Freda Epum

THE AFRICAN DREAM

 

I’m watching TV with my dad, HGTV is on. It’s probably House Hunters or Flip This House.
We sit together on a tattered sepia colored leather couch in a four bedroom with 2.5 bath, eagerly
waiting for the reveal of the much larger home with granite countertops and crown molding.
Casually, my dad tells me of the hut that he used to live in while a commercial flashing an
advertisement for Tiny Houses appears on screen. How distant I feel from the life I would have
had but never will know. A life with electricity that comes and goes, a life my mother had
fetching water for her grandmother to take a shower, a life of cars that don’t obey the rules of
four-way stops, a life of pink doily dresses and braids too tight—done every six weeks or so.

We moved around the time I was eight years old, maybe seven. Dust in the desert air smelled
like the early 2000s, chubby cheeks, skateboards, yellow school busses, an otter pops. Wood
hoisted off the ground on stilts, became walls, became bedrooms, became memories, became
nightmares. I take pictures with my siblings in front of the structure that will become another
salmon colored adobe house in a sea of salmon colored adobe houses behind gates outside the
city.

I look out the hexagon window and see the ghost of my mother, sitting in her dorm room in high
school surrounded by what must be trendy clothing, posters, hair products and lotion. She sits
with no smile, unusual then but a habitual pose now. I’m wearing a frilly lace shirt with Ankara
fabric and I try to taste the Jollof and shea butter and sweat in air that my dad tells me engulfs
you as you step off the plane and find yourself in Nigeria.

In the evenings, I picture every detail of my future life there. This period of imaginary
Africanization fixes me. Rebuilds me from broken, remolds my tongue, deconstructs the
Atlantic. I zigzag against the current of the borderlands, never arriving. 

I wrap my hair in golden, sipping on Heineken hoping the splash as it touches my gums will
change my cadence from meek to boisterous. Hoping it will transform me into someone that
actually like Heineken.

As a little girl, I steal my dad’s whicker-like hat pretending to be on a safari because the
American school system tells me all about the country of Africa. They shrink down my continent
until I can fit it into my pocket, muddying my white flower dress with its rich pigment. I color
the walls brown with Crayola to create mirrors of other selves. Shades of brown like church
doors and my father’s suits. He sits me down every Easter from five to twenty, telling me fables
of Jesus. I scratch my face to check for stubble and grab the glasses from his nose, adjusting my
collar as if I’m wearing a tie. I play in makeup and don gold hoops, wondering when these
costumes will become markers of my new identity.

If I were to be a model daughter of an Igbo family, I would be holding a baby—six pounds,
twelve ounces—their head titled as I cradle small skull and tush, milk that too remolds the
tongue. The air smells of African sweat and mashed yams. I am 24 years old with my first-born child
just like my mother. And I wonder what happens to the souls of mothers who have sacrificed
themselves for the sake of their children’s success. I wonder what happens to her soul when she
arrives in America, too foreign for here. I wonder what happens to her soul as goodbye is uttered
to her country. I wonder whether she cried the entire flight.

 

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