When two weeks ago I was served bread on a flight, I remembered a bakery in the area where I grew up in Ibadan.
The man who owned it was tall. We didn’t know his name so we called him baba oni bread. He was extremely dark and hairy. He never wore a shirt, I’m guessing because of the heat inside the bakery, and he was always slightly covered in flour.
He however wore the same brown trousers every day I saw him. He didn’t wear a belt, so he walked around in giant strides, his trouser saging to mid bottom, carrying pans upon pans of bread as he distributed to shop owners who had come to to buy. They came with big wooden boxes to collect bread. It was usually hot, so they waited for it to cool off before swiping the golden brown crusty part with a yellow foam and putting inside transparent nylon bags.
I didn’t like bread much as a child. I still don’t. This though was not the reason I never tasted baba’s bread even though air always carried the mouthwatering smell of his freshly baked bread to our doorstep and entered uninvited through our window. Sometimes, air mixed the smell of the bread with that of our opposite neighbour’s soak away. Why their soak away was in front of their house and not behind was baffling to me. Sometimes bread trumped the smell of soak away, sometimes it didn’t. I never ate this baba’s bread because he never wore a shirt, and all the hair in his armpit peeked out. It was a forest in there. He was always covered in flour and I imagined he would drip with sweat from there and it would drop into the dough.
Everyone in the neighbourhood ate his bread. There was a long queue in the mornings. Weekends were worse. Children had hot bread with tea. Tea was milo, sugar and milk. My brother dipped his bread in tea before eating. Even if I ate bread, I could never do that.
Weekends meant that I starved myself. The alternative to bread for breakfast was yam. I did not like that either. I ate biscuits and drank water and read a book.
“Have you eaten that bread with beans” a friend of my brother asked once when he found out that I had never tried the bread.
“How can you say you don’t like something when you haven’t even tried it”
I was resolute. “I just don’t like it”
“Ok I’ll buy and you can try a bit”
He was very well meaning. Wanting me to have a taste of this glorious bread. He couldn’t believe anyone didn’t eat the bread. This fluffy bread that people usually started to tear apart even before getting home.
“Ok try the inside part” he said after he had gone to buy it and I still said no.
“This inside white part, it’s soft, look”
I pitied him because he had just bought bread for nothing. Nothing was going to make me eat it. But my pity was really of no use. He ate his bread heartily forgetting in minutes that it was because of me he had gone to buy it.
It was the type of bread that didn’t need a knife. One just had to tear the top, and continue digging through the loaf. Some made a sandwich of akara with it. Right after tearing the top, they made a hole and stuffed akara balls through it.
My aunt came visiting once and she asked for this man’s hot bread. I told her I couldn’t go to his bakery. I told her I knew it was dirty just by seeing him and all the sweat and hair in his armpit. I was in shock when she replied by saying “will you taste his sweat in the bread?”
Oh, the horror.
I really wanted to reply her that I probably would taste the sweat in the bread. But it was of no use. She took the short walk and bought the bread herself. She ate it with fried stew. I cringed as she tore at it with glee.
I looked at this bread that was served me. Nothing too different from anything other airlines served. Small, round, brown, brought in a woven basket and served with a thong. But it had no life, no smell. It was cold. The inside was not soft and it did not tear springly like what my brother’s friend had shown me. It dropped too many unnecessary crumbs on my blouse. It was rather flaky, so butter did not spread easily over it. I did not enjoy it. And in that moment, as the plane soared into an unending space, I smelt bread, baba’s bread, it didn’t mix with soak away smell. Maybe armpits and sweat. But I wanted it.
Featured Image Credit; Dooney’s Kitchen