Page 1

saraba electronic literary magazine

issue3 august2009

economyissue August2009 www.sarabamag.com

1


ISSUE

3 A

INTRODUCTION :4 Publishers‘ Note Contributors Credits

B NON-FICTION :7

Beyond Superficial Indices The Economy of Loss

C FICTION :12

Counting Beans Double Affair Long After Death

D POETRY :24

Feature Poem: The Word Shop Seeing Me The Rape of Gideolu Pictures of Darfur

E INTERVIEW :27

With Niran Okewole: The Portrait of a Young Poet as a Psychotherapist With E.C. Osondu The Bookaholic Blog Interview

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

2


F REVIEW :32

Audacity of Pain: A Review of Jumoke Verissimo‘s I am Memory The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes: A Review of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers Jude Dibia‘s review of Under the Brown Rusted Roofs The Writer as a Wiyayor: A biographical review of Ken Saro-Wiwa‘s works

G MEMOIR :39

Thought Experiments: Eghosa Imasuen remembers writing To Saint Patrick

H DISPATCH :42

Raymond Carver‘s Story Principles Long Fiction Ethics: Principles for the novel in John Irving‘s A Widow for One Year

I SARABA’S BOOKSHELF :44

Emmanuel Iduma collects books for the Saraba shelf, urging others to buy

J LITERARY BRIEFING :47

Dami Ajayi writes on trends, crane and the Caine Prize.

K THE CHOPPING BOARD :49

Biyi Olusolape goes into the fine details of M.I‘s music, but not so gently.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

3


A

Contributors ADEBIYI OLUSOLAPE is a journeyman collagist engaged in the search for mastery. He is very experimental in his plumbing of the depths of our shared experience. He lives in Ibadan. AYO ADEMILUYI is a final year student of Law and the editor of the Campus newspaper, The Eagle. AYOBAMI FAMUREWA writes as Ayobami Adebayo. Her short story Shadow of Eclipse appeared in Farafina‘s Weaverbird collection. Her short stories have appeared in Farafina, African Writing Magazine and Saraba Online. She lives and works in Nigeria. DAMILOLA AJAYI is a penultimate medical student. His works have appeared in The Guardian and Africanwriter.com. He is currently working on a collection of short fiction. EGHOSA IMASUEN is a medical doctor and author of To Saint Patrick. EMMANUEL IDUMA has been published online and in print. While studying for his LL.B., he is working on a novel. JUDE DIBIA is the author of Walking with Shadows and Unbridled. NIRAN OKEWOLE is the author of The Watchman Trilogy and Logarhythms. He was the winner of the International Berlin Poetry Festival Prize 2008. He is also a practicing psychiatrist. OLAOLUWA AKINLOLUWA has edited several print magazines. He is the editor of Saraba‘s forthcoming e-paper. ORIMOLADE TOSIN holds a degree in Political Science from Obafemi Awolowo University TEMITAYO OLOFINLUA co-manages www.bookaholic.blogspot.com, a blog for literary enthusiasts. TOBI ASO is an undergraduate student of Law and writes for some campus newsstands. UCHE PETER UMEZ is the author of the award-winning children‘s novella, Sam and the Wallet. He is a fellow of the International Writing Program, U.S.A. and one of the 26 winners of the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

4


Credits __ Saraba is published four times a year by the Saraba Electronic Publishers on www.sarabamag.com. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is strictly prohibited. Enquiries can be directed to publishers@sarabamag.com. Interested contributors can send their works to submissions@sarabamag.com, and visit the website for submission guidelines. The views expressed by contributors are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Saraba Electronic Magazine. _____ PUBLISHERS Damilola Ajayi Emmanuel Iduma DESIGN Utopia Project WEBSITE Tosin Afolabi Dolapo Amusan ILLUSTRATIONS Development E-Magazine, Issue 40, 2008 (Cover Illustration) Pius Utomi Ekpei (Boko Haram Image on Page 23) Vladstudio (Impressions on Pages 8, 20 & 35) ACKNOWLEDGMENT Niran Okewole for Word Shop Temitayo Olofinlua for The E.C. Osondu Interview Eghosa Imasuen for Thought Experiments (Previously published in Farafina Magazine and www.africanwriters.com)

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

5


Publishers’ Note Mystic Possibilities It was in the hope of mystic possibilities and unimagined realities that this issue of Saraba was published, and again, it is a major triumph. This issue is a victory on many fronts—and fonts: there are more distinguished writers published, and the consequences are brilliantly wrought write-ups. And of course, as always, the Emerging outweigh the Established. Here at Saraba, we stay true to our creed. By giving each of our issue themes, we set out to exhaust these themes, and perhaps proffer new perspectives to our readers, of course after having resonated the obvious. With this Economy issue, Saraba is not trying to be The Economist. The economy, to us, goes beyond a malnourished African child as a cover page, over-enthusiastic Keynesian dissertations with quick solutions and obvious references and multi-colored bar charts. Rather, we are taking the humanistic approach at the fraying foundations of the world‘s financial grid.

And like all human endeavours, we know our expressions are subject to bias. However we strive to be more humanitarian than objective. People should matter in the forecast of gloomy economic days, this imminent Economic Holocaust! Each economic narration, be it print, electronic or verbal, should thrive on the threshold of humanity. To read about the world‘s economy without considering how such economy affects the world‘s people – the billions in Asia, the hundreds of millions in Africa, the Wall-Streeters and the mainstreeters, the children and the adult– is a flagrant misrepresentation of what it means to tell the story of economy. Whether our literary experiments cut our humanistic expectations, we would let you be the judge. E.I. & D. A. August 2009

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

6


B

Beyond Superficial Indices Orimolade Tosin

Tosin attempts a holistic assessment of the real Nigerian economy vis-à-vis popular misconceptions of the status quo

O

nly last week on a recent visit to one of my friends in Lagos, I was surprised at the number of new vehicles that now ply Lagos asphalt. My last visit to Lagos was about a decade ago and at that time, new cars were just beginning to congest the roads. On this occasion, I marveled at the new development. Indeed one could conclude that the lives of people have improved dramatically since 1999, the year of my last visit, at least with this picture in mind. In truth, a lot has changed since then, but one would be mistaken to judge economic progress through such superficial indices like the number of new vehicles on the roads. As I moved deeper into the heart of Lagos, I quickly put aside my unfounded theoretical assumptions. In Mushin, Agege, Alimosho, and other places I visited, I saw the familiar Lagos, the real people, ‗the real economy‘. I was confronted by their daily fears, struggles, and troubles and I now have a better understanding of what underdevelopment means. I acknowledge the fact that the face of Nigeria has been changing, if only at a slow pace, since 1999 but the impact of these developments on the lives of the Nigerian people has fallen far short of popular expectation. In 1999, people had massive expectations over the ability of democracy to immediately deliver public goods and engender improved economic wellbeing, but after the first four years of democratic rule, some people began to see the obvious, which is that democracy is no magic, at least not the kind we practice in Nigeria. One thing I inferred from the new developments in Lagos was that the proportion of people in the middle class of the Nigerian society has been on the rise; democracy has provided people with the opportunity to acquire potentials and display artistry. But for a good grasp of the trajectory of development, we must look beyond the cosmetic. On a recent visit to the capital of Cambodia-Phnom Penh, a friend of mine lamented that the western countries were being

unfair to nations like Cambodia. For him the development in the country highlights the possibilities of progress in the third world. But as soon as he ventured into the real life of the Cambodian people, he admitted that conclusions based on first impressions could be misleading. The same applies to Nigeria, it is so easy to see wealth in display, and pictures of slums or shantytowns are wiped off our memory once one sights gigantic skyscrapers at the city centre. There is only one way to never lose sight of the gloomy pictures of shattered hopes for development and lost humanity which is by empathizing. We cannot adequately understand the plight of the down trodden merely as bystanders, we must enter the world of this people, and experience their economy. This is the meaning of empathy. The real people are the ones who feel the heat of a failing economy. We must assess economic and political development with this people in mind. Abuja and Lagos do not adequately reflect the sum total of Nigerian life. To understand Nigeria we must evaluate the reality of the over 60% of the people whose lives are cast in the theatre of absurdity, in the backwaters of development. We must assess the lives of hundreds of people who live on less than $1 per day and the many that cannot access qualitative health care. This is how to understand Nigeria—and perhaps anything Nigerian. When I think of a clear picture of the contradictions of economic development, the picture that comes to my mind is that of the young boys who live in the shantytowns in Rio. From the top of the hills, where the slums are located, the boys see how the huge wealth of their country is spent on the ‗Luxuries of life‘ but they can hardly be partakers except they resort to dubious means. Most societies of the third world reflect a two-road divide. The one frequently trodden is that of the poor masses, the one less travelled is for the higher citizens. This scenario is even more glaring in Africa,

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

7


>> where the (mis)appropriation of public wealth is done with impunity. There are two laws, and two societies in most societies in Africa. The rule of law exists only in form and not in substance. And there is a replication of inequality in every facet of human endeavour. The nature of society seems to suggest that society is a public franchise of the high and mighty, and invariably the masses are not stakeholders. They are indeed not part of the society; after all, their ‗votes‘ do not count. The word that aptly captures their situation is alienation. The reality is that these people are cut off from the society, and the state is detached from their daily lives, challenges, and struggles. When we take a critical look at the literatures that have been churned out of Africa since independence irrespective of the genre, most if not all have focused on the lives of this people.

Nevertheless, there is always a place of escape from the sordid state of our economy. For writers it is time to start exercising power with responsibility. The responsibility we owe the common people whose hearts long for development. We must focus on the real people and the real issues that confront them. We must make the economy strong and vibrant and empower the state to stand for what is right and make it responsive to popular needs and desires. The state must be a state for all. We cannot live these people perpetually at the backwaters of development. Sustainable economic development means that we must put these peoples at the radar of our developmental efforts. For writers, these issues must receive adequate exposure in our writings, be it fiction or non-fiction. We must write the biography of our country not as hagiographers, but as men of conscience who wield their pens in the way of the truth. Then and only then would our economy be exposed into its stark trueness. S

Darkened Impression

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

8


The Economy of Loss Damilola Ajayi Dami reflects on the essence of death and loss, and how the feeling of loss seems transient.

T

here‘s been a death in the family. You can tell from the faces of all present; they seem like squashed fruits, and the juice of sorrow teased down their eyes. Tears of pain, palpable like the corpse recently ‗lodged‘ in the morgue. Like tolling bells were a practical joke; perhaps, an ‗April Fool‘ ruse that had become eerily true, and that now had even the jesters looking down in the mouth. My earliest encounter with death was when it struck my mother‘s heel. She lost her brother, a bud in the garden of success. He was a man of potentials, and at his base in London, had become a household name. ‗Prince‘, though his royalty was not English. And he knew that being called a prince did not automatically bestow regality upon him. He knew the worth of hard work and he provided his services in several directions: working no less than four jobs to amass ‗sterlings‘ that would make his young family, six younger siblings and aging parents smile. It had been two years since he left home, and he had chosen to return in grand style. He had sent a car by boat to precede his arrival. He returned to his hometown on the four legs of an automobile, a town he had left in sullen sandals. Now he had become a man, a real man. His paunch must have seemed like an ominous sign of his wealth. And he had arrived laden with gifts for all. Whispers filled the air as to his being eligible for the throne when the incumbent king joined their ancestors. My mother, his immediate younger sister, was equally joyous. Happily married and recently delivered of a bouncing baby boy, me, she received her brother in the austere house she lived in with her lecturer husband. She fed him, her brother, a meal, his favourite, and watched with consanguineous admiration, how her brother leveled a sumptuous bowl of pounded yam and vegetable soup. She reiterates till date that her brother was so well-fed that his belt had to sink below his abdomen to the borders of his waist. She bade him farewell. But never knew that was her final. That the farewell was to be eternal and her brother was going to ram into a stationary truck at high speed

before he returned to London. Perhaps if she had known, she would have said a better good-bye, clung harder whilst she hugged him, cried even. But she had not known; death played a fast one, like always, not a respecter of persons or status. My mother returned home to throw herself exclusively to mourning her brother. I was but a child. I had no inkling as to what was going on; I cannot even remember my late uncle putting money into my diminutive palm when he visited. My father tells me I was bewildered by the amount of tears shed and I was only too eager to follow his elder brother home when the offer surfaced. Sometimes my mother talks about her brother, even though more than two decades have passed. I remember her fondly remembering him; her face suddenly becomes animated as she recounts events of yesteryears with such precise details. Her memory recalls all the good times and even the bad, but the anticlimax is always his untimely death, and then her face creases, a drape of sorrow. Perhaps my mother is quick to tears. Perhaps, because she is of the said weaker gender, or she is more in tune with her emotions, but I have also seen my father cry once. The events, though a decade ago, bubbles into my consciousness with fresh effervescence. His mother had been sick. An octogenarian, she was admitted in the hospital and like a good son, he had monitored her progress with land phones; cell phones were still extravagant luxuries then. He even took time off his job to pay her a visit with his wife at his elder brother‘s base, several hundred kilometers away. And on their return, they were sure Mama was convalescing. My mother had even done Mama‘s hair in six cornrow plaits. That fateful Sunday evening, my brother and I played catch with a plastic ball outside our house, the last flat in a block of four flats. An elderly man walked into our midst and asked after our father. We went in and called him out. My father, mostly an introvert, was puzzled by the visit, especially one from someone we could not identify as one of his friends. But the eagerness of his curiosity took the better of him and he sprung from his

