electronic literary magazine
Beyond Superficial Indices
The Economy of Loss
Long After Death
Feature Poem: The Word Shop
The Rape of Gideolu
Pictures of Darfur
With Niran Okewole:
The Portrait of a Young Poet as a Psychotherapist
With E.C. Osondu:
The Bookaholic Blog Interview
Audacity of Pain:
A Review of Jumoke Verissimo‘s I am Memory
The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes:
A Review of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers
Jude Dibia‘s review of Under the Brown Rusted Roofs
The Writer as a Wiyayor:
A biographical review of Ken Saro-Wiwa‘s works
Eghosa Imaseun remembers writing To Saint Patrick
Raymond Carver‘s Story Principles
Long Fiction Ethics:
Principles for the novel in John Irving‘s A Widow for One Year
Emmanuel Iduma collects several books for the Saraba shelf, urging others to buy
Dami Ajayi wries on trends, crane and the Caine Prize.
THE CHOPPING BOARD
Biyi Olusolape goes into the fine details of M.I‘s music, but not so gently.
ADEBIYI OLUSOLAPE is a journeyman collagist engaged in the search for mastery.
He is very experimental in his plumbing of the depths of our shared experience.
He lives in Ibadan.
AYO ADEMILUYI is a final year student of Law
and the editor of the Campus newspaper, The Eagle.
AYOBAMI FAMUREWA writes as Ayobami Adebayo.
Her short story Shadow of Eclipse appeared in Farafina‘s Weaverbird collection.
Her short stories have appeared in Farafina, African Writing Magazine and Saraba Online.
She lives and works in Nigeria.
DAMILOLA AJAYI is a penultimate medical student. His works have appeared in The Guardian and
Africanwriter.com. He is currently working on a collection of short fiction.
EGHOSA IMASEUN is a medical doctor and author of To Saint Patrick.
EMMANUEL IDUMA has been published online and in print.
While studying for his LL.B., he is working on a novel.
JUDE DIBIA is the author of Walking with Shadows and Unbridled.
NIRAN OKEWOLE is the author of The Watchman Trilogy and Logarhythms.
He was the winner of the International Berlin Poetry Festival Prize 2008.
He is also a practicing psychiatrist.
OLAOLUWA AKINLOLUWA has edited several print magazines.
He is the editor of Saraba‘s forthcoming e-paper.
ORIMOLADE TOSIN holds a degree in Political Science
from Obafemi Awolowo University
TEMITAYO OLOFINLUA co-manages www.bookaholic.blogspot.com,
a blog for literary enthusiasts.
TOBI ASO is an undergraduate student of Law
and writes for some campus newsstands.
UCHE PETER UMEZ is the author of the award-winning children‘s novella,
Sam and the Wallet. He is a fellow of the International Writing Program, U.S.A.
and one of the 26 winners of the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition.
Saraba is published four times a year by the Saraba Electronic Publishers on www.sarabamag.com.
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is strictly prohibited.
Enquiries can be directed to [email protected]
Interested contributors can send their works to [email protected],
and visit the website for submission guidelines.
The views expressed by contributors are those of the authors
and not necessarily those of Saraba Electronic Magazine.
Development E-Magazine, Issue 40, 2008 (Cover Illustration)
Pius Utomi Ekpei (For Boko Haram Image on Page 23)
Niran Okewole for Word Shop
Temitayo Olofinlua for The E.C. Osondu Interview
Eghosa Imaseun for Thought Experiments
(Previously published in Farafina Magazine and www.africanwriters.com)
It was in the hope of mystic possibilities and
unimagined realities that this issue of Saraba was
published, and again, it is a major triumph. This
issue is a victory on many fronts—and fonts: there
are more distinguished writers published, and the
consequences are more brilliantly wrought writeups. And of course, as always, the Emerging
outweigh the Established. Here at Saraba, we stay
true to our creed.
By giving each of our issue themes, we set out to
exhaust these themes, and perhaps proffer new
perspectives to our readers, of course after having
resonated the obvious. With this Economy issue,
Saraba is not trying to be The Economist. The
economy, to us, goes beyond a malnourished
African child as a cover page, over-enthusiastic
Keynesian dissertations with quick solutions and
obvious references and multi-colored bar charts.
