"Come Chop."

(Nat and Max are in the Junction sitting at their usual table and engaging in idle banter. Then Zack strides in with a wide smile on his face and a bag in his hand. He walks up to Max and Nat and holds the bag aloft. Max scrambles to see what is in the bag, but Zack motions to him to keep off.

Then Zack looks around the bar at all the patrons present, and calls out in a voice loud enough for all present to hear above the general hubbub, but not so loud that they are startled:

"Come chop."

Immediately, the hubbub ceases, and everyone turns round to look at what Zack is holding. Most of the patrons smile and thank Zack for his offer, while a few wander over to have a bite of what is in the bag, bestowing on him effusive compliments as they do so.)


Max (after the last of the patrons have left): Man, that's some high-grade kilishi you've got there! Where did you get it from?

Zack: Well, despite my best efforts at dissuading them,
my relatives decided to come down after all. And to my pleasant surprise, it's not been such a terrifying experience. They brought along a lot of stuff from the village, including this kilishi.

(They all reach out to take some kilishi, and for a few moments there is the sound of contented chewing.)

Nat (between mouthfuls): Man, this is really tasty! It's really good of you to share delicious stuff like this with everyone else in the bar.

Zack: Well, it's that time of the year when we should spread joy and goodness all around, so I thought - why not?

Max: Y'know, those words 'come chop' took me back to our 'uni' days.

Zack: How?

Max: Well, you know how the tight situation in university drove even the most hardcore bukateria addicts to buy stoves and pots to prepare their own food, even if it was only beans that they learnt how to cook...

Nat: Abi o! There was this guy who lived in the same room as me, and I think that beans and gari was the only meal he ever seemed to prepare. The beans must have been of an unusual variety, because whenever he 'released gas', there was always this strange, almost musical sound coming from his behind... it sort of reminded me of a jazz musician improvising wildly on the sax.

Zack (incredulously): You mean you paid that much attention? It sounds like you really enjoyed his 'virtuoso performances'.

Nat (shaking his head vigorously): Hell, no! When we heard that sound, that was the signal to dive for cover. The stench that would follow was so bad that your eyes would water and the room would be rendered uninhabitable for the next ten minutes. Fortunately, this happened very rarely, as he had the decency to break wind outside the room most times. In fact, he once employed his 'talent' to his advantage when he was able to gain extra time in an exam by dropping one of his 'bombs' and causing an emergency evacuation of the venue.

Max: Anyway, as I was saying, all this 'in-house' cooking meant that there was a lot of food eaten in rooms, and it meant that most cooks faced a dilemma. On the one hand, food was at a premium - it was a struggle even to survive on the 0-1-1 meal formula, so to give away even the little food that they had been able to prepare would be especially difficult. On the other hand, hospitality is a cornerstone of many of our cultures, so your neighbours would regard it as selfish and anti-social to cook your food and eat it by yourself as though they did not exist.

So to reconcile these two issues, the 'come chop' ritual evolved. The cook would call out "Come Chop!", which roughly translated meant:

"All of you within listening range, I am hereby informing you that I have just finished preparing a sumptuous meal which I intend to eat shortly. Now it would be grave blasphemy against our culture if I did not invite those present - meaning your good selves - to partake of this repast, so I am using this opportunity to do so. However, you are all students like me, so you I am sure that you are fully aware that should you so choose to honour my invitation, you will be depriving me of much needed nutrients and therefore diminishing my capacity to understand lectures, study for exams and partake of the various extra-curricular activities that this university offers. It is with this last consideration in mind that I exhort you to decide on the correct response to my invitation."

And the audience would typically say "Thank you" or "It's OK", which could be roughly interpreted as:

"O Possessor of the Pot and Steward of the Stove, we have heard your invitation, and we are truly honoured that you consider us worthy to sup with you as you partake of your meal. However, we are not insensitive to the emphasis that you have placed on the latter part of your announcement. Indeed, as you correctly point out, we are students like you, so we appreciate that the diminution of the amount of food available to you will seriously impair your ability to function as a student. Besides, you might decide to make up for this loss of food by choosing to honour the invitations to eat that we issue in the name of our culture. So it is with these thoughts in mind that we must regretfully decline your kind offer."

And thus, peace and harmony were preserved.

