Conversations { on Self Preservation, Survival & Adaptation } in Dulwich

{ Fictional Stories about Factual Food Reviews }

“Is it not burnt though?”
“No mum?!” She’s protested.
She had turned around the FaceTime screen on her iPhone to show her mother one of the Moi Moi bean cakes that she decided to bake, rather than cook the regular way, by steaming in foil. There was a sense in the parent’s pauses, that suggested she was accustomed to her child doing things in an unorthodox manner.

“It’s cute though right?”
“Yes… it’s pretty…” she affirmed nonchalantly.
“I made two in the pot and this one in the oven, because I saw on this Nigerian food blog where she baked it and it was okay.” Nneka attested in a delicately pleading tone, that insisted on instant approval.
The truth was she was running out of foil and decided to shove the rest of the concoction into the oven.

The traditional method was actually done by pouring the liquid into wrapped banana leaves, which were hard to come by in her area of London.
She had watched her mum use another method of folding foil into little bags, pouring the liquid in and tying it closed at the opening.

“I was gonna use tinned Black Eyed beans you know, because it’s kinda basically the same thing…” she insisted
“What?! Tinned beans?!” a nauseated silence translated to disapproval.
“But what about the beans I gave you?”
“Yeah that’s what I used! You know mum, I almost drank the mixture, I was licking it from the spoon, it’s soo tasty?!”
“Tufiakwa?! Nneka don’t do that? That can give one running stomach.”
“Okay! Okayyyy! Byeee! I’ll see you in about an hour or so? I’ll call you when I’m outside yeah?!”
“Hmm, okay then…”

Nneka was a quintessential multitasker, a boisterous girl who wasted her might destroying stereotypes no one gave to her in particular. Ironically her favourite pastimes included fine dining with friends, grand dinner parties and taking care of children. She was a walking talking paradox. She scratched the face of her rose gold watch, which was covered in dried splodges from the ground bean liquid.

“Okay, 15 minutes.” She told herself.
She ran to her bedroom and laid down her Black Shearling coat and knee high boots, with leather gloves and a hat to match. It was 7:51PM on her phone when she disconnected the video call to her mother. Running back to the kitchen, ransacking the silverware drawer, she drew a sharp paring knife and made an acute incision into the top centre of the risen bean cake.
“Shit it’s proper burnt innit?”she lamented, recognising that indeed her mum was right. The centre of the cake was pumpkin coloured in comparison to the thin crisp sheet of fire-glazed terracotta above it. Very quickly this was dismissed as she fetched a bowl, filling it with two cups of Gari, four teaspoons of Demerara sugar and a glass and a half of chilled filtered water, stirring relentlessly.
“Did you wash that Gari?”she could hear mother ask internally.
“Urgghh my Goddd so good ! Yesss!”Dicing, slicing, dipping, soaking and slurping, dancing aggressively to an inaudible Afrobeats playlist.
The phone began to flash,“Argh flip sake!”the Uber driver had arrived. Both Moi Mois were fumbled into nylon bags and bowls shoved aside, she hopped into her boots unlaced and stood dishevelled in her biker chic get up, rumbling out of the house and into the taxi.

“Evening! Straight to this address please.”A passive beseeching, cutting any hopes for conversation.
“Okay darling.”She scanned his profile on the app and sat very close to the left hand side, avoiding the glimpse of his eyes trying to connect via the rear view mirror.

The end of the playlist was nigh and promptly disrupted by a pause and vibrating pulses in her palm.

“Nneka where are you!? It’s getting late!”
“I’m outside now, I’m just arriving, open the door please.”
“Thank you! Night!”
“No problem darling.”
“Who is that man driving that car?”
“Really mum!? It’s the Uber driver?” she winced, grabbing her bags and clutching the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Uber driver, who is that?”
“The taxi mum, its an app you get taxis from?” she riposted knowing fully well what was being insinuated.
“Hang up now, I’m here?!”she squinted in the nights darkness towards the front door ajar, where an older woman was peeping through a slit of warm fluorescent light. The journey from Camberwell to Dulwich was draining yet aesthetically pleasing, as was the process of decorating her newly refurbished studio flat. The casual frequenting of her family home was an ode to the bubbling freedom and innocence of adolescence, once guarded by parental guidance. Bee lining to the kitchen and hovering over the stove agog, the contents of her bags were set out neatly on the worktop beside.

“Wow this is tasty!”she licked the spoon, from a dish she hadn’t cooked, rare.
“Innit!?”she couldn’t tell whether she genuinely felt as though she had surprised herself, or she was agreeing because indeed her cooking was as tasty as she always knew. Or maybe a survival technique, agree to get along, even at ones own expense; adapting to a seemingly hostile environment in order to get the recognition you feel you deserve, briefly submitting to a doctrine that by its very nature expresses a disdain for your way of existing. The internalised projections of others presumptions about her identity were at war.