Rather, we are taking the humanistic approach at
the fraying foundations of the world‘s financial
And like all human endeavours, we know our
expressions are subject to bias. However we strive
to be more humanitarian than objective. People
should matter in the forecast of gloomy economic
days, this imminent Economic Holocaust! Each
economic narration, be it print, electronic or verbal,
should thrive on the threshold of humanity. To
read about the world‘s economy without
considering how such economy affects the world‘s
people – the billions in Asia, the hundreds of
millions in Africa, the Wall-Streeters and the mainstreeters, the children and the adult– is a flagrant
misrepresentation of what it means to tell the story
Whether our literary experiments cut our
humanistic expectations, we would let you be the
E.I. & D. A.
Beyond Superficial Indices
Tosin attempts a holistic assessment of the real Nigerian
economy vis-à-vis popular misconceptions of the status quo
nly last week on a recent visit to one of my
friends in Lagos, I was surprised at the number
of new vehicles that now ply Lagos asphalt.
My last visit to Lagos was about a decade ago and at
that time, new cars were just beginning to congest
the roads. his one occasion, I marveled at this new
development. Indeed one could conclude that the
lives of people have improved dramatically since
1999, the year of my last visit, at least with this
picture in mind. In truth, a lot has changed since
then, but one would be mistaken to judge economic
progress through such superficial indices like the
number of new vehicles on the roads. As I moved
deeper into the heart of Lagos, I quickly put aside my
unfounded theoretical assumptions. In Mushin,
Agege, Alimosho, and other places I visited, I saw the
familiar Lagos, the real people, ‗the real economy‘. I
was confronted by their daily fears, struggles, and
troubles and I now have a better understanding of
what underdevelopment means.
I acknowledge the fact that the face of Nigeria has
been changing, if only at a slow pace, since 1999 but
the impact of these developments on the lives of the
Nigerian people has fallen far short of popular
In 1999, people had massive expectations over the
ability of democracy to immediately deliver public
goods and engender improved economic wellbeing,
but after the first four years of democratic rule, some
people began to see the obvious, which is that
democracy is no magic, at least not the kind we
practice in Nigeria.
One thing I inferred from the new developments in
Lagos was that the proportion of people in the middle
class of the Nigerian society has been on the rise;
democracy has provided people with the opportunity
to acquire potentials and display artistry. But for a
good grasp of the trajectory of development, we must
look beyond the cosmetic. On a recent visit to the
capital of Cambodia-Phnom Penh, a friend of mine
lamented that the western countries were being
unfair to nations like Cambodia. For him the
development in the country highlights the
possibilities of progress in the third world. But as
soon as he ventured into the real life of the
Cambodian people, he admitted that conclusions
based on first impressions could be misleading. The
same applies to Nigeria, it is so easy to see wealth in
display, and pictures of slums or shantytowns are
wiped off our memory once one sights gigantic
skyscrapers at the city centre. There is only one way
to never lose sight of the gloomy pictures of shattered
hopes for development and lost humanity which is by
empathizing. We cannot adequately understand the
plight of the down trodden merely as bystanders, we
must enter the world of this people, and experience
their economy. This is the meaning of empathy.
The real people are the ones who feel the heat of
a failing economy. We must assess economic and
political development with this people in mind.
Abuja and Lagos do not adequately reflect the sum
total of Nigerian life. To understand Nigeria we
must evaluate the reality of the over 60% of the
people whose lives are cast in the theatre of absurdity,
in the backwaters of development. We must assess
the lives of hundreds of people who live on less than
$1 per day and the many that cannot access
qualitative health care. This is how to understand
Nigeria—and perhaps anything Nigerian.
When I think of a clear picture of the contradictions
of economic development, the picture that comes to
my mind is that of the young boys who live in the
shantytowns in Rio. From the top of the hills, where
the slums are located, the boys see how the huge
wealth of their country is spent on the ‗Luxuries of
life‘ but they can hardly be partakers except they
resort to dubious means.
Most societies of the third world reflect a two-road
divide. The one frequently trodden is that of the poor
masses, the one less travelled is for the higher
citizens. This scenario is even more glaring in Africa,
where the (mis)appropriation of public wealth is done
with impunity. There are two laws, and two societies
in most societies in Africa. The rule of law exists only
in form and not in substance. And there is a
replication of inequality in every facet of human
endeavour. The nature of society seems to suggest
that society is a public franchise of the high and
mighty, and invariably the masses are not
stakeholders. They are indeed not part of the society;
after all, their ‗votes‘ do not count. The word that
aptly captures their situation is alienation. The reality
is that these people are cut off from the society, and
the state is detached from their daily lives, challenges,
and struggles. When we take a critical look at the
literatures that have been churned out of Africa since
independence irrespective of the genre, most if not all
have focused on the lives of this people.
to start exercising power with responsibility. The
responsibility we owe the common people whose
hearts long for development. We must focus on the
real people and the real issues that confront them.
