Study Guide

The Joys of Motherhood Chapter 15

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Chapter 15

The Soldier Father

  • Everybody is shocked by Adaku's decision to leave Nnaife and become a prostitute. They are further shocked to learn that she decided to do it even though there was no fight between her and Nnu Ego.
  • Nnu Ego tries to convince her again to leave that life, reminding her of what people are saying. But Adaku isn't interested. She is making a lot of money, and even giving up selling beans and vegetables and starting to sell the more expensive material for lappas instead.
  • Nnu Ego is even more surprised to learn that Adaku doesn't have to depend on men friends for financial support. Adaku is proud to call herself a "dignified single woman" (15.6). She plans to educate her daughters, but she'll have male companionship.
  • Nnu Ego noticed how well dressed Adaku is, and how happy she seems.
  • Nnu Ego realizes that although Adaku may be socially snubbed, she is better off than Nnu Ego, who is respectable.
  • Nnu Ego hears that the war is over, and she's glad, hoping that Nnaife will be back home soon. Then she won't have to work so hard to pay school fees and keep her children clothed and fed. She had lately been feeling sick a lot. But after she spends half her savings on school fees, clothes, and food, she begins to worry that maybe Nnaife won't come back soon after all.
  • What will she do if he's still gone and the boys' school fees are due? She's also wondering why Nnaife wouldn't write? Other families heard from their soldiers.
  • She knows that Nnaife has done little to help her feed and clothe the children, but she tries to tell herself it doesn't matter – he has gone to war. This is why they have a mother.
  • She calls Oshia to her one day and tells him that she has no more money. She tells him to learn as much as he can because she won't be able to pay his school fees next time around. He cries as he tells her that he loves school and wants to stay there with his friends.
  • Nnu Ego comforts him, reminding him that she has always told him he's handsome. Well, now we know that you're clever, too, she says.
  • What about Adim, Oshia asks. Is he going to continue school?
  • No, Nnu Ego says, they will both leave school but she will pay for some private lessons.
  • Oshia protests. The twins go to private lessons and learn nothing.
  • Nnu Ego explains that the twins will have to leave those to help her at home.
  • So Oshia and Adim leave school and begin private lessons, while Nnu Ego sells firewood, garri, and other items of food. She thanks her chi that her children are healthy and strong.
  • One morning, Kehinde points out that the sun is going to be hot again, so Nnu Ego's vegetables will dry out. They decide to try to sell them before that. As Nnu Ego is talking to herself about selling the vegetables, Iyawo Itsekiri passes by and says that Ibos will sell their own children if they need to, in order to survive.
  • Nnu Ego says she's not that desperate but she wouldn't mind sending the girls somewhere to learn a trade. But Iyawo Itsekiri says that they couldn't have a better teacher than Nnu Ego.
  • Kehinde comes running up with a letter from the post office. She recognized the envelope as similar to the one that had come four years earlier, when Nnaife first went off to war. Perhaps he's sent money again.
  • She decides to find Abby's mother to read it for her, but she has to wait until lunch, when Oshia can watch the stand for her.
  • The girls complain that Oshia won't have to help them fetch wood. They don't understand why he has the evening off to study. Nnu Ego gets frustrated with the bickering and reminds them that they're girls – the boys need to go to school so they can support and protect their families.
  • Mama Abby reads the letter to Nnu Ego, who looks like she's doing well. Nnu Ego can see that Mama Abby's son is really taking care of his mother financially. She prays that her own children will do the same for her when she is old.
  • Mama Abby explains that there's a package for Nnu Ego at the barracks.
  • Nnu Ego is afraid that the package is news that Nnaife is dead. She begs Mama Abby to look closely at the letter to find out if Nnaife is dead. Mama Abby wonders what to do, and finally says that perhaps she should go with Nnu Ego to find out what is up.
  • At the army barracks, they're given a letter. Mama Abby suggests they take it home to read, but Nnu Ego doesn't want to wait. If it's bad news, she'd rather hear it right away.
  • Mama Abby read the letter and by the time she was done, Nnu Ego could tell it was good news. It's some money, which Nnu Ego must pick up at the counter, and news of Nnaife. Apparently, he had been ill after getting bitten by some water snakes and he hopes to be home soon.
  • The money is sixty pounds – three years of pay. Nnu Ego is shocked, and realizes that if she'd had a good education, she might have known how to check. She decides that it's even more important that her kids get a good education.
  • Nnu Ego doesn't tell anybody about the money, but she puts the kids back in school and gets herself a stall at the bigger market and starts selling abada cloth. She keeps her wooden kiosk, but stops selling firewood. The girls continue with the petty trading, even though they're in school.
  • One night Taiwo asks when their father will come home, since they keep hearing at school that the war is over.
