Mark Emenike is a Permanent Secretary, a mid-level bureaucrat in the postcolonial government of an African nation. Although his family enjoys such economic privileges as private schooling for the children, a car, and a houseful of servants, Mr. Emenike is constantly made aware of his own lowly status in comparison to those who are wealthier and more powerful. As a civil servant, he is not permitted to express his views on education in the local newspaper and must be content to comment on his friend Mike Ogudu's letter to the editor. In Cabinet meetings, he must refrain from any participation in the debate; even laughter is prohibited for a civil servant, and when he violates this strict protocol, he receives a "scorching look" from the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, he is an important man in his home village and is easily able to persuade Martha that Veronica will be happy in his comfortable home in the nation's capital.
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Mrs. Emenike, the middle-class employer of the story, is the mother of five children and a social welfare officer. She is self-absorbed and sees people and events only in terms of how they will affect her own life. Free primary education, for example, which means so much to the poor people of her country, is viewed as a major inconvenience and a threat to her comfort. Young people who are in school are unavailable to serve her needs, both at the market, where the only person left to carry her groceries to the car is a forty-year-old "grumbling cripple," and at home, where she depends on a staff of poorly paid domestic servants, most especially a nurse for her infant son. Mrs. Emenike is oblivious to the needs and desires of those who serve her. When Veronica composes a song about her longing to go to school with the other children in the family's noisy little Fiat, Mrs. Emenike interprets this as support for her own desire for a new sports car.
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(The entire section is 847 words.)
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