Rosie closed her eyes as a few tear drops glided down each cheek from the edge of her eyes. The words she had just heard crushed her from within. They resounded in her head like someone had placed them on repeat. Her heart could not bear the questions racing through her mind…
Have I just been denied my dreams?
Will I go through life unfulfilled?
Do I deserve to be unequally treated?
Is it wrong to be female?
The sound of her father’s voice remained clear and stern. This was a man who loved her. One whose job was to protect her and help her achieve her dreams. These very dreams he crushed as the words left his lips… “I will NOT educate a female child!”
Why couldn’t he look past her gender? Why didn’t he see she was an individual whose passion was to read? She loved the formal educational system and aspired to be a professor someday. It meant everything to her and she wasn’t about to give up so easily.
“Please, father” she begged, as the tears were slowly becoming a stream.
“Enough!!!” Her father cut her off abruptly.
“You will not speak of this again.” He continued. “Take your place as a woman and stop this incessant rambling. You will end up in a man’s kitchen anyway… I have no intention of wasting money on the education of a female child.”
At this point it was clear there was little or nothing she could say or do to sway his decision. She felt helpless and had a particular distaste for the word ‘kitchen’.
Of her father’s five children, she was the only female. Being a middle child, she had watched her older and younger brothers get sent off to school. They had the right to pursue their dreams simply because they were male. This thought left a burning sensation as it pierced through her heart. The air around her suddenly became sickening. She looked over at her father who was sitting on a couch, reading a newspaper. He was truly done with their conversation… if she could call it that. She walked into her room and shut the door behind her as the only place she could find solace was sleep.
The sound of the school bell came from a distance and with a smile on her face, Rosie quickened her pace to get there before the gates got closed. When she eventually walked through the gates, joy enveloped her essence. This was school, the one place on earth she felt she belonged. She could hardly contain herself as she dashed towards a classroom by the left wing of the building which had the tag “Class One” above the door. Just as she was about to get in, she heard someone scream her name from behind.
“Rosie!!!” The sound of her mother’s voice jolted her back to reality.
“It is time to go to the market.” Her mother said, without paying much attention to her. “You know better than to be asleep at this time of the day!”
“I’m sorry mama.” She responded, sleepy eyed.
“Can I get five more minutes of sleep please?” She asked.
“Do you think I’m here to joke with you?” As her mother marched angrily towards her, she jolted out of bed in a bid to get away from her. In that second, it struck her. All she needed was her own decisive action. She had a plan and she was determined to go through with it.
Augustine Chife walked into Efetobore’s living room as he exchanged greetings with his friend. The two men shook hands and laughed at intervals, taking turns to chant each others’ praises. It was common practice in the Emevor community of Delta State Nigeria, for men to greet each other in this manner. Efetobore motioned his friend to the large settee directly facing the black and white television that was the only source of entertainment in the room. Just before taking his seat, Augustine pulled a stool close to the settee and placed a black nylon bag containing some drinks on top the stool.
“Our people say… ‘If you see a toad in the afternoon, it is either pursuing something or something is pursuing it'” Efetobore stated, as he glanced at his friend with a hint of suspicion in his eyes. Augustine laughed heartily as he relaxed into the sofa.
“You have always been a wise man.” He responded.
“And yes. As you must have guessed by now, I indeed have an agenda.”
“Very well… Very well… my good friend. Before you enlighten me on this agenda of yours, let us take a few drinks as it is customary to welcome friends into your home with drinks.”
“Rosie!!!” Efetobore yelled at the top of his voice. “Serve drinks to my guest.”
Shortly after, Rosie walked into the living room and placed a tray of palm wine with two glass cups on the table. She genuflected to greet Augustine who was a little older than her father, before exiting the living room.
“Now that you have been welcomed, out with this agenda of yours.” Efetobore urged his friend.
“Very well then.” Augustine cleared his throat before continuing.
“You are well aware that I am a titled man. As such, it is a thing of pride for me to display my affluence with the number of wives I marry.”
“Hmmm…” Efetobore nodded in agreement.
“I will like to take your daughter, Rosie as my fourth wife.”
“This is fantastic news!” Efetobore responded with a broad smile on his face.
He sprang to his feet like a toad leaping off a surface, and chanted some more praises at Augustine before proceeding to shake his friend’s hand.
“I am indeed honoured to have a man of your caliber as an in-law. I will get Rosie informed immediately and we will start preparations for the real event.”
“As it is customary to approach the father of one’s wife to be with drinks, I have brought these to make my intentions known to you.” Augustine said. He picked up the black nylon bag from the stool and handed it to his friend.
“I will take my leave now.”
“Go well my friend.” Efetobore said, as they walked together to the door exiting the living room.
“You will hear from me shortly.”
Rosie’s father called out to her as he walked back into the living room. That was the name he called her whenever he was happy with her. As soon as she stepped into the living room, he exclaimed.
“You are going to marry my friend Augustine! He has just asked for your hand in marriage.”
“God forbid!” She retorted.
“Watch your tongue, young lady.” he fired back. “I have made my decision and it is final.”
“Please, father…” The tears began to flow freely down her cheeks.
“I do not want to be married now. I want to go to school and become a professor…”
She had barely finished that sentence when he struck her across the face in what Nigerians refer to as a “dirty slap”. The sharp pain that followed stopped her from speaking any words for the next thirty seconds.
“You will not question my authority in this house.” Efetobore continued. His voice was several decibels louder than what was regarded as the normal conversational tone in those parts.
“Some of your mates already have two children and are fulfilling their role in life which is to cater to their husbands. You stand here and spill this nonsense about getting an education. How many girls in this village do you see going to school? Augustine is a titled man and I have given him my word. No child of mine will embarrass me like that! What did I say?” He barked.
“That I will not embarrass you.” She managed to mumble amidst tears.
The words stung bike a bee sting and Rosie could do nothing as he stormed out of the living room.
“Mama!” Rosie cried as she ran towards her mother’s room.
“What is it?” Her mother asked.
Still crying profusely, she narrated the events that had just transpired. Angela had a knowing smile on her face. She shook her head a few times before motioning to her daughter to come close to her.
“Listen to me, my child.” She said, placing her hand on Rosie’s back and rubbing it to calm her down.
“As women, it is our place to get married and tend to our families.”
“Mama… you know that I’ve always wanted to be a professor.” Rosie said amidst sniffing.
“How am I going to do that if I marry Mr. Chife now? He has three wives already, mama.”
Her mother took her face in her hands as she spoke.
“Your father has another wife, my darling. This has not stopped us from living together as one happy family. Never forget this. You are not a man and as such your dreams should be limited to the kitchen.”
If only she could erase that word from existence! She quickly brushed the thought aside and focused on her other plan.
“Please mama.” She said. “Send me to school if father will not.”
Her mother smiled.
“You truly are naive, Rosie. Even if I wanted to do that, I can’t. I don’t have any money of my own.”
“This is exactly why I don’t want to remain uneducated, mama!” Rosie cried.
“I want to be able to give my female children an education if their father refuses.”
“Shut up!” Angela became sterner.
“This nonsense talk is what makes me want to ship you off to Chife’s house as soon as possible. Maybe you will finally accept the truth there. There is no place for women in the world!”
Rosie’s heart sank as she heard her mother’s version of reality.
“This will never be me.” She thought to herself.
She didn’t say anything further. It was clear she had met a brick wall with this one. Placing the back of her palm to her face, she wiped off her tears and walked into her room.