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The Colour of Love is Zobo

By Shalom Kasim


After Easter, I finally took that long-waited leave I'd put off for months...


There are fewer things that could get a a writer more enthused than taking a break from sitting in front of a screen and checking boxes at dashboards. Worse so, when at the end of the day, there's a manager who casually walks into your space, looks you in the eye, and says, "I am not impressed with your work." Then as a second thought, adds, "So far," because he knows that day has literally been your best that week, and that you could strangle him if he didn't add that second phrase.


Maybe literally. Maybe not.


I arrive Billiri on Tuesday - I need a break away from my manager.


It's typical for us to "je hutu a kauye*" to catch up with old relatives and to see who just got a new sibling. Sometimes, it's to see mum and your younger sisters who'd always ask you to buy them a pair of sneakers. Or, of course, visit our old-time high school crushes, if they haven't left, that is.


Hold on, let me take you back two years...


Billiri, 2022.


I briefly visited Gombe State University and caught up with my friends: a superlatively intelligent trio of a dedicated young man and two blazingly beautiful friends, J., K. and Victor -Father.


I visit K. We miss J and plan to visit her on Saturday-, no, Sunday.


Sunday comes around. There's K. When she speaks, she has a drawl that comes out sweet.


"Have you been to Kaltungo before?" I ask, to pass the time and not make it obvious I was staring.


"Yes," she replies and goes on with an elaborate narrative of her last time in Kaltungo. I hear it, but I can't recall: her voice has lost me.


There, from behind one of the baobabs ahead, appears J. If 'J' could mean one thing, it would be 'Joy.'


"Apologies I kept you waiting," she said, hugging us one after the other. "Let's start our journey."


"Start?"


"We'll make two stops: the first is a junction not far from here. The second one is....well, my house."


So many things can be pleasing, but when you walk hand-in-hand with two of your most favourite friends, the world could end and I'd have no regrets. I stare at J. Then at K. Thesauruses walk the world, and here am I with two variants of an entry: beauty.


Our first stop is J's sister's house. Her sister's family is a friendly one with the friendliest of smiles. Moses is the big bro, aged maybe 2, or 3. Miracle is the baby —chubby, with a light complexion and with a funny strand of hair (I'd tease J about this later!)


K seems to have found just the opportunity she was waiting for to grab a fine baby. Beauty, they say, attracts beauty. I understand.


We rest for about 10 or 15. Chilled water is served from water bottles. I take two cups.


"Let's continue," J announces, "our destination is still a distance away."


I resort to asking questions to shorten the journey. "What of Victor?"


"Father is going to Lagos," J replies, "Seems he's gotten his mind made up."


We reach a landmark.


"Used to function not long ago," J explains, "but we don't know what happened to it."


In Nigeria, we all know.


"This is my address: Adjacent."


"That means we're close?"


Silence.


"What's the name of that school?" K asks. "That's the foremost miracle center we have been hearing of?" She says after hearing the name.


"Used to be a miracle center," J replies.


Once a miracle center, always a miracle center.


"Here," J stops at a gate, "This is my father's house."


The gate squeaks, followed by loud wharrf, wharrf, wharrf! 2 plus-size dogs. Of course, I'm scared-dead.


"Come in; they won't do you anything," J reassures me. .


They have already scared me, I think, follow suit anyway. Underneath a tmango tree with a thick shade and low-hanging fruit, a queen-sized mat is spread out.


"Sit," J says and pushes a chair my way.


"No be you go tell me wetin I go do," I say, taking off my sandals. "No be sit I wan sit. I wan sleep."

I stretch out on the mat.


"Okay oh," she smiles.


Chilled, dark, flavour, with a sizable ration of grated cucumber, J makes the finest hibiscus juice I'll ever taste. Zobo. She serves K first. Then me.


I gulp mine down. And add another. And another. And another.


"Did you make this?" I ask.


But she doesn't reply. Instead, there's that smile that answers, "don't stain your white."


I get it.


"J J, this zobo is sweet," K says.


J asks her sister, Joan, to bring peas for K.


"For K alone?" I ask. "What of Kay?"


"You take peas too?" J laughs. "I never knew you liked peas. I know K is Waja, so..."


"Yes, I am Waja," K laughs, "and I am the only one allowed to like peas here."


"Ask of my tribe first," I dip my hand into the peas bowl when it arrives.


Peas, chilled flavory zobo, and shade from a breezing low-hanging fruit mango tree, what's left? Sleep. K stretches to sleep. J stretches to sleep. I stretch to sleep, to rest.


But...would the chickens in the house allow us? They think the groundnut chaff isn't really chaff.


Nothing beats the satisfaction of laying beside your friends, doing nothing. Just being. After years.

We bring up a few gist —myself and J. K is asleep.


"Tell me about life as a graduate," J says.


But how can I tell her that life after college raises her potential to work with horrible bosses and depressed managers? I sugarcoat everything as much as I can.


"It's an interesting world. You'll like it," I say, and I hope she does.


We talk about romantic relationships, family, career, Nigeria, online courses, and so on.


K wakes up. J notices she has her cap on.


"In this heat?!" J asks, leaving to get something from the kitchen.


"Not my fault nah," she slugs, "It's because of —" she makes a face at me.


"Me keh?" I ask. "Abeg take it off. I'll help you fix it when we're going."


J returns with 3 plates of food. Rice with beans and pepper, bathed in oil and seasoning.


"I hope you can eat it."


I smile. We all say that, even when serving people our best dishes.


After dinner, we catch up on old friends: Sunday, Hannatu, Nibrose. K doesn't want to let us in about who she's going out with. J says there's a certain doctor. K says he's just a friend, just like it started with my girlfriend and me.


We all hate it, but it's time to go. I ask for the restroom while begging J to speak to her dogs not to jump on me. Again, she assures that they won't do anything.


When I return, K and J are giggling. Not sure why, I didn't ask. 


K goes to use the restroom. I try my sandals on J's feet. Like the whale, it swallowed everything: nails, toes, and soles.


Minutes later, we scramble for a photo. Joan takes a shot of us three.


We make a stop at J's sister's house. This time, I carry Miracle. Moses cries for J to back him. J must have guessed how tired I would be.


"If you're tired, bring her," she offered. "I can't carry her this far oh."


Did I get tired? Yes. Did I hand her over? No.


We board a bike, and J hands over the parcel K's been holding to me: peas!


"You're such a darling," I hug her, "you're such a darling."


It is getting dark, and no car seems to be going to Billiri. After what seems like an hour, we finally get a car. A Volkswagen. We sit in the back seat. When some other passenger comes, we are asked to come to the front - K and I.


Just the perfect couple's picture.


The 15-minute drive back home looks short. When we alight in Billiri, it is already dark. K makes a few stops to greet some of her friends.


"It was a nice day," K says when I'm about kick-starting my bike to leave. "Thank you very much for coming —"


"—and going," I interrupt.


She laughs. "You and J made my day. We should do this again."


She nods her head, smiling.


A car beams its headlight on us. I can see my image in her eyes. I smile —that's where I want to be.


Always.


*go holidaying in the village


 

About the Writer

Shalom Kasim lives in Jos, Nigeria, and is an in-house writer for Erato Magazine. He is the Managing Editor at Mud Season Review.

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