It happened every time I cooked jollof riceor yam porridge or fried rice or any other food for that matter. The salt was never enough.
The first time it happened, my mother ignored me and ate the saltless Spaghetti with relish( though I think that might have been because she was so hungry). Then it happened the second time. And the third. Until it became a habit.
My mother grew weary of complaining and accepted every saltless meal I presented to my father and her. My siblings on the other hand, wouldn't let it be. They soon named me, "Saltina" which was a silly thing to do because it made no sense at all and had nothing to do with my saltless cooking. I accepted the name (mainly because I had no choice in the matter as they refused to call me anything else) though, bashfully at first, then gracefully as time went.
My mother ceased to complain about my saltless business with time, but she never did fail to ask, " why are you scared of salt nwaa? why don't you use enough salt when cooking?" every single time and I would blink because that was all I did whenever she asked such questions; blink.
Examples of situations that require a blink as a response to my mother's Questions:
My mother: bia nwaa, don't you know curry is not used to spice soup? why did you use curry to spice the meat now?
Me: (blink. blink)
Me: Mummy, (holding the cup of water she requested for) here's the water you requested for
My mother: ehee? Ngwa put it on my head onwnuya?
Me: (blink. blink) and etcetera.
She would then go ahead to remind me of how my future husband would send me back to her if I didn't learn how to salt meals properly and how she didn't have enough room to house a "disgraced married woman who could not cook properly for her husband". It baffled me. They way my mother spent almost every waking hour of the day sending me on errands or signing me up for programmes that were supposed to, "prepare me for my future husband."
She made me learn baking from Madam Offor across the street, sewing from Aunty PrePre at Satellite Market, Laundering from Uncle Hassan (the street Drycleaner) and also babysit some neighbor's children so that "motherhood would come easier to me". I was mortified by each training I had to undergo. All these she pointed out, would cause my future husband to be more affectionate and have eyes for only me. I wanted to ask her why my father did not have eyes for only her because I had seen my father stare transfixed at Linda's bumbum on several occasions. (Linda is our neighbor and was always on really tight and short skirts, that according to my mother, "didn't let her laps breathe"). That was another lesson I had learnt from my mother, how wearing underwears made one's thighs breathe freely. I never really understood the logic of her "free-breathing thigh" theory but like every other lesson she taught, I gracefully adopted, without much fuss.
I wasn't always like this; that is, having such fear for salt, it could be termed a phobia I think (which is why I adopted the named, "saltphobia"). I used to have a normal human-salt relationship (a human-salt relationship is the association connecting salt and man during the course of preparing or consuming a meal) which, as far as is generally known,is mostly amicable.
Unlike most things in my life which I couldn't and still can't explain, I have the perfect explanation for my "saltphobia" or at least what I think is the perfect explanation.
It was five years ago, I was nineteen and it was the first time I was to cook for my family. My mother had taken me by surprise you see. She called me from work that faithful or as I choose to term it, faithless Thursday and instructed me to bring out some meat and fish from the deep freezer which I did.
Naturally, I expected she'd handle the meal while I helped out like I used to. So, I unsuspectedly went back to the episode of "Merlin"I had been watching before her call. Almost about an hour later, she called back and calmly instructed me to prepare jollof rice for dinner because she would be held up at work till 9pm.
I too, calmly absorbed the new development, then I panicked. I raced to the kitchen and stared at the frozen meat and fish in awe. What was I to do with these? How could my mother have done this to me? I wasn't ready to prepare a meal for the household(at least not in the next two years). I knew it would be a disaster_ my cooking. I just knew it. It's like when you let out a fart in public and you already know it'd smell and definetely attract the attention of everyone around you, so you quickly let out your toxic fart and move away to avoid the "unnecessary" attention. It was the same in this case. I knew I'd end up cooking something poisonous and be the first person in my family to go to jail for murder by food poisoning. And so, I panicked the more.
My mother would skin me if the jollof rice turned out bad. Why? Because I was supposed to know how to make jollof rice. I had watched my mother cook jollof rice a billion times but I never got to practice. At the end of preparing each meal of jollof rice, she'd ask if I took note of everything she did and I would nod rigorously. She would then add how I needed to take note of all she did in the kitchen because one day I would do it on my own. I thought she was bluffing. Now look where thay landed me? My mother thought I could cook jollof rice but I knew better. How was I to know this would happen this soon? I really didn't see this coming.
