Chapter 1 is entitled “Childhood,” as it looks back at the very beginning of Adah’s life. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, and her family is from an upper-class background. Adah grows up just years after the end of World War II. We learn that Adah’s parents were hoping to have a boy, but instead they had Adah, a girl.
In chapter 1, we follow her development from a child into a young woman. Adah has to spend most of her time with her mother, who doesn’t show much emotion toward her daughter. All Adah really wants is to go to school like her brother, so she attends school secretly one day by sneaking away from her mother while her mother is distracted. She turns up at school in the middle of a lesson, and her plan pays off, as the teacher allows her to stay. Unfortunately, police later punish her mother for child neglect as a result of Adah having run away in order to go to school.
As Nigeria was a British colony, Adah learns about England in school. She also hears her father speak about the United Kingdom, which makes her even more curious about life in this distant country. Adah is very intelligent, and she dreams of moving to England and experiencing life there instead of in her home country, where she feels very restricted—particularly as she is a girl and not a boy. She begins to develop a dream of going to school in the United Kingdom.