And then, there was Michelle—Mich—Elle—my cousin—who couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t chubby. Like being short, being chubby feels like you’re on the wrong spectrum of everything.
Elle went to Nazareth school—a Roman-Catholic elementary school—famous, expensive, and for the elite. In Primary 1, Elle could remember seeing that Uju, the most popular girl in her class, weighed only thirty-three pounds. She knew this because every pupil was weighed in front of the classroom while everyone watched, on an industrial postal scale during physical and health education class. This was by far the most embarrassing moment in Mich’s life—she would later cry herself to sleep that night.
She was so envious, and equally so ashamed—envious of those who fitted nicely in the medium school-uniform size, and ashamed that she weighed a whooping sixty-four pounds, and everybody in school already knew that.
Some of the first mathematics Elle understood was that she was closer to twice the weight of Uju than to Uju's actual weight. "Don't be closer to twice the weight of your friend than to her actual weight," Elle would constantly remind herself every day that she wasn’t beautiful. Everyone at school called her "fatso, fat-ass, and even a 'whale'," including Ahren.
Ahren was a very handsome kid from Germany who'd moved to Lagos as a foreign exchange student. He was loved by teachers, well, because he was white, and by students because he was good-looking, played basketball, and had an interesting German accent. Also, people couldn't believe the stuff he'd done in Germany, like smoke, drive a car, have sex, and even hold a gun. Nobody knew if these things were true, but Nigerian kids were very gullible to the words of a white boy. During lunch breaks, small crowds would form around Ahren as he shared stories from his past. Once, he shot a dog with an AK-47. He was so popular in school that you could barely stare at him without being blinded by coolness.
One day, Michelle was returning to class after lunch break, and passed where Ahren and his friends were standing.
"You would actually be really pretty if you lost weight," said Ahren with an expression on his face that was so earnest and gentle, as though what he had really said was: "You remind me of a beautiful sunset in Germany." It was confusing. All Elle could muster as a reply to his insulting comment was "thank you".
Elle was hurt because it came from the boy she had fantasized about on countless nights. "Maybe he has only been around extremely skinny German girls his whole first-world life, and didn't know Nigerian girls had access to fufu," Elle will rationalize Ahren's words. But then he would go on to call her a ‘whale’ the following day, and Elle who couldn’t handle the pain, would overdose later on that same day. Elle had tried countless times to lose weight, but it wasn't feasible—she had virtually no hobbies, except swallowing everything in sight, and no self-discipline that she couldn't stop, no matter how hard she tried.
After Elle's passing, I found a note Elle had written on the night of her death, in my Bible, between the chapters of Proverbs. She highlighted a verse for me: Proverbs 23:2, which reads, "and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony." Elle was closest to me. Her note read:
"When you'll be reading this, I'll probably be dead already. I would first like to tell you that I am very sorry for the way things turned out. I did not want to live a short life and there are so many things I wanted to do and things I wanted to say to you, and everybody I know and love.
I used to love myself very much, because you and all my family loved me. But then, the world didn't accept me. They rejected me. Nobody wanted to hang out with me. They called me names, mocked me, and talked about me when I was not around or looking. I was never good at speaking my mind, and telling you about everything that had been going on at school, and for that I apologize.
I hope you all will forgive me for what I've done, but the Bible rejected me too."
I couldn't stop crying as I stared lifelessly at her beautifully ugly handwriting. The world was short of an angel who was too little to understand the beautiful words she'd read.