We must make the economy strong and vibrant and
empower the state to stand for what is right and
make it responsive to popular needs and desires. The
state must be a state for all. We cannot live these
people perpetually at the backwaters of development.
Sustainable economic development means that we
must put these peoples at the radar of our
developmental efforts. For writers, these issues must
receive adequate exposure in our writings, be it
fiction or non-fiction. We must write the biography
of our country not as hagiographers, but as men of
conscience who wield their pens in the way of the
Nevertheless, there is always a place of escape from
the sordid state of our economy. For writers it is time
Then and only then would our economy be exposed
into its stark trueness.
The Economy of Loss
Dami reflects on the essence of death and loss, and how the
feeling of loss seems transient.
here‘s been a death in the family. You can tell
from the faces of all present; they seem like
squashed fruits, and the juice of sorrow teased
down their eyes. Tears of pain, palpable like the corpse
recently ‗lodged‘ in the morgue. Like tolling bells were a
practical joke; perhaps, an ‗April Fool‘ ruse that had
become eerily true, and that now had even the jesters
looking down in the mouth.
My earliest encounter with death was when it struck my
mother‘s heel. She lost her brother, a bud in the garden
of success. He was a man of potentials, and at his base in
London, had become a household name. ‗Prince‘, though
his royalty was not English. And he knew that being
called a prince did not automatically bestow regality
upon him. He knew the worth of hard work and he
provided his services in several directions: working no
less than four jobs to amass ‗sterlings‘ that would make
his young family, six younger siblings and aging parents
It had been two years since he left home, and he had
chosen to return in grand style. He had sent a car by
boat to precede his arrival. He returned to his
hometown on the four legs of an automobile, a town he
had left in sullen sandals. Now he had become a man, a
real man. His paunch must have seemed like an
ominous sign of his wealth. And he had arrived laden
with gifts for all. Whispers filled the air as to his being
eligible for the throne when the incumbent king joined
My mother, his immediate younger sister, was equally
joyous. Happily married and recently delivered of a
bouncing baby boy, me, she received her brother in the
austere house she lived in with her lecturer husband. She
fed him, her brother, a meal, his favourite, and watched
with consanguineous admiration, how her brother
leveled a sumptuous bowl of pounded yam and
vegetable soup. She reiterates till date that her brother
was so well-fed that his belt had to sink below his
abdomen to the borders of his waist.
She bade him farewell. But never knew that was her
final. That the farewell was to be eternal and her brother
was going to ram into a stationary truck at high speed
before he returned to London. Perhaps if she had
known, she would have said a better good-bye, clung
harder whilst she hugged him, cried even. But she had
not known; death played a fast one, like always, not a
respecter of persons or status.
My mother returned home to throw herself exclusively
to mourning her brother. I was but a child. I had no
inkling as to what was going on; I cannot even
remember my late uncle putting money into my
diminutive palm when he visited. My father tells me I
was bewildered by the amount of tears shed and I was
only too eager to follow his elder brother home when
the offer surfaced.
Sometimes my mother talks about her brother, even
though more than two decades have passed. I remember
her fondly remembering him; her face suddenly becomes
animated as she recounts events of yesteryears with such
precise details. Her memory recalls all the good times
and even the bad, but the anticlimax is always his
untimely death, and then her face creases, a drape of
Perhaps my mother is quick to tears. Perhaps, because
she is of the said weaker gender, or she is more in tune
with her emotions, but I have also seen my father cry
once. The events, though a decade ago, bubbles into my
consciousness with fresh effervescence.
His mother had been sick. An octogenarian, she was
admitted in the hospital and like a good son, he had
monitored her progress with land phones; cell phones
were still extravagant luxuries then. He even took time
off his job to pay her a visit with his wife at his elder
brother‘s base, several hundred kilometers away. And on
their return, they were sure Mama was convalescing. My
mother had even done Mama‘s hair in six cornrow plaits.
That fateful Sunday evening, my brother and I played
catch with a plastic ball outside our house, the last flat
in a block of four flats. An elderly man walked into our
midst and asked after our father. We went in and called
him out. My father, mostly an introvert, was puzzled by
the visit, especially one from someone we could not
identify as one of his friends. But the eagerness of his
curiosity took the better of him and he sprung from his
recumbent position, out the house, to meet this strange
visitor; we returned to our game.
