‘Your mother made a scene.’
‘You’re angry,’ Odenigbo looked puzzled. He sat down in the armchair, and for the first time she noticed how much space there was between the furniture, how sparse her flat was, how unlived in. Her things were in his house; her favourite books were in the shelves in his study. ‘Nkem, I didn’t know you’d take this so seriously. You can see that my mother doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s just a village woman. She’s trying to make her way in a new world with skills that are better suited for the old one.’ Odenigbo got up and moved closer to take her in his arms, but Olanna turned and walked into the kitchen.
‘You never talk about your mother,’ she said. ‘You’ve never asked me to come to Abba with you to visit her.’
‘Oh stop it, nkem. It’s not as if I go that often to see her, and I did ask you the last time but you were going to Lagos.’
She walked over to the stove and ran a sponge on the warm surface, over and over, her back to Odenigbo. She felt as if she had somehow failed him and herself by allowing his mother’s behaviour to upset her. She should be above it; she should shrug it off as the ranting of a village woman; she should not keep thinking of all the retorts she could have, instead of just standing mutely in that kitchen. But she was upset, and made even more so by Odenigbo’s expression, as if he could not believe she was not quite as high-minded as he had thought. He was making her feel small and absurdly petulant and, worse yet, she suspected he was right. She always suspected he was right. For a brief irrational moment, she wished she could walk away from him. Then she wished, more rationally, that she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the choicelessness she often felt around him.