September 14, 2021
Becoming the Baby Girl
This piece, selected by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the 2021 O. Henry Prize, originally appeared in McSweeney’s 56. To get stories like this on your doorstep four times a year, subscribe to the Quarterly today.
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Art by Anuj Shrestha
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1. ME AND MUSCLED MAN
It’s exam. Tall thin girls don’t show up. I wonder if they are all all right. I ask the course rep where they are. He’s busy re-reading his worn-out, photocopied version of Iweka’s Introduction to Drama. He doesn’t even look at me. I sigh. Prof. Okafor comes in with muscled men. They come with guns and anger. They come with swearwords. They stand us up. They search us. The taller one searches me. He touches my breasts and my eyes bulge. My mouth forms a whaat? He says, “Why is it hard?” He asks, “Do you have expo there?” “No, I don’t bring prohibited reading materials into the exam hall,” I say. “You can,” he says. “I don’t see why you should not,” he keeps on saying. “Everybody does it. Only, they have protectors. I will be your protector. Give me your phone number and yourself.” I hiss. I call him idiot. I call him useless. I call him stupid. I call him a very, very useless man. My voice ascends with each word. He screams at me to shut up. He turns to Prof. Okafor, tells Prof. Okafor, “This girl carry expo oo.”
“That’s a lie! That’s a lie!”
“Fill out the examination malpractice form, first of all,” Prof. Okafor says to me.
“Why would I do that? This guy is just lyi—”
“No, no, you will not call this honorable man a liar. Fill this form out, young lady. Fill it!”
I take the malpractice form from where he piled them on the table, write my name, and wonder, Can they do this to tall thin girls? Tall thin girls wearing power as perfume and flipping long, dangling braids or costly wigs, brandishing beauty and snobbery like they are the only humans in this universe. This muscled man and this professor. Can they do this to tall thin girls?
2. ME ON MY FIRST DAYS HERE
I sway my hips past people with my lips slightly parted. I walk past people with grins on their faces, past people with inquisitive looks and no shame as they say, “Hey, fine girl.” I say to them with determination that I’m not here to be fine girl and agree with myself: I am not here to be fine girl. I braid my hair in a Ghana weave with black Darling attachments, wear the long skirt Dad bought with the oversize shirt Mum bought. Both of them wiped tears with white handkerchiefs when I pulled out my traveling box. I left them behind with our thin yellow dog, Jack. Jack, with his pendant ears. I wear my mother’s cat’s-eyes and my pointed nose that everyone believes my father made possible. Dad fills me up with don’t forget advice as he drives me to Lagos Park: “Don’t forget where you come from.” “Don’t forget where you’re going to.” “Don’t forget to choose the right company.” When my bus pulls away from Enugu, I try everything I can think of to connect where I’m going with where I come from. When I dab my face with the white handkerchief Dad gave me before he swerved off in his car to go home, it is tears I wipe from my eyes. I hope never to forget.
3. I CAN’T BE TALL THIN GIRLS
Three tall thin girls who are colored like sun, who burn through the class, who let out loud clangs of laughter, who put on airs like they are Beyoncé, who say, “Yeah, you guys, what the fuck, yeah, yeah,” who wear English like it is a song, who come to class in too few clothes, clothes that look like they’d fit a two-year-old, who wear long hair extensions worth as much as my father’s bungalow, who wave their hands and their perfumes waft around and take over the class. These tall thin girls, who are liked by all the boys and all the men in this school, who bad-mouth Prof. Chris and boo Prof. Okafor, who make girls wish to be them. Those tall thin girls who call to me on the Monday of the first week I walk into this new school and say, “That forehead, oh my god, you look like you are Rihanna right now.” Those tall thin girls who call to me on the Tuesday of the second week I walk into this new school and say, “Your shirt, girl, your shirt. Mehn, it looks damn so good, really, giirrl.” I wear the loose-fitting white shirt Mum bought from her neighbor who sells imported secondhand wears. Those tall thin girls who call to me on the Thursday of the third week I walk into this school. They say, “Your hair, is that natural? The way it falls straight like a river, really, is it natural?” My hair has drunk uncountable cups of cheap relaxer. My hair doesn’t fall straight like a river. My hair is not natural.
