complete the sentence. It was a signature manoeuvre. The screen flickered right on cue as the name of the meal and its recipe appeared in caption, which was as well as Uju Orjinta hadn’t caught the Frenchman’s babble. Joyce thought of everything, Uju Orjinta exulted, and then settled back to let herself be titillated.

    ‘...Heat the palm oil – not long... and then the chopped onions and the purée, and stir... and then this... the cane rat flesh goes in... and the stockfish – deboned ‘member? – you shred, and the crawfish, and the da-da-wa, and then – ooh, smell that, oui? –soupcon garlic...’

    Joyce looked on with uncontainable glee, her throat working lubriciously, as the pot began to splutter and belch beneath the chef’s magic fingers. Uju Orjinta, guzzling beer to calm a palpitating heart, writhed on her sitting room sofa in vicarious ecstasy.

    ‘...Leave to cook. We do the yam. For four persons you need...’

    To give herself some respite Uju Orjinta tore her eyes away from the cornucopian table. She turned her attention to the right end of the screen, where, in the background, the wrought-iron furniture of a garden restaurant was in view. There were few diners.

    ‘Pounding the yam is...’ Joyce said, guffawing at the camera. When Uju Orjinta turned her eyes back to the restaurant she noticed that two newcomers had taken the table closest to the screen. It was a young lady and an older man. The lady’s face was in plain view, scrubbed clean and girlie-looking, while the man’s, as his heavy form leaned forward to whisper importunities in her ear, was hidden by a vase of carnations. Old goat, Uju Orjinta thought, noting with a vestigial twinge of envy the embarrassed laugh of a woman courted. Then a waiter appeared from the wings to take the lovebirds’ order. The man leaned back in his chair, his fingers interlocking over his paunch. The lady turned away, her face a mask of boredom. When the waiter eventually bowed and withdrew, taking the vase of flowers with him, the man, looking unaccountably smug, resumed his soft-soaping from where he had left off. Uju Orjinta thought there was something familiar about the man’s face. Then satori struck, like a boot in the belly.

    ‘Oh!’ Uju Orjinta gasped, clutching at her neck. And then - ‘You!’ She flopped back on the sofa, scattering empty Styrofoam packs.

    (Mr. Orjinta, though unaware of it, was in soup – Uju Orjinta never gave her loyalties lightly.)

    After long seconds of bug-eyed gawking and spluttered curses that left her chin shiny with saliva, Uju Orjinta roused herself with an effort and reached for the TV’s remote control. She jabbed at the ‘off’ button like it was Mr. Orjinta’s groin.

    ‘Bola!’ she bellowed, setting the sofa trembling.

    There came the sound of running feet and then the housemaid burst into the room, wringing her hands.

    ‘Telefon,’ Uju Orjinta ordered, pointing to where her handbag lay two chairs away.

    The housemaid delivered the cell phone and, seeing the malevolent glimmer in her madam’s eye, scurried away before the thought coagulated into action.

    Uju Orjinta switched the TV back on. Mr. Orjinta and his floozy, far from being figments of the TV’s imagination, were still at it. Their meal had arrived. When last did the brute take me out to dinner, Uju Orjinta fumed as the cell phone sang the tones of her husband’s number. The call connected at first try – she could see him reaching into the folds of his babanriga even before the ringing sounded in her ear. Then, insult upon injury, he rejected the call. She immediately redialed. And again he rejected it. Again she redialed, heaving herself up in her seat. She saw him say something to his lady friend – an apology? – and then...

    ‘Yes?’ that familiar voice suddenly boomed in her ear, startling her. ‘What do you want?’

    ‘Where you?’ she demanded.

    ‘What is it to you?’

    ‘What kind. Question. That is. Papa Uzor?’

    ‘You want to fight, is that it? Well I can’t, Mama Uzor – I have better things to do with my time. Anyway, I’m at the office.’

    She saw him flash a smile at his date, and she – the home breaker – smiled back. So that was how it was.

    ‘Are you. Coming. Home dinner?’

    ‘No, I’ll be in late. Any other thing?’

    And he reached over – in public, on national TV! – and wiped away a fugitive morsel from the hussy’s mouth. Uju Orjinta felt like a creature derided by the gods.

    ‘Yes. Something,’ Uju Orjinta said, her tone colourless - like vinegar. ‘Tell girlfriend. Fork. In Left. Knife. Right hand.’ And she cut the connection.

    ‘Till we come your way again next week with another thrilling episode of ‘pot-pourri’, from me, Joyce, and the camera crew, its goodbye and good cooking.’

    And just before the Trinitron-clear picture of Joyce tucking into a heaped plate faded out, Uju Orjinta and her aghast spouse locked eyes.

    copyright (c) 2005, By A.I. Barrett. All Rights Reserved.

  2. #2
    Gail Kelley

    Re: A short story.

    I thought this was great. But. I can't seem to suspend my disbelief that her husband wouldn't know she would see him. I think you need to weave in an explanation of how he either didn't know she watched the show (for some reason she kept it a secret) or he didn't know the restaurant was televised for the show (how could he miss the television cameras?)

    There were a few sentences I didn't like - for example, I thought:

    "He stood behind a table laden with Pyrex bowls and steel cutlery and aluminium pots and pans and china jugs and spice bottles and a chopping board and a sherry decanter and a four-ring gas burner and caramel-hued baskets bursting with the ingredients for the day’s cooking.."

    had a few too many "ands", but that's just a subjective comment.

  3. #3
    L Bea

    Re: A short story.

    I agree with everything Gail said -- I thought the same things about the sentence with the ands and also the husband so blatantly being on the set of his wive's favorite program. In addition, I found it hard to digest the fact that producers would allow patrons to have cell phones in the area where they're shooting a program. I don't know that for sure, it was just a thought in my head as I read.

    The other thing I didn't understand was why this sentence was in parentheses--it tripped me up and I had to re-read it. Something in parentheses (to me) should be a side thought or background, whereas this was an important turn in the story. Perhaps only the second part of the sentence could be encased:

    (Mr. Orjinta, though unaware of it, was in soup – Uju Orjinta never gave her loyalties lightly.)

    Otherwise, I enjoyed the story! Some spectacular descriptions.


  4. #4
    June Mason

    Re: A short story.

    This is delightful! What a wonderful talent you are, A Igoni!

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