By Yetunde Bronson
My mother, a native of Sierra Leone, kept an almost militant restriction of all sugary substances in our house, due to being subjected to substandard dentistry as a child, so I had some pretty healthy eating habits as a kid. Sure, there were things I hated, but for the most part, I ate whatever was on my plate. My father assisted – refusing to let me or my sister get up from the table until we had eaten every single morsel.
I remember when my sister, who hated spinach, decided to wait my father out. We clearly had no understanding of the discipline afforded a man who had survived Vietnam. She sat there, sunlight passing through the room, while I slammed out of the screen door to catch what little piece of the day that remained. Leaving her to fight and eventually lose her battle and choke down the cold spinach.
I was taught early about the importance of healthy eating – not for the right reasons, but whatever. For the most part, the kids in my neighborhood were from homes where food was regularly prepared. In the evenings, voices rang out from households, calling us home to eat. For us, candy and chips were things to look forward to. Sweet, sticky rewards we gave ourselves for getting good grades, washing the dishes, keeping our rooms clean, or not locking our baby sister in the basement with the crazy ass cat. We hoarded the loose change we collected from charitable adults and couch cushions to score 25 cent bags of cheese popcorn and Hot Stuff potato chips.
And there was always that one kid – the one who stayed outside during dinner time. Who sat on our back porches and waited for a kind adult to open up the screen door and offer him food. The one eating Honey Buns for breakfast, his baby teeth black with rot. His skin was always ashy, and he was always healing from some broken bone. We would tease him mercilessly about his rusty legs, and how he was falling behind in school. He would give as good as he got, hurling muffled insults at us around mouthfuls of Laffy Taffy, the only thing he would eat that day.
His mother, an angry presence behind a screen door. His father, gone. The other children in the house, their bellies swollen with malnutrition, would crowd the front porch of the dilapidated house, their hands clutching mayonnaise sandwiches. Our mothers whispered about them on the phone – our fathers shot uncomfortable glances in their direction as they mowed lawns.
And our lives went on. We left the neighborhood or stayed, left the city or stayed, married or didn’t, had kids or didn’t. Joined the military or sold drugs, went to college or went to jail. We did all of this and didn’t think about the boy who sat on our steps, waiting for us to invite him in.
Yetunde Bronson is a minimally published writer who is currently writing the world’s greatest African-based sci-fi/fantasy novel – in her head. She is an educator and grant writer, so she’s virtually impervious to scorn. She has no acting experience, yet holds on to the dream of one day playing a bit part in a Star Wars or Marvel Comics franchise film. She lives alone with two cats and an impressive catalog of obscure 70s funk music. She is, quite frankly, the slickest cat lady you’ll ever meet.