N. F. Kenure
One morning, many years ago, I woke up at about 5 a.m. Waking up at 5 a.m. has always felt catastrophic to me. In my opinion, the word "catastrophic" here is not an exaggeration. The only reason anyone should be up at what is rightly an ungodly hour is because a prophesied apocalypse has indeed come to pass and it’s time for humans to run around screaming, arms flailing in helplessness.
For some reason, I got out of bed that morning to see my father off before his 8-hour drive from Lagos to Owerri. When he finally drove off, I made to return to my nice warm bed but my mother, glad to see me up so early for once, began to chat with me. The porch was dusty and she began to clean the chairs as we talked, I sat on one of them nonplussed. My mother is one of those people who cannot enjoy just being, and must always find something to keep busy. When she was done, she went in and returned with a broom, I took it from her and began to sweep, make e no be like say I no be better pikin.
Minutes later, I heard a banging at the gate, I walked to it and asked who it was. Two elderly men said they had an appointment with Mr X, the only neighbour in the compound. Mr X was a businessman and it was not unusual for him to have people at odd hours of the day. I asked them to wait, I climbed the stairs to Mr X’s apartment and a sleepy houseboy answered the door. He couldn't confirm that his oga was expecting anyone, so it was my turn to wait as he went in to ask. He was soon back and agreed that I could let the men into the compound.
Because I knew my neighbour was one of those "big men" who liked to keep lesser mortals waiting, I brought out two chairs from the porch for the men to sit while they waited. I went back to sweeping, wondering how I had let this nonsense happen to me. Cleaning has never been one of my virtues and usually, I don't go around offering to do it. The men began to talk in hushed tones, the sun was still on its way out and they were being respectful of the time of day. I soon realised that the two gentlemen were talking about me in Yoruba.
The older man had been complaining to the younger about the lady his son wanted to marry, and how much he did not like her because all she did was sleep all day, but that his idiot son was adamant that he would marry her. In Yoruba he continued, “But look at this one over here, where are all the women like her? (I was no woman, I was barely sixteen if at all.) Just look at her this early morning, she is very polite too. It’s a pity she is Igbo, I would have asked my son to come and talk to her. She didn't have to help us but she did and here she is sweeping the whole compound”.
I had no intention of sweeping the whole compound. I had confined my drudgery to my family’s front porch. Because I am an idiot myself, I decided to play the role I had been assigned. I asked them if they'd like some water to drink in a very modest voice and when they both acquiesced eagerly, I went into the house and returned with a tray and two glasses of water. I even did the Yoruba courtesy thing that I know drives the traditionalists over the edge to show them I wasn't one of them rude ‘omo Ibo’ girls, and it worked. The Baba’s eyes lit up in pleasure and I imagined him thinking fuck my son, I’ll marry this one for myself. Have I mentioned I am an idiot?
These men liked me because I was exhibiting traditional notions of wifehood. Fortunately, I was in the mood to play along. Soon, Mr X was ready to receive them. As they traipsed to his side of the building, Baba threw me a handful of “God bless yous”, filled with genuine gratitude and a yearning for what could not be, and I –the good girl that I am– accepted his blessings demurely with multiple ‘thank you sirs’, bobbing up and down as I curtsied multiple times, playing my role to perfection.
Reflecting on that morning, the encounter was a microcosm of the broader dialogues within our cultures—(gendered) conversations about duty, expectations, and the individual's navigation between personal desires and traditional norms. It made me question the extent to which we perform roles expected of us, sometimes unconsciously, and how these performances influence our interactions and perceptions.
In recounting this tale, I realize it's not just about a morning chore or an amusing interaction; it's a reflection on the roles we're assigned and how we choose to play them, often dancing on the line between conformity and individuality in the grand performance of life.
Or is that just me?
Every once in a while, I remember Baba and wonder about his son. Did he stick to his guns and marry the woman he wanted to be with? How involved are his parents in his marriage? Does she wake up before the proverbial cock crow at dawn to serve her husband on her knees, or does she make a show of it just when her in-laws come visiting? I hope they all got what they deserve.
Apr 30, 2019