Bralade Koroye-Emenanjo’s A Line in the Sand: Stories of Boundaries in Marriage dares the Nigerian reader to think back to their childhood when fighting children drew lines in the dust daring other kids to cross and get beaten. This hostile definition of boundaries as creating borderlines that encourage discord is the pre-conceived notion many a reader may bring to this work. However, in this collection of 14 well-told stories, a case is made for boundaries as maintaining a healthy level of individuality even in friendships and relationships, with the view that all humans are “free moral agents capable of setting their own limits in thought and action and pursuing their own dreams.”
While we light our candles together,
do not put out your own light.
In many Nigerian families, there is a shared sense of community. As a result, the freewill of individuals and their need for privacy is usually neglected. It is therefore common to find family members probing into financial, marital or career-related matters of their children or relatives. Cultural values and respect systems that should make for togetherness encourage intrusiveness and neglect of one’s choices instead. It is against the backdrop of these meddlesome Nigerian homes that Bralade Koroye-Emenanjo sets her stories, all of which highlight the characters’ will to take control of their personal space and decide for themselves.
In this work, power dynamics, dependency, patriarchy and their effect on relationships, friendships and marriages are highlighted. In Every Woman’s Dream Man, Alaere puts up with and makes excuses for her fiance, Timi’s, short-fused temperament and disrespect considering that he’s the “choicest of men.” Only when he insults his own mother and belittles her before her family does Alaere take the decision to leave. She finally understands that her fiance’s misogyny is deep-seated and should not be tolerated for the sake of societal status.
Very much like Timi in the previous story, Olanma’s husband in Akwaeke is more interested in playing the mini-god and saviour to his wife than encouraging her to be self-reliant. Since her unhealthy dependence suits his god-complex and massages his ego, he endures her constant manipulation until it ruins his work and lifestyle. He must unlearn being her “knight in shining armor” and give her room to navigate life while making crucial decisions herself. Nwakego funds Cheta’s dreams and business plans with family savings and emergency funds in Money Matters. Soon, she is no longer in control of her money and works to cover up for her husband’s crashing of money into ponzi schemes. The last straw is his diverting money for her mother’s surgery into completing a house in his village. With this story and previously mentioned ones, the work proposes a healthy balance: one person must refuse a life of people pleasing, unhealthy dependency and letting their spouse, family or friends manipulate them even when those around them are extremely controlling.
Concerning trauma, unlearned childhood behaviour and terrible role modelling as factors militating against the creation of healthy boundaries, Koroye-Emenanjo presents several cases. In Wife (Husband) Training, Francis’ toxic masculinity and brutish behavipur towards his wife is a result of imitating his uncle who believes women must be subdued. Tariela in Suspicion is suspicious of her husband and his relationships with other women to the point of causing him to end all relationships with females and to quit all fun activities in a bid to allay her fears. The solution is seeking help and accepting that childhood trauma associated with having a philandering father may play a part in her overt need for reassurance. Tariela’s husband too must decide, for his own peace and wellness, not to live with Tariela until she sees a therapist. Madam in My Madam’s Oga does not seek help even as her husband continually abuses her. Instead, she finds herself drawn to him. His beatings, gaslighting and manipulation twist the measure of worth she places on herself as a person. Interestingly, most stories like this in the collection see characters disrespect and disregard themselves first before letting others do so.
As mentioned earlier, community values also may affect the perception of boundaries, self-respect and control of one’s own space. In intrusive homes where one has to move out to experience any sort of privacy, boundaries are deemed negative. We see this especially with Mama in Ms. Meddlesome. Mama is perhaps, the most fitting character to describe the controlling nature of most Nigerian parents who see it as a cultural norm to decide for their children in and outside their own homes. These parents impose their wishes, superstitions and patterns on their children and throw tantrums when they are not followed. Although Mama has always been an imposing figure in Odafa’s life, she crosses the line when she cleans and arranges Odafa’s matrimonial bedroom without her consent and comments on her daughter’s sexual activity and use of contraceptives with her spouse. As can be deduced from the story, this intrusive behaviour is typical of Mama who strongly opposes Odafe’s will to control her own home.
Perhaps, the most exciting kinds of boundaries touched in this book are those between couples who work together and in communities of well-meaning people. The stories, If it Were Me Syndrome and the eponymous A Line In the Sand surprisingly do not have the protagonists contesting with one another. Instead, they must choose, together, to draw a line between circumstances and their own happiness. In A Line in the Sand, we see how Victoria and Kingsley find that their first son, Roy, is autistic after years of trying to diagnose his condition. His condition causes them to expend money, hope and their own harmony. They however decide together to celebrate the life ahead of them, no matter how turbulent. This twist in patterns by the author is a welcome development in the book and advocates for healthy collaboration and support between partners dealing with draining child-health issues.
In the same pattern, If It Were Me ranks tops in the cadre of twists. Nadia’s trouble is not with her spouse, Kenneth. Serial philanderer that he is, Nadia’s task is not with him but rather in the need to sieve through the advice she gets on how to deal with a cheating husband and decide what is best for her. The Soul Sisters are a community of women of different background, faith and lifestyle. They are a metaphor for the community, support and bond people should maintain even in relationships. The conflict is however because of the disparities in the advice they share with Nadia. All sisters draw from their personal experiences, faith, biases and idiosyncrasies to provide well-meaning but biased counsel. Sadly, none focuses on Nadia as the victim for whom assurance is more important than closure. Nadia must weigh her options and decide what is best for her sanity and health. This is the highest point of this work— that boundaries exist even in well-meaning and sincere communities for the peace of the individual concerned.
In essence, Bralade Koroye-Emenanjo’s A Line in Sand makes a case for boundaries as an important part of preserving the individuality and autonomy of individuals within a family, relationship and community and the importance of it. Using educated and religious yet emotionally unintelligent characters, the author hacks down the idea that boundaries are unnecessary and touches on the negative perceptions associated with the word. The work also exposes the effect that cultural values, power dynamics, dependency and patriarchy may have on creating boundaries. Simply put, this work advocates for humans as “free moral beings” capable of making decisions for themselves and defining rules that protect them in their own space.