Posted in FICTION, LIFE

BETRAYAL (A Short Story) by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

“Bomboy!!”

The simple sound of my name jolted me back to the present. Whoever complained of issues? I was sweating like several troubled people that harmatan morning. A Christmas goat would have been looked at as mild compared to me. I was in deep shit and knew it. The puzzle, to be or not to be, suddenly made sense. I looked at Nnezi, the tears in her eyes, and wept. How could she say I impregnated her? I remembered all the symptoms of pregnancy that I had seen in her before. Curse those sweet thighs that I thought were free!

“My friend, are you not the one I am talking to! She is six months pregnant. What do you know about it? Anything you want to tell us?” Aunty asked.

I had been accused of being an accomplice to this same girl before. I had not been able to defend myself then. Now, I didn’t know how to mention that I had already seen the symptoms of her pregnancy before. Yes, I had done it but therein lay my

Got from HERE
Got from HERE

dilemma. How could I tell them that I had actually slept with her but had used a condom? Now, the evil Judas had betrayed me! I mentally took note of all the things I would miss in the city. I looked at Uncle Anmant, he was sweating, looking a bit worried. I felt bad that I had caused him so much pain. I had sure disappointed him. I looked at Nnezi. Her face was to the wall. There was no way she was going to look at me. Judas had kissed Jesus at least … I was going to be a man and confess.

“Uncle, I slept with her but…”

The shock on their faces never allowed me complete my statement. Nnezi’s voice went up in a wail. She put her head down in tears. What now? Aunty looked at me for a short while then turned to Nnezi.

“Nnezi, I thought you said that he never slept with you?”

I didn’t wait to hear any more. No one urged me to pack my things. My eyes couldn’t look up to any of the three, six. I wondered who was hurt more. With the back of my eyes, I noted Uncle Anmant’s head down too. As I left, I sheepishly added in a whisper: “I used a condom.”

I got downstairs with my things. Something pulled me back to the door. I decided to go and beg. I prayed all the prayers of my youth and quoted all the verses in the few steps to the door. I heard their voices as I climbed up. I reached the door as my heart pounded. There was some argument. Nnezi sounded defiant while my Uncle’s wife’s voice was laden with what sounded like tears of betrayal(?) She had expected much of her niece. I only wondered what my Uncle would think of me. He was silent all through. Perhaps, he was too disappointed and hadn’t, couldn’t… surely, wouldn’t find his voice. I imagined his face still to the floor.

Then I froze as I heard Nnezi’s defence of me:

“Aunty, I got pregnant a few months before I slept with Bomboy.” What?!!

“But you were grounded in the period leading to it. Do you want to say you conceived of the Holy Spirit? Hail Mary, full of gra…” sarcasm spat up to Nnezi’s interruption:

“During the whole period, I still had someone sleeping with me… It was Uncle Anmant – your husband.”

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Posted in AWARDS, CALLS FOR SUBMISSION

WRITIVISM SHORT STORY COMPETITION: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

Opening date – 1 February 2015

Closing date – 30th April 2015

Entries must be submitted online. No mark as to the identity of the writer should be made on the story itself. No entries will be considered if submitted after the deadline. Winners shall be announced on Short Story Day Africa, the 21st of June 2015 at an Awards Evening during the Writivism Festival 2015 in Kampala, Uganda.

1. The Writivism Short Story Prize is an annual award for emerging African writers administered by the Center for African Cultural Excellence (CACE).

2. Entrants must be unpublished writers, resident in an African country. One is deemed published if they have a book of their own.

3. Questions of eligibility shall be resolved by the CACE administration and their decision is final.

4. Entries must be submitted online, by emailing them to info@writivism.com as attachments (not in the body email), clearly labeled in the subject: Writivism Competition 2015. The writer must include in the body of the email, other information about him/her, as country of residence, age, legal name and pen name (where applicable) and telephone contact.

