Whenever I see the billboards bearing Ebuka’s smiling face in Igbo attire (it’s conspicuously placed on the Niger Bridge at the Asaba end, before you get into Onitsha- home of Hero beer) or the dreadlocked TV host whose name escapes me currently, I remember one of the burning ambitions of my childhood. I wanted to become a man when I grew up.
Manhood to Adaeze at four/five years old meant being able to put Seaman’s aromatic schnapps in my mouth, squish it around my mouth and spit it out before pouring libation to the ancestors like I’d seen my hero Okonkwo (the series was on air then) and like my grandfather and beloved De David do (may their souls continue to enjoy eternal rest). I loved listening to stories of my ancestors, especially of the founder of my village who fought so many battles that the name of my village literally means children who take pleasure in a fight.
Two or so years later, St Moritz cigarettes had a brilliant advert with “High” by Lighthouse Family as soundtrack. It featured a man living an absolutely fabulous life, doing fabulous things and he’d spend his evenings with a stick of St Moritz- a perfect way to end a perfect day. To this day listening to that song fills me with a longing to light up, it doesn’t matter that I’m allergic to cigarette smoke or that my grandfathers were both heavy smokers and didn’t enjoy optimum health in old age, or that I know it’s just a manipulative advert. When I talked about it with an aunt back then, she said women didn’t smoke and I felt that familiar longing to become a man, to live my life as I wanted.
Being a man seems to come with plenty liberties, you could be absolutely terrible and be forgiven easily with the excuse “Na man he be”. You could be lazy, disorganised, dirty and crude and you’d still get a “premium” woman because “Na man you be”. You can batter your wife and children and nobody would whisper a word of censure to you, instead your wife will get blamed for daring to breathe near you, for not shrinking deep enough to keep from upsetting you. You can rape a woman and she’d get blamed for tempting you with her seductive clothing, it doesn’t matter that “mad” women stroll past you in their naked glory and they didn’t “tempt” you, or that the woman in question might be covered up like a nun… its STILL her bloody fault.
You can do the same job outside the home as your wife, leave home and come back at the same time with her but when you both enter the house, you make a beeline to the TV and the remote while she wearily heads to the kitchen. Yet you are the stronger sex? If I hear! She could even bring in more money than you or perhaps all the money but if she tries to make decisions with you on how the money is spent, she becomes a controlling shrew. If you are a director in your office, your wife would not refer to you by your given name (is she insane?), or by the pet names of your young love… Director X becomes your moniker. But Madam, yes the slip of a girl you married remains stunted like a palm in the desert, even if she is Hillary… She leaves her position at the gate- if you are a kind man, most men wouldn’t even let her leave the office with it. You see; ego in a woman is a dangerous thing, it was responsible for the fall of man, the battle of Troy, the two world wars, the fall in the Naira to the dollar… For everything.
I want to write about your other privileges, from your being able to get a passport without needing your wife’s permission to being able to rent a house without snide comments from the landlord about your bringing in women at odd hours, he’d even forgive you if you did that… After all, “na man you be”. You can aspire to be anything and never get to hear “you can’t do this because you’re a man”, neither are you automatically chosen to write the minutes of a meeting if you are the only male present. But I’m really tired and I’m typing on my phone, so I will not talk about those things.
I do not blame you though, you did not set the rules… Unfortunately, neither did I.