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

9


recumbent position, out the house, to meet this strange visitor; we returned to our game. My father returned soon, but the spring in his stride was broken, he even had his hands on his head, his face was creased in pain, like a child recently spanked by his mother with her slippers. He took time to jam his feet into the floor, one leg after the other as he said something in our dialect, something that I still can‘t comprehend till date. He walked into the house in tears; his initial sobs had morphed into full grade tears. I watched my father sitting on the floor of his spartan living room, his legs spread out as he mourned the death of his mother, Mama. My three siblings and I couldn‘t help but to join mummy and daddy in their lachrymose states. We all shed quality tears that evening and forfeited our usual Sunday deli. Even the last of us, barely three years, knew how to be quiet. We sat around the settee in a half oval, our pain couched on the seats of our hearts. The pain was palpable; it was obvious from our blank stares after we had brought out the family photo albums and cried into the many pictures of the woman who had acted as nannies to all her grandchildren. Even sympathizers, our co-tenants, had been roused by our incessant cries that had lasted, as they said, beyond the limits of a child‘s corporal punishment. They had braced themselves for an uncomfortable task of intervening between a responsible father and his errant son, but had met both in tears, over the death of a family matriarch. They seemed amused. They even tried to laugh. But they knew it was no joke, we were serious in our pain. A week or so later, my father attended a meeting upstate with his older siblings to discuss burial arrangements. I had been rummaging through the house and had found some old cassettes of my father which I was eager to show him on his return. He held the cassette with animated interest, King Sunny Ade‘s My dear album. We slot it into the deck of our multipurpose rechargeable lamp and soon, the opening symphonies of Sunny‘s plangent rendition wafted into the air. My father swayed a bit, he even mimed a few lines, listening like a true music lover, smiling through the whole experience. I felt like a good son, my head swelled a little, it felt soothing especially after my spanking the previous night. Side B was a full track that extolled the virtue of a mother and I watched as my father‘s animated countenance fell, dying a slow, painful death: the crowfeet at his lip first, his left-sided dimple next, then his forehead acquired a crowfeet. I watched him

contemplate tears till a bold phalange pressed the STOP button and he reclined in his seat, his palm cradling his joys as he repressed memories. I can imagine his memories: memories of good times with his late mother, perhaps his graduation, his marriage, the several occasions filled with bubbles of joy, the kind of bubbles burst by shutters of cameras, burst in an attempt to capture them as evergreen images. I felt guilty, having brought to fore the man‘s recent memories of loss. But now a decade after, I watch him refer to his mother in loving memory, there are no tears and I wonder, where is his pain? Where is that pain? Perhaps bled away as tears, by the Leech called Sorrow. The tears that were shed with such reckless abandon at the graveside as we returned Mama to earth. It was now absent, reduced to vestige of earlier memories. And I safely concluded that in the realms of death, very contrary to Jumoke Verissimo‘s verse, ―Time hasn‘t changed/Pain has…, rather Pain hasn‘t changed but Time has.‖ Time had happened to my parents‘ pain. The Pain had been worn down by the salts of loss in the washing of brine, the ebb and flow of sorrow. It had preserved the hurt in the recesses of their memories and had sealed it hermetically. It had economized their loss. More recently was my own firsthand experience with death‘s grisly grip. It was about a year ago and I had just completed my first M.B examinations, reputed as one of the most difficult exams ever. We were awaiting results at home and I had become a fish farmer in the meantime. So that morning just as I began to throw food pellets into the ponds, my thoughts went to my friend, Deji. Deji was also my classmate; we had prepared and written exams. Deji had plunged himself totally into the exams, knowing fully well that this was his last chance at making his grades good. His in-courses had been terrible, and he had gone so far as to put off his usual frequent business trips to focus on his exams. Deji was a business magnate; he ran his own automobile dealership, travelling to neighboring countries to purchase first-grade fairly-used cars for a good fee. He read business books—Warren Buffet, Adam Smith, Bill Gates, Donald Trump and the likes—and he applied the snippets he ripped from those pages into practical business actions which paid off his business. He was a first child, and if I was his father I would have been exceedingly proud of him.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

10


So I remembered that we hadn‘t spoken in a while and I was quick to dial his number. His voice came through above a raucous environment. There was buzz of loud music in the background and also louder sing-along voices. The details of our conversation are a blur. But I remembered asking him about when our results were to be released, for he was still in school. His father worked on our campus so school was his home. He said something about it being released later that day. That put some pressure on me. Although I expected the best, angst sat on my throat and every phone ring surged adrenaline into my blood pipes. At about noon, a call came through. Just as I prepared to pick it up, it died. A ‗flash‘ from another close classmate. I knew the results were out and I called Deji to get firsthand information about my results. Deji said he was in town, tidying up some business deals and he would call me back with news of my result. Later that evening, he called to congratulate me, and when I inquired about his results, he said he had a resit. I was happy for him, knowing his efforts were fruitful. The next morning I got the shock of my life. A call came through saying Deji was dead. I was perplexed, I stared at my phone, he was my last dialed number, last missed call, last received call. And that he was dead? So I tried his number. Your guess is as good as mine. It didn‘t go through. Deji had really died. Deji, the first child of his parents, a Doctor-to-be.

He was buried on April fool‘s day. So if not for that earlier death-tolling call, if someone had informed him about Deji‘s burial, I would have thought it a practical joke, albeit, one in extremely bad taste. The hurt that gnawed in my heart was surmounted by disbelief. The credibility of it all I still question. That someone that hitherto existed was no more and whatever was left of him had been hidden under the earth. I found it surreal. I found my tears on the day of his candlelight procession. School resumed a month afterwards and life resumed. My classmates paid a one-minute silence and it felt as fleeting and routine as a one night stand. I even found that my pain was receding, I was surprised that even his father had resumed at the office. Whatever of my emotions I mustered into a poem. And still after I had written the poem, I felt like I had sponged out more of it. A year has passed and I sometimes remember my friend, in loving memory. I remembered the funny way he called me with an altered intonation. The way he walked with a spring, sporting a particular white shortsleeved shirt and leather sandals. I remember his astuteness as a businessman and his bargaining prowess. And I smile, for time has happened to my pain. Though the gnawing hurt of the pain has dulled, we still carry the scars in our hearts, but Time has reserved the good memories. Time had also happened to our loss. S

Quote Poverty has a home in Africa—like a quiet second skin. It may be the only place on earth where it is worn with unconscious dignity. Bessie Head (1937 - 1986) South African writer. Tales of Tenderness and Power

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

11


C

Counting Beans Ayobami Adebayo

I

t was one of the most trying moments of my life, at least up to that point in it. Words were spilling up my throat, crashing into my mouth. I could not speak them for they would earn me a slap from Mama. So I waited, listening to Mama and Baba argue my fate. ―She cannot be with your people, Caro needs her more, she should go to Caro‖ Mama‘s had a baritone voice, much deeper than Baba‘s, when she spoke to him, she whined, a vain attempt to soften her voice, a constant apology. ―Why not with my people? My brother is willing and ready to take her. She is my daughter, and as the father, she should stay with my people, those are her people.‖ Baba always spoke in a shout as though we were all deaf, or perhaps in contest with Mama‘s voice. ―Ehn. Caro needs a child around her; maybe that will help her situation, you know they say if a barren woman has children around her she might conceive. Caro really needs Ajoke, besides my people are her people too, a child cannot have a father‘s family without having a mother‘s family.‖ ―Your sister‘s bareness is not my family‘s business. This is my child, she bears my name and she is going to my brother. Besides, Ajoke is almost old enough to go to her husband‘s house, she is not a child. What your sister needs are small children, very small ones.‖ Baba‘s voice grew louder as he spoke. ―Baba Ajoke, think about it please, you know things are not easy, besides Lamide is already with your brother, I don‘t think we should send another child to him, things are not so easy for them too you know.‖ ―Things are not easy for them? What do you mean?‖ Baba was on his feet, towering over Mama who sat quietly staring at his trousers, not looking up at him. ―That my family is wretched? Is that what you are saying?‖ I sat on the mat with words crashing continuously into my mouth and watched as Baba paced the room screaming his anger out. There was little room to pace; our home was a single room that had been partitioned into a room and parlour with plywood. ―Baba Adeola, I did not mean it that way‖ Mama whined when Baba came back to stand in front of her, punching his fist in the air above her head.

―What did you mean? You this woman! What did you mean?‖ the fist descended lower. Ladepo, my brother stirred beside me on the mat. ―I don‘t want to stay with Baba‘s brother. I want to go to Aunty Caro, she is rich and she will pay for my WAEC. Baba‘s brother cannot pay the money, they don‘t have money. Even Lamide is just suffering in their house, me I am not going there o. I will stay here if it is their place you say I should go to. I cannot go and be suffering o, have I not suffered enough here? Me, I am not going there Baba!‖ The words spilled out of me quickly, pausing Baba‘s fist mid- air. Ladepo sat up, I did not move my head as Mama‘s hand descended, the heel hitting my jaw. ―Are you insane? Who called you into the discussion?‖ Her voice had lost the whine. I did not speak to Mama for a week after the slap that earned me at least four more each night before I went to sleep. They were given half heartedly, as a matter of duty, a form of security so that in future, when I did not find a husband (which Mama was sure I wouldn‘t ―the way I was going‖) , she could say that she tried her best to bring me up well. Every night she said the same thing, ―Why are you so stubborn? Holding malice with me, your mother? What has entered into you? Who will marry you? Answer me.‖ Each night I did not answer. Aunty Caro came to visit during my cold war with Mama, she was sitting in one of our two tattered cushion chairs when I came home from school. I knelt down to greet her and mumbled something to Mama. Aunty Caro was wearing purple lace iro and buba, her fair skin shone through the holes in the material. Mama was wearing a faded ankara wrapper tied across her chest. ―What kind of stupid greeting is this?‖ Mama asked me. I stood up and said nothing. ―So now you want to behave like a good child because Caro is here? You are kneeling down, when you have not greeted me or even spoken to me in a week?‖ ―Aunty mi, you don‘t mean it?‖ Aunty Caro asked leaning forward in her chair. ―Why would I lie? Caro why would I lie, is this not Ajoke standing before you? If I wanted to lie I

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

12


would say my witness is in heaven. Is this not Ajoke standing before your eyes? Ask her, ask her if she has not been behaving as if it was not my breast she suckled. For the past one week Caro!‖ She beat her chest and continued, ―My own child has not spoken a word to me.‖ ―These children, these children of nowadays‖ Aunty Caro turned to face me ―You heard your mother just now, why are you behaving like that? Don‘t you know it is a child with no home training that behaves like that? I know my sister trained you well, Aunty mi is not like that.‖ Mama clapped her hands together at Aunty Caro‘s vindication. ―Thank you, someone from outside will think I am not trying. I am trying Caro but this one, she is stubborn. And what did I do? It was her uniform; she was tearing the slit at the back o, showing the boys in her school her thighs, my daughter Caro. Was I supposed to keep quiet? No, when I am not a bad mother. Me I am not a bad mother‖ She shook her head and slapped her chest with her hands ―So I told my daughter to sow back the skirt O! Since then, my child has not spoken a single word to me O! Not a single word.‖ ―Aunty mi, these children of nowadays‖ Aunty Caro bent her head to a side and drew out the nowadays, nauuuuadaaaaays! ―God will help sha, you Ajoke oya kneel down and beg you mother, kneel down‖ I knew the script; I had acted in this play many times over, with two adults playing judge and jury with only their version of events. My role was to kneel down, apologise, own up to crimes I hadn‘t committed and leave them glorying in their sense of justice. I clutched the nylon bag that I kept my school books in and decided to change the plot. I knelt down, breathed deeply selecting my opening lines, something that would shock them into silence, something a child must not say to its mother, not even to an adult. ―Aunty Caro, Mama is lying. It is not about the skirt, that one happened long ago. Aunty, we have been suffering in this house, things are not easy at all. Baba and Mama cannot cater for us, they have decided that we will go and live else where, all the children, only the boys will stay at home. It is because of you Aunty that I have been fighting Maami, yes. Baba wants me to stay with his brother, they are suffering too, really suffering. Me I want to come and live with you Aunty Caro, please. I don‘t

want to go and be suffering. I want to go to school, I want to do WAEC. See Lamide now, she should have done her WAEC. That was why Baba sent her to his brother, she still hasn‘t done it. Please aunty‖ I felt the nylon tear in my grip, giving way for my nails to dig into my palm. Aunty Caro‘s reddened lips pressed together as though she had been forced to eat something sour. My words were followed by a heavy silence, a silence heavy with my words, words that concretized our poverty, my mother‘s shame, something that had always been there but which my mother hid carefully in a rag of lies before her affluent sister. We all knew Aunty Caro saw through the lies, we knew through the foodstuff she always brought ―Aunty mi, add this to your store, somebody brought it to the house you know it is just me and my husband…‖ we knew through the amounts she left when she visited just before school resumed for a new term ―Use this to buy sweet, don‘t be angry with me because it is small O….‖ The money was always enough to pay the school fees for the new term. Still the real situation of things remained wrapped carefully in Mama‘s rag of carefully constructed lies. ―Leave us Ajoke, go outside‖ Aunty Caro said staring intently at the ground as if she was ashamed of something. I went outside, wiping tears off my cheeks, avoiding Mama‘s eyes. Aunty Caro waited until Baba returned scratching his body with a cutlass. He was in an ankara trouser and a T-shirt with a faded smiley face that he wore to work everyday. Work was cutting grass in overgrown compounds in different parts of the city. He did not work everyday. But every day, Baba rose up like the sun and went out with his cutlass. When he returned that day, Mama and Aunty Caro staged a drama. One they must have rehearsed for when I was sent outside. Aunty Caro refused to rise back to her seat after she greeted Baba. She remained on her knees and started her plea immediately. ―Our father, I have a request to make. A heavy one, but I know you can help me. I have already spoken to my sister but she said we cannot barb your head while you are not there. So, I waited till you came back. You know my condition that I am still seeking the face of God for a child. My husband is always away, I am always alone in the house. I need someone to keep me company. They say thinking too much, it causes overwhelming tears and you see even the doctors say if I don‘t have peace of mind, I won‘t

