Take two cups of water, add half a cup of sugar, a half spoon of salt, two and a half spoons of yeast. Pour three and a half cups of flour and mix it, twirl it — with your hands, with the paddle we use to make eba, or fufu, or amala, whatever your soul says you should use. Push the dough round and round, again and again. Wipe your hand across your forehead, flick your sweat in the air, watch the droplets drift this way and that, a tiny bit of you in the dough, leave it for two hours. All good things need time to rise.
Put the dough into boiling, bubbling oil. Listen to the sizzle, watch as it turns from white to golden. Mummy makes it. Auntie sells it. Everyone eats it. Puff-puff.
A death in the family. Father sits silent, mother potters about, brother stands staring at the wall, replaying memories. Of what? He won’t say. Guests arrive to commiserate. They are welcome, but also unwelcome. We’re grateful that they care enough to make the trip, but we don’t want to entertain them. All of us pussyfooting around the elephant in the room. One of us is gone where we cannot follow. You, visitor, you feel grief? He helped you once? She was kind to you? You wail. You weep. We comfort you. We resent you. A moment with him… her… was enough to move you to distraction? What of us? But what about us? We do not mind it so much when you are near, when you are dear? We understand. But you, asking for water, asking for beer, asking for wine, we do not know you. We do not acknowledge you. We do not let it show on our faces. How tired we are, how all we want to do is sleep. This is our duty. It is tradition. We stand firm. It is how things are done. It is how they were always done. It is how they will always be done. Our display of graciousness and compassion to the undeserving will teach them what they have to do when they are similarly affected.
A plate comes out of the kitchen. There are 7 golden balls on it. Puff-puff. I go to the kitchen for mine. Mummy, a big, black, fleshy lady, hauls bowls of the stuff through the door. They’re still glistening with oil. It’s fluffy. It’s oily. It’s sweet. There is comfort in it. There is love in it. There is strength in it. It’s like Mummy knew how we were feeling. She spun the antidote to everything we are feeling into the golden balls. They taste like healing. I eat more than I should, but I don’t care. I need what I need. I need puff puff.
A wedding. Bankole is marrying brother’s wife’s sister. A happy day. I’m on the bride’s side. Her colours are pink. So my hat, my fila, is pink. They look happy. They are happy. Brother is in fine form. He’s pulling bottles of champagne from thin air, like they’re hidden in his agbada sleeve. I toast. I drink. I dance. I drink. There is joy in the air. Two families delighted at the union. Friends giddy, they’re exuberant with it. Every bounce, every step, every sway, packed with excitement. This is a good marriage. We can tell. There will be no stories that pierce the heart, and if there are, they will be as a result of genuine misfortune. We can tell. We can always tell.
When it isn’t there, good love, we feel it, keenly. We know. We always know. We say nothing. We mind our business. Champagne is for drinking, in good times and in bad. Puff puff is for eating in grief and in celebration. Waiters with the hot stuff come out. I grab a plate. If I was tipsy before, now I am drunk. I take my plate of puff-puff to the dance floor. I have no date. I have no one. It’s me and my sweet pastry against the world. There is comfort in that, there’s delight in the fact, where there’s typically great anxiety, longing, and anguish. Mummy, the alchemist, knows, she always knows. This time, the puff-puff is gleeful, it’s capricious, it’s optimistic, brave, bold. I see someone. I say, “You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.” I leave it there. If it is fated, it will be.
I’m on a date. It’s dinner or drinks, whatever… time with a precious friend. With the absence of romance and romantic prospects, I have given to the people who love me all the love I have to give. We go on dates. I give them time. I let them see me. I’m no longer looking for love that is in the world. I am savouring the love I already have. The love in the bush does not exist. We’re at Ile Eros, an afro-fusion restaurant in Lagos. We both have a drink in hand. We are both delighted that the other is there. It’s a natural friendship. One born from brunches and mutual professional respect. There’s puff puff on the menu. It’s called the puff-puff party. I look at the one across from me. I smile. I order the puff-puff party. There’s puff-puff, a shrimp ball, and a meatball. It’s the best I’ve ever had.