Apr/May 2010  •   Fiction


by Jill Okpalugo-Nwajiaku

Shakespeare said it first: "...all that glitters is not gold." Then Mama said it after I launched out and revealed my engagement with Chidi. And that Sunday, sitting on the sagged, coffee-colored sofas facing themselves, we prayed over the small plate of jellof rice before she summed up her feelings in these words:

"Adaobi, be wary of the likes of Chidi, who harbor sordid plans to pull you overboard. They always come with sugared tongues and colorless insides."

Circling round the colorful living room, I watched her shine like polished silver bracelets as she said there was a part of her in us—a tiny piece she liked better than buttered bread because it wasn't selfish or gullible. The true motive behind the remark is obvious. In my younger years, I had been fleeceable and in love—in pseudo-heaven. Maybe because God gave me everything good in Mama except her evergreen sense of humor, and on the days I lacked comedy, I would wonder if my frowns angered her more than the son I bore for my candy-tongued lover Chidi.

"If he loves you, why did he flee when you were a thin layer of paint?" she asked, picking fried red tomatoes with a fork. "His return looks fishy. Can't you go for an ideal man this time?"

Stuffed with reflection, angered by the singularity of her memory and showy display of cleverness, I relived the months I made nasty history in our neighborhood. Yet that year, I passed the University Matriculation Exams fondly called UME and went to the University as planned. There, I had a moment of truth, a breakthrough. I was rotting away in the community secondary school since it was a lax rope without a taxing study environment and the gusto needed to make me explode. Today, although I am an ant in the globe of the gifted, I graduated cum laude at the University of Nigeria at twenty-one: a story too hard to believe, you would say.

The news of my success circulated the faculty like fanned air. They came for me. I refused to belong to a profession that creates great people and yet restricts one from being great. The only pseudo-heaven reserved for faculties is to call them professors, and my beloved comrade, Ogudu, often joked to be called a professor is akin to being a bird with beautiful feathers. Within is a common anatomy.

"Ideal men only exist in pseudo-heaven or the spiritual realm," I said, studying Mama's skinny chiffon blouse, the color of greening trees. She smiled her displeasure and rolled Junior's ball across the neatly tiled floor into the passageway—a literal translation of her surprise.

Once the rain broke through the pregnant clouds, I rose and left. And when Mama called me back, I broke into a run.