Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new short story in Harper’s Bazaar, a brief one titled “How Did You Feel About It?,” is all about love, class and multiculturalism. The female narrator is Nigerian, her husband is English, and the rest of the characters are American, Japanese and Italian. The narrator ponders the nature of her relationship with her husband and they are both startled to run into another observant couple.
In the quiet carriage we sat angled away from each other. We always rode the quiet carriage, but today it felt like a gift: a reason not to talk. Jonathan in his maroon sweater cradling his iPad. The sunlight weak, the morning uncertain. I was staring at the magazine in my hand, deeply breathing in and out, a willed and deliberate breathing, aware of itself. Breathe – such an easy target for scorn, so often summoned as panacea for our modern ills. But it worked. It helped push away my sense of engulfing tedium, even if only for brief moments. How does this happen? How do you wake up one morning and begin to question your life?Jonathan shifted on his seat. I kept my eyes on the magazine, to discourage any whispered conversation.
“Something has been on your mind,” he told me that morning as he buttered a piece of toast. I kept silent, slowly spooning muesli into my mouth, and he said nothing more. Why hadn’t he asked me a question? Why hadn’t he asked “What is on your mind?” A question was braver than a statement. A question forced a reckoning. But Jonathan avoided direct questions because they had in them an element of confrontation. His dislike of confrontation I had once found endearing. It made him a person who thrived on peace, and so a life with him would be a kind of seamless happiness.
When he did ask questions, they seemed always to seek reassurance rather than information. His first question to me, shortly after we met years ago, was about servants. I had mentioned the drivers and househelps of my Lagos childhood, and his question followed: How did you feel about it all? Because servants were foreign to him, a relationship with them had become a matter of morality. He told me that when he first could afford weekly Polish cleaners for his London flat, he had hidden in the spare room while they cleaned, so ashamed was he of paying somebody to scrub his toilet.
For Jonathan to ask “How did you feel about it all?” was not really about how I felt, but about a moral code I was supposed to follow. I was to say: “I felt terrible. I worried about their welfare.” But the truth was I felt nothing because it was the life I knew. Had he asked me “What is on your mind?” that morning and had I said “I am wondering if this is the life I want, and what I have missed out on in the years we’ve been together,” he would have no answer for me. Because I was not supposed to think such things. It was unfair to do so. Wrong. That we sometimes think what we are not supposed to, and feel what we wish we did not, was something Jonathan was unable to grasp.
Read the full story HERE.