Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 11 Summary

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Winter changes to spring, and Adah decides to go to the public bath one morning before her children wake up. Observing a small gray bird, she wonders to herself how she could be so captivated by it, considering the wealth of colorful animals she was used to seeing in Nigeria. Adah appreciates that there is winter, though, so that when birds come back and sing, people can appreciate them.

Adah remembers hearing that the Europeans thought Black men were lazy because they were overstimulated by their environment in Africa, and she decides that she and her children will be proud to be Black. Arriving at the bath, she is greeted by the women who work there; they expect her first thing on Monday mornings, when she likes to go because it is not busy, even though the water is not as warm since the pumps have been off during the weekend.

While her trips to the bath house are regular, this Monday bathing session is important because Adah has gone to a family planning clinic to inquire about birth control options. She talked to Francis about the clinic, but he advocates for a natural family planning method instead, claiming it is the one sanctioned by the Bible. She knew she had to go to the clinic without his blessing, and she prayed to God for forgiveness.

Adah took Bubu with her to be weighed at the clinic and asked the nurse if she could get a birth control pill because she is only twenty years old and already has three children. The nurse gave Adah pamphlets to read and discuss with her husband, so that they could decide together what will be the best option. In addition, Adah needed to get her husband’s signature on a form.

Adah knew Francis would never sign the form, and she wonders why women need to consult their husbands in such matters. She feels that a woman should be able to decide for herself, and Adah is determined to have no more children. She worries that she escaped death narrowly with her third pregnancy and delivery, and does not want to tempt fate with further pregnancies.

When Adah got home that day, Francis said he was going downstairs to watch television because he had read two chapters for the day and had finished studying. Adah used the time to read the birth control literature, which taught her about the Pill, the jelly, and the cap. Adah decided the Pill is the best option because it’s easiest and Francis would notice the jelly.

Next, she had to figure out how to get Francis to sign the form. She considered forging his signature but immediately panicked about what would happen if she were to be caught and prosecuted. Her only other option, though, is to keep having children, so she ultimately did forge his signature. She has saved money for her first allotment of pills, and she has lined up a new library job. Adah wants to keep her job and avoid more pregnancies.

On the Monday that she goes for this particular bath, she is planning to take the form back to the clinic, so she wants to wash in case she has to be examined by a nurse or doctor. She tells Francis that Bubu needs to go to the clinic to have his picture taken by the nurses, who are always gushing about what a beautiful baby he is. Adah goes to the clinic with Bubu, where other women are waiting, some undressed and awaiting their exams. Adah reflects that she no longer cares about being naked in front of other people for such purposes.

She and another woman, a young West Indian with a baby on her lap, strike up a conversation. The woman says that she has had an adverse reaction to the Pill, an itchy rash all over her body. This makes Adah second-guess her choice. She still feels like the jelly is the worst option, but she worries about the logistics of the cap. She will have to go somewhere to insert it, since their apartment is only one room, and Francis may feel it and question her. She decides to get the cap, though, so she can at least have some form of birth control.

The fitting for the cap is difficult, especially because Adah has trouble keeping still due to her guilt and shame, which is mostly born out of cultural beliefs. A woman on birth control is assumed to be either a prostitute or a cheating wife. Adah worries she will not know when to put the cap in and wonders if she will need to wear it all the time; she also walks funny when she has the cap inside of her.

At home, Adah goes to the toilet outside and puts the cap in, but Francis quickly notices that she is walking strangely when she returns. Adah’s heart races as she tries to make up excuses, but eventually, she confesses everything to Francis. He insults her and accuses her of wanting to sleep around. He tells the other house tenants to come in so he can publicly shame Adah for being so manipulative. Though she wants to go to the police, she realizes she has no one to ask for help in London: she is on her own.

Francis plans to inform his parents about Adah’s deception, and it pains her that her mother-in-law will have a negative opinion of her. Since Francis sees fit to shame her in front of the other tenants, Adah considers her marriage over. Pa Noble actually makes the tenants leave and tells Francis it is okay for Adah to be on birth control; however, he admits that Adah should have told Francis what she was doing. Adah knows it would have been pointless to tell Francis because of his opinions on natural family planning.

Adah feels that she is a woman old enough to make her own decisions. She decides that, other than her children, the only person worth her love and attention is her brother, Boy. She recalls that Boy has never liked Francis.

In a few weeks, the couple gets word that Francis has failed another exam; he blames Adah once again. She, on the other hand, has made her way through part of the library exams. Francis writes to his parents about the cap to cover for his latest failure. Soon, Adah suspects she is pregnant again.

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