Lesley Nneka Arimah, Winner of the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing
Posted in 2019-2020 Readings and Talks
February 18, 2020
Seminar at 4:30 PM | Lannan Center (New North 408)
Lecture on “Power & Language” at 7:00 PM | Copley Formal Lounge
—Lesley Nneka Arimah
“I imagine creating a world,” Odinaka often said, “where disrobing is something a woman does only by choice.”
On Ejem’s first night in the building, Odinaka had brought a length of cloth to her, a gift, she said, that Ejem could wear whenever she wanted. Ejem had stared at the fabric for hours. Even in the confines of the building, in her own unit, she didn’t have the courage to put it on. At Odinaka’s cocktail hour, Doreen would sit next to her and declare, “It’s us against these bashful fuckers, Ejem,” setting off an evening of gentle ribbing at everyone’s expense.
“You really go to your store like that?” Ejem asked Doreen one afternoon. “Why don’t you cover yourself? No one will say anything if they know you’re one of Odinaka’s women, right?” She was trying to convince herself that she, too, could don the cloth and go out in public without fear.
Doreen stopped perusing invoices to give Ejem all her attention. “Look, we have to live with this. I was disrobed at age ten. Do you know what it feels like to be exposed so young? I hid for almost a decade before I found myself, my pride. No one will ever again make me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I plan to remain unclaimed and uncovered for as long as I live, and no one can say a damn thing about it. Odinaka rebels in her own way, and I in mine. I don’t yearn for the safety of cloth. If the law requires me to be naked, I will be naked. And I will be goddamned if they make me feel uncomfortable for their law.”
The weeks of welcome, of feeling free to be her own person, took hold and, one night, when Ejem joined the other women in Odinaka’s apartment, she did so covered, the cloth draped over her in a girl’s ties, the only way she knew how. Doreen was the first one to congratulate her, and when she hugged Ejem, she whispered, “Rebel in your own way,” but her smile was a little sad.