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The Joys of Motherhood

The Joys of Motherhood

by Buchi Emecheta

The Joys of Motherhood Chapter 11 Summary

Sharing a Husband

  • It's 1941 and most people know there's a war going on somewhere, even if they don't know why it had started.
  • Salt is more expensive and salt in cake form is used as money in some villages.
  • In school, children see images of war everywhere.
  • With the war, masters are at the front, fighting, and jobs for people like Nnaife are scarce.
  • Nnu Ego and Adaku become pregnant at the same time. Nnu Ego has twin girls. Adaku congratulates her, but Nnu Ego says that she's not sure her husband will be pleased with one girl, let alone two. Her father would ask his friend Idayi whether it's right for her chi to send her two girls instead of one.
  • Well, Adaku says philosophically, these girls will be a huge help. And their bride prices will help pay for the boys' school fees.
  • Nnu Ego realizes that Adaku is independent, and knows a few things.
  • Nnaife does mock Nnu Ego when he learns she had not one but two girls but Adaku soothes him with reminders of their bride prices in twelve years.
  • Nnaife goes out to drink with his friends without naming the girls, so Adaku suggests Taiwo (she who came first) and Kehinde (she who came second.)
  • Nnaife is happier when Adaku gives birth to a son a few weeks later. Sadly, the son dies of convulsions a few weeks after that, sending Adaku into deep depression.
  • When Nnu Ego tries to comfort her, Adaku refuses to be comforted, reminding Nnu Ego of how she felt when she gave birth to two girls.
  • Oshia pipes up that Adaku still has Dumbi.
  • Oshia has figured out, though, that boys are special things.
  • When Adaku tells Dumbi and Oshia to fetch some water a few nights later, Oshia ignores her.
  • He tells her he's a boy and doesn't need to do girls' work. Nearby neighbors laugh indulgently, saying he's just like a boy.
  • But Adaku thinks they're mocking her because she doesn't have a son.
  • Nnu Ego hits Oshia, telling him to treat Adaku with respect. But Oshia says that he doesn't like Adaku and in his dreams at night, she was trying to push him into a ditch.
  • This frightens Nnu Ego terribly, knowing that junior wives can try to harm the children of the senior wife. She takes Oshia to the medicine man, the dibia, who says that Oshia is right. He advises that Nnu Ego protect her children from Adaku's jealousy. He asks for payment to prepare a charm for her boys to wear.
  • But though Nnu Ego does things to protect her sons, Adaku doesn't relent.
  • One night, as Nnu Ego counts her pennies, Adaku wonders why Nnaife has to stay out all night with the guitar, drinking.
  • Nnu Ego says that he's as man and has to have fun. She prefers that he's gone.
  • Adaku asks if Nnu Ego knows that playing music in the middle of the night summons bad spirits.
  • Nnu Ego prays that God will give Adaku a son so she can have some peace.
  • Then Adaku criticizes Nnaife in earnest, saying that they are struggling so hard to make ends meet but he "squanders his money on drink" (11.47). She predicts that he'll bring a bad spirit into the house some night.
  • Nnu Ego says she'll talk to him but she doesn't believe God will let an evil spirit into their house.
  • She warns Nnaife and he argues that they don't have much of a home for him to come home to. He stays out to escape them all.
  • Nnu Ego says it's his own fault, because he accepted Adaku her. Adaku reminds her that it's his duty and if they had the room, all the wives would be there.
  • But the next day, Nnu Ego realizes that Nnaife had left his guitar at home when they went to a party. He was superstitious, after all.
  • She wakes up in the middle of the night and hears the guitar being played, but Nnaife isn't home yet. So when he gets home, she and Adaku tell him about it, and he smashes the guitar.
  • The medicine man says that the ghosts will only go away if they make sacrifices.
  • But Oshia knows the truth. He had caught some mice and put them in the guitar. It was the mice that had played the guitar. Oshia noticed how Nnaife bragged that he had felt spirits when he played the guitar. He noticed that the people respected Nnaife. He wondered if this is what it meant to be a man.