5. Only one entry per writer may be submitted for the Writivism Short Story Prize. The story must be original and previously unpublished in any form except on the writer’s personal blog.

6. All entries must be in English, and 2,500 – 3,500 words long.

7. Entries should be attached in Microsoft Word or Rich Text formats, with the title of the story as the file name. The first page of the story should include the name of the story and the number of words. The entry must be typed in Times New Roman 12 point font and 1.5 line spacing. No mention should be made on the identity of the writer in the entry.

8. Entrants agree as a condition of entry that CACE may publicize the fact that a story has been entered, longlisted or shortlisted for the Prize. The shortlisted writers and winners of the competition will be expected to participate in readings, The Writivism Festival and school tours.

9. Worldwide copyright of each story remains with the writer. CACE will have the unrestricted right to publish the long-listed stories in an anthology and for promotional purposes.

10. The prize judging panel comprises Chika Unigwe (Chair), Mukoma wa Ngugi, Tendai Huchu, Rachel Zadok and Ainehi Edoro. Read more about the judges here.

Posted in TALES

FLEETING (SHORT FICTION) by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Sometimes one forgets the exact feel of a certain touch, sometimes even the depth of an embrace. Several casual or less hearted hugs had made him forget what she felt like. He stretched half of himself to get the ‘Christian’ hug he had decidedly started getting in place of the full ones. There wasn’t much heart to it but as they connected, the slight touch of his arms going around her, the softness of her bosom as her hug went beyond Christian, he shuddered a bit as something stirred. A million memories came in the second. The ladies he had only just excused himself from looked and whispered something. He wondered what it was they were saying.

‘I haven’t seen that shirt before’ he heard himself say as he realised he was staring at her chest.

‘I think it is too bright. Maybe they allowed it stay less than it should have in the dye pond.’

He looked into her eyes, then, looked away.

‘I have to get to the bank’ she said, a twinkle to her eyes.

He flinched at the word. It reminded him of too many things.

He didn’t wait to see her disappear like he had always loved to. He didn’t need his eyes’ perspective to remind him that she had gone out of his reach. Life. He looked at his watch. He remembered his mounting bills, the face of the frowning Doctor who was waiting for his father’s fees.

He sighed, said a quick prayer and went back to work, hoping his boss hadn’t missed him much.

Posted in FICTION, THRILLER

10 Seconds (A Short Story) by Chioma Jennifer Okekwe

{1st second}

I turn my head and see a little child reach for her doll in the middle of the street oblivious of the speeding molué heading straight at her.

.

{2nd second} 
She looks up and sees the bus and freezes on the spot
.
{3rd second} 
JULIEEEETTTTT!!!!! Her chaperon; maybe her mother or her elder sister or her aunty or her cousin, screams the girls name from the other side of the road
.
{4th second} 
I run, without thinking, towards the little child
.
{5th second} 
I can see the bus reaching me from my side-eye; I know I don’t have time to carry the girl out so I push her as far away as I can
.
{5 ½th second} 
I feel a massive blow on my whole left side
.
{6th second}
I feel myself flying in the air. I cannot scream… and I know I am about to die. I don’t believe this is happening today. Today of all days! Today the doctors finally confirmed I am pregnant, after waiting seventeen years. Seventeen years! Do you know how long seventeen years is? Do you know how much longing for something you want so much but can’t seem to have hurts? For seventeen years I have prayed, hoped, sort out the latest science, and the earliest traditional procedures. For seventeen years I have wanted my own child. And now I die? Life is such a bitch.
.
{7th second} 
I am still flying. I have flown before, but only in my dreams. And in my dreams I didn’t feel so much pain and anguish at the same time. I think to myself that I must look really funny right now, swinging stupidly in the air and I laugh at myself in my mind
.
{8th second} 
I feel myself descending. I feel a sense of déjà vu, like this must have happened before, and I make a mental note not to let my instincts push me to save anyone from a speeding bus again… if I come back to earth.
.
{9th second} 
My mind’s eye can see the ground before I hit it. My real eyes catch a glimpse of the now wailing little girl I had just pushed out of the way. Why did it have to be a little girl? I love little girls. I have always wanted a little girl of my own. Someone that would finally be able love and appreciate me, someone I could teach about life and how to live it. Someone I could leave a little part of me with before I die. O shit! I remember I am about to die!
.
{9 ½th second} 
I start to break a smile I reason that this isn’t such a terrible way to die. And in a way I guess I got my wish. The little girl I just saved would probably love and appreciate me for the rest of her life. She will probably tell her children and her children’s children about me. She’ll probably go about being good to others because of what I just did. At least I hope she does go about doing good every day because of me… wouldn’t want to have died for nothing. I reason I have left a small part of myself with her.
.
{10th second} 
My smile is half done. I can hear my mother’s voice. She’s singing to me. It’s the song she always sang when I did something right. It’s a song I haven’t heard in years. She would be proud of me. I feel the right side of my head connect with the ground. I hear the ‘crack’ sound. I think ‘it’s either my skull or the pavement’
.
Everything goes black.
This was first published on dianahplace here, on naijastories here and on mynewhitemanwrites here and on the author’s blog here.
Chioma Jennifer Obiekwe is an editor, graphics designer and creative writer.
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Posted in FICTION, FUNNY

