Inspired by Chika Unigwe’s TedTalk

Tami stared at the painting on the wall, reds, blues, greens blurring into each other. No shapes, only splotches of colour that no matter how she looked, resembled a page from a child’s colouring book enlarged and framed. That was what she thought even though no one asked her opinion. But she would not say it even if they asked. It was a masterpiece.

The frame held a particular fascination for her. It was the only thing she understood. She imagined she could see the patterns of the wooden grains visible under the polished surface. In her mind she pictured where the axe would fall if she decided to use it for firewood. How the wood would split into two almost perfect halves, and the halves into smaller halves until they were small enough to feed a kitchen fire. But there was no need. A four burner gas stove served that purpose.

Spoon scraping plate, slurp, slurp, and she turned, her eyes not meeting those of mamma whose half lidded gaze focused with fierce concentration on her plate of ärtsoppa, a meal she had picked over Tani’s own specially prepared pepper soup, prepared with very little pepper because she knew how weak these oyibo’s people palate was. Still rejected.

Her eyes returned to the picture, trying to see what Andre and his art collecting friends saw. Avant-garde. Sensational. Genius. Words.

Her mother’s words would have been that the painting looked like something a goat had knocked paint cans over and then pissed on, explaining the streaks of faint aging yellow on the canvas.

Spoon scraping plate, slurp, slurp and her eyes were drawn to the left, Andre having the ärtsoppa as well because, “I can’t very well leave my mother to eat alone. You understand, dear, don’t you?” as he smiled at mamma, then said something to her, his tongue rolling out sj and tj sounds Tani failed to master no matter how she tried.

Tani stared at her plate. She was having the ärtsoppa as well. Mamma hadn’t blinked when she told Jonas in halting Swedish to give her a serving of same and put the pepper soup in the freezer. She had seen the hesitation in his eyes. He knew how many times the spoon had slipped out of her hand as she had stirred in the ingredients for her soup; she who had never as much as spilled a drop of water in the kitchen. She had offered him a taste, to make sure she had judged the pepper right so there would be no choking at the table, not wanting to repeat her jollof rice experience with Andre. No words passed between but she knew he knew.

“You don’t like the meal, dear?” Andre asked, wiping the corner of his mouth.

She stretched her lips, her cheeks bunching under the eye bags that had a story of their own.

“Of course, I do darling.”

She dipped her spoon into the plate, raised it to her lips and slurped.