Feature it in stew, or leave traces in some rich salad….fine I will eat but seeing them whole, in oil, in the tin, is something I cannot handle. Sardines!
Oh once I was a sardine lover. So deep and strong was my love for this rather common fish that I craved it all the time and cried for it. Leave some sardines in the fridge and you’d be sure to come find it half-eaten.
This irritated my mom so much, she would sometimes attempt to whip “the foolishness” out of me. That lasted a few hours to a day, and then my insatiable craving would return. It was getting out of hand.
One day, I woke up wanting some sardines and so I proceeded to go wake my mom up with it. I whined almost all morning. refusing breakfast because there were no sardines involved. My mom snapped in reverse (she suddenly turned stone silent). She called one of my sisters and asked her to buy five tins of sardine from a nearby shop.
In those days, the tins had up to four sardines in there so five tins meant, well, a lot of sardines. My sister brought them and mom then opened them all up, dumped them in a bowl, almost 30 pieces of fish in oil and placed it on the table.
“Mmmhmm, now eat!”
I was so excited! I sat, dipped my hand in and the feast began. One sardine, then another, then another…then I became very aware of the oil and suddenly I wished there was pepper in there….one sardine, then another, and i wanted to stop and catch my breath, probably store the rest so I could finish up later…I had only eaten about 5 sardines, more was there to go.
“I will beat you to death if you don’t finish the sardines”
My mom threatened, while standing over me, breathing down my neck. We all know what that “beating to death” threat means right. If you don’t know it means “I will beat you till you wish you were dead but you won’t die and that will be the worst part of the beating – that you are still alive, feeling all the pain” trust me, with that threat, you’d wish she had said “I will kill you” because that, in most Ghanaian homes, is subtler.
So after this threat, poor, tiny me, with mom towering over me, the bowl of sardines before me, my hands limp and oily, I dipped my hand in and continued. One sardine, then another, then another. My chewing slowed, my swallowing became hard and torturous and my stomach had started a rebellion. It was pushing up violently.
“If you vomit, I will beat you!”
God! that woman was of steel that day!!! So I grabbed my tummy with my free hand, closed my eyes tight and continued. One sardine, another, then another. Then I started feeling dizzy. The room was spinning, and it had become hot, I was sweating, and burping, and breathing heavily and tears filled my eyes. I sniffled.
Then I started to cry.
“You can cry blood! Just finish the fish!”
So through my violent sobs, I continued. One sardine, then another, then a third, with a touch of salty tears. my stomach couldn’t take it anymore so it pushed up hard one last time.
I threw up into the bowl of sardines and with my heart pounding, waited for the beating of my life.
“Will you eat again?”
She asked and I replied with a heart-wrenching “No”.
I was trembling and my whole body was soaked in tears and sweat. my mom picked up the bowl and just left. I was there, on my seat. Flashes of images – of that bowl of sardine, taunted me and my tummy overturn again. I got off the seat and had to stand for a while because my knees were shaking. Then I found my way to the bathroom to rinse my mouth out. For weeks, I had sardine dreams – bad ones of course. And that was the end for me.
The trauma had left me with a strong dislike for sardines; Sardine trauma, thanks to mom.