Posted in NAIJA POETRY, POETRY, POETRY FROM THE WORLD

STUBBORN SOUL (A POEM) by Kator Hule

(for Chinua Achebe)
You Stubborn Soul
Saturate with thoughts they hated
You who littered stubborn words in our hard hearts
Words too stubborn to die
Too stubborn to be forgotten
You literary glitterati
Die!

The grief that strides
Like a bullet through Biafra forests during the war, you pierced
Too stubborn, you refused to die
Oh, you stubborn soul

Hei…
In death you refuse to die
You this man who so encapsulated the African experience
In my heart you always stubbornly live
Until like you I stubbornly live
Achebe, oh, my Achebe
Now that your words live
I know you will never die!

 

 

ACHEBE
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013 and on in our hearts)

 

 

Kator Hule is a poet and fiction writer. He lives in Makurdi, Benue State Nigeria where he works and also writes from.

Advertisements
Posted in TALES

AMORETTI by Ada Agada

The Sunday service came to an end at twelve in the afternoon. Many a soul sighed with relief, impatient to go home to the special Sunday rice and vegetable stew waiting in the oven. The pastor had delivered an unreasonably long sermon and many had slept off seated in the pews, their lolling heads driving the busy ushers crazy as they dashed from pew to pew shaking the incurably materialistic worshippers awake. Young colourfully dressed children poured out of the roomy interior of Life Needs Church dancing lightly on their feet and generally releasing contented childish sounds into the now hot midday air. Young men and women followed, more restrained in their chatter, but chattering all the same, showing off their neatly ironed suits and crisp ankara skirts and blouses topped with elaborately constructed headdresses. The church leaders and elders were the last to come out. They wore smiling faces that belied their strictly conservative temperaments and inclinations.

Abraham
slipped out through one of the side doors of the church building. He’d seen Patience and Patience had seen him. Both saw each other from the corners of their cunning eyes, but they were too proud and, paradoxically, too shy to exchange full glances after their last quarrel and the hurtful words they’d exchanged in more than twenty text messages.

Abraham moved among the over-excited kids, ignoring their cry for attention and pressing on. The kids were left looking at one another in dismay, as if asking each other what could have come over the otherwise warm Abraham they knew. They were of course, too young to know that there was a time for everything, a time for banter, a time for sobriety, even a time for anger.

He paused in the street, moved to the kerb, and watched from the corner of his right eye as Patience took her little sister’s hand, her ankara skirt stretching tighter over her ample hips. The duo hit the street and came abreast him. He looked at her directly, the yearning in his eyes telling the whole world the story of his unconditional love for a girl whose claims to being extraordinary was the mere fact that she was female. The little girl, being innocent and in the meantime safe from the frustrations of stubborn love, waved at Abraham. He waved back at her, smiling ruefully. Patience kept her eyes down and walked past without looking at him, although she saw the lower part of his body from beneath her eyelashes. He watched as her attractive figure retreated steadily down the road, retreated in the company of a little girl. A grunt of profound discontent escaped from his lips. This grunt was heard by a daughter of Eve standing directly beside him, just to his left, standing right beside him and staring at the disappearing girl, understanding everything and pitying Abraham but never rebuking Patience for treating him shabbily out of an immediate sense of solidarity with her fellow woman. He frowned without looking sideways. As he stared at the fish-shaped Idoma damsel steadily walking out of his reach, he heard a voice within him asking his greater self, in the individualization of himself in the depth of his being, asking thus: can I ever forget you or even dare try to remove the image of your mysterious but compelling presence from my mind, the region of my timeless striving? He kept staring with eyes of the hopeless romantic, and as he stared he told himself that Patience’s fine butt ought to be his alone, and not only her irresistible butt but also the rest of her body and all of her soul. Patience ought to be his wife.

