A young woman must come to terms with the conflict raging between herself, her body, and society’s perception of her body. She confesses to the reader her tortured attempts to make her body conform to the rule that it won’t be beautiful until it shrinks. Wana’s writing is lush and delicate with just the right amount of rawness to keep the character honest and relatable. — Editor’s Note

 

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You look into the mirror. It’s a full length one, not like the one that cuts you off at the collar bone. It is the one that goes down to your knees at least. You stare. You stare at yourself naked, the congealed clumps that cluster across the middle, and the rolls that protrude right above your flattened bottom. You flick the flesh with your finger, it barely moves. It is a thick solid mould. The stare continues, this time from the roundness through the glass in front of you. You pinch the roll of flab that flops above your pelvis. It fills your hands. You press your palms against the sides, pushing the flesh until it forms a ball in the middle. You wish something could cut it off, melt it off even. You turn to the side, you take a deep breath and hold it in but the rolls remain unperturbed, so you let the breath go.

The nipples of your breasts drop at waist length sharing the same line as your belly button. It is heavy. You feel the pain through your shoulders neck and back, again just right above that flattened bottom. The breasts now resemble the udders of a cow. Thankfully there are no stretch marks on them yet. It seems you are blessed with good skin. Well at least that is what they tell you. You raise your hands up to reveal dried up scabs of undergarment wire dug through flesh and a red rash from elasticized straps rubbing against hot yellow skin. The price you have to pay to keep these sagging bags of mammary tissue in place. Your face is still pretty though, cute, child like

Other times they stared at you. The kinds of stares that made you fear to ask for seconds. Their eyes roving through every wobble, their words prodding each sticky roly-poly piece of flesh like a pin pricking for a quick deflation. You hoped it would. You hoped their words would prick you open and the gunk inside would ooze out. Drip by drip, clump by clump, you would shrink until you became beautiful.

You decide it is time to do something. Strangely it isn’t the first time and you seem to have lost count. You are afraid it wouldn’t work, or you might never be able to sustain it. So you never say you are doing something about it anymore because you have said it too many times before.

You had tried different things. From pills that make your tongue dry to pills that keep you wide awake at night. You called those the thirst pill and zombie pill. There was the one that kept your bottom glued to a toilet bowl for days. It was the rave of the moment. You called that the ‘Shitting’ pill. They used to say then that you would shit it all out.

It would all melt like molten magma, dissolving into a huge pile of splattered excrement flushed away into infinity. That one pull of the lever would change everything. It would change the way he touched you, the way he looked at you. It would change the feeling. It would change everything!

The magic of the pills defied logic, but you tried them anyway. The results only reminded you of the stupidity that made you take them in the first place.

Then there was the taste of rice heaped on a plate and coated in sauces laden with fried goat skin and offal; rubbery chunks of intestines, furry and towel-like tripe, cubes of liver and blocks of beef. Your teeth masticating in bliss, sometimes too impatient to chew for much longer. The heat from the blitzed chillies as it stung your tongue, your lips and your nose dripped with phlegm. The oil sinking to the bottom of the plate as spoonfuls are shoveled into your mouth, then cooled with sweet and colored carbonated fluid. It fizzles on your tongue, rinsing down the left over grains in your mouth and down your throat.

You brushed your teeth, then brushed your tongue. You dug the toothbrush deeper, until it all came out. You did it many times more. It became routine. Eat till you could barely breathe. Brush till your throat spanned and, like an open faucet, let everything out. There was talk of the putrid smell, but there was also talk of you getting smaller.

You have genuinely tried before, given it your best shot. Hours running on treadmills and cycling to bare boredom. You gave up because the results were less than desirable, disappointing really, and you didn’t even cheat. So you went back to what you knew.

He never used the words you expect him to. Every week was an intervention. “You need to get healthy,” he would say, another time, it was “You need to be biologically viable.” It sounded like a breeding machine needing an overhaul.

