Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 10 Summary

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England faces another very cold winter, but Adah considers herself fortunate because she and her children do not need to go outside much. Their entire home is in one room; only the toilet has to be accessed from outside. The children play in the family’s multipurpose room, and the two older children adjust to their new baby brother.

Francis works for the post office for two weeks, as promised, but complains incessantly about how treacherous his tasks are. He describes the packages he must deliver as a heavy burden, and he often has to go up and down stairs and walk outside in poor weather conditions. He says that he also has to face the threat of dogs, and because English people love their dogs so much, they would take the dog’s side in a conflict between dog and postman. Adah begins to worry for Francis’s safety: she knows how real his fear is to him.

Adah brings Titi to a play group, but the ice and snow, combined with the fact that Adah is still recovering from major surgery, make the journey slow and difficult. When they arrive, the woman at the ward says she should not have walked there and promises to bring Titi back to Adah later. Adah is very frustrated that her recovery is not progressing more quickly and that relatively easy tasks are still incredibly difficult for her.

For a little while, Adah feels guilty about not working and watching Francis brave the elements and the dogs, but then she returns to her resolution in the hospital and wonders why she is so worried about Francis when she should focus on her own recovery. On her way home from the play group, Adah sees a cheerful young Black woman, a student, walking around with a bag. This causes Adah to reflect on her own situation: she is only twenty years old and should be focusing on her studies and her career.

Christmas is approaching, and Mrs. Noble asks Adah how her family will be celebrating. Adah replies that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas in December, so she will not be buying presents for the children. It is also, of course, because they do not have any extra money for gifts. Mrs. Noble questions the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who supposedly celebrate Jesus’s birthday in October, though Adah’s family had not celebrated then either. Adah does not really care about organized religion; she believes in a God but does not understand how Jesus is the son of God.

Ultimately, Adah is too poor to celebrate Christmas the way her English neighbors and housemates will. Fortunately, the women at the library send her a package with a toy for each child. Although her children will not receive the exorbitant amount of gifts the Nobles’ children will, as the Nobles use credit to overspend on Christmas presents, Adah will at least have something to give them. She only wishes she were able to experience the luxury of going into a shop and hand-selecting items for her children, like so many other mothers do.

Adah thinks about how different Christmas is in Nigeria and in England. The celebration seems very quiet in England, while Nigeria celebrates with loud parties and fireworks. On Christmas morning, Mrs. Noble holds a tea that she invites Adah’s children to attend. There is a spread of colorful jellies and other treats; though it is nice to look at, Adah is not sure what the purpose of the colors is beyond that.

While readying the children, Adah notices that one of Vicky’s ears is bigger than the other, and she panics that he is sick again with a new illness or with meningitis again. She screams for Francis, who hurries because it is so unusual for his wife to call him like this. He agrees that Vicky needs medical attention and insists on calling a doctor, though Adah does not think one will be available on Christmas Day. Francis gets into an argument with their doctor over the phone and then with the police, after complaining about the doctor saying it is a rest day and he will not come.

An assistant of the doctor does arrive, a Chinese man, who examines Vicky and says he has probably been bitten by a bed bug. Adah is humiliated by this diagnosis, while the doctor writes up a “prescription” for how to trap the bugs using cigarette tins and water. Adah and Francis are apologetic toward the doctor, but he is humble and does not chastise them for calling on him. After the doctor leaves, Adah and Francis argue about how Francis overreacted and about the doctor’s “prescription” for treating the bugs. Christmas ends quietly, with Mrs. Noble sending up the leftover jellies and Vicky not eating them, suspicious of the bright colors.

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