The tiny car that Esi uses to get to and from work each day is barely functional. It is so decrepit that upon seeing it, Ali says he will drive Esi home. The car serves as an initial attempt by Ali to enter Esi’s life. At the same time, Esi’s friend Opokuya engages in a daily struggle with her husband over who will control the car that day. In Opokuya’s marriage, the car becomes symbolic of the value placed on women’s work versus that of men. Despite the numerous needs of the house that Opokuya must tend to every day, her husband Kubi inevitably controls the car the majority of the time. When Ali finally buys Esi a car in order to apologize for his absence and placate Esi, he is inadvertently liberating Opokuya from having to depend on her husband.
The Wedding Band
When Ali proposes to Esi, he offers her a wedding band, a symbol of marriage perhaps original to Western culture that, when incorporated into Ali’s cultural tradition, is only offered to the first wife of a husband. Esi is taken aback by the wedding ring, as is her entire family. By bringing the wedding band into his marriage ceremony, Ali is not only showing his ability to accept and adapt to Western customs, but he is also demonstrating his attempt to incorporate those customs into an African context. The polygamous marriage upon which Ali is about to embark is contrary to the tradition of marriage symbolized by the wedding band that Ali offers Esi. Ali’s decision to take a second wife is both an embrace of traditional African marriages, and a rejection of the standards of Western marriage. As a result, the wedding band that Ali offers Esi becomes a symbolic bridge that unites the two traditions.
Each of the characters in the novel is at least partially defined by his or her career. Esi’s job with the Department of Urban Statistics highlights her rational personality, while Ali’s job at a travel agency reminds the reader of his tendency to move from one woman to the next. Contrary to Esi and Ali are Oko and Opokuya. Both characters work in professions that demand personal sacrifice—Oko as a teacher and Opokuya as a nurse. The fact that each character works in a field that reflects his or her personality demonstrates the substantial role that careers play in defining identity for the new generation.