The sound of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ shook Jessica from the romantic novel that she had been reading. She sighed when she saw the name ‘Bestie’ displayed on the phone screen.
“Babe, how far? Where are you now?” her friend Uju asked in an anxious voice.
Jessica sat up straight with worry. “I’m at home. What happened?”
“My mom and that guy are coming to Awka today. They want to see me.”
“Oh!” Jessica relaxed. “Then why are you so anxious. Or…”
“I am not in Awka now,” her friend admitted.
Of course you are not in Awka, Jessica thought. “Where are you? Enugu? with who?”
“I will tell you later. Just help me abeg. You remember the guy I told you about, the one that my parents said I am going to get married to?”
“Obinna? the one in Germany. He is coming with your mother?”
“Yes. My mother said he came back and he wants to come to our village for introduction next month. But you know how it is for me. I really like this guy that I am dating now. I don’t want to break up with him because of someone I have only spoken with through the phone,” Uju explained.
“So, what do you want me to do for you?”
“I told my mother that our department went for a four day excursion in Enugu. And I won’t be around when she comes. But she said that they are already on their way here and that they packed a lot of things for me, that they must drop it here. So I told her that I am now staying with you, my best friend. I cannot tell her that I am living in a guy’s house,” Uju completed with a mischievous chuckle.
Jessica was silent for a while.
“Hello, Jess. Are you still there?”
“So you want me to host your mother and your fiancé in place of you?”
“Hmm,” Jessica sighed. “Which time will they get here? And your introduction is next month, you have to make a decision quick. If you don’t want to marry the guy, tell your parents. Your mother is considerate. She won’t let you marry someone that you don’t like.”
“The thing is that Obinna has money, more than this my current boyfriend. And I cannot let such a big fish leave my net because of feelings, feelings that cannot even feed me. I am still thinking about it.”
“You have come again,” Jessica groaned. “You should know that money is not all that important in relationships, especially when it comes to the topic of marriage. But I am sure that you know that, and you won’t still listen. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though.”
“It’s okay. Don’t worry, I know what I am doing. So, you will do it? My mother will spend the night, Obinna will stay in his friend’s house. You don’t have to worry, it is just a night,” Uju said.
“Okay, just this time. Next time, don’t ask me to do anything like this for you again. I won’t do it,” Jessica reluctantly agreed to her friend’s very unusual request. What one does for friends, she shook her head.
Hearing her acceptance, Uju gushed out words of thanks and with a promise to call later, she hung up the call.
It was as she dropped the phone that she realized what she had agreed to. She had agreed to lie to her friend’s mother and fiancé. She rubbed her face wearily and looked around the room. She needed to carry out a thorough cleaning before Uju’s mother arrived. She had been leaving the cleaning for Saturday as usual, but she couldn’t let her friend’s mother and fiancé meet the room in a poor state. With reluctance, she dragged herself up from the bed and set to work.
It was evening when she received a call from Uju’s mother. They were in front of the gate. She brought down the pot of boiling onugbu soup from the cooker and turned it off. A soup she had cooked on short notice, she hoped the visitors would find it palatable. She rushed downstairs to receive them, she found Uju mother standing beside a blue range rover.
“Mummy, good evening ma,” she greeted bending her knees to show respect.
Uju mother, a tall and well rounded woman pulled her into a warm hug. The expensive perfume that hit her nose was neither strong or heavy, it was mild, it made one feel refreshed.
“How are you, nne?” Uju mother, Katherine pulled her back to take a good look at her.
“I am fine ma. How was the journey? Hope it wasn’t stressful?”
“My daughter, don’t worry. It was okay.” She looked back at the car, “Obi, come let’s go inside. Leave the things in the car, later we would look for someone to bring them up. Let us rest first.”
“Okay, ma.” A man came down from the car.
Jessica blinked twice when she saw him.
Why is Uju still reluctant to marry this guy? was the thought in her mind as she greeted with a small voice, “Good evening sir.”
He replied with inattention as he used locked the car and started looking through his phone. Soon he was making a call. Feeling ignored, she turned back to Katherine and led her up the stairs. Obinna followed behind them, from what she heard, it seemed he was talking to Uju.
“What is this wonderful aroma?” Katherine said as she entered the room. The aroma of the fresh onugbu soup filled every corner of the room. Jessica suspected that the smell would take a while to diffuse.
Jessica smiled with humility as she opened up the windows and switched on the AC.
“No, don’t worry. The aroma comforts me, it means that my daughter really has a good friend. I hope she also knows how to cook like this,” Katherine praised.
Jessica didn’t want to give the bad news of an Igbo girl that couldn’t cook anything aside jollof rice and fried rice, so she kept her mouth shut. A mother should know her daughter well, she thought. Katherine should not expect her daughter to mysteriously learn how to cook when she never let her do any kitchen work at home. Despite the thought in her head, she smiled politely and quickly offered Katherine a seat. Obinna who had been standing outside, came into the room. And then she was faced with one problem. In her rush to arrange the room and prepare something for the visitors, she had forgotten that there was only one chair in the room. Her bed wasn’t high enough to serve as a seat for a visitor.
“I’m coming.” She rushed out of the room feeling ashamed of herself. After knocking on two doors, she was able to get another chair.
“How is school?” Katherine asked after Obinna had sat down on the chair that she had brought.
