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The car your father rammed into was wide, foreign and dark green, with yellow headlights like the eyes of a cat. Your father started to cry and beg even before he got out of the car and laid himself flat on the road, stopping the traffic. Sorry sir, sorry sir, if you sell me and my family you cannot even buy one tyre in your car, he chanted. Sorry sir. Finally, he let your father go. Waved him away. The other cars honked and drivers cursed. When your father got back in the car, you refused to look at him because he was just like the pigs that waddled in the marshes around the market.

Your father looked like nsi. After you told him this, he held your hand and said he understood. You shook your hand free, annoyed, because he thought the world was, or ought to be, full of people like him. You told him there was nothing to understand, it was just the way it was. Back home, the meat pieces you ate, when there was meat, were the size of half your finger.

But you did not tell him that. You did not tell him either that the dawadawa cubes your mother cooked everything with, because curry and thyme were too expensive, had MSG, were MSG. The waiter warmed up and told him what soup was best and then asked him, you have girlfriend in Shanghai?

And he smiled and said nothing. You lost your appetite, the region beneath your breasts felt clogged, inside. Finally you told him why you were upset, that the Chinese man assumed you could not possibly be his girlfriend, and that he had smiled and said nothing. Before he apologised, he gazed at you blankly and you knew that he did not understand. He bought you presents and when you objected about the cost, he said he had a trust fund, it was OK.

His presents mystified you. A fist-sized ball that you shook to watch snow fall on a tiny house, or watch a plastic ballerina in pink spin around. A shiny rock. An expensive scarf hand-painted in Mexico that you could never wear because of the colour. Finally you told him, your voice stretched in irony, that in the third world presents should be useful. The rock, for instance, would work if you could grind things with it, or wear it.

The thing around your neck

He laughed long and hard, but you did not laugh. You realised that in his life, he could buy presents that were just presents and nothing else. Still, you did not fight.

The thing around your neck | Prospect Magazine

Not really. You felt safe in his arms, the same safeness you felt back home, in the shantytown house of zinc, the same safeness you felt when he got too much sun and his skin turned the colour of a ripe watermelon and you kissed portions of his back before you rubbed lotion on it. He found the African store in the Hartford Yellow Pages and drove you there.

You cooked for him; he liked jollof rice but after he ate garri and onugbu soup, he threw up in your sink. The thing that wrapped itself around your neck, that nearly always choked you before you fell asleep, started to loosen, to let go. The old white women who muttered and glared at him, the black men who shook their heads at you, the black women whose eyes bemoaned your lack of self-esteem. Or the black women who smiled swift secret solidarity smiles, the black men who tried too hard to forgive you, saying a too obvious hi to him, the white women who said, what a good looking pair, too loudly, as if to prove their own tolerance to themselves.

But his parents were different; they almost made you think it was all normal. His mother told you that he had never brought a girl to meet them, except for his high school prom date and he smiled stiffly and held your hand. The tablecloth shielded your clasped hands. He squeezed your hand and you squeezed back and wondered why he was so stiff, why his extra virgin olive oil eyes darkened as he spoke to his parents.

His father asked how similar Indian food was to Nigerian food and teased you about paying when the check came. You looked at them and felt grateful that they did not examine you like an exotic trophy, an ivory tusk. You wanted to sympathise.

But instead you were angry. You were angrier when he told you he had refused to go up to Canada with them for a week or two, to their summer cottage in the Quebec countryside. They had even asked him to bring you. He showed you pictures of the cottage and you wondered why it was called a cottage because the buildings that big around your neighbourhood back home were banks and churches. You dropped a glass and it shattered on the hardwood of his apartment floor and he asked what was wrong and you said nothing, although you thought a lot was wrong.

Your worlds were wrong. You wrote home finally, when the thing around your neck had almost completely let go. A short letter to your parents and brothers and sisters, slipped in between the crisp dollar bills, and you included your address. You got a reply only days later, by courier. Your mother wrote the letter herself, you knew from the spidery penmanship, from the misspelled words.

Your father was dead; he had slumped over the steering wheel of his taxi. It had happened five months ago, she wrote. They had used some of the money you sent to give him a nice funeral. They killed a goat for the guests and buried him in a real coffin, not just planks of wood. You curled up in bed, pressed your knees tight to your chest and cried. He held you while you cried, smoothed your hair, and offered to go with you, back home to Nigeria. You said no, you needed to go alone.

He asked if you would come back and you reminded him that you had a green card and you would lose it if you did not come back in one year. He said you knew what he meant. Would you come back, come back? You turned away and said nothing and when he drove you to the airport, you hugged him tight, clutching at the muscles of his back, until your ribs hurt. And you said thank you. Forgotten password? We'll even send you our e-book— Writing with punch —with some of the finest writing from the Prospect archive, at no extra cost!

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The Thing Around Your Neck

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The Thing Around Your Neck: Book Review

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This site uses cookies to improve the user experience. By using this site, you agree that we can set and use these cookies. The narrator feels as though a present should be useful rather than something purchased to please an individual for a period of time. This may be important as the narrator may be experiencing the negativity of materialism for the first time. She considers them to be impractical. Which may leave some readers to suggest not only is the narrator independently minded when it comes to the act of giving presents but she may also have no real desire to completely immerse herself in American culture or materialism.

It is not who she is.


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Goods in which they have no real use for and would be readily available in Lagos. Even though they themselves are still living in Lagos. There is also some symbolism in the story which may be important. The blank strips of paper in the fortune cookies may symbolise where the narrator is in her life.

It is as though she is uncertain of which direction she should take. Something that is also noticeable by the fact that she waits till her boyfriend asks her four times to go out with her. Before she tells him that she will. An action taken on her own initiative and due to the fear that he might not ask a fifth time. The fact that the narrator connects with very few people while she is in America may also be symbolically significant as it may suggest that the narrator is lonely. She may long for the stability that she knows she can have should she return to Lagos.

There is also an element of racism in the story. The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that the narrator has given up on the American dream. In reality there is no real need for her to return home. In many ways the reader is left with the feeling that the narrator has found it difficult to acclimatize with the environment she encountered in America. She has spent the duration of her time in America unhappy and unsure of the direction that her life is taking.

At least if the narrator returns to Lagos she knows who she is. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail. Currently you have JavaScript disabled. In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page.