My next door neighbor, Amina is probably the best cook Iâ€™ve ever met. During the weekends when I donâ€™t have to go to work, the delicious smell of her culinary expertise wafts into my apartment- judging me, poking me, reminding me that the last time I cooked anything more complicated than noodles was eons ago…
The truth is I donâ€™t like to cook and being a top director at the insurance company where I work, I have all the excuse in the world to not turn on my cooker. My cook and maid come in thrice a week to clean, cook and stock my house with groceries. The earliest I get in from work is 7PM and on weekends, I go to the gym or spend the time in front of my Mac book, drawing up proposals.
I’m in my thirties- slim, attractive, with a well-defined, well-toned body and very rich. Iâ€™m also very accomplished, a revered name in the corporate world and with the world at my feet. I spend my vacations abroad at the most expensive hotels, hiking, swimming, taking pictures and shopping with abandon.
I used to think I had the perfect life until I met Amina…
Amina is the same age as me, pretty with a dimple on her corpulent cheeks and arms that wobbled when she walked. Amina is married to a lecturer, the dean of the law faculty at a federal university about two hours away. Between them, they have four children from ages nine to four who were not only smart and witty but made the loudest racket in the world.
They moved in about a year ago, jarring my very existence. Amina was not put off by my standoffish, uppity looks. She came to introduce herself and her kids the very next day and stayed over an hour teaching me the latest cake recipe. The weekend after, she brought over a large bowl of catfish pepper soup. At first I was shocked and sceptical but she did not give me a chance to turn down her offering. She carefully placed the dish on my centre piece and took her leave. When I took a bite, I realised that my cook has been cutting me a bad bargain for all that salary I was paying her.
And that was how it became a ritual, Amina will bring me a savoury dish of something different and exotic every weekend. I began to look forward to these visits and when she was some minutes late, I found myself feeling slightly irritated.
She began to come over with her kids to chat with me on Sundays when I was taking a break from my laptop. She had the most interesting tales about growing up in a middle-class northern family, falling in-love with her husband and settling down to a life of a homemaker. It stunned me to learn that she actually had a B.Sc in internal relations.
In fact the more she talked, the more I found myself judging her. I found it hard to believe that anyone would be contented with simply raising children and taking care of their husbands. In my mind I called her lazy, simplistic and a non-achiever.
Her happiness and contentment totally jarred me. Soon I found that what I thought was resentment and pity were actually mild feelings of envy. In the evenings I would peep through my blinds to see Amina holding her husbandâ€™s hands as they sat outside, trading anecdotes. When he stole kisses from her lips, she giggled like a sixteen year old girl, in love for the very first time. At night when I missed my boyfriend for I only got to see him twice a year (he lives far away in London), I would hear Amina mourning softly in the throes of pleasure from her husband’s love-making.
As the months went by, my friendship with Amina grew. Sometimes we go shopping together or take the kids out on public holidays. Amina also acquainted me with her seamstress who makes the best ankara blouses and dresses I have ever seen.
As our friendship grew, I found myself loving this little plump lady who had no care in the world except when her children are running temperature or have problems at school. I found myself wanting to hide her happiness in my jewellery safe, where no one and nothing could tamper with it.
I feel my heart throbbing in my chest when she comes to visit, afraid that the next words will be,
â€œMy husband wants to take another wife.â€
But that moment never came, at least not yet…
For the meantime, Iâ€™m enjoying my beautiful neighbour, her cuisines and her simple conversations. Iâ€™m enjoying the way her kids crawl into her laps, hungry for the warmth of her bosom. Iâ€™m enjoying the way her laughter rings out loud and her hand clutches mine at the climax of a story. Iâ€™m enjoying her confidence in herself and in her expectations from life.
Iâ€™m enjoying how sheâ€™s teaching me that happiness is not a single narrative…