“School is fine.” The atmosphere seemed awkward to her. Even though she had always spoken to Uju’s mother on the phone, this was the first time that she had met her. Had Uju been around, it would be better. She went into the kitchen and placed a pot of water on the cooker. Unsure of how to accompany her visitors, she remained in the kitchen, washing and rewashing plates as she waited for the water to boil. As soon as the water boiled, she prepared semo, dished it out in two plates. Scooping thick, leafy soup into two plates, she placed them on a tray and went out of the kitchen to serve them.
“Ezigbo nwa,” Katherine said as she placed the food in from of them. “I hope Uju is learning from you. You should teach her too, all these things. She should know how to do them.”
Hoping to leave her friend’s fiancé with a good impression of Uju, she said, “She can do them. It’s just that you don’t give her much chance to do it at home.”
“When I have two maids. Let them do the work,” Katherine said as she washed her hands in basin Jessica had provided. She tasted the soup first, and with a sound of approval started eating. Obinna who had barely said a few words since they arrived nodded with approval as he ate. A warm feeling filled her heart. They approved of her food. It seemed like nothing, but to her, it was important.
Silence reigned as the two visitors feasted on the meal in front of them. Jessica was very glad for the silence. She picked up her novel and continued from where she stopped.
“I will be on my way now. I still have something to do before we leave tomorrow.” The scraping of the chair pulled Jessica’s attention from the novel. Obinna had finished eating and was already on his feet.
“Okay. My daughter is not around, but at least you have seen where she lives. Next time, you can visit on your own,” Katherine said.
“I will come and pick you tomorrow in the morning so we can get home on time.” He pulled out his car key from his pocket and gestured at Jessica. “Come and take the things in the car.”
With a silent nod, she followed him. It was a quiet walk to his car. At his back, Jessica studied him closely. It was hard to tell who someone was at first sight, but Obinna gave her a feeling of comfort, that he was the type of man that wouldn’t let anyone under him go through any kind of pain. With a sigh, she shook the thoughts already forming in her head. No, he was her friend’s fiancé, she reminded herself.
He opened the car and started bringing out some things.
“You cannot take all these things up by yourself, can you?”
“I will call one of the security men,” Jessica said as she gestured at the gate, surprisingly, a security man started coming towards them. He must have had his eyes on them all the while, Jessica thought grateful that she didn’t have to walk the whole way to the gate to get him.
“Good afternoon sir,” he greeted Obinna, then looked at Jessica with a wink. “Make I help you carry am?” he asked even though he was already carrying the things one by one.
After taking everything out of the car, Jessica felt like he had brought Uju’s brideprice. The things they brought were enough to last Uju for a whole year. Jessica could tell that the money used to buy everything was from Obinna’s pocket.
“Thank you sir,” she said as he got into the driver’s car. She was about to carry a carton of Indomie upstairs when he called her.
“Jessica, right?” She turned to look at him with surprise. He gestured for her to get into the car. Jessica’s heart started beating fast. What did he want to do? With caution she opened the door and entered the car, a burst of cool air from the AC hit her.
“Close the door,” he said. She didn’t want to, but she pulled the door close, the soft thud shutting her with him. In such close contact with him, Jessica could feel her heart about to jump out of her chest. She had met other guys before, dated guys before—she wasn’t even a virgin, but why was she feeling this way, less in control of herself.
“She didn’t go on an excursion, did she?” he asked in a low voice.
Jessica felt sorry that she had to lie to him. “Her department left yesterday. They went for an excursion in Enugu. Why would you think that way?”
He took a deep breath, “I am not foolish. Just tell me the truth.”
“Will it change anything?” Jessica asked. She couldn’t destroy her friend’s future.
He chuckled lightly, “I am supposed to be engaged, but I haven’t seen my fiancée for once. I don’t even know how she looks like. So tell me, will it change anything?” he threw the questions back at her.
“But you have seen her pictures. You have called her, and there were also video calls. It’s not like you don’t know how she looks like.” Jessica shrugged, ignoring the real meaning of his words.
“It’s marriage we are talking about. You look like an intelligent girl, don’t twist my words.” He looked at her carefully. “And by the way, you are a wonderful cook. I enjoyed your food.”
She lowered her head and smiled. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t come with anything for you. I mean, you are my fiancée’s best friend. And you ended up being our host.”
Jessica shook her head. “No, you don’t need to give me anything. I mean, all these things you brought, I’m sure I have my own portion.”
“Are you sure?” He flashed her a smile, one that took her breath away.
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Alright, I should be on my way now. You should have my number. In case anything comes up, just give me a call.” He pulled out a contact card and handed to her.
“Okay.” She collected it and opened the door. On second thought, she looked back at him and said, “She will be back by Tuesday. If you have the time, you can take her on a date. She is a nice person, but faced with this arrangement, she is also scared. So, please just bear with her.”
The words, “I will try” followed her as she came down from the car and shut the door. She watched as he reversed the car and drove out of the large compound. The security man had finished carrying everything upstairs. It seemed Katherine had also given him money for his labour. With a sigh, she climbed the stairs and went into the room.
The next morning, when he came to pick Katherine, he gave her a bunch of N100 notes. She didn’t want to collect it, but Katherine had urged her to do so. That it was a form of appreciation for being a good friend to Uju. The warmth behind Katherine’s smile made her feel worse about lying to them. Obinna had given her an understanding smile, before he entered the car and drove off with Katherine. Rather than feeling relieved, she felt regretful. She forced herself not to think of the reason.