My father returned soon, but the spring in his stride was
broken, he even had his hands on his head, his face was
creased in pain, like a child recently spanked by his
mother with her slippers. He took time to jam his feet
into the floor, one leg after the other as he said
something in our dialect, something that I still can‘t
comprehend till date. He walked into the house in tears;
his initial sobs had morphed into full grade tears. I
watched my father sitting on the floor of his spartan
living room, his legs spread out as he mourned the death
of his mother, Mama.
My three siblings and I couldn‘t help but to join
mummy and daddy in their lachrymose states. We all
shed quality tears that evening and forfeited our usual
Sunday deli. Even the last of us, barely three years, knew
how to be quiet. We sat around the settee in a half oval,
our pain couched on the seats of our hearts. The pain
was palpable; it was obvious from our blank stares after
we had brought out the family photo albums and cried
into the many pictures of the woman who had acted as
nannies to all her grandchildren. Even sympathizers, our
co-tenants, had been roused by our incessant cries that
had lasted, as they said, beyond the limits of a child‘s
corporal punishment. They had braced themselves for an
uncomfortable task of intervening between a responsible
father and his errant son, but had met both in tears,
over the death of a family matriarch. They seemed
amused. They even tried to laugh. But they knew it was
no joke, we were serious in our pain.
A week or so later, my father attended a meeting
upstate with his older siblings to discuss burial
arrangements. I had been rummaging through the
house and had found some old cassettes of my father
which I was eager to show him on his return. He held
the cassette with animated interest, King Sunny Ade‘s
My dear album. We slot it into the deck of our multipurpose rechargeable lamp and soon, the opening
symphonies of Sunny‘s plangent rendition wafted into
the air. My father swayed a bit, he even mimed a few
lines, listening like a true music lover, smiling through
the whole experience. I felt like a good son, my head
swelled a little, it felt soothing especially after my
spanking the previous night.
Side B was a full track that extolled the virtue of a
mother and I watched as my father‘s animated
countenance fell, dying a slow, painful death: the
crowfeet at his lip first, his left-sided dimple next, then
his forehead acquired a crowfeet. I watched him
contemplate tears till a bold phalange pressed the STOP
button and he reclined in his seat, his palm cradling his
joys as he repressed memories. I can imagine his
memories: memories of good times with his late mother,
perhaps his graduation, his marriage, the several
occasions filled with bubbles of joy, the kind of bubbles
burst by shutters of cameras, burst in an attempt to
capture them as evergreen images. I felt guilty, having
brought to fore the man‘s recent memories of loss. But
now a decade after, I watch him refer to his mother in
loving memory, there are no tears and I wonder, where
is his pain? Where is that pain? Perhaps bled away as
tears, by the Leech called Sorrow. The tears that were
shed with such reckless abandon at the graveside as we
returned Mama to earth. It was now absent, reduced to
vestige of earlier memories. And I safely concluded that
in the realms of death, very contrary to Jumoke
Verissimo‘s verse, ―Time hasn‘t changed/Pain has…,
rather Pain hasn‘t changed but Time has.‖ Time had
happened to my parents‘ pain. The Pain had been
worn down by the salts of loss in the washing of
brine, the ebb and flow of sorrow. It had preserved
the hurt in the recesses of their memories and had
sealed it hermetically. It had economized their loss.
More recently was my own firsthand experience with
death‘s grisly grip. It was about a year ago and I had
just completed my first M.B examinations, reputed as
one of the most difficult exams ever. We were awaiting
results at home and I had become a fish farmer in the
So that morning just as I began to throw food pellets
into the ponds, my thoughts went to my friend, Deji.
Deji was also my classmate; we had prepared and
written exams. Deji had plunged himself totally into the
exams, knowing fully well that this was his last chance
at making his grades good. His in-courses had been
terrible, and he had gone so far as to put off his usual
frequent business trips to focus on his exams.
Deji was a business magnate; he ran his own automobile
dealership, travelling to neighboring countries to
purchase first-grade fairly-used cars for a good fee. He
read business books—Warren Buffet, Adam Smith, Bill
Gates, Donald Trump and the likes—and he applied the
snippets he ripped from those pages into practical
business actions which paid off his business. He was a
first child, and if I was his father I would have been
exceedingly proud of him.
So I remembered that we hadn‘t spoken in a while and I
was quick to dial his number. His voice came through
above a raucous environment. There was buzz of loud
music in the background and also louder sing-along
voices. The details of our conversation are a blur. But I
remembered asking him about when our results were to
be released, for he was still in school. His father worked
on our campus so school was his home. He said
something about it being released later that day.