Once he launched into an anecdote of a lady he knew whose roundness was twice yours, and now she had gotten healthy. He cannot comprehend what it is like to own a body that refuses to obey to your demands however hard you push it. But you aren’t doing this for him. You are doing it to get healthy. You have adopted his pseudonym  ‘get healthy’. It sounds much less vain; more mature perhaps, realistic even. Like a necessity. Something you must do. Something that is for the greater good.

You think it is from a good place, well at least you believe it is. But sometimes you wonder what words he would use if he really said the words he wanted to. You wonder how it would feel if you looked any different, healthy in his words.

It is the New Year, so you attempt walking, nothing too tedious just brisk walking. You wake up at 6am and you brisk walk for an hour. You meet other walkers. Women, men, young and old. It seems everyone is trying to get healthy. Walking is just ok. It isn’t fun It isn’t exciting. It is just walking. You walk past the cars, the multi-colored nursery, the leaking pipes, the ugly houses, the noisy church, the piece of land that has now turned to a plantain field. You inhale the generator fumes, and the dust and your ears ring to the yelling of the bus conductors. You wake up and you walk.

You get a call. It’s Nonye, your friends cousin. She sounds excited, says she has something that would change your life. Last time she was trying to get you to join a pyramid scheme. Before that, you heard she had been jilted by her Igbo-American lover after their introduction ceremony. They had met on an MSN chat room. She always had a thing for men who lived in America. They said after their ceremony, he went back to the states and never called.

She came to meet you at your office, wheeling in a red-checkered trolley bag. The kind that pensioners carried around when you lived in England. You were stunned at how she looked. She was four dress sizes smaller, left with a huge head and equally huge tits which sagged like yours. It reminded you of a tabloid headline back then that read “Tits on a stick.” Her skin looked leathery and her pores were visible on her face. Your eyes found it difficult to get past her head and chest. She resembled those head-bobbing dolls on office desks. You kept a smile on your face and told her she looked amazing.

She said she wanted to put you on her detox plan,

“I know you are beautiful and comfortable with yourself, but trust me I can make you more beautiful.” You didn’t really know if you were beautiful or even wanted to be more.

She brought out a transparent thirty centiliter plastic bottle from her trolley bag. The content of the bottle looked like clouded urine. She said it was a mixture of juiced grape fruit and ginger. She left out the part that she had watered it down to get more bottles and more money. She urged you to taste one. The bottle was warm, hot. You opened it, it had begun to ferment. She bragged about her high profile clients. They had lost a lot of weight drinking her fermented citrus and ginger concoction.

She left you with twenty bottles. Said it was a trial run so it was free. “You have to drink three bottles daily.” One with fruit for breakfast, one with salad for lunch and one with steamed fish for dinner. You did it for two days then chucked the rest in the bin. It tasted like what it was, a rotten blend of watered down grape juice and ginger. It gave you heart burn. You went back to walking.

You purchased a scale and you broke it. You bought another one, but it was broken before you bought it, so you couldn’t take it back. You could predict the snarky remarks.

The telly is on at work. Its “Ruby on the “Style Network.”  It is the episode where she is forced into group therapy and attempting the twelve-step program. This episode is similar to the intervention series on “Discovery .” The doctors always ask for the experiences that trigger the emotions that make the patients want to “use.” You try to search deep for yours.

You wonder weather it is when uncle would ask you to cream his back then play with him. You are an adult now and not one to play victim. Truth is most people that had uncles and aunties back then had been touched up every now and again. At least you got off with a little pinching and fiddling, and the occasional squirt on your tummy, nothing too damaging. You couldn’t tell. No one would believe you. If they did, it would be too traumatic for them to deal with. At least for your mother, who was still reeling from your father leaving her for a younger woman and abdicating his financial duties to boot. She was broke, single and was consumed with what she had fondly come to see herself as—“the laughing stock.” You wondered whether the problem was your father leaving. You had been told before that he may have left you hollow, bitter and cold without you even knowing it. At least according to an old boyfriend. “You need to reconnect and reconcile’,”he would say, “he is still your father.”

