Ekwefi woke curled up on the cot, a blanket over her.

The smell of spicy cooking filtered through the air.

A young man squatted next to the fire, stirring food in a bowl.

“Osondu, what are you doing here?” she asked.

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He turned to look at her. “Nne Ezinma, they told me you were unwell. I came to check on you.

“It is only a little fever. I am better now.” She tried to get up.

“No. Don’t get up.” He abandoned the food and rushed to her side. “Just sit for a minute.”

He helped her sit up, her back resting against the wall.

Her breathing was heavy, and she felt light-headed.

“I know you haven’t eaten. Let me feed you.” He grabbed the bowl and returned to kneel before her, bowl in hand.

Shaking her head, she eyed him and the food. “I’m not hungry.”

“Nne m,” he said the word with such affection, in a soft voice, an endearment intended for a lover. “You will eat a little so that you can get some strength back.”

He picked the bowl of water for washing hands and held it up while she washed her hands.

She dipped fingers in the dish, took a piece of the fish and bit into it. The food was so flavorful, she had to ask, “Who cooked the food?”

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“I did,” he replied. “Is it sweet?”

She gasped. “It’s delicious.”

She dug in, savoring every morsel. “I didn’t know men could cook this well.”

He chuckled, the sound full of warmth and charm. “Ah-ah. Nne m. A man without a wife or mother doesn’t starve.”

“You speak the truth.” She sobered, remembering that his mother, who had been her friend, had died many years ago.

His father had one other wife, and he had siblings. However, he had been the only child of his mother.

In this, they were similar, bound by their losses, and their griefs.

After two marriages and ten children, she was alone, having lost nine children and widowed. Her only surviving child, Ezinma, was now married and living with her husband in a distant village.

She had her co-wives whose children were still around. But she was largely left to her own devices.

Osondu had started visiting her many moons ago after she had witnessed him throw his opponent in a quick and exciting wrestling match. He had met her a few days later as she carried firewood and had insisted on taking the bundle home for her. Since then, he had visited her regularly to do whatever chores she needed.

“Your wife will be fortunate,” she said, pulling her mind from the melancholy as she washed her hands.

He was old enough to take a wife, and many of his mates had already married.

“Why do you say that?” he asked as he put the used dishes aside.

“You will cook for your wife sometimes, won’t you?”

“My father says that a man shouldn’t cook while there is a woman in the house.”

“What if your wife falls sick, will you not take care of her like you have just taken care of me?”

He smiled, nodding, and then he sobered. “Perhaps you should be my wife.”

She laughed, the first merry sound she made in a long time. If she wasn’t careful, the neighbors would come to ask what the noise was about.

“Osondu, perhaps you are the one who is sick.” She pressed her hand to his forehead.

He clasped his hand over hers, holding her in place. “Why do you say that?”

“Because you cannot marry a middle-aged widow like me. You need a young wife who will bear children. I am used and old.”

“I disagree.” He lifted her palm and pressed it against his chest. “Do you feel the way my heart beats, fast and strong? It is because of you.”

Indeed, his lifeblood moved in a quick and steady rhythm through his body. The contact with his skin made her body tingle in all the intimate and forgotten places.

It had been a long time since she felt any sexual pleasure she had almost forgotten the fun and delight. How would it feel to be desired again? To have a new lover.

“I accept you cannot be my wife. But I want you to teach me how to please my future wife. You are a woman with experience, and I have so much to learn. Let me be your student. Teach me.”

He pressed his lips to the palm of her hand.

The tingling increased, flooding her body with warmth.

“Okay. I will teach you. Come back tomorrow as the sun sets, and we will begin.”

“Thank you.” His face brightened with a huge grin. “I will see you tomorrow.”

 

*

The next day he was back at the appointed time.

Ekwefi had just taken an evening bath. She sat like a queen on a high chair.

An oil lamp burned, embers crackling in the fireplace.

Osondu bowed as he entered and greeted. “Nne m, you look well.”

He sounded out of breath as if he had rushed to get here on time.

A smile played on her lips. “Undress.”

His eyes widened briefly, but he obeyed, loosening the loincloth around his hips and letting it drop.

He was a tall man, his body with the hardness and strength of a fighter. He was a natural wrestler. She had seen him best the most proficient opponents of his age. His name would be woven into folklore. His face could be hard and fearsome during a match. Yet when he looked at her, his expression was tender.

He made her heart drum in her chest, fast and loud. He made her feel alive. Made her feel young again.

“For today, I want to understand what you know about pleasing a woman. Then I will know what to teach you,” she said, glad her voice did not betray her rising emotions.

“Of course.” He smiled and took steps in her direction and knelt on the floor between her open legs. “I will try my best.”

That he did.

She tilted her back to the wall and only gave little encouragements of “touch me here” and “lick me there” before he found his way and took her to bliss for the first time in years.

“Nne m, did I please you?” he asked afterwards, while she was still catching her breath.

She patted his head on her lap gently. “You did very well, Ndu m. You did well, indeed.”