It’s a new day. The restaurant thrums with life. Business is booming beyond their wildest dreams. Their bodies are weary yet their spirits blaze with fire. This is their destiny. This is what they were born to do.

“Ima dear, we are going to rewrite the food narrative in this part of Lagos. Every day we will have a different house special. The aim is to restore the sanctity of our traditional dishes. To ensure we give our customers what our parents enjoyed in their pure form. Let’s start today with afia efere. Yes, it is afia efere and not white soup as they have come to call it. It originated from our parts so let’s show them how it’s done. No palm oil. No thickener. Goat meat is a must. We can vary with other animal proteins sometimes but we want when our customers come here they get the cuisines untainted. We will serve it with nothing other than pounded yam.”

Ama glances at Ima as they work. Her eyes are flitting to the window. Her fingers trace invisible patterns on the countertop. Ama, her weathered face etched with knowing observes in silence.

Finally, her daughter speaks up.

“Mummy. We are making more money than we can spend.”

“Yes, I know.”

“It’s not all from sales.”

“I know.”

“They ask for account details to make funds transfers for their meals and send outrageous sums. Where they are not offering the world, they are saying things that make you just want to remain in bed and dream.”

Ima looks up at her mother and Ama looks away. She knows her mother gets as much dizzying attention too.

She remembers Irikefe’s words. “She fucks her customers.”

They wrestle with the weight of unspoken thoughts.

“We need help,” Ama says. “Maybe we should find others to serve at night. Men can be incorrigible under low lights and with alcohol in their systems.”

Ima nods and turns her back.

“You heard what happened to our boys Efe and Castro?” Ama says.

There is a pause as understanding dawns. Ima shakes her head.

“No. Not them Mummy.”

“Leave it to me my darling.”

Irikefe and Castro. Their part-time hands. 24 and 22. Two boys from the slums of Lagos. Loyal lieutenants at the airline where they fought every man’s war against empty bellies awoke to a dismissal message via WhatsApp – the digital equivalent of a discarded boarding pass. Zero emoluments paid. The corrupt machinery that ran the skies had spat them out, leaving them with nothing but the hollow echo of empty promises and the gnawing hunger of betrayal.

They listen to Ama’s job offer and ask for a moment to consider.

“I come airport dey hope say one day I go become pilot,” Irikefe says. “Now I go come dey serve other men isi-ewu for night.”

“Baba at least hunger no go kill us,” Castro reasoned.

They dream only of both women. Irikefe sleeps with a printed picture of Ima he downloaded from her WhatsApp profile. Castro once said he did not mind exiting the world on top of her mother.

“How we go come run this thing now if dem dey pay us salary? God punish that CEO and him papa.”

They are excited to see Oscar come in early. They don’t start work until later that evening. So they corner Oscar as he strolls out after his meal, steps floating, belly content and the lingering flavour of the goat meat afia efere dancing on his tongue.

“Bro Oscar, Castro started. I’ve been thinking about that thing you said the other day about trauma. I think I’m traumatised.”

“Why do you say so?”

“The compound we grew up in, half the tenants were witches and wizards.”

Oscar is walking to his car. The words stop him in his tracks. He looks at the boys. Their faces are alight with a certainty that brooks no argument.

“Almost every night they were pressing us. I woke up confused every day. I once got the chance and penetrated the daughter of the king of the wizards. I did not remember my name for one month after that.”

“My own father was a wizard and I did not know,” Irikefe resumes, “He was making deals with the others up and down. That thing you said about trauma altering the chemical in the brain, when I shake my head sometimes I feel the chemicals moving between my ears.”

A smile tugs at the corner of Oscar’s lips. Courtesy keeps a full-blown laugh at bay. He wonders how the boys manage to keep straight faces.

“That is not all. Now they have sacked us at work too. They sacked everybody through WhatsApp messages. No salary, no pensions, no nothing. Now I can change my name to trauma.”

“Aunty Ama here says we should come and work for her. Will trauma not now kill us?”

Oscar takes a few more strides and stops in front of his Toyota Camry. The boys are along.

“Firstly I’ll say sorry for your job loss. However, you are both perfectly adjusted young men. That you are talking to me and not seeking sympathy from strangers online is a testament to that. As for your experiences in your former compound, one day you will come to see that those were experiences you needed. Same with the job loss. Now you work for these two wonderful women. What they do with common ingredients needs to be studied and you have a first-hand opportunity to. Who said you were destined for the airline? Sometimes you need a rude check to wake up to your true calling. Grab this opportunity. You may own an even bigger outfit like this tomorrow and end up feeding the pilots you want to be like and make big bucks. You are angry with your CEO today; you don’t know what it’s like being them. Get this new skill. Introduce even more flair to the endeavour when the time comes and who knows, you may still end up becoming whatever else you want to be after learning a few life lessons.

“I have to run now. See you in the evening guys.”

They set the tables for the night shift at 7.

Ima insists they put on white shirts, just as mother and daughter do.

“Na tie remain” Irikefe fumes. See my life.”

They serve the first round to the first arrivals.

Someone calls out “Hey, waiter!” to Irikefe.

“Your father!” He retorts.

Castro drags him to the side.

Guy you don forget wetin Oscar talk. I swear if dem sack us for here you go go back to your village.”

Oscar, Uche, Charles and Femi settle down at their favourite table at 9:30.

Femi is in good form.

He dismisses Irikefe and Castro and insists Ima comes to serve them.

Ima protests but her mother encourages her to.

“They’re our customers and we must give them what they want within the bounds of decency.

Some days each of us will stay away altogether and they will have to cope with the boys. Eventually, they will adjust.”

Her poor daughter still has nightmares from her disastrous marriage. The only experience she has had. Ama understands it will take time. The men don’t make it easy. And her daughter is oblivious to just how irresistible she is.

“Today I killed it in the gym boys. It was leg day. After my 10-minute warm-up, I did twice my body weight on the barbell squats. For my front squats, I did 70% of the back squats weight. I’m talking 180 and 80kgs. Three sets of eight reps. My testicles are brimming with testosterone. I pity the girl that will cross my path in the next forty-eight hours.”

Irikefe does not like the sound of that.

He is watching Ima. Femi made her sit with them. She was uncomfortable at first but she’s beginning to relax. There’s a twinkle in her eyes when Femi mentions the next girl he would have.

Castro watches his friend. Concern etched on his face.

“Bro, I think you have to kill Femi.”

Irikefe stays silent and continues to watch.

“You heard all the weight he lifts. And you, the heaviest thing you ever carry are tubers of yam.”

Irikefe maintains his concentration.

Ima laughs aloud at something else Femi says.

Castro is convinced Irikefe would rip his shirt and quit the job at any moment now.

They endure until closing time.

Femi offers to walk the women home.

Ama cleverly retreats and lets Ima walk side by side with Femi.

Irikefe turns to Castro.

His eyes are misty.

“I’ll serve Femi his food tomorrow,” he says.