"Finding Me"

Jessica Ojiugo Chinonye

My eyes wander around, scrutinizing each of their faces, hoping to spot similarities. I focus on one of them and stare continuously with a faint smile. He returns the favor with a broader movement of his cheeks, revealing his gap tooth. I rejoice! He is indeed like me. I pause and give it a second thought. "Or maybe not," I conclude because I am unsure what being me means. I cannot find an adjective to describe me. Immediately, I notice multiple images of myself on the tall glass doors. It is obviously trying to tell me something, so I listen to the voice in my subconscious calling me to my past. 

 ____ Hesyca! Hesyca! Hesyca!

The voice called out, each louder than the last. With a frown, I traced the familiar voice to its destination. I knew the voice owner was about to ruin my vacation because she always did it. She was about to give me her usual sermon, and my seven-year-old ears hated it.

____ Hesyca, I know you're avoiding me because you do not want to do the right thing.

I stared at my mother, trying to make sense of her words. Though her sentence was not strange to me. Well, I had heard it every summer for the past four years, I still didn't understand why going on vacation without my books was wrong.

____ Where are your books? I mean, textbooks for your core subjects: Mathematics, English, Social Studies, and Integrated Science?

I thought I had escaped her because I had already successfully sneaked into my father's car with my luggage. I prayed that she wouldn't remember to ask me about my books till we left for the bus station. But, once again, my luck failed me. My weak and moody expression exposed my guilt, and she was enraged.

____ Go into that room, get your books, and bring them to me now!

I staggered into my room with wet eyes, slowly picking up the textbooks. Her voice came again from the sitting room, loud and clear.

____ Why are you wasting my time? So, you have decided to be a failure, not under my watch! You cannot be useless from a generation of renowned women. The ancestors would hold me accountable.

While still speaking, she stormed into my room and snatched the books from me, frightening me. She added more books to the collection I had already gathered and put all into my knapsack. Then, she handed me a timetable and two notebooks.

____ After reading each subject, summarize in the notebooks. Ensure to put dates on each summary. Now, hurry up. Your father is waiting for you.

I turned to leave, but her words stopped me.

____ My greetings to your aunt and cousins. Be a good girl, and make sure you help with the house chores. Don't go there and fold your hands like a boy, as if we are not giving you good home training.


The cold hand on my warm shoulder shuts my mother's voice in my head, and I turn to decipher the stranger who touched me. I stand there, confronted by his familiar smile and gap tooth that I noticed a few minutes ago. This time, I return the favor with a weak smile.

____ Your book, it fell.

He says, handing the book to me. I scan each page, ensuring it is in order while showing gratitude with a brighter smile and a 'thank you.' His voice runs over my shoulders as I turn to my initial position.

____ The author has a unique name. Don't you think so?

I fondle the book's cover page, pretending that the author is new to me and, in fact, that the book is new to me. He observes my expression and believes my fake surprise.

____ Wait a minute! You haven't even looked at the author's name, right? Did you just buy the book?

I give an affirmative nod and stare vaguely at the author's name, reminiscing how the book became a part of me. 

It was like a revelation yet happening in my conscious state. I jumped from the top of my bunk bed to the floor, grabbed my handbag, and emptied its contents. I searched desperately for two objects: a notebook and a pen. The idea was too valuable, so I had to recite it while I continued my search for writing materials. My frustration was evident, throwing out unwanted contents bag after bag. Then, I grabbed the last bag and dipped my hands to the bottom with much expectation. My hands moved around its contents one after the other. But my most desirable today had suddenly become invisible. Finally, I remembered my laptop. Oh yes! Microsoft Word. I could write on it. I quickly opened a blank document and began typing what I had been reciting in the last twenty seconds.

"It is the perfect time to exercise their muscles for the race ahead. They stand at the far end of the road, in the spotlight. Eagerly, they await the instructions of their society's appointed coaches…."

I pressed my forehead, trying to remember the rest. My roommates, who had been watching the whole spectacle, were concerned.

____ Hesyca, is everything okay?

I lifted my right index finger and placed it on my lip, "Shhhhhhh! Stop talking. I am losing it, the words." My roommates exchanged confused and concerned glances.

____ Hesyca, take a deep breath, take a break from the laptop, and speak to someone about it. 

I succumbed to their advice and left the room with my phone, dialing my coach's number.

