CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE HAS WRITTEN AN EXCLUSIVE SHORT STORY JUST FOR US

‘How Did You Feel About It?’ is an original piece by the award-winning author who inspired Beyoncé and Dior

‘How Did You Feel About It?’ is an original short story written exclusively for Bazaar by the award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The Nigerian writer and activist’s work has been translated into 30 languages. The second of her three novels, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, won the Orange Prize and was made into a film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. Her 2012 TED Talk ‘We should all be feminists’ has been viewed more than five million times and has inspired women across the world from Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri to Beyoncé.

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.

From across the aisle came a loud voice. An elderly American man talking on the phone, his accent distinct, face burnt red as though fresh from a holiday. In the clammy silence of the carriage, his words sounded unnatural, as though coming from somewhere else. Jonathan shifted and sighed, then shifted again. A man turned and rolled his eyes. A woman shook her head.

Why didn’t one of them tell the American that this was the quiet carriage? I guessed, from a bluffness in his manner, that he did not know. Jonathan was seated closest to the American, he had only to reach out across the aisle and gesture to the man and in his modulated voice say something. But he would not. Jonathan would shift and sigh and shift again but would say nothing. I once thought this sweet. I would have teased him about the English ritual of passive aggression, so easily inflamed by the presence of an American.

The quirks that had first charmed me about Jonathan were suddenly scourges designed for my irritation. His sensitivity was weakness. What I thought his innocence was now self-indulgent naiveté. Nothing had happened. Jonathan had done nothing wrong, I had not met anyone else. It was merely that one morning I woke up and felt undone. I began to struggle to shrug off a terrifying sense of something wasted, a colossal waste, leaving a dull mourning for things gone forever.

 

Both their hands were below the table. Were they holding hands? They seemed like people who truly felt things, who touched their emotions. Their lives were lit by an inner incandescence. I tried to imagine their home, full of colour, intense flowers in asymmetrical vases, unapologetic paintings, perhaps leaning rather than hung on the walls.

They probably said things to each other in bed, and made sounds for each other, with no self-consciousness. Her arms would be thrown up above her head. His body relaxed in its sensuality. They had brief intense fights, about their jealousy and their drinking, and they shouted at each other and then reconciled with passion. I felt suddenly that my life with Jonathan, with its contentment, its pacifism, was in fact the absence of true feeling.

Read the rest of this story@

http://www.harpersbazaar.co.uk/culture/news/a43204/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-short-story/ 

‘How Did You Feel About It?’ was originally published in the August issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: