She gathers me into her voluptuous bosom and hugs me so tightly I feel my ribs lick my heart. I would be caught dead breaking from her loving embrace. Her head scarf smells like smoked beef and I instantly whisper, “Grandma, I’m hungry”. She holds me a little further away from her and turns me round. She shakes her head so sadly I can almost see tears threatening to stream… I am at a loss. So I ask with my eyes why she stares at me like that. I should never have asked.
Grandma moves further away from me, still inspecting me, the way she does, Omina her pregnant cow that is taking forever to bring forth the long-awaited for calf. She is staring at my tummy now. She comes closer and touches it with both hands. She laughs sadly. She asks if they are starving me in the city. I remind her that I do not live in the city but she will hear none of that. She says my absent stomach looks exactly like those thin girls who sang with their noses at Aloo’s wedding. I remember the girls. I also remember how Grandma served them trays of food later in the night.
Grandma switches to the language she knows best and continues to warn me. She claims my belly wall can touch my backbone if I suck in my tummy just enough. She says I look like I have no intestines. She says whatever I eat gets in and out immediately. She asks again if I am denying myself food. She has no concern for the rest of my body; it is my tummy that bothers her.” A woman must have a stomach on her,” she continues. I may have tricked her into ending the hug but I have no way of stopping her speech.
I can easily say even mama was ‘stomach less’ before she had me and I actually eat more than anyone of my friends but she doesn’t listen, I have nothing to prove my claim. She is sitting on her low stool looking through the window her face in the most perfect sneer I will ever see. She is dancing in frustration on her low-stool. She then suddenly gets up and walks to the kitchen muttering to herself. I want to laugh but I can’t. Her concern is a little exaggerated for I have looked like this for years.
When grandma comes back, I am genuinely hungry. Vegetable oil is swimming happily at the top of the full plate of smoked beef stew. The vegetables look deep-fried. The two avocados besides the plate can feed four hungry people. I do not know what the big melamine mug holds but the delicious aroma has my mouth all watery now. She sets it on the table and sits aside to watch me eat. I’m torn between being myself and shocking her by finishing everything set before me or pretending to eat like an in disciplined child who forgets that other children are dying from starvation and picks at his food without gratitude. The former would make her happy. Digging in like I do alone in my house would send mixed messages. She will get me very bitter concoctions of herbs to add a little meat and fat to my stomach. So I eat slowly. I allow her to guide me. I chew very slowly and watch her from the corner of my eye. My stomach is shocked at all the slow injustice it isn’t used to.
She is amazed at how the food is gradually disappearing. I am amused. There will be no change in the size of my stomach when I am done and all I’m thinking of is how to push it out long enough when I’m done for her to delight in her good results. She is grateful that I will be staying with her for a whole month. She gives a few coins to the children playing under the mango tree and within no time I can hear scared chicken fleeing for dear life and running feet of happy children behind the hut. I am hungry already. Yes, I know I am about to finish my food but the thought of grandma’s chicken makes me long for the sun to go down and meet its lover right away so supper may be served. When she stands to tighten the leso around her waist, she sneaks a look at my stomach. She smiles a little. Her eyes are alive again. One month is all she needs, she says and I will have the stomach of a true African woman. I will have the stomach her granddaughter should have. Pray with me my friends…