Study Guide

The Joys of Motherhood Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

The Rich and the Poor

  • It's a wet July day in 1939 and Nnaife is doing the Meers' washing. He hears Mrs. Meers approaching, but she talks to Ubani first. Nnaife hears Ubani "grunting, much like an angry pig" (8.3) so whatever she's saying must be bad news.
  • As Mrs. Meers approaches from behind, Nnaife puts on a show for her, whistling cheerfully.
  • Mrs. Meers can't pronounce his name right, a fact that always bothers Nnaife, though he doesn't pronounce her name right either. But he thinks whites, who have wealth and power, should do better than he does as a poor black servant.
  • Mrs. Meers explains that she and Mr. Meers are going home. Nnaife's heart sinks. When they go home, there is no paycheck. He asks if they're going on leave, trying to calculate how long they'd be gone and how long he'd be without a paycheck. But she says that England and Germany are fighting and that means they'll go back in another two weeks. That's all she says.
  • Dr. Meers tells his servants that they're welcome to stay in the servants' quarters until the new master comes. He gives Nnaife a good reference, so he can find a new job.
  • Nnu Ego worries, saying that even if he has that reference, he needs to find a new master, and the only Europeans that have been around have been soldiers. Are they the new masters?
  • Nnaife tells her he doesn't know but possibly.
  • Nnu Ego worries about how they'll send Oshia to school.
  • Nnaife mocks her, mentioning how she was never pleased with the work he did but it was what kept them alive.
  • Nnu Ego says he should forget her reaction when she first arrived. She argues that her reaction is the same reaction every woman has when coming to Lagos.
  • But Nnaife just keeps laughing at her.
  • Nnu Ego suggests she takes part of their income to buy cigarettes and matches and start her petty trading again. It wouldn't be much but it might keep them fed until a new master came.
  • Nnaife asks her if she wants to lose Oshia the way she lost Ngozi.
  • Nnu Ego says it's not the same. Oshia is old enough to talk. She can fix their meal before she leaves, and all Nnaife needs to do is watch Oshia. Nnaife wants to know what he should do if the new master comes tomorrow. Nnu Ego says they'll deal with the new master when he comes but meanwhile they need a job.
  • Nnaife says that Ubani and Cordelia seem content to wait, but Nnu Ego points out that they really don't know if Ubani is out looking for another job or not.
  • Weeks passed and no new master. Nnaife didn't like watching after Oshia, so sometimes Nnu Ego took him with her to the market.
  • One night, while Ubani and Nnaife talk in one room, Cordelia and Nnu Ego talk together in the shared kitchen. She tells Nnu Ego that they will be leaving. Ubani has found a job with the railways.
  • Nnu Ego says Ubani was wise to find something, and she doesn't understand why Nnaife doesn't do the same. Cordelia says that Nnaife thinks he can rely on Nnu Ego, who is good at trading. She, Cordelia, doesn't have those skills.
  • Nnaife looks sad when Nnu Ego comes back, and it's obvious Ubani has told him about his new job. But he doesn't say anything and Nnu Ego knows better than to ask.
  • Finally, he mentions that he could get a good job in the army. Nnu Ego says that it's a disgrace for a woman from Ibuza to share a bed with a soldier. She tells him that he makes no effort to find a job. Nnaife asks what she thinks he does all day here except think about finding a new job.
  • They are the only family left in the compound.
  • Nnu Ego wakes up early and tells Nnaife she's leaving to try to get cigarettes from sailors on the black market. Nnaife doesn't like that she does that – it's illegal – but what can he say? Her trade is what feeds them.
  • She walks to the docks, hoping she'll be lucky, but the only thing there are cartons of soaked cigarettes. It is better than nothing, and very cheap, so she buys it and races home. With the money she can make, she'll be able to feed her family for a month.
  • At home, Oshia greets her with giddiness. They've found a guitar in the old house and Nnaife is busy strumming it.
  • Nnu Ego tells him she hopes this won't prevent him for looking for a job, but he notices all the cigarettes and counters that she'll be able to take care of them for awhile with those.
