Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mark Your Calendars

Book ‘n’ Gauge II: 4 Writers, 3 Performers, 1 Afternoon + YOU

The second edition of Book n Gauge is scheduled to hold on 30th July, 2011 @ Debonair Bookstore, 294, Herbert Macaulay Way, Sabo, Yaba. 3pm - 6pm. In the month of July, we would be hosting you to four amazing writers, three performers and it’s going to be a blast. It’s an afternoon of readings, live performances and you.   Be our guest at this free event!

Toni Kan is popularly known as one-time editor of Hints. The award winning poet, essayist and short story writer is the author of the acclaimed poetry collection When a Dream Lingers Too Long and the novella Ballad of Rage. His latest work Nights of the Creaking Bed is full of colourful characters involved in affecting dramas: a girl rejected in love because she has three brothers to look after; a middle-aged housewife who finds love again but has an impossible decision to make; a young man who can't get the image of his naked, beautiful mother out of his mind. With years of experience in the corporate sector, loads of laughter, the witty award-winning Toni Kan is always a delight.  

Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo is a lecturer, writer, novelist, critic, essayist, journalist, and administrator. She has written over twenty books. Her latest work Roses and Bullets, published by Jalaa Writers’ Collective is about the Nigerian Civil War.  The former winner of the NLNG Prize for Literature, the biggest prize for literature in Nigeria, heads the Prize’s panel of judges this year.

Jumoke Verissimo is a confirmed wordsmith; she has worked as a journalist, copywriter, sub-editor and editor. Her award-winning collection of poems, I am Memory explores the idea of memory. She has been a guest poet at the 48th Struga Poetry Evenings, Macedonia and 15th Norwegian Literature Festival in Lillehammer, Norway. Her work has won many awards which include First Prize, Carlos Idize Ahmad Prize for a first book of Poetry 2009; Second Prize, Anthony Agbo Prize for Poetry 2009 and Honourable Mention Association of Nigeria (Poetry) 2009. She electrifies the stage with her poetry performances.

Uche Ezeh -Al is known as a copywriter in the corporate communications sector. His works has won many awards in brands communication. Jungle Drumbeats is his first published novel.

Kafayat  Quadri
Kafayat Quadri started playing guitar at the age of 13, thanks to her music loving Dad who introduced her to the world of music and mouth organs. He played tunes from Rex Lawson, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Haruna Ishola on the guitar and mouth organ sometimes accompanied with the talking drum. Her first guitar performance was at her secondary school, since then, she’s been stuck. If you ever visit Theatre@Terra, the young lady who opens the plays with music; that’s Kafayat!

An addicted lover of music, she has written over 100 songs. In 2008, she was part of a show called ‘Divas Unplugged’ in the city of Jos; the show had all the leading female artistes in the Nigerian music industry. Aramide is also a Guitarist and the Saxophonist. She’s passionate about are freedom of women and love. She has worked with artistes like M.I and Jesse Jagz. For soulful Aramide, music is life.

D Tone
He’s one of the new Nigerian singers to watch out for. His new singles “Sunkun Ife” and“Ife Gbagbara” have been attracting rave reviews. He has performed on stages with Nigerian musicians like Dj Zeez, M I, Banky, 2 face, 9ice, Sunny Ade, Femi Kuti and P-Square. Eyes closed, fingers strumming the guitar, sonorous voice tantalizing the audience, D Tone is always a delight to watch.
There promises to be:                            
  • A one-on-one interaction between authors and readers
  • A platform for book enthusiasts to meet, interact and network. (Members of PulpFactionClub on Facebook and followers on Twitter would have a grand opportunity to meet).
  • Freebies
  • Live Musical performances by:  guitar masters D Tone and Kafayat  Quadri; and a surprise performance by Aramide.
  • Book signing
RSVP the event here

 Celebrity Read

Read2Rise Initiative, Terra Kulture, Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen and CITY 105.1 FM Presents: 11th CelebrityRead Africa - Writers’ Edition!

Date: 30th (Saturday) July 2011 
Venue: Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage Str., VI - Lagos. 
Time: 3pm prompt.

E.C. Osondu (Author of 'Voice of America')
Linda Ikeji (Popular Blogger/Journalist)
Geraldine Iheme (Author of ‘Disfigured Emotions’)
Ugo Chime (Popular Blogger on DailyTimes Online)
Bola Essien-Nelson (Author of ‘The Diary of a Desperate Naija Woman')
Nwabundo Onyeabo (Author of ‘Out of Curiosity')
Jennifer Ehidiamen (Author of ‘Preserve my Saltiness')
Uzor Maxim Uzoato (Author of 'God of Poetry')
Debola Omololu (CEO, Debonair Bookstores)

Special Appearances:
Djinee (Singer/Songwriter/TV Presenter)
Nathaniel 'Flo' Akinremi (Producer/Songwriter)

Guest Publishers/Book Dealers:
Cassava Republic
Magic Wand
DADA Books
Debonair Bookstores
Hoofbeat Publishers

There'd be food (courtesy Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen). Also, Simplicity Craft Academy (a vocational training center) would be giving away 10 discount vouchers on upcoming courses.
Live Musical performances by: Strings, Eleri and Johanel. Loads of exciting poetry performances

An Evening with Bez at The Life House.
Celebrating the Super Sun album launch with live performances by the man of the moment, BEZ. Featuring Keyboardist and singer, Kaline Akinkugbe and guitarist Stan Iyke. Event is by Invitation Only. Please call or sms 0703 403 0683 TO RSVP and get on the guest list! Loads of surprises and goodies in store for guests on this special evening. Bez is profiled in Next Newspapers. 

Venue: The Life House,
33 Sinari Daranijo Street, 
Off Younis Bashorun Street, Off Ajose Adeogun Street, VI (opp. Suzy Q CLUB)
Lagos, Nigeria
Time: 7pm. 
Date: July 29

Sunday, July 24, 2011 Excerpt

 Blackbird is Jude Dibia's third book. Since it's release in May, it's been one rave review after another. We give you an excerpt to brighten your week. Read reviews here, here and here

Black men dressed in spotless white kaftans balanced glasses of champagne and canapés on trays, while weaving their way round the separate groups of people chatting by the poolside or close to the stage, where a live band had just started up. Nduesoh was more absorbed by the brilliantly flashing white teeth of the waiters — teeth as white as their kaftans — than the prospect of making her way to join one of the groups of women and men.

Edward had led her to where the wives of an Australian delegate and a Lebanese-American property developer were standing, and then excused himself when he spotted the senior delegate from the South African embassy. The American woman, Bridget Jaafar, who seemed constantly fascinated by everything African and who could not keep her mouth shut for more than a minute, riled Nduesoh. This was not their first meeting, having being introduced at the country club months before.

“Aren’t these just dee-vine?” Bridget chirped in a thick Boston accent, referring to her own coral earrings and matching necklace. “Ahmad got them for me from Badagry.”

“Oh, they are beautiful,” the Australian woman said. She lifted the necklace to stare at the polished red stones.

“It’s marvellous what these Africans can do,” Bridget continued. “Ahmad and I visited the...”

“Excuse me, please,” Nduesoh said and, with a smile, walked away.

