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Summer-Fall '23

My Father's Daughter
Ngozi Ugbekile

In those days, my father and I were twins. Not twins that looked exactly the same or with slight differences, but twins in our love for food. On a bright and sunny Saturday morning, we would have a hot plate of fried plantains that were not too soft but firm enough to melt on your tongue when your teeth crushed them; the sweetness filled your head in that brief moment. My father liked fried eggs, and while different kinds of people fry their eggs in different kinds of ways, his were the best. At least to me.

First, we chopped purple onions and fried them in a little oil till the air you breathed in was suffused with that aroma peculiar to onions, sweet and almost choking. My father never liked them burnt but fried just to be crisp. Next came chopped juicy tomatoes and red peppers. He would leave them in the pan to get to know each other, for their flavors to become one, and for the heat to suck all the moisture from them. 

I would stand by the door of our too-little kitchen, watching and anticipating. Being close enough to see the smile that danced on his lips when the onions and tomatoes and peppers hissed in the pan and he had to turn and turn and turn. I would watch the light in his eyes come alive, bright enough to make the contents in the pan cook faster.

Pass me the salt, he would say in his faded gray jeans with no shirt on, and like a dutiful sous-chef with a leap in my steps, I would give him the make-shift plastic salt container. The only seasoning you need for eggs is salt. Only salt. He was that simple––still is––and I would nod as if listening to otherworldly advice from the best man I knew. 

Next came the eggs: already beaten, he would spread the batter over the entire surface to give each fried piece some eggs to hold onto. He would let them rest to become solid and firm around the onions, tomatoes, and peppers. Then he turned them with our big cooking spoon to prevent the eggs from burning and sticking to the pan. We did not have a non-stick pan. We did not have a lot of things. 

He would turn and flip and mince and pat until they had a deep golden colour and they shone like gems, the little oil being just enough for them.

Oya, rinse plates, and I would take four plastic plates from the big blue bowl where we kept them on the top of our old plastic cupboards, and adjust this way and that, just so I could make my way between my father and the yellow wall of our kitchen to the tap and sink. I would rinse the plates as fast as I could, not letting the water stay on any one for too long, and then shake them in the air to remove the droplets. He served me first because I was his princess, he would say, and because I cooked with him, even though I did very little but pass salt and rinse plates.

I never left the kitchen until my mother and brother got theirs, to see if I could get just a little bit more of those sweet eggs. He would look at me with his eyes red from too much dust and walking in the sun, the lines around them gathering as he smiled, knowing what I wanted. And I would look back at the kindest eyes I knew and smile too.

On several days, in our single room, we would eat our eggs with plantains, with bread and tea or water, with the television on, my elder brother eating and arranging his DVDs or his part of the wardrobe under the bed. My mother, recounting everything that happened to a family member or the drama in the neighborhood, or her shop where she sold frozen fish and chicken. My father, nodding, making sounds in response to her. Me, eating, chewing loudly and humming with an eye on my father’s plate, waiting patiently for the pieces of eggs and onions and tomatoes and peppers that he would leave for me. And he always did, he always did.

Ngozi Ugbekile only started writing this year after mustering enough courage to put pen to paper and tell stories. Above all, she is a lover of God and her family is her world. She has a story forthcoming in Extra Teeth Magazine.

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