She didn’t look that mad as she turned toward the phone booth, cell phone in hand, and then placed it on the dirty metal grill where the phone books used to be. That’s when she let it have it – one phone on the other – bringing the pay-phone receiver down like a hammer, once and again, until her cell toppled to the ground, appropriately smashed. She wasn’t done. The pay-phone receiver still swinging, useless, she picked up her cell, and walked ahead, muttering, all the way to the corner, and carefully, angrily, shoved it down between the grill of the storm sewer. “Try calling me again! You try that!” She vanished, phone-less, into the subway station.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a long and winding love story, unavoidably about race:
“I mean ‘nigger is a word that exists. People use it. It is part of America. It has caused a lot of pain to people and I think it is insulting to bleep it out. (168) Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy. (209)
One of Adichie’s devices, which works to varying effect, is the citation of Ifemelu’s blog: Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanian. America doesn’t care. (273) Later, on the train to Essex, he noticed that all the people around him were Nigerians, loud conversations in Yoruba and Pidgin filled the carriage, and for a moment he saw the unfettered non-white foreignness of this scene through the suspicious eye of the white women on the tube. (320)
I never approve or disapprove of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take toward life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid of ourselves. The basis for optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbor with the possession of those virtues we are likely to be of benefit to us. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.
A fox who had never seen a lion one day met one and was so terrified at the sight of him that he was ready to die of fear. After a time, he met him again and was still so frightened but not nearly so much as he had been when he met him first. But when he saw him for a third time, he was so far from being afraid that he went up to him and began to talk to him as if he had known him all his life.
The pale boy was wandering about his shady room furtively, touching with his white fingers the edges of the scales studded with butterflies; then he stopped to listen. The pounding of Giovannino and Serenella’s hearts, which had died down, now got harder than ever. Perhaps it was the fear of a spell that hung over the villa and garden and over all these lovely, comfortable things, the residue of some injustice committed long ago. Very quietly, Giovannino and Serenella crept away. They went back along the same paths they had come, stepping fast but never at a run.
Ah. (Pause) When I was young somebody told me, are you ready? The rich copulate less often than the poor. But when they do, they take more of their clothes off. Years. Years, mind you, I would compare experiences of my own to this dictum, saying, aha, this fits the norm, or ah, this is a variation from it. What did it mean? Nothing.
(Paris, 1986) Curtis was a nice enough guy – even if he had been hitting on my girlfriend, calling her “his earth mother” – and was the personal assistant to the wife of film producer, Alexander Salkind. Mrs. Salkind, he said, wanted to produce an adaptation of Euripedes’ Medea, the Greek tragedy of a mother murdering her children.
I wrote a brief scene – Medea desperate on the rocks, blood on her hands – and headed over to the Salkind’s sprawling apartment for my afternoon appointment. Salkind’s wife wasn’t there, off having lunch with a Count and didn’t return until the evening, intoxicated, and acted out Medea’s anguish, crawling beneath the grand piano, for her husband.
Salkind hated the idea. “There are three things people never want to see in movies: suicide, AIDS and this.” And then he turned to me. “And what do you have to say?”
“Uh, well, I see your point, but…”
“Ah.” He waved me off and left the room.
His wife stayed under the piano, worn out from her performance, as I went into the kitchen and got drunk with Curtis. “You’re a sneaky rat bastard, that’s what you are.”
I didn’t understand why he kept saying that, but the tequila was good.