7 October 2019

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Blaine needed what she was unable to give and she needed what he was unable to give, and she grieved this, the loss of what could have been.

First, he skimmed the e-mail, instinctively wishing it were longer.

In the last e-mail from her, sent just before he got married, she had called him Obinze, apologized for her silence over the years, wished him happiness in sunny sentences, and mentioned the black American she was living with. A gracious e-mail. He had hated it. He had hated it so much that he Googled the black American — and why should she give him the man’s full name if not because she wanted him Googled?

(...) that had tipped Obinze over, made him send her a cold reply. Thank you for the good wishes, I have never been happier in my life, he’d written. He hoped she would write something mocking back — it was so unlike her, not to have been even vaguely tart in that first e-mail — but she did not write at all, and when he e-mailed her again, after his honeymoon in Morocco, to say he wanted to keep in touch and wanted to talk sometime, she did not reply.

“Don’t be giving money to these beggars, sir,” Gabriel said. “They are all rich. They are using begging to make big money. I heard about one that built a block of six flats in Ikeja!”“So why are you working as a driver instead of a beggar, Gabriel?”

And after you register your own company, you must find a white man. Find one of your white friends in England. Tell everybody he is your General Manager. You will see how doors will open for you because you have an oyinbo General Manager. Even Chief has some white men that he brings in for show when he needs them. That is how Nigeria works.

The first time he took her to his mother’s house in Nsukka, just before they got married, she leaped up to help with serving the food, and when his mother made to clean up afterwards, she got up, offended, and said, “Mummy, how can I be here and you will be cleaning?” She ended every sentence she spoke to his uncles with “sir.” She put ribbons in the hair of his cousins’ daughters. There was something immodest about her modesty: it announced itself.

It saddened Obinze that Yemi was so poorly educated and did not know that he was poorly educated. It made him want to be a teacher. He imagined himself standing in front of a class full of Yemis, teaching. It would suit him, the teaching life, as it had suited his mother. He often imagined other things he could have done, or that he could still do: teach in a university, edit a newspaper, coach professional table tennis.

I am always looking for a better job. I’m completing my master’s now,” Yemi said, in the manner of the true Lagosian who was always hustling, eyes eternally alert to the brighter and the better (...)

When she held his hand during their campus days, she would squeeze until both palms became slick with sweat, and she would say, teasing, “Just in case this is the last time we hold hands, let’s really hold hands. Because a motorcycle or a car can kill us now, or I might see the real man of my dreams down the street and leave you or you might see the real woman of your dreams and leave me.”

People often told him how humble he was, but they did not mean real humility, it was merely that he did not flaunt his membership in the wealthy club, did not exercise the rights it brought — to be rude, to be inconsiderate, to be greeted rather than to greet — and because so many others like him exercised those rights, his choices were interpreted as humility. He did not boast, either, or speak about the things he owned, which made people assume he owned much more than he did.

it irked him slightly, because he wished Okwudiba would see that to call him humble was to make rudeness normal.

They never said “I don’t know.” They said, instead, “I’m not sure,” which did not give any information but still suggested the possibility of knowledge. And they ambled, these Americans, they walked without rhythm. They avoided giving direct instructions: they did not say “Ask somebody upstairs”; they said “You might want to ask somebody upstairs.” When you tripped and fell, when you choked, when misfortune befell you, they did not say “Sorry.” They said “Are you okay?” when it was obvious that you were not. And when you said “Sorry” to them when they choked or tripped or encountered misfortune, they replied, eyes wide with surprise, “Oh, it’s not your fault.” And they overused the word “excited,” a professor excited about a new book, a student excited about a class, a politician on TV excited about a law; it was altogether too much excitement.

If she bought all the textbooks she needed, she would not have enough to pay her rent, and so she borrowed textbooks during class and made feverish notes which, reading them later, sometimes confused her.

Kimberly’s unhappiness was inward, unacknowledged, shielded by her desire for things to be as they should, and also by hope: she believed in other people’s happiness because it meant that she, too, might one day have it. Laura’s unhappiness was different, spiky, she wished that everyone around her were unhappy because she had convinced herself that she would always be.