She was not prepared to listen to a recounting of a visit to some Oba’s palace. Nor was she ready to hear about some shanty town full of hungry looking children dying of malaria or whatever disease was making the rounds, or of scoundrels threatening to dispossess terrified whites of their belongings. And yet, this was what these women felt at ease discussing. After years of being subjected to wining and dining with their sort, Nduesoh found nothing amusing about white people who came to ‘Africa’ and insisted on being taken away from anything that vaguely reminded them of their urban comforts, wanting instead to be taken to what they believe was a truer reflection of Africa, the rural slums. Then they come back with pocket full of pictures of malnourished natives and plenty anecdotes. The first time, Nduesoh had smiled ruefully at these stories, amazed at how undisturbed her own people were about the way they were being depicted as backward and uncivilised. The second time, she stopped smiling entirely when she noticed the way some of the other women looked at her almost with pity, almost as if they sensed that she too had come from such a place. Nduesoh had experienced Bridget before, and knew she was the type that would nudge you, with her witty tales, to concede that your people and ways were oh so primitive, but cute in a native kind of way! Nduesoh was not prepared to be one of those locals who put up with the degrading comments made about Nigerians and Nigeria. They got on by pretending to be totally dislocated from the people and situations being discussed, helping to paint a darker, more cynical picture than the average white man was willing to paint on his own, unassisted. These stories often ended up being recounted in one form or another, around pubs in London or coffee bars in New York or even on CNN and the BBC. She knew them well, the so-called enlightened Nigerians who indulged the fancy of white foreigners. 

She stood in a quiet corner, soaking up the ambience of the venue. It was not the first time she’d been to the Deputy High Commissioner’s home, but it had indeed been a long time since any party had been hosted in its grounds. Around the pool, immaculate white tents had been erected to accommodate beautifully-arranged dining tables with gleaming cutlery and polished glasses. 

As she quietly took in the scene, thankful that she’d been left on her own, Nduesoh heard a female voice begin to sing a strangely haunting song:

“Wandering shoes/you have no place to sleep
Footpaths of lost dreams/your tired sole weeps
Vagrant soul/like a blackbird/soaring through life searching
For that place called home/a place called hope...”

Nduesoh swivelled round to search out the source of those words, the singer whose voice was like nothing she had heard before, deep, earthy, rich and yet sublime and almost dreamlike. A fusion of Ella Fitzgerald and Anita Baker—old mixed with the new. On stage, was a stunning black beauty, in her late twenties, in a long dress made out of a cheap looking orange and brown batik material of the type Nduesoh would have worn before she became Mrs. Wood.

“Little blackbird
Left all alone
On a dry broken twig
Soar high into the night sky
Vagrant soul...”

The singer’s only accompaniment was the equally soothing sound of a trumpet being played by a slightly overweight, bald-headed man in dark sunglasses, picking out parts of the tune and echoing them behind her.

“There you are!” Edward was by her side and holding her waist. “I was wondering where you’d wandered off to.”

“I was just enjoying the music,” Nduesoh confessed.

“Yes, beautiful,” he agreed. He turned to look at the singer and his eyes lingered there just a fraction of a second too long before glancing back to Nduesoh and saying, “I think we should be joining our table now before Her Ladyship gets too agitated.”

Edward took her by the elbow and led her to their table, and to Nduesoh’s dismay, Bridget was seated at the same one. She was engaged in an animated conversation with the other people sitting around the table, who included her husband, Ahmad, Wale Johnson and his American wife, Monica, and Chief Badmus Arebi and his wife Ireti. The Arebi family was Lagos royalty and owned prime land on Lagos Island and Mainland.

Nduesoh felt the chills of a long, dreadful night ahead of her as Edward pulled out a seat for her.

“Darling,” Bridget addressed her, “I keep forgetting you are married to Edward. Isn’t this just a delightful table? So cosmopolitan... so United Nations. Before you came, we were just talking about the awful situation in Eldorado.”

“It is interesting that you have a growing population of—let’s just say the wrong kind of people—living at such close proximity to people like us,” Ahmad Jaafar said to the table at large.

Nduesoh noticed from the corner of her eyes that Wale Johnson was bobbing his head up and down in agreement. The only couple who remained non committal were the Arebis.

“I wouldn’t so much call these people the wrong kind,” Edward said, carefully choosing his words. “We can’t escape the fact that Sambo—this is where you're talking about, isn't it?—is bursting at the seams with the influx of people coming in every day. The government has to address the issue of urbanisation—but it doesn’t seem to know how.”

“The problem is quite easy to resolve really,” Ahmad interjected. “Just move the damn people to an area more suited to their kind and everyone will be happy.”

“I agree with you on that, darling,” Bridget said, placing a cigarette between her lips and turning her head so that Ahmad could light it for her.

“So do I.” Wale jumped into the conversation. “Call it elitist or whatever, but people should know their place in society.”

“And what would you propose we do, Mr. Johnson?” Chief Arebi asked. “Get rid of them just like rodents?”

The table went quiet. Everyone was looking at Wale, whose eyes seemed to grow bigger under his spectacles.

“No one is suggesting such a thing.” Ahmad came to Wale’s rescue. “My firm has come up with an elaborate plan to develop the slums of Sambo and we can assist the government in the resettlement of the... people who live in those parts.”

“It’s only fair that we feel safe in our neighbourhood,” Bridget added. “I’m sure you’ve all heard about the murder of Katherine Cole last month.”

“Oh, that was just dreadful,” Monica sighed, “I was playing bridge with Kath at the club only a couple of weeks before. They say she was raped as well. It was in the autopsy reports.”

“A very unfortunate incident,” Chief Arebi said. “But a lot of us believe that there was something not quite right about her death. Katherine was a very... em... generous woman and...”

Nduesoh noticed how Ireti stiffened as soon as the Chief mentioned Katherine’s generosity. Yes, everyone was well aware of Katherine’s generosity, except maybe her husband. The Chief’s sudden defensiveness and Ireti’s reaction made Nduesoh wonder whether the good Chief himself had been a beneficiary of her generosity. It was clear to her that men had no issues with infidelity. How different, she believed, it was for women. It was not possible for women to treat unfaithfulness with the same detachment as men. Men just objectified the female form to a point where it all boiled down to legs, breasts, buttocks and vagina. There were no emotions. It was just physical. Not so for her. Emotions would always play a role in her life—love, hate, revenge, spite...

“Nonsense,” Bridget said, cutting the Chief short. “The house was burgled. It was the work of common thieves. 

What do they call them again, darling?”

“Area boys,” Ahmad volunteered.

“Yes, that's it,” Bridget said, smugly. “Area boys.”

The table went quiet again. All but the Jaafars seemed to be aware that it was disrespectful to silence a Chief when he was speaking and, even more so, to openly disagree with him. Nduesoh stole a quick glance at Wale and noticed relief on his face. She guessed he was glad he had not caused the unease at the table this time.

Just then, there was a clinking of spoon against glass and everyone’s attention was drawn to Lilia Macarthur, the Deputy High Commissioner’s wife, who was standing on the stage with the singer and band.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Lilia sang gaily into the microphone. “I would like to thank you all for coming here this evening to help us celebrate Paul’s birthday.”

