Vengeful Creditor

by Chinua Achebe

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 736

Set in an unnamed independent African country, "Vengeful Creditor" opens as Mrs. Emenike, an educated and well-to-do African woman, is checking out of the supermarket. She is irritated at the decline in the standards of service in the store ever since the government instituted free primary education. She complains that her household servants have been quitting lately, returning to their native villages to go to school. She wonders how "a working woman with a seven-month-old baby" is expected to cope.

The newspaper has published many letters written by highly educated people who are critical of the government's policy. TheEmenikes are representative of these critics: he is a mid-level bureaucrat, while she is a social welfare officer. They oppose the program and are affected by it directly when several of their servants quit to go to school. The defection of their baby-nurse makes Mrs. Emenike particularly angry. However, since more than twice as many children have enrolled in school as the government had anticipated, financing for the scheme falls through and after a single school term, the program is suspended.

In an impoverished village, one of the people who is "broken-hearted" at the suspension of free education is Veronica, a ten-year-old girl whose widowed mother, Martha, is struggling to care for four children. Martha has some education, having attended a missionary school, but the death of her carpenter husband has left her destitute and unable to pay school fees for her children. Veronica had enjoyed her brief term in school as a respite from her responsibilities taking care of her younger siblings while their mother worked in the fields. Martha's children spend their time foraging for grasshoppers and palm-kernels to lake the edge off their hunger.

One day Mr. Emenike, who was born in the village, visits Martha's hut. He wants to hire Veronica to take care of the baby. Martha is reluctant to let her daughter go, despite the family's desperate need for the annual payment of £5. She recalls that she once assumed all her children would go to college and now laments her inability even to send them to primary school. In the course of their discussion, Mr. Emenike comments that if Veronica is a good nurse, "what stops my wife and me sending her to school when the baby is big enough to go about on his own?" Martha and Mr. Emenike understand this to be ''only a manner of speaking." Veronica, however, overhearing the conversation, goes off happily to work for the Emenikes thinking she will soon be able to return to school.

Veronica proves so competent and efficient that Mrs. Emenike nicknames her "Little Madame." But Veronica gradually becomes dissatisfied with her situation. At first she simply envies the older children when she watches them leave for school in the morning, but as time passes she increasingly covets those "little daily departures in fine dresses and shoes and sandwiches and biscuits wrapped in beautiful paper-napkins in dainty little school bags." Veronica channels some of her frustration into inventing songs that she sings to quiet the baby.

One day Mrs. Emenike discovers that Veronica has painted her lips with red ink from Mr. Emenike's desk. In scolding the girl she warns her that red ink is poisonous. Soon afterwards Mrs. Emenike comes home to discover the baby's dress stained red. She whips Veronica "until her face and arms [run] with blood." The girl then admits to making the baby drink red ink.

Mr. Emenike hastily loads Veronica into his Mercedes and returns her to the village. Martha returns from a hard day of labor, listens to...

(This entire section contains 736 words.)

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her daughter's story, and insists that they go at once to see the Emenikes, who are still in the village. When Martha realizes that her daughter meant to kill the baby she attempts to whip Veronica herself, but when Mrs. Emenike implies that Veronica's upbringing is at the source of her actions Martha is shocked and denies the charge. Mrs. Emenike then remarks sarcastically, "Perhaps it's from me she learnt." Mr. Emenike tries to quiet the dispute by blaming the girl's action on "the craze for education." As Martha and Veronica return home. Martha at first berates her daughter. Her anger is slowly redirected, however, as she realizes the unfairness of Mr. Emenike's comment and of a situation in which her daughter thinks she has to kill in order to have a chance to go to school.