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

13


find it easy to get pregnant. I want to beg you, our father I want to beg you, please release Ajoke for me, let her come and stay with me for now at least until God answers me. Please, our father.‖ ―Sit down Caro.‖ Baba said waving his hand towards the chair. ―No, our father let me stay like this.‖ Baba was quiet. ―I cannot leave her, I know I am offending you but she cannot go. No.‖ Baba folded his arms across his chest. ―Our father, have mercy on me, you see, this child issue, it is giving me problems. Please remember that, please think of that.‖ It went back and forth, Aunty Caro always steering her argument back to her childlessness. In the end, I think it was that what made it easy for Baami to swallow. Aunty Caro‘s constant reminders of her childlessness served as slippery okra stew helping the hard morsel of inadequacy smoothly down Baba‘s throat so he would not choke on it. It was Sadiat, Aunty Caro‘s house help who told me about the miscarriages. I had been at Aunty‘s place for a month when we had this conversation. Aunty Caro‘s sister-in-law had just left. She had come to inform Aunty Caro in a loud voice that carried over into the kitchen, where I was working with Sadiat, that her brother would be marrying another wife by the end of the year if Aunty Caro did not bear a child by then. It was already August. Aunty Caro withdrew to her room for the rest of the day. That was when Sadia told me about the miscarriages that Aunty Caro had experienced. Five in all the eight years that Sadiat had been the house help. At home we had always thought Aunty Caro had never been pregnant. I knew for sure that my mother was not aware that her sister had ever conceived. Mama always divulged all about Aunty Caro‘s childless state after any of Aunty Caro‘s visits. While Aunty Caro‘s expensive perfume lingered in our dingy home, Mama moaned about her unfortunate sister‘s bareness. ―Children are everything, no matter how much money you have, no matter how much money.‖ Mama would say examining the provisions Aunty Caro had brought. The pastor came every evening for the next seven days, splashing olive oil on the walls of every room in the house. Aunty Caro ate nothing in the seven days. She took only water and could hardly stand up on the final day. I and Sadiat were not allowed to join the prayers on the last day of Aunty‘s fast. Aunty sent us

to the market during the prayers. When we came back, the pastor was gone. Aunty was eating fruits and smiling to herself. I was happy to see a smile in her face for the first time in a week. ―How was the prayer Aunty?‖ ―Fine Ajoke, I saw a vision, I now know what to do. The pastor confirmed what I should do. Thank God for me Ajoke. Thank God.‖ ―Madam say make you come see am for her room‖ Sadist said poking her head into my room. ―Has the pastor left?‖ ―He just comot now now.‖ I went to Aunty‘s room; She was sitting on the bed and rubbing her stomach with both hands this time. It was a week after the end of the fast, the pastor had shown up a few minutes earlier holding a new broom. ―Sit beside me Ajoke‖ she said softly. I sat with her. Aunty went on her knees before me and placed her palms on either side of me. I gasped and knelt immediately as an unnamed fear gripped me. I noticed then that she had been crying, silent tears streamed down her face. ―Aunty, what is wrong, please stand up‖ I touched her cheek and tried to wipe her tears away but she jerked back her head. ―Sit down Ajoke‖ Her voice was clear and firm, it did not match the tearful face before me. I shook my head ―Aunty you did not teach me that way‖ She slapped me then, so hard that I felt the pin of my ear-ring jab firmly into my skin. I sat on the bed with my mouth agape, the cold air from the air conditioner wafted into my mouth. I listened as my aunt pleaded with me to stop eating her pregnancies, to forgive her sins and allow her to have one child, just one child. ―Ajoke, please confess, confess I beg you, don‘t chase me out of my husbands house, I beg you in the name of God.‖ ―I am not a witch. I don‘t know anything. It was even Sadiat that told me you had never been pregnant.‖ I looked into Aunty‘s eyes for signs of insanity. ―Ajoke, forgive me and let me have a child please I beg you. It was you, you I saw in the vision. You were counting beans throwing them away. You counted five already, there are only two remaining in the bowl, please stop counting my beans. Let me have the two left.‖

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

14


I bit the inside of my cheek so I could wake up from what I was sure was either a joke or a dream. I did not wake up. She placed her head between my legs continued to weep. She blew her nose with my dress and stood up. ―You this witch, I have begged you and you have refused‖ She screamed ―God is my witness that you have refused.‖ She turned to lock the door to her room, and then opened her wardrobe to produce a broom and a three-pronged whip. ―Pastor gave me these, you say you won‘t confess? You will confess this today.‖ ―Aunty I am not a witch!‖ I screamed as the whip and broom crashed into my body from opposite angles, I fell back onto the bed. She went on

whipping me for a long while, I screamed, pleaded and cursed until I was hoarse, yet she went on as I rolled around the bed. The band that held the broom together must have snapped, I felt broomsticks scatter all over the bed. Aunty stopped whipping me and started picking the broomsticks. I knew she would not come after me without the broom. Brooms were a special weapon reserved for beating witches. I ran into the adjoining bathroom and locked the door. I turned on both taps to drown out Aunty‘s curses. I could not sit, my body ached all over. My dress was tattered and bloodied in different places. I licked a drop of blood from my finger. I wondered if unborn babies tasted like the blood, like licking cold stainless steel. At that moment, I had a burning desire to know. S

Double Affair Emmanuel Iduma My neighbour said he sat on a rainbow with a ring on his finger and the world under his feet, while he invited me to talk with him later. I was amused by this, especially by how his face contorted when he spoke, as though he was saying something very serious. But I was more amused when he had been married for about a year, and this fact contrasted with the pimples on his face, the kind only adolescents have. He‘s the kind of man one meets and who divulges his life history immediately. And to say the least, he appeared different from me, with his loquacious mouth. When I moved here, I sought secrecy; somewhere to tuck my life, forget the past, move on. Having an opposite-door neighbor that told me everything about himself in one night made me feel uncomfortable, and suspicious.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

15


We were sitting outside the house on low stools. There was an equally low table, and his wife was beside him. She was reading a book with the light from a lantern and I was somewhat concerned that she seemed to be laboring herself. But he seemed not to mind, he kept talking and talking about himself, and I could not remember what he said for he talked too fast and I was not entirely interested. But when he began to boast about having the world under his feet, especially because he wore this ring on his finger, she stopped reading the book and looked at me. ―Welcome to the house,‖ she said, and looked behind her, at the house. ―Thanks.‖ ―Where did you live before now?‖ ―Lagos.‖ I said. ―Lagos!‖ her husband exclaimed. He seemed distracted, only saying what he said to make us believe he was still part of our conversation. ―You left Lagos to come here?‖ His wife asked. ―Yes.‖ ―Why?‖ ―I got a teaching job here.‖ It was at this time that I sipped the Coke they had given me. He had come to me that morning and asked if we could talk later, in the evening, ―get to know each other.‖ I accepted because they were my closest neighbours. The house was a single flat, divided into two sections, theirs on the left and mine on the right. I had a parlour and two rooms and I guess they had the same too. My younger sister had found the house for me; she lived in the neigbouring town, about five kilometers away. So that evening he came and knocked on my door, and I opened, and he led me outside where I saw three low stools and two Coke bottles. His wife did not have any. ―My wife is a teacher too.‖ ―Where are you teaching?‖ she asked. ―Izzi Boys High School.‖ ―Oh. That‘s where I teach too.‖ ―Good.‖ I said. ―I‘m surprised they employed you. They‘re saying the Depression thing is getting to them, I don‘t know how schools are affected by Depression.‖ I said, ―My Uncle is the Principal. I told him I was tired of the city. The money is not what brought me.‖ It seemed she did not listen to what I said, because she replied, ―I am on maternity leave.‖

―Yes, she is going to have a baby,‖ My neighbour said and raised his hands and his wife slapped it with exuberant gusto, they acted like two teenagers. They seemed happy, and as I thought then, too young. ―Congratulations.‖ I gulped the rest of my Coke, the gas choked me and I spat out. ―Sorry,‖ he put his hands on my shoulder. I was angry because he already seemed too familiar and cordial with me, disrespectful even. I knew there were many years between us, perhaps ten years or more. So I stood up and walked back to my section of the house, saying nothing, though I heard his wife ask him, ―What happened? Why‘s he leaving?‖ The next morning I kept a straight face when he greeted me and I did not look at his face. But when I returned that evening, there were two low stools, the one we used the evening before, and he was sitting and drinking a soft drink. I offered a hello and as I was unlocking my door, I heard him say, ―I took my wife to the hospital today.‖ Ordinarily, I would not have been touched, given my resolve to keep to myself, but this was a different circumstance. His wife was pregnant and the hospital was very far away, about ten kilometers. So I turned and walked to where he could see me, and I asked, ―When?‖ ―This afternoon. She started complaining of pains and I guessed it was labour.‖ ―What did they say at the hospital?‖ ―It‘s not yet due. But they want to monitor her till the baby is due. About a month.‖ I saw how young he was in his eyes, and I sighed, and sat on one of the low stools. He said, ―I don‘t want her to die.‖ I remembered my wife, so I stood up and went inside. While unlocking the door, I felt a tear wriggle down my face and my hand quivered and I remembered I had told my sister the same thing he had said, I don‘t want her to die. The next evening he said the same thing to me; that he did not want his wife to die. Because I wanted to assuage his fears, I sat with him outside, on the low stool. But I also did not want him to remind me about my wife. So I asked him what work he did. ―I work in the plantation owned by Mr. Halliday.‖ I had heard about the plantation owned by the white man, how large it was, and how he had many young people in his employ. ―I hear there‘s a big agricultural Depression.‖

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

16


―Eh?‖ I thought he did not understand but soon afterwards he said, ―Mr. Halliday talked to us today. He used that word. Depression. He said we should pray that it should go away.‖ I liked the sound of his voice, and it was getting dark and there was no lantern, so it seemed the silence that descended after he spoke was appropriate. ―You know how to pray?‖ ―Yes. I go to church.‖ ―You‘ll wait to go to church before you pray?‖ ―No,‖ he said and he laughed. But I felt discouraged, he did not seem to know much, and it was one of the things I missed from the city I lived before I came here. I remembered long hours of argument with my friends and sometimes my wife. I stood up, bade him good night and walked inside. The next day was Sunday. My younger sister came on a commercial motor-cycle. Cars were a luxury at that time and even in Lagos where I lived, there were few cars, reserved for top government officials and the nouveaux riches. Going by how modern everything was becoming, I knew it was only a matter of time before cars became duplicitous. But there were commercial motorcyclists, and they made good money from their trade. My sister looked beautiful, with her hair packed in braids and few tresses came down like a lock an Egyptian prince would have worn. After the motorcyclist had left and we were in the parlour, I asked, ―How‘s Obi?‖ She shook her head, and tried to change the subject, saying, ―Look at how empty this parlour looks. Boredom must be killing you.‖ ―Answer the question I asked you.‖ My imploring stare burned. I knew my voice had changed and she could have easily remembered when I slapped her some years back. She had worn a gown that did not fully cover her breasts. ―I‘ve left him.‖ ―Why?‖ ―I caught him with a girl.‖ she looked at the window. The curtains were drawn, and in better circumstances I would have commented about the fading sun. I said nothing back to her and I saw that she had started crying. ―It‘s fine. You can stay here as long as you want to.‖ Her sobs subsided.

She said some minutes later ―I saw Chike. He said he‘s been asking after you everywhere.‖ ―What did you tell him?‖ ―I said you‘re here. He said he‘d visit sometime.‖ I felt betrayed. I could have hit her face with my backhand. But she had just stopped crying and it would be unfair. Chike was my wife‘s brother. He had stayed with me after my wife‘s death and each morning he‘d talk about how bad it was that she was not with me again. He always ended with, ―Don‘t worry, you‘ll be fine.‖ This always infuriated me, because all my life I liked to keep to myself, to avoid anything that would make my life intersect with others. ―I need privacy. You go about telling people I‘m here?‖ ―Why?‖ ―Why what?‖ ―Why do you need privacy?‖ ―Please shut up.‖ I walked out of the parlour when I said this. The low stools were out and it amused me how small things could easily become a ritual. My neighbour was sitting already and his eyes were fixed on something I did not see. ―Hello,‖ I said and sat. ―Hello,‖ he said, in a distracted manner. ―How‘s your wife.‖ ―She‘s getting on. She spends all her time in bed.‖ ―How are you? It is different without her.‖ I smiled. ―Yes.‖ He hesitated before quipping, ―I was sacked today.‖ I saw again how young he was when he scratched his head and left his hands on his head, as though he needed it to support the weight of what he thought. ―I‘m sorry.‖ But he said, ―So you‘re married?‖ ―No,‖ and looking at him I saw that his eyes was behind me, so I turned and it was my sister. I told him, feeling somewhat relieved, ―she‘s my sister.‖ It was my sister who outstretched her hand and he took it. When I thought he had held it too long, I said to her, ―He‘s my neighbor.‖ She sat and they talked about themselves. She talked about how she loved to knit and how she considered starting a business soon, and he talked about his work at the plantation, how interesting it had been, how unfair it was that he had been sacked. I did not listen to them deeply because I was feeling it was not right for two people who had just met to talk as though they had been friends for long. I

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

17


started listening when she asked him about work and he said he had been sacked. ―I‘m sorry to hear that. It‘s the Depression,‖ my sister said. ―Everybody is saying that,‖ he seemed angry. ―People are getting more unemployed. It‘s everywhere.‖ After she had spoken, I remembered that even in Lagos there had been a protest by workers in the civil service. Many had been retrenched, and those who were retained organized a sit-down protest: they came to work but did not do anything, only read newspapers in the cafeterias. I had been amused reading it in the newspaper, it had seemed surreal. But now, it seemed to have taken more life. ―We deserve to work. Bala says things are not the way they used to be, our world has changed. He says we are going to protest the injustice.‖ Neither of us said anything and the silence did not sound good. So I said, and I don‘t know why, ―how are you going to take care of your wife?‖ ―What?‖ He had not heard me. Before I had the chance to ask the question again, my sister said, ―So, you‘re married.‖ ―Yes.‖ I added, ―She‘s pregnant. At the hospital.‖ I said this for no good reason, just to say something, perhaps because the thought of how firm he had gripped my sister‘s hand crossed my mind. My sister said, ―It‘s good you took her to the hospital. There‘s a new policy that every woman that gives birth at the hospital is paid. And they say the money is big. They started last month.‖ ―What?‖ we both blurted. ―Yes. It‘s true. The hospital wants to encourage people to come there for child delivery. The hospital is safer, more women die during traditional delivery at home.‖ She added, ―I know someone they paid his wife after she gave birth. They used the money to start a business, and it is going very well.‖ His eyes seemed to pop out of their sockets, and I could see that he was excited. He asked my sister several questions about the hospital and the truth of what she said. I felt tired so I went inside my house. While I was turning the knob of my door, I heard Ike say, ―My wife knits during her spare time, and she has knitted a lot of things. You should come to my house and see them.‖ I returned late from school the next day and while trying to open my door, I thought I heard my sister‘s voice coming from my neighbour‘s house. My

suspicion was confirmed when his door opened and she came out laughing heartily. He was behind her and I was so surprised. I think it must have shown because my sister said, ―I went to see the things his wife knitted. They are very beautiful, and I would try to knit like her.‖ ―Okay,‖ I said, my hand still clasped the door handle. ―Ike is a funny man,‖ she said, and turned to him. Both of them giggled and I saw that they were nervous. What nagged my head was why they would be nervous, especially around me. But I said nothing and went inside my house. When my sister came she just sat down beside me in the parlour and neither of us said anything. She went and drew the curtain open and the darkness was already forming. From where she stood she said, ―Ike said I should invite you for a rally. It would take place next week Friday. He said Bala would be talking about the unemployment there.‖ The only thing I could think about was that before then I had not known my neighbour‘s name was Ike. I did not reply. The rally was held in an open field, not too far away from the house, and I went because I did not want to appear immature, as though I had some grudge against Ike because of my sister. There was a very large crowd by the time I arrived; it was so surprising that there was that number of unemployed people. Bala was already talking and he was a slim, almost gaunt man, dressed in a fashion he must have seen in a book. I stood at the back and could only hear him if I strained my ear. But I could gather that he was talking about how everyone had a right to be employed, Depression or not. Since I could barely hear, I filled my mind with what I‘d heard about Bala. It was said he had been the personal assistant to Nnamdi Azikiwe, carried his portfolio everywhere he went, scheduled appointments, and did anything the man requested. Soon after Azikiwe became Prime Minister Bala requested to return to his hometown and start a business. This wish was granted by a hesitant Azikiwe, who gave him a lump sum of money and goodwill, and Bala set off. He used the lump sum to start a small business of transporting farm produce to the city, and after his business began to flourish, he became Mr. Halliday‘s chief transporter and transported the white man‘s produce from the plantation to the city. But now it seemed being Mr. Halliday‘s chief transporter did not stop him from organizing rallies; he had always been empathic about the plight of the people, and given

