Better Served Cold

Winding up last-born child in a Nigerian family is a mistake you quickly learn you will regret for the rest of your childhood. Life, for you, is a bitter tale of injustice and leftovers.

This night, Papa had let two of Chioma’s fat and obnoxious friends spend the night.
“Your sister is old enough” he said when I protested, and you didn’t argue with Papa unless you had a death wish.

As soon as the rest of the house was asleep, all three wrestled me into the little dark and windowless bathroom.
They locked the door and amused themselves by whispering ‘Karishika!’ ‘Karishika!’ through the door and cackling like witches.

Now, Karishika was the stuff of every child’s nightmares, the most horrific Nigerian film ever made. It was about the queen of demons, sent to earth to drag souls to hell.
Tremors ran down my spine as grotesque image after grotesque image flashed through my mind. I wept and begged helplessly before they let me go.

The next morning, I stormed off, irate and teary-eyed, to Papa for vengeance. Instead, he chided me for being afraid of the dark and sent me away.
“Why are you so afraid of everything?” he said, “You have to learn to be a man!”

And so that morning, as Mama ladled our breakfast into bowls, I decided I wouldn’t take any more rubbish from Chioma. I was a man.

We took our bowls of porridge and sat on opposite sides of the table. I was livid. I watched her as she shoveled spoon after spoon down her throat. She seemed to be enjoying the damn porridge so much. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t touched mine until she paused and looked up at me.

The scorn must have been plain on my face because she gave a knowing smirk, before she stuck her tongue out contemptuously and blew hard in my direction. It sounds rather irrational now, but I saw some spittle hurtling toward me, and that’s when I completely lost it.

I went with my very first impulse and, gathering all the phlegm and oral fluids I could muster, I lunged forward and launched it all like a missile into her porridge. She looked stunned for a second, but then she shot out of her chair and spurted one into my bowl angrily.

Just as I was about to retaliate, Papa walked in, Mama toting his plate of breakfast behind. We very quickly resumed our seats and pretended all was normal. He sat at the head of the table and, as Mama set his plate down, slowly lifted his stern eyes to us. We couldn’t dare utter what we had just done, and we didn’t dare leave the table without empty bowls. So we had one choice.

As I lifted the spoon to my mouth, I felt like the scrawny little fighter who had been voted ‘least likely to win’, pitted against the record-breaking champion. And although she gave me one solid jab that had blacked me out, I left her with a deep red scar across the chest. And that for me was a victory.