I was always selective about what I ate as a child. I grew up in an average family with a lot of love. This love was even more intense because I happen to be the last born and the only son.
It was normal during my childhood to prefer junk to the nutritious meals that my mum always prepared and most times, I refused to eat just because I didn’t want to.
It was fast becoming a bad habit. I was getting skinny and looking malnourished and the fact that my health condition required that I ate enough food — delicious, balanced and nutritious meals that would keep me healthy and fit — made my parents worried.
They’d tried everything to make me eat more, even stocking the house up with beverages, eggs and noodles but to no avail. It was biscuits, doughnuts and egg rolls with soft drinks I preferred.
Eventually, my sisters learnt to make these things at home and mum tried to make provisions for flour and butter so that we could have the snacks ready at home.
I was overjoyed. It didn’t matter that it was causing a strain on my parents’ monthly budget or that I was still getting tiny that I had to fold my shorts to have them remain on my waist or that I was constantly bullied because I looked so tiny. Wetin concern me? But then, dad was already getting fed up seeing me consume junk and continue to look sickly and weak.
It happened on a certain day, that my mum had prepared a delicious meal of Moi-Moi. I had watched her prepare the meal, adding boiled eggs and bits of fish to the seasoned paste before wrapping it up and placing it on fire to steam and immediately, I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to eat it. Yes, I was something else then.
The food was ready, then and everyone tried to get me to eat but I remained adamant and they left me alone.
At exactly 9:00 PM, a Toyota car pulled into the premises of block 18 Santa where we lived in the Barracks. I had heard the sound of the revving engine from the parlour where I sat and I knew without being told that my father was back.
My father’s eyes sought me out — on the sofa where I had sat sulking — from the door post where he stood with his briefcase and a black package.
Immediately, the strong aroma of well-grilled suya wafted into my nostrils and I rushed from the sofa to hug him.
“Wait!” He said coldly. “Have you eaten?” He asked and his eyes became hard and glinted ominously at me.
You see, my father was a disciplinarian though, not so hard or harsh but as a child, I had always avoided incurring his wrath because I was one who always wanted to be in his good books. Call it men things if you like.
“I’m not hungry,” I said looking down at my toes. I could tell that it was going to be a long night because dad hadn’t even dropped his briefcase as he looked down at my tiny form.
“Who said so?” He asked and lifted my wrist which was as tiny as a broomstick.
“Oya, carry that side stool and sit by the table”, was the simple command he gave me.
As I walked to the centre table holding the stool, dad asked one of my sisters to quickly make enough custard and bring two huge wraps of the Moi-Moi.
He had set the briefcase on the sofa and handed over the huge package of smelling suya to my mother and then, he had taken off his coat and folded up the sleeves of his white shirt.
I knew! oh yes, I knew without being told that it was going to be a night of war!
And dear Lord, I shivered in anticipation.
My sister brought the food and placed it on the table. A steaming bowl of custard that was almost spilling out unto the table and two mountainous Moi-Moi.
I stared with incredulous intensity at the steams that emanated out of the suicide feast in front of me and concluded that my sister didn’t love me.
“Very good!” My dad said unbuckling his hard leather belt, making his trousers sag a bit to reveal the mound of flesh that was his belly — covered in a white singlet and which pushed out of his unbuttoned shirt with determination and his eyes blazed down at me cruelly.
“Eat!” He commanded.
I grumbled and picked up the spoon but I certainly had no intention of eating. Of course, I was ready to have us awake the whole night. I just kept tapping into the bowl of custard and playing with the spoon around the plate of Moi-Moi while my father — whose form was towering over me — looked down at me impatiently.
“I said eat!” He exploded fiercely and I shivered when I saw the muscles of his tummy contract aggressively.
“I don’t have the appetite”, I said shakily.
“No appetite?!” He asked with mock bewilderment. “Okay, we will fix your appetite.”
My mother chuckled and my sisters giggled tauntingly at me as my father took off his shirt and advanced towards me, eyes holding sinister intentions.
He grabbed my tiny arms carefully but firmly with a powerful left hand and reached down for my jaws with the fingers of his right hand.
