"Amaka my daughter welcome what can I get for you today ?" Mama Ezinne waved her teenage daughter off the stool she was perched and motioned for me to seat down.
The market was rowdy as usual and the multitude of scents from the 'Igbo line' assaulted my nostrils making me sneeze a little. 'Bless you my child'. She held out her hand for my list and squinted at it. This ritual always made me smile. she couldn't read a word. she would eventually motion for her daughter to come take the list.
The Igbo line was so called because the women on that line sold all the vegetables and condiments necessary to make any Nigerian soup. I was Mama Ezinne's customer and adopted daughter.
Three years ago I had walked into the Igbo line part of the market with a list I had gotten from the internet. I was going to attempt to make Ogbono and Edikangkong soup for the first time. Mama Ezinne had grabbed my hand as I entered and dragged me to her stall. The assortment of vegetables, fish, dried and smoked, spices, herbs, etc had my head swimming. Over the years we became market besties as she put me through all my first attempts at Nigerian soups such as Oha, Afang, Banga, Bitterleaf.
I would come straight to her with my list and her daughter would go round the market getting everything on my list for me. No sweltering under the African sun for me. We had gotten to know some details about each other's lives. I remember when she spoke Igbo to me , automatically assuming like many Igbo merchants before her that I was Igbo. The crestfallen look on her face made me say quickly, 'Oh my husband is Igbo. His name is Uche.' And that was how my tale of deceit started. With each consequent visit she would ask about Uche till I had spun a whole husband out of nowhere.
Uche was from Imo state. A dedicated Nigerian soldier fighting Boko Haram in Sambisa forest. The day I gave that gist my basket was fuller that usual, extra vegetables and crayfish and even her secret mix of spices for soups. Shortly after then she christened me 'Amaka' and when I asked her the meaning she said 'It means beautiful. You have a beautiful smile'. Things got really complicated recently when I went to buy ingredients for peppersoup and out of the blue she asked to see Uche's picture. She wanted to see our wedding photos etc. 'Oh its not on this phone. I will show you next time.' 'Ok my daughter, I want to see his picture and pray God's protection over him.'
So now I have to go to the market next week to buy ingredients for seafood okro and edikankong. But first I need to produce Uche. I have 9 days.