Chapter 1 of Second Class Citizen captures the humble beginning of Adah who would for the rest of the novel be the central character. This chapter is an expose of the circumstances surrounding Adah’s birth, the reaction of the society to the girl child and the event that inspires Adah’s dream.
Adah is born at a time when both her parents are expecting a boy child. She is their first born. Everyone is so disappointed that no one bothers to record her date of birth. But Adah presumes she is born during the Second World War. Being a girl child, the only consolation her birth gives her father is rooted in his superstitious belief that Adah is the reincarnation of his deceased mother. For this reason, Adah earns several pet names and endearments from her father.
Adah’s father (otherwise called Pa) is a war veteran and a railway worker. Her mother (otherwise referred to as Ma) is a semi-literate seamstress. Her parents are from Ibuza though she is born and raised in Lagos. Growing up, Adah is told several beautiful things about Ibuza that make Lagos, a multicultural setting, seems a miserable place beside Ibuza.
As a girl that she is, much attention is not placed on her education. She is not sent to school. Her younger brother, Boy, begins education before her. In fact, her mother only wants her to go school for a year or two so she can be able to read and write.
It takes a level of determination and raw innovation for Adah to wriggle her way into a school. She strongly thinks her mother is the reason she is not in school. Naturally, her relationship with her mother is far from being smooth and this would tell on her future relationships with people of her gender. She becomes rebellious, subversive and obdurate particularly to her mother to prove a point or two.
She sneaks out of their house one afternoon in a baggy blouse equipped with her father’s small shaving slate to Methodist Primary School where their neighbour, Mr Cole, a Sierra Leonean, teaches. With determination, she refuses to budge to the giggling of the pupils she is confronted with.
Mr Cole allows her into the classroom and promises therewith to teach her how to read and write if her parents do not allow her to come to school.
By the time she returns home in the company of Mr Cole, her distressed mother is already in police custody for child neglect. Her mother is forced to drink garri by the policemen as an alternative punishment to charging her to court. It takes plea from Adah’s Pa for the policemen to release Adah’s Ma.
Although her father mildly punishes her, this dramatic incidence will trigger her parents’ decision to enrol her in a school. Seeing how committed and enthusiastic she is about education, they send to Ladi-Lak Institute, an expensive preparatory school same as her brother.
Adah’s mother, nostalgic about her humiliation in the police custody, would deny Adah the privilege to accompany her to the welcome ceremony of Lawyer Nweze’s arrival from England. The fanfare that meets Lawyer Nweze’s return from England, Adah’s Pa’s stressed pronunciation of England, and everyone’s high regards and expectations for the newly-arrived lawyer would lend form to Adah’s dream; one she keeps to herself so that she won’t be made fun of for having such high hope and ambition. She sees going to England as the pinnacle of her success; of her ambition.
Her father fills her in on all she misses of Lawyer Nweze’s arrival at the wharf and subsequent events. This detailed narrative and the electric atmosphere surrounding it would swell into a dream Adah would hold dear as hers and pursue.