I refer 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 you too.
-N.K

Writer Background
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.


The Dream


"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 off… 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--"

"Wendy 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," she teased.
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, don't you?"
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 chopping them.


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 a favor."
His face fell. "Nikky, I'm tired."
I pouted. "Please?"
"What?"
I turned back and picked up the chopping board. "Could you help me cut this?"
"Nike!" he shouted from behind me. "I just got back from work. I need to rest."
"Rest later… 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.

***

Ike sat 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 legs.
"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 else."
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.

 

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