When Nana started playing soccer, Gifty’s mother and father started fighting about food. Gifty wasn’t allowed to waste food or be a picky eater, although she tried. Nana consumed everything in sight. Their parents closely tracked their grocery bills, tried to stretch things, and started hiding food around the house. Once Nana and Gifty, home alone, went on a search for hidden foods and drinks including chocolate. Their mother found the wrappers in the trash and was irate. Their father defended their hunger, but this started a fight. Nana took Gifty to his room, gave her a coloring book and crayons, and praised her work while their parents fought beyond the closed bedroom door.
The familial fights about food indicate the growing tension and unhappiness between Gifty’s parents. And they show how food isn’t just a symbol of intimacy and caretaking, but it can also be a site of worry and control. When Nana helps Gifty find food to assuage her hunger and when he shields her from their parents’ fight, he shows that he’s already become her primary caretaker. Gifty’s mother withholds food, her brother offers it. This is part of why his addiction and death are so traumatic, because they cost Gifty the only relationship in which she feels uncomplicatedly loved and protected.