Tata: by Ebuka Okoroafor

Your name is Chimsomejedebe Okoro but here in America, everybody knows you as Tata. They call you Tata because they cannot master the intricate phonemics of your Igbo name. Your father calls you Tata too. In fact, they all learnt it from him, you did too. Once, you had introduced yourself as Tata Okoro. You had wished that someday you could change your name completely, you could become a citizen and discard the Okoro, take up Murphy and become Tata Murphy, completely American. You were only sixteen.

Tata, when you came here you were barely five. You were the wailing girl that refused to keep her mouth shut because your father refused to buy you a piece of sausage roll at the airport. You cried so loud the airport security personnel had to double check your passport to ensure that the couple did not steal a child from Nigeria. Your father seethed with anger, he was a lawyer and back in Nigeria, you don’t keep lawyers standing. They’ll bulldoze their way through you with threats and intimidation. But here in America, your father stood like a wet chicken until the security man was done. He folded up his anger and put it under his armpit.

Your mother jumped on the train twice a day, shuttling between two house cleaning jobs, and one half day of baby sitting. Her income was enough to put food on the table and put you in a school around the neighborhood. Your father did not work much until you were seven, he was always on the table reading, reading, reading and went out only at night on a security job. He taught you how to read books that do not concern you; the American law weekly, Practicing in America without a hitch, Black Awakening. The books were absurd and uninteresting but you read anyway. Then one evening, your father announced that he finally passed the exam. Your mother hugged him like the information was her salvation, she cried and you said “mummy sorry”, thinking that she had thrown herself too hard at your father and that it had hurt her. She made chicken stew and invited the neighbors that Sunday.

Then your father started running. Your father told you, “Tata, to be a lawyer in this America is not easy.” Your father ran the length and breadth of the city, chasing after ambulances, and making cases for accident victims. Your father waited outside hospitals and once a patient was discharged, he would ask, “Hey you sure you were treated properly? You sure the doctor changed the syringe he used? Heard he’s a smoker. You sure he didn’t speak to you rudely?” This was how your father got enough money to bypass protocol and get you your citizenship just before your seventeenth birthday.

Tata you were finally American, you were free to do as you pleased but somehow, you decided to keep your father’s name.

But you disappointed us all. You got out of high school and met a boy and fell in love and got knocked up. Who gets knocked up these days Tata?! Didn’t you know what other girls were doing to keep unwanted sperm away from their eggs? Your mother threw herself on the kitchen floor and wept the night you told them. But your father said you were going to keep the baby because he was getting tired of running, and your mother had a slipped disk in her spine so the child support was going to come in handy. He continued, “In fact, spread your legs and hold them apart so men can come and go and you can scatter your seed around this whole America. You might be the salvation we’ve all been waiting for!” Your mother was shocked, but your father remained composed. The night your baby came into this world you called him Murphy, dropped him on your mother’s lap and ran.

You started harvesting and selling your eggs at twenty-one. You met another boy in Pennsylvania and he told you some rich American men wanted babies with African blood. You knew these Americans wanted crazy things and since you were going to get handsomely paid for it, you opted in. You got enough money to pay for your mother’s surgery, got her a small grocery store afterwards, and fucked a rich lawyer so that your father could get a table job at his firm.

In California you got arrested for playing your music too loud. Your white neighbor whom you’d dissed earlier for having a dog that littered the corridor with dog pee ratted you out. You spent three years in jail because the police broke in and found sachets of cocaine stuffed in the flush tank.

Out of jail, you met an American builder. He was calm and gentle and fun loving and white. The kind of man you wanted. His sex was good and although his mother had pouted when he introduced you at a thanksgiving dinner, you dreamed he was the man you would spend the rest of your life with.

Then on the news one Sunday morning, a prominent female musician of mixed parentage announced she was black. You were excited, it was an era of black consolidation, and her announcement was a huge celebration to the black community. You were in the kitchen making breakfast. You didn’t hear him fall, all you saw was people gathered around a bloodied body, looking up at you when you reached the balcony. She was his favorite artiste.

Tata you panicked.

The police came but they met the apartment empty. They circulated your image with a ‘Wanted’ inscription to newspapers and TV stations, hunting you for murder. But you kept running, unlike your father, you couldn’t stop, unlike your father, the American dream swallowed you up.


Ebuka Prince Okoroafor is a Nigerian Medical Student. His work has appeared on Bangalore review, Eunoia review, African Writer, Kalahari review, and forthcoming on Litro.

Related country: Nigeria

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