Ene the intelligent but shockingly plain girl dug an elbow in his side.
“When will you two ever stop quarrelling? You’re dying for her, aren’t you?”
“Let’s walk a bit. This is a very bad Sunday.”
They moved on. Ene removed an ash-coloured handkerchief from her white handbag and wiped sweat from her forehead. He glanced at her face and wished Patience possessed Ene’s common sense and intelligence. The two girls were about the same age. Nature gave Ene intelligence and robbed her of beauty while bestowing beauty on Patience and robbing her of intelligence.
“What’s the problem this time? I’m really tired of intervening. I think the time has come for you to ask yourself whether you can live with Patience all your life.”
“If I lose this girl I’ll commit suicide,” Abraham said shamelessly.
“You won’t kill yourself because of Patience. I know this. But why are you two constantly quarrelling and making up again? The frequency of your bust-up is unusual. Do you know what you’re doing Abraham? Marriage is a life-long commitment.”
“Ene, money is the root of the problem. She won’t say it directly, but it’s obvious. Being a beautiful girl, she doubts whether I’m the right man for her. She thinks that her beauty can get her a richer man and that it will be a grave mistake to commit herself now.”
They walked on in silence. When Abraham said Patience was not an intelligent girl he didn’t mean that she was an imbecile. He only meant that she generally lacked common sense, the presence of which usually indicated the possession of some level of intelligence. But then Patience had a pretty face and an awesome butt that Abraham couldn’t resist. He was smitten. He loved her with his whole being and had sworn to himself that he would rather die than lose this introverted, somewhat simple-minded, and heartbreakingly unpredictable girl called Patience Agbo. She was twenty two, not interested in going to the university, and was ready to settle down with a good man and be a good wife. This good man must have some money. The good man who ignored her caveat would be cursed with the unhappiness of Abraham Adagoloyinu. His goodness was okay for heaven’s pilgrimage but not for a beautiful girl whose Facebook profile had this to say in the space reserved for her bio: I’m simple, the girl next door. I like wealth and comfort but fear God above all. Patience wasn’t a bad girl, being capable of unbelievable sweetness on her good day. But these good days were what they are: days. They didn’t last for ever. On her bad days she could be remote and unsympathetic, prompting Abraham to run to his friend Amos and ask the latter whether he wasn’t making a serious mistake putting his large heart in Patience’s hands.

If ever any man’s love was a torment it was the love of Abraham for Patience. What was even more absurd about this adventure of stubborn love was Patience’s inability to tell when she’d hurt Abraham’s feelings. She wouldn’t know she’d hurt him until he exploded in rage. Then she’d send him self-righteous text messages casting herself as the victim of his inconsiderate nature, telling him what a wicked man he was, what a soulless being he’d become to shout down on her and threaten never to see her again. For Abraham being in love was like taking up residency in the house of pain. Clearly, something was wrong, he kept telling himself. This wasn’t how love should be. This damsel with the curvy body of the African earth and a heart beyond his power of scrutiny often got him thinking about the enduring feminine mystique, a sexual phenomenon which, just at the moment it was being grasped as something in many ways erotic and this-worldly, inexplicably transcended the sexual, and quite unexpectedly too, to reveal a larger picture, the picture of marriage whose insistence on its time was nothing more than our awareness of mortality, the picture of child-bearing and -rearing, the necessity of the continuity of the human race and the moral evolution towards an apotheosis that would qualify woman to stand before God on Judgement Day and accuse man of loving sex too much instead of God Himself. Abraham yearned for a woman’s love, a perfect or near perfect love marked by beauty and a soul-lifting vision that eased all worldly difficulties. There was a song in his heart, the searing demand for an impossible Paradise, in the simplest term the longing for beauty. What was the meaning of his passion for the incongruous Patience? It was a ringing call for a better way of living that would make Earth a new Paradise. This materialization was in itself impossible. What must he do to enforce the coming of God’s kingdom on Earth. ‘Forget about love, just have sex,’ a voice whispered into his ears. Abraham rejected this advice as one falling short of the vision of beauty. He swore to himself that if he must travel from Otukpo to Europe and then America and Asia in what would be the longest journey of his life in search of true love he would set forth immediately.

