I’m watching in disbelief as my mother butters toast. In reality, this act is as mundane as it sounds. But she is buttering toast for my sister and brother in law, which I find interesting. Is it because they are visiting home for the first time in five years? Are we celebrating the five years since their traditional Ghanaian engagement in this very house where every corner bears a creepy plethora of photo reminders; one of them featuring childhood versions of themselves and “The Dream” in WordArt so tacky you’d think it was intended to be ironic (it is not)? Is it because he’s not from here and my mother still inherently feels the need to make a good impression like the good hospitable Ghanaians we are?
I don’t think my mother should be buttering toast. In fact, a part of me is annoyed by it. They are not guests here. They should be buttering their own toasts. But I recognize that it’s also envy that makes me feel this way. When has my mother ever offered to butter my toast? I do this a lot – comparing myself to my oldest sister. I know it’s unhealthy at best, destructive at worst, but I can’t help it. I think we would actually be considered similar were it not for the rigid frameworks of Ghanaian family dynamics that have left us on the polar ends of everything: oldest vs. youngest; independent vs. needy; the sweet one vs. the spoilt one. I think she gets everything; she thinks I get away with everything.
I am still stewing in a confused pool of jealousy and self-pity when my mother hands the small plate of buttered toast to me. I picture myself staring blankly, but she knows me too well and adds: “Ewu na eye abofraba” – You are the youngest. I roll my eyes and curse at her inside. Sometimes being at home makes me feel like the devil incarnate. If only I could be as demure, helpful and unambitious as my culture dictates every youngest girl child should be… But I’m the bitter one who still remembers my brother in law shrugging at the news of there not being enough room for me to sleep when we visited them last July, nonchalantly gesturing to a comforter and the floor. I’m also the ultra-ambitious one who has been convinced since age 3 that she was meant to “beat them all”. I’m a lost cause. I blame my parents. No, I blame my mother. I take the toast to them anyway, with a smile as saccharine as an emoticon’s.