Emeka walked tiredly to the coal black door with 17B written on it in gold, turned his key in the lock and walked into the overwhelming smell of incense, apples and something else he couldn’t make out but didn’t find pleasant. His wife, Halima, and his daughter, Julie, were praying in the living room. He wanted to go to the kitchen to drink water but he couldn’t because he would have to walk in front of his wife and daughter and he knew he wasn’t allowed to walk in front of people who were praying. He’d learnt that the hard way. So he sank into the couch and swallowed saliva repeatedly hoping to at least make his throat a little less dry while he waited. Not only was he greatly thirsty, he was starving. He had eaten an apple for breakfast and he had been so busy at the office that he didn’t have time to eat lunch. Confined to the couch, he had no choice but to wait till their prayers were over.
“Hello darling, dinner is almost ready. How was your day”, Halima said, after their prayers were done. Julie hugged him and ran upstairs probably to continue chatting with someone she’d put on hold for her prayers. “My day was long and tiring and I’m famished. What’s for dinner?”, said Emeka, all but whispering. “Aww, sorry dear”, Halima said, ladling something from a pot into a bowl. “We’re having Mama Aimal’s stew and some apple pie for dessert”, she said as she brought the bowl of stew to him. Emeka wanted to cry. He now knew what that smell he couldn’t make out before was; it was the stew. A blend of pig brains and intestines,weird spices and other strange things made Mama Aimal, Halima’s grandmother’s stew and it was a treasured family recipe. He hated that stew with a passion and always poured it down the sink when Halima wasn’t looking. He sat there with fake happiness on his face spooning the gross liquid into his mouth as Halima watched him, his soul weeping. He also hated apple pie; he thought it was just too sweet to be called food. After several spoons of the stew, Emeka couldn’t take it anymore so he pretended to doze off. He ignored Halima’s light taps until, finally, she carried the bowl of stew to the kitchen and started to load the dishwasher.
Emeka heard her make her way upstairs and only then did he rouse from his fake sleep and go upstairs. Showered and lying in bed next to a sleeping Halima, Emeka waited for sleep to come. Strands of Halima’s long, sleek hair tickling his face, he thought about his beautiful wife that his family disliked. When he told his mother on the phone that he had found the person he wanted to marry, she said ” ah, Chukwuemeka! I thought you would come back home to find a wonderful Igbo girl, preferably from our hometown to marry. Anyway, I trust you my son. I know you have found an equally good Nigerian woman over there”. When he said his wife to be was not Nigerian, his mother screamed as if someone struck her with a big stick. “Jehovah! Chukwuemeka, you want to marry an American. Do you want to kill me? Eiii God oh”. Emeka thought it wise to not divulge any more information so he told his mother he and his girlfriend would be coming to Nigeria to see her and his father. When his mother first saw Halima, she whispered to Emeka, “Why is she tying her head like all those Muslim people” and Emeka said “mama, she is Muslim”. His mother’s face wore the expression of one who had seen a ghost but she said nothing. Later that night, sitting in the living room of his family house in Aba, his father merely nodded while his mother told him they would not consent to the marriage. His mother, arms akimbo, said at the top of her voice,”We cannot agree oh,Emeka. Never! Not only did you bring a white woman home as a bride, you brought a Muslim white woman. You must be joking. You will not kill me; I did not kill my parents, so you will not kill me”. Then with tears in her eyes and palms raised towards the ceiling, she knelt down and said “God, where did I go wrong please. Did all my prayers for my son’s future go unanswered. Will my years as a devout Christian go unrewarded. Jesus oh! Father why me”. Emeka explained time and time again that he loved Halima and he would never marry anyone else but his mother just cried and screamed and his father just shook his head mournfully. Emeka still married Halima. And then they had Julie. They couldn’t decide on a name; he wanted her to have an Igbo name, preferably Ngozi after his mum as he secretly hoped this would make his mother accept his new life, but Halima wanted to name her, Aisha after her own mother. So they decided to just give her a neutral English name they both liked. Emeka had hoped that his parents would change their mind now that they had a grandchild but their stance on the matter remained unchanged. Soon, the void created by the figurative loss of his parents was filled by his growing love for his daughter. She was just like her mother, maybe that’s why he loved her so much. He was a little hurt when, 13 and bright eyed, she decided she didn’t want to be Christian anymore.
Emeka fell asleep and he dreamt of a different life. It was one of those dreams that you know is a dream from the get go but can’t seem to wake up from so you just go along with it till your alarm clock rings. He walked up to 17B, turned his key in the lock and walked in. Seated on the couch was his mother singing an Igbo lullaby to a new born Julie. But her name wasn’t Julie in this alternate universe, her name was Ngozi. “Papa Ngozi, welcome. How was work”, his mother said still looking at baby Ngozi. “Fine mama”. The appetizing aroma of food hung in the air like a thick comforting blanket. “Welcome darling, your dinner is ready”,said his wife. Her accent made it clear to him that she was Igbo, most probably from his village. She had dark shiny skin and a gap in her front teeth and she looked like Igbo personified. He could see why his mother liked her. “What’s for dinner, he asked”. “Oh, your favourite. Pounded yam and Okazi soup”, she said taking his jacket and briefcase. As the first bolus of pounded yam drenched in soup made its way down Emeka’s throat to his eager belly, Emeka woke up to the sound of Halima’s 5am
His life was like punch at a college party: a mix of many things that boggled his mind. But, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though he had no one to go to Mass with him on Sundays, even though he hated the smell of incense, even though he’d prefer pounded yam and Okazi soup for dinner instead of Mama Aimal’s deadly stew, even though they stuck out in public like a sore thumb, one black, one white and one caramel, even though his family didn’t agree, he loved his life and that’s all that mattered.