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

18


his affiliation to Nnamdi Azikiwe, this was not strange. Soon I was bored and I started to walk away. Someone touched me from behind. I turned, it was Ike and he was with my sister. ―Maria,‖ I called her name first. She smiled and Ike said, ―You‘re leaving.‖ ―Yes. I see you‘re enjoying yourself.‖ ―Yes. Bala is a very good orator.‖ All the while Maria had her eyes away from mine. I nodded, looked at Maria and kept walking, my head was straight and I did not look back at them. When it was late at night, about 11p.m., I went and knocked on Ike‘s door. I banged it hard, because I had been waiting for Maria in my parlour and I dozed off there. I guessed they had come in while I was asleep, and even though it was already late, I could not bear the thought of having her sleep over in his house. I kept banging the door until Ike came out, half-naked. Lurid images travelled through my head, and I remembered the dress Maria had worn when I slapped her. ―Where‘s Maria?‖ I asked him. He was looking at the floor when he said, ―She‘s inside. She‘s sleeping.‖ I could have hit him, jammed my fist into his face until he bled profusely, but I heard Maria‘s voice almost immediately, behind him, she said, ―I‘m here.‖ Something turned my legs backward and I was soon in my room, on my bed where I thrashed about until I eventually slept. For several days I did not see Ike and in those days I did not speak to Maria about him. I gathered she was lonely, given her problem with Obi, yet to date a married man beat my imagination, and did not seem decent to me. It did not seem decent, also, that he was having an affair with my sister, behind his pregnant, hospitalized wife. An extra affair was not fair on a pregnant wife. Maria was not married to Obi, only lived with him on weekends which sometimes stretched to weekdays, and I was comfortable with her decision to leave him. We hardly spoke after she stayed in his house late, and I felt bad that we were not younger, for I could have slapped her. She had grown, and now commanded my respect. One day, I met Ike outside when I was returning from school and there was a single stool. He stood up when I came near him and said, ―Welcome.‖ A feeling of superiority came over me, as I wanted appear mature in spite of what I suspected he did with my sister.

―How‘s your wife?‖ ―Fine. I can‘t wait for her to return.‖ ―When‘s the protest?‖ Maria had mentioned that Bala decided in the rally that there‘d be a protest against the unjust retrenchment, especially by Mr. Halliday (once when she wanted us to have a better rapport after that night she had overstayed with Ike). ―Next week.‖ I don‘t know why, but I sat down on the low stool he left. ―So what‘s your plan with my sister?‖ He laughed. I could have pulled out his teeth, one by one, but I abandoned the thought after he closed his mouth. ―I can‘t wait for my wife to give birth. If that money comes, I would be better off, you know. I have no job now and it‘s really bad for me.‖ He laughed again and that thought to eviscerate him of his denture slowly swept over me again. I walked inside with silent fury whilst he cackled. I did not see Ike until the week of the protest. On the day before, I came back and met Maria sniveling in the parlour. When she saw me, her sobbing started and when I sat beside her, she was crying without control. I calmed her and, in between sobs, she blurted out, ―I‘m pregnant.‖ I went out and banged Ike‘s door. I kept banging it until I saw the wriggling padlock, indeed the door was locked. Maria was standing when I came in and I just said, ―He wants to use you and make money.‖ The next morning while I ate breakfast she said, ―I‘m travelling back today.‖ ―Why?‖ ―I don‘t know.‖ After a while I said, ―Don‘t keep that baby.‖ I had spent a lot of time during the night thinking, what should be the best for her, what would take the shame away of having a child for a married man. ―I know,‖ she said, her eyes were clear but they had bags underneath. Then I remembered my wife. I said to Maria, ―You are all I have now. Come back when you take the baby away.‖ I figured the protest did not go well. The next day I was sitting on one of the low stools and Ike was running towards the house. There was a dirty piece of cloth tied around his wrist and I imagined there was blood underneath. He panted as he ran into the house and I was so confused I forgot all the bad plans

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

19


I had for him. His door made a shutting noise almost immediately. While I slept, I dreamt Maria died and bloodied babies, like morticians, mobbed her corpse. The next morning, even before I ate breakfast, I heard a knock on my door. When I opened there were two men wearing a khaki uniform and I was scared. ―Are you Ike?‖ one of them asked. ―No.‖ ―It‘s a lie.‖ ―No.‖ I pointed to the other door. ―That‘s his house.‖ They went and I could hear them vandalize his door with fist and feet until it caved in. I walked outside and after a while I saw them come out with Ike. He was not struggling, seemed too young and stupid, only bowed his head and took his eyes away when it met mine. For me, this was some form of compensation for what he had done to Maria. Soon, there was another knock. It happened so fast I did not have time to ponder on Ike‘s arrest. It was Obi, Maria‘s former boyfriend. As soon as he saw me, he blurted out, ―It‘s Maria. She went to a quack doctor.‖ I remembered my dream of bloodied children mobbing Maria. ―Is she fine?‖ ―Fine?‖

―Yes.‖ ―No. They say she has lost her womb.‖ I felt guilty as I had felt when my wife had a complication while giving birth and died with the baby. This fuelled the reason why I left the city, especially because I was receiving a lot of pity, and I am not a man that loves pity. And I thought coming to this place would heal me, make me forget my wife, remove me from pity. Now it seemed the pity had been transferred to Maria, hers would come in torrents, a woman without a womb. ―Where‘s she?‖ ―At the hospital.‖ He had brought a motorcycle. I was surprised he was here, not the other girl Maria had seen him with. I did not ask him. But it seemed a good sign. Just few meters away there was another motorcycle coming. I looked closely and saw that it was Ike‘s wife, she was carrying her baby, and a stern faced man was driving her. The motorcycle looked very modern, unlike the one Obi drove, fit to carry a newborn child. But I diverted my mind to another thing, to the thought that she‘d go home and not find Ike, and this made me a little happy. Ike‘s wife was waving to me, smiling heartily. I smiled back and said welcome, thinking about how foolish Ike had been to think he could make money from my sister, now that she was no more pregnant it was impossible. S

Double Impression

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

20


Long After Death Olaoluwa Akinoluwa

I

got off the bus at New Extension, oblivious to the teeming faces before me, smoothening my shirt and moving towards the Patent-Medicine Shop. I was relieved to see that there was no crowd at the door. There was a couple with a child and a man with his back turned to me, staring at a large Tuberculosis poster on the wall. Muazu smiled in my direction and continued with the couple. Muazu had always been my doctor. He runs his shop every morning between 7am and 10am, when he leaves for the hospital where he actually works. I sat down to wait my turn. It was then that the man staring at the poster turned to me, smiling. It was Sam, with a broad smile. I stood up smiling, too. ―How far?‖ ―How far?‖ he replied. His voice was as usual a deep resonating baritone, rich in texture and strangely unsettling. ―You don‘t look sick to me.‖ ―Neither do you.‖ One thing you take away from a contact with Sam is his voice. Even if you don‘t remember anything, you would remember his voice long afterwards. Like residual thunder, a gentle quake. ―There is this stubborn rash I want to treat and I…‖ ―You mean you came here all the way from Sabon Gari to treat a rash…‖ he chuckled. I wonder now why it didn‘t occur to ask why he came. Then I said, ―I will be coming to the barracks this evening.‖ And suddenly a change came over him. That it didn‘t strike me as strange then is a wonder to me now. He leaned against the wall and said ―I am tired.‖ The couple and the child were making their way out and I was standing up to face Dr Muazu, but Sam was speaking, his voice tired and sad. ―I won‘t be in barracks this evening. Can you take a message along, please…‖ ―Oh yeah,‖ I said ―to Pat?‖ Pat was his wife of eight months. She was pregnant with their first child. ―Yes,‖ he said bringing out a phone, ―give her this.‖ ―Why?‘‘ I asked, immediately regretting my question after it came out. ―Oh,‖ he said with elaborate casualness ―It‘s something between us.‖ I was already nodding in agreement and getting ready to apologise when I caught him looking at me

strangely, fixatedly, and with a fierce concentration. Then suddenly he looked away, out the door, across the street and in a quiet voice he said ―It‘s a kind of code, it has something to do with money.‖ For a moment I thought I saw his face contort to a grimace, then he shrugged, ―Call it a financial code.‖ Dr Muazu cleared his throat, but I couldn‘t help my view away from Sam‘s face. ―Tell her,‖ he was making an attempt to smile, ―that we‘ll see when we see. She will understand.‖ Dr Muazu was saying, ―Good morning, I hope …‖ I collected the phone, slipped it in my pocket and quickly turned to the Doctor. Assuming Sam was staring over my shoulder, smiling, I began, ―Sorry sir, good morning, I have this rash on my lap. I have used the regular anti-allergic, anti- fungal treatment and …‖ Dr Muazu screwed up his face in a doctorial manner, wrote and then looked up. ―Where is your friend?‖ he asked. Sam had gone. I quickly stepped out of the door and scoured the street to no avail. There was no sign of Sam. I went in feeling his phone bulge in my pocket. My shirt over my trousers, my bag hanging down my shoulders, I strode into the Bompai Police Barrack, walking towards the Senior Officers blocks. When I arrived at the familiar greying blocks, even before I noticed the little groups huddled around the balcony, my heart had taken on a strange beat. I ran up the steps and looking around asked in a pitch too high, ―What‘s wrong?‖ ―Your friend,‖ somebody said after a while in a quiet voice ―is dead.‖ Only one person could be referred to. And that was impossible. I barged into the room, my heart thumping, and my knees weak. When Pat saw me she began wailing in that peculiar way that does something worse than heartbreak to you. I dropped my bag and walked on to meet her and sat down beside her, trying desperately to gather my wits around me. She kept on weeping, more quietly now and in the midst of her sobs and wails I caught the words ―Sam.‖ But this could not be true. I looked around the room and saw Sale. ―What happened?‖ I asked him.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

21


Sale swallowed hard. Then he said, ―One o‘clock this ―Where, when did you see him, what did he do or morning.‖ And he was silent. say? And why are you staring me like that...‖ I was getting exasperated, ―What! What! When?‖ Jackson began to address Ruth in his annoyingly deliberate drawl ―Oh, he is probably just-‖ Then I stopped and looked, ―What did you say?‖ I turned to Pat, ―I saw him. I saw him in New But Sale was calmly talking, ―the doctors said it was Extension, around ten o‘clock.‖ meningitis…‖ Pat nodded and stared at me with grave interest on ―When?‖ her face. I could as well have been telling her about a Sale stared at me. I stared back. tsunami in Asia or an earthquake somewhere. I forced ―One o‘clock early in the morning, at the Teaching myself to go on. Hospital.‖ ―He said he was very tired and sent a message to ―No,‖ I said, staring at him, ―That is impossible!‖ you.‖ Sale expression didn‘t change, he just stared at me. The room was packed now and deathly silent. ―Do you understand what I am saying?‖ I was ―He sent this phone to you.‖ almost shouting now and couldn‘t help it, ―that‘s not I reached into my pocket and brought out the possible...‖ phone. There was a gasp in the room. Then a roar of Then I stopped abruptly and turned to Pat, she was speculation rose which presently subsided. staring at me, silent. ―I am sorry, so sorry.‖ Pat looked at me, in a husky voice she said, ―We‘ve She nodded. Then I said, ―When?‖ been looking for his phone. It went missing between ―One O‘clock this morning, at the Teaching yesterday and this morning. What else did he say?‖ Hospital.‖ She said in a tremulous voice. I walked over ―I … I …‖ but I couldn‘t go on. Everybody to her and knelt before her and tried to look into her understood this, believed it, everybody but me. I felt teary eyes. I couldn‘t sustain it. dizzy for a moment. ―Believe me, please. I saw Sam this morning some I stood up and backed from Pat as she clutched the minutes to ten...‖Suddenly I had to stop. There was no phone. change of expression on her face. Again I began say, ―Do you understand, do you...‖ ‗‘Do you understand what I am saying? Did ―What else did he say?‖ Sale asked as if he was you...have you seen his body?‘‘ asking for the result of an EPL fixture. She stared at me for a moment and then nodded I saw a smile on Mama Rufkat‘s face, a knowing almost imperceptibly. Then quietly she said with her encouraging smile. eyes looking far into space, ‗‘I watched him die...‘‘ ―It is very important that you remember what he I stood up and stared at her in stupefaction and with said. Everything.‖ a growing sense of fear. The others in the room—Sale, She said in her gruff, worn voice, ―Everything he did Jackson, Daniel, Mama Rufkatu, Ruth—were or how he acted. See, this is quite normal, I see you are beginning to stare at me in growing sense of concern. really disturbed. But this happens all the time here, I ―I saw Sam this morning, I don‘t see how...‖ don‘t know if it happens where you come from. It just Ruth spoke now, a weary, quiet impatience in her shows he loved Pat very much. What else did he say?‖ voice, "Did you, you saw Sam this morning?‖ And they all leaned forward, with unrestrained and I turned to look at her, astonished at the tone of her unconcealed eagerness, their blunt dark faces all fixed voice. ―Yes.‖ on my face. And suddenly out of the astonishment, ―Well, then?‖ she said in the same tone. unbelief and shock, something dark and nauseous took I turned and looked at the faces in the room; shape and began to fill me with an indescribable Jackson, Pat, Sale... they were staring at me with the mixture of rage and fear and disgust. same cold, calm, slightly tolerant stare. I began to feel I turned and began to get out of the room, and saw I needed to wake up soon. the look of outraged stupefaction on their faces. At the Someone entered the room and stood there staring door, after forcing my way I stopped and turned to at the scene with a look of stupefaction on his face, look at Pat. which seemed decidedly stupid. Something dark began ―We will see when we see.‖ I said almost in a to rise in me. whisper. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

22


ILLUSTRATION

A Boko Haram Affair

It‘s always a question of trust.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

23


D

Feature Poem

The Word Shop Niran Okewole You approach the door bearing the legend SDROW when the gran with wafer-thin glasses pushes it open, eyes scanning items on her grocery list to add to the basket hanging from her other elbow. Letters stud cookies in cabinets, bend with the spirals in candies on shelves or fisted in the pocket of little Helon pilfering items for a spelling bee. The shop girl in pleated skirt, careless FCUK hat slouching over her beaded braids takes inventory of poundwords, carat-words on shelves, in showglasses with little fluorescent bulbs as this Yahoo! guy sees the ―Park‘n‘Shop‖ sign and hums in with his jeep, blows his good-time girl a kiss as he goes in search of con words, cum words, words in a cone like ice cream with caramel dripping from the edge. In the morning they find a brick in the front showglass and one of the key words stolen. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

24


Seeing Me

The Rape of Gideolu* ‗Biyi Olusolape

Tobi Aso Shocked and teary Swimming in pain My bulging eyes roll up and down in disbelief at what I see. Before me Stands a pitiable sight A mass of bones lightly covered by dry flesh Cheekbones sharp and pointed Exposed ribs like claws of a ferocious tiger Bulging tummy in shape of calabash punched out by starch weighing down on scraggy legs hanging from a lean waist What I see is the dodgy craft of an economy wild and gloomy burst at the sides What I see is me A scary reflection in economy‘s mirror.

