Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspiratorthat is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job's tenuous balancing act.
Julie Iromuanya has short stories and novel excerpts appearing or forthcoming in the Kenyon Review, Passages North, the Cream City Review, and the Tampa Review, among other journals. She is a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Mr. and Mrs. Doctor is her first novel.
|Publisher:||Coffee House Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Julie Iromuanya is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor (Coffee House Press), a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, the Etisalat Prize for Literature (now 9 Mobile Prize for Literature), and the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Debut Fiction. Her scholarly-critical work most recently appears in Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism and is forthcoming in Callaloo: A Journal of African American Arts and Letters and Afropolitan Literature as World Literature (Bloomsbury Publishing). She was the inaugural Herbert W. Martin Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Dayton. She has also been a Jane Tinkham Broughton Fellow in Fiction at Bread Loaf Writers Conference, a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers Conference, a Bread Loaf Bakeless/Camargo France Fellow, a Brown Foundation Fellow at the Dora Maar House, a Jan Michalski Fellow at “The Treehouses,” and the Eternal Vada Fellow at Sangam House. Her work has also been supported by fellowships and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, the Ragdale Foundation, Villa Lena, and Villa Ruffieux. Iromuanya earned her B.A. at the University of Central Florida and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she was a Presidential Fellow and award-winning teacher. She is an assistant professor in the creative writing MFA program at the University of Arizona. She is at work on a second novel, A Season of Light.
Read an Excerpt
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor
By Julie Iromuanya
COFFEE HOUSE PRESSCopyright © 2015 Julie Iromuanya
All rights reserved.
EVERYTHING JOB OGBONNAYA KNEW ABOUT SEX HE LEARNED FROM American pornography. So on their first unchaperoned meeting, Job rushed his new wife, splitting her thin body against the papered wall of their lavish honeymoon suite at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Job tore at her lacy pink panties and only released his lips from her face to haltingly shout, "You-are-the-dirty-slut-girl!"
Ifi punched his gut with the sharp heel of her sandal. He crumpled. Together they landed on the floor in a tangled heap, legs splayed in every direction.
"You are ugly," she said, glaring at him. Potato-sack head. Stout shoulders. Hog's gut. Bushy, curling eyebrows. Thick glasses pushed into the lips of his nose. "Eh? And now a beast? I married a beast. Hey!" She wound up her fist and struck him squarely on an ear.
Job clutched his throbbing ear. For a moment, he struggled to unwind the underwear from his wrists before handing them back to her.
When Ifi attempted to put them on, the ripped elastic band left the underwear lopsided on her hips. "You see what you have done, oh?" She thought of the time and care she and Aunty had put into her appearance for this day — the matching underwear set, the hours cooking her hair in an egg-smelling relaxer and then curling it; her lipstick and eyeliner were now a streaky veneer finish on her face.
A solid fist banged at the door. Ifi disappeared into the bathroom, clutching at the panties. When Job opened the door, a man in a too-tight suit stared up at him with liquid eyes.
"Is everything fine, sah?" The man took in Job's appearance — his trousers with the zipper open and belt dangling, his face prickling with beads of sweat, his slack, bare chest. A smile gradually spread over his face.
Job cleared his throat and heard his father's voice in his ears. "What is this? You have come to disturb me on the day of my honeymoon with this nonsense?"
"No, sah, my apologies, sah," the man said.
Job and the man stood in the doorway, awaiting the next line in the script. Finally Job gently let the door close on the man's teasing grin.
He turned back to Ifi, who now sat on the bed with her legs crossed, her face turned away from him. He positioned himself so that his body was turned away from hers too, then gradually he made his way toward her. Still she remained unmoved. His hand snaked toward her bare, brown thigh. Her skin gleamed, shiny. Just before he touched her, his hand dropped short. He thought of her words. She had looked prettier in the photographs, even light skinned — not this tall, skinny thing with no buttocks. She was lucky a man like Job Ogbonnaya would even consider her appropriate for marriage. Although Job's life had been bare in America, he had never convinced himself that what he felt was loneliness.
