Falz is not your everyday hero.
Chimamanda is not the biggest fan of traditional love stories about men with strong white teeth and women with supple breasts and full lips. Everyone must have a scathing flaw. So we expect Falz to be written as a sturdy man with handsome features but inadvertently a foul-mouthed soldier with bad vocabulary and a large ego.
But somehow all young girls still swoon at his feet except Simi. The village rumours about the countless girls he has been with is one of the major reasons Simi is coy around him. He is repeatedly refused by Simi at the expense of his reputation but is too blinded by love to do anything about it. Which makes him the perfect unlikely hero to perform the ultimate sacrifice of rescuing Simi from the rebel soldiers. We’re not sure if Simi ever gives him a chance, but by the end of the book, Simi is slowly being able to tolerate his usually annoying presence.
“There was something hanging over all of us. Sometimes I wanted it all to be a dream – the explosion at the market square, the death screams of children and the tense atmosphere poisoned with gun powder. It was too new, too foreign. I did not know what to be or how to be. On such nights, I tip-toed to his window and gave it two gentle taps. The first night I came knocking, he’d come to the door with sleep in his eyes. He didn’t look excited to see me and that slightly bothered me. But he held out his hands to softly reach for mine, groggily leading me into the darkness of his room. Out of the dark, I hear a plastic chair eek as it was dragged across the floor. He slid his hand out of mine as he led me to sit on the chair.I hear him fumbling with something else in the dark until a match stick burned bright yellow igniting an oil lamp on a small stool. He pulled out another chair to sit beside me, bringing with him a photo album of pictures from his younger days in the army and for a brief moment, everything felt normal again. Even his loud laugh and glass frames without any lenses. “ – Simi on Falz helping her deal with the aftermath of the attack on her village.
Simi is a coy mistress with a twist.
Chimamanda’s female leads are usually textbook characters whose story arcs are often linear and predictable but with a hint of occasionally being eccentric. You’re never sure if they’re happy or sad and life for them is nothing but a series of interconnected flashbacks. This easily defines Simi’s character as your average post-teen woman who overthinks everything. Though she’s conventionally a “good girl” she’s far from the usual for many varying reasons; she’s smart, educated, unconventionally beautiful, stubborn but with a moral edge to do good wherever she can. But things take a downward slope after rebel soldiers kidnap her as bait to lure Falz. Her beloved village is destroyed, her best friend commits suicide after being brutally raped by the invaders and the school where she is a teacher is razed to the ground in the middle of a school day. But with help from Falz, they both embark on a mission to free the village.
“The sun turned red and it was about to fall. The principal abruptly called off the teacher’s meeting and asked us to leave. As I trudged down the hill, I stopped, hoping that Falz would be at the school gates waiting for me with his slanted beret and half-wit English as usual. But he was not there. As I walked home, I found myself constantly looking over my shoulders in anticipation. I even slowed my usually preppy walk wondering if he’d arrived the gates later than usual or left when he didn’t see me come out at the usual 3pm closing time.
That night when I got home mama asked me if anything was wrong.
“I’m fine mama,” I said
She was looking at me as though she knew I was not fine. “Are you sure?”
“Brighten up Ehn? And please pray that another man with big big car will come for you. I’ll go to Ade’s mother tomorrow to ask about her doctor son”
“Oh” I said, feeling a new numbing rush of sadness. “I will, Mama” I replied almost immediately. Yet I knew that I would not. I could not pray that for another man. I knew it was what she wanted. I was her only child and I knew that she didn’t have many other choices. Still, I would not pray for what I did not want” – Simi, on how she felt after her mother chased Falz away.
Simi’s mother is a controlling bitch.
Mothers are always the most complicated characters developed by Chimamanda. They’re often women forced by circumstances determined by a patriarchal society to either be meek and gentle or be independent and controlling. For Simi’s mother, the latter is the case. After growing up watching her mother be abused and maltreated in a polygamous home, she swore never to entrust her life to a man. She is a hard working woman who made money making cassava flour at a young age to make sure Simi got an education. Her husband is a retired civil servant who is an exact counter coin of everything she represents. He spends his retirement days lazying around with a chewing stick and a newspaper. His lax attitude to life allows his wife free reign to hold much of the power in the family. However her compulsive desperation to ensure Simi a life better than the one she had is her biggest flaw, and consequently, it makes her an unlikely anti-hero.
“It was Mama’s turn to collect the ‘Esusu savings she contributed with her friends. I watched her with my side eye excitedly counting the loot with childlike enthusiasm.
“When are you going to do your Mastas” she asks absently as her fingers whisked through wads of Naira notes.
“I don’t know Mama” I replied in a deliberately low voice, making my move for the door. An instinctive move to avoid the coming conversation.
“When will you know ehn? Is it until you’re too old to find a good man to marry you? Or do you want to go into your husband’s house without a higher degree to get a good job, so he can turn you to his punching bag anytime you ask for money?”
“All men are not like that” I almost heard myself say. But I didn’t open my mouth. My face still stung from our last major encounter and I didn’t have the strength to start another argument. Or spend hours in front of the dressing mirror trying to cover my face with heaps of make-up to disguise another blister” – Simi, on her relationship with her mother.