Now, those compliments have consequences: the urge to constantly google Rihanna. Place her picture side by side with mine. Compare and contrast. The urge to reshape my loose shirts, make them tighter. Starch them. Buy new ones. The urge to cut my hair. Patiently regrow it till it falls like a river. The urge to become tall thin girls, beautiful, effortlessly confident, eager to dole out compliments.
Who wouldn’t want to be tall thin girls? Tall thin girls who drive around the school in Venzas and Lexuses; tall thin girls who are gold; tall thin girls who are bold. But I like to think I am not cut out to become tall thin girls. I am the girl who remembers where she is from and where she is going, who chooses who she goes there with. That is what my father has always said to me, and I am the girl who is her father’s daughter, so I ignore tall thin girls on the Friday of the fourth week when they say, “We like you. Be us.”
Well, I do not completely ignore them. The tallest of them, the one with the face shaped like an egg, skin the color of Angelina Jolie’s, looks at me and says, “Heyy, my name is Ella. Can I have your phone number, please?” And my mouth goes to work telling it to her.
4. ME AND THE MIRACLES TALL THIN GIRLS MAKE
Now it is tears I wipe from my face again. It is holiday, though I am not going home. I am waiting for the school’s disciplinary committee on exam misconduct to sit. No one knows when they will, or if they will, and only when they sit will I know if I will be rusticated from here. For now, I do not know. The letter I received many days ago orders me not to travel yet, orders me to stay till my fate is stated. I don’t live off campus—only the rich students do that—and the school hostel is closed by management, to be reopened when school resumes in a month’s time. So for now, I put up at my friend’s house, and don’t know where I will go from here. She says she is going to the village to help her mother with farming and trading so they can save for her school fees next session. They will harvest crops and sell vegetables and yams in the open market. She hasn’t gone yet. I beg her not to, not to go yet, not until I find somewhere to stay. I like to think she will give me her key when she leaves. She hasn’t said so yet. I only hope, keep saying, “Shebi, you’ll leave your key for me when leaving, right?” But a daughter not yet free from her mother’s loins will wear her mother’s pants. So I wasn’t surprised when, two days later, the earliest sun not yet blinding the moon, she sprang from her side of the bed and hit my bare shoulders over and over till I stretched and said, “Ah-ah!”
Her mother had called, had said, “It’s either I see you here now or you see me there now.” So, a girl goes home. She shrugs. I ask for her key. She says nothing. I ask for her key. She says nothing. I ask for her key. She breaks into a story of a young girl like us who made millions last month, just like that. So I pack my stuff as she packs her stuff. I stand by the back door, watch her apply her makeup, rub red lipstick, pencil her brows, wipe off the red lipstick, apply a pink stick, use contour on her face and look extra good. I want to tell her she looks extra good, but I’m not sure I want to talk to her yet. I stand there, watch her drag her Echolac out with lips tightly shut, beads of sweat forming on her forehead, wrinkled lines appearing on her face to form a plea, begging me to help with the heavy box. I press my phone instead because I am not here to help if you are not here to help. Still I stand there, hoping she will say, Here, take my key. Always lock my door o.
“Come out, I need to lock the door o.” I grab my handbag and drag my box out by Papa Okey’s shop, where she and I stood last night, talking about the things I don’t care to remember now. She drags her Echolac to the street, flags a bike, tells the rider, a man in a black jean jacket, that she is going to wherever. They bid whatever whatever price, and the man in the black jean jacket climbs down, helps her pull the Echolac up onto the bike, and they zoom off, leaving me in what I want to assume is an intentionally collected swirl of dust. A mild way of telling me to fuck off.
I stand there for hours, watching everything: hurrying men and women, girls and boys, strangers zapping off in my dream cars—Venza, RX 350, Porsche, Range Rover, honking cars and buses and motorcycles, bus drivers cursing one another while struggling for passengers; everything, indications of people busy and life fleeting. I stand there, by the side, doing nothing. My mum calls. I ignore it. I ignore it because ignoring is what you do when you know why a particular call is coming in and you know you have no answers yet to those variegated wh- questions you are destined to listen to while pressing that phone to your ear. Mum wants to know when I will be home. Who knows?
I lean my box against the peeling wall and walk into Papa Okey’s shop, buy airtime, load the fifteen-digit pin into my phone, subscribe for a month’s data, and open my WhatsApp. Maybe I can find someone I know who is still around, someone who could save me from sleeping on the street. Maybe. There are tons of new messages, from friends at home, coursemates asking for this textbook or that, men who want, people who claim they care, then these messages from this I-don’t-know-whose number. I check the profile picture. My eyes swell! It is Ella! Ella of the tall thin girls. Like, who in the class gets messaged by Ella?
MON., 2 MAR.
Hey Bby Gal 11:41 AM
Yeah….. Ella,, here 11:41 AM
Chat me up asaq. 11:50 AM
Asap** 11:51 AM
THU., 5 MAR.
Heyyy, 10:15 PM
Your ignoring my chats now or they are just not delivering? That’s fucked
up tbh 10:15 PM
This is Ella tho. Don’t be a bitch, yeah? 10:15 PM
Hey!!!!! 10:17 PM
You don’t remember me or what? Gal. It’s Ella. Ella! 10:27 PM
Audrey’s friend. Queen’s friend. Ella! Ella!!! 10:28 PM
Are you really ignoring my text 10:28 PM
Babes, 10:01 AM
I called you. You didn’t pick. 10:01 AM
Someone just told me the issue you had with Prof Okafor. 12:05 AM
Call me ASAP. We can help you deal. 12:05 AM
THIS SENDER IS NOT IN YOUR CONTACTS
BLOCK REPORT ADD TO CONTACTS
Ella! 10:20 AM
I just saw your profile picture now! 10:20 AM
Ella! Queen + Audrey’s friend? 11:07 AM
Jesus Jesus! I am so oo sorry! Like how can I ignore you? 11:07 AM
I am so so sorry, ppleaad 11:07 AM
Please*** Biko 11:07 AM
I didn’t have data,, haven’t been here for ages now. 11:08 AM
Hello Ella, are you there? 11:08 AM
Heyy 6:06 PM
Sup with you and Prof Okafor? 6:06 PM
Eh! You heard? 6:06 PM
Lol Ofcoz I heard. Been meaning to reach U. 6:06 PM
Please, I beg you, help me with that man’s issue o.
Please. I don’t know any anyhow in this school. I cannot
afford to be rusticated or anything. biko 6:06 PM
Anyone** 6:06 PM
Where are you ATM? 6:07 PM
Papa Oks 6:07 PM
Papa Okey’s** shop 6:07 PM
Kk 6:14 PM
You travelled? My battery is low. It shut down soon sef. 6:14 PM
Go and charge biko. 6:46 PM
Charge? No light here oo 6:46 PM
I don’t even have a place to sleep 6:46 PM
Wot do u mean u dont hv place to sleep? 7:10 PM
I’ll explain when we see 7:10 PM
Stay at that Papa Okey’s shop. I’m driving down. 7:17 PM
Will call as soon as I am there 7:17 PM
OMG! OMG! ELLA!!! 7:17 PM
May God bless you eh. Thank youuu 7:17 PM
Ella? Are you here yet? 8:00 PM
Ella? 8:17 PM
Ella?? 8:25 PM
I am at Papa Okey’s shop 8:30 PM
I am parked where he sells kero. Where you dey? 8:30 PM
Are you there?? your phone off already?? 8:31 PM
MISSED VOICE CALL AT 8:32 PM
TAKE YOUR CALLS!! 8:33 PM
I see you. I see you. In brown Venza 8:33 PM
Yea. get in here. I didn’t park well. 8:33 PM
I squint as I look into the night, partially blinded by the sparkly streetlights. I pull up my box and drag it to where she has parked. I am a little scared of these tall thin girls. She opens the passenger door for me to get in once I’ve pushed my box into the backseat. I resist asking for the name of her perfume that makes the inside of this Venza smell like it is a room in heaven. “Thank you very much, Ella. I don’t know what I did right to deserve stressing you like this.” She says nothing, nods and keeps bending toward her steering wheel, pressing her phone. It is an iPhone, those long, fine ones that are new and make you drool. We sit in silence. Well, more truthfully, I sit in silence. She is on her phone, pressing, exhaling now and then, smiling mild smiles. I stay quiet, don’t know how to be next, yet.
Ella coughs before she says, “So where… do… we go from here, yeah?” This is our very first real conversation and right now I feel her accent. It sounds like she learned from someone who learned from someone who learned from an Americanah, a complete been-to who thinks staying in America is all we have to do to become Jesus.
