Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 5 Summary

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Adah begins to feel like her dream (“the Presence”) has abandoned her, and she feels burdened by all of her responsibilities. Vicky is acting strange and refusing his breakfast, and Adah’s intuition tells her something is wrong with him. Feeling exceptionally tired, Adah asks Francis to bring the children to Trudy’s while she prepares for work. Vicky is especially clingy and does not want to leave Adah, which is unusual. Francis begrudgingly takes the children to the daily-minder, and Adah reflects on how useless Francis is around the household. She sees his only function as impregnating her.

Adah’s salary is decent, but with Francis not working, the family only has just enough money for rent, babysitting, and Francis’s schooling. Adah brings very minimal lunches to work and sometimes does not eat at all. On this particular day, Adah is tired of her boiled egg lunch and goes without, opting instead to take a walk around town. She looks dreamily into the windows of restaurants, thinking about how delicious the food would be and about how she expected Francis to take her to such places. However, Francis worries about discrimination and refuses to go to these establishments.

When Adah returns to the library after her walk, she runs into her coworker, who was on her way out to find Adah. Instantly, Adah knows something is wrong with her children. Her coworker tells her that Vicky is very ill and is being taken to the hospital. Adah rushes to Trudy’s house to take the ambulance with Vicky, but no one will tell her what is wrong with her son. The doctor is vague, but Adah senses a tone of concern. Adah thinks Trudy might have malaria and wonders why the doctor is so concerned. In Nigeria, she would treat the child at home and not even consult a doctor.

Nevertheless, Vicky is taken into the hospital for tests and observation. The doctors insist that her son is very ill and that he needs rest and quiet. To Adah, hospitals can only mean two things: birth or death. She has only gone to the hospital herself to give birth to her children, and she associates the hospital with her father’s death as well. He went there one day and never came home. Adah is frightened for her son, but she must wait patiently for results. It takes a few days for Vicky to be diagnosed with viral meningitis.

Though Adah does not want to leave Vicky, a nurse insists that she cannot stay. Adah goes to different parts of the hospital and even tries to sleep in the waiting room, where the nurse approaches her and asks if Vicky is her only child. The nurse is surprised when Adah replies that she also has Titi, but she is “only a girl.” Adah thinks about how boys are worth so much more than girls in Nigerian culture. This is why it is so important that Vicky survives: he has the value of four girls. Adah wonders why she does not feel compelled to tell Francis right away about Vicky, but she is more concerned with staying by her child’s side. When he does find out, Francis is at first not concerned, telling Adah that in London, people are cured of their illnesses. At one point, though, he weeps at the severity of Vicky’s illness rather than trying to assuage his wife’s fears.

Francis is shocked when Adah talks back to him and complains about their marriage. She says that if anything happens to her son, she will kill both Francis and Trudy, whom she believes Francis is sleeping with on the side. Because he thinks of his wife as “frigid,” Francis cannot comprehend where all of this passion is coming from. Adah begins to consider where her son may have gotten this virus and immediately thinks of how dirty Trudy’s house and yard are. She goes over to Trudy’s and accuses her, not only of poor care of the children but also of sleeping with Francis. Trudy starts to propose ways Vicky could have gotten the virus in Africa, which puts Adah over the edge. She picks up a sweeper and tries to hit Trudy on the head with it, while a neighbor tries to hold her back. She threatens to kill Trudy and voices her resentment that she not only pays Trudy but also turns a blind eye while Trudy sleeps with Francis.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Adah cries wildly, scaring the women around her. Adah is ashamed at her actions but cannot help herself. She feels isolated in London, with no one to confide in about her problems. She feels that in London, no one is concerned about other people’s problems, so she usually has to keep hers to herself.

Soon, the childcare officer, Miss Stirling, hears Adah’s case against Trudy. Miss Stirling promises to have the children placed in a nursery, and Trudy is removed from the list of approved daily-minders for children. Titi will start going to the nursery on Monday, and Vicky will join once he has recovered. Adah goes home, relieved but exhausted.

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