Chinua Achebe's story "Vengeful Creditor" first appeared in 1971 in the inaugural issue of Okike: A Nigerian Journal of New Writing, a magazine that Achebe founded, and it was later reprinted in his collection of stories, Girls at War, and Other Stories. The story focuses on the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the tumultuous environment of a haphazardly modernizing African country. The overt political issue at stake is the government's institution of free primary education for children, a policy the well-to-do Emenikes resent because it means they will have difficulty keeping their servants. In order to obtain a nurse for their baby, the Emenikes promise an impovenshed girl that she will eventually be able to go to school—her only chance at obtaining a better life for herself. As it becomes clear that the Emenikes are not going to make good on their promise, the young servant, Veronica, becomes increasingly resentful and acts out her frustration on the Emenikes and their child.
Achebe is known primarily as a novelist, and his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart is considered one of literature's most important African novels. He has written relatively few short stories in his career, but his collection Girls at War, and Other Stories like his novels, has received overwhelming positive reviews from critics. "Vengeful Creditor" in particular is noted for its satirical qualities in depicting "women and their aspirations, blighted ... by the society and the circumstances that surround them,'' according to C. L. Innes in her book Chinua Achebe.
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...
(The entire section is 988 words.)