There is a hotel in the village on the way to the stream; at least it calls itself a hotel. It’s a small concrete bungalow with a tin roof and a paved courtyard. An old oil drum sits at the corner of the building to catch rain water. Dingy curtains cover the open windows and doors. Outside a big signboard says ‘Sunrise Hotel’ above badly painted pictures of green beer bottles and a goat head. At night red and blue light bulbs glow surreally in the surrounding darkness like Christmas lights,
Chidimma passes the hotel on her way to the stream every day. It looks modern and inviting in a village of mud huts and colonial buildings. She wants to go in and maybe stay in one of their rooms. The hotel rooms she sees in Drum magazine have nice beds with head boards, closets and bedside lamps, not like the iron bed she sleeps on in a stuffy room with clothes hanging on pegs in the wall lit only by a dim kerosene lamp.
She asks her half sister Eunice if they can stay there ‘only prostitutes stay there’ Eunice answers disdainfully. Chidimma read about prostitutes in the Bible, they are bad women that make men do bad things and go to hell. She doesn’t understand what they do but she understands that they are paid to do it and they do it with lots of different men and that was really really bad. Good women only do it with one man, they marry him and they never get paid for it.
Chidimma doesn’t want to get married. Married women always look unhappy. They talk different when their husband is around and they behave different too. They look wary, like children trying to behave well in front of adults. And when they don’t behave well they get beaten or punished just like children too. Chidimma can’t wait to grow up, she doesn’t want to be a child and she doesn’t want to be a wife. She doesn’t want to be a good woman.
Good women get up before sunrise to fetch water or strain cassava meal at the stream, sweep the compound, feed the men and children, weed the yam farms or go to the market to buy and sell with babies strapped to their backs or sucking their naked breasts. At sunset they come back to feed the men and children again and put everyone to bed. Sometimes there is a wedding or a burial to attend to break the tedium.
Chidimma feels a familiar wave of darkness threaten her as she thinks of a lifetime of soul crushing monotony and thankless drudgery. The darkness comes more frequently now. She day dreams of life as a prostitute in Sunrise Hotel instead, of wearing nice clothes, of men who will love her, of sleeping in a proper bed, of having electricity every night, of watching television and having a drum full of water in front of the house. She’s just 11.