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Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 4 Summary

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Adah is happy with her job at the library and finds the spring and early summer weather pleasant. The beauty of the trees and blooming flowers are a great improvement over the bare branches that greeted her on her arrival to England in March. She bonds with the chief librarian, an outgoing Czech woman named Mrs. Konrad. The other young women Adah works with have, she realizes, very different lives than hers: whereas hers is burdened, they are able to be frivolous. To avoid sounding “bitter,” Adah avoids talking to them. At the library, she notices that many more people read novels in England than in Nigeria, where they only want to read texts that will help them earn money and be successful. Adah feels satisfied that she can live like a “first-class citizen”—at least during the part of the day when she is at work.

At home, the landlord and landlady complain about Adah’s children and encourage her to give them to a foster family. They had not approved of Francis bringing his children from Nigeria in the first place. Apparently, fostering is a common practice for Nigerian housewives in England; the children live with a white family and learn English, while the Nigerian parents work and earn money so they can afford suitable accommodations later.

While it is true that it’s difficult for young Nigerian parents to make a living and care for their children, the narrator notes that many of the young wives would have been accustomed to having much more help with the baby in their home country, where there are household servants to help with much of the childcare. Francis supports the idea of sending the children to a foster home, thinking that the children would no longer interfere with his studies, but Adah is horrified at the thought.

Adah meets and befriends a woman named Janet. Janet also has two young children, one with an African man named Babalola. On scholarship from Nigeria, Babalola came across Janet one day, sleeping standing up in a phone booth that he wanted to use to call home. At first, he took care of Janet, but she also slept with other men. Babalola eventually fell in love with her and—in addition to helping her raise her first child, which she did not want to give up even though her parents demanded she do so—had another baby with her.

Janet and Adah become friends, and Adah confides in Janet about the struggles of taking care of her two young children. She also reveals that Francis has failed his latest exam and blames Adah and the children; clearly, Adah will need to act quickly to remedy the situation at home. Janet recommends a “daily-minder,” or babysitter, until spots open at the nursery. Babalola happens to know of a minder named Trudy, a white woman with two children of her own. Adah decides to bring her children to Trudy. Having noticed that Titi is acting a bit strange, Adah gives Trudy extra milk coupons, hoping that will help Titi get back to her normal self.

When Adah stops by during the day to check on her kids, she is astonished to see that Trudy’s children are playing with Adah’s children’s toys in the front yard, and her own children are nowhere to be found. Trudy is inside with a man, apparently about to have sex, and when Adah demands to know where Titi and Vicky are, Trudy just points to the backyard. The man rushes out, and Adah goes to find the children. Adah’s kids are out there playing, one with no diaper on, in the vicinity of a trash heap, and Trudy claims that the children do not know how to behave. Furious, Adah takes her children to the children’s officer to complain about Trudy, who follows and lies to the officer about what has just occurred. Adah is astonished at how easily Trudy lies; the officer does not even seem to doubt her false account.

Francis does not see a problem with Trudy watching the children, and he threatens to hit Titi with his belt if she doesn’t behave better at the day-minder’s house. Adah also learns that Titi has been acting strangely because her father has forbidden her from speaking Yoruba. Adah learns this when Titi has a friend visiting one day; the friend tries to get Titi to speak by teasing her in Yoruba, and Titi reveals that her father has threatened to whip her if he catches her speaking Yoruba. Adah assumes that Francis has been persuaded by Nigeria’s colonial history to believe English a superior language.

Though Adah doesn’t want to take her children back to Trudy, she also doesn’t want to leave them in Francis’s care, and there are no open spots for the children at the nursery. Left with little choice, Adah continues to bring the children to Trudy.

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