"Hello, mummy. I just figured it out. I will write a book, a brilliant novel, something only lecturers in my department have done."

I did not hear a response from her end, so I spoke again. "Mummy, did you hear me?" Then, in a low tone, her voice came in batches. She was obviously half-asleep.

____ em…em…sorry…my…dear. I had a stressful day. First, I moved from one meeting to another with different dignitaries planning for my office's upcoming conference. Then, I proceeded to Kebe's school for the Parents Teachers Association meeting. Were you saying something about writing a book? That's a brilliant idea! A third-year English and Literature student writing and publishing a novel is fantastic! I like that your success mentality is active. But you have to start…."

Her incomplete sentence was replaced with silence. She had dozed off again. I was about to end the call, but her voice sprang up like a sleeping lioness whose tail had been touched.

____ You need to start considering marriage oh! Choose a hardworking man you'd grow with because once you become a prominent author, it will be challenging to meet genuine suitors who are not interested in your wealth and fame. It would be great if you get married just after graduation or during your national youth service. I am glad that you're working hard because men these days want successful brides.

Our conversation didn't help me remember the forgotten words, but it sparked a fresh idea permanently sheltered in my memory. I returned to my room and typed,

"It is the perfect time to exercise their muscles for the race ahead. They stand at the far end of the road, in the spotlight. Two boys and two girls now move to the marked line, ready for the race, in full gear of the public. Eagerly, they await the instructions of their society's appointed coaches.

____ On your marks, get set, ready, and go!

The crowd cheers as the athletes run off, aiming to arrive at the finish line. There are four stops for the female athletes before the finish line. They both arrive at the first stop at almost the same time and pick a bucket and a broom. Placing the bucket on their head and holding the broom, they continue running. One of the females weighs her chances of winning and decides to skip the second stop — picking the ring. The crowd jeers and murmurs in disagreement.

____ She wants to be an independent career woman. But she'd be incomplete without a husband. 

A man from the crowd tapped his gossip partner to whisper his grievances.

____ You see that athlete; her mother made my heart skip back in the day. I proposed marriage, and she said No, a blatant No. She wanted to focus on and advance her business. She never married and birthed her daughter out of wedlock. Her mother failed in her race and has reproduced another generation.

The female who skips the second stop halts for the third. She picks a balloon, places it under her jersey shirt and runs off. The crowd's expression transforms from criticism to disgust.

____ Such a loose girl for choosing to raise a child out of wedlock! 

The man taps his gossip partner again.

____ I told you she's her mother's daughter. A failed generation of loose women!

The other female athlete who goes through all the stops is exhausted and remains at the fourth stop after picking a doll baby. The crowd hisses.

____ This one would be lazy. Her career would end with the birth of one child. 

An older woman from the crowd screams,

____ Like her mother! Laziness runs in the bloodline. "


The gap-tooth dude moves in front of me and waves his hand. I do not notice, so he holds my hand and shakes it gently. I look up and encounter his smile. He sees I am uncomfortable with his hand on mine, so he takes it away and points to a location.

____ Please move forward. It's your turn now.

My eyes follow the direction of his hands, and I see two immigration officers beckoning at me. I turn to the transparent doors and see my family, with all smiles waving their last goodbyes. I try to resist my tears and then I move to the security checkpoint. 

____ Take out your shoes, belts, wristwatch, and jackets. If you have a laptop in your knapsack, take it out. Your boxes will go through the scanners as well. 

The guy with the gap tooth helps me place my four heavy luggage in the x-ray machine, and I proceed for inspection.

____ Your passport?

The female immigration officer inquires, after running her hands all over me. I give her, and she goes through the bio page and the only visa page.

____ Student eh? Go and represent our country well. Also, don't go there and marry oyibo o. Return and marry one of our good home breeds. 

Her last two sentences have been my coach's new gospel after I published the novel in my final year at the university. A flash of thought!

____ Heysca, your father, and I promised that you'd pursue your graduate studies abroad. Now that you have begun the process, you should consider one of these suitors from our tribe. If you travel, I know you'd marry oyibo and start practicing their culture. But a home breed would ensure that you observe our culture and remind you that your parents at home need your attention. Though your brothers are here with me, you cannot compare the care of a daughter to that of a son.

She won! There I stood, exchanging the 'better for worse' line with a man four months after my undergraduate final exams.