There was an approving murmur from the crowd and someone at the back shouted, “Hear, hear!”

“Dinner will be served in just a moment,” Lilia continued. “But before that, let's all join together in wishing Paul a happy birthday.”

Even ‘Happy Birthday to You’ sounded good as the female singer began to sing it, but her voice was soon drowned out by everyone else’s voice as they joined in.

Then a line of waiters appeared from nowhere, placing the first course on the tables. Everything seemed well planned and meticulously executed. Bridget laughed aloud in delight as a fresh bottle of champagne was placed on their table.

“Lilia does know how to throw a party,” she shrieked.

Nduesoh was not listening. Her eyes discreetly followed Edward’s until they finally rested on what had captured his attention—the beautiful black female singer as she walked off the stage.

So what do you think? You want to read more; buy on Amazon or join the Jalaa Group on Facebook for a list of bookshops to buy the book in Nigeria. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Creative Wings Writing Competition

...Here's an opportunity to fly on the wings of creativity. This competition is sponsored by Guerrilla Basement, Beautiful Wings blog, and Obinna Udenwe, author of The Dancing Bird.  And yes, Bookaholic Blog is a sponsor as well. Well, we would give a copy of Stephen Kings "On Writing" to one of the winning writers. Just our way of putting our books where our mouths are :) 

Creative Wings is launching its first ever short story competition, with the aim of encouraging budding African writers. The inaugural contest is now open. Deadline for submission is AUGUST 15, 2011.

  • Stories must be previously unpublished and must be the exclusive work of the entrant.
  • Stories must be 600 words or less.
  • Entry is free.
  • Only one submission per entrant is permitted.
  • Only online submissions are acceptable. 
  • Entries should be emailed to Paste story in the body of the e-mail. Use 'CreativeWings Contest' in the subject line. Entries with attachments will be disqualified.
  • The email must contain the entrant's name, the title of story, and the entrant's physical address and contact phone number.
  • Simultaneous submissions are NOT acceptable.
  • Writers are not restricted to any theme.
  • Entries must be in English.

  • The judge will select two winners who will be given two books each. one prize winner will get a copy of Stephen King's On Writing, an autographed copy of Helon Habila’s award winning book and  The Dancing Bird by Obinna Udenwe. Another Prize Winner will get an autographed copy of Diana Evans’ award winning book  26a and Obinna Udenwe’s debut novel, The Dancing Bird.
  • The winning stories will also be published on Guerilla Basement, YNaija and the Bookaholic Blog.
  • The competition will be judged by Ose Ndebbio who teaches literature and language arts. She is also a member of the freelance writers association, Manchester.

Start writing!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

EC Osondu is in Town...

Sometime in 2009, we interviewed EC Osondu, after the interview, he went on to win the Caine Prize for that year. Not to mean that the interview made him win of course, it was just our way of saying go for it! And sure, he went for it!

Here we are in 2011, his collection of short stories, Voice of America has been published by Farafina. He would be reading in various parts of the country in July. Here's a breakdown of events. Catch him around town and say you are a Bookaholic Blog fan ;)


Abule-Book Club V.I on the 22nd; Patabah bookstore  Shoprite mall, Surulere on the 23rd  and Terrakulture V.I on the 30th.

Rainbow book club, Le Meridian hotel. on Sunday 24th.

And yes, there would be free Farafina books for grabs. Go listen to some voices out of America in Nigeria!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Roses and Bullets (Excerpt) by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo

Roses and Bullets by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo 

Ginika watched the man drive off in the pickup truck and disappear round the corner of the dirt road. She surveyed the brown envelope he had just delivered to her and felt a slight tremor in her heart. A folded scrap of brown paper, no doubt, but intuitively she felt it possessed the power to pulverize her peace. The threat was not the letter but the one who produced it, she thought. In the distance, some children played in the grass. They looked so charmingly happy; free as birds released from a cage and allowed to take wing.

Children would be happy anywhere, she thought, as long as their parents were around, as long as they had other children romping around them. Ginika lifted her eyes as if she was searching the sky. The sun was shining; the weather was fine. The July sun, she mused, was always sweet to the skin, its heat moderated by the ever-present rain clouds. Certainly, a time to be happy, but many things had gone far wrong in the land and war had just broken out...

Ginika turned and entered the house. It was the biggest of the many bungalows tucked away down a street of mango and cashew trees on the outskirts of town. These were the staff quarters of St Augustine’s College. She was the sole occupant of one of the five rooms in the house. She slipped unobtrusively into it to read her letter. Gingerly, she opened the envelope as if it was a letter bomb waiting to go off. 

“Ginikanwa, I want you to come home immediately. I want my family to stay close together. Your brother has returned from university. I wonder what you are doing in Enugu and why you did not come straight to Mbano when schools closed. I wish you were here without waiting for my letter. Sometimes I think you act wilfully just to annoy me or get me in a temper. Don’t I deserve to be treated with filial affection and respect? You are my only daughter and I care for you more than you realize. I doubt if what I say sits comfortably with you. Anyway, get your things ready; I will come over to pick you up as soon as I can get away for a few days. Kindly show this letter to your aunt and her husband. I am sending it through Doctor Ufo Ndefo, a friend who is returning to Enugu...”

Ginika stopped short; there was little else to read, anyway. Just his name written in full, rather than signing himself ‘Papa’ or ‘Dad’ as she thought other fathers would probably have done.

Ginika was about to change into her nightdress when her mother-in-law called her to her room. A few minutes earlier, she had tidied the table where they had dinner, which was served later than usual because her father-in-law had returned late from where he had gone. She had wondered if he still saw Nwoyibo, for he often came home late since the refugee woman had moved away from Ama-Oyi with her children. If she was indeed in Ogboji – as people said in the camp – then she was not far away, as Ogboji was close to Ama-Oyi. Her father-in-law could go there to see her if he wished.

“Sit down,” her mother-in-law said. She was sitting on the armchair in front of her dressing table and chewing a stick.

Ginika sat on a sofa which was pushed against the wall opposite the door and waited. Her mother-in-law scrubbed her teeth with the long chewing-stick and intermittently opened her mouth wide to gaze at her teeth in the mirror. She grimaced. “This war is terrible; one can’t find a tube of toothpaste anywhere to buy. I’m tired of it all.”
Ginika shook her head to show her empathy, but did not speak.

“Did you and Ozioma tidy the kitchen?” her mother-in-law asked, looking at her for the first time since she came in.

“We did, though Michael is still there doing the dishes.”

“It is now three months since Eloka returned to his battalion, is it not?”

“Yes, it is.” Ginika wondered what she was getting at.

“I’m sure you know why I called you?” Her mother-in-law glanced at her before putting her chewing-stick on a saucer placed on the dressing table.

“No. I have no idea why you sent for me.”

Her mother-in-law gave a mirthless laugh. “I asked you this question before and I want to ask you again because of Eloka’s visit home. Are you pregnant? Did you do what I advised you to do when I talked to you on this matter?”