Zack (smiling): Yes, a lot of that went on! Although you could still find people who had reciprocal arrangements, where it was understood that you ate from my plate as long as I ate from yours. But the sharing of meals in this way also did more than provide a variety of food... it bonded the sharers together.

For example, I remember once, when a few friends and I were so broke that we didn't know where our next meal was coming from. We pooled what was left of our resources together to prepare what we thought would be our final meal. (Wistfully) I still remember how we all felt as we sat down to eat what we then called 'the Last Supper'. Obviously, there was nothing special about the meal - but the fact that we were all in desperate circumstances made the occasion more profound... it made us open up and bare our souls about things that we would never have talked about in a million years if we were rich and comfortable.

Nat: Interesting... that's why I guess friendships that you form when you are both in dire straits are closer than those you form when you are both comfortable... when you are both suffering, you can't afford the luxury of pretence, so you are direct and honest with each other.

Max: Yeah, most students respected the unwritten rule of 'Come Chop'. But there was this guy I also remember... other students used to call him 'The Vulture'. Either he didn't understand the rule or he just chose to ignore it.

Nat: How do you mean?

Max: Well, you know how I said that most students who hear the invitation acknowledge it but don't accept it? Well, this guy was the original glutton - he lived to eat. He operated like his namesake - he would seek out stoves on corridors with food cooking and skulk around unobtrusively until the food was ready. Then even before the cook had finished saying 'Come...' he would present himself, ready, willing and able to do justice to the prepared food.

Zack: It shouldn't have been a problem dealing with such a person. Surely, all the cook had to do was to ensure that there were no spare plates or cutlery around so that he could have a genuine reason for not being able to feed him.

Nat: From the way Max describes this guy, I don't think that something as trivial as that would be a deterrent. He sounds like the kind of guy who would happily eat directly from the pot using his hands.

Max: Actually, to give him credit, he was more refined than that. He would rove from room to room with his own plate and cutlery. But it got to the point where everyone was fed up of the guy and his antics. Some people began to recognise him and chose not to issue invitations when he was around. But even with those, he would embarrass them out "Ah, which one now? Are you just going to eat everything by yourself? That's very selfish!" He was that shameless.

Anyway, there was this guy who decided that enough was enough, so he set to work devising a foolproof method of dealing with the Vulture. After a while, he announced that he had worked out something, and that the next time the Vulture showed up he would go away empty-bellied. His room mates asked him what he had thought of, but he said that they would have to wait till the next time the Vulture showed up.

Sure enough, one day as the guy was cooking, the Vulture appeared and waited patiently for the meal to be prepared. The guy noticed him, and smiled grimly to himself. When the meal was ready, the Vulture approached with his weapons of meal destruction ready for action, but the our cook held out a hand for him to wait:

"My friend, I observe a special ritual before eating. If you don't mind, I would like to do that now. After that, we can both eat."

So saying, our cook proceeded to clear his throat and spit as much as he could into the food he had just prepared. He did this for a full minute, then he mixed the spit into the meal as thoroughly as he could. Then he looked up at the Vulture, smiled and said:

"We may now eat."

Zack (exclaiming): Classic! No way would he want to eat that.

Nat (making a face): Disgusting, but effective.

Max: But before our guy could start, the Vulture said:

"I have a habit of respecting the culture of my hosts. This is why when I'm invited to eat and my hosts are using their hands, I use my hands. If they are using cutlery, I use cutlery. And if they usually spit into their food first..."

So saying, the Vulture proceeded to clear his throat and spit into the food, After he had finished, he mixed his spit in and proceeded to devour the food as the guy looked on in horror and disgust.

Zack, Nat, and a few patrons who have been eavesdropping: HABA!!!

Max: Well, that's how low he was prepared to stoop to get what he wanted. The last I heard of him, I think he had made a successful entry into politics.

Zack: I'm not really surprised to hear that. Man, that is quite revolting - almost enough to put me off this kilishi.

Max: Well, that's justice, then! While I've been busy talking, you guys have been having a field day devouring the kilishi. I think I should get the rest of what's left.

Nat: What are you talking about? As entertaining as your story is, nobody put a gun to your head to force you to tell it. Just accept it as your bad luck!

Max (truculently): I no go gree! I must have my fair share, or else... (a cunning gleam enters his eye, and he proceeds to clear his throat and gather spit...)



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