When I last had an ordinary Lagos day, it was mid-March. Although I suppose it wasn’t entirely ordinary. I knew the pandemic had made its way to Nigeria, and we should all be preparing to stay home for a while.
I’m a Nigerian citizen now and know the drill. We had lived in Lagos through the fuel subsidy repeal, the elections and Ebola. There had been several other times where I worried about the possibility of harm to my family and had prepared for the worst.
So, I headed to the grocery store. I filled my cart with milk and water and stood in the giant line snaking through the store. Everyone in town seemed to have had the same idea as me, and the shop was packed. It was time to disaster prep.
Unfortunately, I am suggestible. Every time I looked around and saw something in another shopper’s cart, I darted off and added the identical item to my cart. I ended up adding a flashlight, female hygiene products, cereal, canned beans, tuna fish, toilet paper, juice, wine, eggs and bread, until I had a tower of goods looming over my head.
The man ahead of me stood patiently in line for an hour with only a bar of soap and tub of bleaching cream in his basket. I texted my friend, Tolu to ask why this man would wait so long to buy those two items on a day when the store was so crowded.
As an immigrant to Nigeria, I often feel confused, like I am fumbling my way through the dark, and I rely on sensible people like Tolu to give me guidance. Tolu texted back: “Madam sent him.”
Once I paid for my goods, I received the expected message from my husband. He had gotten an alert and was aghast I had spent so much. No matter what I spend, my husband says it’s too much but today, he was actually correct. I use this technique in reverse when my children show me their report cards. No matter the grade, I always say they could have scored higher, so I have no right to complain when my husband treats me this way.
I didn’t have time to manage my husband, however. If Lagos shut down as cities had across the globe, our family of five would be locked up together for months. The man with the bleaching cream had inspired me. As a courtesy to the people who would be locked up with me, I wondered whether I ought to consider my own aesthetics.
See, I’ve never cared how I look. This pandemic would be different, though. I would not allow my husband to wake up one morning, take a close look at me for the first time in years, and realise he had married an ugly woman. I would spend my last day of freedom remodelling myself.
I filled the boot of my car with the groceries and raced to the nail salon. I asked the nail technician to paint my toes and hands with clear polish, so when my nails grew they wouldn’t looked messy. Then for the first time in years I went to the hairdresser.
“I would like haircut,” I said, throwing myself into the chair.
“What kind of style?” he asked.
“Who cares? Just hurry,” I said.
The stylist did some snipping and my hair began falling to the floor. I checked my watch and realised the children needed to be picked up from school in a few minutes. Without allowing the hairdresser to finish the last section, I jumped up and rushed out.
From school, we went out to a celebratory lunch. My last day of Lagos freedom happened to be my birthday. Then we went home where we have remained for over three months. All the groceries I bought in mid-March are long gone, but my nails grew out nicely and my short hair is tidy. My appearance has not been a source of dismay or added to the stress of my family members. Focusing on aesthetics didn’t save us from painful moments since we began self-isolating, but it did make life a little prettier. Sometimes when the world stops making sense, a bit of beauty helps.
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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