“I dunno. I had…”
“Fuck it! My house. Where are your stuffs?”
“Oh, in the back here.”
“By the way, your name is Akunne, right?”
My name is not Akunne. I don’t say this. I don’t tell her my name is Ofunne either. I only wait for her to buckle her seat belt before I begin to tell the story nobody asked of me. I tell of my temporary roommate, a.k.a. friend, who left me on the street. I tell of Prof. I tell of standing a whole day and watching the world pass.
“Wow,” she says. I talk for close to thirty minutes. She says, “Wow.” I say how honored I am to be helped by her, how grateful, how I deeply admire her and everything she stands for. She says, “Wow.” I tell more because I do not want to sit and say nothing. I talk on: Whatever, whatever, yada, yada, Buhari Buhari. Prof. Okafor is worse than a corrupt president. You know, you know. EFCC should not only drag around politicians that misappropriate funds. Blah, blah. They should also handle humans who are mean to other humans. Or better still, there be a body for this. Yada, yada.
Ella just drives. No more wows. No nod. No yeah. No fuck it. But her silence sways me as much as she sways her head, which she does a lot, using her green-painted, long nails to brush her long, straight extensions from her face. But before she starts playing Davido’s “Nwa Baby,” she says, “Baby girl, you don’t mind staying in my house, yeah? And yeah, the number I chatted you up with, yeah? Save it, yeah? And yeah, I hope you got sexy pictures on your profile, yeah? Because I want to see all them sexiness you got, yeah?” She swiftly sways her head, uses her green nails to push back her hair again before she winks at me. It looks like she’s saying: Welcome to being a god. I am still wondering if I am ready for this.
5. ME AND TALL THIN GIRLS ARE WE NOW
We wear black dresses. We strut. We go to Prof. Okafor’s office. Ella, Audrey, and Queen say I should stay in the hallway. It is nearly empty now, everyone still on break. A few weeks ago, students studded this place, strutting and carrying their files with pride because it is not easy to beat out a million candidates to secure a spot here. It doesn’t matter whether that aunt or uncle of yours who knows a someone who knows a someone that collected something small, maybe money or kindness, worked it out for you, and now here you are, an undergraduate. No, it doesn’t matter. We are here now, that’s all. The future leaders of Nigeria.
Tall thin girls open the door to Prof.’s office. Audrey drags me into the room by my right hand, saying, “Come here, baby girl, come here.” My eyes meet Prof.’s. He looks away immediately, says to Ella, “See to it that she writes fast, extraordinarily fast.” He stands up from his chair, opens his cabinet, brings out the question papers, selects one, and gives it to me. He leaves his office. Ella takes out a textbook, throws it to me. “Use it. Don’t waste my time, please.”
“You know we will graduate top of our class, yeah?” Audrey says, smiles, pouts her mouth, winks at me.
“Leave her alone! She needs to concentrate,” Queen says to Audrey.
“Is she writing with her ears?” Audrey says.
“You guys, don’t be like that now!” Ella says and then turns to me. “Be fast.”
I sigh, write and write and write. Or maybe, copy and copy and copy. Once I finish, we pile into Queen’s ash-colored Lexus RX 330. I ask, “So do you know when the disciplinary committee will sit?”
They look at me, those three tall thin girls. They laugh. They say, “What the fuck, whaa? What the fuck…”
6. BECOMING THE TALLEST THINNEST
I wear new tongues now as well as say “yeah,” “you guys,” “what the fuck,” “yeah, yeah,” as well as sing English as well as slap the driver who brings me home as well as become Rihanna and Beyoncé and Cardi B as well as wear too few clothes and hair extensions costing the price of ten plots of land as well as empty bottles of skin-toning creams onto my skin till I shine shine like I am sun as well as drain expensive perfumes till people stop to ask how I got such a fine smell as well as become more beautiful than tall thin girls. Even their men say so. They choose me over them. It makes them happy, though, so long as I get picked and they get paid. They say, “This is why we selected you, because you blaze so bright and your brain burns like fire. We know. We always know the right ones.”
