Ima slips back into her familiar moroseness while her mother remains as upbeat as a sunflower reaching for the sun as they begin a new day at the restaurant.

Ama joyfully introduces today’s house special.

“There is no way we finish with edikangikong and we don’t visit everybody’s favourite afang soup. It is pleasing to see how afang soup has taken kitchens by storm in recent times such that even cultures that are renowned for simplicity with their soups are now dishing out this master of occasions that is afang soup. There isn’t much wrong with what most people do with it. But we should let them know that there is a more traditional way to yes, cook and present afang soup. Now, the required Efik/Ibibio afang soup is called ukwoho-afang pronounced u-kwog-hor. Friends, periwinkle in the shell is a must! What is a meal of ukwoho-afang if there’s no sucking/whistling sounds from the table at meal time? Next, be sure that the soup is thick. To achieve this, you must be mindful of the proportion of afang leaves to the waterleaves. Waterleaves emit a lot of water so you must watch it. Unlike edikangikong, water is not forbidden here as farm fresh afang leaves have thickening qualities. Start cooking with the waterleaves in your pre-cooked proteins with the stock and cook until the leaves shrink considerably before adding all condiments and then your afang and palm oil. We are always generous with our palm oil!

Ima proceeds to prepare the stove and pot for the house special.

Ama remembers last night.

Ima has just entered the compound.

Femi is there watching her with Irikefe in consternation.

Irikefe makes an obscene forward thrust of his pelvis as Ima turns her back and turns to meet Femi’s gaze.

He breezes past Femi as if Femi is not there.

Femi tries to process what he has just seen.

He dials Ima’s number and she switches off the phone after it connects.

He walks back to the restaurant and goes straight to the kitchen to talk to Ama who has left her position on the table to replace Ima in the kitchen.

“What happened to Ima? She wouldn’t talk to me and she wouldn’t pick my call.”

“I don’t know. You know her and her moods.”

“I must see her tonight,” he says.

“Don’t force it. She will wake up tomorrow and will be herself again.”

“I don’t think so. I have a bad feeling.”

Irikefe saunters by, a smirk playing on his lips, exuding an air of superiority that makes Femi clench his fists. Ima would never, he thinks.

He returns to his seat in deep rumination.

The men knew why he was away.

“How did it go?” Uche asks.

“She won’t see me. She won’t take my call.”

He can’t bring himself to mention the scene with Irikefe.

“I swear that girl needs a shrink or a strong Pastor. One moment she is nice and sweet, the next moment she is an ogbanje.”

“She doesn’t need to see anyone,” Oscar says. “We know her story. You don’t heal anything with shame. She needs to sit with herself. It is the hardest thing to do in this day and age but it is what is needed. This is neither a religious nor even a spiritual matter. Neuroscience is beginning to corroborate things we’ve always known about the power of the mind for healing. We are at an age where there is so much information that ignorance is a choice. Psychiatrists are seeing an alarming rate of failure with their therapies. Don’t waste your money. You go to a pastor who doesn’t know what he’s doing and you get re-traumatised and he sleeps with you because you’re broken and confused. “Understand what is happening. Accept your situation. Sit with your pain. Allow your body positive experiences that profoundly contradict your helplessness. If you stay at it long enough, your brain recalibrates and you begin to heal. Jesus already told you that the kingdom of God is within you. A kingdom comes with a king. It means that within you is the God you are running around looking for.”

“But one needs some sort of guidance I should think,” Femi says.

“Yes, I agree. But start with love and acceptance. Love yourself and accept your situation. Lying to oneself is a major cause of suffering for people. Denial is also self-deception and you will never heal that way. Own your shit. Don’t say ‘why me’. Be present with yourself and see what unfolds before you.

“If you need more you’ll have to subscribe,” Oscar finishes to a chorus of laughter as the men clink glasses.

Irikefe and Castro were also listening.

“Guy, you need to move fast before Ima calibrate hin brain. Because dis kain thin wey I dey hear, after dat no be people like us hin go dey look,” Castro said to his friend.

“No worry. I get plan.”

Ama finishes making the ukwoho-afang house special for today.

Before flipping over the FOOD IS READY sign, she turns to her daughter.

“I know what you want to say,” mummy.

Look at this.

She shows her mother the photos from her phone.

Ama sighs.

“I don’t want to see him anymore. I will only treat him as a customer and that is it. To think that I was lying in bed thinking about this man while he was romping with some street trash!”

Ama knows a lost cause when she sees one.

At the night shift, she encourages her daughter to talk to Oscar.

Ima insists on sitting at a separate table with Oscar as she finds the time just before closing.

She takes a sip from her tall glass of orange juice as her eyes evade her companion.

Oscar recognises the storm within Ima’s heart. He knows that words no matter how well chosen could never capture the tumult of her soul. Instead, he chooses the path less taken – the profound eloquence of silence.

He laces his hands together and props his chin on them, making fleeting eye contact and taking care not to be invasive.

Ima finds Oscar’s demeanour a comforting anchor. For once, a man is not ogling her breasts or trying to rub knees with her.

Moments turn into minutes. Oscar’s comforting presence grounds her, allowing the knots in her chest to loosen slowly. Ima ceases to hear the flurry of activities around them.

“Guy, wetin Bro Oscar dey do?” Castro says to Irikefe. “Bros I no know.” “No be juju be this? The man no dey talk and your woman kon dey calm like say dem dey give am massage.”

Ama calls to the two boys. “Lock up when it’s 12. I already packed your meals. See you tomorrow.”

Femi is alone on a separate table. He is having more beers than usual. Each swallow seems to echo defeat as he looks towards Ima and Oscar. Oscar is not making any obvious amorous advances, yet Ima seems to be floating in the sky.

Ama reaches Femi’s table.

“Your friends have left you.”


“I was busy when you were talking to me the other time.”

Femi looks up at her. Like everyone else, he shakes his head in exasperation at the sheer allure of the woman. A freer spirit compared to her daughter even.

“Walk with me,” Ama says.

Femi stands and staggers. Ama takes him by the shoulders, steadies him, and chuckles.

“If I didn’t know Oscar I’d have believed they were falling in love right there,” Femi spat. “Why does she do that? Wonderful one moment, something else the next.”

Ama let him vent. She needed to remove him from the scene because she had last seen her daughter in such a state of peace when her husband was alive. Whatever Oscar was saying or was not saying was what her daughter needed and a drunken Femi needed to be evicted.

Ama feels his hand circle her waist.

He pulls her close as they enter the deserted street.

No. This was not what her daughter needed.

In an unexpected bold move, Femi pulls her into a hug and she feels his hardness poke her mid-section.

The man is drunk and pained Ama reasons. And he has the strongest grip she has ever felt.

Under the canopy of stars, and a quick scan to establish that they are alone, Ama is in the mood for a late-night game.

“So you were playing my daughter?” she says.

She is soft like fresh agege bread. Her lingering perfume and hair oils threaten to send him into sweet delirium. He can feel no resistance. He moves his hand from her waist and cups her breasts.

Ama fumbles and finds his zip. Femi grunts as she takes him in her hand. He wants her to go down. She chuckles and squeezes.

“Go down. Go down please.”

“Naughty boy,” Ama coos.

“Okay let’s go inside.”

She caresses and strokes him for a minute and then pushes him away and chuckles.

“No. No. You can’t leave me like this.”

“Yes, I can. Bye, player!” Ama says and sways into her compound and shuts the gate.