Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

{EN} Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

1. “Papa was staring pointedly at Jaja. “Jaja, have you not shared a drink with us, gbo? Have you no words in your mouth?” he asked, entirely in Igbo. A bad sign. He hardly spoke Igbo, and although Jaja and I spoke it with Mama at home, he did not like us to speak it in public. We had to sound civilized in public, he told us; we had to speak English. Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, said once that Papa was too much of a colonial product. She had said this about Papa in a mild, forgiving way, as if it were not Papa’s fault, as one would talk about a person who was shouting gibberish from a severe case of malaria.”

2. “Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do. But my memories did not start at Nsukka.”

3. ““God is faithful. You know after you came and I had the miscarriages, the villagers started to whisper. The members of our umunna even sent people to your father to urge him to have children with someone else. So many people had willing daughters, and many of them were university graduates, too. They might have borne many sons and taken over our home and driven us out, like Mr. Ezendu’s second wife did. But your father stayed with me, with us.””

4. “We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”

5. “But I knew Papa would not be proud. He had often told Jaja and me that he did not spend so much money on Daughters of the Immaculate Heart and St. Nicholas to have us let other children come first. Nobody had spent money on his own schooling, especially not his Godless father, our Papa-Nnukwu, yet he had always come first. I wanted to make Papa proud, to do as well as he had done. I needed him to touch the back of my neck and tell me that I was fulfilling God’s purpose. I needed him to hug me close and say that to whom much is given, much is also expected. I needed him to smile at me, in that way that lit up his face, that warmed something inside me. But I had come second. I was stained by failure.”

6. “Why do you think I work so hard to give you and Jaja the best? You have to do something with all these privileges. Because God has given you much, he expects much from you. He expects perfection. I didn’t have a father who sent me to the best schools. My father spent his time worshiping gods of wood and stone. I would be nothing today but for the priests and sisters at the mission. I was a houseboy for the parish priest for two years. Yes, a houseboy. Nobody dropped me off at school. I walked eight miles every day to Nimo until I finished elementary school. I was a gardener for the priests while I attended St. Gregory’s Secondary School.”

7. “I was not surprised when Chinwe walked past me to the girl at the next desk and repeated herself, only with a different nickname that she had thought up. Chinwe had never spoken to me, not even when we were placed in the same agricultural science group to collect weeds for an album. The girls flocked around her desk during short break, their laughter ringing out often. Their hairstyles were usually exact copies of hers.”

8. “Just like running,” I said, and wondered if I would count that as a lie when I made confession next Saturday, if I would add it to the lie about not having heard Mother Lucy the first time. Kevin always had the Peugeot 505 parked at the school gates right after the bells rang. Kevin had many other chores to do for Papa and I was not allowed to keep him waiting, so I always dashed out of my last class. Dashed, as though I were running the 200-meters race at the interhouse sports competition. Once, Kevin told Papa I took a few minutes longer, and Papa slapped my left and right cheeks at the same time, so his huge palms left parallel marks on my face and ringing in my ears for days.”

9. “They are always so quiet,” he said, turning to Papa. “So quiet.” “They are not like those loud children people are raising these days, with no home training and no fear of God,” Papa said, and I was certain that it was pride that stretched Papa’s lips and lightened his eyes. “Imagine what the Standard would be if we were all quiet.” It was a joke. Ade Coker was laughing; so was his wife, Yewanda. But Papa did not laugh. Jaja and I turned and went back upstairs, silently.”

10. “You will stay not longer than fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes.” “Yes, Papa.” We had heard this every Christmas for the past few years, ever since we had started to visit Papa-Nnukwu. Papa-Nnukwu had called an umunna meeting to complain to the extended family that he did not know his grandchildren and that we did not know him. Papa-Nnukwu had told Jaja and me this, as Papa did not tell us such things. Papa-Nnukwu had told the umunna how Papa had offered to build him a house, buy him a car, and hire him a driver, as long as he converted and threw away the chi in the thatch shrine in his yard. Papa-Nnukwu laughed and said he simply wanted to see his grandchildren when he could. He would not throw away his chi; he had already told Papa this many times. The members of our umunna sided with Papa, they always did, but they urged him to let us visit Papa-Nnukwu, to greet him, because every man who was old enough to be called grandfather deserved to be greeted by his grandchildren. Papa himself never greeted Papa-Nnukwu, never visited him, but he sent slim wads of naira through Kevin or through one of our umunna members, slimmer wads than he gave Kevin as a Christmas bonus.”

11. “Jaja nudged me. But I did not want to leave; I wanted to stay so that if the fufu clung to Papa-Nnukwu’s throat and choked him, I could run and get him water. I did not know where the water was, though. Jaja nudged me again and I still could not get up. The bench held me back, sucked me in. I watched a gray rooster walk into the shrine at the corner of the yard, where PapaNnukwu’s god was, where Papa said Jaja and I were never to go near.”

12. “”

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