They’d walked more than a hundred metres down the street and were beginning to sweat lightly. Sunday was always a happy day in Otukpo. Men and women wore their best clothes and stayed in them until the evening or even until the next day. For many a man returned quite drunk and exhausted and fell straight into bed never to wake up again that day. Ene and Abraham weren’t the only churchgoers returning home. The street was actually full of happy Idoma folk wearing their best clothes, mostly traditional gowns for the men and wrapper with blouses for the women. They reached a spot where a narrower untarred street started and curved away to their right.
“See you in church tomorrow for the love feast. Who is your partner?” Ene asked.
“Tell me your partner first.”
The girl laughed, waved, and turned quickly into the untarred street. Abraham stood still and watched her. Ene was a slender girl, not pretty and not as shapely as Patience. But she had loads of common sense, the very desirable quality which his bimbo of a girl lacked. Whenever he considered her sensible and kind nature he wished with all his soul that she was Patience. Sadly, life was never so kind. Ene was born who she was and Patience was Patience. Oh Patience, Patience, he cried within him, you that are blessed with beauty but cursed with stupidity!
He was still rooted to the spot when a suzuki motorcycle pulled up noisily beside him.
“Jump onto the passenger-seat of the motorcycle and let me take you home. On my way from church.”
“Ah Amos! You came just in time.”
“You should have fallen in love with that girl instead of Patience,” Amos said, pointing with his mouth at the slight form of the girl vanishing into the hot afternoon, even as the motorcycle shot forward.

 

 

*Excerpt from my long short story of about 6000 words.

Ada Agada is a philosopher and versatile literary writer. He is the author of the novel, The Anxious Life. He lives in Oturkpo, Benue state where he is currently lecturing and researching deeply into various philosophy treatises.

Posted in BOOK THOUGHTS, ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS

Wordsmiths in Nigeria: Relics of a lost age? by Chika Nwakama

Art is life. Life’s art. Writing is an art, it could also be a life. What else captures the details of the past, intertwining it with the occurrence of the present, yet plodding the way for the future but writing. With just a few words, your imagination travels between time and space, thus making geographic demarcations of boundaries look seamless. The secrets of life are kept afresh and handed down to subsequent generations through writing. So why aren’t the wordsmiths leaving up to their billing?

Arts in Nigeria has gained a lot of momentum lately. The actors, musicians, painters, even photographers and make-up artistes are gaining prominence and recognition in our society. The fashion industry riding on the success of the entertainment industry is recording quantum strides. All, but the writers. How could this be, that the queen and bride of all creative manifestations be relegated to levels befitting of paupers? The beholders of the secrets that lay in the lairs of the deep are fast drifting into oblivion. Some say writers can’t survive in our society. Many others say Nigerians don’t read. Indigenous literature it seems lose their footing to foreign ones. The average girl would hastily grab a Sidney Sheldon over a Lara Daniels. The Dibias would only receive accolades but we stock up our libraries with Grishams.

However, lest we rush ourselves into hasty conclusions, based on the obvious, let us remind ourselves that our counterparts in the sister arts equally faced this clog. But unlike us, they did not hurl accusations. Like them, we need to take action. We need to start appreciating indigenous wordsmiths. We hear there is a dearth of good writers in the country. This is a farce. Ever year, my compatriots receive accolades globally. It is up to the writers to test the waters and create the butterfly effect that would enable a literary environment flourish in our country. The works of Pulp Faction book club, Naijastories, Nigerian Writers forum and Debonair Bookstores are appreciated but a lot still needs to be done. Reading competitions have to be inculcated in our primary schools. Book clubs and literary groups with emphasis on local content have to be re-introduced in our secondary schools. Arts festivals and book carnivals have to be taken to the national level. We have the capacity to host art events that would rival the pedigree of the hay festival.

Only then would the publishers, corporate world and film makers come to share in the slice of the cake. The onus is on us as writers to partake in defining a new Nigeria for our youths. Where intellectualism thrives over ignorance and sentiments. Where jingoistic views would be overtaken by enlightenment. Though it is not an easy task, nor one with immediate visible results, the fruits of such venture have generational implications. He who plants a seed today leaves a shade for the next generation. In this plethora of misguided conceptions and ideologies, what seed are we planting that would provide shades for the future one? How do we preserve our fast depleting culture , if not through writings.

Do we want our children to hear of our stories from the lips of foreigners? Let us stimulate the taste buds of indigenous literature and keep them salivating for more. More importantly for our sakes. The only way to attain immortality is through writing. A writer never dies, he merely lives in another form. Through his writings.