Diary of a Dead African (Short Story) – Chuma Nwokolo

Name: Meme Jumai. Occupation: Farmer. Residence: Ikerre-Oti, Delta State, Nigeria. Date of Birth: 5 June 1950. Date of Death: 15 June 2000. Cause of Death: Awaiting Inquest.

1 June 2000. When I woke, I was sweating as if I were on the farm. Yet it wasn’t the sweat of hard work that wet my bed-sheet so. It was the sweat of fear. I was feeling as if a witch had poured fear inside me. If you saw how my chest was doing!

As I opened my door onto the compound and hung my bed-sheet where it became my curtain, I tried to remember my exact and particular dread. I couldn’t; and I’m not surprised. My problems aren’t the sort you confide to a native doctor and he laughs before starting treatment. My problems are the sort that the bravest witchdoctor will hear halfway and flee. Isn’t that how I met Catechist before Easter and he said he won’t waste our time by praying, that my problems had surpassed the kind that prayer and fasting solve. It’s just that adversity isn’t something people boast about; otherwise, in this Ikerre-Oti, I’ve no rival.

What I didn’t know then was that a bigger crisis was coming from Warri.

It wasn’t quite dawn, but as Ikerre people say, only a ne’er-do-well needs sunlight to gather his farm-gear. I got dressed. Nobody can call my house a mud-hut any more, ever since I plastered it with sand and cement. (Except those who have jealousy running in their veins and they think it’s blood. Those witches can never forget what’s under the plaster.) On the harvest poles opposite my clay bed were the remnants of my 1999 harvest … only three yam tubers? As soon as those tubers filled my eyes, the silence also filled my ears. Ma’Abel was not cursing her stove from her kitchen. My two sons Abel and Calamatus were not quarrelling over who forgot to tether the goat yesterday. I was alone in my compound with only three yam tubers!

That was when I remembered my exact and particular fear, and my chest kept quiet. Because Ikerre people also say that when you recognise the sickness that will kill you, doctors will stop eating your money. I remembered the name of the fear that filled me like the urine of a witch; and when a disease has a name, at least one can salute him politely.

His name was Starvation.

It was two weeks until harvest and tradition decrees that not a root may be disturbed in the fields before the day of the new yam festival. The situation was serious.

I released my pregnant goat to graze. Another week and the lazy thing should bear. As I feared, young idiots with empty pails were already loitering by my gate. They were sent to the stream but here they were, singing their silly songs. Nonsense and tenpence! I went to the kitchen. I cooked a pottage with six inches of yam and an armful of ‘vegetables’ from the hedge between my compound and Ma’Caro’s.

