Not long after the food was served, Miracle began to dish in hungrily while Zoe said a prayer and began to eat slowly, making unnecessary conversations as they ate.
As they ate, they joked some more about Zoe telling Richard that Miracle had questioned his pink clothes, as well as the cheesiness that Zoe seemed to show Richard all the time.
As the conversation continued, Miracle couldn’t help noticing how unusually slow Zoe ate; the way she scooped a little quantity of rice on her spoon, directed it to her mouth and then began to chew slowly on it, chewing on a spoon of rice for longer than needed before swallowing.
“Why do you eat that way?” Miracle questioned abruptly, stopping Zoe’s spoon of rice halfway to her mouth, as she paused to look at Miracle.
“I’m sure you know what I mean. You’re just very slow.”
“Isn’t that a good thing for you? You get to eat to your fill” Zoe responded lightly
“Seriously Zoe, why do you eat that way?” Miracle persisted, her inquisitive side taking over with no tolerance for jokes.
Zoe smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
“Old habits are hard to break I guess” she said
“What old habits would make someone eat very slowly, very very slowly?” Miracle pushed on, curiosity visibly shaping the tone of her voice.
Miracle watched as Zoe licked her lips and stared at her for a while, as if she was debating letting her in on some secret.
After some seconds, she dropped the spoon noisily to the metal tray and did a slight stretch as her mouth opened like she was about to say something.
“Okay, uum I battled anorexia most of my teenage life, and I ate this way whenever I ate in public places I could not avoid eating in. I would cut my food into tiny bits, and then chew on them slowly. It gave my stomach the impression that I had eaten too much, and then people would also believe I had eaten too much. That way I avoided binging on food” Zoe explained with a blank expression on her face as she looked at Miracle, as if trying to figure if Miracle still looked at her the same way, or now as a mental case who starved herself under the disguise of trying to attain a perfect weight. After all wasn’t that what she was?
“Wow. No offense but… I really don’t understand this whole anorexia thing. I’ve read about it a lot, but I don’t just get, plus I didn’t even realize it was a problem that Africans, Nigerians precisely could encounter.” Miracle spoke, honestly speaking her mind about the whole thing.
Reading a lot of American novels, and even watching some films had introduced her to the issue of anorexia, and when she had done research on it, she really couldn’t understand how someone could starve until the person was looking like a walking skeleton, and how people didn’t notice until it got so bad, but what she didn’t understand in any way, was when anorexic people recounted that even when they tried eating again, they just couldn’t. That was plain confusing. What was difficult in someone opening her mouth, chewing food and swallowing it if the person wanted to?
“I understand your point sweetheart, you probably won’t understand. You haven’t had it so it’s not expected that you should understand. Just make sure that in your state of not understanding, do not judge”
“Okay. So what is it exactly about? What was your experience like?”
“Horrible, terrible, depressing. It’s like loving something so much, and hating it so much at the same time. It’s something that badly messes with your mind. It starts with you believing you’re not the way you are supposed to be, and that’s because of your weight, and you try to be in control of your weight situation. So you skip food here and there, watching your weight. Then sometimes you lose control and eat, eat more than you are supposed to, and you rebuke yourself. But then you keep on, and then gradually it becomes an obsession, but you don’t even know. You still convince yourself that you have everything under control and when you start regulating and skipping meals that you could have eaten before, you applaud yourself for having self-control.” Zoe said, making it obvious that she now despised the idea of such self-control.
“What you really don’t know is that the more you believe you’re getting self-control, you are in actual sense, losing your control of the situation, and the anorexia is taking over. And then a point comes when you actually feel scared of what you’re doing, so you assure yourself that if it seems to get out of hand, there would be no big deal and you would just pick a food and eat.” Zoe paused abruptly and looked down, her voice now shaking.
“But then when you find yourself acknowledging that you need food, and that you’re going way overboard, you try to eat and you discover you just can’t eat….”
Miracle felt the pain that radiated from Zoe, as she seemed to be locked somewhere in her head that was filled with painful memories.
