Fiction by Ogechi Mgbudem(obi)

December 15, 2023

The American Dream

The morning sun coming over the hills is just like the sunrise back home. This is the only thing Rose likes about her new country. Perhaps “the only thing” would be too harsh a judgment. The morning sun coming over the hills is the only thing that Rose can think to like about her new country.

Growing up, Rose had heard the stories that all the village children heard about America; how well-paved the streets were, how the water was clean and safe to drink, how the electricity was always constant. She had a friend who visited Los Angeles and confirmed it; life was better over there. The friend couldn’t specify why or how, just that it was. Her parents had the same feeling, having given her the English name for the rose, despite it sounding strange in their language.

Still, Rose never imagined herself moving countries until she met her husband when she moved to the city. In the city, she worked as a waitress, sending home money whenever she could. Though her apartment was dank and cramped, it had running water and constant electricity. Just what she imagined life in America would be like. But the man that became her husband told her one night while she served him that there was even more America could offer.

Rose’s husband had been a gracious tipper and a handsy regular at her restaurant. She thought he was rich from how often he ordered top-shelf liquor and spoke of America. She even thought he’d been. When it was revealed that he was a day laborer working on a nearby skyscraper, Rose was deeply disappointed. But he was charismatic enough to woo her and Rose wasn’t beautiful enough to be picky.

It was after that first year of marriage that her husband became restless and spoke of America more often, of the better life they could have. Rose couldn’t think beyond the clean water and constant light. Sure, their streets were riddled with dog-sized potholes, but whose weren’t? Her husband painted a picture of himself in an office somewhere, working with his mind instead of his hands. Then he painted one of Rose, sitting down, being served at a restaurant instead of serving. That day, Rose had come home from work with her bunion feeling particularly sore. She was sold.

* * *

Now, Rose lugs a black trash bag to the outdoor garbage bin at the end of her shift. It has been two years since she and her husband moved to America. Far from the Los Angeles she had heard of, Rose finds herself settled in Kansas City, which, she found out, is not in Kansas.

On the way to her car, a young waiter invites Rose to an after-work happy hour. In her limited English, Rose declines. It’s a gracious gesture, one she would have accepted in another life, but Rose fears being caught not understanding. It’s easy enough to catch every other word when they’re working, handing off orders, and pointing to table numbers, but intimate after-work conversations are about other things. More abstract things. Rose would have to brush up her English first. Or carry a dictionary. Either way, it would be too much work. Instead of explaining this, Rose uses her husband as an excuse.

She watches the waiter go, joining the rest of their coworkers, all ready to head down to the local spot. All her coworkers are around her age. None of them are married.

Rose enters her apartment with a lit cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. She takes a drag before outing the cigarette on the ashtray on the kitchen counter. She didn’t smoke before they moved. Rose rolls her shoulders, about to greet her husband, when she hears him speaking already. She peers into the living room. He’s on the phone.

Rose steps into the living room doorway, waiting for him to acknowledge her presence. He doesn’t. She stands there long enough to observe him, how easily he speaks on the phone. His smooth, lightly accented English. He talks loudly, boisterously with the new friends he has made at work. Rose hates him a little. Just a little. Friendship and conversation had always come easily to him. She never knew what a boon those skills would be in the New World. She has just her husband to talk to, just him to understand her. She hates how dependent she has become.

Rose slips out of the living room without a word, having never been noticed. She scales the steps of their apartment to the bedroom, where she slips out of her work clothes and prepares for bed. Lying down, awake, she thinks about the life her husband had promised her. She hasn’t once dined at a fancy restaurant. He hasn’t worked in an air conditioned office. In the beginning, he tried, moving from interview to interview with his passable English, but construction found him again, as waitressing had found her. Rose rests her tired eyes.

She blinks awake to the sound of her husband’s snoring. Her face is met with his. His mouth hangs open and his snoring is light. His nose twitches on the inhale; his lower lip droops further on the exhale. Her gaze rose from his mouth to his closed eyes, his delicate eyelashes. Maybe they’ll have a child someday with eyelashes like his. Maybe they won’t. Rose can’t imagine herself having a child here. She feels lucky that her husband hasn’t yet broached the subject of starting a family. She catches a glimpse of the alarm clock just over his shoulder. 5:56 am. The sun will be rising soon.

Rose rolls out of bed and crosses the room, reaching the window in two steps. She rests her arms on the windowsill and her head on top of them.

She waits.

The sky has already begun to change into a lighter blue with the anticipation of the sunrise. The sun pours over the round hilltops, shining on the buildings below. The sky ripples in pinks and purples, pushing away the night sky, just as it did in her parents’ house in the village. The sun hits Rose’s face and she smiles, feeling its warmth. She thinks of home, both old and new. She thinks of the path ahead and how long it would take to go back.

About Ogechi Mgbudem(obi)

Ogechi Mgbudem(obi) is a Nigerian-born American writer living and working in Columbus, OH. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a BA in French and Francophone Studies. Her stories center around love and human connection.

Follow Ogechi