“I’m not pregnant.” Ginika felt anger rising inside her but she didn’t want to give it room to grow. “Mama, I thought you and Eloka discussed this matter when he was here? Why do you bring it up again?”

“You are asking me why I bring it up, eh? My daughter-in-law asks me why I want to know if she is pregnant. Aru, abomination! Why do you think we married you – to come here and stare at us in the face?”

“Mama, I’m going to bed. Good night.” She got up to leave.

“Sit down. I have not finished with you. You have not tried to see things from my point of view, have you? You listen to Eloka and allow him to have his way in this matter. He is a man: what does a man know in a matter like this? I’m amazed at your lack of common sense – a woman who is not anxious to have a child for a husband who is a soldier! Do you know tomorrow? Do you know what can happen even in the next minute? And you allow Eloka to go away again without at least attempting to get you pregnant.”

Ginika was very angry and knew she would lose her temper if she did not leave the room immediately. Without another word, she walked out.

“You have no sense,” her mother-in-law’s angry voice pursued her. “You want to make me childless. I will show you, anu ohia, bush animal. You will see something in this house.”

Ginika paused long enough at the door to hear her shout, “I said it when I first saw you that your beauty is skin-deep, ocha ka omaka. If only Eloka had agreed to marry the girl Adaeze found for him, I would not have been put in this condition.” Her mother-in-law began to sob.

Ginika ran to her room, sat on the bed, thinking. What was she going to do? She felt like running away from the house, but where would she run to? Her father and stepmother would not receive her. He would blame her for disregarding his advice against getting married. Going to Eloka was not an option, as he had expressly said she should stay with his parents. She couldn’t go to her aunt who was weighed down by her own worries and found it difficult to feed her family. Ginika would be another mouth to feed. How would she be able to continue to live with her mother-in-law who now regarded her as an enemy?

No one told Udo that they were close to the war front. They had been driving for about an hour, it could be longer – he did not have a watch to check time. But he noticed the lorry was moving slowly and without light. There was darkness everywhere. Udo felt something like smouldering fire ravish his stomach and he pressed his belly with both hands. Then involuntarily, he stretched one hand and felt about until he found Ubochi’s hand and held it. Ubochi also responded by pressing Udo’s hand. They sat motionless until they were asked to get off. Communication was now in whispers. The corporal’s garrulous voice had turned into a whisper.

When eventually they had been deployed to their positions and told what to do, Udo clutched the gun he was given and lay on the clammy soil of a shallow trench, alongside three other soldiers. Was it a Mark IV or a Madison they gave him? He was not sure. He did not know how long he lay there – whether a day or two days. The sound of small arms and shells which had been muffled before now became more distinct, louder. As each shell landed and exploded, Udo shut his eyes and prayed, remembering he had not prayed regularly since the war started. “God, I didn’t forget you, please don’t forget me,” he prayed. “Save me.” He tried to prevent his mind from focusing on the present terror by thinking of his mother, his sisters and Sister Ginika. Would he see them again?

Then bedlam erupted, as shells began to rain down into the trenches, as if the machines and guns were guided by an unseen power. Each shell that exploded took lives with it. Cries of men rose and commingled with the sound of explosion. As Udo lay trembling and calling on his mother, a solid but wet object fell on his back and rolled down beside him. With the gentlest of movements, he stretched his hand and touched it. He gave a stifled cry – it was a human head severed at the neck which still nestled in the steel helmet that it had worn when it belonged to a body that was intact. His hand and body were covered with blood. Udo discovered himself shivering and no matter how he tried, he could not stop his body from shivering. Then he lost consciousness.

He came round at dawn, opened his eyes and heard nothing. Everywhere was quiet. Where were the men in the trench with him? They had abandoned him when they retreated, thinking he was dead. He lay still for a while, afraid to get up in case there were vandals lurking in the surrounding bushes. Cautiously, he raised his head and saw the mess around him – the head in the steel helmet, pieces of human flesh and shrapnel littering the trench and the surrounding. He felt his body and saw that though he was covered in blood, he was not hurt. He picked up his gun and was sure it was a Madison. Gradually, he sat up, came out of the trench and looked around. It was a terrible sight to see dead bodies lying about and holes dug by exploding shells, but there was no movement anywhere. Gingerly he stepped forward and began to walk away, cautiously, at first and then swiftly. He didn’t know where he was going, but he kept moving in the forest, keeping away from roads and hugging the anonymity and the eternal silence of the jungle. Even animals seemed to have fled, for he saw none in his way, except a few bush rats and squirrels. 

They assembled at an agreed location in the market. Ginika placed her bag on the ground in front of her and stood close to Eunice and Nkeonyelu. She was pleased with all she had bought – salt, rice, beans and tinned fish. She had even bought a packet of sugar and tea which she was sure her aunt’s children would love. They would drink tea with the dry milk Janet had given her the previous week. It was the evening of the second day and they were ready to set out for the return journey.

“Carry your loads,” Achara instructed.

Ginika tried to lift her bag but it was so heavy she needed help. One of the guides came to her rescue. Soon everyone carried his or her load. By the time they entered the forest, darkness had descended. They walked in a single file in total silence. Ginika felt the weight of her bag, as it pressed down on her, but she didn’t mind. She trotted behind the person in front of her in absolute concentration, as she didn’t want to stumble and fall.

They had walked for about an hour when shooting erupted from the right. Kakakakaka! Kakakakaka! Ginika was too shocked to think and stood trembling, not sure of what to do.

“It is an ambush,” she heard someone cry, but was not sure whether it was Achara or one of the two guides. “Run for your life.”

“Let us meet where the fallen tree is.” She recognised Achara’s voice and it seemed to yank her out of her confusion and inertia.

There was a stampede followed by cries of pain. Ginika knew some of the traders had been hit by bullets. She started running to the left, following the sound of feet making rustling noises as they crushed the dry leaves littering the forest. The bag was impeding her movement and she threw it down and belted away like a comet. She stretched her hands in front of her, so that she would touch any obstacle in her way before she crashed into it. Steadily she followed the sound of pounding feet. She fell when her feet touched very soft ground and suspected she was in a marshy area. She got up immediately and pursued the fleeing feet. She heard the sound turning right and swerved to the right. After an hour or more – she was not sure – the feet stopped abruptly. Ginika stopped, trembling.

“Who is following me?” she heard a strange voice ask.

With her body shaking like a leaf, she whimpered, “It’s me, one of the attack traders.”

Her terror increased when they entered the army camp. They took her past the hall where she had rehearsed Mammy Wota with Eloka and the other actors. The sergeant opened a door with a key and they pushed her in. She found herself in a room with a dusty floor and a window which was permanently shut because a block of wood had been nailed across it. There was no furniture in the room. She shook from fright, wondering why they had brought her there.

“You go dey for guard room till you tire for here or you can die if you like,” he spat. “If you make noise, I shoot.”

“Sergeant, sir, I beg you, release me,” she pleaded, her face flooded with tears.

“Believe me, I never asked Sergeant Sule to get himself circumcised. Why should I do that? I have my own husband.” Her voice tripped over the word ‘husband’. Could she really say she had a husband now?

“You be bloody liar, rebel woman,” he snarled.

