When I was eleven years old, I choked on a fish bone. My mum used to make iced-fish stew for dinner every Sunday then, and my favorite part of the fish was the head. Only God in heaven knows why l liked it – I certainly don’t remember – but after that episode with the bone, my love for it diminished considerably.
We were having supper that night – mum, dad, myself, and my three elder brothers. As usual, I was playing with my fish, dissecting it like a surgeon performing an operation. Now, there is this bone that no little boy who ever ate a fish head misses. It looks like a sword. When I got to it, I carefully extricated it and waved it at my brothers.
“The fish sword!” I proclaimed happily.
Chidi and Ifenna, my eldest brothers, ignored me, but Emeka got interested at once. He hadn’t quite lost his fascination with fish heads.
Dad sighed from across the table. “It beats me what you boys find exciting about a fish head,” he said.
“Stop playing with your fish,” mum chided.
“It’s a sword, mum. A fish sword!” I told her.
“You’ll soon choke on it,” she replied, looking away.
Thinking how dense mum was, I plopped the bone into my mouth, chewed slightly, and swallowed. Seconds later, I choked on the bone.
“Get a cup of water!” mum cried, rushing quickly to my side. I was gagging and coughing and holding my neck, trying effortlessly to dislodge the bone. Ifenna suddenly appeared beside me with a cup of water. “Drink!” he screamed.
I drained half of the cup in an instant, and then stopped to check if the bone was gone. It wasn’t. “It’s still there!” I cried.
“Finish the water!” mum told me. “Swallow it forcefully!”
I upturned the cup into my mouth, swallowing hard.
“Is it still there?” mum asked, visibly worried. “Is it still there?”
I felt my throat. Yes. Yes, it’s gone… no! “No, it’s still there!” I shrieked, getting scared now. “Mummy, it’s still there!”
“More water!” she cried, and my brothers scrambled to get it.
“Easy!” dad said with his deep voice, getting up from his seat. “No need to get hysteric.”
We all looked at him, hoping he knew something we didn’t. Dad picked up an unfinished plate of rice, scoped up some with a big spoon, and asked me to open my mouth. I did. He upended the spoon’s load into my mouth. “Chew the rice a little and swallow hard,” he advised me. “It should force the bone down.”
I did as told and swallowed.
“Now drink some water.”
“Is it gone?” dad asked, looking expectant. “It’s gone, right?”
I started to nod my head, but a sharp pinch in my throat stopped the motion. Everyone was on tenter-hooks, looking at me eagerly. A whimper of pain escaped from my lips – and they all started scrambling around again.
A bout of coughing seized me and I doubled over, holding my neck and chest. Dad suddenly grabbed me and smacked me hard on the back. Instantly, something gave in my throat, flew out through my open mouth and hit a glass cup on the dining table. And I stopped coughing. Everyone was silent for a while. Then, Chidi picked up the glass cup and pried the thing that had flown out of my mouth off it. It was the fish sword.
“Still want this?” he asked me solemnly.
“No,” I replied, shaking my head. Emeka giggled nervously, and soon everyone was laughing.