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Authors: Chinua Achebe

Girls at War

BOOK: Girls at War
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Books by Chinua Achebe

Anthills of the Savannah

The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories

Things Fall Apart

No Longer at Ease

Chike and the River

A Man of the People

Arrow of God

Girls at War and Other Stories

Beware Soul Brother

Morning Yet on Creation Day

The Trouble with Nigeria

The Flute

The Drum

Hopes and Impediments

With John Iroaganachi

How the Leopard Got His Claws

With Others

Winds of Change: Modern Short Stories from Black Africa

With C. L. Innes (Eds.)

African Short Stories

FIRST ANCHOR BOOKS EDITION, SEPTEMBER
1991

Copyright © 1972, 1973 by Chinua Achebe

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in Great Britain by Heineman in 1972. It was first published in the United States by Doubleday in 1972. The Anchor Books edition is published by arrangement with Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Achebe, Chinua.
   Girls at war and other stories / by Chinua Achebe. p. cm.
   Contents: The madman—The voter—Marriage is
   a private affair—Akueke—Chike’s school days—
   The sacrificial egg—Vengeful creditor—Dead
   men’s path—Uncle Ben’s choice—Civil peace—
   Sugar baby—Girls at war.
   1. Nigeria—Fiction. I. Title.
[PR 9387.9.A3G57    1991]     91-13778
823—dc20
eISBN: 978-0-307-81647-4

www.anchorbooks.com

v3.1

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

“The Madman” was first published in a shorter version in
The Insider
(Nwankwo-Ifejika), Enugu, 1971.

“The Voter” was first published in
Black Orpheus
, No. 17, 1965.

“Marriage Is a Private Affair” was first published under a different title in The University Herald, Ibadan, May 1952.

“Akueke” was first published in
Reflections
(Andre Deutsch), edited by Frances Ademola.

“Chike’s School Days” was first published in
Rotarian
, April 1960.

“The Sacrificial Egg” was first published in a shorter version in
Atlantic Monthly
, April 1959.

“Vengeful Creditor” was first published in
Okike
, No. 1, 1971.

“Dead Men’s Path” was first published in
The University Herald
, Ibadan, January 1953 (untitled).

“Uncle Ben’s Choice” was first published in
Black Orpheus
, No. 19, 1966.

“Civil Peace” was first published in
Okike
, No. 2, 1971.

Preface

It was with something of a shock that I realized that my earliest short stories were published as long ago as twenty years in the Ibadan student magazine,
The University Herald.
I suppose I had come to think that that exciting adjective “new” so beloved of advertisers and salesmen would stick to me indefinitely. But alas a practitioner of twenty years standing should no longer be called new. All that he can do is probably to draw some comfort from looking at his art in the light of wine (which improves with age) rather than, say, detergent which has to be ever new. And I do not necessarily mean wine of the vine, for the palm-tree which I know better has its wine too, somewhat sweet when it is first brought down in the morning but harsher and more potent as the day advances.

I have felt another kind of disappointment in the fewness of the stories. A dozen pieces in twenty years must be accounted a pretty lean harvest by any reckoning. A countryman of mine once described
himself as a “voracious writer.” On my present showing I could not possibly make a similar claim. I do hope, however, that this little collection does have some merit and interest, even the two student pieces (I dare not call them stories) which I have slightly touched up here and there without, I hope, destroying their primal ingenuousness.

Another fellow countryman of mine, Wole Soyinka, once charged me, albeit in a friendly way, with an “unrelieved competence” in my novels. I trust that some at least of these short stories stretching farther back in time than the novels and touching upon more varied areas of experience will please by occasional departures into relieved competence (to say nothing of relieved and unrelieved incompetence).

I am grateful to Professors Thomas Melone of Yaoundé and G. D. Killam of Dar es Salaam for tracking down some of the earliest of these stories.

C
HINUA
A
CHEBE

Institute of African Studies
University of Nigeria
Nsukka

The Madman

He was drawn to markets and straight roads. Not any tiny neighbourhood market where a handful of garrulous women might gather at sunset to gossip and buy ogili for the evening’s soup, but a huge, engulfing bazaar beckoning people familiar and strange from far and near. And not any dusty, old footpath beginning in this village, and ending in that stream, but broad, black, mysterious highways without beginning or end. After much wandering he had discovered two such markets linked together by such a highway; and so ended his wandering. One market was Afo, the other Eke. The two days between them suited him very well: before setting out for Eke he had ample time to wind up his business properly at Afo. He passed the night there putting right again his hut after a day of defilement by two fat-bottomed market women who said it was their market stall. At first he had put up a fight but the women had gone and brought their men-folk—four hefty beasts of the bush—to whip him out
of the hut. After that he always avoided them, moving out on the morning of the market and back in at dusk to pass the night. Then in the morning he rounded off his affairs swiftly and set out on that long, beautiful boa-constrictor of a road to Eke in the distant town of Ogbu. He held his staff and cudgel at the ready in his right hand, and with the left he steadied the basket of his belongings on his head. He had got himself this cudgel lately to deal with little beasts on the way who threw stones at him and made fun of their mothers’ nakedness, not his own.