“I’m not lying,” she protested, one of her hands pressing the floor on which she sat. “Sergeant Sule and I were not even friends...”

“Shut your dirty mouth,” he bellowed. Turning to the two soldiers, he said, “Wait outside.”

She saw his face break into an unpleasant smile, as he approached her. His eyes were cloudy with lust. Her eyes widened with horror and she was about to scream when he said, “If you cry out, I go kick you to death.”

“Don’t touch me,” she said, “or I will report you to the commander of this camp.”

He laughed derisively. He lunged forward to grab her but she shrank away towards the wall. The room was not bright but there was enough light for her to see every move he made. He began to unbutton his trousers as he inched forward steadily. Horrified, she shrank away further to another part of the room. He followed her like an animal preparing to pounce on its prey. What would she do? No one would help her. No one knew where she was. The sergeant could easily overpower her and have his way, but she intended to put up a fight this time.

When he was ready, he leaped forward, grabbed her around the waist and pressed her body hard against his. She was repelled by his dark ashen skin and his thick wet lips. Remembering the self-defence tactics Captain Ofodile had taught her and other special constables, she kicked the sergeant’s groin and heard him cry out. He abandoned her and staggered backwards. His eyes were full of hate. He turned to the door but it opened before he reached it and the two soldiers came in, their eyes questioning.

“Hold the witch,” he barked. And as they pounced on her, and held her hands, he picked up his gun, which rested against a wall, and aimed it at her head. “I go kill you now,” he roared. She cried out in terror. He changed his mind, swung it before her and then hit her ankle with the butt. The pain caused her to cry out again. After he had returned the gun to its former position, he reached for her body and tore off her blouse, exposing her breasts. Her skirt suffered a similar fate and soon lay at her feet. 

She struggled to free herself but they held her and pushed her to the ground. She screamed and one of them clamped a rough hand on her mouth. Divesting himself of his clothes, the sergeant grabbed her legs and prised them open. He entered her with force and as her naked body heaved under his, he stretched his hands and squeezed her breasts until they were sore. As he strove to reach his climax, his thrusts became frenzied and he taunted her. “I go fuck you, ashawo. You kill Sule. He be better man pass all your rebel brothers. Dat thing you no give Sule, I go take am today. Ashawo!”

She whimpered and groaned, unable to cry out because of the strong hand covering her mouth. Her eyes popped out like those of a rat gripped by a cat. At last, she felt his body shudder and then he rolled off her. She felt bruised all over from the pressure of his lean hardy body. Her body sweated profusely.

He glared at her and grinned cruelly. “Make you do your own,” he said, pointing to one of the soldiers. Ginika sobbed, as she watched helplessly. It was the soldier who had not said a word since the cruel drama began.

The man shook his head and said, “No, sir.” He turned his face away.

“If you no do, I go deal with you.” The sergeant’s nostrils flared in anger. “I go come back to you.” He turned to the other soldier – the one that had identified her in her aunt’s house. “Make you do your own.”

The soldier leered at her and, as he pulled at the button on his trousers, Ginika gave a throaty cry and lost consciousness.

Roses and Bullets written by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo was published by Jalaa Writers' Collective, April 2011

Also on Storytime . Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Play Reading Party 6 - Wole Soyinka at 77: Living Legend of Literature

On Wednesday 13th July 2011, Nigeria's only and one of Africa's Nobel Prize Winnera for Literature, dramatist, poet, novelist and social crusader, Professor Oluwole Soyinka will be 77.

In view of these, we have dedicated the July edition of Arojah Royal Theatre's monthly PLAY READING PARTY for the celebration of Kongi's 77th birthday.

The celebration, organised in collaboration with the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Abuja Chapter will feature readings from Soyinka's plays and poems, theme talks, and a 'My Favourite Wole Soyinka Book.

A brief talk on Wole Soyinka: 'The Man, His Writings and the Society' will be delivered by a seasoned theatre practitioner.

Come, lets celebrate a Living Legend! For enquiries, participation or support for this event, call:             0803 453 0786 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            0803 453 0786      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      

Location: Korean Cultural Centre, 2nd Floor, Rivers House, Ralph Sodeinde Street, Central Business District (Opposite Ministry of Finance), Abuja, Nigeria

Contact Information:

For inquiries: call             0803 453 0786 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            0803 453 0786      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ikhide’s Complaint by Emma Iduma

Sometime last month, we had a blogpost about Ikhide's pieces on the Caine Prize. Emma Iduma, writes his own thoughts on the same issue.

Ikhide Ikheloa made it a point to diss the shortlisted stories for the 2011 Caine Prize, which, by the way, is not the first time we have been served with his opinionated criticism. In response, I intend to make the case that there are deeper concerns than the sweeping conclusions he makes in his short essays, “How not to Write about Africa” and “The Caine Prize and Unintended Consequences.” He complains that, “The creation of a Prize for ‘African Writing’ may have created the unintended effect of breeding writers writing to stereotype Africa for glory.” And he goes further to assert that the stories “celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity,” that “they are a riot of exhausted clichés even as ancient conflicts and anxieties fade into the past tense: huts, moons, rapes, wars and poverty.” Then he praises Medalie’s “The Mistress’s Dog” because it narrates an “Africa without kwashiorkor.” The imagery he presents is stimulating, pitching Medalie’s ‘Africa without kwashiorkor’ against NoViolet Bulawayo’s “sniffing around Africa’s sewers.” This “sniffing” is by “good writers showcasing good prose and great dialogue” stuck in the “fog of stereotypes.” I implore the reader to take a look at those essays. I am more concerned about the implications of Mr. Ikheloa’s complaint(s) than about his affronts to the “good writers” and the Caine Prize which “has come to stay.” I will, however, return a few more times to his considerations.

The dilemma we face is the challenge of distinguishing between writing a “story” and writing “stereotypes.” It is clear that the divide, and the constructs, exist. It is also clear that both merge and are almost inseparable. For instance, I might decide to write a story about incest and child witch-hunt in Esit Eket, thereby writing an African “stereotype” or I might decide to tell a story of a deaf man who hears a single song, thereby writing a “story.” This is a fashionable divide, sometimes bedevilling, other times accommodating. But I consider this divide more intricate than superficial.

Let me make assumptions for what it takes to write stereotypes, and write a story. To write a stereotype, one mixes fact with fiction – narrating, on the one hand, a considerable navigation of the known world and on the other creatively repeating that known world. This is perhaps an art in itself, and essentially accommodating, I think. Or perhaps stereotypes get their essentials from “political correctness” – which suggests that “stereotypes” can fall within the category that encompasses the media, Westernization, Neo-colonialism, and whatnot. The other realm, of stories, demands extended imagination – we find ourselves making our special known worlds, giving no quarter to political correctness, living in a (re)imagined state. This second realm, unlike the first, becomes celebrated only because those who read us find in it an escape from “reality.” 