I didn’t go to farm today.

Later I watched the black and white TV I inherited from my father. To keep the pictures from flickering like the thoughts of a lunatic, I have to tap it every now and again. That’s how I spent my first day away from the farm this year: slapping a thirty-year-old television in a mud-hut pretending to be sandcrete, watching programmes from the other side of the universe.

I should hate Meme Jumai, if I were not Meme Jumai.

2 June. Nwozuai’s voice woke me. The shameless forty-year-old gossip was wheedling akara from Ma’Caro. I stared at my yams. Fourteen days before the village harvest and only two tubers and 13 inches left! Just two days ago my harvest wall had poles strung with yams. Then my calamity occurred, threatening me with starvation: Ma’Abel, my wife for twenty-five years, left me for a vulcaniser at Warri. She took ten yams for every son she gave me. Me, I quarrelled with her arithmetic. Three of the sons for whom she claimed compensation died before they started farming. The others, Abel and Calamatus, often gave me cause to wish them dead as well.

It was Ma’Abel’s shamelessness, not her arithmetic, that won the argument. Come and see her screaming the day before yesterday, when I woke up with three tubers of yam. The whole Ikerre-Oti gathered! Her fellow women circled me like vultures. The men came, too, but where the women supported Ma’Abel with abuses, the men stayed silent, like a lunatic’s embarrassed relations. Come and see her yanking my loin-cloth around, with me inside, crying that instead of making her Mrs Jumai, I made her Mrs Suffer-Head.

Yes I’m poor; but I hate disgrace. I had to yield my yams. That very evening, while I was at a village meeting pretending that I wasn’t shaken at all, Abel took my transistor and electric fan and followed his mother. Calamatus had left a week earlier on another of his get-rich scams. Idiots!

Had that witch left me fifteen years ago, by the next weekend, I swear, I’d have married again. I swear. But, considering today’s bride-price, there are certain things that shouldn’t happen to a 49-year-old man whose nostril-hairs have started to whiten.

I chewed chewing-stick, wondering whether Meme Jumai had died years ago and forgot his body in Ikerre by mistake. I crept into the compound to untie the goat. Nwozuai had succeeded. Pretending not to see me, he swallowed his bean cakes, moving his neck like a boa constrictor doing in a rabbit. I squatted in Ma’Abel’s kitchen, warming the leftover pottage. I ate some and returned to my bed, missing my transistor badly and studying my yams the way witchdoctors study the position of kola nuts on their divining mats. Kai! How would I manage to make them last the remaining two weeks until harvest? The young day matured and aged before my eyes. I lay on my bed. I sat up. I lay down and sat up. That’s how I spent this shameful day at home; without my radio I couldn’t shut out the mockery of the giggling girls who changed their route to the stream to pass under my window. Witches. In the evening I ate the last of the pottage and tied up the goat.

I didn’t leave my compound all day.

What face was I supposed to put on to look at the villagers on the day after the day after the day my family left me for a vulcaniser? Tomorrow should be better; a village as useless as Ikerre-Oti should have found fresher gossip. Later I tried to find something worth watching on television. As all the dials were broken, I used my pliers to hunt for a station, but they had all agreed to be idiots today. I slept early.

3 June. At 2 a.m. my goat began to bleat and my useless chest started again. There are two short and cogent reasons why thieves shouldn’t go near my goat. First, it’s my only one; second, it’s extremely pregnant. If they wait another week they can steal her without destroying me completely.

Yet if Penis would listen to reason, would they have named him Penis? It was pitch-dark outside. None of those reasons were good enough for me to risk my life over an animal, so I took down my late father’s double-barrel and aimed at the moon. I broke that night into pieces. If I can’t sleep, why should anyone else? Afterwards, even my goat fell silent, yet my heart was knacking as if the bullet had entered my body. I swear, if by morning that goat is no longer tethered to my onugbu, I’ll take the gun and my last four cartridges to the Village Square and let what happens happen. People should realise that a small penis is no reason to seize a man’s wife.

