Less than a year after I moved to Lagos, I participated in celebrated author Chimamanda Adichie’s writing workshop. Twenty-two writers, selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, were expected to attend workshops taught by Chimamanda and her famous writer buddies for a few weeks from morning until evening.
I should have been happy but I was terrified. I had never left my children in anyone’s care and had developed unusual habits during my decade as a stay-at-home mom. I took a few daily naps. I didn’t like changing out of my nightgown and my meals consisted of scraps my kids brought back home in their lunchboxes. I had grown weird and feral and wasn’t fit to be around other adults.
On the day we commenced, the selected writers sat around the table radiating dignity. I trembled in my seat, feeling like a fraud. Everyone who introduced themselves unnerved me a bit more. Oh, it was horrible. Each writer was passionate, talented and accomplished.
What was odd was that they seemed familiar with one another’s work. A wave of paranoia engulfed me. I would never break into their rarefied African writing world. I could see my future unfurling and it took the path it usually did. I would fail in all my endeavours. My husband and children would shun me. I would die alone in a gutter.
Then Chimamanda mentioned something about an email. Wait, what email? I learned they had all been receiving messages no one had sent me. The writing samples we had used in our applications had been shared with the group and we would be workshopping them together.
More paranoia ensued. If I wasn’t receiving emails, it meant I wasn’t really a selected writer. I gathered my things quietly so I could dart out before they realised they had invited me in error.
It turned out they had just misspelled my email address and I was meant to be there.
The two weeks passed uneventfully. My children did fine in the care of a babysitter and I managed to successfully imitate an adult and not shame my family. When my essay was workshopped, Chimamanda said I was self-protective in my writing, that I was careful never to cast myself in a bad light.
But this ends today. It’s time to throw aside my desire to shield myself from your dislike. I am going to make an unsavoury confession even though you may all come to hate me. My confession is that I live to trick people.
I want to tell people lies and have them believe me. I become giddy if they take my nonsense seriously. Oh, it was glorious when my kids were young and believed everything I said. They thought I was a mermaid who had assumed human shape when I fell in love with their father. They were convinced I was on a first name basis with both Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. They believed a squirrel with no tail guarded our house from monsters and I paid him a salary of one acorn a week.
I spun yarns and they bought them all. Their imaginations soared and they wanted to hear my stories all day, every day. I fabricated wildly and laughed nonstop because they were so gullible. This is why I consider April Fool’s Day to be the greatest day of the year. What is better than a day where I am authorised to prank my offspring with impunity?
We have a safe word now, sadly. When I start spouting rubbish, my children say a certain phrase to me and I have to admit if I’m lying. This has killed much of my joy, that they immediately doubt me and make me admit the truth.
April Fool’s Day has lost its lustre but no one can stop me from reminiscing about the early years of parenting, when my children trusted me as if I was their mother.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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