By Suzanne Ushie—

Too sharp, too red, too hot. I always thought of pepper that way. So whenever my father brought home suya wrapped in greasy newspapers, my sisters had my share. “This one? We call her Pepperless. She doesn’t eat pepper,” was how my mother introduced me to her visiting friend from America. The woman stared at me as though I were an exotic flower. Being pepperless was cool. My meals were deliciously bland; dished from simmering pots before pepper was added. And at the dining table, I looked at everyone and wondered how they ate without drinking water once. One rainy night my father came home with suya. He said “They packed the pepper separately” and held up a small packet to convince me. “Daddy leave her,” one of my sisters said. Another emptied the packet over the suya. I think it was her casual nonchalance that made me reach out and take two pieces. The burning morsels slid down my throat, made me sneeze, brought tears to my eyes. I did not let them fall. “Pepperless is eating pepper,” my father said to my mother who had just walked in. My mother shrugged. “She’s growing up.”


First published in Saraba magazine’s Food Issue. Photo courtesy the author.

Suzanne Ushie grew up in Calabar, Nigeria. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several publications including Fiction Fix, Overtime, Conte Online, The Writing Disorder and Gambit: Newer African Writing. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she received the African Bursary for Creative Writing and made a Distinction. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.