Sometimes it happens that deep within you is every feeling that you have publicly declared yourself superior to. The prejudices you fight, the public habits you find intolerable in others, and worrying about how you others perceive you. You realize this when you find yourself resisting each time she offers to pay, when you feel irritated that she asks for the bill and worse when the bill is brought to her and not dropped in the centre of the table.
You like to think that you feet are firmly fixed in feminist shoes, though you try to avoid the title itself. It isn’t hard to sound presumptuous when a man declares himself to be a feminist or indeed when one who is not a victim of discrimination or abuse claims to be an activist for that cause. Like when a straight person declares himself to be a gay rights activist. At best you say you are a supporter of feminists. You espouse every theory or belief which empowers women and makes them equal in society to men. So you say, it is proper for girls to be raised to change their own bulbs and car tires and pay their own bills at the restaurant and not rely on men. This is why it shocks you at first how you feel when she pays the entire bill or when the waiters do not see when you have dropped your own part of the bill and shows up just when she is dropping hers.
Suddenly the staring eyes feel like tooth picks in your side and you want to disappear. It does not occur to you that they are perhaps looking because Nigerians will stare unashamedly at anything that is different from them, a fair-complexioned black person, an albino, a white person.
Now that you know you will both be going out quite often it is important that you settle this once and for all. It is not an option to say to her, I will get all the bills- the feminist in you would find this abominable. It is important to you that she pays at least sometimes. Yet you cannot admit that it worries you that each time she pays you can almost hear the voices calling you a sharp guy who has found a white woman to take care of him. You see it, how people are judged, even in Abuja, arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the country- you see people instantly assume that the black girls who show up with white men are prostitutes, especially if the white men are older or show up in vehicles belonging to construction companies.
“You cannot always be getting the bills,” she says when you trick her into letting you pay the entire bill again.
“Don’t worry you can give me later,” you lie.
It feels wrong every time and today you feel like a hypocrite who preaches the things he is not willing to practice. Appearance matters much more than you can admit it does.
This is a situation you will have to deal with for a long time because you have just decided- both of you- that you will be in each other’s lives for a long time. It will not stop even if you decide to grow old together, even if you visit the same shops all the while. It is Nigeria- they will stare every time like you both just got off the plane from a different planet. You know that you must blunt the edges of the toothpicks that prick your side. You must let the things you believe matter to you more than the shameless stares.
On your way back home, you stop at a shop. Instinctively at the till, as she reaches for her debit card, you dip your hands in your pockets. As your fingers attempt to pull out the notes, you tell yourself to stop. Stop letting the eyes of everyone at the till, cashiers and customers alike, prick you. Stop! Stop being a goddamn hypocrite. Stop being a dick!
As she punches in her PIN on the POS machine, you take your hand out of your pockets and reach for the bags, all of them. You exhale and smile. She smiles back. And the shameless eyes begin to disappear.