A story about friendship, food and fate.
The smell hit her first. Smoky burned palm oil, fried peppers and musty stockfish. Next came the noise: Fela Kuti blared out of the speakers, struggling to compete with the group of three men at a corner table, talking over each other. And because this was effectively Nigeria, their voices were louder, accents stronger, gesticulations wilder…
She spotted Simi deep in conversation with a striking woman and felt a spike of irritation. ‘Just us two,’ Simi had said. The stranger had long toned limbs and glossy brown skin; she looked almost sculpted. Something about her profile was familiar and for one heartbeat Ronke was sure she knew her from somewhere. She blinked and the feeling disappeared. She didn’t know anyone who showed side-boob at lunch…Wahala, by Nikki May
Told in three narratives, Boo, Ronke and Simi’s, Wahala is a story about female friendship. We learn about their lives, their jobs, their hopes and fantasies. Ronke is a dentist (with a rather fabulous assistant), and a boyfriend called Kayode, who she is hoping might be The One. Simi is successful and career-driven in the world of fashion, but keeps getting over-looked by her boss who only sees her as good for ‘urban’ projects. Her husband who is living and working in New York and keeps strongly suggesting that they should start a family when he returns. Boo has the family: a loving husband and cheeky daughter, but now she’s not sure if that was the life she wanted after all.
Boo, Ronke and Simi, have been friends for years, they know each other inside out. Or do they? When Isobel, a friend from Simi’s past, joins the group, splinters start to show and secrets bubble to the surface.
Isobel is glamorous, rich, and in need of friendship having just escaped from a bad marriage. The women allow her into the group where she makes the effort to get to know each of them, finding things to bond over and ways to encourage them to like her. But the reader can see what she is doing – she is collecting pieces of information, seeing what is making the women uncertain or unhappy with their own lives, and then she uses it against them. It is as if she is trying to tear them apart from the centre, having consequences not only on Boo, Ronke and Simi, but on their families and loved ones.
I thought the book explored friendship so well – how we can love someone so utterly for who they are, but still find them deeply annoying at times. It also portrayed how devastating friendship-group arguments can be. It’s a different kind of hurt when a friend does something to upset you, or stops speaking to you.
The book opens with the ‘Aftermath’ where one of the women “sits huddled in the corner of her bedroom. Her dress is ruined – the button missing, the belt ripped.” As a result, there is a sense of foreboding throughout the story as we wonder how it ends up there and who it is. It’s a clever and very enjoyable page-turner!
Best served with jollof rice with chicken stew and a glass of white wine.