THRILLY HUMOURING YOU WITH FRESH AIR by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

My first encounter with the name Reward Nsirim was on a book cover, Fresh Air and other stories. It was at the selection stage of covers for the book. Lovely covers but the very particular and artistic Azafi (Co-Publisher of Parresia books) didn’t find any of them good enough. We shared ideas. Well, true, they had issues. Finally though, a cover – a really beautiful one – was got. The concept was using leaves to write ‘Fresh Air’ then a breezy field of grass. The concept was simple but cool. We celebrated and I forgot the fascinating name on the cover, Reward Nsirim, but well, not the book.

My first reading of my book, Bring our casket home: tales one shouldn’t tell was at the Abuja Literary Society/Silverbird Book Jam at Silver Bird Galleria in Abuja. The regular host was not available. I was introduced to the host for the evening by Chinelo Chikelu. I didn’t catch my host’s name but since I heard ‘Host’, trust me to think he was the sponsor, the Oga and everything. I prostrated well and smiled broadly when my host beamed at me. He wondered if I was truly the writer of the book. He showered enconiums on the book saying he didn’t believe someone of our generation could write that deep and stuff like that. Na wa o. It set the tone for the reading. Well, we had the reading and the host, who was actually simply the anchor for the evening, not the owner of Silverbird or the event (hee hee hee), did well moderating, cracking jokes and giving hot yabbis. My family was impressed and they laughed. Long story short, he introduced himself at the end as Reward Nsirim and said his book was going to be the next book on the Book Jam! I was pleasantly surprised and told him the history of how I ‘met’ him.

Before the next month, I had got loads of Fresh Air and other stories to market and distribute in our regular deal with Paressia. I read the book and from the first page, I was caught…

Fresh Air is a collection of sixteen engaging and quite diverse short stories. They mirror the Nigerian life home and away. From the experiences

Fresh Air

of Nigerians living abroad to those coming home and all, there is a whole lot explored. ‘Funeral Arrangement’ is the story of Bekwele whose father has passed on. Being the man abroad, there are huge expectations on his neck. He comes home to Nigeria to do the funeral arrangements. He notices that his brother is doing very well wearing the latest designers, living large and generally enjoying himself. This is puzzling to Bekwele who has been living a stringent life to ensure his people at home do well. Everyone expects Bekwele to give his father a grand funeral fit for a King. No one considers helping with anything and one demands after another keeps dropping. The young man gets into a spot and soon makes some transformations that would leave readers smiling. The hall mark of this story as in others that go on is Reward’s use of humour to colour a near bleak situation. Still, there is only a slight hint of humour here. It is when you get to ‘Diary of a Troubled Traveller‘ that you find the humour fairy dashing fair sprays of laughing dust into the air. The traveller in that tale takes a wrong combo of a meal while in transit and the journey to the toilet becomes the centre of the tale as opposed to that of the communal road to Lagos where the bus is headed. ‘One Champion’s League Night’ tells the tale of a thug turned born-again who has to become unborn just once to set things right. Tale after tale, you find yourself laughing and laughing and laughing. But it isn’t a clown affair all through. There are touching tales in the collection like ‘The Conversation’ where a man thinks about his late wife and how he might have saved her. ‘Keeping Mum’ is the tale of a young girl whose guardians beat her in an effort to find out who impregnated her. The revelation comes at the end and the abrupt surprise is such as to leave you wondering at people.

Reward’s stories are diverse and in many cases, deep. He captures reality on many fronts and does not hide the tragedy of life. He mixes his tragedy however with a healthy dose of laughter here and there. His stories have this Niger-Delta feel to them much like Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Northern Nigerian feel in The Whispering TreesFresh Air and other stories shows the roundedness of the Nigerian story. It visits the tales of the poor, the rich, the local, the exposed, the expatriate, the loved, the hated, the cared for and even the forlorn. The characters are realistic and you can almost feel them. The book demonstrates the well-travelled nature of author and his rich experiences in life. There are memorable characters from all works of life spanning some three or so continents. Reward is not afraid to tell the Nigerian story but he does not make it as pitiful and one-sided as most other African writers would of their own societies.

I noted all these as I headed to Silver Bird for the Book Jam after mine. It turned out that the host for the evening was not present. That meant I had to host a part of the event. Award winning poet and novelist, Dike-ogu Chukwumerije hosted the second part. Reward and his wife were all smiles. Why not? We had a record attendance of over a hundred guests at the reading. Over seventy Fresh Air books were sold. I had to keep getting new chairs to place alongside Chinelo Chikelu, the ALS secretary. There were so many Doctors on ground. Oh! Did I mention that Reward Nsirim read Medicine? These Doctors who keep stealing our literary glory and doing it really really well… Hmmm…

Reward’s next reading was to be at the Artmosphere in Ibadan. By some coincidence, I was headed right there on my next reading too. So, we were paired. I read my poems to a highly intellectual and welcoming audience. Reward however took the day reading his ‘One Champion’s League Night’ and ‘Diary of a Troubled Traveller’.

In our first SEVHAGE Reviews interview, I have a conversation with this lovely writer whose stories, multiple award winning writer, Chika Unigwe says ‘resonate long after the experience of reading them. His prose is vivid and unsentimental. A welcome new voice.’ We also have excerpts of his stories for your reading pleasure. Please, join us in the conversation and put your comments in the box. You can be sure we would respond to each. You can read three great stories from the collection, ‘The Testimony’ and ‘Diary of a Troubled Traveller’ (discussed above) in full. There’s also the beginning excerpt of ‘Forensic Investigation’ here. Find Fresh Air and other stories on Amazon here.

Happy Reading!

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