Marrying an oyibo woman has its advantages. First, anytime you go back home with your wife, to visit your loved ones back in naija, you get uncommon respect from the airport to your destination, everyone wants to say hello to your wife, everyone reverences the man who was able to get a “white babe”. Second, you are likely to become an automatic citizen of your wife’s country — naturalization by marriage, as they call it. But for Jolomi, after three years of his marriage to his oyibo, he was yet to see these benefits.
Each time Jolomi remembered his reasons for coming to France five years ago, he always laughed at himself. Like many Nigerians, rich or poor, he longed for “greener pastures” in the west. On coming to France, his main priority was to get a Masters degree, get a good job, and then naturalize and become a French Citizen. But as fate would have it, as they usually say, things did not go as planned. Three months into his Master’s programme, an unusual friendship with a Congolese, Patrice (a naturalized French citizen) made him drop out of school and start a partnership business, then six months later, he met Claudine.
The day he told his parents back home in Nigeria, about his intention to marry someone, a French woman, they called him everyday on the phone till his wedding day, trying to “put him back to his senses”. His mother used phrases like “divorcers”, “cry-cry”, “unbelievers” to describe the women of the west and Claudine – a lady she has never met. His father wondered if it was a “visa-marriage”. Had his son stooped so low and forgotten that he came from a family of the political class, where he was a former deputy governor and a one-time house of representative member? The only person in support of the relationship was his friend and business partner Patrice, but that was because he was just struck by Claudine’s beauty and felt that such a belle mademoiselle should not slip away from the hands of any sane man.
Three years after beating all the odds and marrying Claudine, Jolomi met a new struggle. Despite the fact he married a French national, he was denied citizenship, and even though he and Claudine had a son, his parents refused to acknowledge their marriage, but all these were nothing compared to the realties he was now facing when one marries a wife from yonda.
Like every typical Nigerian child, Jolomi grew up associating the cigarette with hooliganism and irresponsibility. But when he arrived in France, he saw that smoking was a fashion statement rather than a rebellious act. He observed that it was an activity enjoyed by responsible-looking people, business men, teenagers, and celebrities. And even his chain-smoking significant other, Claudine was not left out. The bed, the sofas and sometimes even their baby’s toys smelt of cigarette smoke. It was Claudine’s signature in the house.
Three years ago, when Jolomi ate pounded yam and banga soup at an African restaurant in Chateau Rouge, Paris, he did not know that it will be his last African meal. His marriage to Claudine had introduced him to array of French Cuisine he cannot understand. He knows he has lost a lot of weight since their marriage, all those vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables seem to be doing him no good, but how can he complain, after all you’re supposed to “do like the Romans when in Rome”…and also eat like them.
Even, Claudine’s show of affection in public seems to concern him. When he first arrived in France and saw teenagers kissing on the street, Jolomi was quick to condemn such “despicable” act. But today, he has to cope with Claudine snuggles in public places, and pretend to enjoy them.
Since his marriage to Claudine, Jolomi found himself getting lost in his thoughts, asking himself for how long he’ll keep up with this façade. How long will he cope with these differences? How long can a human being pretend? He knew had to keep up the act to prove to his parents that his marriage could work even without their support; he knew he had to keep up the act to prove to Patrice that he had the capacity to hold on to a gorgeous lady, and he knew he had to prove to Claudine that when he said he loved her despite all the opposition from family, he meant it. But still, how long will he keep up this appearance, is love stronger than culture?
On his third wedding anniversary, things got weird. His friend, Patrice, brought a “special gift” for Claudine and him. This special gift was an invitation to take part in a popular television show for couples. In this show, couples were asked questions about how well they know each other, and the winning couples carts away €1 million. The way Patrice got the ticket for this show no one knew, but for someone who claimed to know all the important people in France including top producers of national television shows, no one dared to ask further.
Days before the taping of the show, Jolomi watched as Claudine worked, ate, talked and even slept with excitement. She called friends and family telling them that she and her mari will be appearing on National TV. For sure, many of their friends will be watching that day. So, unsurprisingly, on the day of the show’s taping, a large company of friends accompanied them to the studio.
The journey to the studio was a long one for Jolomi; he kept thinking, as he felt the show will expose his façade and his inability to integrate with the French Culture. He imagined how tough the questions would be, how he will mumble helplessly, and maybe eventually snap out in anger. He imagined he’ll be asked Claudine’s favourite brand of cigarette and he will not know, be asked his favourite French dish and he’ll not have one. He wished there were better ways to be exposed rather than on National TV, how he hated Patrice for giving this “special gift”.
There were bright lights, huge cameras and attendants carrying all kinds of gadgets. It was twenty minutes before the taping of the show, and Claudine and Jolomi were in the studio, on stage, ready. The multitude of friends who followed them were seated in the live audience section, waving and smiling. Also vying for the €1 million prize were four couples: three were French, and one a middle-aged francophone couple. The ambiance of the whole studio made Jolomi nervous sick, the extra-ordinary bright lights, excited audience and even the competitors. Afraid that he will pass out from his nervousness, he excused himself to the toilet.
Sitting on the toilets’ WC, both hands on his head, Jolomi pondered a possible way of escape. Should he just run out of the complex? Or should he fake sickness? He did not understand why he had to go through all these? Nights before the show, he could not sleep, kept tossing and turning, wondering if he should tell Claudine about his inner struggles before she discovered on national television. All those sleepless nights seem to take a toll on him, his eyes were red, his palms sweaty. So in a desperate moment he muttered a prayer for help.
If God had answered his prayer audibly, he would have told him that it is Claudine and he that will win the competition and grab the €1 million prize that day. He would have told him that after years of struggling to integrate in France, Claudine and he will move back to Nigeria where they’ll start a new life. He would have told him that Claudine and he will open the eyes of his family in Nigeria, that no matter how different cultures may be they could still leave together. He would have told him that in fifteen years time, when the years of chain smoking took its toll, it was he who stood by Claudine’s side till she died of lung cancer.
But at that moment of uncertainty, when no audible voice seemed to answer his prayer, and rescue him from his dilemma, he got up from the WC, left the toilet, and walked back to the studio.