EXPENSIVE JOKE (SHORT STORY)
I went to see my neighbour, Okwuchi, this morning, on my way back from work. She has been depressed lately because she lost her job and I like to check on her from time to time.
When I knocked, she refused to open the door, so I brought out my guitar from its case and started playing, “There’s An Angel At Your Door,” by Solise. (I play with the night band at RedRose Hotel.) When I got to the stanza that says, “Heaven came to meet you, ‘Cause you’re oh so so special …,” she came out and gave me a halfhearted smile.
We went into her room and I asked if she’d had breakfast. She said she wasn’t hungry. Knowing how much good food can help to cheer someone up, I begged to get her some and went back to my room for a small food flask. A lady by the corner down the road sells the best akara and pap you can imagine and for a hundred and fifty Naira, I bought ten balls of akara and some pap.
When I set the food on a tray in front of the mattress where she lay and sat on the rug beside her, Okwuchi protested that the akara was too much. I argued that it wasn’t but she insisted that I take some. Then I came up with this:
“I have a confession to make.”
“What?” Her curiosity pushed me on. My mission to cheer her up was succeeding, I told myself.
“I’ve wanted you to be mine for long, so I put some love potion in the food. If I join you to eat it, the potion will not be potent enough.”
By the time I finished, her look had changed.
“Bia onye ara a,* get out of my room immediately, and take your stupid food with you.”
“Wait o, …”
She carried the tray outside and started calling the whole neighbourhood, claiming that I want to kill her.
“See idiot and love! It’s Buhari I blame, not you! How will a dropout like you talk love to me if not that Buhari has destroyed this country?”
“I was only joking o! I don’t love you more than ‘Love thy nieighbour’ in the Bible.”
“Did the Bible say you should use charm on people?” She repeated what I’d told her to the women who had gathered.
(Related: Stay Down – Short Story)
I told them I was playing with her but my explanations fell on deaf ears.
“No wonder he is in your room morning and night,” Mama Ngozi, our cantankerous landlady, said.
“I was only being a good neighbour.”
“Saint Paschal,” she sneered.
Although I’d eaten an early breakfast before returning from RedRose, I decided to eat the food in question to show them I meant no harm. Halfway through, Okwuchi went into her room, brought out my guitar and bolted the door. But the women stood there and insisted that I eat it all up. It was too much for me and I threw up towards the end.
The next thing I knew, my landlady called her son who was gambling at a nearby pool office to kick me out of the compound.
“You said you would eat the food but you vomitted it out because you know what you did.” By then I was too exhausted to counter the landlady.
One by one, my 10 spring foam, my stove, Ghana-Must-Go and other belongings were thrown outside and they changed the lock.
In all this commotion, Okwuchi did not come out or say a word.
The worst is that I don’t love the girl. I don’t even like her. She is too serious – no friend, no laughter; that’s why I tried to help her. Now see where it has landed me. Just one small joke that another person would have laughed at. Na waa oh!
If I can’t find a room by nightfall, I’ll be squatting with a friend and I hate that, just because of one tingiri joke.
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2019
(Related: Help! My Wife Is A Guy! – Short Story)
*Bia onye ara a is Igbo for “Come, you mad man”.
tingiri means tiny in Pidgin English
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