 

First Published on Naija Stories

Posted in CALLS FOR SUBMISSION

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: CRITICAL WORKS ON QUENTIN TARANTINO’S MOVIES!

 

Okay, now how many of you have watched a Quentin Tarantino movie? Of course, yes, you… or even if you haven’t, here’s a chance to have a critical work of yours published.

 

Destructive Praise, 

​a creative group committed to

publishing critical work too hip for academia, is now accepting submissions for a June 2013 anthology around the movies of Quentin Tarantino. Yup, you got that right!!

The works should
create imaginative links between Tarantino’s films and those of other directors – music or visual art.

examine how he treats whiteness and blackness

map Tarantino influences

look at his identity as Hollywood “other”

present fresh readings of his plots or characters

 

We’ll be leaning towards egocentric narratives that go deep. We’re also interested in English translations from writers outside the

United States. Word count appx. 1500 – 4000

English: Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the Cés...
English: Quentin Tarantino in Paris at the César awards ceremony Français : Quentin Tarantino à la cérémonie des César du cinéma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The submissions deadline is 30 April 2013

Editor:  Jennifer Jazz (destructivepraise@gmail.com)

Contributors will retain all rights. Queries are also welcome at destructivepraise@gmail.com

​The anthology will be a small paperback run that’s guerilla marketed. We can’t offer advances. Writers selected, however, will receive two complimentary copies and a chance to edit the next Destructive Praise anthology.

 

So, what are you waiting for? You haven’t watched any of his movie or forgotten it? You wish to write later? Do so write NOW.

 

Cheers, S’

 

Posted in ESSAYS AND LITERARY JOURNEYS, POL TALKS

REPARATIONS: WHAT NIGERIA OWES THE TORTOISE [2] by (Pius Adesanmi)

See Part 1 (PART TWO)

It is no secret that we love foreign things in Nigeria. Our encounter with modernity, especially the version of it associated with the material trajectory of Western Europe after the Enlightenment and the rise of the culture of late capitalism in the United States after the World Wars, has been a history of uncreative aping of Western culture, tastes, and modes of being. Alas, our knowledge systems are not spared, hence we seek Western paradigms and explanations for things rooted in our own history, culture, and environment. Such is the case with a great deal of the literature on what most Nigerians agree is the country’s most successful postcolonial experience of statehood in terms of the management of resources and human capital. This experience, which has entered the history books as one of Africa’s most successful cases of the harnessing of resources for the betterment of the collective, is none other than the political polity known as the Western region.

If you explore the social science literature on the Western region and why the man at the centre of it all, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was able to record developmental strides for his region that are still largely unsurpassed in our annals, you will find no shortage of Western-derived explanations for what happened in the Western region. You will encounter every Western theory of statehood, especially theories and models of the modern Welfare state, from its origins in Otto von Bismarck’s Germany to Canada via Scandinavia that Obafemi Awolowo and the bureaucracy he harnessed and led for the betterment of
his people were supposed to have mastered. You will even encounter the reflections of a great 19th and early 20th-century German thinker known as Max Weber, whose reflections on the bureaucracy and the legal bases of the Welfare state have led to the emergence of a theoretical construct known as the Weberian state in the social sciences. You will hear that the Western region was a micro-Weberian state at its most successful level of actuation. What you will hardly encounter in the literature on the Western region are studies which trace the origins of this spectacular success to the cultural capital of Chief Awolowo and the energies he mobilized to implement his vision.

It is true that the leader of the Western region was a man of great learning. A polymath whose intellectual depth and erudition are still here with us in his speeches, lectures, and books. Added to his own talent and intellectual capital is the fact his generation of Nigerians is the last generation to have acquired what qualifies to be called great learning. You will understand what I am talking about if your father was roughly in Chief Awolowo’s generation. This is the generation that read the Greeks and the Romans, studied Latin, and
spoke Queen’s English, stressing the proper syllables unlike those of us in subsequent generations who stress every syllable. So, it is true that Chief Awolowo had read Weber and many of the great thinkers of modern welfare statehood. However, Max Weber and European philosophers were not what happened in the Western region. What happened was cultural. What happened to and in the Western region was respect for the covenant between man and Ijapa.