“You’re a real Nigerian girl!”

Whether this was a just a statement, an asseveration, or a complement she couldn’t tell. Nneka always felt the need to read between the colloquial lines of Nigerian sarcasm and British arrogance. Both which fail to cleverly conceal a vulnerability which intends to prioritise the needs and desires of itself above all else; almost accidentally, clumsily destroying that which lays in its path. A dual nationality, which forced her into a chameleon like position; ‘forming’ by nature, for survival, no matter where she went she felt alien.
Overcompensations in random violent outbursts of pidgin English, when in confrontation with real Nigerians, whose accusatory eyes branded her by action, an Ajebota.
She’d had to tell her self this repeatedly over the years as nobody ever seemed to believe that this ‘Britiko’could have a taste for, let alone put together any African dish, even though her favourite pastime was finger licking deep bowls of Ugba especially with Cow foot.

“I’m so proud of myself, it’s my biggest achievement this year”she couldn’t tell whether she was lying. “I mean I can cook Nigerian food…”she began a faintly defensive yet justified rant in a slightly higher pitch… “..I just never really got around to doing Moi Moi.
The boiled one is nicer though, it’s got, you know, that texture, mmmnah mnah” she mouthed, “You know, when it’s just cooked and it’s steaming and moist.”

She stared at her daughter in surprise as though she hadn’t been cooking dishes to such high culinary standards all her life, and what she knew of taste and African cuisine was learned behaviour; that was her child.
“It’s tasty though!”
“It’s just missing, I think palm oil and scotch bonnet.”
“You didn’t use?”
“No I didn’t have it, so I used vegetable oil and black peppercorns instead.”
Whether she felt this was intelligent or smart a trickle of shame crept down her throat as she spoke.
“And a little salt?”
“No, you know I didn’t put, just Chicken Jumbo stock cube.”
“Eh but you know, you’ll be adding and adding, but the salt is actually in the stock itself.”
“Honestly, mum I had to be careful.”
“But it’s good! Well done Girl!”

She was six again, then eleven, and then eighteen and couldn’t control her mannerisms. If anyone’s approval mattered it was her mothers, especially in the kitchen, and this wasn’t about feminine stereotypes, the lady could throw down!

“You know I been thinking about it and I really think that like, you never really know what independence means until you live alone. Like going off to live at uni just isn’t the same, because you’re supported by the idealistic foundations of institutional education and for some, student loans. There is always a way to get support, even if it’s just the receptionist at your halls of residence, your tutors… I dunno it’s just not the same.”Her mother stayed quiet looking for an entrance into dialogue.
“Learning how to survive alone, in a society that doesn’t talk about the fact that the cost of living is higher than the basic level minimum wage per annum. Most people are struggling to keep up with their own struggle.”Nneka complained.
“And you are you struggling?”the interjection came in a confusing tone, one that wouldn’t match the words relayed.
“I’m just talking in general.”she lied. “And it’s hard being Nigerian and British though, because like, you’re socialised British, Igbo, Nigerian, African, in that order. Where as you’re socialised Igbo, Nigerian, African,  give or take the factor of colonialism.”
“It’s true.”
“I feel like, obviously I’ve been socialised to adapt, but because I’m raised Igbo there’s a clash and it seems to be to one’s own detriment.”
“What do you mean?!”
“I just can’t cope without Pounded Yam and Oha Soup mum?! But I just don’t always have time to cook all the dishes…” she sulked.
“Well… You have to make time?! Any African living overseas has to shop around, buy their things and make time, or else what will you do? Pasta, fish and chips, nko?” she cheesed.
“But like, you cook Igbo or Nigerian foods, then we go to school and have British school dinners and then out with our peers we eat British versions of what they call ‘World Foods’…”
“Haha…” she laughed waggishly, raising her eyebrows in agreement.
“Like even the desire to eat and cook Nigerian dishes at home, that cuts deep into my budget? Mum pounded yam is what, £6.99 for a small bag? I had to buy £1 Island Sun Gari from Tesco!?”
“One pound where? What is that, that yellow cheap sour Ghanaian Gari, that is probably the leftovers when frying?! Hahaa!” the proud African teased.
“I hate Gari?! Well… like Eba with soup. It makes me feel poor? And the texture is ergh!”
“You know I used to fry and sell Gari at home, when I was younger? Hobby!”
“What?! Really?”
“Yeah?! I fry cassava, very good quality. Yes! Gari, Pap, Akara, many things and sell. Everybody loved my foods!” the veteran saleswoman in her had emerged.
“But I love the fact that Moi Moi is literally a snack then?!” the British child proclaimed with an air of self certainty, that camouflaged a futile attempt to identify by force.
“Snack how?”
“Mum it’s basically beans and veg blended and boiled, 30 minutes minimum?!”
“Hmm, anyway, at least you can cook it and feed yourself…(!)”She left her in her right and moved on in her own, knowing full well that she had never sat in harmattan heat, peeling beans to soak for hours before final preparation for Moi Moi or Akara.

