Have you ever loved something so much, you need an encore?
So, I know I have talked about school a lot but this one happens right at home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to school 7 days a week so I had to at least be doing something during the weekends. One of my greatest loves is food. For several years, I was the family’s ‘dustbin’. I would eat practically all of the leftovers. That ended with the advent of adolescence in my younger brother.
I always liked eating chapati. It is still my favorite to this day. I would be lying if I told you I could remember when this dalliance began. It probably did while I was a toddler. A joke common in Kenyan circles is that children fake sleep so that they can taste the first chapati before the rest of the family does. The joke is true and probably wired into every Kenyan’s DNA because almost everyone did that at some point. If you ever get the opportunity to meet me and we have those awkward silences, you can bring this up as a common point and we can pivot from there haha.
This story is crazy because I am talking about two of my oldest loves in the same story. So, during the weekends and school holidays I made friends with all the children of a certain household in our neighborhood. We lived in a Compound made up of three families. There was ours on the far end, the hellish existence that I called home, the middle house which had a delightful girl (I remember her as a girl because she was significantly younger than I was) and an overbearing brother who was probably not significant to me and the first house which had everything I always wanted. The first house had three children, the eldest was a lady and her two siblings were boys. They had the perfect blend of everything, they had the cool dad, the loving mother and their food was spectacular.
I say this with a bit of a chuckle because African parents don’t like their children eating in other people’s houses. Maybe it is because Africans are so profoundly proud in their ability to provide or because the famous West African movies almost always had a villain poisoning someone’s food. Either way, I was not supposed to have found out that their food was spectacular and that made the food even more alluring.
The lady from the first household was named Angela but I would call her Angie. I think I might be romanticizing a little bit but that lady was every bit of an angel. Her name was aptly chosen. I can’t even fathom what would happen if she was named otherwise. I just read recently about someone remarking about the appropriateness of the surname that Usain Bolt has. Some names are just meant to be for specific people you know? Anyway, Angela was beautiful and had an attractive laugh. The kind that makes you stare in awe. She used to laugh a lot and ten years plus later, I still affectionately remember it. It is so rare to find a first-born sister being a tom boy because it is normally pegged on the influence of older brothers but she was. She didn’t care she was a tom boy, she wanted to play with the boys and also influenced our choices of play from time to time. She was the first person I interacted with who said gender be damned and carried on with life. A breath of fresh air. If you are keen enough, by this point you would have already figured out that she meant the world to me.
I must have been a pretty rebellious kid. At 8 years old I had already rejected the notion of age in relationships as she was 3 years older and I already had a crush. I could gush about her the whole day which is weird considering I have no idea what happened to her.
The two brothers were amazing as well. They were my constant companions and we actually went to the same school. We were inventors, teammates, playmates. We were just mates and that was so crucial for me. The second born was particularly gifted with his hands. He could make anything out of wood using nails and a hammer. I remember we made a human powered wooden car and we’d take turns pushing each other around. He also made some sort of tree house behind their house and we would sit and talk about anything and everything. Our adventures with chopped trees would result in me having nails pierce the bottom of my foot thrice. The pain would quickly be forgotten every time I would meet them. I recently got reminded of this friendship through Madeline Miller’s the Song of Achilles. I loved them so much and when after three beautiful years they moved out of the tiny compound I cried uncontrollably. Can you believe it? Even now as I’m typing this, I am holding back tears, correction tried to hold back tears as one of them just fell on my keyboard.