Although the free primary education scheme, which was launched on January 17, 1955, has become a leitmotif in narratives of the Western region’s success, we need to dig deeper to account for the philosophical bases of the vision of the man who dared to dream it in the first place. Let us examine for example the core themes of Awolowo’s 1955 budget speech: “Of our total expenditure of £12.45 million not less than 82.6% is devoted to services and projects which
directly cater for the health, education, prosperity and general welfare of our people. Of this high percentage, 27.8% goes to education, 10.7% to medical services, 5.4% to agriculture”. The key terms here are health, education, welfare of the people, and agriculture. These are all areas directly related to human
development.

However, which humans? That is a logical question because if Squealer was able to perfectly rationalize the fact that all the resources of animal farm were to go towards the health, education, and welfare of the few pigs at the table, the envisioners of the Western region budget could also perfectly have reasoned that human development was synonymous with the welfare and the gastronomic preferments of a chosen and privileged few. So, which humans is a legitimate question. The answer to who Awolowo had in mind as he evolved a carefully-calibrated budget philosophy for the Western region on his
assumption of office lies in his famous three principles of budgeting by which he meant the resources of the region would be expended on human development in the areas of health, welfare, and education. The overall goal of this budget philosophy was freedom of the people from ignorance, disease, and want. In Awolowo’s vision, the Western region was going to be the very embodiment of the collective good and the commonweal.

What was being born in this project, the Western region, was a modern, postcolonial political apparatus whose formal institutions, bureaucracy, and modes of functioning devolved from the legacies of British colonialism. However, the ethos and the vision which transformed the project into a vector of generalized human development were not British. That ethos devolved from the cultural bases of the region’s chief envisioner and his greatest asset – his people. I will elaborate on the point about his people presently. Suffice it to say that the persona speaking in Awolowo’s description of the principles
that would guide the budgeting process of the Western region and become its humanizing foundation is one grounded in the traditional pedagogy of the tortoise. We have explored how the cultural imaginary which produced Ijapa and his adventures promotes a conception of personhood, omoluabi, defined by a subscription to the superiority of the collective good and the commonweal. The budget of the Western region respected Ijapa’s mandate: do not emulate me. Do not plagiarize my actions. Remember, I am all about my belly and how to get more than my fair share of things meant for all of us. You, on the other hand,
are people of the commonweal.

This is the cultural praxis which informed Obafemi Awolowo’s conception of statecraft and shaped what became the Western region. I am saying, in essence, that we did not hear of the welfare state and the social contract for the first time from jean-Jacques Rousseau, Max Weber, and other Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers of Europe. Our ancestors were already using those philosophies to raise their children and forge ideas of society and social responsibility long before our modern scholars and thinkers dragged these Europeans into the argument.

Something else is often left out in narratives of the Western region. I prefer to frame this second omission in the interrogative mode. Why did Awolowo’s vision and altruism work in the region? To render unto Ijapa what is Ijapa’s is to subscribe to the supremacy of the commonweal by not plagiarizing the trickster figure’s selfish and individualistic proclivities. My submission is that that is exactly what Awolowo did but was this adherence to the collective good the only ingredient of his success? The answer, evidently, is no. For Awolowo’s budget philosophy to be successful, those who were helping him run the vision and examples he was setting in Ibadan across the entire region would have had to be believers in and subscribers to the same ethos of the commonweal. His role was to provide the vision, leadership, sense of purpose, and example but all these would have come to naught if he wasn’t leading a people who subscribed to the same ethos of the collective good. Awolowo’s greatest assets were, therefore, his people and the ethos of the commonweal to which they collectively subscribed at the time.

The success of Awolowo’s lion share budget for education depended on  implementers of that budget across the region. If they did not share his ethos, if they decided to behave like Ijapa and steal all the money, if every time they received allocations for education supplies across the region, they burst out singing:

Ori mo so
Oturugbe
Ori mo so
Oturugbe
Gbogbo re ba ja lu mi inu mi a dun ori mo so
Oturugbe

What do you think would have happened to free education? Do you want
me to go on still? Nobody is bored to death yet? Okay, here is part
three.

