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Placing An Order At Ejigbo By Chika Ezeanya

March 20, 2012

‘Madam, you fit comot fish from peppersoup put inside Okro soup for me? The man spoke in the general direction of the counter as he relaxed back in the white plastic chair with his friend.

‘Madam, you fit comot fish from peppersoup put inside Okro soup for me? The man spoke in the general direction of the counter as he relaxed back in the white plastic chair with his friend.

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‘I no hear you’ The restaurateur responded, adjusting her scarf, made from the same Ankara fabric as her buba and iro.
‘I want chop Semo and Okro soup, but na fish from peppersoup dey hungry me,’ replied the man, unzipping his blue overalls stained with black grease in several places. Must be a mechanic, I thought. The CEO of that workshop, for that matter, for he carried himself with an attitude. The type who turns back certain grade of cars from his workshop, taking pride in the fact that he repairs cars for ‘big men’ only. Woe betide the motorcyclists who strays into his workshop for any reason at all.

‘We no dey sell like that Oga. If you wan buy Okro soup na meat from the soup go dey inside am. If you want fresh fish peppersoup, one plate na N1,500.’ Madam replied folding, unfolding and refolding her hands across her chest.

‘Aagh aagh Madam! Na wah for you o! You sef no dey do pesin customer, abi?’ He spoke as he washed his hands inside a red plastic bowl with water from a clear plastic jug held up by one of the service girls.

‘Oga no be so o! If I comot all the fish wey dey the peppersoup, how I go take cover the cost wey I carry cook am?’ She threw away her face as she spoke. The sun reflected the rainbow that is her complexion. Dark brown around the eyes, pink, no, almost red around the cheeks, fiercely yellow on the forehead, black on the upper lip, indiscernible mixture of colors defined the rest of her face and neck. Years of application of My Fair Lady, Snow White, Topiclear, Stainless Beauty and other whitening gels and creams have rebelled and started an Occupy Movement on her skin. Poor thing. 

‘Ok, my friend here wan drink water from fish peppersoup but e no wan chop fish. You fit comot small water from peppersoup give am? E go chop Ofada rice’ continued the customer. His friend seemed pleased to be hanging out with him. He was short, stocky and dressed like a local government office clerk. Severally-washed blue satin tie with a faded picture of Obama hung loosely on his short sleeved it-was-white cotton shirt. Red, blue, and green pen covers perched atop the pocket of his shirt. I imagined him proudly signing acknowledgement receipts for the DHL or other delivery men - with such pride and authority - as if without him, the whole Local Government would come to a standstill. 

‘Oga abeg no vex. We no dey comot anything put inside anything here. Talk wetin you want chop make we serve you.”Madam could no longer hide her agitation and indignation.

‘Wetin you no mean, Madam? No be you mix soup for that person there” The mechanic pointed at the guy hunched over his plate of food two tables away. I looked at the plate and realized I could not discern whether it was Egusi, Okro, Vegetable or Bitter leaf soup the man was eating.
‘I fit mix soup but na only that. I no dey mix fish and meat,’ concluded Madam as she started to send one of her workers on an errand in an intentionally loud voice.

“Abeg come make we comot from here.” The angry customer and his friend staged a proud walkout. Grandly holding their shoulders high, snubbing Madam and her snobbish attitude.
‘Madam extra soup abeg,’ requested the man whose soup was mixed as he circumvented his brown colored glass soup bowl with his index finger.
‘Which extra soup? Egusi or Ogbono?’ Madam asked, still irritated by the last botched sales.

‘Wetin you mean by which extra soup? Mix am as you do before.’ The customer responded, smacking his lips.

‘Oga we no dey mix extra soup or we go charge you for that one.’
‘Madam Quick-quick! Madam Quick-quick herself.’ I heard his voice, beheld his belly and gaped at the size of his lips. He stood by the door as Madam Quick-quick heaved her weight up and raised her multi-colored right hand to her forehead in salute.

‘Oga mi, Sir! I remain loyal. Where you come go, Oga? Na Amirika abi na London?’ she asked, obviously elated at what I suspect must be the prospect of selling several bottles of beer and plates of fish peppersoup on a hot afternoon.

I ignored Madam and her customer as I heard the man say “Na Ghana here o! Common Ghana o! My level never reach that one wey you dey talk.’

I surveyed the restaurant. Poorly kept and poorly lit.  I had been asked to wait there by my cousin who had an asoebi to give me for another cousin’s wedding that Saturday. Having been consistently ‘disappointed’ by JAMB for the past five years, she now works in a factory behind the restaurant, she informed me over the phone. She would meet me there during her lunch break, she said, as the Chinese factory owners did not tolerate visitation of any kind. In fact, the security men would manhandle me, being a lady, should I as much as draw near the gate and mention a worker’s name. 

‘Good afternoon.’ I turned towards the direction of the voice to see a dirty looking girl of about 8 years holding a yellow metal plate chipped in several places, up before Madam Quick-quick. Her left hand held the skinny, scaly hand of a boy whose age I could not immediately place. By his face I would say 5 years, but the body looked 2, or 3 years at most.

‘My mama say make you put beans N10, Spangetin N10, Macromi N10, Kpomo’ The girl began.

