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“Of Hopes Squashed: Of Being a Woman” — A Flash Fiction by Chiamaka James

Standing before you is me, Chiamaka, and this is my story.

Today, I came out of the fattening room after two weeks with other girls of my age group. The fattening room is a place where young teenage girls who are considered ripe for marriage are kept for a period of time and are fed and also taught how to be good wives to the men who would select them as wives on the D-Day.

When I was selected to go to the fattening room because I was ripe for marriage, I cried out my eyes because I knew it was going to come but I thought I could avoid it. I wanted to break free from the bondage that has held young girls like me hostage from pursuing our dreams, and also end the narrative that a woman’s only place is in the kitchen.

Today, we will be taken to the village square, and displayed like goods on auction for men from our village and the neighbouring ones to come select those of us who would catch their fancy as wives.

Today, we will be judged by the fairness of our skin, the thickness of our legs (for only girls with thick legs are considered healthy for childbearing and farm work), how properly fed we are, our submissiveness and the curviness of our bodies.

We will be judged by men we do not know, some of them would have been married or as old as our fathers. But we do not have the right to choose our husbands just the way a slave can’t choose his master. The least we can do is pray to our Chi to make a good man select us.

Mother has asked me to smile and pray so that a good man would pick me, maybe one of the younger ones who are struggling to make ends meet in the city of Onitsha or a widower.

Today, once again, a young girl’s dream will be buried by the culture and tradition that says a woman is only good for childbearing and her place isn’t in the midst of men and her voice is only to be heard during childbirth or when she calls her child to bring her salt while making egusi soup.

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