But would I be wrong to ask which of these realms demands greater guts? How fearless must we be to write a stereotype into a story? Is the necessity for fearlessness greater in the first realm and lesser in the second? Put more succinctly, how much guts did it take Rushdie to write “The Satanic Verses”, and how did that differ from, say the stories of Graham Greene or Raymond Chandler? Unfortunately, I find it increasingly difficult to defer to this divide because I do not know if there are stories which purely narrate “issues” and those that purely function in the field of the imaginative. Perhaps, this is one difficulty with Ben Okri; how there is the impossibility of establishing a definite realm for his stories. 

I think it is a very complex problem, because I live on Earth and not on Mars and I cannot imagine something out of the known world. I create faces from faces that appear in my head after I have seen a face, and a leg and a table too. And perhaps it is not as easy as I have been made to believe, that it is possible to write a story that is a story and has no trace of the issues that bedevil humanity. But maybe our conception of “stereotypes” is stuck in a slot in a negative contraption. We have learnt Chimamanda Adichie that there are “dangers of a single story.” We know how important it is that Africa is not thought of as a country, but as a continent. And we know how important it is to tell stories that do not convey the “dark” side of Africa, stories that do well with a “Western audience”; or to avoid stories that portray Africa as an “issue-laden continent.” Then, these issues that we talk about are issues of negativity and not, well, rich ethnicity and functioning social life. These stories, that are only stories, are those that tell of “normal” lives, that are not clichés. It is safe to assume that stories that are issue-laden are those that explore the details of a much-talked about negative life, a portrayal that is both politically and socio-culturally incorrect, though demeaning. 

But whose story are we supposed to write? The stories in our head? The stories that we imagine are in the heads of our countrymen? The story of the town our parents were born in, or our country, or where we have lived? Three words, then, appear relevant – memory, fraternity and essence. Memory because I think I am a collage of what I was yesterday; of places, people and things I engaged with in the past (incidentally there is an essay by celebrated atheist Sam Harris, “Morality without Freewill” that navigates the proposition that our actions, intentions, beliefs and desires arise not from freewill but from prior-causes). Fraternity because I do not live alone, and I do not exist in a space void of community, language, ethnicity and social structure. And essence because I think I belong to a larger scheme of things, because I am fool to think I exist only within a sphere that is self-attributive. This, then, can mark the intersection between the private and the public, that arena where I think I am writing for myself and others tell me my work appeals to them. I tell myself that I must not set out with the objective to tell another’s story, but I find that when I tell the story that seems individual, others say I tell their stories too. I like to call this subconscious fraternity, and it is not impossible that there is a single thread of (un)conscious memory and essence that runs through all of us. 

I must digress. When we speak of telling stories that are not stereotypes, or when we address Ikhide’s complaint, we are faced with the question of whether NoViolet Bulawayo’s “Hitting Budapest” is a story that is as much hers as it is Africa’s. We know that the Caine Prize is the “African Booker,” and so it must represent, essentially, what is “African” about Africa. Good, then. Did Bulawayo write a story that was in her head which found an intersection with what was ‘real’ about Africa? Or did she tell another story, one that is real to the West, one that the West believes as their “African” story? Mr. Ikheloa further complains that “the West is now busily forcing our stories into a particularly obnoxious trajectory.”

I am simply asking: How real can we be about Africa? And how real can we be to Africa? Now, I am careful to use ‘Africa’ because we are a set of 54 countries with different histories and fractured perspectives. I am also careful because I suppose I am as strange to a Tunisian as that Tunisian is to a Canadian. So if we are speaking of Africa’s tale, we are in the danger of writing the tale of say Darfur or Uganda or Rwanda and not that of Bauchi, Afikpo or Ile-Ife. Africa seems to be a generalized word, a permissible one, and I am wary of the associations that have come off it. Thus, I fall back to the assumption that issues are only issues in a generalized sense used for defining Africa as ‘the sick baby of the world.’ But it is dangerous to conclusively assume that these cliché stories (issue-laden stories) are written because “needy African writers” are hungry. Perhaps they are written in the voice of a writer for whom the generalized Africa is a particularized one. Ikhide complains that there is a lot of lamentation in supposedly contemporary African narratives. Thus, I am wont to question the relevance and expedience of these cliché stories – is there a purpose to stereotype-stories, even in the long term? I hate, however, to be a judge of these things. 

We know from Granta that “How to Write about Africa” ranks amongst the most popular of all their online essays. It is understandable that Binyavanga Wainaina feeds into the essay sarcastic details of an Africa that resonates in Western-controlled media (and we know that he who controls the media controls perception). I am fine with the contents of the essay, and I have been a fan of it since 2007. Yet I think it must count for something that the essay is very popular on the Granta site. I want to think that a new stereotype is emerging – a stereotype that wants to address “Africa” in the way it should be addressed; because we are angry, perhaps ashamed, of the manner in which Africa has been written about. I assume this because this generation of writers did not invent this stereotype. We are affected by the Achebe-Conrad war. Agreed, our claims are justifiable, as we do not want to be defined, or as Mr. Ikheloa wrote once, we do not want to be italicized. We do not want our language explained at the back of a book that purportedly celebrates us. Yet, is this not going to become what we are avoiding? Is our definition of ourselves by ourselves not going to become a stereotype? Is the story we are going to tell that is pleasing, and acceptable, and real, not going to become a cliché story too? I believe this must be considered urgently, because “screwing” boundaries and prizes and “just writing” suggests that there is another story we are not telling. One pointer we get to this other story – this emerging stereotype – is the fact that (as Ikhide writes), “outside of the destructive force of organized religion, wars and diseases, the internet and cell phone technology are the most powerful forces in the ongoing restructuring of African communities.” Then if we move from this destructive telling, we are yet to find a template to build our efforts at telling stories upon, a template that screws boundaries and prizes. Even Mr. Ikheloa does not provide such template. Except, of course, he suggests that good writing about Africa is writing that addresses the forces of the internet and cell phone technology – and this would be suicidal because Ivor Hartman (in One Ghana One Voice’s Roundtable Discussion #6) states that “up to 89.1% of Africa do not have online access.” 

The problem is that, as my friend Adebiyi Olusolape muses, our collective view is influenced more by sensational media coverage than by anything else. Of Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth”, in relation to her treatment of an Islamic subject, Olusolape notes that “It’s always the Muslims. But was this the case at the time the book was being written, pre-9/11, before it became “official” that Muslims be made the handy bogeymen?” In essence, assuming there was no 9/11, terrorism might be defined differently and “terrorists” accorded less bogeyness. So, put in perspective, assuming we had the pre-colonial opportunity to define ourselves, there might be little clamour, as there now is, for self-definition and narratives that sing the collective song of the people. This, however, was not the case. We were defined against our wish. My fear is that in an attempt to re-define and assert ourselves, despite our pitfalls and failures, we would lose fluidity and individualization. 

Chris Abani says the story is fluid and belongs to no one person. This is important in his contemplation of what I think of as the “human narrative” – an attempt to universalize the human condition into any narrative, but essentially within an ethnic context. So I write a story from an Igbo viewpoint, questioning my Igboness, because I know someone would question his Giyukuness. Abani writes, “This sometimes happens to us, that we write the song that sings our mother across to the other side. That the narrative is beyond even the ethical work we wanted it to be. That it is sometimes a good yarn, that it sometimes brings comfort to others, that it sometimes makes our people proud of us.” I will return to a consideration of this. 

