Once upon a time, a middle-aged woman lived happily ever after in Lagos with her husband and children. To her bewilderment, that happiness shattered. There was a global pandemic and everyone hunkered down at home. After a few months of wallowing in fear, this undersized lady began to scroll past the ghastly headlines and go straight to the food section of the newspaper. The woman, who for the purposes of this tale, we will call Mona, busied herself learning to make cold coffee, celebration cakes and pasta dishes high in calories and comfort.
Unable to cope with the demands of a family under pressure, she put her academics on hold, replaced her dissertation with television and sat on her ever-expanding rump. Her once sharp brain softened on a steady diet of reality TV. She and her husband began watching a series about intercultural engaged couples and the rush to get married within 90 days of receiving K-1 visas. In time, reality blurred and she gossiped about the couples as if she knew them personally. Mona stuffed her mind and body with this delicious, addictive yet empty fare, as the pandemic raged on.
To her horror, her colleagues planned a photo shoot at work to commemorate the fifth volume of the magazine. But Mona was rotating between three pairs of sweatpants that gripped her fat thighs like sausage casings. She had stopped fitting into her clothes months before! She was determined not to be memorialised in her squishy state.
Mona began to exercise like a madwoman. She lifted weights. She walked her puppies then speed-walked with her husband until she was drenched in sweat. Mona eliminated flour, wheat and sugar from her diet and the pounds melted away.
The day of the photo shoot, her husband picked out a dress for her to wear paired with heels she forgot she owned. Her daughter applied her makeup. Mona posed in the sunshine, sucking in her tummy, and the photos were dynamite. She looked hot, she declared. As soon as she went home, triumphant, she ate a large burrito.
Yes, the pandemic lasted so long that Mona got fat, fit then fat again. In fact, she is sitting in her house at this very moment, stuffed with a bowl of mac and cheese her daughter just handed her. Mona is thinking of the ice cream in the freezer and the potato chips in the cupboard and how she’s too lazy to walk the 15 seconds it would take to reach them.
What, really, is the point of looking good when there’s no one there to see you? Mona’s husband needs corrective lenses but doesn’t bother wearing them. He says that when he looks at her, he can’t really make out her face anymore, so he assumes she is identical to the teenage girl he fell in love with. And Mona has no plans for the foreseeable future. Her only socialising is via Zoom calls with old friends who couldn’t care less about her appearance.
Mona’s priorities are simple: She cares for her family. She cooks healthy meals, even if she doesn’t always eat them. Back to graduate studies, she spends a few hours each morning researching non-elite Victorian mothers for her dissertation. Mona works at this magazine and engages in public service projects. She has continued watching reality TV, but that’s all. She doesn’t have much to show for 2020-2021.
When we think of health, internal health is often overlooked, but sometimes it’s imperative to focus on the interior, not the exterior. Mona decided that she would rather lose a few years of her professional life than allow the mental health of her family to implode. During the pandemic, she became introspective and grew as a person, allowing everything else to slide, including her ability to fit into her trousers. Her family has hung in there, and the end is on the horizon. Mona doesn’t have anything impressive in the works or any recent accomplishments, but she has survived and that’s something. She’s helped her family survive, too, and on quite a few occasions, thrive, which means more to her fat, happy, little self than anything else.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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