‘No be here your Mama send you.’ Madam Quick-quick interjected as she placed fat, pudgy fingers on the girl’s shoulders and turning her around, pointed at the Mama-put across the street from her.
  ‘Oya, dey go, dey go’ Madam Quick-quick shooed.

The girl obeyed and was half way through leaving the shop when her brother began to cry. She spoke something in quick pidgin to the boy, but he opened his mouth and wailed even more; taking a break only to suck in mucus from his nose, relish the taste and resume. The girl pulled at him, but he stood still, and instead, turned to gaze at the soup plate of a man seated at the table directly across from him.

The customer, noticing the stare, extended his right hand towards the boy. The thumb and index fingers held a piece of meat. The part of the meat that faced the boy showed that the customer had chewed from it.  The boy violently yanked his hand off his sisters’ and ran towards the meat.

Madam Quick-quick acted fast. Drawing the boy back by the shoulder, she shouted “Alhaji No, abeg, no be for my shop. Almajiri dey outside If you want do Zakat go outside go do am.’

The phlegmatic looking Alhaji slowly withdrew his hand without a word of protest and threw the half chewed flesh inside his mouth.
The boy stood wailing in front of Madam Quick-quick, refusing to move.

‘Ugbong! Ugbong!’ screamed Madam Quick-quick.’

The sound of pestle pounding on mortar ceased momentarily as a young boy of about 14 emerged with sweat drenched skin. My eyes immediately went to the pounded yam Alhaji was swallowing and imagined that Ugbong’s sweat would have gone a long way in giving it such a malleable texture.’

‘Abeg carry this shildren comot from here.’ Madam commanded.

Ugbong grabbed the boy’s both arms and dragged him shrieking and kicking, to as far as the other side of the road, as his sister followed meekly.
He returned and the sound of pounding resumed. This second batch of pounded yam will be much softer for I noticed he was sweating even more profusely after dragging the poor wretch out under the hot sun.

‘Madam, you don wait for this person tire o!’ It was Madam Quick-quick addressing me. ‘You no want chop?’ She continued.

She eyed my empty bottle of Tonic Water discontentedly. I had occupied a table to myself for almost one hour for a mere bottle of Tonic Water. Not only that, the other seat at the table, I had also colonized with my bag, anticipating the arrival of my cousin.
I did not know what to say in response to her comment; she relieved of that burden.

‘If you no want chop, I fit bring another Tonic Water for you. Or Malt self, we dey sell Malt and we dey sell fried goat meat and snail’ she said, pointing at a glass shelf. Inside the shelf sat two white plastic plates the size and shape of President Jonathan’s hat, but white in color. One was piled high with something black and shiny while the other had a mound of something of the same color, but with white streaks. Raw onion rings, bell pepper and tomato slices advertized the scary looking things as edible.
Embarrassed, I asked for a snail, intending to leave it for my cousin to eat when she comes.

‘Ugbong! Ugbong! Come serve pesin.’ Madam screamed.
Ugbong looked fresher than when he last emerged. The sound of pounding had long ceased, and the interval must have afforded him a quick shower.
‘Give am one snail’ Madam Quick-quick said, in-between shelling Egusi seeds.

As Ugbong made to open the shelf, Alhaji called on him and whispered something in his ear. He went back to the showcase and reappeared in front of my table with five pieces of snails and four goat meats piled high on a plate. His other hand held a bottle of Heineken.
‘Alhaji say make I give you.’ Ugbong said.

‘Yessoooo! Correct babe! Na better sister you be.’ That was Janet throwing one goat meat inside her mouth and reaching for one snail simultaneously, even before seating down.

‘Madam Quick-quick na my cousin be this.’ She said throwing my bag on the table together with a black nylon bag containing a red and gold colored Ghana woodin fabric.’

‘Aaaah How you no tell me say na Janet you dey wait for? I for no disturb you naw. Janet na my better customer.’ Madam Quick-quick sounded apologetic as she spoke.

‘Good afternoon Madam.’ The crispness of the voice interrupted her.
The man, dressed in a well ironed light blue shirt, navy pants and pink and blue striped tie held up an ID card inches from Madam’s face.

‘Oga which kind thing be this naw? I don settle una last two weeks.’ Protested Madam.

‘Madam, please show us your sanitary clearance certificate.’ The man, carrying himself with all seriousness demanded by his profession,  spoke firmly.

‘Oga, which receipt? No be last week your people came here from NAFDAC, I settle them and they know me well, well.’

‘Madam, I am not from NAFDAC, I am from the sanitation task force from Abuja. We need the Sanitary Clearance issued by our state representatives from the Ministry of Health.’

‘Oga, I no get that one. No inspectors came here.’ Madam was aghast. She looked about to cry.

‘Then I am afraid we will have to close this shop right now. There is a possibility that you are endangering the lives of innocent citizens.’ The man responded impersonally, turning to face the four policemen with him.
‘Oga, no naw. Abeg siddon make we talk. Wetin you go drink? Star dey, Heineken dey.’ Madam Quick-quick was trying to lighten up and sound cheerful.

‘Babe make we clear abeg. Matter don enter arrest, I no want go Kirikiri.’ That was Janet speaking to me as I stared at what was going on in front of me. She hurriedly retrieved the asoebi from the nylon bag, shoved it inside my bag, emptied the remaining goat meat and snail inside the nylon bag and dragged me out of the restaurant.

Chika is the author of Before We Set Sail She blogs at


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