Peels of the onion

Source: Tumblr

Dear Nneoma,

The other day you came to me and asked for advice and it’s been five days since I rushed you out with a feeble excuse. I could see you were hurt. You trust me. You’re a 28 year old woman who is ready to be married. You’re from a traditional family in southeast Nigeria and your mother’s been applying pressure. I can see it in your gait. You are anxious, after all, it’s the right thing to do. I’m 41 and have been married for almost a decade. Not an eternity but I’ve got experience and you wish to learn from it. I saw the grimace when you did the math and figured out I was married at 32. Thirty is fast approaching and you don’t want to meet it single. I know the way our culture works. I know the way we value women — by their “MRS” degree and their efficiency at procreation.

This haunts you.

You see me in a lovely home with two beautiful sons, one daughter and a wonderful husband and you’d like to know my secret. How did I, a self-made professional woman, become what I am today? You said to me once that you want my success. You want me to instruct you in the ways of the wise woman. I’ve seen the way you look around my home. There is a certain degree of awe and wonderment in your eyes. My husband is also from the East and I know you are wondering how our union came about being that I am from the North. Northern women aren’t supposed to be like me. Worldly, uncovered heads, highly-educated, opinionated, feminist, and married to Igbo men. I see a wistfulness in you when you look at me. You’ve changed in the last few years. I’ve given you a number of my previously-worn yet loved clothes and you wear them so well. You’ve even developed an accent of sorts. An afro-lilt laced with an American twang. It’s almost as though you want to be me.

I’m sorry but I’m not actually. I didn’t mean to push you away. In seeking tutelage, you unearthed paralysis and dread. You desire someone to show you the ropes. Someone forthright who can unlock the treasure trove of secrets and let you in. But I found your inquisition naïve, flawed and reeking of laziness. You have no clue about the vagaries of life. For how many peels of the onion would we have to undertake before our eyes sting seeking reprieve? I didn’t have the energy to respond and this bereft feeling left me gasping for air. Your admiration and hope filled me with nostalgic melancholy. Then you shuffled backwards as I commanded you to. You couldn’t even fight the admonishment. After all this time that you’ve been monitoring me, copying me. You’re still so easily rattled.

You’re not ready for marriage in Nigeria.

Our African environment changes you. It’s insidious. Marriage is the amalgamation of clans at the expense of your unique identity. Society suppresses your sense of individuality in an almost violent way. You conform or suffer brutalization, public scorn, or possibly, abandonment. My journey into marriage was a sad one. I can offer you no positive lessons. I became engulfed in the vicious tide of our culture and nearly drowned at the pull of the undercurrent. I became sucked into events and beliefs which were anathemas to me. For me, it wasn’t like a Hollywood movie. Rather, I experienced a badly-written dramatic Nollywood one. It took me years to breath and become my true self again.

When you came to me seeking advice the mountain so conveniently tucked away into the recesses of my subconscious came crashing down like an avalanche. I wasn’t really admonishing you, I was simply self-flagellating. People tell me now that I am so “black” and “white” in the way that I deal with things and it’s exactly because I let the 5,000 shades of grey rule my days back then.

Because I wanted to marry him.

And to marry him, I became the type of woman that I despise — weak yet angry, eager to please yet confused, acquiescing, overly accommodating and generally unsure of myself. I became a shadow of the strong young woman I once was. The kind of woman that I am today. I went through the fire of life and emerged to what you see now. It took anguish, blood, sweat, and tears to metamorphose into this happy wife and mother that you see before you.

Quite simply, I don’t think you’re ready. Not because of your age but because I think you’d let the movement of the ocean pull you under until you took your very last breath underwater.

I’m sorry if my words sting but you will thank me some day.

Sincerely,

Khadijah