Originally published on sagbachronicles.com
FOREWORD: Thought I’d share this e-mail from my cousin Nduka, from a few days ago.
Cousin Kere, how are you? I see you are in Lagos and it is turning into quite the event. I can’t wait for you to supply details when you get back to London. Meanwhile, while you were away I think I have finally come out to my Mum, or at least she is now officially aware.
Kere, you know my Mum (your older cousin twice removed on your father’s mother’s side – We Nigerians, We like kinship) – is an indomitable, forthright, God-fearing Christian woman and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. As a typical Nigerian mother, she instilled a lot of discipline in her kids. Anyone one of us that misbehaved got our well-deserved punishment, especially if we disgraced her outside, as all our behaviour reflected on her. So things like sex outside marriage were not tolerated, and homosexuality was something we never talked about. But she is quick to fight our corner if we are right. God help the person who falsely accused us of any wrong doing.
Along with her reputation of being a strict mother, she is also renowned for her traditional culinary skills. In the 1980s, whenever it was our family’s turn to host the village meeting, attendance was always higher than for the other meetings hosted by other families. People looked forward to her cooking and attended en mass.
Need I remind you of her soups? Ofe Egusi, Ofe Ugba, Ofe Onugbu, Ofe Okro, all eaten with Eba or pounded yam. Not to mention her jollof rice, Yam & Plantain pottage and Beans & Plantain pottage. All dishes made with fresh ingredients, assorted spices, beef, goat meat and fish.
She knows my favourite breakfast is sweet ripe fried plantain and egg sauce, served with akamu doused in sweet condensed milk. Oh the sweetness could send one into a diabetic coma. Those were the days when I didn’t bother about my then 28 inch waist-line. Now that my waist line is size…
I digest digress.
In the early 1990s, Gen Sani Abacha assumed power and Dad who was a permanent secretary in one of the Federal ministries had to leave the country, because he was being investigated and he was tipped off that incarceration was imminent. I don’t know why people don’t believe that a senior civil servant on an average salary cannot afford to have property abroad and a few hard earned US dollars in foreign bank accounts. Anyway, we had to move to the UK from Nigeria.
Well the voluntary exile to the UK did not impede Mum’s expertise in the kitchen. She sources the ingredients required for the Nigerian dishes from Dalston and Peckham markets. She continues to slay in the kitchen.
Though we have all left home, we still visit Mum regularly to get fed Nigerian food and take some home. The thing is Mum’s food is more-ish and one serving is never enough. And that was the crux of my dilemma.
Mum knows I live with a “flat mate” Jeff and that we cook separately. But the truth, as you know, is that Jeff and I have been a couple for over seven years. Jeff though English from East Anglia, an Old Etonian and a Cambridge graduate, whose grandmother’s mannerisms reminds me of the Dowager Countess Grantham in Downton Abbey, has taken a shine to Mum’s cooking.
He looks forward to when I go and visit Mum because of the variety of Nigerian dishes I bring back. And when I don’t go, he cajoles me into visiting her. Jeff can roll the swallow in between both hands, before expertly transferring it between his fingers, dipping it in soup and then passing it into his mouth. Villager. A technique, I swear I did not teach him, as I eat swallow with cutlery. I think he got this eating technique from watching Nollywood films supplied by my sister, which to my chagrin he has also taken a liking to.
The thing is Mum gives me enough food for 2 servings. As she thinks I eat it by myself, she only gives enough for me to eat twice. But with Jeff I can only have it once and like I said, one helping of Mum’s food is never enough.
I have been enduring this food deprivation since Jeff and I started dating. I know I should see it as a means of portion control, but it is a concept not compatible with Mum’s food; and I don’t mind doing the extra cardio session in the gym to burn off the calories.
So on this particular day – at Jeff’s urging – I went to see Mum. She packaged the food in Tupperware containers and labeled each one with its contents. And as usual it was enough for one person to eat twice.
I hugged her, said goodbye, headed for the door, got into my car and drove off. I think I was so overwhelmed by the thought of watching Jeff (expertly) devour the other half of the food which was, for lack of full disclosure to Mum, rightfully mine – that after driving a few meters, I stopped the car and reversed back into the parking space I just vacated.
I went back into the house and walked into the kitchen. Mum was cutting vegetables with a knife. She looked up still cutting the vegetables and said in Igbo, “Ah, Nduka what did you forget?”
I took a deep breath and said, “Mum, you know Jeff right?”
“Oh yes,” she answered. “That your flat mate. How is he? You guys have been sharing a flat for over 5 years now. These days that is longer than most marriages. How is that his girlfriend I saw at your place last year?” (She was referring to Jeff’s University female friend who was visiting from Canada last year and stayed with us. Totally platonic)
“He is fine. It is just that, we share everything – bills, the cleaning, cooking, clothes, washing and we sleep in the same bed, like married couples do. He likes your food and when I bring it home we share it. But it is never enough for both of us and we always crave more. Please next time can I get an extra serving of food to take home?”
She stopped cutting the vegetables. Knife still in her hand, she looked up and gave me a look that I see as a precursor to me getting an ass whopping from her when I was a kid, or a stern rebuke now that I am an adult.
With the knife still in her hand, I wondered maybe asking for extra food portions wasn’t a good idea after all. A bit like Oliver Twist asking for more.
Then she smiled and went back to cutting the vegetables and said, “Which soup does he like?”
I am glad to say, I now get more than enough food for me and Jeff.
Now, I just need to teach that villager how to use cutlery to eat swallow!