I stood there watching this man thoroughly masticate his food. I knew it was very thorough because I witnessed the entire biological process unravel before my eyes. His teeth came down repeatedly on the food item – puff-puff or ‘kpof-kpof’ like an Igbo person would say it – mashing its crisp brown outside to it fluffy white insides. Saliva hung off his molars in silver threads. His tongue rolled the ball of mush over and over. I felt my stomach roll in sympathy. He swallowed and looked at me expectantly.
I blamed myself for agreeing to meet this man.
When an Igbo woman gets to a certain age – her mid-twenties to be exact – everybody around her tends to go crazy. All they can think about is marrying her off before she expires. It’s a lot worse if she has done more than a couple of degrees because according to those same ‘marriage experts’, most men might think she is getting too big for her boots.
And so that was how it came to be that my Uncle K arranged this meeting. Uncle K wasn’t my real relative, just an ‘Uncle’ in the way that your cousin’s husband’s church member’s colleague might be.
“Uncle, I’m not interested,” I said.
“Look, this is not one of those nonsense men you meet, he is interested in marrying tomorrow tomorrow. He is a very good friend of mine, in fact he is from my village sef. You will like him. Right now, you are young, you can ask for anything and he will give you. You don’t want to get to thirty and still be unmarried do you?“
I looked up at him. He was a big man and flinging his hands about to convey a sense of urgency did him no favours. I could go into the familiar arguments; I didn’t want to marry someone who wanted to marry that quickly, I didn’t want someone who thought thirty was too old, heck, I didn’t want to marry at all.
“Well? Look you are wasting time. I will fix it with your aunty. He is just like me, a fine man.”
I frowned. “You will ask my aunty, what, do you think she will marry your friend for me?” I chose my words carefully. “This is the 21st century.”
“You think this is Beijing conference matter? All this book book you studied in university…” I tuned out. I didn’t want to say it to Uncle K but he wasn’t my ideal man, so using himself as an example was not a strong selling point. He was kind of…a bush man, London-dwelling or no. “Ok, Uncle.” I heard myself say. Anything to get away. Meeting the man might just save me the time and energy of arguing, I thought. Uncle K arranged for us to meet at his daughter’s baptism at the weekend.
“Eh-hen. This is the girl I was telling you about. Isn’t she a fine girl?” Uncle said by way of introductions. I expected at any moment to be told to open my mouth so they could check if I was healthy. I felt like a cow. Or a slave. A slave cow. “I’ll leave you two to discuss.” He winked at me. Watching him try to make his bulk unobtrusive as he sneaked away made me smile. I turned towards the man to whom I had been given.
That was when I became acquainted with his anatomy.
“So…” he began when he swallowed. He tugged at his shirt. The motion drew my eye towards the slight pot belly he was trying to hide.
“So…?” I raised an eyebrow.
“What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t get the chance.” My comment went unnoticed.
“Well, my name is Liyonard. You can call me Liyo.”
“I said my name is LIYONARD.” His name was Leonard.
“Right. Pleased to meet you Leonard.” I pronounced his name properly. I knew I was being snobby but if the man couldn’t even pronounce his own name properly, what hope was there? “Enjoy your meal.”
I made my way back to my place on the sofa. From the corner of my eye, I could see Uncle K break away from the group he was talking to and come towards me.
“Have you people finished talking already?”
“Yes, Uncle. We have finished.” I looked him in the face.
“I see.” He went to find my aunty.