A sudden bout of hunger assails me just before the clock chimes 5.00pm and I find myself making a detour – turning left at Guild Street and then making a beeline for the KFC on Union Street. Usually at this time of the day the singular focus is to get myself home, settle on my couch with a bowl of cold cereal and unwind with a Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother TV marathon. Even the spectre of steaming morsels of eba potentially chasing themselves down my throat in short order is not enough to draw me home – the coup de grâce is, I suspect, the fact that it has been the better part of six months since I have savoured the fiery goodness of battered, deep fried chicken.
It takes all of seven minutes between arriving and finally getting my fare set on my table and being set to dig in. One bite in, someone calls my name, loudly. Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a bloke I used to know. A few months ago, he had left the current employer in a huff – word around the office was that there had been a disciplinary issue involved. He has company – three females and two blokes besides him. He walks up to my seat and pumps my free hand in that overstated, uniquely Nigerian way – “Ol’ boy, na your eye be this”? he asks rhetorically. “Na me o”, I reply, a reply that ends up merely being the prelude to a barrage of greetings until I am rescued by one of the ladies who catches his eye. He excuses himself and leads them to the till.
Four minutes later he is back, having got them to place orders – a giant bargain bucket and two large Pepsis. We catch up on what he has been up to since he moved on – chasing up graduate studies and applying to new jobs. “Nothing concrete yet, just a few leads to follow up“, he quickly adds. I nod, intelligently I hope, and give him a quick run down of where I have been so far. He left under a cloud, one so intense that the Boss was compelled to send out an email to every one assuring us that it was a one off, and further departures were not planned. As such, it is no little discomfort that I have to endure as we attempt to make small talk. I am saved again by his companions who by this time have finally ordered their food and have located a seat to settle in. I shake his hand as he prepares to leave, assuring him that I would be more than happy to provide a reference if required. Deep down, I hope it all gets sorted out without my involvement.
On my way home, my stomach filled to its brim with chicken, I fire an app to stream music to enliven my stroll. These days the gidilounge app has become my first resort in moments where mindlessly listening to music is required. In between listening and picking my way through the throng of people walking in the opposite direction to me, a line in a song jumps out and grabs my attention. I never quite catch the song in its entirety but it includes something about being ‘hot like atarodo‘. I chuckle to myself as a memory forces itself to the fore of my mind. Many years ago, in the peak of the Abacha years, my mother took to buying tomatoes and pepper in bulk to stretch the family’s meagre income. She would leave the baskets to us to wash up and then drag off to the local mill a few streets away to be turned into her very own purée. This would be steamed to drive off water and then stored in her freezer to be used in making stew from time to time. On one of those days, I went from washing atarodo to taking a leak too quickly, transferring the fiery material unto my nether regions to great discomfort. It took a prompt cold bath, and more scrubbing than I care to remember to douse the fire in my pants to a manageable level. The one small positive from that experience was being excused from picking atarodo from then on till I eventually moved away to University. Small positives, after all I guess.