This woman was clearly not the greedy type, but she had another human weakness. She was caring.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You By Chance, pg. 206
I read I Do Not Come to You By Chance over the Christmas holiday. I first heard about it from an Indian colleague of mine based in New York, and then later from another non-Nigerian colleague based here with me. This must have been about two years ago, but I only bought my copy in the last quarter of 2012. And then I left it by my bedside, ignoring it for about three months. I could’ve kicked myself when I finally did begin to read it as I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. So much so that I ordered my sister a copy so I could laugh about it, grieve over it, and discuss it to death with someone else who would really ‘get’ it. And we did exactly that.
I underlined a few sentences in the book that really struck me, such as the ones cited above. Several times during my reading of the book, I said to myself: I really need to become more street smart. I do feel like I tend to get taken advantage of far too much. In the past, I’ve wondered why I tend to get approached with all kinds of strange requests while my friends don’t. I’ve wondered what I need to do to remedy this. Should I just start ‘boning’ all the time? I tend to smile a lot and greet a lot. But that’s not something I can change easily as it’s just a part of my cultural background and upbringing. I’d really have to work extra hard to shed this natural inclination.
I have decided to simply start saying ‘no’ more often in order to balance out the ‘yes-es.’ I feel like I get such a large volume of requests because people can tell I’ll say ‘yes’ – and so they end up overlooking everyone else that they easily could’ve made the same request of. One of my friends laughs at me when I get yet another one and says: ‘How come no one ever approaches me to ask for such things?’ How come, indeed. My sister loves to remind me that I’m a single parent of two children and need to keep that in mind when trying to ‘save the world.’
And so I have said ‘no’ at least six times this month. Not mean ‘no-s’, though. Polite ones. Like telling two people (neither of whom I know well) that I simply won’t have the time to review their grad school theses, but also reminding them that this is the role of their supervisors. Like telling someone I honestly didn’t have the funds to lend – and I didn’t. This person had never approached me for money before, though, so I felt really bad about not being able to help. But rather than consider any funds I might have had in my bank account that day (like I was tempted to), I reminded myself of the student loans I’m trying to pay off for good by the end of March. Like sending out two polite emails a minute ago to turn down invitations to do stuff (work-related, but external to my own organization) that I wasn’t interested in doing and don’t really have a whole lot of extra time for. Like not calling back the two people that ‘flashed’ me yesterday on my way home. I thought I’d call them back once I got home, but cramps got the better of me and I dozed off before I knew it, getting myself a good night’s sleep instead. Today when I remembered it, I figured if it’s really that important, they’ll send me a text message or call me. Like letting someone else know I didn't have enough space in my home for them to temporarily move into my home with their child.
And finally, like saying ‘no’ to my children’s father a few months ago. I got a rare phone call from him and we exchanged pleasantries in a guarded fashion, with me wondering when he was going to get round to telling me what he was really calling about, and with him seeming hesitant on the other end.
He finally explained that he was going to be receiving some sort of community service award in a few weeks.
‘Normally,’ he began carefully, ‘for these kinds of award ceremonies, the awardee is expected to attend with his umm … uh … woman.’
Okay, so this is what this is really about, I thought to myself. It was clearly difficult for him to make this request and I felt sort of bad as I formed my response in my head.
‘But I’m not your ‘woman’,’ I reminded him out loud, even though I knew he only used the term because it would’ve been out of place to say ‘wife’ instead.
‘I know. It’s just that the normal thing would be for one to come along with a woman.’
I did feel a bit bad and almost wished I could have been more ‘evolved’ not to have denied him this one thing. But I really am working hard not to allow myself to be ‘used’ by others anymore. And so I found a polite way to say no, and to remind him that we really are divorced.
Sometimes, you just need to draw the line. And people can generally tell when you haven’t.
As Nwaubani would say, people's needs have a way of 'sharpening the sense of smell.' You'll be sniffed out and targeted before you know it. So I'm working overtime to change my scent.