  • But Nnu Ego doesn't know. His last letter, a year late in coming, had said he would be home "soon" – but again, that was written a year ago. Iyawo Itsekiri comforts her that it'll soon be over.
  • A few weeks later, Oshia claims that he was selected to welcome returning soldiers because his uniform was neat. But Taiwo says he's lying and Kehinde and Adim laugh. Nnu Ego asks why they're laughing and Taiwo says he was chosen because his class was chosen.
  • Oshia talks about seeing the soldiers for days, but he doesn't know if Nnaife was among them. Nnu Ego prays again that he isn't dead.
  • But sure enough, Nnaife arrives soon after, and Nnu Ego runs to meet him. They laugh and Nnaife asks how his senior wife is. Nnu Ego only asks why he didn't say he was returning that day.
  • They go inside, and the palm wine sellers get busy – their Ibo customer is back.
  • Nnaife celebrates for days, spending their money until Nnu Ego reminds him that they must feed their children and pay school fees.
  • Nnaife asks if she isn't happy that he's back. He points out his swollen feet, which had gotten rotten in the Burmese swamps. He doesn't look healthy at all.
  • He's happy with all his children, but he calls Adaku an evil woman. Soon, though, he says he must visit Adankwo in Ibuza. She must be lonely and "longing for a man" after five years without one (15.115).
  • Nnu Ego warns him. It's true that Adankwo is his wife, but she's happy as head of the household there. And her adult children may not want her to have another husband.
  • Nnaife simply says that Nnu Ego hasn't changed – she's still jealous. All the men visiting laugh.
  • Ubani tells Nnaife that Nnu Ego behaved very well while he was gone.
  • But although everybody is happy that Nnaife is back, he insists on going to visit his brother's wife. Even Nnu Ego's new pregnancy doesn't stop him.
  • Adankwo takes him in and becomes pregnant, but she refuses to come back to Lagos with him. Her grown-up sons support her in her decision.
  • Nnaife argues that Nnu Ego needs help, and Adankwo assumes that Nnaife has grown tired of her.
  • Adankwo sends "help" in the form of her sixteen-year-old daughter, Okpo. Nnaife pays thirty pounds for her bride price, ten pounds more than the usual bride price.
  • Nnaife rushes home, knowing if he stayed, he would have to borrow money from farmers, and that is something he won't stoop to do.
  • Nnu Ego doesn't bother hiding her disapproval of Nnaife's taking another wife. She refuses to share a room with this girl and all their children. She is expecting twins again.
  • Angry, she screams at her husband, asking where they're going to put all the kids.
  • Nnaife asks his friends to help him make peace with Nnu Ego. But Nwakusor agrees with Nnu Ego. Nwakusor asks Nnu Ego to give Nnaife time to find another place for Okpo. And he reminds Nnu Ego that Okpo can help her with all her children. Nwakusor reminds her how blessed she is with children and asks if her father would want her to behave this way.
  • Nnu Ego knows she has to honor her father. And she doesn't want her sons' wives to point out that their mother was always jealous when their father brought home a new wife.
  • Nnaife says they will look for larger and cheaper accommodations and Nnu Ego chides him.
  • Then Oshia decides he wants to go to a grammar school called Hussey College. Nnu Ego wants to know why he didn't win a scholarship, and Oshia says you have to be very clever to earn one of those. Nnu Ego wants to know why he isn't clever, and he says it's because he didn't have a peaceful childhood and had to work so hard.
  • Nnu Ego begins to wallow in self-pity. Everybody blames her for how hard life is. And to Oshia, his father is a war hero. All he sees is a nagging mother.
  • Nnu Ego prays to God that she dies in childbirth, rather than letting these children dash her hopes.
  • Nnaife tells Oshia that he will make sure that Oshia goes to Hussey. He will put all his money into that fund. He shows off the hundred pounds he has, and says it should pay for Oshia's college. The other children will wait until Oshia finishes.
  • Oshia is even prouder of his father. Nnu Ego knows that if she continues to make a stink about Okpo, her children and other people and everybody will talk badly about her. She suddenly realizes that her love for her children is her own chain of slavery. But maybe one day her children will help her.
  • That night, Nnu Ego gives birth to her second set of twins. Nnaife and Okpo deliver them. Two more girls – Nnaife is not happy.
  • Nnu Ego feels pensive about giving birth to another set of girl twins. All men cared about were having male children, to keep their name going. But weren't girls valuable, too? Didn't you have to have girls to bear those male sons?
  • She suddenly wonders why she desired all these children. She has them now, but how will she feed them? And when she dies, they'll expect her spirit to continue to provide for them. Her cares and worries will never be over. Even in death, she realizes, she's a prisoner.
  • The men make it seem as if a woman without sons is worth nothing. But why shouldn't we put our hope in our girls, she wonders? Until we women change the way the world works, she realizes, it will be a man's world.
  • The twins are given the names Obiageli ("she who has come to enjoy wealth") and Malachi ("you do not know what tomorrow will bring").

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