“when you try to eat…you can no longer eat without the feeling of guilt coming with every meal, the feeling that you’re ruining everything you’ve worked for, and that you’re about to go back to your ugly fat self. Suddenly food becomes the enemy and you hate it so much. The thing about this new found enemy is that while you hate it, you cannot let go of it. You think about it more than you realize. Talks about food gets your attention, seeing food pricks you in weird ways, and this whole confusion? It just gets you screwed up mentally. It’s a force that messes with your head. Before you eat, you give yourself reason to eat, you shut up your inhibition and all the voices telling you not to eat. You convince yourself that you would feel normal after you eat, and after all you have to eat once in a while, but when you’re done with eating… you regret it. This voice keeps telling you that you could have stayed one more hour, or day without the food and it wasn’t necessary, so you hate yourself for losing control. Losing control. You would probably over exercise to burn out what you believe is the extra weight you’ve put into your body or you induce vomit, and now we are talking about Bulimia. All this while, you don’t tell anybody because you’re even shy to admit what you feel about your weight and because you know what you’re doing is wrong. Meanwhile, while all this battle is going on, what you don’t realize is that you’re actually losing a ton of weight, and you’re getting slim, but you never admit this. When you do admit you’ve lost weight because people tell you, your accomplishment becomes your motivation to lose more weight, and then you start losing more than necessary because you would never ever ever eventually feel satisfied with your weight. From slim to skinny, and then to unhealthy.”
Miracle didn’t know her mouth was agape all through the talk until she felt saliva trying to trickle down her open mouth, and it wasn’t until Zoe was done that she snapped out of her painful trance of memories that she didn’t even know she had entered into.
There and then, Miracle acknowledged that she probably wouldn’t ever understand how bad the whole anorexia issue was, and with the pain that Zoe had used to talk about the issue, Miracle wasn’t sure that she still wanted to know.
“And all this happened to you?” Miracle asked like there was even the slightest possibility that she would get a different answer from what she knew it would be.
“Yes, all that happened to me. I lived it on a daily basis. And being a Nigerian didn’t help matters, because Nigerians didn’t realize things like this could happen to them, and they’re basically downright ignorant about the whole thing. I couldn’t imagine opening my mouth to admit that I was anorexic. I felt they would probably laugh. I remember one program that was organized in my secondary and after the seminar the preacher gave room for people to write questions downs on a piece of paper without disclosing their identity. I remember writing on a piece of a paper that ‘I have a friend who is anorexic and refuses to eat, but secretly throws away her food and what should I do about it?’ Guess what the preacher’s response was when she got to my own paper?”
“The woman began to lament about how ungrateful some human beings were, and that there were people who didn’t see food to eat and yet some others were out rightly rejecting it. She said that if I really wanted to help my friend, then I should tell her mother so that the mother would beat sense into her in the African style. Everybody laughed when she said it of course, and then she went on to remark that her children couldn’t have that.”
“But really, this kind of things don’t happen to Nigerians” Miracle added, hoping that she was not doing more harm than good.
“I can’t remember reading or seeing anything that suggested that anorexia was a problem that selected its victims based on race or nationality though.” Zoe shrugged
“Yes, it’s true that this issue is not rampant over here, because our culture hasn’t been one that put emphasis on weight, or propagated teachings that beauty is determined through weight, but then let’s face it. The world is changing, our society is changing. Africa isn’t the continent that it used to be, shielded from the remnants of the world. The world is worsening, the society is propagating more wrong teachings about self-esteem, real beauty and things like that, and Africa is no longer left out of it. We need to realize this and begin to be vigilante to these realities. We are no longer as safe as we used to be, or as we think we are.”
“So how did you deal with it?”
“I fought. I admitted I had issues, I prayed and I struggled… sometimes I wonder if I can boldly say I’ve beaten it”
“Does Rich… your fiancé, does he know?”
“Yes he does and he’s been a real mvp”
“Let’s not talk about this again, it’s a sensitive issue for me” Zoe brushed the topic aside and stood up, dropping her spoon despite the fact that the plate of rice was still halfway full and there were large chunks of chicken and meat pieces still swimming in the stew.
All the talk about anorexia had somehow served as a mild trigger, and she couldn’t take in any more food, at least till she regained control of herself.