Dinner was distressing. We all stared down at a plate of Moringa sauce and boiled yams. My brother, Olisa, looked like he was about to cry and I thought I felt all the air in my lungs gush out. Lunch was Moringa soup and wheat flour. For breakfast, we had large spoons of steamed Moringa vegetables scooped over our bread. Mother said it was better if we ate them in the manner of a sandwich.
“What did it matter?” Olisa started to say as we cleared the dishes that morning, “it didn’t taste any better. Sandwich or not. This is way overboard.”
He was almost yelling. He had managed to keep his meals down.
“Everything goes overboard with Mother.” I said through chuckles. “Until her obsession thins out, you should know.”
“I am not sure Mrs. Coker eats as much of this vegetable as we do now.” He said, storming off towards the kitchen.
Our neighbour, Mrs. Coker had talked Mother into this Moringa thing. It started like something in a thriller film. The same way she talked every woman in the estate into cabbage fufu, and cabbage pottage, and cabbage pancake, and cabbage everything! Her voice was unusually louder than one would imagine for a petite woman when she first brought her tidings, ringing out from the living room, detailing Mother with all the benefits of it. She called it ‘life saver’. Anything could become something that saved lives once Mrs.
Coker caught wind of it. Her words ran like springs of living waters and I imagined her ringing people’s bells like some religious faithful to tell the good news. During their occasional walk in the evenings, she pointed Mother to houses in the estate where families have begun subscribing to one life saver or the other and Mother pointed Father to them on our way out.
“Don’t you see how fit I have become since I started taking that Moringa plant?” She had asked Mother, rising and throwing her arms and legs apart. They were sitting at the front yard so that there was space enough for Mrs. Coker’s acrobatics.
“Here,” she continued, hitting her knees, “that tingling sensation is gone. Your husband would love it. Your boys too. You will thank me later.” And that was the evening Mother finally signed up.
The seeds came first. We were given handfuls every morning and late in the evening to chew. We did not like it, but we were compelled to be thankful. There were many teenagers in the streets who didn’t have a clue about healthy living, much less having access to it.
Soon, Mother started to blend them into everything – soups and beverages. Next, we were having Moringa vegetables on our tables. Our help, Abebe told us how everything about the plant sold like Ose Nsukka in grocery stores. She spotted people stuffing several wraps of the seeds into their baskets every time she went. “So, it’s not just your mother oh.” She said with a shrug. She only bought seeds at Tiffany’s. Like some other women in the estate, a woman supplied us with the vegetables.
“All we ever eat now is this.” Olisa mumbled.
“Yes. And you are going to like it.” Mother said, rubbing his arms and giving me a knowing glance. “Your bodies are still growing. You need rare veggies like this one for bright eyes, healthy bones and a supple, smooth skin.” She was smiling now. “Isn’t that what you boys ever wanted?”
“I don’t know so” was his reply.
Father was quiet. He spoke very little about Mother’s culinary escapades these days. About most things around home in general. It was worrisome. After his cholesterol and insulin levels shot up, his arguments over Mother’s ‘healthy living recipes’ reduced to a mere murmur. He only sat down and ate. If she served live scorpions, she could get away with it. Whether it was his health which Mother now leveraged on or his inability to challenge Mother that worried me, I didn’t know.
Olisa sometimes imagined that he were somewhere else. In some aunt’s house in Achina where having meals meant real meals, even if he had to blow air at the firewood to keep it aflame. He didn’t mind the smell of smoke clinging to his body all day, or the way it made him strain his eyes, or even choked him up. He was tired. His travails heightened on days when Mother veered out of all things culinary, when we were obliged to become her lab rats because she was trying out one herb or the other learnt from our local church Women’s forum. Olisa didn’t have to give his opinion. Mother said his mind was always too disorderly to give a valid account of anything. But she made him drink them anyway, twisting him this way and that for reactions and asking me what I thought.
Abebe placed glasses of some nameless liquid beside our plates— I wasn’t sure why we were having that too though, stranger drinks have appeared on our table. We had washed down meals with this pale substance Mother called ‘Citrus drink’. Abebe said it was a mixture of lemon, lime, orange and grape. We nicknamed it ‘Sour drink’ and laughed about it a lot.
There were random moments of warmth that brought little privileges of choices. But, displaced meals and drinks had become a tradition. When we talked to someone about these things, Mother was good or bad depending on who we talked to and how we talked about it.“
I tried to alkalinize our water with cucumbers and other items soaked earlier.” Mother said to Father as she reached for her glass. “It should detox our systems.”
“That is good to know.” Father said and I knew he would have more than a glass. We all would.