She looked tossed apart to him, like the two legs of the goat his grandparents had butchered in honor of the engagement. On the day of the celebration, Job had stood back warily as the butcher knocked the goat unconscious before they pulled its insides apart and prepared it for roasting. He'd always loved goat meat, so much so that as a child he'd earned the nickname onye ohi, thief, from his mother and sisters, because he would always let his hand slip into the large pot and steal bits of meat as it cooked. Still, he'd wanted no part of the killing.
"I can give you back to your people," Job said.
Ifi turned a furious glare on him, one eye widening. Aunty and Uncle would be angry with her. After all, they had found her a doctor husband who lived in America. He had even promised to send her to an American university, so that she could be a nurse in his clinic. Aunty would say, How can you, an orphan, be so ungrateful? Aunty would say that all their hard work in raising her since her parents died had been in vain. Still, Ifi could not take this. She was nearly thirty, almost a decade older than he believed, not a child.
She would find her own way to her dreams without him. "I will go," she said. Their bags were open on the floor of the hotel room. Ifi began, indiscriminately, to dump article after article of clothing into her suitcase. Job saw his tan slacks disappearing into the bag. "That belongs to me," he said.
As if in rewind, Ifi flung clothes out of the bag. "It belongs to you!" she said. "It belongs to you!" Job ducked, barely missing the flying clothes.
"Ifi," he started. Then, clumsily, he added, "Darling." Although she didn't turn back, she stopped flinging objects from the bag. He thought of his virgin wife tensed against the wall and wondered. Surely she had been schooled in the responsibilities that came with marriage. But perhaps she hadn't. No one had explained it to him. He had been a boy of nineteen when he first came to America all those years ago.
Job sifted through his bags until, from far beneath the clothes and shoes, he produced a faded, well-worn magazine. He slid the magazine across the bed to Ifi and flipped it open.
It was a simple enough story. Page one: the doctor and the patient. The caption read, "Doctor, it hurts here," followed by, "Let me examine you."
Ifi flipped the page. The doctor's milky buttocks stared back at her. The patient had her arms and head back and was chortling wildly.
"What is this?" Ifi exclaimed. Was this how Americans paid for medicine? She covered her eyes, but couldn't help peeking through her fingers. She had been with one man before, but it was over in seconds, and she'd never actually seen him completely disrobed.
Suddenly there was a flickering of lights, a gasp, and the room filled with darkness. They waited for the generator to click on, Ifi curious to turn the page, and Job expecting to consummate the marriage without further complication. When the generator did not turn on, Job instead suggested that they leave the room for a meal.
* * *
They ate at an outdoor restaurant, partially shaded from the elements by skinny, frayed umbrellas. Fela Kuti roared from a radio. A big man in khaki pants and a loud printed shirt owned the restaurant. He wrapped Job in a thundering embrace. "Oga! Doctor!" he said, "Mr. Doctor, how long are you staying with us?" Job told him he was with his wife on honeymoon, and the man proceeded to rattle off all the years he had known Job and his family. "This man's father is my father's cousin. I have known him since before he could stand."
Job ordered two Coronas. When the bottles arrived, sweating cool, wet pearls down the sides, he paid in u.s. dollars. Ifi and Job sat silently across from one another as he swallowed his Corona and then hers. Job sucked the layers of slippery flesh free of the fish bone as Ifi nibbled. She sat quietly — thinking of the magazine — and wondered, Is this how Americans pay my doctor husband? Light streamed in diagonally, cutting his face into odd patterns. His features seemed to surrender to his surroundings. Is this what America does to a man?
Finally she spoke, her voice low. "Are Americans so poor that they must ..." She couldn't finish her question without thinking of the naked doctor and patient.
Job sipped the beer and told her, "Money is time in America." Then he launched into telling her about the shops, the ladies' clothes, the shoes, and Ifi was no longer listening.