“Oya, grab his legs!” He commanded my sisters who gleefully surrounded me and clamped down on my tiny legs firmly! “Hold it very tight!”
“Nye Ega, put two spoons of custard in his mouth!” He said to my mother who dropped the package of suya and reached for the spoon.
My father squeezed down on my jaws and it was effectively pried open.
I lay there helpless with impotent rage surging through me as I watched my mother fill my mouth up with custard and deftly clamped down on my nose. My father released the pressure on my jaws and looked down at me with his eyes bulging with anger.
“Swallow!” He said intimidatingly.
My eyes welled up with tears as my trachea burned with torture and my brain screamed for oxygen!
I looked up pleadingly at my father with tears running down my eyes.
“Swallow quickly or you’ll die!” He said flatly, unperturbed by my tears.
While I struggled without success to free myself, it became clear to me that life was the most important at the moment and that stubbornness was not the way forward.
And dear Lord, I swallowed!
Gulping down with acute urgency.
Dad chuckled as I gulped down the food urgently and gasped frantically for air and my sisters exploded in raucous laughter that was aimed at taunting me.
My mother simply giggled mirthlessly and shook her head but the fingers of her left hand were still firmly clamped down on my nose, closing up the orifices. She reached for the plate of Moi-Moi with the spoon in her right hand and cut a huge chunk which she put into my opened mouth.
Dad had released my jaws and I munched quickly and swallowed before gasping again.
“Oya, that’s enough!” Dad said, looking down at me with excited eyes and everyone had freed me. “Your appetite is back now”, he continued, “I saw you swallowing the Moi-Moi greedily. Try again let’s see if you can now eat properly. If it still gives you problems, we will fix it again just like we have done”.
I looked up at him with angry eyes but he picked up his hard leather belt and flexed it, waving it teasingly at my face.
I became afraid that the belt could land in hunger at any moment and feed on my back and so, I promptly picked up the spoon and began to wolf down the food.
For a moment, I was taken aback by how delicious the food tasted, particularly the Moi-Moi and I was grateful that they had made me eat but I was not about to give myself away and so, I ate like it was the most bitter thing in the world, twisting my face with acute distaste!
I did this to prevent the taunting that would follow if my sisters realized that I was enjoying a meal I had bragged earlier on that I wasn’t going to eat.
“Eat everything!” My father bellowed when I tried to drop the spoon, pretending to be full when deep down, I wanted to swallow the plates.
I forced a fake grumble but that only hardened my father’s resolve.
“Get him a responsible bowl of water so that he can wash his hands neatly and lick up the grubs from the plates properly!” Dad said, looking directly at my immediate elder sister.
My sister ran off gleefully in the direction of the kitchen, obviously catching a lot of fun out of my, seeming, distress.
I chucked secretly.
“You don’t know! Oh, you don’t know but you will know and when you know, you will know that you don’t know”, I thought in my childish mind and watched her run off.
She felt I was in a state of discomfort but really, I was enjoying myself.
“Keep eating!” Dad prompted and I dug into the Moi-Moi again, this time, cutting into a huge piece of the egg within the bean cake and stuffing my mouth. I reached for the bowl of custard and took a generous amount with my spoon; it disappeared into my mouth and came out clean.
As I ate, I thought about how smart I was, keeping up the charade without anyone seeing into my deceptive acts and I concluded in my feeble mind that I was as clever as the tortoise in my story books.
I was almost done with the meal when my sister returned with the bowl of water and dad made me wash my hands neatly.
He had then commanded me to lick up the plates “so that they’ll be clean as new!”
And so, I had begun to lick, faking dislike to exaggerated levels and when I was done, I relaxed on the sofa and belched contentedly, pretending to sulk while waiting for my share of the suya.
Dad went in to change, emerging a few minutes later with a pair of shorts and a smile.
He looked better than Michael Faraday must have looked after discovering electricity!
It all turned out to be an eventful evening and from that day, I never selected food again not minding how it tasted or looked or smelled.
I now eat everything and I make sure to lick up the plates like dad had taught me to.
So, I hope this clarifies those who keep asking what my favourite food is and get the answer “everything” or “well-prepared meals”. Now, you understand.