  • She replies that she will be able to take care of the family for a time, but adds that she's pregnant and doesn't feel well. She says that it's time for Nnaife to step up and do something.
  • Nnaife is frustrated and asks what's wrong with her chi. When Nnu Ego wanted children desperately, she couldn't get them. Now that they can't afford another child, she's pregnant. He asks if Nnu Ego wants to leave him and go back to her father.
  • Nnu Ego tells him he knows she can't do that. She wants him to go find a job.
  • They start to fight but stop when Oshia screams.
  • Nnaife leaves, shouting that he won't be back until he finds a job, and if he can't find a job, he'll join the army.
  • Nnu Ego counters that all she wants is for him to look.
  • Nnaife heads to the European residences at Ikoyi, to see if there's work for him. But there's nothing. He begins to follow some European men playing golf, until one of them asks if there's anything they can do for him before they call the police. Nnaife tells them he's just looking for work and shows them Dr. Meers's reference letter.
  • The men discuss him, right in front of him. One says he doesn't like the way Nnaife looks, while another says he's just hungry, and another says he can't be hungry to look at his stomach, and yet another claims that the stomach comes from drinking too much palm wine.
  • Finally, they tell him that he can come with them to Fernando Po in the morning and they'll work for him.
  • They give Nnaife money for fetching their golf balls and Nnaife heads home rejoicing.
  • Nnu Ego is ill and hasn't been able to cook all day. She doesn't like the idea of Nnaife going away, but they decide it's for the best.
  • At least now Nnu Ego will only have two mouths to feed, not three. But Nnu Ego points out that he's also taking away her only source of help.
  • This puffs Nnaife up with pride to hear that he helps her.
  • Nnu Ego worries all night and wakes up in the morning to find that Nnaife gone. She prays that Fernando Po will treat him well.
  • Soldiers arrive and take over the compound, forcing Nnu Ego to look for other accommodations. Oshia is worried, wondering how his father will find them when he comes back, but there's no choice.
  • Nnu Ego finds a small room in Little Road with a Yoruba landlord. The landlord wants to know where her husband is because he doesn't want any funny business with a single woman.
  • Nnu Ego tells him about their troubles, and he feels sorry for her even though he doesn't like Ibos. Eventually the landlord lets them rent the room.
  • Cordelia and Ubani help Nnu Ego and Oshia move to the new place.
  • Even though the circumstances are less than ideal, Nnu Ego says she is happy to be living near people again. Cordelia agrees. Life is lonely on white men's compounds, because no one talks to you and you have to be very quiet.
  • As the days pass, Nnu Ego realizes that she's going to have her baby before Nnaife returns. Her friend Ato tells her that the war meant that people like Nnaife, who are working on ships, won't come home for a while.
  • Nnu wants to know whose side they are on, the Germans, the Japanese, or the British?
  • Ato thinks they're on the British side because the British own Nigeria.
  • Nnu Ego wants to know if the British own Ibuza.
  • But Ato doesn't know.
  • She is at home when Oshia comes in crying. Somebody has been teasing him. Nnu Ego looks at his body, at his distended stomach and sees that it's clear he doesn't have enough to eat.
  • She asks him what the matter is, and Oshia tells him that the landlord's people told him to go away. They wouldn't let him eat at their sarah, an unofficial party where the food is free.
  • You can't force people to invite you to things, Nnu Ego tells him, but she's sorry about it because she knows Oshia would get food there. But she knows why he wasn't invited: the other children would look neat and clean and well dressed. Oshia looked like a tramp.
  • Nnu Ego tries to comfort him, saying that someday, he'll go to school like everybody else, and he'll be the most handsome student of all.
  • Oshia is comforted by the thought that he's so handsome. If his mother says it, it must be true.

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