There is a song in my belly and this is its chorus: chicken, chicken, chicken.
You see, eagles are enjoying the spotlight too much – just like the lion.
Soar like an eagle. Be as bold as a lion. I am tired of hearing such. Can’t we see the value of tender, fleshy chicken? A chicken is just as great as an eagle or a lion to me.
Ask me why. Ask me about growing up.
I grew up mostly in Ketu, dancing in rain that fell all year round, playing football with other boys, a jersey of the bare chest and shorts. Or even boxers or briefs. I grew up kicking and heading, even if it meant plunging into mud, retrievals from stinking gutters, apologizing for broken windows and flights over fences. A constant Hide and Seek, innocence mingled with curiosity.
Police and Thief. Catcher. Kites. Arm wrestling. The Biro Game.
Knockouts, tripping, iodine dabs, “Next time I will beat you!”, “Stay in one place!”, or a sarcastic “Continue o!”
Afterwards, even when we were finally able to understand the language of Nigerian sarcasm, we would continue, ignoring plasters, bandages, injured knees and bleeding lips. More games, more football, greater risks. The girls who mostly felt no vibe kicking a leathery sphere found enthusiasm in hand games – clasping and clapping and switching palms while singing, sometimes forming circles, against the backdrop of a brilliant sunset.
Our stomachs against the backdrop of sweet food. Parties – Birthday Parties, Class Parties, Children’s Parties, Christmas Parties, End of the Year Parties – endless food and drinks. As children, along with male and female playmates, we could distinguish social classes using food. Jollof rice was too hard to classify but Coaster and Cabin biscuits occupied the lowest rungs, butter mint, lollipops were lower middle class, popcorn and desserts were upper middle class. First class was fried chicken, barbecued chicken. Chicken all the way!
An African mother’s cooking pot is incomplete without meat, without chicken right?
Though Mother was a nutritionist, my brother and I loved chicken fiercely. When the invisible candles on my eighth birthday cake were made up of harsh rashes and persistent itching, we feared it was because I had been eating too much chicken. “Chicken pox is the ailment due to excessive intake of chicken,” I thought, feeling proud that I had finally applied what my brother’s teacher called the scientific process. However, when my mother, a doctor, began the cycle of increased care, persistent calamine lotion and more chicken, I knew my supposition was wrong.
When I turned ten and moved to a G.R.A that terminated my street football days, when I resumed in a new school – an endless sea of faces that submerged my influence as Head Boy and left me with an identity of a short, wide-eyed J.S.1 student, I still loved chicken.
My love for chicken made me study.
Ask me why. Ask me about growing up.
Although I was maturing rapidly, when I realized that the best students in the midterm examinations, in addition to public recognition during assembly, were taken to Tasty Fried Chicken, an extension beyond the normal small school meat, I began to take schoolwork seriously, like never before.
When I devoured tasty chicken for being second in the third term midterm exam, I did not need anyone to tell me this was something to keep up.
With time, high grades meant representing the school in competitions. Even till S. S. 2, I did many of such competitions because of rice and spicy chicken. One of the moments I’m forever grateful for is the month Mega Chicken, one of the best restaurants in Nigeria, built an outlet close to my school. Whenever a teacher promised to settle other representatives and me with a lunch there, sacrificing brainpower and a Saturday became easier.
I have never loved schoolwork, it is chicken I love. For years, my A’s were actually fuelled by a devotion to chicken, not schoolwork. Chicken served as an awesome reward and great consolation when I messed up. Chicken consoled me when I failed the SPAK qualifying exams, where I had to answer 100 questions in 75 minutes. Actually, I didn’t fail, I didn’t really care, did I? Oh but a scholarship of 7.5 million and chicken was something, wasn’t it? Twenty-five questions for each of these: Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology without a calculator. Imagine! I freestyled so bad that I wasn’t looking at the options. I even shared option E when the questions provided only A-D.
A tender spicy chicken lap reduced the intensity of my regret when I cared – I lost the prestigious Cowbellpedia Math Competition after months of intense preparation and high hopes.
One of the few times Biology interested me was when we had a whole practical on a chicken. Actually, it was on digestive systems or whatever – all I remember is the fun as we dissected a chicken. Killing it irritated me though, the way it was shrieking and scratching, how that rubbish red part was just bobbing anyhow. And the way the eye suddenly shut. Many girls screamed. ‘Don’t you eat chicken?’ was the reply of some guys who have spent their years on six-packs and biceps and faking a deep voice. Plucking the feathers with gloves was interesting though. And then opening it up, seeing the tiny lungs, the intestines, the stomach wowed me.
So tiny, yet so valuable. I mean, I had never killed a chicken, never seen its insides. So this was what it was before the pot and the spices? My mother was a nutritionist, not a feminist. She taught us her boys how to cook so that as she put it, ‘women will not do shakara.’ Although fried chicken was on the Banned Food Items in our house, she boiled.
There is a song in my belly and this is its chorus: chicken, chicken, chicken. I am a good boy, I have never stolen chicken from my mother’s pot; I have worked for it and worked on it. Tomorrow, I will be fifteen. I should celebrate with chicken, shouldn’t I?
Anyway, when my hair becomes a full field of grey, when my grandchildren, after playing football or Hide and Seek, sit circling my feet, I shall not tell them only folktales and terrible clichés – Soar like an eagle. Be as bold as a lion – no, I will stuff their mouths with chicken.
Chicken all the way!