What did you hear about fat women? We eat too much? We’re too heavy? Our clothes don’t fit? We’re too slow and lazy to do anything? Well, you probably didn’t hear the other things: the excessive sweating, how the insides of our thighs chaff with enough friction to start a fire, the awkward moments of public transportation, when their expressions show wariness of the lady using two seats, but nobody says a thing. Nobody addresses the elephant in the room. You probably also didn’t hear of how we wear holding belts to portray slimmer waists and push out our cleavages, all to escape into the more universally-acceptable tag of “thick” or “big, bold and beautiful.”
You didn’t hear of our food cravings. You know we like food, yes. But do you know how we crave certain meals only at certain periods of the day? Do you know how our emotions are strongly attached to our food cravings?
On that busy Saturday morning, I had plenty of food cravings. My eyes roamed hungrily over the large table lined with onunu that was perfectly moulded into smooth white balls on fancy ceramic plates. The tomina fulo was placed in long trays at the front of the table, and I could taste the pepper in the fish stew just by looking at it. In all 27 years of my life, I had never seen banga soup look that beautiful before. From the foaming bubbles, I could tell it was still hot, fresh from the pot. It was filled with shrimps and all sorts of meats that even I didn’t know of.
Next to the banga were strong-smelling moulds of perfectly white fufu that were shaped into hearts. In the adjoining row, egusi soup was placed in transparent silver bowls that stretched the length of the table. Did I mention the large dish of pounded yam that was positioned at the centre?
The food was splendid, all of it. Yet with a heavy heart, I peeled my gaze away. The last thing I wanted was to be seen staring at all that food. I was already getting enough unwanted attention as the over-overweight bride-to-be, and standing by the food table wasn’t going to help my case. Besides, the place was a circus and I should have been helping with what was likely going to be a massive wedding disaster, my massive wedding disaster.
It was the morning of my wedding, hours away from tying the knot with Osaki Briggs, my shining ruby, my bed of roses, the man after my heart, and the love of my life. It was an affair that was supposed to be laden with joy, but just like in everything else, his wealthy, influential family took total control of the wedding planning. Prior to that day, they sponsored the ceremony from scratch and made just about every important decision. Yet despite their controlling and intense mannerisms, they seemed to be doing a bad job of organising the big day themselves. There were as many problems as there were guests.
To start with, while making sitting arrangements, Osaki’s sister forgot to put his Ajayi Crowther Alumni Association into consideration. This resulted in a shortage of seats and hardly enough space to fit in extra seats. Also, the wedding tailors were instructed to make twenty dark-blue pieces of injiri iriabo attires for the bridesmaids, which they did. Only that the iriabos were several different shades of blue, and some even white.
To top it all, the food vendors delivered the food a day early as promised, but there was a leakage in their delivery van. As a result, all the food smelt and tasted like stale rainwater. This meant that the man-made heaven I was staring at was the only available food for the hundreds of guests. The last-minute organisation was a mess. The challenges seemed to multiply as the hours passed, and everybody was either angry, confused, or both. I, on the other hand, was relatively relaxed for a woman who was about to be wedded. It felt like all I had to do was say “yes” to my priceless jewel, and then let the wedding unfold before my eyes.
I actually never really envisioned a traditional wedding when I thought of our marriage. First of all, I knew that his family’s wealth and traditional influence would turn the whole thing into a grand Briggs’ ceremony when it was supposed to be about my groom and I. But one of the several things that bothered me most was the fact that, just like in any other Kalabari wedding, we had to perform the bibife ceremony.
The bibife ceremony is a traditional wedding rite where the groom and his family “buy the mouth” of the bride. She dresses up in the traditional iriabo of the bride, and she is fed several courses of food by the groom. The different meals are served in ornamented baskets and the bride is expected to eat a little of everything as wedding guests look on. The bibife is supposed to signify the groom’s commitment towards his wife and his willingness to feed her for the rest of their lives.
Obviously, I would have loved to devour those African delicacies dish after dish. But I was a 156kg woman with a dampened esteem. I was in no position to indulge in those ceremonial feeding rites. I also didn’t feel very welcome in my new family. Osaki assured me that it would all be fine in the end. Soothing words from my gallant lover, yet sometimes I would wonder, when was the end? His concept of “the end” never quite settled with me. Whether or not things turned out well in the end, I wanted to enjoy the journey of a life with my husband rather than endure a daunting wait for a blissful ending. But then, where was the need to complain? I had found love in my strong tower, my oak tree, the taste of warm honey on my dry chapped lips, and my garden of water lilies. I was doing this for him, I constantly had to remind myself. I was doing this for him.
