to her as a story producing machine, or a writing machine, or anything
close enough. She could easily form a cult with her loyal readers of the
increasingly popular Femi's Diary as well as her short stories and fan
fiction pieces. I say this confidently because if she did indeed decide
to form a cult I would ask to be secretary and treasurer and I would come
to every literary meeting she offered. This also being a month of celebrating
and observing Black History in the United States, I asked her to either
do something about the theme of Black History or Valentines. What a pleasant
surprise it was to read an excellent piece incorporating both topics.
It put a smile on my face and hope in my heart and hopefully it does for
Name: Enagwolo Ubogu
-Raised in Lagos, Nigeria but currently residing in Philadelphia, USA,
Enagwolo enjoys writing about the expatriate experience. She's currently
working on a novel.
"Only lazy people take MLK day off. Martin Luther King had a dream
and how is taking the day off realizing that dream? Everyone who took
the day off is just lazy. Unless your employer asked you to take the day
otherwise, you should be ashamed of yourself. Oh, who am I kidding?
I'm just hating because nobody is here and I was too stupid to take the
day off myself. But--"
Williams be tripping sometimes," Toni said as she handed me a plate.
I rinsed it off then placed it on the conveyor belt that led to the commercial
dishwasher. "But seriously," she continued, "how come we
don't get the day off? Everybody else does."
My husband doesn't, I didn't add. Instead, I smiled and just rinsed off
another plate. The kitchen of one of Washington D.C.'s top restaurants
had been my home every weekday afternoon for five months and I'd only
just begun to feel a little comfortable in it.
"Could you hand me that towel?" Toni asked Carlos, the new busboy
as he dropped a tray piled with dirty plates on the cart next to her.
Her dark knuckles bent as her plump fingers took hold of it and wiped
the sweat off her forehead. "But Wendy is right," she continued
as she pulled a tray off the cart and emptied out all the plates. She
carelessly dumped the plates on the surface in front of her then threw
the tray on the already tall stack. "Don't you think so?" she
asked, handing me yet another plate.
I shrugged. Sometimes the radio host made sense and other times she didn't.
Today, it just seemed like she needed to rant and frankly speaking I couldn't
care less. As far as I was concerned, her show helped take our minds off
our mindless tasks but I never really took her seriously. I rinsed the
plate off and sent it to the dishwasher.
Toni rolled her eyes and pulled out another tray. "Well, I think
she is. Dr. King died for us and what are we doing? Washing dishes. I
need to be like Cassandra," she said, referring to the petite Chef's
Assistant who was already prepping the vegetables for dinner. "Hey,
don't forget us when you graduate and start stomping with the big dogs."
Cassandra smiled back at her and said, "It's only an Associate's,
and no, I won't forget you. Maybe, I'll hire you to wash the dishes at
one of the dinner parties I host to entertain the Ambassador to England,"
Toni responded by throwing her towel at her, then she looked at me. "What
about you, Nikay," she said, mispronouncing my name as usual. "Any
plans to go back to school?"
I shook my head without looking up and just concentrated on putting a
bowl on the conveyor belt. I told myself that I didn't tell my co-workers
that I already had a Master's degree because I didn't want to brag. But
in all honesty, I think part of me was ashamed that even with all the
time and energy I'd devoted to it, a Nigerian degree wasn't worth the
reinforced paper it was printed on. Besides, it was pointless telling
them, after all, as far as American employers were concerned, I might
as well only have a GED. "I think I've had enough of school,"
I told her.
She grunted and pulled the last tray off the cart. "Well, you need
to get your own piece of 'The Dream'. You know about Martin Luther King,
I had to use every bit of energy left in me to keep from smirking. "Yes,
I do." It was amazing how uninformed many people thought Africans
were. As part of our education, in addition to learning about our heroes,
we also learned about important figures in other parts of the world.
"Okay," she said, nodding and using the uppity voice she reserved
for the times she schooled us, "so you know he died for us. Regardless
of which part of the world you're from, if you've got this skin,"
she said, patting the back of her palm, "Dr. King died because he
was trying to make your life better. We can't let him die in vain, you
know - we have to live the dream."
