The Power of a Plate of Rice by Ifeoma Okoye

Cheta, a teacher at a Nigerian secondary school, is furious with the principal, Mr. Aziza, for withholding her salary because she took a few days off to tend to her sick child at hospital. Cheta is a widow with rent to pay and two young children and a mother-in-law to feed, and Mr. Aziza has now willfully held back her pay for 5 months. Matters are desperate, but Cheta has no legal or institutional recourse.

At this point, kill that voice telling you to skip a sad third-world tale of exploited women. Cheta is smart (bordering on smart-ass); when she remembers her mother’s advice to stay calm and do nothing in anger, she remarks, “Only an angel or an idiot would remain calm in my situation.” Obviously, Cheta isn’t going to take Mr. Aziza’s bullshit for long, and her response is magnificent, all more powerful for its spontaneity and primal nature.

Cheta begs Mr. Aziza for the better part of a month, imploring him for money for rent and food, but when he proves obdurate, she’s reduced to following him home after work one evening. Mr. Aziza ignores her, leaving her while his help sets dinner–and returns to find Cheta eating his rice and meat.  Oh, what audacity! What courage! What a masterstroke! Aziza is undone by Cheta’s actions, and faced with her unshakeable desperation, agrees to pay her salary, and asks her to get out. Which Cheta does, still chowing down.

Okay, let me count the ways I love this story. First: this is the story of a bully defeated, so it gets a thousand points. Second: gosh, it’s funny–I laughed out loud often, and my mental image of Mr. Aziza’s chagrin on seeing Cheta eating his dinner makes me smile weeks after reading. Third: Cheta is magnificent–she is brave and no-nonsense and resourceful, and I’d marry her in a flash if I could. Fourth: Okoye says so many things about Nigeria without ever spelling it out. That common people are often denied their rights–and can do nothing about it. That the bureaucracy has undue power, which they abuse without accountability. That professional women have it particularly hard in a patriarchal society where men can openly voice their reluctance to employ women–even when those women are the bread-winners in their families. That  traditions and customs can cripple as much as they can provide succour. And I was struck at each turn by how familiar this narrative is to anyone who’s ever lived in South Asia. And Fifth: the story is crisply written, with a chatty, no-nonsense tone that is a perfect fit for Cheta.

So: get hold of this story, which I found in Opening Spaces, a collection of contemporary African women’s writing edited by Yvonne Vera (you may find it elsewhere too). I reviewed this short story for Amy’s Nigerian Literature Challenge; if you are interested in going beyond Adichie and learning more about Nigerian literature, do check out the other entries in the challenge.

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69 responses to “The Power of a Plate of Rice by Ifeoma Okoye

  1. That is awesome! Wow, what courage she has. I don’t think I could muster up enough courage to walk into my boss’s house and eat off his plate.

  2. Yes…I think it takes a special amount of courage…and desperation.

  3. Pingback: Nigerian Independence Day Reading Project Wrap-Up « Amy Reads

  4. “At this point, kill that voice telling you to skip a sad third-world tale of exploited women.”

    Heheh. Duly noted. And I’m going to have a look out for this collection too. Funny: I often look at the date of anthologies and would likely have dismissed this one as it’s more than 10 years old. Which is the silliest thing ever, I know; I would never dismiss any other literary work on the same basis. So thanks for making me re-think.

  5. So glad to see that you enjoyed this one! I loved the collection as well and agree – this one definitely made me laugh.

  6. really stellar!!!!!!!!!!!!
    i inspired lot……..

  7. she did the right thing

  8. no comment

  9. hai cse!! hows the story?? i found it boring.

  10. advance happy new year

  11. veryyy boringggggg

  12. this story is amazing because of manaki english radhu

  13. i DIDN’T STUDIED THE STORY…

  14. e story ardam ite balakrishna mve ardam inatle baboyyyyyyyyyyy

  15. rajinikanth: thanq n same 2 u

  16. ee story lo story vundhi kani aa sory ardham kaledu

  17. RODDDDDD LAGA UNDI RAAAAAAAAAA BALAKRISHna movie better e stry kana

  18. the story is
    b…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  19. ithe SRI RAMARAJYAM KIki vellu

  20. denemma jevitam e story kana na cinema e beter ra babu

  21. edi anta BALAKRISHNA story mata keka,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  22. a cinema?

  23. CHADIVITA ST0ORY ARDHAM AVUTINDI SO ALL STUDY WELL GUYES

  24. ama sri nv andarki explain chedu ganle story ite nv baga kastapadi chadvu

  25. is u liked the story???????????????????

  26. frnds… em chesthunaru?

  27. MUNDU CHADAVA RA COMMENT EVATAM MANASI

  28. frnds… bye have a nice day…

  29. TOO WORST STORY YAAR,VERY BORING

  30. very boring

  31. not getting

  32. eating aziza food

  33. ha ha ha ha anduke nala stiry chadavakunda comments chadavaliha ha ha ha

  34. ha ha ha ha ha entooooooooo…………….. story ki vachina patlu stiry ata ha ha

  35. cha endukuchadavadam evado okadu chaduvutadu vadicheta explain cheyinchukundamin case vadiki pichi eka kunda vunte

  36. avnaaaaaaaa bangarammmmmmm

  37. haaaaaaaaaaaaa

  38. wish u a happy new year in advance

  39. hey andariki advance happy new year………………………..lits rockkkkk

  40. nice!story the courage the women is wonderful
    and mr.aziza……..hahaha wana look at his face when she ate his food :)

  41. amma sri naku konchem explain cheyyyyy

  42. prabhass u r keka………..

  43. em ardamindo nto

  44. heyyyyyyyyyyy prabhasssssss nuvvu chadivava ha ha ha

  45. mummmmyyyyyyy gurthu vachindi hu hu hu

  46. ya……doubt ah???

  47. :) moon java lavs prasu push jas

  48. bankrish

  49. Folks, please keep your comments relevant to the review–this isn’t an appropriate forum for personal asides.
    And I’m assuming you all have an exam on this story, so: good luck!

  50. wonderful. guys try to feel the pain when u dont have money to lead ur life.

  51. story is impressive

  52. good not so bad.but very sentimental….that set

  53. STORY IS VERYYYYYYYYYYYYYY NICEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

  54. Tooooooooo Good

  55. Its very good

  56. no comments,…………..

  57. untill nobody knows when they face the same problem in here Mr Aziza faced same problem then he realised to give salary to the Mrs>cheta Adu

  58. GOLUKONDA SALMA

    IN THIS STORY I LIKED THE COURAGE OF MRS CHETHA

  59. i like “do nothing in anger………”

  60. Ifeoma Okoye, i luv u nd u re my role model. Am actually writing on one of your books as my project topic in schoo. CHIMERE