By morning, flies from the pit latrine had taken over my goat’s nostrils. Witchcraft and black magic! On one leg were the marks of a snakebite. The sight of that huge, dead pregnancy hit me more than my wife’s desertion. I hurried into the latrine and considered the suffering in my life. Nonsense and tenpence! If they want to bury me with all my problems, they would need a very big coffin! It was months since I last ate meat of any kind and here was this small mountain of meat, for which I had great plans. God has plenty cases to judge in heaven! Why couldn’t a snake wait for my goat to bear and swallow a whole kid if it wants?

Yet, if the devil leaves wickedness, who else will employ him? Come and see all the saliva I swallowed as I cut up that goat. Serpents and demons! If I tell you there were four kids inside it, you won’t believe me. Four. Part of the carcass I buried in the compound, by evening the rest went down the pit latrine. What has happened has happened and if Reverend Father preaches everything in his mouth, Mass will never finish.

I went to farm today. They’re still looking at me funny-funny, but that’s their business. I’m not the first man to lose his wife and I won’t be the last. If only my wife had had the decency to follow a landlord or something. A roadside vulcaniser!

4 June. I’ve never studied yams like this before. Two tubers and eight inches. I cut and boiled four inches. Is it not the scarcity of venison that made deer the delicacy that she is? To think the day would come when Meme Jumai would boil yam by the inch!

The local government clerk arrived as I was leaving for the farm. He wanted his council tax. I told him that money was something my pockets haven’t seen for months and he said that maybe there was a conspiracy afoot because everyone in the village was saying the same thing. The moon everyone had seen, I replied, was not a mirage. He said he wasn’t leaving my house without his tax. I took my implements and told him to look after my house. Then he said he would seize my yams! I looked at the two tubers and four inches and my chest began to knack again.

Source: London Review of Books

‘Meme’s Diary’ is a condensed form of Diaries of a Dead African by Chuma Nwokolo. You can see the review here or get more reviews of the book via Google. For more Chuma, read his blog or yes, Google 🙂

Chuma Nwokolo Jnr

Posted in CALLS FOR SUBMISSION

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: ANA REVIEW DEADLINE: 8th August 2013

 

 

 

 

POEMS, SHORT STORIES, CRITICAL ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS, CONFERENCE REPORTS< BOOK REVIEWS, AUTHOR/CRITIC PROFILES, REPORTS FROM BENEFICIARIES OF FELLOWSHIPS/GRANTS AND MISCELLANEA… DEADLINE: 8th August 2013

 

The Editorial Board of ANA REVIEW, the in-house journal of the Association of Nigerian Authors, invites contributions from writers across the country and in other continents, for publication in the association’s journal. ANA REVIEW will feature original works in any of the following areas: critical essays, short stories, poems, interviews, conference reports, book reviews, author/critic profiles, reports from beneficiaries of fellowships and grants, and miscellanea including evaluation of poetry and dramatic performances.

The following is the range of submissions for editorial consideration:

a] Poetry—No more than three poems per submission.

b] Prose—Short stories or fiction excerpts must be under 3,000 words.

c] Essays—Academic and literary essays on subjects related to literature are welcome; must be

under 5,000 words.

d] Drama—Skits only, under 3,000 words.

 

All submissions should be sent as attachments via email to anareview@gmail.com including brief biodata and telephone number(s).

 

Deadline for submissions is August 8th, 2013.

 

The ANA Review Board for 2013 comprises—

1] Obododimma Oha

2] Vicky S. Molemodile

3] Ismail Bala Garba

4] Chiedu Ezeanah

5] Mike Jimoh

Late submissions will NOT be entertained.

 

ANA Invitation_2

Posted in EVENTS

LITERARY BUZZ: PURPLE SILVER OPEN MIC SESSION (25th May, 2013): READING

READING BUZZ: The Symbols Cuisine Gallery. 8:20pm.

