In “A Private Experience,” two women from very different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different religions, and completely different lifestyles are forced to share an intimate experience in a convenient store during a riot. The nature of their coming together — running from the violence and chaos of the riot in the market and taking shelter together in the store — necessitates shared feelings and an immediate connection. Both women, although one is Igbo and the other Hausa, are in equal danger due to an event that really has nothing to do with either of them — other than that they are each a member of the opposite warring party.
After telling the woman that she is studying to be a doctor, the woman tells her that her nipples are burning like pepper. It seems the woman is asking Chika because she assumes in her some medical authority, and hopes that Chika will be able to help her. However, when Chika tells her she needs to moisturize and that the problem is from breast feeding, the woman does not seem to believe her. Perhaps she doubts that Chika could possibly know anything about motherhood, doctor or not, since she is young and has not had any children. In order to gain the woman’s trust, Chika tells her that “it was the same with my mother. Her nipples cracked when the sixth child came, and she didn’t know what caused it, until a friend told her that she had to moisturize” (50). The woman then wants to know what her mother used, and decides that Chika’s advice might be warranted.
Chika thinks to herself that “she hardly ever lies, but the few times she does, there is always a purpose behind the lie. She wonders what purpose this lie serves, this need to draw on a fictional past similar to the woman’s” (50). The purpose of the story about her mother, it seems, was to get the woman to believe her “medical” advice. However, Chika’s question about “what purpose this lie serves, this need to draw on a fiction past similar to the woman’s” also suggests a deeper need for trust and shared experience beyond mere medical advice. The purpose of telling the woman about her own mother is also to relate a shared experience, to have something in common, and to show that she is also a human being with a mother and a family. In all of the religious and ethnic turmoil and violence going on outside, here are two women who, through story telling, are able to derive a common understanding and sympathy for one another. The act of story telling enables this shared experience between the two of them. In the face of the religious and ethnic violence, it is difficult — if not impossible — for people to relate to one another. It seems that the purpose of a story, in one sense, is to foster relationships with people who we might otherwise know nothing about.