"Birdsong" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Originally published in the September 20, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.
If you’ve read Ngozi Adichie’s short stories before, this might not be that new to you. It involves Lagos and infidelity. That’s not to say that it isn’t a pretty good short story, but it isn’t one that I’ll remember for long — at least, that’s what I suspect at this point. She’s done it better before.
“Birdsong” begins while our narrator, a young, single, Nigerian woman, is stopped at a traffic light. She looks to the car pulled up next to her and sees a wealthy , chauffeured woman looking at her. Imagining that this beautiful, obviously cared for woman was exactly the type of woman (perhaps was the woman) married to the narrator’s lover. The narrator begins to think back on the origin and fate of her affair.
It didn’t start out well. Those around her wondered when she would begin to settle down. You can have an affair later.
Even my love spoke of this desire. “You’ll want to settle down soon,” he said. “I just want you to know I’m not going to stand in your way.” We were naked in bed; it was our first time. . . . He was telling me that he played the game better than others, while I had not yet conceived of the game itself. From the moment I met him, I had had the sensation of possibility, but for him the path was already closed, had indeed never been open; there was no room for things to sweep in and disrupt.
The story then looks at the “rituals of distrust.” It is interesting, and the writing is nice, but I didn’t find this story particularly illuminating. Even sentences like this one — “You know, I have had only two affairs since I got married. I’m not like other men.” — don’t have much to offer when Ngozi Adichie has done this before.
I certainly liked this one better than the last two stories, and I think many others will like it much more than I, but I’m anxious to move on.