It is now two years since Buchi Emecheta passed away. I remember my first encounter with her was as a nine year old and it was through her book, Second Class Citizen. This was a stage where I was trying to find my preferred literary genre; and I can assure you African Literature was not on the list.
One Saturday morning, in my preparation to go to the library, my father handed me a piece of paper. In his bold and confident handwriting, ‘Second Class Citizen, Buchi Emecheta’. – was glaring at me.
‘Oh no’ I thought, Dads on his mission in promoting African authors again.
He had previously tried this with Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. Which, unfortunately, I didn’t get past the first paragraph.
My literary taste was gravitating more towards Enid Blyton and Judy Blume novels. These books dealt with young children who are dealing with the everyday issues that children deal with.
For a young nine year old who had not left the shores of London, this book was an eye-opener. It baffled me as to why and how Adah, the protagonist, could be denied the opportunity to an education just because she was a girl. I could not understand why. Education was something which everyone was entitled to. She was a citizen of this country so why did she have citizen rights.
My culture shock was not only instigated by the issues from the coast of Nigeria. England played its part. When Adah moved to England the situation did not change. This is England. My idyllic Enid Blyton England. It was a shock that some people here were also regarded as a ‘second class citizen’. Not only for being a woman but also a person of colour or a foreigner.
So, not only was Adah was a second class citizen in her motherland due to her gender but she was also a second class citizen in her adopted country due to the colour of her skin.
Second Class Citizen is a book which surprised me as to how one had to play the system in order to get was due to them. There was an issue when Adah was expecting the social worker or council benefit assessor coming to view her flat. She had made it warm and cosy with warm tea and biscuits. On seeing this her neighbour advised her that the next time the assessor came she should not go to the extent of making them feel so welcome and comfortable. She should make the flat to be cold and dreary. This would depict her desperation and need for funds. So, on the social workers next visit to the flat was there a coldness and dreariness about it.
This advise actually worked for her. She had to stoop to this in order to get something she was entitled to. Just as she had to stoop and steal in Nigeria in order to eventually get an education.
So, do we have to be a first class citizen in order to find a place in society or be relegated, by default, to a second class citizen.
Which one of Buchi Emetchetas novels has the greatest impact on you?