In Kelemo’s Woman, Nigerian author Molara Wood tells the tale of a woman in love with an idealist, a freedom fighter in a time of military coup and the subsequent downslide of the country. It is a short story – succinct, pungent, and leaves you with a question about Iriola: who’s woman is she now?
Kelemo is caught up in his zeal of resisting the forces of suppression. He comes from a family where sacrifice for the country is ingrained. It is a noble cause, but Iriola is tired of following him around, from one rebellion to another, risking her life. Why should his cause be hers? Because she is a woman? What if a woman did not support her man and his ideals? What if she thought of her own survival? Is that such a bad thing?
Iriola decides to leave. She takes her dying mother’s advice and focuses on her own needs.
Because, as her mother says:
Iriola, allow yourself to be pulled down by no one. Don’t be like me, slaving all my life to stand by men and for what? To die of a wasting disease before my time? Now you will have no mother. The person to watch over you, is you.
How many mothers tell their daughters this? Take care of yourself, your life is important. You matter.
Iriola decides to offer favors to the men in the system to get herself a job (she is educated and trained in nursing). They think they are using her, but perhaps she is using them?
Why should women take on wars started by men? Were women given a choice before starting any war? Did their opinions matter? So, if they join the fight, they need to ask themselves: Whose fight is it? What are we fighting for? If it’s freedom and democracy, then yes. If it’s a power driven agenda or an endless loop of regimes, why should we risk our lives for someone’s thirst for control? A game in which we become glorified pawns, who have no role to play after the dust settles. (And these questions apply to men too – the ones who fight on the front lines.)
Iriola’s decision to break away from this “noble cause” makes you think about choices.
But the last line leaves you wondering: And I always obeyed my mother.
My friends and I were discussing this in our book club.
Tina is the one who brought up these last lines:
I pray Kelemo survives. I suppose he will wonder why, when he learns about the choices I have made. But Kelemo was not in the hospital room when Mother breathed her last. And I always obeyed my mother.
Tina asked, “Do you think she’s being an obedient daughter? Like generations of daughters? Or thinking for herself? Is Iriola really a free woman or is she now following in someone else’s footsteps? What if a future situation arises? Who will she turn to for advice? Will she find her inner voice?”
But, Sajel, my other friend, thought the opposite of it. She reasoned, “For a change, a mother advices her daughter to focus on her own needs. For a change, a mother’s words are an inspiration to her daughter. We are so tired of hearing stories of men being inspired by their fathers, their captains, and their kings. This is very much about Iriola shaping her own destiny.”
Did the author intend for us to debate this – hence the provocative last line? Is Iriola free?