The wells now dry are filled with dust. Dust, dust, Ah! Dust. The hag‘s breast, long unsuckled, hang down, an ungainly sight. Once they stood, twin hills, firm, at the dawn of morning. Her grown sons were first to rape her, then they fed fat, off the proceeds of her whoring. Then they fell out, drunken. Woe! Dog ate Dog, for they are no men. Now blind, she dwells in a windowless hut, where there is no difference between dark and night. Her fence is broken, and none will care for her, none to cover her nakedness. She has long been a reproach to her neighbours in the Committee of Nations. * This poem is an excerpt from Miasma, first published in The Economy of Sound: Saraba‘s Poetry Chapbook. See advert on page 36

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

25


Pictures of Darfur Uche Peter Umez so great is the hunger of bullets that blood might not quench it … a. simply by searching the clouds on her forehead you think can tell – see it locked in her bony arms lips pinched tight on her knobbly nipple green flies buzz on its eyelids she can‘t even lift a hand to shield her sickly eight-month-old and you think you know the force of her agony? b. maybe you can tell – as tears spike her eyes her thoughts of her baby with ancient skin mouth crooked in hunger her thoughts of her husband now meat for jackals and hyenas slain by boisterous soldiers – even gauge the depth of sorrow that scraped her soul? S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

26


E

The portrait of a poet as a psychotherapist Interview with Niran Okewole

Niran Okewole, psychiatrist, playwright, and awardwinning poet was interviewed by Saraba’s Publishers. He was two-time winner of the MUSON Poetry Prize and more recently, the winner of 2008 International Berlin Poetry Festival Prize for his poem First Breath. The following is the full interview. Saraba: You seem to be unmarried. In fact you are a nubile bachelor, what are your impressions on the family and its effects on a writer‘s craft. Niran Okewole: Be careful how you use a word like nubile [laughs]. Seriously, I think family is a flexible construct which everyone, writer or not, has to give personal definition. For me each time I think of Fitzgerald I get goose pimples [laughs]. But I‘ll get round to it someday, I suppose. Saraba: Do you see yourself accomplished as a writer? Niran: Definitely not. I‘ve not even scratched the surface. Saraba: How do you take out time from your busy schedule to write? Niran: I describe myself as a weekend writer – weekdays are for medicine, weekends for literature. Still, I wish I had more time...[Sighs]

Saraba: At what point of your life did you see writing as a career you wished to pursue? Niran: The urge to read and write had always been there, but I suppose the decisive period was that break after secondary school, before I entered medical school. I had already won a few prizes and I liked the picture of Soyinka on the cover of Lion and the Jewel and Poems of Black Africa [smiles]. That was when I wrote my first play. Saraba: What are your perceptions especially concerning the ongoing literary renaissance in Nigeria? Niran: Two things. First we need to substantiate this notion that there is a literary renaissance going on. Then we might proffer reasons for it. There was that period in the history of Nigerian writing, the time of Soyinka and Achebe, when it appeared that Nigeria was making an emphatic contribution to world literature. Their work was seen by some as part of postcolonial discourse, the empire writing back as it were. They were succeeded by several bright writers, too numerous to mention. Then came the peri-SAP years and beyond, when the brightest minds in the country either left or their voices were muted. Of course, there were isolated events – Osundare winning the commonwealth, Okri winning the Booker, etc. But there has clearly emerged in the last decade or so a new generation of literary talents eager to be heard. The emphasis has been on fiction but virtually every genre is represented.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

27


Saraba: What do you think about the Nigeria Literary Scene in say 10 years from now? Niran: Some pioneers will have left the scene leaving shoes too large to fit into. Seriously. Saraba: We believe that every work is as a result of questions that bothered the writer. And these works more often than not proffer answers to the questions? Can you tell us about the questions your two published books asked? Niran: The best books may not even profer answers. The goal is often just exploration. For my collection of poems, the thematic concerns are so diverse that question can‘t be answered in one breath. The drama trilogy just tried to provide a slant on two decades of Nigerian history. Saraba: Your favourite writers or is it books? Niran: Poets like Derek Walcott and Pablo Neruda, playwrights like Soyinka and Arthur Miller, novelists like Umberto Eco and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Saraba: Can you describe the events that precede your creative process? Niran: One event. Reading. I read till my fingers start to itch. Saraba: Reading through your works, Heineken showed up more than once, what is its relationship to your creative process? Niran: My favourite beer [chuckles]. Beat Guinness to second place when I started taking Champions League seriously. I think one of the most creative moods is when you are having a quiet beer. Saraba: On Logarhythms, how long did it take to compile those poems? Niran: Most of the poems were written during my service year. A few were carry overs from four years in clinical school. Saraba: Who is your ideal reader? Niran: I don‘t even know there is such a thing. Is there an ideal writer?

Saraba: In your poem, Stream, you alluded to ideas held by Physicians, Philosophers and great men of Letters. Do you often see your poetry, nay your works, as a tool to espouse some of their principles? Niran: Poetry is a good opportunity to just play with ideas, like a child‘s Lego set. I suppose it is a form of play therapy, very good for the psyche of the writer and the reader. Saraba: How has medicine influenced your writing? Niran: Thematic concerns, characters and settings, detail. Saraba: Do you ever see yourself towing the line of fellow doctor writers like A. J. Cronin and Sir Arthur Doyle, leaving medicine for full-time writing? Niran: You know, the other day I ran into Chimamanda and I told her I was considering doing something drastic. She said something like, you mean leave medicine for writing. Of course if one would leave anything, it would be medicine for literature. But I am in this field that I love, psychiatry, where there is in fact a creative link with my writing. I have tremendous respect for people like Miroslav Holub, William Carlos Williams, Lenrie Peters and Femi Oyebode. Saraba: You are also a playwright, in fact a published one, do you think in the ongoing renaissance, new insights on the theatre are neglected, what are your impressions? Niran: Drama is for now the most neglected genre. You have a few names, some of whom tend to mistake their lack of challenge for quality. Perhaps it is because drama is the most materially demanding of all. You haven‘t really done anything until the play is on stage. But I like the work of people like Kunle Okesipe. Maybe it is just virgin territory, to be conquered with time.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

28


Saraba: We read that you are more comfortable with poetry than the other genres. Do you have your reasons? Niran: I suspect genres tend to go with temperament. Fiction can be absorbing and I would love to do that, but for me poetry has always come with more spontaneity. Drama is something I stumbled on. Saraba: Your sequence of plays, The Watchman Trilogy, was highly satirical and polemic and there is a lot of reference to Nigeria‘s history. Do you think you introduced new perspectives to the problems that plague Nigeria with your plays? Niran: I tried to do that, yes. Whether I succeeded or not is for others to decide. Saraba: We believe that plays should be staged more often than read. How much stage publicity have your plays garnered? And what are your plans towards staging them? Niran: So far, none. A couple of plans ran into road blocks. Right now I am just weighing my options, giving it time. Saraba: Are you working on anything creative at the moment? Niran: A few poems, stories, stuff like that. Saraba: Poetry seems to be a very unpopular art. Yet there are no doubts that it is as important as the art of fiction or any other art. Do you think this is sort of an injustice to poetry? How can it be redeemed, if it is? Niran: On the contrary, I think poetry is quite popular. What is rare is good poetry. Fiction is the gateway to celebrity status but poetry still has its place of respect among those who take literature seriously. I think. Saraba: Amongst your contemporaries, whom do you find refreshing? Niran: [Smiles] I have been and still am very critical of Chimamanda‘s work – I hope she finds it in her heart to forgive some cruel things I have said to her – but she is a real pacesetter. Tolu Ogunlesi works very hard, and Uche Peter Umez is really taking his time to master the craft of fiction. Kunle Okesipe writes good drama.

Saraba: A friend once said, a novel equals ten collections of poetry in terms of publicity. Hence to be seen as an accomplished poet, one needs to have published at least ten collections, what are your thoughts about this notion. Niran: We touched on this earlier. This is true, has been for a long time. People remember Boris Pasternak for Doctor Zhivago – in fact he probably got the Nobel on the strength of that one novel – and yet he was regarded as one of the best three poets in Russia at a time, together with Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetsaeva. You have people like Michael Ondaatje and Margaret Atwood who have written fabulous poetry but are better known as novelists. How many people can reach the status of a Seamus Heaney or a Paul Muldoon? It takes, like you said, propably ten collections to one novel. Saraba: As an award-winning poet, what do you think is the role of awards to the craft of a writer? Niran: Awards tell people that they can take you seriously, that out of a truckload of books yours is worth reading. Kind of a short cut to the canon. But awards are so subjective and politicised that any serious writer would be careful with them. Saraba: What is your advice for young upcoming writers? Niran: I can‘t do that. I am young and upcoming writer myself. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

29


The E.C. Osondu Interview With Temitayo Olofinlua On Bookhalolic Blog, June 2009 E.C. Osondu was the winner of the 2009 Caine Prize for African Writing having been shortlisted earlier in 2007. He won the prize for his story Waiting. (Question in Red, answers in black)

Three adjectives that best describe you This is little hard for me. The question, I mean, puts you in a hard place. I have a tendency to ramble but I also adore precision I don‘t know if that makes me quirky. I like contrariness, sometimes for the sheer heck of it. Which talent would you most like to have? The ability to play a musical instrument. I have this fantasy in which I walk up to the stage and casually take the saxophone from say Fela or Miles, cut to this reaction shot of the audience sneeringly wondering what this upstart could possibly be up to and then I begin to play and they start to applaud. Why did you write ‗Jimmy Carter‘s Eyes?‘ The story was written in response to the phrase-The road to hell is paved with good intentions, good intentions here referring to the sometimes misguided dogoodism- for lack of a better phrase- of Western charities and of course the universality of such human impulses as greed and selfishness. What is the last thing you read that made you laugh? A couple of aphorisms make me chuckle each time they come to mind: A man shouldn‘t be angry with the sun because it failed to light his cigar Anyone who insists on calling a spade, a spade should be made to use one. There is only good writing and bad writing, there is no such thing as Christian writing, after all, there is no Christian way to boil an egg. Who is your perfect audience? A well-read audience.

What is the worth of a book? I am sure you mean a good book – priceless of course. When is the best time for you to write? Any time is a good time. I e-mail my work in progress to myself so I can access it at any time and everywhere. Name your five favourite books and why? This is like asking me to step into the same river twice-impossible. I fall in and out of love with books all the time. There are a few writers that I return to often and again: James Baldwin‘s collected essays for their cadence, humor and Old testament- like rhythm. Ben Okri‘s short stories for their magic, musicality and almost perfect exquisite charm. Jose Saramago‘s Blindness for its parabolic and fabular wisdom. Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road for its pessimistic optimism and its cautionary tale quality. And of course VS Naipaul‘s essays for his unflinching and unafraid gaze. What is your most treasured possession? Ah I‘m not gonna reveal that one o, make dem no thief am.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

30


About nominations and awards They are good insofar and they make you realize that the world is paying attention. But the work is the thing really. What is your advice to young writers? Keep reading and keep writing. Easy, right? What books are currently on your bedside table? Books are scattered everywhere in my house including a bunch piled around the commode. Here are a few in no order-The Yacoubian Building, The Price of the Ticket, Fugitive Pieces, The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing and The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders. Best decision in writing career Going to Syracuse University for graduate studies in creative writing. Greatest challenge Leaving meaningful marks on the blank page. Your first words when you made the Caine shortlist... Actually, a friend heard the news first and congratulated me on my wall on Facebook, so I was like O‘l boy you sure abi is this a hoax? I was excited of course. What would a story about your life be called? Look and laff to paraphrase Fela that inimitable wit and chronicler of the Blackman‘s condition. What is your greatest fear? I wake up one day and discover inspiration has fled never to return

If you could make a wish right now, what would it be? To close my eyes and by the time I open them I‘m in Nigeria. To suddenly have the ability to speak the foreign language of any person I meet, now that‘ll be so cool. What is the first piece you wrote and when? I started out as a poet and you don‘t even want to see my early pieces, quite frankly they were cringe-worthy and just talking about them now fills me with fear and loathing. Education or experience: which is more important to a writer? Get some educative experience but also experience some education. How will you introduce your child to reading? Read that which interests you and when s/he develops a love for reading, they‘ll read everything. How do you overcome writer‘s block? I wish I knew how. I think the same way you overcome a hangover-biting the hair of the dog that bit you. Simply attack the page even if you end up writing crap it makes way for all that good stuff to come later. How do you relax? This question presupposes that I work a lot and that I need to create a special time to relax which is not the case. I relax so much that I think the question should be when do you find time from your life of relaxation to do some work? What is your philosophy of life? To be a good man, and a good writer. By the way I borrowed that from Hemingway. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