I knew the rice had to be parboiled, then a sauce was made with tomato, onion, pepper,a little garlic, salt, seasoning and finally mixed with the parboiled rice after adding enough water. I knew the basics but in cooking, sometimes you need more than basics. I needed company and encouragement in the kitchen, so I pleaded with Uncle Ben to stay in the kitchen and act as my sous-chef. He agreed. Uncle Ben was my mother's younger brother living with us at that time. He loved food, so naturally, he accepted my offer generously. It was a grave mistake making Uncle Ben my sous-chef, I just didn't know that then.
I'm a fast cook (Oh my God, I almost typed "cooker"). You see, I'm pretty fast with every task I handle. From house chores to school chores, I do them all with lightening speed, and this has got my mother shouting at me most times, "So you don't want to marry eh kwa?", she'd moan and continue to blab about how mannly my speed in handling tasks was and how I needed to be more careful and gentle in attending to tasks, " imakwa n"ebu nwanyi?" she'd add. I didn't care. That was the only thing I probably didn't care about and I let my mother know. I was fast and I loved it. I guess I've been like this from birth. My mother says I started walking at 4 months. ( trust me, it's difficult even for me to believe that story) but, I assume I'm naturally fast, so what?
Well, in fifteen minutes I had everything chopped, ground, boiled, blanched,diced and ready to begin cooking. Every process went fine. From the parboiling of rice to the making of the sauce, I was aceing this cooking thing. Then it was time to salt. Uncle Ben winked at me and gave me a thumbs up; that was a good sign. I inhaled deeply and added a tablespoon of salt. I needed to be sure of the adequacy of the salt in the food , so I asked my sous-chef (Uncle Ben) to taste for salt. He did and shook his head; more salt was needed and so I added another tablespoon. He repeated the tasting quest and shook his head once more; again more salt. I added another tablespoon. We repeated this process over six times before Uncle Ben smiled and winked at me again. Great. My jollof rice would be epic. Little did I know. Since my sous-chef confirmed the food was fine, I didn't bother tasting. I dished out the delicious( or what I had imagined was) jollof rice for every member of my family and set the dining table. Awesome. That was how the moment felt at that time. Awesome.
The first person to arrive the table was Jack, my nuisance, big-headed, younger brother. He never waited for anyone, so he began eating. I was about to scold him as usual for eating without washing his hands when he spat out the rice he had eaten. I was infuriated. Imagine the brat? "You used all the salt to prepare this food ehn?", he asked irritably, staring disdainfully at me. I responded with a straight face and silent treatment. How dare the brat? Then Tobe my elder sister tasted the food and ran to the kitchen shouting, "water!water! Oh for the love of God, someone get me some water!"
What was going on? I panicked for real this time. I took a spoon from Jack's plate and tasted the rice I had prepared. It sure was salty. Nah. Salty is when you add a little more salt than necessary. The quantity of salt I had added was not a "little bit more than necessary", it was a meal of jollof salt with a bit of rice. I never knew salt burned the tongue. Shit. I had messed up dinner. My mother would skin me. Within ten minutes, Jack had everyone updated on the jollof salt with a bit of rice meal . Tobe and Ginika ( my elder sisters) bought a loaf of bread and everyone had tea and bread instead for dinner. Except me of course. Oh no, I wasn't hungry. I just couldn't eat. Not now; probably not ever (that is, if my mother got to kill me). I was undergoing a panic attack, awaiting my mother's arrival. Awaiting my execution. Awaiting my funeral.
It was until 9:36pm before my mum arrived home, exhausted and demanding for her dinner. Trembling, I narrated the entire story to her, exaggerating Uncle Ben's role in the jollof salt with a bit of rice incident just so I could get away without any punishments and get him in trouble. He deserved getting in trouble with my mother anyway. After all, he was the sous-chef and had recommended the quantity of salt I had added. He had slipped away while Jack discribed graphically how awful my meal had tasted. Sneaky salthole of a man. Fat chance if I thought I could go unpunished or blame Uncle Ben.
My mother remained calm for a while and I mean a very long while. I was shaking like a leaf. After what seemed like a decade, she simply told me that the jollof rice would be my only food, until I finished it all. She wasn't going to condone food wastage in her house and that was that. She walked up to her room and slept without eating that night.
I felt miserable. How was I supposed to finish almost six cups of the jollof salt rice? I think if at that moment someone asked me to choose between my mother's punishment and being marooned, I'd definitely have chosen to be marooned because at least I wouldn't be forced to eat six cups of jollof salt rice.
Maybe it is post traumatic effects of having eaten nothing but jollof salt rice for almost five days that got me scared of salt. I don't know. Could that be enough to leave a phobia even? All I know is, I barely want anything to do with salt.