(PART THREE)

The ethos of the collective and the commonweal as I have explored it above is not an exclusive preserve of any people in the immediate afterlife of colonialism in Nigeria. The landscape I have been mapping in terms of the cultural values that regulated one’s relationship to society in the period of our national history under discussion must be familiar to everyone, irrespective of your ethno-geographic belonging in Nigeria. I may have tried to explore the foundation of our national civic process during the era of the regions from the purview of my own culture, I am sure you have all followed my train of thought thus far, drawing parallels between the scenarios I have sketched out and what obtained in your own corner of Nigeria. North and south; east and west, Nigeria was once relatively a postcolonial space for ethos of
the collective good and the commonweal. This explains why Nigerians of a certain generation look back and wax nostalgic about that era, irrespective of our deadly faultlines of ethnicity and religion.

I am harping on these two concepts – collective good and commonweal – to underscore the point that the physical and material fact of modern statehood, of modern political arrangements, are just as important as the metaphors with which citizens conceptualize such polities at the symbolic level. As strange as this may sound, metaphors of self-fashioning are in fact what give solidity to the political identities we refer to as nation and state. Such metaphors may be foundational, coming from myths and legends passed on across the
generations, as is quite often the case here in Africa. A good number of Western thinkers of nation and nationalism also understand the centrality of metaphors and myths to national identity. Ernest Renan understood this in his famous treatise, What is a Nation? Ernest Gellner also understood it in his master opus, Nations and Nationalism. And so did Benedict Anderson in his influential book, Imagined Communities.

By defining a nation as an imagined community, Anderson was stressing the importance of the collective mental image that the people have of their nation and hold dear. That mental image, more rooted in metaphors and myths than in concrete actualities, defines a people. When members of a nation speak about “who we are” or “our values” – you’ll get an overdose of these if you listen to American politicians in an election cycle – they are talking about the time-tested metaphors and myths of self-fashioning to which they collectively subscribe. This is what gives vigour to their peoplehood.

One of the most significant metaphors of American self-fashioning is the concept known across the world as the American dream. Such is the mobilizing power of this metaphor that nobody is indifferent to it – whether we are Americans or not. A visit to the gate of the American Embassy here in Lagos will give you a window into the sub-human indignities that Nigerians endure from rude and insufferably imperious American embassy officials just to get a chance to gain access to that dream. And we know that in the tortured logic of Al-Qaeda, it is better to die through self-immolation than hang around here and deal with the inevitability of the American dream.

So, what do Americans throw into the philosophical cauldron of a concept which represents the heart and soul of their nationhood? They throw into it their freedoms and the institutions which underwrite them; they throw into it their self-awareness of being the authors of a system which invests the most in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit; they throw into it the unquenchable optimism of the can do American spirit; they throw into it the idea of the fair shot which guarantees a certain level playing field for the pursuit of happiness; they throw into it their faith in a system which makes it possible to take out a car loan, a mortgage, and the occasional vacation if you work hard; they throw into it their faith that America’s got your back, always ready to do right by you.

These metaphors of national self-fashioning can mobilize even more effectively than the material manifestations of nationhood and statehood. The American flag as a concrete symbol is important but what drives those boys in Afghanistan is their belief in the need to lay down their lives for abstract notions such as “our values”,  “our way of life”, “who we are”, in short, the American dream. They are defending not the American flag but the American dream. Where the American boasts the American dream, the French man responds with “impossible n’est pas français”. Impossible is not French. Time and space will not permit me to fully explore what this self-fashioning does for French nationhood so let me just quip that it does for the French what the American dream does for the American.

Like the Americans and the French, the metaphors of the commonweal and the collective good once defined us as Nigerians building the country, building nationhood from our different ethno-regional locations. Then we had coups and countercoups. Then we shed blood, a lot of blood. And we lost the regions to our self-inflicted follies and gained a perverse form of federalism via military fiat. And things fell apart. No, I am not talking about the civil war. I am talking about what we lost symbolically in our transition from regionalism to federalism. Do you want me to tell you what we lost? Okay, you must wait for the answer in Part Four.

[Being the second and third part of the Save Nigeria Group public lecture delivered by Pius Adesanmi in Lagos]…Concludes here

Posted in FICTION

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (Short Story) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Igbo say that a mature eagle feather will always remain spotless.