31


F

The Audacity of Pain: A Review of I Am Memory Damilola Ajayi

Author: Jumoke Verissimo Genre: Poetry Pages: 56 ISBN No: 978-978-088-065-1

P

ersonally, I don‘t like reviews. I find them highly opinionated, utterly sentimental and directly related to book sales. But often I ask myself if sentiments can be distilled completely from a work of art. Can sentiment, the gnawing emotion that wills pen to paper and occasions the resultant work, be separated from Arts? Absolutely not. So we can safely conclude that Sentiment is the artery through which Arts in itself is fed and one is tempted to end it there. In the fashion of American writer, Richard Matheson‘s novel recently made into movie, I Am Legend, Ms. Verissimo substantiates her claim to her chosen genre with her first collection of poems, I Am Memory. Erstwhile Jumoke Verissimo has been heard and read both as a performance poet and in literary journals respectively and I must say, her collection was anticipated and timely. I noticed the book featured about thirteen poems, divided into four memory lanes after I got passed the rather lengthy acknowledgments. Then I launched into the first of her offerings which perhaps is her most outstanding poem, Sequence (of desire). This love poem is nothing like the Shakespearian sonnets, or Robert Frost‘s verses, its much bolder, penned specifically for performance. The lyricism is quite remarkable and works in tandem with the eloquent string of emotions that builds into a robust narrative on one of the most unifying themes in the universe. Recently I was privileged to watch a performance and I was struck with awe. As a poet, Ms Verissimo is versatile as well as judicious in her use of literary mechanics to furnish poems with a fluid progression. Like the Free Verse

poet she is, her style borders more on internal rhythm than rhyme and stanzas, often uneven, do not mince or maneuver words, rather it hits the proverbial nail on the head. Generously, she coins words with pun intended. Words such as Shell-ers, aba-shed are used to further buttress and delineate her emotions, setting them as roots and templates for revisiting issues that bulked most of her themes. Truly, an African poet can‘t be without activism. I Am Memory revisits past issues swept under the carpet of history, gnaw at old scars and initiate new tears, and perspective, to the several woes that have betide the Nigerian state. So often, the poet assumes an angry tone and one could envision the pains the poet had undergone to sift such inflammatory emotions into verse. Her poems tackled themes like tyranny and dictatorship, hunger and famine, unsolved murders of politicians, unjust killings, leaving out only HIV/AIDS to have become a complete personal reproach on African sensibilities. Ms Verissimo has penned a book of nostalgic history. She has collected poems that truly reflect the reactions of a bona fide Nigerian to the turbulence and tribulation the nation has suffered almost endlessly. This collection is a bold stance of pain and other emotions, filtering through the pores of gross indifference and achieving a communal cry of retrospective protest. With I Am Memory, Ms Verissimo asserts and secures herself a seat on the table of the new Nigerian contemporary poets, the likes of Ifowodo Ogaga, Chiedu Ezeanah, Lola Shoneyin, Afam Akeh, Tade Ipadeola, Niran Okewole etc. No doubt she would be heard from for a while. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

32


The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes: A Review of Outliers Adebiyi Olusolape

Outliers: The Story of Success Author: Malcolm Gladwell Genre: Sociology/Psychology Pages: 304 ISBN: 978-031-601-792-3

I

t is only natural, that in the innocence of his budding young mind, a young boy should think his father‘s farm the biggest in the whole, wide world. Although, his understanding of large distances is still underdeveloped: for all he knows, the preparation to travel to a neighbouring town shouldn‘t be different from that for travelling to a neighbouring continent. Father is going away means Father would be gone for a period of time. Whether to Victoria Island or to Victoria Island, except if he has been to both places, his mind cannot conceptualize the difference in space. However, the child can better comprehend the passage of time. In the process of ageing, we cover vast swathes of Time before we become familiar with the enormousness of Space, obviously. But, most unfortunate is the boy whose father‘s farm, in actual fact, is the largest in the whole, wide world as man now knows it. His socialization is in the care of guardians who, equipped with the results of applied geodesy, are led to reaffirm what the child has concluded based on a set of dubious assumptions. The child‘s world view is solidly set on a shaky footing. An insidious strangler fig begins to grow in his heart. Whereas, children in the Third World, sooner or later, have their minds disabused of the puerile superiority complex; the American zeitgeist of the 20th century is characterized by its parochialism. But, equally strong is the legacy of Mercantilism, which now rides abroad on the bandwagon of Globalization. And so, it suits cultural insensitivity, provincialism and mercenary interests to parade in cosmopolitan clothes. The strangler fig responsible for much of America‘s misguided foreign policy is of the same species as that at the heart of American letters. According to Gladwell‘s blog, the most striking discovery he made during the research for Outliers is the basis for the chapter titled

―The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.‖ One tends to agree with him. The other parts of the book continue in the Gladwellian tradition of unearthing obscure research, combining it with mainstream theories, and connecting disparate pieces of information, in order to support his restating of what is already palpable. But he is celebrated by the reading public for articulating what is already known because, according to J. K. Galbraith, ―It serves the ego: the individual has the satisfaction of knowing that other and more famous people share his conclusions. To hear what he believes is also a source of reassurance. The individual knows that he is supported in his thoughts―that he has not been left behind and alone. Further, to hear what one approves serves the evangelizing instinct. It means that others are also hearing and are thereby in process of being persuaded.‖ It suffices to report that Outliers debuted as number one on both The New York Times, and The Globe and Mail bestseller lists, remaining in those positions for eight consecutive weeks. In Outliers, Gladwell exhumes the mummy of the Heroic Ideal, flogs it severely with copious, elaborate examples (his story, one of them), and buries the cadaver. He explains that the factors of success are beyond what a single individual can orchestrate, drawing illustrations from various fields and epochs. Furthermore, he tries to quantify the elusive concept of hard work; concluding that by the time 10,000 hours have been invested in an avocation, the returns is bound to confer the status of a genius on the investor amongst less diligent mortals. He rehashes the popular explanation for why Finnish children read earlier than the children from other OECD countries, to explain why the Chinese tend to be extremely good at Math.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

33


However, none of the submissions in the book is as striking or as revealing of the person of the author as the ―The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.‖ Outliers is supposedly Gladwell‘s most personal book till date, and this is largely due to the unprecedented amount of autobiographical material provided. Nevertheless, greater insight into the inner workings of his mind will be gained from ―The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes,‖ which is not overtly biographical in anyway, than from any other part of the book. Geert Hofstede―in a study of national cultures, and the significance of cultural diversity to Multi-National Corporations―concluded that countries can be grouped on a Power Distance Index (PDI) scale. Essentially, the basis of the classification is how much deference, towards authority figures, the culture encourages. Cultures in which bosses, parents and elders are almost revered are found in High PDI countries e.g. South Korea. On the other hand, cultures that encourage individuals, irrespective of age or position, to interact as equals are found in Low PDI countries e.g. USA. In a related study, by Fischer and Orasanu, the tone of communication between senior Airline Pilots (Captains) and their subordinates can be classified, based on the level of deference in ascending order, into: Commands, Crew Obligations, Crew Suggestions, Queries, Preferences and Hints. The crux of Gladwell‘s argument is that junior pilots from High PDI countries do not go beyond Crew Suggestions in trying to get their superiors to prevent a nascent problem from growing into a fatal crash, especially if the problem has not been noticed by the senior pilot or is a direct consequence of the senior pilot‘s mistake. Also, senior pilots from High PDI countries hesitate to convey the seriousness of their position in an emergency to Airport Authorities. They prefer to wait their turn―so as not to raise the ire of the ―busy, overburdened, ‗superior‘ Airport staff,‖ by asking that the processing of their request be expedited―by which time the plane would have crashed. In comparison, subordinates from a Low PDI country would not hesitate to correct their superiors by any means necessary, in order to head off a crash. Scenes from the movie Crimson Tide readily come to mind. Gladwell offers a number of case studies drawn from real life, to illustrate his point. He provides some of the exchange between the pilots of the 1982 Air Florida crash in Washington DC. He also provides another case study from Korean Air Flight 801. A cursory look at both dialogues reveal that both the American first

officer (from a Low PDI culture) and the Korean flight engineer (from a High PDI culture) behaved exactly the same: they Hint to their captains until when they are convinced of the inevitability of their planes crashing, and only then do they lose some of the deference and upgrade to Crew Obligations or Commands. Irrespective of the racial profiles imputed by Gladwell, the subordinate officers behaved in like manner (like professionals forced to operate in a difficult situation with incomplete information). This is at odds with Gladwell‘s argument, and that he would put forward evidence that contradicts his own conclusion can only be indicative of ingrained stereotypes and crooked thinking. Gladwell goes further to posit that the rash of plane crashes that plagued Korean Air between 1988 and 1998 was because Korean Culture inculcates politeness and deference to authority, to a point where individuals can not express themselves freely or exercise their initiative when working with their superiors on tasks to which teamwork is crucial for success. However, to suggest that the turnaround in Korean Air came about because Korean Air adopted English as the Standard Operations language and strictly forbade Korean vernacular is the most culturally insensitive and simplistic suggestion to come out of that head of unkempt hair. Anyone who truly appreciates the strength of cultural legacies will understand that the Korean Air turnaround was due to the Koreans identifying the moribund parts of their own culture (with the help of outsiders, of course) and working hard to excise the parts of their make-up that would not have been amenable to change. In relating the turnaround of Korean Air, the American expatriate, Greenberg, who was brought in to take over the helm of affairs in the airline‘s restructuring, comes across as the hero who singlehandedly saves the day (by insisting that the Koreans speak English). Gladwell goes so far as to refer to the turnaround of Korean Air as ―Greenberg‘s reform.‖But a large chunk of the first part of Outliers is dedicated to proving that such heroes do not exist. Outliers does not only evince great research but is full of jaundiced conclusions, it is also well written but lacking in substance or originality. It further lacks internal consistency. The book reeks of the same smugness that informed European Colonial policies of the 19th and 20th centuries, and American foreign policy in the last six decades. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

34


Under The Brown Rusted Roofs: A Review Jude Dibia Under The Brown Rusted Roofs By Abimbola Adunni Adelakun Kraft Books Limited 2008 ISBN 9789784854412 226 Pages

A

bimbola Adelakun burst into the Nigerian literary scene early 2008 with a little known book that was slowly gathering a lot of fans, creating a lot of excitement and finally finding validation after being shortlisted for two prestigious literary prizes in 2008 - the Nigerian Prize for Literature (sponsored by the LNG) and the Association of Nigerian Authors/Jacaranda Prize. Adelakun, a graduate of Communications and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan, has said in some interviews that she was inspired to write the novel as a personal challenge to move away from the proliferation of the city/urban novel that seems to be very popular with contemporary Nigerian novelists and focus more on the traditional lifestyle of the Ibadan people in a contemporary era. One thing I have to say after reading this wonderful novel, is that it is a marvelous achievement on many levels. The author told a complex story of family and community and was able to sustain her narrative with unforgettable graphic imagery, language and elements of factual events in our checkered history. Under The Brown Rusted Roofs tells the story of the polygamous household of Chief Arigbabuwo and the surrounding agbooles (which I believe are the family compounds and close clan units); it tells us about the politics of such a rowdy family; the petty jealousies, the fights, the gossips and the naked ambition of many of the family members; it tells us also about the tradition of the people, their language that is steeped in many hilarious proverbs as well as the graphic nature of their everyday vernacular. It is a story about family and an evolving society. Above all, though, Rusted Roofs could be treated as a seminal work in

both Yoruba/Ibadan culture and women's writing in Nigeria. Adelakun's literal translation of Ibadan dialect, positions her as a kind of folklorist as she strove to represent speech patterns of the Ibadan Yoruba through an ethnographic and holistic approach. One book that readily comes to mind for its similar approach is the 1937 Zora Neale Hurston classic, Their Eye's Were Watching God. And like the contemporary Indian writers (Roy, Desai, Adiga etc), Adelakun was successful in capturing the essence of her provincial setting with characters that we cared enough about. The book has some minor flaws unfortunately, most of which are the publisher's fault more than anything. The first obvious thing is the bad typesetting at the beginning of the book. There were some typographical errors as well as repetitions, and some words and phrases were overused; a good editor and copy-editor would have noticed and advised the author to change or work on these. Also, for such a wonderful novel, the publisher should have done better with the overall packaging... this novel is really that good and yet they could not invest in a better production. It is sad to see this and it says a lot about the 'traditional' publishers in Nigeria and why novels published in Nigeria are not winning major international prizes like novels from India or, looking closer to home, novels from our South African peers. What Adelakun has shown with this debut novel, is that pure, raw talents abounds in Nigeria. She is a truly gifted storyteller and I for one cannot wait for her next novel. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

35


The Writer as Wiyayor Ayo Ademiluyi Ayo reviews the enduring backdrop of Ken Saro-Wiwa‘s writing ―The Wiyayors are ordinary members of the society who when a spirit descends on them, acquire unusual powers of clairvoyance that make people accept their judgement and views. When the spirit deserts him, a Wiyayor has to return to society and live up to its laws and mores, but he also has to accept the conditions under which his special powers were given. A Wiyayor loses his power if he betrays the vision he was sent to tell. A writer is a Wiyayor, forced to live in the society but yet apart from it: critical of society and himself being critically watched by the society.‖ (Ken Saro Wiwa, in a lecture delivered to ANA in 1993: In the shadow of a Saint.)

T

here has been much debate over the person the writer should be. Why many fancy the writer as a superb romanticist writing about flowers and their petals, others have contrary opinions. Many see the writer as being continually locked up in the contemplation of the beauty of the forms of life and existence. It would take a close reading of Ken Saro Wiwa‘s last work and prison memoirs, A Month and A Day, the recordings of his eventual execution alongside other nine Ogoni leaders, Tom Mbeke-Ekanem‘s Beyond The Execution and his son‘s personal memoirs, Ken Wiwa‘s In The Shadow Of A Saint to locate the person of a writer for the beleaguered Nigerian society and the continent of Africa and indeed the continents across the globe. A writer‘s personality is enmeshed in the vicissitudes of that society and cannot be detached. Ken Saro Wiwa, one of Nigeria‘s literary best is much known for his pursuit of the cause of the Ogoni, his people for whom he accused the Nigerian government of genocide alongside the peoples of the Delta from whom he claimed the same government drew barrels of oil in commercial quantity and gqve nothing in return, leaving them to die away under oil spillage and gas flaring and other environmental damage. Before coming to play the role of the President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) for whose cause he was

eventually executed, he had ventured into literary enterprise with many works to his credit. To him, literature in a critical terrain such as Nigeria cannot be divorced from politics. Literature must serve society by steeping itself in politics, by intervention, and writers must not merely take a bemused look at society. They must play an interventionist role. While submitting further on the writer in the African experience, he explained: My experience has been that Africa government can ignore writers, taking comfort in the fact that only few can write and read, and that those who read find little time for the luxury of literary consumption beyond the need to pass examinations based on set texts. Therefore, the writer must be a l‘homme engage: the intellectual man of action. Traditional literature in Africa is oral and it is the hybrid of the common consciousness of the people – their dreams, hopes, travails, victories, defeats, struggles: the past, the present and the future. The litterateur in Africa engages society and as a custodian of society‘s tradition and history taking society on the reflection of the past and the contemplation of the future. The coming of written literature in Africa has not been a departure as the peoples of Africa writers like Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono reaffirm the pride of Black Consciousness. As the post-colonisation regimes of Africa collapsed into corruption writers like Ayi Kwei Armah and Festus Iyayi emerged. With the rise of military regimes and dictators, writings critical of their nature equally arose. Thus, African literature has not been detached from the political vicissitudes of the peoples of Africa. Ken Saro Wiwa, who fell to the second generation of African writers demanding for justice from crassly opportunistic African military mis-rulers, equally reflects this about the writer: He must take part in mass organizations. He must establish direct contact with the people and resort to the strength of African literature –oratory in the tongue. For the word is

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

36


power and more powerful currency. That is why a organizations will deliver one who writes waiting wonders…

is it when expressed in common writer who takes part in mass his message more effectively than for time to work its literary

sit by and watch or record goons and bumpkins run the nation aground and dehumanize the people.‖

His writings, either journalistic or literary, therefore engaged the Nigerian society. His poetry portrayed the pangs of his heart for the people, his prose poured out the perspectives for the future and his plays deepened the portrayal of the rot and the materialist philosophy engulfing the Nigerian society. For this, he declared that:

I also appeal to the Nigerian press to continue to stand courageously for a democratic Nigeria according to all the wishes of all Nigerians, to crusade for social justice and for the rights and liberties of the oppressed masses, oppressed ethnic groups and the disadvantaged in our country. Else the curtains will fall.

