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A tragic story about the entrapment of a woman in a society that places value on a woman only after she begets children for the propagation of her husband's lineage.
Copyright © 1982 Buchi Emecheta.
All rights reserved.
The New Woman
The new lecturer was very eloquent in her talk of reform — in what she would like to see done and in what she would like to see undone in the university in particular and in Nigeria in general. This, to the students of this new university of Calabar, a university which because of its newness attracted many, many weird lecturers was nothing new. There was for instance that funny law person who came a few years back and insisted on Nigerian lawyers doing away with what he called 'ridiculous wigs'. Wigs which to the Nigerian law student were the mark of their achievement. So the students, especially the fourth years had seen and heard it all before. What was new about this one was that she was a woman!
Not that the well-informed female was a new phenomenon in a country like Nigeria, in the early nineteen eighties, but the unusual thing about this one was that she was outspoken, almost as outspoken as the village women whose daughters had been to the UK and became been-tos and were now so perfect in hypocrisy. These been-tos had learnt to pretend to be ignorant as this was the only way they could get husbands, the only way they could survive in their romanticised ideas of femaleness. They spent so much of their time being women, that they lost sight of what their education was all about. Ete Kamba remembered a member of staff in the university who was rather sly and knew how to get her way usually began by introducing her talk with 'since I am not the pushful type' — she incidently was the highest paid black female lecturer on campus, yet she was not the pushful type. The male students used to joke and say, 'I wonder what would happen if she were the pushful type'. But this new Miss Bulewao, did not sound pushful, rather the self confident type. So sure of herself, so sure of her subject. Well she had written over six books on her subject, so she had reasons to be sure. But to the boys she was a marvel, and to Ete Kamba he wished she were a man!
The other day when she came in to give one of her early lectures, the evening was mercifully cool, so the windows of lecture room 104 were all opened.
"Well this is cool enough for our been-to madam," remarked Esang.
The students had laughed. They looked around them and found that not only was the room cool, but that they were thirty or so students, less than they used to have for other courses.
"Have you noticed boys, that there is no single female in this class and that we are so few in number even though almost the whole campus knew of Miss Bulewao's appointment."
"We who are here are geniuses, budding geniuses," Isa boasted. "Others are frightened to come near her, in case they don't make it as writers."
"Hmmm, I don't know about that, all I know is that fools rush in where ..." Ete Kamba began.
"Oh, for God' sake, Ete Kamba, you mean girls on this campus are angels? Oh my God ..." Esang broke in, holding his hands up in mock supplication. "Oh my God," he wailed again.
The whole class collapsed in laughter and the talk about campus girls disintegrated into personal bickerings in uncouth language, punctuated by derisive uneasy laughter. Some of the boys looked at Ete Kamba, rather uneasily, knowing that his case was a classic example. He pretended not to see the pointing fingers and the knowing nods. His particular case was well known on campus.
When Miss Bulewao entered with her masculine brief case and quiet tread, the students were too full of their woes to see her. She was a very insignificant looking female — not the type the boys had imagined a writer to be. She was so ordinary, more like any mum, any farmer's wife. She stood there, looking at them, waiting for them to be quiet.
Soon an uneasy silence fell, as her presence became noticed. Some boys were really so worked up in their arguments, that their sentences hung in mid air, when they suddenly turned and saw her standing there.
She smiled broadly and said, "good evening, boys."
They returned her greeting and she went on with her subject on Creative Writing. Most of the students were not unaware of the fact that with a subject like this, the work depended on themselves, but many would like to hear it said from the mouth of somebody who had actually made it in that field not only in Nigeria, but abroad. In fact Miss Bulewao was better known abroad than in her own country.
She was expanding on 'Comparative Literature in Africa' when the ceiling fan started to hiccough. The boys looked at each other and Ete Kamba could see Effiong lifting his shoulders and giving a shrug of despair. They knew what was going on, they knew what would happen soon. But the new lecturer did not. She carried on talking her subject.
NEPA people were at it again. NEPA people controlled the life style of many people in Nigeria. They gave and took away electricity lights whenever they felt like it. They always gave some unheard of excuses like the cables being overloaded, or that they were doing some repairs. Of course it was pointless trying to inform the rest of the population before the cuts, since there were so many in a typical day. And in a country where the telephone system was more of a decorative instrument than a functional one, warning the students for instance was thought out of this world. Most of the rich in the country however did not have to feel this. They had built in generators into their lighting systems. Many even had automatic ones. Once NEPA took the light away, the generators took over. That was all right for the rich. Some of the important buildings in the University where the titled people worked, had generators as well, but the lecture halls, where students like Ete Kamba and his colleagues had to take their instructions, were not among the privileged buildings.
Ete Kamba suspected that most of these leaders feared the young ones. They therefore would see to it that they suffered what they had suffered when they were at different universities — those of them that ever saw the inside of a university that was.
The hiccoughing progressed to coughing and this was followed by a whizzing sound and the dimming of the light. Then the light fizzed out completely, plunging the room into sudden darkness. They were all aware of what was coming, yet its suddeness was embarrassing to all. They felt embarrassed for Nigeria and they felt embarrassed for this new lady, who seemed so immune to all the changes around her.
There was the usual, 'ah, NEPA,' from all the boys. They noticed that she was desperately trying to joke about it, yet her nervousness permeated through. The fact that she was not used to this kind of darkness was apparent, try as she would to hide it. 'Sorry madam,' some of the boys managed to say.
Ete Kamba got up, packed his loose sheets and at the same time groped for the torch he had left by the side of the metal desk, and switched it on.
"Oh that is very kind of you, thank you so much," the madam said. "And ... em, would you start your creative work by writing me an imaginary story of how you would like your ideal Nigeria to be. You realise, I hope that in subjects of this kind most of the work depends on you. If you practise writing hard enough, you may make it. But speaking personally I think that any student of this department should know how to write creatively."
They all thanked her and began to file out. They were used to the pitch African darkness of Calabar. One minute it was bright, the next dark. They were used to the uneveness of their compound surrounds — pot holes here, open gutters there, a dangerous puddle at the other end. She however was not, this plump woman, who with her books had almost transformed herself into a superhuman being. But with the mere unreliability of the Nigerian power system, her vulnerability was expressed.
"I will lead the way, madam," Ete Kamba volunteered. He lighted her way with his torch over uneven pavements, pot holes and swampy grass. Outside the university, he waited with her, until a taxi was hailed to take her back to her hotel at the Vetas Guest House in the main part of Calabar. This was because she was new, and had not yet been given her own accommodation.
She had thanked him again as she glided into the cab. Ete Kamba noticed that though she was not skinny, and though she was not the type of the New Woman they had been taught to regard as beautiful, she knew how to handle herself together.
He stood there enjoying the feel of importance, the feeling that for a few minutes he had had to protect the most talked about female writer in Nigeria, and maybe in the whole of Africa. As her cab sped into the dark night, he picked his way back to his room on campus in Malabor. He was half way through the open space that separated the lecture halls from the students' hostels when he realised that his torchlight was still on. He quickly switched it off mumbling, "oh dear, what a waste." He had thought that the battery in the torchlight would see him through the semester. But now with this new lady, and with NEPA's determination to make student's life as miserable as possible he doubted it very much. Still it was worth it, to be near such a creative Writer!
Excerpted from Double Yoke by Buchi Emecheta. Copyright © 1982 by Buchi Emecheta. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.