The crew shared everything. EVERYTHING. It was kind of easy to. We had all met at the same time; first virtually on a whatsapp group chat created for our would be Class of 2018— where our mutual tendency to cause a ruckus was discovered, and then in person during our data capturing where it was further established. It was beautiful; eight boys— me, Alan, Cruz, Banire, Henry, Emma, Sammie and Folarin— thrust into the fabled university life with nothing but our wits and the mandatory weekly/monthly allowance at our disposal. Heck yes, we bonded easily.
Like I said, we shared everything. We shared a very common love for sports; namely football, and even though we didn’t all support the same teams it made the banter even more worthwhile. Alan was the resident Chelsea fan, I took Liverpool’s banners, Folarin held on to Barca’s red and blue hem, while the rest were Red Devils. When we weren’t arguing, we were screaming each other’s heads off over FIFA and PES on the playstation.
We shared a developed taste for alcohol. Well most of us did, anyways. Emma would not touch the stuff even if it saved his life. The rest of us drank like it actually did save our lives; or at least we tried to.
Ah, yes, we shared the girls. Or at least preferences when it came to them. Everybody including non drinking Emma. When football or beer wasn’t occupying our time we dwelled on girls. Beautiful beautiful girls.
We shared other things too. The same deadass department, same courses, same activities, and same proclivities. It was this sense of camaraderie that made us decide to share an apartment in our second year. Sure, housing wasn’t cheap, especially around school but our number made paying for the two room apartment a little easier.
The crib was pretty sweet. Nothing beats having your own place; even if you’re sharing it with seven other guys. The best part was being able to do whatever we wanted; hostels only let you do so much. We even named it the batcave, for its oddly shaped fencing that made the entire compound look like a bat about to take flight, for the shape of a bat that was the air vent on the top floor and for the actual bats that made their home in a part of the roof. Suspicious, if you ask me, but that’s a story for another day.
The batcave did not have many problems, save for an irregular supply of electricity, but that was nobody’s fault. The water ran fine, there was a viewing center just right across, a bar to go with it and it provided an endless supply of beer, smoke and yes girls; and the privacy to frolic with them. We quickly fit into the area, and I think even Emma loved the place to bits.
But the greatest gift the batcave gave was Iya Ife. Oh that woman. Iya Ife was our neighbor living on the middle floor. Light skinned and of average height, she was a woman with an amazingly large backside; and a heavy front to conplement. You couldn’t help but watch her in awe as she strode past; the sheer magnificence of it all just left you speechless. She seldom wore bras (she said they made her chest ache and we nodded in sympathy with her, poor woman) and there didn’t seem to be a skirt or a pair of leggings that she wore that could fit her. The result? More reason to drool and stutter as we tried to greet or hold a conversation with her. She spoke softly, in a manner that indicated she cared about speaking to you and that confered some importance into your life; and she had the habit of touching you as she spoke. God, that woman was heavenly.
Iya Ife was more than fair skin, massively sized knockers and a derriere so large it shamed the V-boot’s claim to trunk space so big it was a bit superfluous. Iya Ife had a shop; a little bukka where her most redeeming quality showcased itself.
That woman could cook.
Sure, you’ve heard it a million times. This person can cook fire. That person’s cooking is the bomb. No, nobody can beat A’s food. Guy, if B cooks for you, you’ll eat the plate— whatever your argument, Iya Ife’s cooking beats it right out of the park.
On our first visit to Iya Ife’s, we had only gone for the view, to be honest. A few hundreds of naira each was a small price to pay to see Iya Ife in action, even though we prefered to cook ourselves and in bulk. It was amusing to see the number of persons on the queue vying for a plate of her rice or the allure of amala, and the numerous fights that broke out in the space of minutes because someone couldn’t wait their turn. Matter of fact we only got food because she had seen us and attended to us before anyone else. Our spoons had barely touched the food when a large outcry rent the air, shaking the little bukka. She was already sold out. Iya Ife tried to calm them down, saying more food was on its way; it was the third time she was making another batch, and they needed only to be patient. It was just past noon and we all looked at each other at the absurdity of the facts. How could she have sold out all her food three times already at just past noon? Curious to find out, we dug in, and to God it felt like our taste buds came alive. Every single spoon or handful had a different meaning, and by the time we were done, it felt like something divine had passed through. Soon we would join the queue of people clamoring for more food; because one serving was not enough.
And so our journey began. The trips to Iya Ife became a ritual; a daily ritual, and now we had one more thing to share amongst ourselves. Soon enough we had our own table at the bukka, and even learnt to calculate our time there, so we could have double servings or even triple servings. Life was lit.
Because we shared the same compound with Iya Ife, there was a sort of bond that we developed with the kindly woman. This bond came in the form of free food from time to time. She would smile and heap a huge pile onto your plate, saying ebi l’awa; a mo r’awa, turning down your money, while other customers leered at you in food related envy. However this treatment, as is the case with everything in life, had its caveat; it began to work only when there was just one of us.
Maybe it was a way to avoid loss, or perhaps serving eight plates of rice or amala for free didn’t do her much good considering the horde she served. Whatever it was, our free service came to a grinding halt, but only on the joint from. As much as we shared everything, we didn’t exactly share schedules, and so we weren’t together all the time. You couldn’t miss Iya Ife however, and so sometimes our regular table only contained one or a few of us.
It didn’t take long before we all took note of the terms and conditions. And then the sharing stopped. Especially when the going was tough and money was hard to come by. The motto now was to go 007 mode, or no free, delicious Iya Ife in the belly. Keyword was free.
One saturday morning, as we lay aimlessly around, with empty wallets, empty stomachs and an even emptier will to do anything, Banire got up from our midst under the pretext of getting some air. Absent minded grunts and nods met his announcement, and he had been gone for a considerable amount of time before we remembered what he was actually going to do. Legs, arms and heads tangled together as we struggled to get to Iya Ife’s before that sneaky bastard. Bursting through the compound gate, somebody threw in a comment about Banire already eating that only made us even rowdier; even though the bukka was just across the street. He couldn’t have been more wrong, because Banire stood with his hands on his head when we got there, and joined him in beholding the strangest spectacle we ever saw.
There was a huge crowd as usual at the bukka, only this time Iya Ife was not at its center in the capacity she had always been in. Instead she sat on the floor, bloodied up, and all teary eyed, with the crowd screaming expletives at her. In front of her was a calabash and when it was opened, a cobra with its head smashed in was sitting all coiled up. At the crowd leader’s gruffly voiced behest, she told a morbid tale of how the cobra was of spiritual meaning, and how it helped boost her sales. Ahh’s and Ye’s filled the air, but the real horror was in the second part of Iya Ife’s tales.
It turned out that while the snake boosted her sales, the real magic was in the food. Iya Ife’s tasty meals that took you from the little bukka on Lawani Street to what must be heaven and made you come back for more even when you couldn’t take anything in, wasn’t some old family recipe made out of an assortment of spices or whathaveyous.
It was her bath water.