*

It was the kind of day in the middle of the rainy season when the sun felt like an orange flame placed close to my skin, yet it was raining, and I remembered when I was a child, when I would run around on days like this and sing songs about the dueling sun and rain, urging the sun to win. The lukewarm raindrops mixed with my sweat and ran down my face as I walked back to my hostel after the rally. I was still holding the placard that read Remember the Massacres, still marveling at my new — at our new — identity. It was late May, Ojukwu had just announced the secession, and we were no longer Nigerians. We were Biafrans.
When we gathered at the Freedom Square for the rally, thousands of us students shouted Igbo songs and swayed, river-like; somebody said that in the market outside our campus, the women were dancing, giving away groundnuts and mangoes. Nnamdi and I stood next to each other and our shoulders touched as we waved green dogonyaro branches and cardboard placards. Nnamdi’s placard read Secession Now. Even though he was one of the student leaders, he chose to be with me in the crowd. The other leaders were in front carrying a coffin with NIGERIA written on it in white chalk. When they dug a shallow hole and buried the coffin, a cheer rose and snaked around the crowd, uniting us, elevating us, until it was one cheer, until we all became one.

I cheered loudly, although the coffin reminded me of Aunty Ifeka, Mama’s half-sister, the woman whose breast I sucked because Mama’s dried up after I was born. Aunty Ifeka was killed during the massacres in the North. So was Arize, her pregnant daughter. They must have cut open Arize’s stomach and beheaded the baby first — it was what they did to the pregnant women. I didn’t tell Nnamdi that I was thinking of Aunty Ifeka and Arize again. Not because I had lost only two relatives while he had lost three uncles and six cousins. But because he would caress my face and say, “I’ve told you, don’t dwell on the massacres. Isn’t it why we seceded? Biafra is born! Dwell on that instead. We will turn our pain into a mighty nation, we will turn our pain into the pride of Africa.”

Nnamdi was like that; sometimes I looked at him and saw what he would have been two hundred years before: an Igbo warrior leading his hamlet in battle (but only a fair battle), shouting and charging with his fire-warmed machete, returning with the most heads lolling on sticks.

I was in front of my hostel when the rain stopped; the sun had won the fight. Inside the lounge, crowds of girls were singing. Girls I had seen struggle at the water pump and hit each other with plastic buckets, girls who had cut holes in each other’s bras as they hung out to dry, now held hands and sang. Instead of ‘Nigeria we hail thee,’ they sang, ‘Biafra we hail thee.’ I joined them, singing, clapping, talking. We did not mention the massacres, the way Igbos had been hunted house to house, pulled from where they crouched on trees, by bright-eyed people screaming Jihad, screaming nyamiri, nyamiri. Instead, we talked about Ojukwu, how his speeches brought tears to our eyes and goose bumps to our skin, how easily his charisma would stand out among other leaders — Nkurumah would look like a plastic doll next to him. “Imakwa, Biafra has more doctors and lawyers than all of Black Africa!” somebody said. “Ah, Biafra will save Africa!” another said. We laughed, deliriously proud of people we would never even know, people who a month ago did not have the ‘ours’ label as now.

We laughed more in the following weeks — we laughed when our expatriate lecturers went back to Britain and India and America, because even if war came, it would take us only one week to crush Nigeria. We laughed at the Nigerian navy ships blocking our ports, because the blockade could not possibly last. We laughed as we gathered under the gmelina trees to discuss Biafra’s future foreign policy, as we took down the ‘University of Nigeria, Nsukka‘ sign and replaced it with ‘University of Biafra, Nsukka.’ Nnamdi hammered in the first nail. He was first, too, to join the Biafran Army, before the rest of his friends followed. I went with him to the Army enlistment office, which still smelled of fresh paint, to collect his uniform. He looked so broad-shouldered in it, so capable, and later, I did not let him take it all off, I held on to the grainy khaki shirt as he moved inside me.

My life — our lives — had taken on a sheen. A sheen like patent leather. We all felt as though it was liquid steel, instead of blood, that flowed through our veins, as though we could stand barefoot over red-hot embers.

*

The Igbo say — who knows how water entered the stalk of a pumpkin?

