Second-Class Citizen

by Buchi Emecheta

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Chapter 9 Summary

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Adah wakes up in a large hospital ward full of beds with other women who are about to or have just given birth. Adah observes that the women seem free and easygoing, having conversations with one another like old friends. Adah, however, is hooked up to machines and has a tube in her throat so that she cannot speak. As she tries to figure out where she is and what is going on around her, she finds that she cannot even move. A nurse notices that Adah is awake and greets her. The woman in the bed next to Adah asks how she is feeling; she cannot respond, but the narrator notes that Adah is experiencing abdominal pain, which would be the natural outcome of her surgery.

The women in the ward seem nice, and Adah thinks about one in particular who is significantly older than Adah, maybe even as old as Adah’s mother would be. She is constantly showing her baby off to the others in the room. Her behavior annoys Adah at first, but she later learns that this woman has waited seventeen years to have her first child; she then understands why the woman is so proud and joyous.

Adah also gets to know the woman next to her, who is referred to as a “sleek, younger woman.” This woman has a very attractive husband, though he is much older than the woman. The surgeon continues to check on Adah; he tells her that hardly any of his patients die and that she is healing well. His confidence helps instill confidence in Adah. None of the doctors or patients use Adah’s name; she has earned nicknames like Caesar. Adah’s baby, Bubu, sleeps while the other babies make noise and wakes up crying while they are sleeping.

Adah has the tube in her throat for four days, and she is eager to talk to the sleek woman once the tube has been removed. Adah asks questions about the woman’s older husband and all of the presents he brings her. The woman says that his first wife died years earlier, but they had two sons who are now grown up and successful. The sleek woman values the way she has been welcomed into their family: she was adopted herself and has never met her birth parents.

The surgeon arrives with his students accompanying him, so Adah’s conversation with the sleek woman must end. Adah does not necessarily like that so many people are looking at her body and examining her. During the surgeon’s visit, Adah starts crying uncontrollably. She thinks about the sleek woman’s husband and contrasts him with Francis. She feels sorry for herself that her husband does not seem to treasure her or shower her with gifts and love.

It is now visiting hour in the ward. Relatives of the other women crowd in the hallway outside with gifts, excitedly waiting to be let in. This gives Adah another opportunity to think about how Francis will not be bringing her presents or pampering her during her recovery. He is never one of the first husbands there; in fact, he usually only comes at the end of visiting time. Observing another woman in the ward, a large Greek lady, Adah thinks about her lack of a fancy, personal nightdress. Adah is still wearing a hospital shirt.

She decides to demand that Francis get her a nightdress to wear in the ward like the other women. She does not think Francis has ever given her a present. Visitors start coming in, and Adah thinks about how she and Francis have very little to talk about when he comes to see her in the hospital. He only updates her on the children. A nurse comes over and says that Adah should inform her husband that she needs a nightdress; she is not supposed to still wear the hospital shirt once in this ward. Adah worries that the other women have been judging her for not knowing this protocol. Embarrassed and overwhelmed, Adah puts her head under the sheets.

When Francis arrives, she has to explain what she is doing covering her head up, but she cannot speak before he tells her some “good news”: the library has sent her holiday pay. Her supervisor has written a nice letter encouraging her to rest and recover. Adah hopes to be able to return to her job after getting out of the hospital. She thinks about how she can demand that Francis buy and bring her multiple nightdresses, but Francis reveals that he already plans to use the money to pay for his exams.

Adah wonders how he could be so selfish but struggles to find a way to articulate her concerns to her husband, who is clearly oblivious to how his plans sound to his wife. Adah explodes, screaming at him in Ibo and gesticulating, trying to voice all of her frustrations. She tells her husband that she hates him before eventually becoming worn out and starting to cry. She resolves to only worry about her children from now on; she does not want to be Francis’s victim or prey anymore. Adah tells Francis about the necessary nightdress, and she receives it two days later, finally able to discard the hospital shirt and fit in with the other women. She is disappointed that it is only a bland nightshirt, though, and not a frilly or lacy outfit like the Greek woman’s.

Adah’s friend, the sleek woman, is transferred to another ward, so they say goodbye and wish each other luck. Later, Adah learns that the sleek woman died in the hospital, but she doesn’t know why or how. Adah prepares for the ritual of going home, which includes dressing herself and her new baby and showing the baby around before leaving the ward. She is embarrassed because Bubu’s clothes are all hand-me-downs and look dirty and worn. Adah imagines the other women pitying her and poking fun at her family’s poverty, so she decides to leave quietly.

Adah feels guilty, though, and begins to regret not telling the women goodbye. She thinks about why she is suspicious of other people’s kindness, attributing it to the way Francis quickly “betrayed” her love by doing nothing to keep their relationship alive. Adah determines to act differently now by devoting all of her attention and energy to her children. She does not want to waste it on Francis any longer.

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