"What dream?" I said under my breath as I watched her pick the
stack of trays up and hand them to me one after the other. If getting
an education was part of that dream, I wanted no part of it. An education
hadn't made the officials at the American embassy in Lagos treat me with
even the smallest bit of respect or shorten the two years it had taken
them to permit me to live with my husband
even though he's a citizen.
It certainly hadn't helped me find a job or even stopped interviewers
from pretending not to understand me when I spoke to them. In fact, if
I hadn't taken my education off my resume, I doubted I would have had
the great honor of washing dishes with her this very afternoon. As far
as I could see, the American dream wasn't open to everyone - especially
not dark-skinned women from the southern part of Nigeria.
* * *
I took my
jacket off then pulled a sweater out of my closet. Ike had a few months
left on his Residency so for a few months, we had to keep our electric
bill low. The rent had come with free gas and water but when I learned
that both the stove and heat were electric, I realized that D.C. wasn't
so different from Enugu.
I opened the fridge and pulled out the whole chicken that I hoped had
thawed overnight. I pressed the flesh and saw that it was still a little
solid so I threw it in the sink and ran hot water over it. I left the
tap on as I pulled out the vegetables needed for Jollof rice and started
After my tomatoes, pepper and onions were blended, I turned the tap off
and put my chicken on the chopping board. Just as I was about to scream
after realizing that my chicken had thawed so much that it was going to
be very difficult to cut its flesh, I felt a strong arm slide over my
tummy. I exhaled and let myself relax in his arms.
"You're cold. Why didn't you put the heater on?" He rubbed the
back of my left hand to warm me up. "How was your day?" he asked,
kissing my cheek.
I turned around. "Like always. Yours?"
He rattled off about a patient till I put my palm over his mouth and stopped
him mid-sentence. "You can tell me later. First you have to do me
His face fell. "Nikky, I'm tired."
I pouted. "Please?"
I turned back and picked up the chopping board. "Could you help me
"Nike!" he shouted from behind me. "I just got back from
work. I need to rest."
or there'll be no food for dinner."
I ran out of the kitchen before he could say anything else, picking up
his jacket and bag on the way. One great thing about marriage, I thought
as I walked into our bedroom, was it was always nice to have someone around
to push all the difficult tasks on.
on the couch but leaned on its arm so that he could work at balancing
his checkbook. He picked up the calculator and punched some numbers in.
"This girl, your head is heavy, o" he commented, moving his
"Ike, stop moving, now. You want to give me a headache?"
"Did I tell you to put your head on my lap? Is my lap a pillow? If
I want to scratch my leg, I should not scratch?"
"Abeg, jo," I said, readjusting my head so that I could get
more comfortable, "just stay still. See? You just made me miss what
this Super Nanny said. I don't even understand why they haven't slapped
these yeye children yet. America, sef."
A few minutes later he said, "Well it looks like in two months, we'll
be able to get you a car."
I hissed. "When did I ask for a car? Besides, where are you getting
the money from?" I turned my head over and looked at him.
He lightly stroked my chin with his fingers. "Shebi we are saving?"
"And you're still sending money to your parents?"
"Have they called recently?"
I shook my head.
"So I guess that means the answer is, "Yes."
I rolled my eyes and turned my face back to the television screen. "I'm
sure we could use the money for something else."
"Yes, we can, but you think I like hearing my wife talk about all
the drunk and smelly men she has to sit next to every day?"
"Are you minding me? I can manage, jere - we can save it for something
He moved his legs and pulled my head, making me sit up and look at him.
He picked the remote control up and pressed the 'mute' button. "Every
Saturday night I can't pick you up from the restaurant is a night I spend
worried. At least it'll be safer if you have a car," he said, looking
intently into my eyes, "abi?"
I laughed and shook my head. His 'serious face' always cracked me up.
I laid my head back on his lap and thought of how every single thing he
did showed how much he cared about me.
"What's funny?" he asked, taking a sip of the water I'd poured
for him. "Nothing," I replied. It was funny - we might not live
Martin Luther King's dream, the American dream or even the life I'd imagined
for the two years I'd waited for him, but living with Ike in our tiny
Washington, D.C. apartment was a dream I wasn't ready to be awoken from.