I didn’t grow up in Nigeria, so there are things my children despair over that strike me as comical. For example, when my daughter was young, I sent her to school each day with a packed lunch. One day, she opened her thermos and started eating jollof rice.
The boy sitting next to her studied her spoon. “Is that from KFC?” he asked.
“No,” she said, proudly. “My chef made it.”
The rice was indeed from KFC, and we did not employ a chef.
My daughter began begging me to hire a cook. She wanted to eat proper food like rice and stew at home. She told me that at her friend’s house, they always had stew stored in an old ice cream container because they were living the dream.
Being the sensitive mother I am, I said, “Grow up and get your own cook.”
I’ve had my own traumas, of course, but I find them less amusing. I’ve always spent time in India, and it was there in my mid-20s that I had an unpleasant revelation. One night, my teenage cousin, Nisha and I went down to the base of her family’s apartment building for an evening stroll. Lots of people were outside, enjoying the cool New Delhi evening.
Some kids playing cricket knocked their ball towards us, and I rolled it back to them. “Thank you, didi,” a boy said, using the respectful term for an older sister.
His friend elbowed him and said in Hindi, “That’s not a didi. That’s an auntie.”
My heart shrank like a stone, as Nisha burst out laughing. An auntie? Didn’t they know I planned to stay young and gorgeous forever?
The next day, I wore a salwar kameez to lunch. It was old, but pretty. I pointed out to Nisha that everyone at the restaurant was staring at me in admiration, so it was clear I hadn’t been relegated to the auntie zone just yet. Nisha looked me up and down. “No, they’re staring because your kameez is so long. No one wears them like that anymore. You look weird.”
What? I thought Indian fashion was as timeless as a classic sari. No one told me that styles constantly evolved! I died inside, understanding that not only had I turned into an auntie, I was also a fool. Then I laughed merrily. That’s the beauty of being foolish. It’s impossible to keep my spirits down.
Fashion is exhausting. I don’t like things in flux. I prefer crisp endings and beginnings. That’s why as a youngster, I enjoyed maths, Ancient Greek and chemistry. In those subjects, everything balances. They are tidy.
As a teenager, I used to drive to school, blasting gangster rap, and feeling oppressed for no particular reason. When my cousin, Anisha, visited from Maryland, it was only natural we’d talk about music. She loved EPMD, and when she started quoting lyrics, my heart sank. Anisha knew about so many artists I’d never explored.
Music is like fashion, I now realise. They will always change, and I will never be able to get a grasp on them.
These days I listen to 80s music, and I dress like I bought my clothes in that millennium, too. I’ve evolved into my most authentic self, someone capable of growth—without a chef, I can now make beautiful Nigerian stew at home, for example—but at the same time, I’m someone who knows when it’s time to stop resisting.
It may sound like giving up, but I prefer to think of it as an ascension. Auntie Mona knows nothing about popular music, but she’s fine with that, and at this point, she wears clothes solely to avoid being naked. And you know what? This chubby, little auntie prefers this version of herself to the ones that came before. This one feels timeless.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian writer. She holds an MSt in Literature and Arts from the University of Oxford, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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