H2. 7. BAD GIRL GONE GOOD GONE BAD
I lose it and stab my shadows when I hear my father’s baritone blare over the phone. He calls more now, and when he is done asking how is school, how is class, how are you coping, my university daughter, he says, “Ofunne, be good. Be godly, okay? You will be home for the holiday this time around, right?” When he calls, I hear him; when he ends the call, I hear him. I remember the last time I saw him, his hands on the steering wheel, his mouth telling me not to forget where I am from. Right now, I am wondering how a girl from where I am from did forget. I am thinking of all the men I have come to know over the past three months. Chief with the stomach like he swallows the continent for breakfast. He was my first. He was my very first because Ella says it brings good luck; having a wealthy man rip your hymen means you will never meet a poor man. Ever! I didn’t tell her of Joshua, the boy living behind my new two-bedroom apartment who sneaks in after these chiefs have gone. He begs for tea and t-fare. I give him tea and t-fare and kiss and me. We moan together and I know that even if he had money, I wouldn’t want him for that. Then there is Prof. Okafor. And the man with white beards. And the man who pays for the two-bedroom apartment. And this other guy, Igwe Obiora, who Ella made sure I’d never see again. All he gave me were multiple orgasms and cowries. He said the cowries were original, the original cowries my ancestors harvested human heads for. There are other men, too, people I work hard to forget. The only person I am working hard not to forget is me. I fear that in trying to be me, I missed, became tall thin girls instead.
I stand from my bed, go to church. I kneel. I say, “Heavenly father, forgive me, forget the things I did, accept me back.” I skip classes. And when I don’t, I sit far, far from tall thin girls. But they come. They knock and knock and knock and knock till I know I can’t really dodge tall thin girls.
“Don’t call me baby girl. My name is Ofunne.” But tall thin girls don’t care. They say, “Ofunne is bush, something the governor would not like to call you.”
They tell me how the minister of education celebrated his birthday when I was idling out. They didn’t call me, because I was idling out. They tell me the governor looked through Queen’s phone while they gisted, chewed gum, and sipped rum. They tell me that among many pictures, it was my picture he saw and liked. They tell me he said, “Get this one for me na. Ha! See big ikebe! What, what will she cost me?” They tell me they are here to break my idling. When Ella says, “You are going to South Africa with him,” I nod, forget my father in heaven, forget the one in Enugu, and say, “Please, call me baby girl once again.”
8. IT’S JOHANNESBURG, BABY
So the governor calls my phone, calls me baby girl. So he says it this way: “beibei girl,” like he lacks something in his mouth, teeth or tongue. When he first calls, I wonder which governor this is. I listen as he tells me, “Keep our relationship to yourself, just you should know it.” I put everything he tells me in my mouth and swallow it with water. I prepare for the South Africa trip. I ride to the newest boutique in Lekki with tall thin girls. Once we’ve burned the money he sends for my prepping, we return so I can pack, and for the first time, tall thin girls don’t look so glamorous, not more than me. I know they are jealous, not just because they say it and laugh but because I see it in their eyes. I sleep in Lagos today and know that tomorrow I will be sleeping in Johannesburg.
The governor calls. He says to me, “Beibei, we will not go to Johannesburg right now, but we will go very soon.” He sends enough money to buy ten Venza cars. Tall thin girls say maybe he saw a thicker girl with a bigger ikebe, oh yeah. They laugh with their mouths wide enough to swallow a river. I want to tell them to get out of my flat, but my voice is too tiny to start a war. I say I want to go see my mum this weekend since the Johannesburg trip is off. Tall thin girls say, “For what?” We sit in my living room, quiet, wearing too few clothes, pressing our phones till Audrey reads out from a popular blog that there is a strike now. We google it and learn that the Academic Staff Union of Universities is negotiating higher salaries for lecturers, and they’re meeting with governors. I smile. I say this is really why he postponed Johannesburg. Tall thin girls press their iPhones. I stand to turn on my AC; there is too much going on right now.