A beggar boy of perhaps nine moved from table to table with a pan full of peanuts. His lean, meatless face was filled with long lashes, and his sinewy limbs were shiny and exposed through the holes in his wrinkled Michael Jackson T-shirt.
Many of the dining couples flagged him away in annoyance or simply ignored him. But he refused to go unnoticed. He leaned into a table where a large woman and a thin man took up the seats. They were dressed well. He winked flirtatiously and clicked his teeth at the lady. "Mah," he said, smiling. "Mah."
"I will buy you a fur coat," Job said to Ifi. He would have to get one of fake fur.
"Mah," the boy said again.
"I am not your mama," the woman said, drawing her wobbly chin back. "I am not old enough to be your mama." Shifting her wig back, she turned away from him.
"This foolish boy," the man said. Still, with his knees pulled close together, he smiled and hunched forward, scraping the floor with a cane. He was old enough to be the woman's grandfather, much older than Job.
Ifi wondered how this man and woman had met. Ifi had met Job only once before their honeymoon. Even during the wedding, Job's junior brother had stood in while he was in America. All Ifi had remembered from her one meeting with Job was that his face was nothing more than a jagged relief etched on the dark. He'd sat across from Ifi, Aunty, and Uncle, all squeezed together on the smaller couch so that he could have the large one. Aunty and Uncle had unsuccessfully tried to borrow a generator for the occasion and had been forced to settle on kerosene, so they stiffly argued about Nepa, the oil truck drivers' strike, corrupt politicians, and the ongoing teachers' strike in abashed explanation. The kerosene had scrubbed roughly at Ifi's nostrils and throat. Outside, she'd heard the sounds of church services going on despite the dark along the length of their street. Children had been playing outside, chasing the rooster and dirtying their bony knees in the muddy roadway. She'd thought of how the ankles of the man who sat before her would, in light, appear like the children's: bloodied from the wet, dirt road.
Before they met, there were packages of gifts. At the time, Ifi knew nothing of the letters, pictures, and conversations with the people who would become her in-laws. All her life, Ifi had been instructed to tell neighbors, friends, agemates, that her father was away, whether they believed it or not. So she fooled herself into believing that the packages were from him — that he really did live in America or London or Germany, that he had never been arrested for suspicion of fraud, that he had never been investigated and then murdered before his arraignment. As her cousins paraded through the potholed streets of their neighborhood in blue jeans and sweaters that were too big for their slight frames and too bulky for the thick Nigerian heat, Ifi had imagined her father sitting behind a large desk in London, papers stacked neatly around him awaiting his signature.
Of the sweaters, blue jeans, and jewelry, Ifi kept nothing except for a red, gold-chained handbag that she took out only for church — and today. Only after the package's contents had been spread across the couches did Aunty and Uncle inform her that a man was coming to visit her. Aunty had watched her closely that day. "You see all the good things we've done for you? You, a skinny girl with nothing. No parents, sef. And now you will see America."
Ifi needed to ask Job about this America. Before leaving her cousins' laughter, Aunty's gossip, and Uncle's stories, she needed to know everything. But the skinny beggar boy was standing at their table now. Ifi began to shoo him away, but Job stopped him. The boy dumped the peanuts into his palms, tumbling his hands in such a way that he magically released the shells. He was grinning, proud of his work, but how could he be so pleased in his condition? She imagined him curled into a tight ball underneath a bridge near the hotel. The ground would be muddy, a deep red where the rain had softened the earth. If he slept deeply, he might not notice how close his face was to the water; the shit; the dead, malarial mosquitoes. Ifi shuddered. Instead of sitting at a fancy table alongside her doctor husband, she would have been an under-the-bridge girl, had it not been for Aunty and Uncle.
The little boy before her. Too small for his shirt. The shirt with all its holes. He would have gnats and lice in his hair. His skin, his lips, chalky from the residue of dusty dirt.