That put some pressure on me. Although I expected the
best, angst sat on my throat and every phone ring
surged adrenaline into my blood pipes. At about noon, a
call came through. Just as I prepared to pick it up, it
died. A ‗flash‘ from another close classmate. I knew the
results were out and I called Deji to get firsthand
information about my results. Deji said he was in town,
tidying up some business deals and he would call me
back with news of my result.
Later that evening, he called to congratulate me, and
when I inquired about his results, he said he had a resit.
I was happy for him, knowing his efforts were fruitful.
The next morning I got the shock of my life. A call
came through saying Deji was dead. I was perplexed, I
stared at my phone, he was my last dialed number, last
missed call, last received call. And that he was dead? So
I tried his number. Your guess is as good as mine. It
didn‘t go through. Deji had really died. Deji, the first
child of his parents, a Doctor-to-be.
He was buried on April fool‘s day. So if not for that
earlier death-tolling call, if someone had informed him
about Deji‘s burial, I would have thought it a practical
joke, albeit, one in extremely bad taste. The hurt that
gnawed in my heart was surmounted by disbelief. The
credibility of it all I still question. That someone that
hitherto existed was no more and whatever was left of
him had been hidden under the earth. I found it surreal.
I found my tears on the day of his candlelight
School resumed a month afterwards and life resumed.
My classmates paid a one-minute silence and it felt as
fleeting and routine as a one night stand. I even found
that my pain was receding, I was surprised that even his
father had resumed at the office. Whatever of my
emotions I mustered into a poem. And still after I had
written the poem, I felt like I had sponged out more of
A year has passed and I sometimes remember my friend,
in loving memory. I remembered the funny way he
called me with an altered intonation. The way he
walked with a spring, sporting a particular white shortsleeved shirt and leather sandals. I remember his
astuteness as a businessman and his bargaining prowess.
And I smile, for time has happened to my pain. Though
the gnawing hurt of the pain has dulled, we still carry
the scars in our hearts, but Time has reserved the good
memories. Time had also happened to our loss.
Poverty has a home in Africa—like a quiet second skin. It may be the only place
on earth where it is worn with unconscious dignity.
Bessie Head (1937 - 1986)
South African writer.
Tales of Tenderness and Power
most trying moments of my life, at
in it. Words were spilling up
my throat, crashing into my mouth. I could not
speak them for they would earn me a slap from
Mama. So I waited, listening to Mama and Baba
argue my fate.
―She cannot be with your people, Caro needs her
more, she should go to Caro‖
Mama‘s had a baritone voice, much deeper than
Baba‘s, when she spoke to him, she whined, a vain
attempt to soften her voice, a constant apology.
―Why not with my people? My brother is willing
and ready to take her. She is my daughter, and as the
father, she should stay with my people, those are her
people.‖ Baba always spoke in a shout as though we
were all deaf, or perhaps in contest with Mama‘s
―Ehn. Caro needs a child around her; maybe that
will help her situation, you know they say if a barren
woman has children around her she might conceive.
Caro really needs Ajoke, besides my people are her
people too, a child cannot have a father‘s family
without having a mother‘s family.‖
―Your sister‘s bareness is not my family‘s business.
This is my child, she bears my name and she is going
to my brother. Besides, Ajoke is almost old enough to
go to her husband‘s house, she is not a child. What
your sister needs are small children, very small ones.‖
Baba‘s voice grew louder as he spoke.
―Baba Ajoke, think about it please, you know
things are not easy, besides Lamide is already with
your brother, I don‘t think we should send another
child to him, things are not so easy for them too you
―Things are not easy for them? What do you
mean?‖ Baba was on his feet, towering over Mama
who sat quietly staring at his trousers, not looking up
at him. ―That my family is wretched? Is that what
you are saying?‖
I sat on the mat with words crashing continuously
into my mouth and watched as Baba paced the room
screaming his anger out. There was little room to
pace; our home was a single room that had been
partitioned into a room and parlour with plywood.
―Baba Adeola, I did not mean it that way‖ Mama
whined when Baba came back to stand in front of
her, punching his fist in the air above her head.
―What did you mean? You this woman! What did
you mean?‖ the fist descended lower. Ladepo, my
brother stirred beside me on the mat.