I met Osaki in the latter months of our MSc. program at the University of Port Harcourt. He was easily the most noticeable person in any room. He wore charm like cologne, and his aura of happiness was irresistible. As if that wasn’t enough, he was a tall glass of chocolate kunu. 6’1, broad shoulders, a perfectly shaved head and a soft subtle beard that did little to hide his razor-sharp jawline. Osaki was the third of four children and an only son. Ibim, Osaki’s immediate elder sister, was the closest to him, and it showed. The other two sisters were hardly around until the preceding days to the wedding. However, it was Mrs Briggs I found the most interesting. She was a strong woman who held her family together. Mrs. Briggs once told me that if I ever wanted to talk about anything regarding the wedding, I should relay it to her. Not confide in her, not have a daughter-mother conversation with her. “Relay it to me.” Nevertheless, I occasionally made some suggestions that fell on the brick wall of a plastered smile and a nod of the head.
Less than an hour to the wedding and things had started to look better. They had managed to get a different caterer in short notice, and the food was replaced. More sitting arrangements were made to both wings of the hall to accommodate more guests. Unfortunately, the mismatched attires of the bridesmaids were something that we were going to have to deal with.
By then I was dressed in my iriabo. The wrapper was a patterned ankara mix of blue and green, and the top was a glistening blue that reflected the brightly lit dressing room. We had tried it a million times before the wedding, yet I still had small panic attacks when it felt like the material was getting in between the folds of skin at my sides. The laughable irony was that it actually made me feel less beautiful. What did that matter? I was getting married to my beauty of a man, my sunshine that pierced every cloud of despair. I was lucky.
Of course, I did not know what a bibife ceremony would feel like until I sat in a chair and faced hundreds of guests with a table of food in front of me. Contrary to what I had imagined, having Osaki next to me through the ceremony did not give me the reassurance I had hoped for. He was right there, but he felt distant even through the several instances of eye contact. A thing of little worry. I was finally with a man that accepted me for who I was. I was content.
The rest of that day was a blur, but a few things remain etched in my memory. For example, I remember my iriabo causing itching sensations as beads of sweat moved across my back towards my waist. I remember how the man-made heaven that I once savoured suddenly tasted like disapproval. I remember looking at Mrs. Briggs through all the flashing lights. I don’t recall seeing a smile on her face, not even a plastered one. She simply stared straight at me as she stood in the typical rich-Nigerian-woman posture, her jewellery-laden hands holding each other at waist level. I remember making eye contact with Osaki’s sister a few times as she looked away on each instance. But more than anything, I remember standing up and walking out right in the middle of the ceremony.
It is exactly two months and a week since my wedding day. Shortly after our marriage, Osaki’s father died from a lung disease, and so plenty of attention had been drawn from what I did at the wedding.
It’s 6 AM and I’m lying in bed with my prized husband who sleeps with his back to me. A hulk of a man, he sleeps like a baby. I watch as his shoulder blades rise and fall with each breath. Grieving his father has taken a toll on him, and it shows. So out of respect, I try not to bring up what I did on that faithful afternoon or why. I also avoid thinking about the incident myself.
I’m lying; I think about it every day, especially in quiet moments like this.
You would be surprised at how much wandering the mind can do when you lie in bed at six in the morning. So I let my mind wander. I let it wander to the confused expressions in the crowd as I walked out clumsily from that hall. I let it wander to the warm make-up stained tears that dropped to my cleavage as I drove out of the premises.
I let my mind wander further into the past, to those times when women walked up to my husband and conversed with him as I waited to be introduced. I let it wander to the irony of the fact that my mother-in-law was a woman of unspoken impatience, yet she would wait for minutes to make eye contact with me before speaking, rather than call my name. I let it wander to the highly opinionated man that called into a radio show and said that fat women are lucky to find love, and so they have no right to dislike their partners. He suffered plenty of backlash from subsequent callers, but that strong Igbo accent still lingers in my mind whenever it wanders. I let my mind wander to recent conversations with my mother.
“My daughter, don’t worry, Osaki loves you and that is all that matters.”
But what if I don’t love myself? That has to matter, at least a little.
is a writer, filmmaker, and emerging author who has been published in Pulse Magazine and A Theatre of Dreams. He is currently working on his maiden book and alternates his writing with directing stage plays.