It was the Purple Silver Open Mic session. WE had our discussion forum and continued with our readings/performances.

We had six performances – largely, okay, all poetry. The first shot was from Kenneth Apine, received with some criticism. Next was Ode Attah with ‘Inner Peace‘, a beautifully written poem that didn’t have a performance to match. Samuel Ikyobo read ‘Irony’ a poem that balanced irony and paradox in the same seat. Lots of people agreed that the poem might have been better if they had copies to go through… We put that in our thoughts (sound system) … Anselm Ngutsav read ‘Red Wine‘ a poem that praises red wine and red lips. The applause was much, especially from the ladies 😉 … Ene Adama performed ‘Hand made god’ in true Spoken Word form – from her head. Her hat gave her a look of a magician with words flowing from deep within…

The last poem was from Jennifer Jasmine Yahaya who read ‘African woman’, a woman of great pride and great breasts feeding lions. She started by craving our understanding as she was performing for the first time. Hmm. We expected the worst but she was really nice. The feeling I had was of Chimamanda Adichie and Toni Morrison in some strange combination. It seems I wasn’t the only one affected as there was a general ENCORE cry. She performed beyond par.

A few questions were asked on inspiration, themes and the like.

Announcements: Well, first and foremost, SEVHAGE in collaboration with the Writers’ League is bringing award winning poet, writer and deep critic, Prof. Musa Idris Okpanachi to Makurdi on Wednesday for a reading at the Benue State University, Makurdi. The main book to be read is his great new book, From the margins of ParadiseTime is set for 4pm and the tentative venue is the ALGON Hall.

Anselm (Purple Silver’s Coordinator) announced that book donations were sought in order to enlarge the library of the Orphanage home. A few other announcements and yup, it was time to call it a day. We thanked everyone for coming, invited them for our next reading on Saturday 1st June, 2013 and took our leave…

It had been some long evening but well, it was definitely worth it. More, please…

103PHOTO

Posted in CALLS FOR SUBMISSION, LITERARY MISSIONARY

CALL FOR SUBMISSION: THE JOSEPH SHORT STORY CHALLENGE (WIN A DIGITAL VOICE RECORDER)

(by Chinyere Obi-Obasi…NOTE: This is a challenge that also has prizes to be won!! Can you beat that?!!)

Hope you have not forgotten the challenge

One of the reasons why I am a hit with my children is because of my fertile imagination. So while telling the story of Joseph and Portiphar’s wife, I tell them for example that Portiphar’s wife represents a female or male boss who wants to take advantage of you and believes he/she has the ability to sack you whenever he/she feels like it.
Joseph represents you with the fear of God. You believe God will establish your home even if you are sacked.
Develop a short story by situating the story of Joseph’s encounter with Portiphar’s wife in modern times.
Best entry will get a prize from me. Spread the word. All entries will be published in my blog.
TIP: You can read about this Joseph/Portiphar’s encounter in Genesis to appreciate it before writing.

THE RULES FOR THE SHORT STORY CHALLENGE.

1. Open to all ages
2. Not more than 2,000 words.
3. Send to me via chinyeresworld@gmail.com
4. Closing date for receipt of entry 20th April, 2013
5. Short bio data to accompany entry
6. Winner will be selected by Dr. Eghosa Imasuen
7. Winner will be announced on 1st May 2013
8. The prize is a digital voice recorder.

If I was taking part, this is what I will do;

1. Read the story from the bible to understand and appreciate the woman’s obsession and Joseph’s trauma. Try to capture their emotional state of mind.
2. To replicate it in modern times, I will think of all the superior/subordinate relationships. Father/child, boss/colleague, pastor/member, landlord/tenant etc. a relationship where you have a lot to lose when you say no.
3. I will not just think of sexual relationship. I can think of something that has to do with somebody asking me to do something unethical.
4. I will then do the plot of three of such different scenarios.
5. I will spend another day thinking of which I am more comfortable with.
6. I will then ask myself which voice i want to use. The 1st, 2nd or 3rd person voice.
7. I will then do the first draft early in the morning or whichever time is convenient to me
8. Then do the second and third draft.
9. Use pro writing to edit the work to remove cliches lurking around, excessive use of a particular work, sticky sentences etc.
10. Send it to a critic for his assessment and help.
11. Take some or all of the corrections or advice and rewrite.
12. Keep the draft for a few days. Look at it again for mistakes before sending it off.

