Designed to Control

Posted Thursday, 04 July 2019

My primary-school age son thinks I’m a terrific old gal, practically perfect, especially when I’ve just bought him a toy or cooked him dinner. He never complains about my coffee breath, expanding waistline or personal limitations. To fill those roles, God blessed me with daughters. Since they learned to speak, my girls have been generous in their mother-related complaints and criticisms. I mostly ignore them. If I listened, I might have to improve myself which seems like a lot of bother.

One thing my eldest did mention recently was how often I discuss my plots to destroy my enemies and my plans for world domination. “All I’m saying,” she said, glancing up from the table where she sat doing homework after school, “is that you’re always bragging about how you’ll smite people and dance on their graves but it’s never specific.”

“What do you mean?” I said, feeling alarmed. 

My daughter flipped through her chemistry textbook. “How are you going to bring down your enemies? You have no plan. It’s even worse than that. What enemies are you targeting? Name your enemies.”

I blinked several times. I opened my mouth and closed it.

“Mama, do you even have enemies?”

I racked my brain. “It doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” I said, growing defensive. “If I get plans in place now, I’ll be ready when my enemies emerge.”

My daughter copied an equation into her notebook. “You’ll be fifty before you know it. You couldn’t have had more time to make enemies. No offense but I don’t think you have it in you.”

My other daughter came downstairs and caught sight of me. “You look like you’re going to cry. What is it now?”

“She never likes getting feedback on her poor planning.” My older daughter tapped a pencil against the table, thinking. “The crushing-your-enemies thing is unrealistic but maybe you can still control what people think about you? You shouldn’t give up on all of your dreams.”

I felt a bit better. “Yeah, I could shift my focus to that.”

“Your grandfather was the Minister of Propaganda in India, right?” my younger daughter said. “You can do this.” She picked up her ukulele up from the china hutch and strummed it. 

“Minister of Information,” I said, “but same general idea.”

“Since he’s not around, I’d start with research,” my eldest said.

I ran upstairs to my bookshelf, found an old copy of The Prince by Machiavelli and read it cover to cover. Published in 1532, The Prince is a political treatise on how to acquire and maintain political power.

According to my analysis, I am doing everything wrong. Powerful people are meant to act grand, wear impressive clothes and make impressive pronouncements. They are intimidating, not approachable. How does this translate to the 21st Century? Perhaps in this age powerful people take sexy selfies and post them for millions of followers. I wouldn’t know because my social media game is weak, my daughters say.

I mostly wear my nightgown, eat potato chips and take naps. Still, I could try and change things up. Maybe it’s not too late to dress better, mumble less and achieve world domination. Isn’t it just a design issue? If I focus on my exterior, people might become impressed by me. With some dedication, I could be appointed Tsar or Queen of the Universe or some other position I long for.

I polled my children. My eldest said I should stick with what’s taken me this far, being loved and not feared, that Machiavellian schemes aren’t for everyone. My younger daughter—the only one of my kids who inherited my napping gene—said upgrading my image would cut into my leisure time so she wouldn’t recommend it. My son agreed with his sisters since his mother is already perfect. 

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.


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