Time for an excerpt: Another marriage proposal

October 15, 2009

It’s been a while since I posted an excerpt from my book. And I’ve written so much during the last few months! So today I want to share something short that will make you smile.

This piece is from the middle section of my book, which takes place in Cameroon. (It’s adapted from my travel blog.)

* * *

On one of my final days in the Yaoundé, I visited the patisserie down the road from the guesthouse, a bakery that sold homemade ice cream, a delicacy I'd found only in Africa's major cities. Set up like a modern bakery in France, it offered freshly baked bread, sugary cake bites and glazed fruit tarts, all displayed deliciously under clear plastic cases, protecting the treats from the drool of customers. While I mused over the selection of ice cream flavors, similar to those I'd choose from at home, the man behind the counter hit on me like he did every day when I arrived for a scoop.

“Ma cherie,” he purred, using the same pet name, “my dear,” that at least a dozen other African men had tried on me. “You know I want to marry you.”

I did know. He had told me yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, even though he was at least twice my age. (Let's pretend I wasn't getting ice cream every time I went into the store.)

“Bonjour. How are you today?” I responded politely, pretending to give him my attention while I debated whether to go with chocolate or coffee-flavored ice cream.

He ignored my greeting, pressing on with more important issues. “Do you have any friends here?” he asked, leaning over the counter toward me, his beer belly showing through his apron. “I want to marry a white woman.”

Way to make a girl feel special, I thought. Me or my white friends, it doesn't matter.

I browsed through my mental library of witty replies. Ignoring him – an effective tactic when it came to dealing with men who hissed at me from the side of the road – wouldn't work, since he stood between me and my ice cream. I'd already tried several of my go-to retorts with this guy during previous visits, including turning polygamy on its head and asking, “Would you like to become my second husband? Because I've already married one man.” The day before, as I ordered a cone topped with chocolate chip, I had even described the husband who awaited me in the States, a fictional character I'd talked about so much during the last four months that I half expected the dark-haired hottie to pick me up at the airport when I arrived home.

Was this the man who had asked about my absent wedding ring earlier in the week?

“It's not safe to wear it outside of the house,” I had responded. “I'm afraid someone will steal it.”

No, now I remembered – that was the gorgeous, built-like-a-Calvin-Klein-underwear-model guy who stood guard outside an important-looking building near the guesthouse. Instead of shrugging him off like I did most men who propositioned me, my face burned as I introduced myself, sucked in by his high cheekbones – a common feature of handsome Cameroonian men – and wide shoulders. I had to kick myself internally to reject him like all the others.

But the man behind the ice cream counter had a chubby tummy instead of wide shoulders and the grin of a sleazy fifty-year-old rather than a chiseled chin. And none of my repulse-a-man strategies had worked on him.

“So, why won't you marry me?” he asked, dishing up my cone of chocolate.

“You know,” I said slyly, grasping the cone in exchange for a Cameroonian bill, “in my country men do laundry.” I paused for effect. No need to mention that our version of doing laundry involved a machine rather than a full day of pounding shirts against rocks. “Men also cook and wash dishes. And they look after the children.”

The man looked wonderfully horrified. “Oh, no,” he replied, his lips pursed, his eyes staring at me.

“That's what American women expect.” I was trying hard to keep a straight face. “Our husbands do chores. They split the housework equally with their wives.”

His expression hadn't changed. “Oh no,” he repeated. “Not here.”

“See?” I said, the corners of my lips turning up into a slight grin. “That's why it's impossible for me to be your wife.”

With that, I turned and left the shop.

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