People let’s not make Dr. Eghosa Imasuen’s work easy LOL

NOW PEOPLE, get ready to get that Digi Voice Recorder!!! May the best person win! – Su’eddie

Posted in CALLS FOR SUBMISSION, POETRY, SEVHAGE

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: POEMS AND SHORT STORIES ON THE FLOOD

The floods came differently for several people around the world. In Nigeria, it was unusual as the country had never experienced something like this before. So, do you have reflections, thoughts, lessons on the floods?

Do you have any poem or short story on the flood? Do send it in!!

SEVHAGE calls for them!

GUIDELINES:

  1. A maximum of four poems per poet or two short stories for each short story writer.
  2.  Maximum length is 35 lines for poems and 2000 words for short stories.
  3. Closing date of entry is 4th December, 2012.
  4. Expected date of publication is first quarter of 2013.
  5. Publication would be electronic with hard copies done later.
  6. Each submission should be accompanied by a sixty word bio of the poet/writer.
  7. Note that at the close of collection of entries, a selection process would be done and the best entries selected.
  8. Send to sevhage@gmail.com – you can also send all inquiries here.
  9. Email subject should read ‘POEM FOR FLOOD’ or ‘SHORT STORY FOR FLOOD’ depending on category being sent.
  10. Send as Microsoft Word 97-2003 attachment.
  11. Picture in Jpeg format less than 1MB accepted but optional.

Thank you and let’s see them come in! Best wishes…

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, BOOKS, ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS, FICTION, LITERARY MISSIONARY, REVIEWS

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (THOUGHTS) by Su’eddie Vershima Agema

TITLE: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

AUTHOR: F. Scott Fitzgerald.             THINKER: Su’eddie Vershima Agema  

F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the biggest writers ever. His The Great Gatsby is noted as one of the classics of literature. It is acknowledged as one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century. Not too many people are familiar with his ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ – or weren’t before Brad Pitt  lead-star role in a movie of the same title. Just coming from a reading of the book and wow! I am not sure I have had such a good laugh in some time. The fluidity of Fitzgerald’s narrative just holds you captive. He tells his tale in the story-teller narrator format that seems to have disappeared. You read the story almost feeling the narrator in front of you reading the tale – or better, simply rendering it. There’s the premise that puts you into the historical sphere of the story: ‘1860…’ when it was the proper thing to be born at home. You find him gearing you up, letting you know how things would go: ‘I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself’…

We follow the eagerness of Mr. Roger Button whose wife has put to bed – wait for it [and Fitzgerald sure keeps you waiting building suspense through an agitated doctor, surprised nurses and all] – a man! Wow! Well, if you have watched the movie you have an idea. But trust me, that’s where it ends. The story is different from the movie in that the author colours his rendition with lots of humour, he holds you still with suspense. He keeps you guessing, builds adventure into the whole thing and just let’s you keep on reading. Now, in the story you find a man faced with the dilemma of a man-child! Yes, a seventy year old man. Hmm. Somehow things keep twisting along the way as certain events happen to thwart the narrative and make it an enjoyable read.

If you are a literary scholar, you would find much to ponder on. You can find post-colonialism and the like or something to quarrel about in the allusion to slaves and all. There’s the charged place where Roger Button wishes that his horrible son should have been black: ‘…for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately that his son was black…’ That might signal a minus to some people. This is also because later we connote that more than just wishing the son was black because he thinks the son horrible, he wishes he could have used that occasion to let people know his son was more of a slave or worse, sell his son into slavery. You find this interpretation in the connection that brings the above stated quotation: ‘they would plod on, past the bustling stores, the slave market – for a dark instant Mr. Button wished passionately that his son was black…’

It would help anyone to note that this is just a showing to buttress the feelings of the time when blacks were slaves and the like. Such an emotion or wish would also be typical of a person of the time. As such, Fitzgerald was only being realistic.