Job was still smiling in distracted amusement at the boy when Ifi thrust forward the bowl of peanuts. "Ngwa, go!" The peanuts splattered across the table and the floor. The boy's eyes met Ifi's in desperation, just for a second, before he averted his gaze to the ground in deference.
The restaurant owner was on them in seconds. He knocked the boy's head with the back of his hand. "Why must you disturb my customer? He is a doctor, here from America for only a short time. I will beat you today!" To Ifi and Job he said, "I am so sorry." The boy tried to run, but the man shoved him to the ground with his foot and began to beat him.
The boy whimpered and heaved tearless cries. "No, sah!" He turned to Ifi. "Sorry, Aunty!" he said. On his knees he begged, his thin, quivering frame on the floor before her.
Ifi's voice was small as she spoke. "Leave him." Everything stopped. A chill rose through her body. This was what it meant to be a big woman.
Half-bowing, half-fi lling the bowl, the boy attempted to sweep up the mess as he left. He would go hungry for the rest of the day, maybe the rest of the week, without the money he would have earned from the peanuts. "Leave him," Ifi said again, with force. "Ego," she said to Job. "We will pay for the nuts."
Job retrieved a few naira. He tossed them on the ground.
"Go," Ifi said. "Go!" The boy collected the money and ran as fast as his bony legs allowed.
When he was gone, the fat lady laughed into the skinny man's ears. The bartender brought Ifi and Job two more bottles of Corona. On the house. And Job said to no one in particular, "In America, boys like that are in school."
* * *
By the time they started back to the hotel, a steel gray had enveloped the orange sun as night began its descent. All around, the breeze interrupted the calm of long-necked palm trees. With their wares balanced on their heads, hawkers darted across the streets. Job's driver swerved through the gaps in the roadway with practiced turns that knocked Job and Ifi into one another. Each time they touched, Job felt the softness of her skin against his. He tried to reconcile this gentle touch with her harsh way with the boy, telling himself that he had been in America too long. Even the boy, with his tearless cries, had walked with his head erect. He would likely brag to the boys in his gang about how his crocodile tears had earned him double what they had earned. Now, more than ever, Job was glad to be home.
When they reached the hotel, they did not immediately return to their room. Instead, they made their way across the marble lobby floor that Job explained was imported from Spain, France, somewhere like that. A dull light glowed from the gift shop across the lobby. The gift shop was a boxedin room with shiny glass walls. From the outside, the glass walls, illuminated by shocks of overhanging lights, gave the illusion that the cramped space was larger than it actually was. Nearly every inch of its shelves was loaded with trinkets: jewelry, clay figurines, wood-carved masks. Paintings of women with baskets on their heads were hanging or leaned against the walls, filling every available space. As Ifi gazed at the objects, her eyes stilled on a painting of a couple in an amorous embrace.
"Do you like?" Job asked.
"No." A necklace of shiny shells and beads was the first item within Ifi's reach. She grabbed it.
For the first time, the storekeeper pulled away from the cash register and gave her attention to the pair. "Ah, lady of fashion," she said. Up until then, she had been curtained behind paintings across the room, her eyes idly following the couple as she leafed through a magazine. "You must buy the earrings and bracelet too, or it will not be complete."
Without complaint, Job purchased the jewelry and handed it to Ifi, mentally subtracting the cost from the wad of bills tucked away in his briefcase. When they left the gift shop, both knew that they would be heading to the empty room, the large bed tauntingly illustrating its sole purpose.
* * *
Ifi followed Job inside. Hot, stale air had settled for too long. Their bed had been remade, each pillow set delicately. The clothes Ifi had thrown about the room were neatly folded in their suitcases. Even the magazine was packed away as if the morning had never happened, as if Job and Ifi were entering for the first time.
Ifi set her handbag down and sat on the bed, the tiny package in her hands.
"Will you not try them?" Job asked.
Excerpted from Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya. Copyright © 2015 Julie Iromuanya. Excerpted by permission of COFFEE HOUSE PRESS.
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