9. JOHANNESBURG, FOR REAL
10. PUKING OUT THE PARTY
The governor buys me a white Crosstour and says, “Keep this car. But keep us to yourself.” And so I’m keeping the month we spent in Johannesburg after the strike ended to myself. I mean, I did not even tell tall thin girls what went down there, or else they would be minding me like I was a baby: “Have you taken pills, eh? How much did he give you, eh? Will you see him again, eh?” Well, now I am bigger, from all the dinners, I think, and I am back and yay, I have my own car, and the strike is off, and I am here at a very depressing party at Nkem’s house. Nkem is the friend of Aboy, the senior special adviser to the minister of foreign duties. Aboy understands the real meaning of foreign duties. Apart from linking us up with the minister himself, Aboy has connections and gets me and tall thin girls influential men who reek of power and hard currencies and hardness. His ride or die babe, Nkem, is drama, and her house is for showing off, with her plasma TV and her washing machine and her Indian hair and her fake smile and her Aboy. I drink vodka and rum and run to the toilet because I retch, and then puke. I don’t know why I puke, but I puke again. Nkem comes in to her toilet. I am facing the bowl and puking, and the bitch looks at me and says, “What the hell? You’ve got AIDS now? You slutting tall thin girls! What the hell. What the hell.”
H2. 11. A DRUG AND A DRINK TO DRINK
It is exam. I am the only tall thin girl in the exam hall because I tell tall thin girls I want to write all my exams in the hall and not in the office so no lecturer will have the chance to grab my ass. Ella shrugs, says, “Your choice.” Now I think I shouldn’t have had such guts. It is a difficult exam. My hands shake and seem to be afraid of holding things. My pen won’t stay put, keeps slipping through my fingers. In my head, there sit a million humans with hammers and they hit the hammers, and each hitting leaves my head thinner. I want to die, and that is the only feeling that comes close to describing it. That and the hollowness that hugs you only when you lose someone who you once breathed like the air. I lost myself, but I am not sure this is why I feel like I am holding hands with the butchered parts of my body. One of the invigilators taps me from behind, asks me, “Are you okay, dear?” Her voice is soft and patronizing. I am not a charity case and I do not know the best way to say get lost if not by handing in my blank papers to this thin woman. She collects them, walks to the end of the hall, and hands them over to the new professor, who doesn’t know me and who doesn’t know tall thin girls. I stand from my chair, hold the other students’ gazes. I am used to holding the other students’ gazes. I have become for many girls the star now. If they only knew what it’s like. Like being a perfumed dead rat. I go to the table where an invigilator had earlier ordered we drop our bags and phones, grab mine, leave. It is an original Louis Vuitton Saintonge. The other tall thin girls would never keep a Louis Vuitton Saintonge, with its smooth calfskin and its soft tassels and its expensive price, on the same table where cheap secondhand bags cluster. Ella would have found handing over her bag a very valid reason to leave the exam. But not me, and this is one of the many things that worries Ella about me. I pull out my phone, an iPhone XS, dial my mother’s number, walk to my car. When she says, “Hello, Ofunne m,” I pause, exhale, say, “Hello, Mummy.”
“Omalicha m, kedu? How was your exam? When are you coming home sef? Ha! It’s going to a century since I saw you last o.”
“Mummy, my exam, it was bad.”
“How? What is the problem? Ogini?”
“I—I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“What’s the problem, nne’m?”
“Mummy, I don’t know.”
“Are you sick? Are you eating well?”
“I am tired, Mummy, very very.”
I hear her exhale. She keeps quiet for some time. Then she asks again when I am coming home. I don’t know if I am going home. I don’t have plans of going home, but I say, “In two weeks’ time, Mummy.” And nod repeatedly when she asks, “I hope you are still prayerful eh?”
“I will be praying for you here, too, i nula? I will pray. Just have faith. Your exam will be okay.”
“You will pass. Ah! Our king of kings. He’s all-knowing, a miracle worker! Have faith, i nula?”
And I have faith. I have faith that the all-knowing king of kings will not make known to my mother the reason I am so tired, the reason I wasn’t able to finish the test. He won’t make known to her that I haven’t stopped puking since Nkem’s party; that when we hang up, I will drive straight to Ella’s house for some drink she promised will stop my stomach from growing. Because the only thing I need to grow as a baby girl is my bank account, and maybe my breasts and, yeah, my ass. I don’t actually think I’m pregnant. I took all measures. But I go to Ella’s house because nobody tells Ella no.