…the writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely x-ray society‘s weaknesses, its ills or perils .He or she must be actively involved in shaping its present and its future.‘‘ To further deepen his conviction that the writer can only carve its niche in the social struggles of the people, he argued further that: This is probably the reason why the best Nigerian writers have involved themselves in ‗politics.‘ Wole Soyinka, Nigeria‘s Nobel Laurete is an outstanding example. Even the normally placid and wise Chinua Achebe was forced within one of the political parties to buttress his call on the Nigerians to ‗proselytize for civilized values.‘ Chris Okigbo died fighting on the side of the Biafran secessionists. And Festus Iyayi gas been involved in labour unions…in a situation that is as critical as Nigeria‘s, it is idle merely to

For the press he equally has a message as they also write in portrayal of the society:

And for this cause, he truly gave himself organizing and mobilizing the people of the Ogoni to demand for political autonomy under Nigeria and reach the heights of their destiny which their oppressors do not want them to reach. It was not long before desperate men conspired to get rid of him for he stood in their way of fraud. Hear him: …the men who ordain and supervise this show of shame, this tragic charade, are frightened by the word, the power of ideas, the power of the pen; by the demands of social justice and the rights of man nor do they have as sense of history .They are so scared of the power of the word, that they do not read. And that is their funeral. With further neoliberal attacks on the oppressed masses, the writer cannot but take side with the people as organizer, mobiliser and agitator as they seize their fate and overturn the present ruling class and take what is theirs as theirs. S

Impressions…

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

37


The Economy of Sound _ With an introduction by TADE IPADEOLA

_

July 2009

…in the economy of sound, music is found in scribbles… Poems by Adebiyi Olusolape Arthur Chigbo Anyaduba Ayoade Adeoye Damilola Ajayi Emmanuel Iduma Olaoluwa Akinloluwa

_ ―That poetry reinvents itself, that it finds a home in every succeeding generation of humanity, that it endures - is a function of a deep, and spare, economy. In the current edition of Saraba, I find this to be true.‖ From the Introduction by Tade Ipadeola

_ Download the Chapbook free! at www.sarabamag.com Click on ‗Chapbook‘ to download and see submission guidelines for our forthcoming fiction chapbook

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

38


G Eghosa Imasuen reading from his book, To Saint Patrick

Thought Experiments Eghosa Imasuen Eghosa Imasuen tells us why he wrote To Saint Patrick and what he set out to achieve.

I

‘ve tried many times to put on paper my reasons for writing To Saint Patrick. What could I explain in 2000 words—the energy expended in writing the book itself? Kai! So what did I write? I wrote a genre novel. Something even I thought odd: an Alternate History. Of Nigeria. Alternate history is a subgenre of the science fiction and fantasy genre. When I first pitched the idea to publishers in Nigeria, I wasn‘t laughed at. No. What I got were those looks of, ―Eiyah, this one don crase o. Naija no dey carry last!‖ And then they would ask me what my ‗alternate history‘ would be about? I usually replied this ‗polite‘ inquiry with the questions of my own: ―What if Murtala didn‘t die in ‗76? What if Dimka missed?‖

Because that is what alternate history does. It asks questions. It creates an opening for those half-chances and what-might-have-beens of history to be put forward. I have always been a ‗fan‘ of alternate history. From Philip K. Dick‘s The Man in the High Castle to Harry Turtledove‘s Great War series, and then the greatest of them all, Richard Harris‘ Fatherland. But while I enjoyed all these books and the questions they asked— What if Alexander the Great had turned back from India an afternoon earlier? Would the mosquito that bit him have taken his life? Would a farming tribe of Latins from the Italian

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

39


peninsula have been given a chance to rise to world-conquering status?What if the Leif Ericsson‘s colony in Newfoundland had survived? What would be Cristoforo Colombo‘s claim to fame? What language would be spoken in North America? What if Tesla had been less of a misanthrope? Would Thomas Edison have gotten away with his bullying? Wouldn‘t we now be travelling to the moon via electronic teleporting, a la Star Trek? What if the Nazi‘s had won World War two? —there was something I always wondered about. And that was about my people—Blacks, Africans, Nigerians—and their place in this universe of the imagination. The logical conclusion was that I would start asking my questions: What if Queen Victoria had changed her foreign minister before invading Benin, Koko and Opobo? What if, kpa-kpa, she had died of the childhood measles before she even heard the words Slave Coast or Gold Coast? Would she have become the famous carrier of the bleeding gene? What if Anthony Enahoro had gotten a toothache—or worse, a sore throat—in ‗56 just before he was due to move that famous motion?What if Awo had called the Sardauna‘s bluff about the North not being ready for independence? Or, to go back a few decades, what if Lugard had broken up with Miss Shaw before she came up with idea for that name, or the anthem, or the amalgamation even sef? There were so many more questions that boiled in my mind. But what is noteworthy about these thought experiments—as I like to call them—is that I have had them all my life. As far back as I can remember I have always been intrigued by how easily history could have been turned by the proverbial missing horseshoe nail. How something as simple as Major Nzeogwu coming down with a bout of acute diarrhoea on the evening of the 14th might have forever changed this country‘s history. Would the Nigerian Civil War have been fought over the seceding Ibos? There probably would have still been a civil war, I think, but maybe in Tivland. Maybe the Tiv crises of late ‗64 would have escalated into a fullblown war had its main protagonists been

encouraged by the distraction caused by the Western Region House of Assembly . . . Thought experiments. But wetin concern agbero with overload? I am a medical doctor. Up till early 2005 all I had written, apart from a few laughable attempts at comics and a three-page outer space/time machine story in primary school, were essays describing in excruciating detail the inner workings of the human body and, after getting my degree in ‗99, case notes detailing in boringly excruciating detail the humdrum lives of patients. I had tried travelling overseas, to the US and the UK, and had been bounced twice. I was waiting for my primaries—nasty exams that decide which doctor gets to become a specialist and which ends up prescribing anti-malarials for the rest of his life—when one day I got into a heated argument with my mother over stagnated potential and Godgiven gifts. She waved a magazine page in my face. It featured this attractive Ibo chick who had just written a novel about royalty-coloured horticulture, or so I thought at the time. My mother said, ―See this. Is she not your mate? Did she not study medicine too? Why can‘t you do something like this? You‘re always so quiet. Do you want to be dividing chloroquine and chloramphenicol for the rest of your life?‖ This is the way my mom argues, twenty questions punctuated by a statement or two. Still, her questions got me thinking. So I travelled to Lagos and bought the book. I was pleasantly shocked. It was not about hibiscuses at all. It was a breath of fresh air. It seemed that the writer spoke with my voice, with my pain, with my joy. And it didn‘t apologise for any of this. It removed the apprehension with which I read most of my country‘s fiction. I had studied Literature in secondary school and had always been depressed about how most Nigerian novels post-Things Fall Apart read like clones of their far superior forebear. Inspired, I said to myself, I can do this. How hard can it be? I sabi write na (I now regret that initial optimism—writing is hell, lonely hell). I already had an idea for my first novel: for many months it had lain fallow, bubbling beneath my consciousness, lifted from deep down during those hypnagogic moments before deep sleep, but forgotten during my waking

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

40


hours. And it was simply this: What if Murtala Mohammed didn‘t die? My mom was in her fifth month of confinement—I was the chap in her womb—when General Murtala Mohammed was shot dead at Onikan on his way to work. Two of my earliest memories are of my mother changing the calendar from 1978 to 1979 and my father explaining to me who the guy on the pink twenty naira note was—this was before the Buhari– Idiagbon regime changed the colour to green. There was always this thing. Everybody felt it. What if the guy had gotten more than six months? But as I got older, I began to hear more things. This ‗saviour‘ was a more complex character; there was nothing black and white about him. Some people thought him a bloodthirsty villain. My own grandfather, an Itsekiri police officer who had been accused of being a Biafra collaborator during the invasion of the Midwest, spoke of how he had barely escaped the clutches of Murtala‘s murderous 2nd Division. Then I began to hear whispers of what he, Murtala, did during the ‘66 countercoup. I heard about the Lagos and Kano airport incidents. I heard about the temper. Yet even granddad, who couldn‘t stand the man, would grudgingly admit that he had done some good during those final six months. So if I was going to pick a ‗point of divergence‘ for my great alternate history novel, a point in history where a simple change could have had a good—or probably just an interesting—effect, what about this? If Murtala had been head of state would the infamous ‗two-thirds of nineteen‘—Nigeria‘s arithmetic gymnastics that settled the ‗79 elections—have stood a chance? Or would a runoff between Awolowo and Shagari have featured a re-aligning of allegiances and promises? Imagine if Zik‘s NPP, Waziri‘s GNPP and Amino Kano‘s PRP had formed a coalition? Shagari would probably have lost the run-off. The country might have had a great chance to teach its people that presidential elections in which more than three parties stood are scarcely won on the first ballot; Nigerians would have learned to be more discerning when reading magical winner-take-all election results.

But Murtala died. What about the anti-corruption war? If Murtala had handed the reins over to Awolowo in October 1979, how do you think this fight would have gone? Would we have heard of Dikko and Co? Probably. They might have become a vibrant opposition instead of the brazen kleptocrats that history has condemned them to continually deny that they are. But he died. And then imagine the thirty-six states of the Nigerian federation. Would we have had as many? Would Enahoro‘s dream of a regional structure composed of no more than 6 elements have come into being? Six regions, forty-one provinces—the cost of government would have been dramatically reduced. No salaries for thirty-six governors; no allowances for thirty-six times x first ladies (no blame me o, some of them are polygamous!); no salaries of thirty-six times twenty commissioners; for thirty-six times twenty-six House of Assembly members; for thirty-six times three senators; for thirty-six times six Representatives. Imagine. And most important of all: would he have had a chance to apologise to Nigerians for the excesses of the sixties, for the tears, the massacres in Asaba? Would he have wanted to? But he died. To Saint Patrick is my attempt to construct a Nigeria of our dreams from the ‗what-ifs‘ and ‗what-mighthave-beens‘ of this country‘s recent history. It is fiction, it is alternate history; but beyond that, I hope I have succeeded in writing a lovely, readable story that touches anyone who reads it. That is my definition of what a writer must set out to do. And it is also my emphatic answer to the accusation of stagnated potential. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

41


H

Raymond Carver’s Story Principles Several excerpts from Principles of a Story by Raymond Carver

It‘s akin to style, what I‘m talking about, but it isn‘t style alone. It is the writer‘s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There‘s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time. Ambition and a little luck are good things for a writer to have going for him. Too much ambition and bad luck, or no luck at all, can be killing. There has to be talent. Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or a gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, Too often ―experimentation‖ is a licence to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing.

It should be noted that real experiment in fiction is original, hard-earned and cause for rejoicing. But someone else‘s way of looking at things—Barthelme‘s, for instance— should not be chased after by other writers. It won‘t work. There is only one Barthelme, and for another writer to try to appropriate Barthelme‘s peculiar sensibility or mise en scène under the rubric of innovation is for that writer to mess around with chaos and disaster and, worse, self-deception. The real experimenters have to ―make it new,‖ as Pound urged, and in the process have to find things out for themselves. But if writers haven‘t taken leave of their senses, they also want to stay in touch with us, they want to carry news from their world to ours. It‘s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman‘s earring—with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader‘s spine—the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That‘s the kind of writing that most interests me. That‘s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say. If the words are heavy with the writer‘s own unbridled emotions, or if they are imprecise and inaccurate for some other reason—if the words are in any way blurred—the reader‘s eyes will slide right over them and nothing will be achieved.

But if the writing can‘t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labour, is the one thing we can take into the grave. There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion, or else, most often, there simply won‘t be a story. What creates tension in a piece of fiction is partly the way the concrete words are linked together to make up the visible action of the story. But it‘s also the things that are left out, that are implied, the landscape just under the smooth (but sometimes broken and unsettled) surface of things. VS Pritchett‘s definition of a short story is ―something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.‖ Notice the ―glimpse‖ part of this. First the glimpse. Then the glimpse given life, turned into something that illuminates the moment and may, if we‘re lucky— that word again—have even further-ranging consequences and meaning. The short story writer‘s task is to invest the glimpse with all that is in his power. He‘ll bring his intelligence and literary skill to bear (his talent), his sense of proportion and sense of the fitness of things: of how things out there really are and how he sees those things—like no one else sees them. The essay first appeared in the New York Times Book Review in 1981 as A Storyteller‘s Notebook. Entitled On Writing, it is included in Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories (Harvill Press) by Raymond Carver. © 1968 to 1988 byRaymond Carver,1989 to present by Tess Gallagher. It was also published in Prospect Magazine September 2005. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

42


Long Fiction Ethics Principles for the Novel found in John Irving‘s A Widow for One Year In the beginning of a novel, there are so many possibilities. With each detail you choose, with every word you commit yourself to, your options close down. The writing of a novel demanded privacy; it called for a virtually isolated existence. In contrast, the publication of a book was an alarmingly public experience. When, if only for a moment, the novelist steps out of the creator‘s role, what roles are there for the novelist to step into? There are only creators of stories and characters in stories; there are no other roles. A novel is always more complicated than it seems at the beginning. Indeed, a novel should be more complicated than it seems at the beginning. The best fictional detail was a chosen detail, not a remembered one – for fictional truth was not only the truth of observation, which was the truth of mere journalism. The best fictional detail was the detail that should have defined the character or the episode or the atmosphere. Fictional truth was what should have happened in a story – not necessarily what did happen or what had happened. To tell a believable story, you just have to get the details right.