*

I heard the guns from my hostel room. They sounded close, as though thunder was being funneled up from the lounge. Somebody was shouting outside with a loudspeaker. Evacuate now! Evacuate now! There was the sound of feet, frenzied feet, in the hallway. I threw things in a suitcase, nearly forgot my underwear in the drawer. As I left the hostel, I saw a girl’s stylish sandal left lying on the stairs.

*

The air in Enugu smelled of rain and fresh grass and hope and new anthills. I watched as market traders and grandmothers and little boys hugged Nnamdi, caressed his Army uniform. Justifiable heroism, Obi called it. Obi was thirteen, my bespectacled brother who read a book a day and went to the Advanced School For Gifted Children and was researching the African origin of Greek civilization. He didn’t just touch Nnamdi’s uniform, he wanted to try it on, wanted to know exactly what the guns sounded like. Mama invited Nnamdi over and made him a mango pie. “Your uniform is so debonair, darling,” she said, and hung around him as though he was her son, as though she had not muttered that I was too young, that his family was not quite suitable, when we got engaged a year ago.

Papa suggested Nnamdi and I get married right away, so that Nnamdi could wear his uniform at the wedding and our first son could be named Biafrus. Papa was joking, of course, but perhaps because something had weighed on my chest since Nnamdi entered the army, I imagined having a child now. A child with skin the color of a polished mahogany desk, like Nnamdi’s. When I told Nnamdi about this, about the distant longing somewhere inside me, he pricked his thumb, pricked mine, although he was not usually superstitious, and we smeared our blood together. Then we laughed because we were not even sure what the hell that meant exactly.

The story was gotten from and continues at Zoetrope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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’

Posted in BOOKS, LIFE, LITERARY MISSIONARY, SEVHAGE

THE LOYOLA JESUIT WORKSHOP: POST

Okay, there was the Loyola Jesuit workshop pre-story, the workshop itself and now, it was over.

After the picture, Mrs. Omotayo A. Smith, poet and musician led the way to the JR – that’s short for Jesuit Residence. Wow! Well, we got there and there was this simple man in a tee-shirt and jeans. He asked who we were and after a while, after some waiting in a very lovely courtyard, we were ushered in to lunch. The man, somewhat elderly with an American accent was pleasant and welcomed us pleasantly. We – Maik, Andrew and I with Mr. Yio (I guess) wondered who the impressive regal butler was… 😉 After some introduction, it turned out he was the President of the College, Fr. Ehi Omoragbon. He turned out to be a great host and what’s more, he has a critic background. Okay, so we sat at two big tables in this room. Fr. Omoragbon got us drinks and ensured we had all served ourselves to rice, jara and chicken. sat at one with Mr. Ikwebe, Mr. Togo, Mr. Chukwuemeka Nwaoha and Andrew Bula. They seemed to be having so much fun as they chatted on several things. It was all literature. On the table, it was Mr. Yio, Maik, Mrs. Smith, the Principal (who came in after a while), Fr. Ugo Nweke. Somehow, Fr. Nweke, Mrs. Smith and I got talking on lots of stuff from the workshop to other things. I told him how delightful the students were and he said the initiative for the workshop was basically to get the students to interact with a published author and know that they too could be published. He said one of them, Master Christopher Unobogu had a working manuscript. Others had lots of material. Mrs. Smith said her class were on a fascinating literary project. We discussed other issues mainly Fr. Uwem Akpan’s Say you are one of them. We agreed the book was deeply sad but quite realistic.

Well, in the end, it was time to leave. We got to take pictures again and let the reverend administrators be. We laughed loud at talks of memories and the like with Mr. Wilson Ikwebe (who shares alumnus roots with Maik, Andrew and I) and Mr. Togo, a kinsman through Takuruku. We had some more pictures and I requested that Mr. Ikwebe give me the camera to get the pictures with my system. He was obviously pressed for time and promised to send them via e-mail… Hmm, he sure has a sense of the proverbial time unconsciousness most of us are blessed with…

The journey back continued. As we drove and exchanged notes on several things, my mind composed ideas and got pregnant with future pieces that I only wondered if the pressures of increasing schedules would allow me deliver. Meanwhile, I had a full report to write and send plus a material that I promised the participants. Oh well…