He used to walk in the middle of the road, holding it in conversation. But one day the driver of a mammy-wagon and his mate came down on him shouting, pushing and slapping his face. They said their lorry very nearly ran over their mother, not him. After that he avoided those noisy lorries too, with the vagabonds inside them.

Having walked one day and one night he was now close to the Eke market-place. From every little side-road, crowds of market people poured into the big highway to join the enormous flow to Eke. Then he saw some young ladies with water-pots on their heads coming towards him, unlike all the rest, away from the market. This surprised him. Then he saw two more water-pots rise out of a sloping footpath leading off his side of the highway. He felt thirsty then and stopped to think it over. Then he set down his basket on the roadside and turned into the sloping footpath. But first he begged his highway not to be offended or continue the journey without him. “I’ll get some for you too,” he said coaxingly with a tender backward glance. “I know you are thirsty.”

*   *   *

Nwibe was a man of high standing in Ogbu and was rising higher; a man of wealth and integrity. He had just given notice to all the
o
z
o
men of the town that he proposed to seek admission into their honoured hierarchy in the coming initiation season.

“Your proposal is excellent,” said the men of title. “When we see we shall believe.” Which was their dignified way of telling you to think it over once again and make sure you have the means to go through with it. For
o
z
o
is not a child’s naming ceremony; and where is the man to hide his face who begins the
o
z
o
dance and then is foot-stuck to the arena? But in this instance the caution of the elders was no more than a formality for Nwibe was such a sensible man that no one could think of him beginning something he was not sure to finish.

On that Eke day Nwibe had risen early so as to visit his farm beyond the stream and do some light work before going to the market at midday to drink a horn or two of palm-wine with his peers and perhaps buy that bundle of roofing thatch for the repair of his wives’ huts. As for his own hut he had a couple of years back settled it finally by changing his thatch-roof to zinc. Sooner or later he would do the same for his wives. He could have done Mgboye’s hut right away but decided to wait until he could do the two together, or else Udenkwo would set the entire compound on fire. Udenkwo was the junior wife, by three years, but she never let that worry her. Happily Mgboye was a woman of peace who rarely demanded the respect due to her from the other. She would suffer Udenkwo’s provoking tongue sometimes for a whole day without offering a word in reply. And when she
did reply at all her words were always few and her voice very low.

That very morning Udenkwo had accused her of spite and all kinds of wickedness on account of a little dog.

“What has a little dog done to you?” she screamed loud enough for half the village to hear. “I ask you, Mgboye, what is the offense of a puppy this early in the day?”

“What your puppy did this early in the day,” replied Mgboye, “is that he put his shit-mouth into my souppot.”

“And then?”

“And then I smacked him.”

“You smacked him! Why don’t you cover your soup-pot? Is it easier to hit a dog than cover a pot? Is a small puppy to have more sense than a woman who leaves her soup-pot about …?”

“Enough from you, Udenkwo.”

“It is not enough, Mgboye, it is not enough. If that dog owes you any debt I want to know. Everything I have, even a little dog I bought to eat my infant’s excrement keeps you awake at nights. You are a bad woman, Mgboye, you are a very bad woman!”

Nwibe had listened to all of this in silence in his hut. He knew from the vigour in Udenkwo’s voice that she could go on like this till market-time. So he intervened, in his characteristic manner by calling out to his senior wife.

“Mgboye! Let me have peace this early morning!”

“Don’t you hear all the abuses Udenkwo …”

“I hear nothing at all from Udenkwo and I want peace in my compound. If Udenkwo is crazy must everybody else go crazy with her? Is one crazy woman not enough in my compound so early in the day?”

“The great judge has spoken,” sang Udenkwo in a sneering sing-song. “Thank you, great judge. Udenkwo is mad. Udenkwo is always mad, but those of you who are sane let …”

“Shut your mouth, shameless woman, or a wild beast will lick your eyes for you this morning. When will you learn to keep your badness within this compound instead of shouting it to all Ogbu to hear? I say shut your mouth!”

There was silence then except for Udenkwo’s infant whose yelling had up till then been swallowed up by the larger noise of the adults.

“Don’t cry, my father,” said Udenkwo to him. “They want to kill your dog, but our people say the man who decides to chase after a chicken, for him is the fall …”

BOOK: Girls at War
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