Does the story of the real Africa belong to only one person? If we choose to write a story about Darfur, does it mean we have told a story that should not be told because it affirms a skewed Western thought or affords a validation of Western-stereotypic consciousness? I remember someone saying that “Jimmy Carter’s Eyes” was a better story than “Waiting.” And that Osondu wrote the latter to “win” the Caine. Good, agreed. He won the Caine. He wrote a story. Perhaps one is more important than the other (or perhaps the decision of the Judges is most important). I am thinking this could be equated with what Emeka Okereke, Nigerian photographer, blogs about in relation to a project organized by an organization named AECID affiliated with the Spanish Ministry of Culture: “You have what I want, you want what I have.” Thus, I give the Caine people what they “want” in exchange for the prestige and literary stardom that comes with the prize. Yet, it appears that it is increasingly difficult to draw a line between the stories that should be told and the stories that should not, because we are a set of generalized people that are finding their voice; of course I disagree with Mr. Ikheloa because he seems to think this line is easily discernable. Is this not a case for saying that we must explore all options, all alternatives to narration? 

I believe what is more important is the objective of the story. I assume it is unhelpful to draw a line on what a writer’s process/objective is by his story. Granted, critics do this continuously – yet in the final analysis if we can define a “grand” objective of “the story” we can go past these questions of stories that dance to a Western tune. And what is the West, anyway? And what is even human? So our grand objective must transcend western lines, become human, and take a more particularized stance. Can this grand objective be grasped? I propose that memory, fraternity and essence are merged, so that every writer, of whatever African descent, plugs his narrative into this fusion. Hopefully. 

Directly connected to this is whether the generation of writers I belong to could either conform to standards set by post-colonial writers or choose to be dissident. This is interesting for me because I grew up in post-postcolonial Nigeria, at the dusk of the military regime. So what I know is not a Nigeria just off colonialism, and therefore I cannot tell the politics that was evident in that time or become a social-critic as was the praiseworthy fashion of that time. I have grappled with the question of how socially active my writing must be, how protestant and dissident. Essentially, I find that if I confine myself to telling “activism” in my writing, I could be telling the story of another, confronting another’s reality, as I have never been imprisoned, brutalized or assaulted (perhaps an experience of any of this would change me?) What bothers me is not necessarily how failed the system is, but how this system has stripped us of some of our humanity or how we are human despite the system. 

Since I have raised the question of political relevance, it is appropriate to consider the extent to which such relevance is useful. Is this relevance a clamour for anti-Government (protest) writing? As we know, in Nigeria for instance, a civilian government has not shown a greater zeal for the Nigerian people than their military counterpart. And so, we have enough reason to display dissidence, ‘incorruptible dissidence’ like Soyinka. We have the option to write “politically,” fight the government of our time. Yet, there appears to be an over-documentation of protest. As such, there could (or should) be a different slant in my head aside “the prejudice of colonialism, racism, anxieties about postcolonial life and the painful alienation of exile.” However, I am making the case that what I feel in my head could be anything from the preoccupations of the older writers to the reality of an internet age, and my choice of either should not invalidate my writing. 

I return to Emeka Okereke because he makes a case for “the concept of freedom of manoeuvre within the volatile abundance of the creative magnetic field.” What does this imply? Does it suggest that our freedom as writers, or artists, extends to the need to deal with matters we find ‘fulfilling’ (in terms of Caine prestige and monetarily)? Or does it start and end at questioning personal and collective unrest in a manner that is not ‘politically’ correct? Indeed, where does that “manoeuvre” begin, and end? What are the parameters of our artistic freedom? How right can my story be? And how wrong? Which is wrong – my story or me? As we see, this is an open-ended conundrum. 

A simpler knot might be a question of style, and if I may be preposterous, “individual artistic libertarianism.” Raymond Carver’s “Principles of a Story” is a fine masterpiece on the art of short story writing. He notes: “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.” Here we find that he makes a distinction between ‘style’ and ‘signature.’ He goes further to consider that a writer, with a unique lasting signature, has a way of looking at his world. Just as it is that a myopic sprinter cannot see the finish line the way non-myopic sprinters can. And it is amazing that, using this analogy, we might have difficulties judging the view of that myopic sprinter by that of his fellows. Put more contextually, how do we judge a writer if we cannot place a thumb on his ‘signature’ and how he looks at the world? A friend told me that being a Christian would blur the range of my fiction. I laughed because I could not imagine how being a believer in a “non-Christian God,” as he claimed he was, would broaden the range of my fiction. 

My contemplation of individual artistic vision could be dangerous. I would have wished that we look at the world the way we wish to, and not be judged on the question of whether our view represents “a true and collective African voice” (who even defines this?) But we understand that if this is the case we would have no complaint from Ikhide, and we do need him to complain (?) Yet we also need to, as writers, find a way to speak. I care less if I am accused of making a case for “writing to please the West.” For me, it is more dangerous to make a case for “African writing” when being an artist begins from an individual standpoint than from the collective. As such, it is arguable that Adichie corroborates this in “The Thing around Your Neck” and “Half of a Yellow Sun” and Habila in his short story “The Immigrant” and Evans in “26a.” Important, then, is the subject of identity. Identity is often an imagined state, so it gives room for very innovative ways to look at Self. We agree that we are who we are different from others because, for instance, we have the same language, live within each other, have knowledge that our parents and their parents before them lived in the place we now live or the place we call “home.” This is changing very much. For instance, I speak the Igbo language badly, although I hail from Afikpo. I have lived in up to seven cities, and my parents visit our hometown irregularly. Does this make me fractured? Yes, I think, very much. I agree that there is every need to locate myself within an ethnic space and maybe speak from that space, but I disagree that I must be more conscious of a collective identity than my fractured self. 

How then does this resolve? First, this does not resolve, and it should not. An artistic life as individual as mine cannot be explained collectively, neither can a creative process be ascertained with mathematical precision. So I am thinking that Arundhati Roy is right when she speaks of “deploying a private language.” In her Guernica interview she suggests that it is interesting to try walking the path between honing language to make it as private as possible, and looking around, seeing what is happening to millions, and deploying that private language to speak from the heart of a crowd. And I add that this private language could then become public, spoken by the crowd to the crowd and for the crowd. There can be (and should be) attempts to judge the deployment of my private language. But whoever is interested in judging must give room for his (blissful) ignorance, for even the Devil, as I was told in my undergraduate law class, does not know the mind of a man.

Second, I agree that there can be the “ethics of narrative.” Abani makes this case in his essay in Witness Magazine – “Ethics and Narrative: the Human and Other” – which suggests that we must find the intersection between our capacity as artists and our capacity as humans (that is, I should write the story that leads your mother to the other side). If this can be incorporated in our grand objective of story-telling or Caine Prize-writing, whether or not there are Ikhide Complaints, I trust we would be fine. More so, it is very human and ethical for the narrative to be true to itself – If we go to the places described in the story, in Beatrice Lamwaka’s Uganda for instance, would we find characters as those she created in “Butterfly Dreams”? And third, this funnels into the idea that I am first human before anything else, towering above every other purpose. Therefore I am content with finding it difficult to define this humanness, because I am always groping for who I am and how best to narrate who I am within a fraternal space.