S

Quote Poverty is easily shared. Mia Couto Mozambican writer, Everyman is a Race

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

43


I

Saraba’s Bookshelf A Collection of internationally acclaimed books, with short synopsis for each

3 1

2

4

5

6

7

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

44


1

Imprint: Arcadia Format: C Format ISBN: 978-1-905147-15-1 Price: £ 11.99 Pages: 194 pp Date: October 2006 Set in contemporary Angola, The Book of Chameleons is populated with characters whose stories never quite settle. It is some pages in before you realise that the narrator rather charming, witty as he is - a lizard, living on Felix Ventura's living room wall. Felix trades in an usual commodity - he sells pasts. If you don't like yours, he can come up with an entirely new one for you, full of better memories and with a complete lineage. This is a book about the landscape of memory, its inconsistencies and its randomness. 2

Selected edition: Paperback ISBN: 9780571234974 Published: 06.03.2008 No of pages: 208 Price: £10.99 (Paperback) Imprint: Faber & Faber The author of Maps for Lost Lovers gives us a new novel—at once lyrical and blistering— about war in our time, told through the lives of five people who come together in post9/11 Afghanistan. Marcus, an English doctor whose progressive, outspoken Afghani wife was murdered by the Taliban, opens his home— itself an eerily beautiful monument to his losses—to the others: Lara, from St. Petersburg, looking for evidence of her soldier brother who disappeared decades

before during the Soviet invasion; David, an American, a former spy who has seen his ideals turned inside out during his twenty-five years in Afghanistan; Casa, a young Afghani whose hatred of the West plunges him into the depths of zealotry; and James, the Special Forces soldier in whom David sees a dangerous revival of the unquestioning notions of right and wrong that he himself once held. In mesmerizing prose, Nadeem Aslam reveals the complex ties—of love and desperation, pain and salvation, madness and clarity—that bind the characters. And through their stories he creates a timely and achingly intimate portrait of the ―continuation of wars‖ that shapes our world. 3

Pages: 300pp Imprint: Faber Price: £16.99 Roseanne McNulty, forgotten centenarian, long-time resident of the Roscommon regional mental hospital, is facing an imminent upheaval. The decrepit Victorian institution is soon to be demolished, leaving its residents displaced in a starkly changed modern Ireland that has all but buried its violent origins. Attempting to organise her memories, some reliable, others shifting, she embarks on the writing of a chronicle. Her account forms the main part of Sebastian Barry's compelling new novel, in which Roseanne's testimony interweaves with that of her psychiatrist, Dr Grene. A man who feels fatherly, "even motherly", towards his

patients, he is plagued by memories of an uneasy marriage. He and his late wife were "like two peoples that have once committed grave crimes against each other, but in another generation". Barry writes about loss, broken promises, failed hopes. In addition, The Secret Scripture offers itself as a kind of thematic cousin to his Bookernominated masterpiece A Long Long Way and his awardwinning stage play The Steward of Christendom. 4

After accident, illness, and the loss of his job and marriage, forty-eight-year-old Taura meets Mutsuko, setting his already derailed life even further off course. Their first encouter is, unseen, in an overcrowded hospital. It later transpires that the mysterious Mutsuko is in her late sixties, but when they next meet she is younger, in her forties, and the two fall seemingly and hopelessly in love. With Mutsuko‘s age decreasing each time they meet, however, time rapidly starts to run out for these two damaged souls. Short and enigmatic, Yamada‘s novel is a bold and disturbing exploration of love and loss.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

45


5

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group Publication Date: November 2008 ISBN-13: 9781439142363 Number of Pages: 304 Price: $27.50 Orange Prize winner and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, Linda Grant has created an enchanting portrait of a woman who, having endured unbearable loss, finds solace in the family secrets her estranged uncle reveals. In vivid and supple prose, Grant subtly constructs a powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present. Vivien Kovacs, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents, who conceal the details of their history and shy away from any encounter with the outside world. She learns how to navigate British society from an eccentric cast of neighbors — including a fading ballerina, a cartoonist, and a sad woman who wanders the city and teaches Vivien to be beautiful. She loses herself in books and reinvents herself according to her favorite characters, but it is through clothes that she ultimately defines herself. Against her

father's wishes, she forges a relationship with her uncle, a notorious criminal and slum landlord, who, in his old age, wants to share his life story. As he exposes the truth about her family's past Vivien learns how to be comfortable in her own skin and how to be alive in the world. 6

Imprint: Jonathan Cape Price: ÂŁ12.99 Number of Pages: 287pp Not many novelists would wander around the seedy redlight district of Antwerp in a mini-skirt and thigh-high boots to carry out research. But this is what Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe did for her novel about the lives of African sex workers in the Belgian city. She also spent time persuading these women to share their stories. Her diligence has paid off. On Black Sisters' Street is a probing and unsettling exploration of the many factors that lead African women into prostitution in Europe, and it pulls no punches about the sordid nature of the job.

7

Number of Pages: 352 ISBN: 9781594489587 Date Published: 06 Sep 2007 Imprint: Riverhead Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim. Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

46


J

On Trends, Cranes, and Caine! Damilola Ajayi

N

ow I must feel like a literary enthusiast extraordinaire, being the most regular Saraban columnist who feeds you good quarterly literary gossips. I have always emphasized the power of observation. And both readers and writers alike would understand that without that keen interest at surveillance, a writer wields his/her pen in vain. Also the critic/reviewer would be a flotsam in the high seas of a writer‘s rendition. As always, after keen observation, the attendant result is picking up trends and the joy of finding a trend is in shouting (Eureka!) by all journalistic means. Correct me if am wrong, but am I the only one who sees a new trend in the way books are being named in recent times? Gone are the days when you would look for a phrase in the many words of a philosopher or poet and tag your book after it. Most old writers are all guilty as charged. I mean, from Sheldon to Achebe, they are all guilty. But this seems not to be the trend these days. It‘s the time of long phrases as novel titles. It all began with Uwem Akpan, Commonwealth Prize winning Jesuit priest, his collection of short stories, Say you are one of them. The title was lent to it by one of the stories, the Rwandan-based My Parent‘s Bedroom. Next is humor-writer, Adaobi Nwaubuni, who I hope is as funny as Zimbabawean Petina Gappah, with a novel on 419 scams, I do not come to you by chance. Chimamanda Adichie now tops it with her new book, another collection of stories entitled, The thing around your neck. Just after I noticed this trend

and I informed a friend, he showed me his new story. It was titled, They do not always remember. So to all literary enthusiasts and writers, a new style of novel nomenclature as evolved. It might just be the crane for your literary success, one can never tell! Now I think I should not have published that ye-ye review of the Caine 2009 shortlists in AfricanWriter.com. I wrote and I would quote of the winning story, ―personally I was not moved. And I doubt if the judges would be.‖ Mr. E.C Osondu, I am sorry and Congratulations. I am still convinced that you won on the impressive precedence of Jimmy Carter‘s Eyes, and not Waiting. As much as I am seeking to pick a trend in the distribution of Africa‘s Booker amongst African Nations, am aware of the role politics play in literary prizes, nay all human endeavours. But at least na my country man win! The famous Chimamanda Literary Workshop has been slated for September. And even though entries have closed, I am one of those who entered for it. As much as possible, I wish they would come open with the yardsticks with which they choose participants. Personally, I think an interview would be much better than just an entry and a short review of yourself. But that‘s another story. I hope I would be chosen, in the face of this ASUU strike. I would be able to bury myself in literary sands. Like all literary meets, especially like the 9 writers, 4 cities tour, workshops are places to meet your editors and mouth-wielding literary giants. They are also places to secure your writing career! S

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

47


saraba ANNOUNCEMENTS

creatingunendingvoices

ADVERT RATE Type Rate Platinum N250,000 Gold N150,000 Silver N80,000

Description 8 Issues + Advert on website 4 Issues + Advert on website 2 Issues

Call +234 (0) 806 005 0835 or +234 (0) 806 703 3738 The Advert should be in A4 size, in pdf or jpeg formats. Cheques or bank drafts should be addressed to Saraba Publishers. SPECIAL DECEMBER ISSUE In Our December Issue, we would accept only fiction. It is themed ―The Story Issue.‖ Unsolicited poetry and reviews would not be accepted for this issue. We hope to work with distinguished fiction writers as editors and reviewers. Word count is between 3,000 and 10,000 words. Stories can be on any theme, but send your best! Deadline for this is October 30, 2009. Send to submissions@sarabamag.com, or sarabamag@gmail.com. Flash Fiction Chapbook Our next chapbook is a flash fiction chapbook. Send a maximum of five stories to us. Word count is 600. We are on… Facebook, Twitter.

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

48


K

THE CHOPPING BOARD ‗Biyi Olusolape gets into the fine details of pop, and not so gently…

Mi

Yes, it does sound like he‘s honed his delivery on the late night sessions of urban radio. He manages to walk the line between the insouciance of Lil Wayne‘s voice and the seasoned sonority of Isaac Hayes‘s, enough to make the ladies swoon (a marked departure from 9ja‘s own 9th instalment of the Robocop with his woodpecker delivery). Sure, he rhymes tight, although he might have software help, but hey! DJ‘s use it, why not MCs? And the period between the release of his lead single and his debut album isn‘t ten years (like the bespectacled, dreadlocked lady. Somebody tell her, that tactic won‘t be tolerated if she tries it with her follow-up). His punch lines work in a very effective one-two combo: to the mark and to the point, the latter coming out of the blue, like the jab of a southpaw. Having said all that, I did sleep off, waiting for him to be done, preening before the mirror. Narcissism is a characteristic ailment of all rappers (for instance, there‘s this OG from Long Beach who insists on spelling his name on every song), but this short dude‘s vanity, it is of mythological proportions. He must be compensating for something. He really can‘t help fondling himself, verbally. But the microphone is not the place to work out one‘s self esteem issues. And he‘s yet to graduate from the school of basic techniques. His exclusive reliance on rhyming leads to inane utterances like: Your boyfriend is a hater But he can be our waiter Or the more absurd suggestion that the ears can substitute for the nose: I‘m always inside your telly Your lyrics are smelly-smelly Or worse still, self contradiction: I got the magic static I got the chrome automatic So systematic, erratic

This raises the question: is it possible to be orderly in a disorderly fashion? No doubt, die hard fans will provide us with some contortions of logic to explain these away. But, should one give up making sense in a senseless compulsion to rhyme? Maybe that‘s why a few lines later, he inadvertently admits: Flow...neurotic All mature lyricists know that rhymes are subsumed in the larger body of poetic effects called assonance. When the ―assonance‖ is at the end of a word, it is called rhyme, when it is at the head, alliteration. There‘s a whole world to explore, restricting oneself to the use of rhymes limits the range of the emotions that can be expressed and of what can be said, resulting in insincere and contrived creations like the ones above. And if the Rhymester insists on staying on in kindergarten (because he loves nursery rhymes), he should, at least, vary his rhyme schemes. Even WC, who was not the brightest in his pre-schooler class, could come up with: As God don change my water to wine You wan come change am back to water Wey the person wey dey think sey him fit stop my shine For your mind now I don turn to butter

a b a b

Perhaps this is why our Rhymester‘s claim to: Make mo‘ hits than Mo‘ hits Is not the ―orijooo, na panda.‖ Thankfully, he‘s not another Rugged opportunist. Like an upcoming Juju artiste, he gives props to those who‘ve come before him. On one of his skits, he gives the thumbs up to P-square, D’banj, Mode9, Banky, Naeto C and the list goes on. But the mimicry of a Hausa Head of State, on another skit, the intro to the album, is uneven and neither funny nor convincing. Dave Chappelle‘s impressions of Mandela, Gil Scott-Heron, Lennox Lewis, and

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

49


Rick James on the Train of Thought by Talib Kweli & Hitek are unparalleled in the annals of rap. In contrast, the endorsements on this album are at best prosaic. Sound Sultan may be the greatest underachiever on the Nigerian music scene, but, at least, his funny skits are well thought out and brilliantly executed. Blaze, the eponymous guest on a track on Talk About It, was completely out of her depth. She simply fell off the Abaga brothers‘ ―space ship from NASA‖ at blast off. The fall shook her up so much, she could barely muster any intelligent lines, and relied on ooohs and aaahs as fillers. The subject matter of that song, the number and gender of the collaborating MCs, and Blaze‘s voice suggest a comparison to Foxy Brown on The Firm’s unveiling on It Was Written. The Ill Nana ripped the beat to shreds with her vixen claws. Even Escobar couldn‘t touch her on that one. When the Rhymester does get round to talking about some subject other than his big... His views restate the blindingly obvious. Yes, the politicians are corrupt; life is hard and so on. Who doesn‘t know that yet? He has no singular angle of attack, with which he comes at the Nigerian issue, no fresh perspective. On topical issues, the yardstick by which relevance is measured isn‘t the rhyming or the delivery, but the new insight one gains from adopting the artiste‘s viewpoint. A listen to Public Enemy or The Roots will illustrate the point.

the graphic, scenic descriptions that transport one to the rapper‘s own world? Does one plough through the second rate beats, cobbled together by Charlie and his Chocolate Factory schoolboy mates (the tracks with defective drum rolls and amateurish cadences, which supposedly are in time to the heartbeat of Africa), only to discover there are no nuggets to make it worth one‘s while? One feels led on. That was the only reason I endured the second rate production on the album, I believed there would be something of great value to discover. I was disappointed. With the exceptions of ―Problem‖ and ―Long Time,‖ Illegal Music is more of the same, albeit with a slightly richer soundscape: Blow past you like Pirelli on Ferrari on Safari. Inane lyrics abound here too, the natural fallout of indulging a childish urge to rhyme at every turn, in spite of the risk of sounding fatuous. Illegal Music also― Why go into all that, and repeat myself? At least, the Robocop outgrew his reliance on similes to incorporate more advanced techniques in his art. Robocop (v 9.0) always fancied himself a storyteller, and he pulls it off more often than not. And he works with better producers. Little wonder, the Hip-hop press rated his album higher than the short black dude‘s. Mi is where the Robocop was, three albums ago. One can only hope he grows too. S

The paucity of stories on the album raises questions about his narrative powers. Where are the character portraits, of people that come alive and go on to live in our hearts, long after the music stops? Where are

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

50


END POETRY Q: Your father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father enslaved my father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father. A: So? -“FAQ” by Biyi Olusolape

August2009 www.sarabamag.com

51

The Economy Issue  

With this Economy issue, Saraba is not trying to be The Economist. The economy, to us, goes beyond a malnourished African child as a cover p...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you