To think of marital life, I feel the couple needs to be generous to each other in giving to get something in return. Such beautiful bartering would take a different shape on reading one of Flora Nwapa’s short stories. The give-and-take in marriage acquires a whole lot of different gist in some places⏤ in fact, most of the places! Yes, I’m preparing you for something intense from Nwapa’s short story collection This is Lagos And Other Stories. The short story, “The Child Thief”, could make one’s heart miss a beat… just like mine!
“The Child Thief”
Another busy day in Lagos (Nigeria), Bisi thinks while crossing to the Kingsway Stores. In the hustle, she notices the flash of a familiar face¾ Agnes! For a moment, Bisi is hesitant about her guesstimate but nothing could prevent her enthusiasm in greeting anybody she knew back home. Indeed, it is Agnes, her classmate of ten years ago.
Bisi couldn’t relate to that gay, chirpy and slim Agnes who had many boyfriends at school. Now, she has grown so fat and she isn’t herself. Before Bisi could tag Agnes as one of those domesticated females whose place is in the home, mending socks and looking after the children, Agnes opens up⏤ I have no child, Bisi.
With Agnes’s revelation that her husband has an extra marital affair and that he has two boys, Bisi contemplates about her physical inability to have a child, which has been the negative impact on her appearance and happy self. Agnes envies Bisi for retaining her beautiful figure. Despite her doomed married life, she still thinks that she is married and slightly better than Bisi.
One day, Bisi finds Agnes in her office, sadder than usual. Greedily taking the coffee offered to her, Agnes declares, my husband has given me the sack. Within a fortnight Bisi finds a place for Agnes to settle down along with her mother. Agnes’s mother brings along a native doctor to give her treatment hoping that something good would come out of it. The doctor asks her to get some mercury which he was going to use for medicine for her.
Bisi helps her get the medicine through one of her colleagues who is curious as Mercury Oxide is supposed to be administered only by lab professionals and otherwise illegal. But he quite sympathises with Agnes and agrees to give a little. It’s been six months when Bisi sees Agnes pregnant and cheerful. Now, she is living with her husband, expecting the baby in March.
March has come and shockingly, she is yet to have the baby. Her mother is adamant not to take her to hospital as she prefers native doctors. Nothing happens for another month and hence Agnes decides to go to hospital. The doctor diagnoses her as having a tumour and that she is not pregnant! Though the word falls on her like a thunder, she gathers herself up to do something before her husband becomes suspicious. Now that her husband wanted and needed her, she should not disappoint her husband. She must take a baby to him at all costs.
Lying to her mother that she is going to have the baby in a hospital, Agnes gets her tumour operated. Once healed, she goes into the maternity ward; she grabs the first baby she sees. She gets into the taxi and drives off. The next morning, she leaves for Lagos with the baby.
On arriving, friends and relatives give a warm welcome to the mother and the newborn at her husband’s house. Bisi has come too. Agnes tells Bisi, I shall see you some other time. I am tired now. I have something important to say to you. Bisi squeezes a pound note on the delicate palm of the baby and bids farewell.
When they came… they knocked at the door. Agnes expected them, only not so soon. Though it’s an obvious guess on who comes for Agnes, what follows is saddening. Agnes wanted to have a baby at any cost, and what she pays for it is extremely tragical.
Flora Nwapa places Igbo women’s position straight in a corner where nothing is expected of them but childbearing. I love the way Nwapa juxtaposes Bisi as a slim, unmarried and independent woman of the same age as Agnes.
Flora Nwapa (1931-93)
One of the first African women to publish a book in English, Nwapa’s works confronted the stereotyped portrayal of women and exposed the success stories of African women. Her works challenged the unfair cultural practices of Igbo mainly childlessness and widowhood. Efuru is one of her notable works which won her most fame.
I’ve always wanted to put my reading experience into writing—venting out. With the fecund digital and social space, I’ve decided now the right time to plunge into my ambitious desire of getting to know as many women writers across the world, through their works, regardless of their geographic and ethnic existence. Yet, I’m against the idea of branding my blog as feminist as I choose to read on them purely for the writers’ purport and their ardent works.
I’d like you to be a part of my reading journey and get to know along with me the women writers who’ve been silently transfiguring their areas of interest.