The story also explores existentialism in several ways and a great touch of solipsism. It – the story – shows how several people look at things centred round their viewpoint alone. You find this in the lives of Mr. Roger Button, the general society and even Benjamin Button himself. You just discover that everyone seems to put existence around themselves. It is the way society views Benjamin at different points that gets you thinking. At some point, they see the weirdness of him and despise him. As he progresses, those same people that disdained him love him, then later repeat the cycle. He seems to also point out that in the end, we just phase out…

Somehow, Fitzgerald finds a way to couch unpleasantness in a way as not to make the reader displeased. Perhaps he knows that there is too much tragedy in the world and he shouldn’t make it worse by reminding his readers of it. That is on the one hand. On the other, he imbues realism into his work by not making a fairytale of his story but as earlier mentioned, couching the anguish shown at points. This he does in what many consider the death of Benjamin’s mother (you would note that she is not mentioned in the story). You would also discover this in the silent phasing away of Mr. Roger Button, the grandfather and some other characters. You might be tempted to think that they weren’t important which prompted the silence closure. A worthy point to counter that would be that even in some cases of our lead character, the author does the same thing.

Now, several people would see this as a weakness on his part. Some would ask, why would he leave the mother angle quiet? Some would further ask why the story of Benjamin’s wife is left quiet too. Matter of fact, some would build a case of feminism against Fitzgerald. Maybe this is where one would have to jump in to say the story is a SHORT story and cannot therefore carry the full tale of everyone. The phasing of the other afore mentioned gentlemen should also act as compensation of sorts. 🙂

You find also find great lines in the tale. Some romantic, some just to add to your knowledge. For those ladies who love older guys, there’s some big representation. This finds expression in Hildegaarde’s proclamation to Benjamin: ‘You’re just the romantic age…fifty. Twenty-five is too worldly-wise, thirty is apt to be pale from over work; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole cigar to tell, sixty is –oh, sixty is too near seventy but fifty is the mellow age. I love fifty’ [I can imagine the smiles on most men this age when they read this. Well, as long as they remain fifty, no problem. If they dare go further…]. You also come across such lines that remind you of our everyday situation in some coloured language. For instance, when there’s some love-lost between Benjamin and Hildegaarde, we are told: ‘She went out socially with him, but without enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end.’ When there are rumours as to the origins of Benjamin, Fitzgerald says ‘the true story, as is usually the case, had a very small circulation.’ And for those people who think that publishing is easy or country specific or maybe limited to our time or something, we get this part: ‘Even old General Moncrief became reconciled to his son-in-law when Benjamin gave him the money to bring out his History of the Civil War in twenty volumes, which had been refused by nine prominent publishers.’ Yup, like yesterday, today and tomorrow, money works; money talks.

In all, Fitzgerald creates in his short story, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ a strangely fantastic realistic world that criticises the vanity of life. He gives another thought to the oft quoted Solomonic wisdom. So to say, he shows also the passing vanities of people and society. He shows the futility of most of our actions and gives hope too emphasising that nothing lasts forever. Of this final lesson, he shows things in two light: nothing lasts forever whether pleasant or unpleasant. Enjoy things as they are.

In such times, this is a lesson most of us can take home to bed. [Yawn*] Indeed…

You know, one could go on writing pages and pages of ideas inspired by that piece but let’s not make this writing longer than the paper [let’s not make the critique longer than the story :)]… Not to mention, the sleep. Phew! That story had me reading and now writing this without interruption.

If you haven’t read it, what you waiting for? Find it here

Cheers, S’