The female immigration officer will be so proud if there is a section for marital status information on the bio page of my passport. She will nod in admiration — married and ambitious. 


I move to the check-in area and wait patiently for my turn. I notice a beautiful young lady struggling to move five of her luggage, wearing her baby on her back. I offer to help. She then asks as I take her boxes to the check-in area,

____ Are you a student like me? 

I nod in the affirmative, staring at her wedding ring. She is among the kind the society terms 'a strong woman.' Suddenly, I feel that painful sting on my engorged breasts, but I am equipped for the situation. I locate the toilet and place the pumps on my breast; the bottle is the sink. Keenly, I watch my baby's food rush down the drain with the running water cleaning its traces. Where is my four-month-old baby? I’ll tell you what happened.

My right hand scrolled through my contacts, adding every vital person to the group call. As their faces popped on the screen, we screamed, "We are pregnant!" The joy, laughter, and excitement of our audience were evident. I already had the 'career woman' and 'Mrs.' titles. Now, I was about to earn another impressive one, 'mum,' which came with the additional challenge of finding a balance for all titles.

I wanted to be like those women I saw on Instagram Reels that bragged about balancing all. They say, 'wife, mum, worked three jobs while studying, now graduating with honors.' Unfortunately, though, they never spill how they achieved it. So, I had to figure out a way to pull through. I stared at my little prince as the nurse placed him on my chest in the labor ward, thinking about the conversations I had in the past months.


____ After he's born, it's best to leave him in Nigeria while traveling for your master's program. It would be difficult for you to cope with studies and a baby in a new environment with no family support. Plus, childcare is expensive in the United States. Also, remember that you need to maintain a very high GPA to sustain your scholarship.


____ Do whatever you feel is best for you. Travel with him if you think you can cope or leave him with us if it jeopardizes your study.


____ Would you be taking him for the visa interview? He'd be almost four months old when you'd be ready to leave. Motherhood is a full-time job, and your academic program is very demanding. Who would take care of him when you begin your field practicum? He's too young to be away from his mother. At the same time, I want you to have excellent grades. Combining both alone might be disastrous, and I can't leave my job to travel with you both. Look at the positive side of both options and weigh them. Whichever option you choose, you have my support.

Aunt living in the UK

____ My program suffered because I was caring for two kids. My husband had to quit his job and became a stay-at-home dad so that I could complete nursing school.

Married Friend in Nigeria

____ A female with a thriving career without time for her children is a failed woman. A child receives the best care only from his mother. Do not leave your child behind.

Aunt who had visited many countries

____ Paying a babysitter for the hours you'd be in school every day is expensive. Also, how would you cope with his sleepless nights on your exam days?

My emotions ruled me as I fed my son his last breast milk inside the moving vehicle. I wiped my tears repeatedly as soon as I felt them strolling down my eyes. I had to be strong for my little prince because he was staring at my eyeballs while he latched on my nipple. The driver had decided to take the shortest route to the airport that day, so we arrived quicker than I expected. Finally, the time had come to part with my little one. I handed him to my mum, still sobbing. My husband hugged me passionately, comforting me with his words.

____ He is your son forever, but this opportunity might not be permanent. We will always be here for you. You are a superwoman!


Wow! I find the proper adjective to describe me — 'super.' Being a 'superwoman' means I have to be tough yet compassionate, independent yet desire a family, ambitious yet a professional in the affairs of the home, be a boss yet a wife, and be selfish yet a mother. 


I spot the gap-tooth dude as I walk into the airplane. Yes, he is like me — a human, a Nigerian, a student leaving the shores of his country to study in the United States. But, just like my smiles, I wonder if his smiles are guarded by a sense of loss, confusion, and uncertainty. I am searching for stability, a place between the two worlds.


About the Author

Jessica Ojiugo Chinonye-Nwafor is from Nigeria, West Africa. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Development Practice at the University of Arizona, USA. Her novel, A Piece of Hades is approved by Ebonyi State Ministry of Education, Ebonyi State, Nigeria as part of the curriculum for secondary school students. It’s Our Halloween, her short story was longlisted for K and L prize for African Literature in 2019. Her article, Shoot that Shot…Today! was shortlisted for Tush Magazine Bi-monthly competition in April 2019. Her creative non-fiction piece, Somewhere in my Home Country earned her a finalist spot at the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards Competition 2023.

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