Back to my story. While we were hanging out one day, Angie disclosed that she normally eats five chapatis. Five? I was in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine that. The food is so good that my mum imposed a quota on chapatis. My dad would eat three while the rest of us peasants and lesser beings would eat just two. I did not believe my mum when she wouldn’t finish even those two. She’d eat one and fumble with the second while proclaiming that she is starting to get full. I mean what? She was obviously toying with us as she would eat some while preparing the food. I still choose to believe this haha. The process of making chapati is long and tedious, it could take maybe three hours from start to finish. The longest hour is the last one. Why? The smell of the oil christening the wheat would pilfer through the kitchen openings to greet the already starving citizens. I have no idea whether this happens everywhere, but when the smell starts searing in, there is normally anticipation in the air. Like we are all anxiously waiting for something. I mean it never used to make sense, we suffer through an hour long of beautiful smells from the kitchen, luring you in, enticing you, twisting, seducing your olfactory senses and only for the two chapatis to be devoured in a span of five to seven minutes. It was not satisfactory to me.
I still recall during one of these quotad servings, I had inadvertently combined two chapatis and eaten them at once. As I was reaching for the third chapati, my mum would slap my hand away from the hotpot because I had already had two. I felt cheated, I was delirious, I could not believe that I had made such a mistake. I went to bed hungry and angry. I was so upset that I decided to sleep it off. Just to prove how recalcitrant I can be, I used to time my mum and if she didn’t count the amount of left over chapatis before going to bed, I would steal 1 or 2 from the hotpot a la Fantastic Mr. Fox. This would not leave my mum amused. For ten years now, she has been religiously counting chapatis before she leaves for bed and making an announcement declaring the same for everyone to hear and bear witness.
As soon as I got home on the day of Angie’s revelation, I confronted my mum and told her if Angie can do it then this small kid can also do it. A testament to my fiery ambition even then. My mum, being such a good sport, jested that there’s no way I could finish the five chapatis. I insisted I can and she decided to challenge me. She said next when we eat, in a week’s time, I would have my five chapatis. I was ecstatic, triumphant and would lord it over my siblings. In the same way the Greek sagas are written, the gods were probably not happy by my proud boisterous behavior and would be motivated to make me fail. My brothers were definitely on the chapatis side and would have been probably rooting for my downfall.
I was upbeat the whole week and my support system would encourage me all the time. They would hype me up and I was a boxer in that time and space, a bona fide Muhammad Ali just before the rumble in the jungle. Everyone in my life at that point knew about this highly anticipated event as I had effectively done the promotion. Incredible that I was fighter and promoter in the same event. Something even the greatest couldn’t ever do.
Anyway, Saturday finally showed up and here I am ready and primed to challenge history and preconceived norms. Perhaps to me, this also meant that I’m challenging the two chapatis quota. Now that I am a lawyer, I should have demanded for this in writing. The smell came as consistently as it usually does and boy was, I excited! I would finally not have to worry about the quota. I must have skipped lunch to keep me hungry.
The first three were amazing, I probably rushed a little bit and stuffed them down my throat. However, by the end of the fourth one, I had started getting full. Ladies and gentlemen, if my stomach could creak, it could have under the weight of what it was carrying. I probably did not strategize properly. I should have taken my time. Few bites into my contest and my strategy was long forgotten so time was not a consideration at this point. This is the one and the only time in my life where I have labored to eat chapati. I labored over the fifth one. I reached three quarters of it. When I look back now, maybe my mum wanted to teach me a lesson and made them relatively thicker. I would not be derailed however and was so happy about the 4 and 3/4. I was so proud; I remember rubbing it in all of my brothers’ faces. My father would laugh heartily when he heard what I did. My three friends were exhilarated and so happy. They had thought I’d be disappointed by coming up just short but I didn’t care and they were so happy. I don’t know whether this is a fiction of my imagination, but sometimes I imagine Angie’s laugh when she heard of my chapati exploits.
We still have a quota nowadays if you can believe that haha. But after a revolutionary struggle, it was moved to four. I laugh sometimes at how my two siblings remind me of that particular incident. You see each time we finish four chapatis we look at mum with those puss-in-boots eyes asking if we can top up. I grew older and understood why the quota exists. The process of making them is back breaking but those ten minutes are what we live for. Isn’t that the point of life anyway?