“Can you imagine mum? This Italian guy I was talking to said to me, ‘Any girl that dates me can have a whole wardrobe to herself!’ she mocked.
“A wardrobe mum?! And he was so proud of himself? What is a wardrobe to a house!?”she paused in pain. “I asked him why his house, which was actually quite nice, hadn’t been decorated all these years, he said ‘Ah that’s no biggie, you know, just get a girlfriend!’ Urgh! So disrespectful! If I didn’t have my own or know any better, the way the world is set up, I could possibly believe that was a decent gesture?!” She was deeply disappointed, but also quite confused about what she thought may have been a harsh judgement of his character; it was clear in the way that her voice trembled and waltz through octaves.
She liked this one a lot, but this was the final one of many red flags and she was tired of being a malignant optimist. The older one sucked her teeth in disgust and curiosity around the nature of the relationship itself, facts the younger one withheld on purpose.
“That’s how some men can be though…”

The doorbell rang. It was 11pm. Cautious footsteps dragged themselves towards the kitchen door.
“Hey how are you?” Before this and a brief exchange of communication the week prior, they hadn’t spoken in months.
“I’m good thanks. I made Moi Moi if you want some.”
“Oh. Really?” He spoke curiously into the space in front of her and between them. “Where is it?” It was bundled into the deep freezer in extra foil like stolen loot. This was a good sign; it was being kept where all the preserved meats, fish and dishes in ice cream tubs were, for later consumption. In any other case it would have been left on the side open and abandoned for any hungry fool to consume – a quiet and sly disrespect, then mocked and shortly discussed in deep whispering tones of confusion when questioned by passers by.
“Is this it?” he cringed mockingly. The more and more he distanced himself from his part responsibility of their relationship, the more and more she grew dismissive of his low expectations of her. She lacked the need for his approval. Her tone was different with him, deep, primal, based, creating an opaque veil of masculinity over her vulnerability. His methods of asserting his masculinity were emotionally violent.

She had the power to analyse him at a distance, but his biological role as her father and a Nigerian Christian man, created a toxic dynamic which allowed him access to her personal space, his energy was infectious like a virus.
“Honour your mother and Father and your days will be long…’” they’d say, she preferred shorter days, to meditate on Colossians 3:21 and Ephesians 6:4, the ones he casually forgot to abide by.

He spat her out literally and figuratively, his treatment of her made her question his upbringing. This type of hatred towards ones own reflection and creation, were red flags for internalised self-hate, she pondered.
She felt as though at every attempt to relate, he destroyed aspects of her femininity whilst claiming to be a feminist.
With all the knowledge he attained in his lifetime, he often reduced himself to embarrassing stereotypes, with purposefully ignorant statements such as “All men cheat…”with a veneer like tone of wisdom, a parody of a father, pastiche at it’s finest.
He chose to let her down and poked and prodded at her femininity, it was as though he was reliving the trauma of an effeminate little boy, who’s domineering mother violently reprimanded any sign of emotion or a lack thereof hyper masculinity. Yet she knew it wasn’t her place to say, or suggest, or presume, or make excuses for anyone’s abusive behaviour, especially those acted out towards her or at her expense. The daughter discontinued the dialogue and her mother understood, in silence, elegantly slurping her Gari like a cat of nine lives in the home of a careless owner.

“Ahh fantastic, I’ll have it for dinner then!” He kept her at seven or maybe even five; the age where children become overwhelmed with emotions at the slightest hint of a compliment.

She stared at him blankly and he held his face in a way that resembled that of a desperate clown, trying hard to convince the children at the party, that indeed he is more clever and funny, than ridiculous. She felt like a worker bee that had to collect the nectar from other men’s mutual respect, desire and affection for her, bringing it back to the hive, chewing and depositing it into her stomach, and fanning herself with internal affirmations, capping her soul with a seal of self-preservation. Luckily she had been alone long enough in life to teach herself the basis of self love and a healthy, balanced , non toxic masculinity.

She smiled shortly quick enough to shut the door on condescendence, a learned behaviour. The taste of the warm and spicy Moi Moi masked the disgust that flooded the back of her mouth; she refused to let these moments alter her awareness of self. She wouldn’t permit the actions of another to destroy the foundations she had laid internally; preparing herself for a spiritual attraction to a mate that was unlike her feminine’s first experience of Masculinity, from which she had come.
She played with and carefully observed her fingernails, like good girls do when preserving their feminine wiles…


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