Tall thin girls are splayed out on Ella’s couch when I open her door that afternoon: Ella reading my worn-out copy of Purple Hibiscus, Audrey lying on the floor pressing her phone, Queen holding up a miniature mirror to her face. They want to know how my exam went. I am too tired to recount. Ella repeats, do I know my constant tiredness and headaches and constipations and swollen breasts and vomits and every other whatever can only be attributed to pregnancy? I roll my eyes. Earlier, when Ella said this, I ignored her, as I want to now. But she has a pregnancy test and as soon as I urinate into the brown cup she hands me and return it to her, she immerses the colored end of the strip into the cup. She pulls out the strip and we wait, her singing Ada’s “I Testify” and laughing, me sweating and telling her, “Stop, stop, stop that song right now.” And then she cackles, holding up the strip and pointing at the two colored lines.
“Oh, yes! Now drink this,” she says, handing me a mug. “I will not have a pregnant baby girl.”
I have faith that the all-knowing God will not show my mother this, either: me grabbing the mug, drinking the damn thing, wanting to vomit, the taste like rotten fish; me ignoring Ella as she says, “Don’t even think about it” when I run past her to the toilet.
When I come out a minute later, Ella doesn’t believe me that I didn’t puke it up.
“Take this drug.” I eye her. Look at Queen and Audrey to say something. Audrey speedily turns to her phone. Queen speedily turns to her phone. I sigh. I throw the drug into my mouth and drink my water. And I say to Ella, “Anything else?”
“No, my madam. Meanwhile, you left your small phone here yesterday o. See it on top of that table.”
“I did? Are you serious? I didn’t even know to look for it. Ha!”
“Na so the exam do you? So, this is how bad this exam got to you eh?” Audrey says.
“Or is it the pregnancy?” Queen says, throws her head back and laughs.
Audrey says, “A number you saved as ‘Gov’ kept calling and calling, like he owns you for real. Is that the governor?”
“I thought you said you were no longer seeing the governor,” Ella said.
“I am not seeing any governor. Give me my phone.”
Audrey runs to the glassy center table, collects the phone, and puts it into her pocket. I sigh, walk to where she stands. She makes to walk farther, to make me chase her. But then suddenly she stops, pulls the phone out of her pocket, and begins pressing it.
“Give me my phone, Audrey. Ella, please talk to Audrey.”
“Audrey, give the phone to her now now.”
Audrey throws the phone at me. I dodge it and it hits the floor. The battery and the phone’s back fall out. I pick them up, panting as I do so.
“I hope you’re not hiding anything from us like this. Ella, see your babe o,” Audrey says.
Ella looks at me and looks back at her book, which she is now pretending to read. I enter Ella’s room, lock the door, sit there for a while. My mind runs around. I need to sleep, but I don’t want to. I unlock the door, go to the living room, where tall thin girls are still lying around, grab my original Louis Vuitton Saintonge, pick up my car key, put on my slippers, open the door, and leave the house.
When I get into my car and lock my door, I dial the governor’s number and listen to his campaign song till the governor says, “Hello.” I do not let him start up with his usual boring “How thou art, my sugar, you know I love you, my sugar, blah blah, sugar, yada yada, sugar.”
“I am pregnant,” I say to him immediately, though I don’t know why.
He keeps quiet for some time before he says, “You are supposed to be a secret. You are supposed to be secret, sugar.”
I want to say I guess this sugar is too sweet to stay secret.
“Is he a boy?” he asks.
“I don’t know yet na.”
Nothing comes from him for a moment, and I wonder if the network is bad. But it’s not. He sighs loudly.
“You are good, all right?” he says. I want to tell him about the drug and drink from Ella, but I worry that will worry him too much and he will worry Ella too much and Ella will worry me too much.
“Don’t panic, sugar, tomorrow eh I will come. We will go and see the doctor together. I want a boy. You will remove the baby if the baby is not a boy, you hear?” I don’t say anything. He repeats the question, asking, “You hear?” This time I say, “Till tomorrow, please.”
He sighs, says he will talk to me later. I want to call my mother, tell her, but I know she will cry that her daughter has lost her faith, has brought dishonor to the family. I want to call my father, tell him, but I know he will sigh severely, say his daughter forgot where she comes from, brought dishonor to the family. I start my car, drive away from Ella’s house. I want to go home, but I am not sure home is the two-bedroom apartment I can afford because my body houses an abundance of men. So I keep driving, and keep driving. And keep driving. And keep driving.
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ADACHIOMA EZEANO is an alumna of Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop. Her work has appeared in Brittle Paper, Deyu African, 9jafeminista, Critical Literature Review, and elsewhere.