  • Nnu Ego suspects that Adaku had gotten help from a medicine man to scare Nnaife to stay home more, so she decides she needs to be better protect her children from this woman.
  • Nnu Ego and Adaku begin to conspire together on how to get more housekeeping money from Nnaife. They're pretty sure he spends more on drinking than he gives them.
  • So one night, when Nnaife comes home, he doesn't find dinner, he finds the money he'd given them for housekeeping in a bowl.
  • Adaku tells him that the amount he gives them for food is too small. Likewise, Nnu Ego chides him for spending so much on drink when his children need food. But Nnaife is so mad that, instead of giving them more money, he throws his napkin at Nnu Ego.
  • Oshia wants to know why they don't tear the money up to make more. It's just paper, he says.
  • They hear Adaku screaming as Nnaife beats her in the other room. Nnu Ego bangs on the door, asking Nnaife to open it. She asks him if he doesn't know that Adaku is pregnant. He will kill the child she's carrying if he continues.
  • Nnaife leaves, declaring he won't give them another cent.
  • That night, Oshia goes to the bowl where the money is kept and he tears it into pieces. Nnaife comes home, drunk, and startles Oshia in his act of creating money. He finds it hilarious and says Oshia's mother is going to appreciate it.
  • Nnu Ego is horrified when she hears them and gets up to investigate. Oshia says he just wanted to make more money, even while Nnu Ego wonders what they're going to do. Oshia just wants them to stop fighting.
  • In fact, Nnaife doesn't give the women another cent. The women beg him to give him whatever he can but he says they should have thought about it before they went on strike.
  • When Nnu Ego says she has nothing to feed the children, he tells her to sell her lappas (her clothes).
  • Nnaife explains that his chi has taught her a lesson "not to tamper with a man's stomach" (11.99). But when Nnu Ego keeps begging him, he says he'll see what he can manage to do.
  • As Nnu Ego leaves him, she realizes that she's in a prison. If she didn't have children, she wouldn't be so dependent on her husband. It's only her love for her children that demeans her. She can't even go back to her father's house and claim that she was mistreated. She has all the responsibility of being a wife and mother, but none of the rewards that she had grown up expecting. She decides to mention it to Nnaife when he comes home.
  • She prepares his favorite dish during the day, and feeds the children as if it's Christmas Day. She can't go on with the strike after Oshia's act, so she will reconcile with her husband.
  • Adaku wonders if Nnu Ego is off her rocker, feeding the kids so lavishly. She decides Nnu Ego must have accepted money from Nnaife behind her back. She asks and Nnu Ego denies it.
  • Adaku says she's sorry that they went on strike. Nnu Ego says she's not sorry, but she knows they can't let the children starve.
  • Adaku protests that Nnaife wouldn't have let his children starve, and Nnu Ego says that she doesn't know whether he would or wouldn't, but doesn't want to risk her children's health in order to find out.
  • Adaku decides to have it out with Nnaife when he comes home and explains that he plays favorites with Nnu Ego. She decides that Nnu Ego has been bribing Nnaife all along with delicious food, so he would give her favoritism.
  • But they wait and Nnaife doesn't come home. Nnu Ego waits anxiously, while Adaku watches with "malicious delight" (11.116).
  • Adaku suggests that perhaps Nnaife went to the palm wine stalls to drink rather than coming home, and Nnu Ego says she has never known him to do that in ten years of marriage.
  • Adaku reminds Nnu Ego that he's a selfish man, and Nnu Ego says that all men are selfish – that's what makes them men.
  • Finally, they send Oshia to the Nwakusors to find out if Nnaife is there but Oshia comes home with no news to report. Nnaife wasn't there and he wasn't at the palm wine stalls. Soon Ubani and Nwakusor come over, worried.
  • The women regret everything they've done, while Adaku says she must be cursed, to lose two husbands at such a young age.
  • Nnu Ego tells her to be quiet – Nnaife isn't dead. But she's afraid, too, even though she knows that, as senior wife, she's supposed to be calm and strong. But she's jealous that Adaku can cry openly.

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