Pepper Soup is a collection of 12 short stories in which the writers create beautiful endings in the lives of female protagonists who make it through tough times. The stories are set in Nigeria and cut across experiences from girlhood to womanhood, cheering the heart with fond memories, hope in spite of loss, love in the face of obstacles, and great expectations that meet their fulfillment though beleaguered by painful waiting periods.
Timendu Aghahowa’s unconventional writing style is charming. In the first story, ‘How to Make Pepper Soup,’ she writes about a mother’s detailed lecture to her daughter on preparing pepper soup in order to get her man. Here, readers realize that pepper soup is easy to make but mistakes are easy to make as well. Timendu also writes in ‘Doing Just Fine,’ about Tope whose conversations with a husband she would not let go, brings her to a new love relationship. Her third story, ‘A Prayer for Ebi’ ends the anthology.
In the second story, ‘A Time for Change’ by Pamela Agboga, the main character has had enough and reaches a point where she is neither afraid of being a woman or losing a potential job and readers would see reasons why this woman would beat up a man.
In ‘The Unravelling’ by Lilian Izuorah, a mother and daughter wade through paths of loss of love and life, yet through it all find the strength to smile. The story is sad and the message astonishing in every sense of it. Oh! How I felt like meeting Mother, holding her hands and receiving strength.
The fourth story, Pepper Soup, is Joy Ehonwa’s love story on the verge of crashing against the rocks of ethnic differences that are founded on baseless loathing.
Another love story is shaken by threats of a breakup, only this time it is founded on fear. In Kiah’s ‘A Time to Fall,’ Imoadewo sets another lover free in her attempt to cover up a painful experience that only love can heal. In Kiah’s second story, ‘Trying Faith,’ the protagonist is blessed with a supportive husband and well-wishers in their wait for a child. But support is not enough and faith is a personal journey that seems easy only to spectators.
In the next, little Adetutu, whose story is told by Adanna Adeleke in ‘Playing Pretend,’ is learning to become, soaking up experiences from family and school, and pondering questions like ‘What will you be when you grow up?’ And though she learns that people pretend in order to become, she does not like pretending; she wants to be free.
‘For the Love of Guavas’ by Maryam Isa is a story of family relationships under duress. It’s no use trying to convince Wawiya that she is loved by parents going through a lot of marital stress. She bears the brunt of her mother’s frustration, especially now that all her siblings have left home. But the bloom of a guava tree changes everything.
Sifa Gowon’s opening is as captivating as her story- ‘Irony is the mirthless chuckle coming from your throat when the joke is on you.’ In ‘Full Circle,’ what goes around comes around, completely.
And finally, when people do not mind their business, they might as well end up getting hot pepper soup. This is what Pamela Agboga illustrates in her second story, ‘Hot Pepper Soup’. One might think this fable has missed the theme of the anthology entirely only to realize as one of the animals points out, ‘I’ve never heard of the woman of this house cooking anything like pepper soup.’
Like I did, one would enjoy these stories as they would a good bowl of pepper soup notwithstanding the hotness of life’s pepper, the heat of life’s kitchen, the mixture of sharp spices and incongruent ingredients that life is, and the rigorous processes we have to take to make it.