Attempting to “shrink” yourself was no use. You were too cynical, too self aware. You weren’t one for passing the blame buck. It worked for people who had real problems. Not you, you really just liked to eat. “Dya ya won ke iwo,” your mother would say in her sinister tone, “eat till it comes out of your nose.”

You saw Nonye a few months later. She was back to inhabiting her old body. Apparently, she ran into some immune problems from starving herself of real food. Aftermath of the prolonged detox. She is taking online nutrition courses now and still plans to bottle her juices. She says she is branching into healthy packaged soups and  smoothies. “I hope you will be there to support when it kicks off.” You have your doubts and she knows it. For as long as you have known her, she’s never been capable of seeing anything through.

He still talks about getting healthy, squeezing the rolls on your sides when he makes love to you just the way uncle would have pinched your pre-pubescent nipple. “Is it me or are you shrinking?” he asks.

You still walk, you still brush, and—touch wood—you will still shrink.

 

Image is by the endlessly talented Mickalene Thomas. Love her work! Check out more of her stuff {HERE}

***

Wana-UdobangWana Udobang is a journalist, writer, poet and gender activist living in Nigeria. She currently works as a radio presenter/producer at 92.3 Inspiration FM in Lagos. Visit www.guerillabasement.com and  www.wanawana.net for more. Follow @MissWanaWana on Twitter.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

10 Responses to ““Each Sticky Roly-poly Piece of Flesh”— Shrink by Wana Udobang | A Brittle Paper Story” Subscribe

  1. Ayodeji. R. 2014/06/03 at 16:22 #

    INTIMATE. HONEST, FRESH.

  2. Adefemi 2014/08/07 at 05:15 #

    Shrink by Wana Udobang is a ferocious battle of a young lady’s mind over body size management. An intense one. She should follow up with a Part 2 where suggested solution to quench this inferno on this young lady’s sensitive mind is the focus. The story is brutally frank and we exercise the right to ask for more. Well done Wana.

  3. OTDamilola 2014/10/28 at 05:07 #

    Weldone Wana

  4. Ireti Oluwagbemi 2014/10/29 at 03:12 #

    This is beautiful. And brave.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Wana Wana - 2014/10/27

    […] So i hope you enjoy the story and you do help to spread the word. You can read the original short story by simply  clicking on this link http://brittlepaper.com/2014/05/shrink-wana-udobang/ […]

  2. My Camera, My Mirror! | Shrink by Wana Udobang | A Short Film | Brittle Paper - 2014/10/29

    […] {Read “Shrink” HERE} […]

  3. Stripped & Unveiled! Wana Udobang Releases a Film Adaptation of Her Short Story ‘Shrink’ | TheMonteOz - 2014/10/29

    […] story was originally published on Brittle Paper, a literary blog curated by Ainehi […]

  4. Stripped & Unveiled! Wana Udobang Releases a Film Adaptation of Her Short Story ‘Shrink’ | SCREEN9JAONLINE - 2014/10/29

    […] story was originally published on Brittle Paper, a literary blog curated by Ainehi […]

  5. When Art Meets Literature | Finding Literary Inspiration in Mickalene Thomas’ Art Work | Brittle Paper - 2015/03/16

    […] It all began with a story sent in by the Nigerian on-air personality, Wana Udobang. The story features a heart-rending and intimate account of a woman struggling with weight gain and issues of body image. (click here if you missed it.) […]

  6. WATCH | Room 313 | A Wana Udobang Film | Episode One: Dilim’s Story | Brittle Paper - 2015/07/06

    […] Paper readers would remember Wana Udobang from her story “Shrink” [read HERE] that later morphed into a short film with the same title [watch […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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