When I was five years old, I was chubby or fat or plump or whatever adjective that can be used to describe a child with an abundance of flesh. I had a neighbour called Chinyere- that was her real name, if she has issues with my writing her name here- she should come to my house and beat me.
Chinyere lived to look for my trouble; honestly, at that time I thought she was came to earth to needle me. Her siblings were fond of me especially her younger sister who was thirteen at the time. I liked her because she was who I wanted to be- a teenager (I first heard the word from her when she turned thirteen and was excited about becoming a teenager), could go to school by herself instead of being taken to school like a baby and she was even in secondary school while I was in stupid nursery 3. Anyway, this is about Chinyere.
The babe couldn’t see me without calling me fatty bombom, orobo or something, she was careful not to call me that in front of my parents but anytime she found me daydreaming or playing with my brother, she would start the taunting. At the time, I didn’t even know that her words were derogatory, I had been chubby all my life and words like that went with the territory but her tone carried enough venom for me to know I was the object of something that felt like hatred.
One evening she called me fatty while I was following aunty Ogechi, asking a dozen question per minute as she packed clothes from the plastic rope she’d spread our clothes on. She’d never done that before, calling me that in front of anyone. I guess she was getting more confident, she said it and sauntered off while aunty Ogechi watched her leave with an open mouth.
“Is that what she calls you?” she asked me in a shrill voice.
“Yes, so if you boil plantain, you cannot fry it again?” Or another question of that nature, I was fascinated by the preparation of ‘exotic’ food at the time.
“Is she mad?” I did not answer; Chinyere did not look like Agwo who wore torn clothes or the other mad people who wandered and muttered gibberish.
“Next time she calls you fatty bombom, tell her she is skinny bones with no flesh and dry like stockfish, you hear!” I nodded and went back to peppering her with questions.
Because the girl was incredibly unwise, the next day or so, she saw me outside and started the taunting. I remembered my aunt’s instructions, cleared my throat and said.
“Skinny bones like you, no flesh, dry like stockfish,” I sang
The way her face collapsed is imprinted on my memory forever, she turned and left me without a word. Until the day her family moved out of that house she never even spoke to me again, it was that bad.
The obvious lesson is people who are so prone to mock others are usually thin skinned themselves. In my twenty-nine years on earth, I have come to find that people who are so quick to comment on the physical inadequacies of others and to mock them are usually those who have the deepest dissatisfaction with their lots in life, those who are so sensitive about themselves that the only way they can feel marginally good about themselves is by bringing down others.
On social media, I’ve been seeing a spate of posts on body shaming by young women- especially feminists, on how people have tried to silence them by pointing out their flaws and calling them ugly. I suppose the intent is to make them shrink because they are called ugly, fortunately the reverse occurs again and again. They take the cruel words, flush them down the toilet and then soar.
Even though the childhood rhyme about sticks and stones breaking bones while words do not hurt, words can carry more force than hammers and the effects can linger for a long, long time. However sitting around and sulking is counterproductive, you can either use the mockery as propellant to move on or if you are card carrying member of the #pettygang you can hit the person back where it hurts- they always have an easy spot- trust me on that.
Flush the ugly and soar, you owe yourself that.