Emmanuel Iduma holds a degree in Law, and has been published online and in print. He co-publishes Saraba.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Runaway Hero (Excerpt) by Uche Peter Umez

The Runaway Hero by Uche Peter Umez

 I slid down so fast from the wall that I landed flat on my chest. The fall was painful, like a blow. I couldn’t stand up at once. So I lay still on the ground, allowing the pain run its course.

I was in the compound. My plan was still on track. I felt glad that everything seemed to be working just fine. The next step was to tiptoe to the shed. Unlocking it wouldn’t be much of a problem; I had my penknife on me. I crawled to the back of the shed to see if there was a window: it was boarded up with planks. It would take me two hours or so to take out the planks with my penknife and a stone. I didn’t have that much time. I slipped back to the door, hoping the girl had not been spirited away on foot while I was waiting for nightfall.

‘I’ve come to get you out,’ I whispered through the keyhole. ‘Just be quiet. You hear?’

I didn’t hear any response. She must be asleep. As I repeated those words, I heard some shuffling. I laid my head against the door. I nearly jumped when someone rapped on it.

‘Get us out of here,’ cried a girl.

That must be her. But she had mentioned us. ‘Is there any other person with you?’ I asked, hoping she would say no. 

‘Yes,’ she replied. 

Yes? I froze up a second. How was I going to save two persons? 

‘We are five in here.’


‘Yes, five!’ 

My legs would have given way if I hadn’t managed to control myself just in time. This was far more than what I’d expected. I didn’t have any problems with saving one person, but five?! That was way past my limit. ‘Why didn’t you all scream?’ I asked.

‘We’ve been screaming,’ said the girl. ‘Nobody hears it. This place is more of a no-man’s-land. Even so, any scream and the giant gatekeeper will slap you so hard your teeth will rattle.’ 

How was I going to free five children? I should have stayed back, minded my own business.

‘I want to see my mummy,’ a boy sobbed. 

‘Shut up,’ I said. I didn’t want him to wake up the gatekeeper lest we all get caught. 

I began to shake the door knob. But it was firm. I put my penknife in the keyhole, in the way I had seen a spy do in a movie. In the same way I’d done a couple of times when I went to the food store. I didn’t hear the usual click as I twisted it around the keyhole. I pushed the door. The lock still did not give. I twisted the penknife some more; it was totally stuck. 

I gripped it with both hands, wedging my feet against the door. I pulled and pulled. I began panting. The door had failed to open. If the square clip could unlock the door to the food store, then the penknife would do just fine. But this was not the case. It was proving much harder than I thought. Tired out, I bent down to catch my breath. 

‘Please help.’

‘Open the door.’

‘Don’t leave us.’

The children were beside themselves now. Someone banged at the door from inside.

‘I’m trying...’ I gritted my teeth, frustrated. ‘Give me a little more time.’

‘You think you have the whole night?’ said the girl.

I wanted to reply. But the words got caught in my throat as I saw the glow of a lantern, the long shape of the gatekeeper in a window of the main building. I tried to pull my penknife out of the keyhole. I couldn’t. So I left it there, stuck.

‘Get away from the door,’ I whispered. I dived to the ground just when the gatekeeper held up the lantern. My heart shrank as I stretched out. I hoped he wouldn’t see me once he swept the light around. I wished I had hidden behind the drum standing some feet from the shed. The gatekeeper stood still at the window, as if too sleepy to even care. The room was dark again. He must have crawled back to bed. I reached for my penknife once more. ‘You almost got me in trouble,’ I said. ‘I can’t help anyone, if you all don’t shut up.’

‘How long will it take?’ the girl asked. She sounded rude; I said nothing. If I should try to speak back to her, I might end up not helping anyone.

I went on picking the lock. After several attempts, the penknife came loose. I yelped in excitement. This time I pushed the penknife into the keyhole, more carefully than ever. I was turning it this way and that, when I heard a small click. Still, I went on turning it until I heard another click.

My breaths came out in quick puffs as I waited for the lock to give. Finally, the door squeaked open. The children crowded around, pushing me away. I staggered, but I didn’t fall. I felt somehow giddy and fancied myself floating on the cool night breeze. 

‘Come back here,’ I called as a pig started to squeal.

I almost seized up when a ray of light came on again. The gatekeeper had appeared in the window once more. The boys were already at the gate. Grabbing the girl by the wrist, I pulled her towards the drum. I turned as I heard some noises. ‘Why are they moving like that?’ I asked, wondering why the boys were hopping around the gate.

‘Their legs are tied,’ the girl said.

I quickly ran to the boys as they began to shake the gate.

‘Stop, stop it,’ I said in a rush. ‘Let me get that off your feet.’ I squatted and cut the cloths at their ankles. ‘There.’ I pointed to the gap under the gate. ‘Down there, lie flat, squeeze your body through it,’ I commanded as if I were their leader.

The girl screamed. My eardrums tingled.

The gatekeeper was stamping over to her, his lantern swung back and forth. He looked like a giant, though lean. Terror gripped me. Blood pumped hard in my head. Then he swayed around in an abrupt yet drunken way and went after the boys. I ran back to the girl to cut her loose too, before the giant could turn.

‘Let’s roll the drum!’ I said.

‘Why?’ asked the girl.

‘You talk too much! We roll it to the wall-’, I broke off as I heard someone scream.

The gatekeeper had grabbed a boy by the leg. But the other boys had made it through the gap. I panicked. But, with the timely help of the girl, I rested the empty drum against the wall. She shot me a startled look when I told her to get on it. ‘I can’t climb,’ she cried. ‘I don’t climb.’

‘Go on top, now!’ I shouted, leaning my back against the drum.

She held me by the shoulders and, gingerly, lifted herself onto the drum. ‘What do I do now?’ She appeared shaky.

‘Hey monkey, where you think say you dey go?’ asked a roaring voice. ‘Come down, yeye girl!’

I started as the gatekeeper came at me. He was dragging the boy after him along the ground. Then the girl leapt so high I feared she would slam her jaw into the wall. But her hands caught the edge neatly. She screamed out, even before she could pull herself onto the wall. I turned to see what had made her scream. And the gatekeeper sent me flying backwards with a heavy blow to the shoulder. I landed on my back. 

The pain was so severe that it knocked me out for a minute. When I opened my eyes, the sky glared down at me. I tried to sit up, but was shaken by a roar.

‘Who be you? Wetin you dey fin’ for here?’

I couldn’t place the voice. I could only make out a shadow over me. It gave off a strong sweetish odour as it asked me more questions than my mind could hold. I blinked, thinking I had begun to see double.

‘Who send you?’ asked the roaring voice.

I shut my eyes as a lantern came close enough to burn my face. Then I figured out who the shadow was. The gatekeeper had caught me. I reached out a hand to feel for my penknife so I could scare him off with it. But my heart broke. It was nowhere close by. I had saved all the other children, yet I did not save myself.

The Runaway Hero written by Uche Peter Umez was published by Jalaa Writers' Collective, April 2011