―I don‘t want to stay with Baba‘s brother. I want
to go to Aunty Caro, she is rich and she will pay for
my WAEC. Baba‘s brother cannot pay the money,
they don‘t have money. Even Lamide is just suffering
in their house, me I am not going there o. I will stay
here if it is their place you say I should go to. I
cannot go and be suffering o, have I not suffered
enough here? Me, I am not going there Baba!‖ The
words spilled out of me quickly, pausing Baba‘s fist
mid- air. Ladepo sat up, I did not move my head as
Mama‘s hand descended, the heel hitting my jaw.
―Are you insane? Who called you into the
discussion?‖ Her voice had lost the whine.
I did not speak to Mama for a week after the slap
that earned me at least four more each night before I
went to sleep. They were given half heartedly, as a
matter of duty, a form of security so that in future,
when I did not find a husband (which Mama was sure
I wouldn‘t ―the way I was going‖) , she could say that
she tried her best to bring me up well. Every night
she said the same thing, ―Why are you so stubborn?
Holding malice with me, your mother? What has
entered into you? Who will marry you? Answer me.‖
Each night I did not answer.
Aunty Caro came to visit during my cold war with
Mama, she was sitting in one of our two tattered
cushion chairs when I came home from school. I
knelt down to greet her and mumbled something to
Mama. Aunty Caro was wearing purple lace iro and
buba, her fair skin shone through the holes in the
material. Mama was wearing a faded ankara wrapper
tied across her chest.
―What kind of stupid greeting is this?‖ Mama
I stood up and said nothing.
―So now you want to behave like a good child
because Caro is here? You are kneeling down, when
you have not greeted me or even spoken to me in a
―Aunty mi, you don‘t mean it?‖ Aunty Caro asked
leaning forward in her chair.
―Why would I lie? Caro why would I lie, is this
not Ajoke standing before you? If I wanted to lie I
would say my witness is in heaven. Is this not Ajoke
standing before your eyes? Ask her, ask her if she has
not been behaving as if it was not my breast she
suckled. For the past one week Caro!‖ She beat her
chest and continued, ―My own child has not spoken a
word to me.‖
―These children, these children of nowadays‖
Aunty Caro turned to face me ―You heard your
mother just now, why are you behaving like that?
Don‘t you know it is a child with no home training
that behaves like that? I know my sister trained you
well, Aunty mi is not like that.‖
Mama clapped her hands together at Aunty
―Thank you, someone from outside will think I
am not trying. I am trying Caro but this one, she is
stubborn. And what did I do? It was her uniform; she
was tearing the slit at the back o, showing the boys in
her school her thighs, my daughter Caro. Was I
supposed to keep quiet? No, when I am not a bad
mother. Me I am not a bad mother‖ She shook her
head and slapped her chest with her hands ―So I told
my daughter to sow back the skirt O! Since then, my
child has not spoken a single word to me O! Not a
―Aunty mi, these children of nowadays‖ Aunty
Caro bent her head to a side and drew out the
nowadays, nauuuuadaaaaays! ―God will help sha, you
Ajoke oya kneel down and beg you mother, kneel
I knew the script; I had acted in this play many
times over, with two adults playing judge and jury
with only their version of events. My role was to
kneel down, apologise, own up to crimes I hadn‘t
committed and leave them glorying in their sense of
justice. I clutched the nylon bag that I kept my
school books in and decided to change the plot.
I knelt down, breathed deeply selecting my
opening lines, something that would shock them into
silence, something a child must not say to its mother,
not even to an adult.
―Aunty Caro, Mama is lying. It is not about the
skirt, that one happened long ago. Aunty, we have
been suffering in this house, things are not easy at all.
Baba and Mama cannot cater for us, they have
decided that we will go and live else where, all the
children, only the boys will stay at home. It is
because of you Aunty that I have been fighting
Maami, yes. Baba wants me to stay with his brother,
they are suffering too, really suffering. Me I want to
come and live with you Aunty Caro, please. I don‘t
want to go and be suffering. I want to go to school, I
want to do WAEC. See Lamide now, she should have
done her WAEC. That was why Baba sent her to his
brother, she still hasn‘t done it. Please aunty‖ I felt
the nylon tear in my grip, giving way for my nails to
dig into my palm.
Aunty Caro‘s reddened lips pressed together as
though she had been forced to eat something sour.
My words were followed by a heavy silence, a silence
heavy with my words, words that concretized our
poverty, my mother‘s shame, something that had
always been there but which my mother hid carefully
in a rag of lies before her affluent sister. We all knew
Aunty Caro saw through the lies, we knew through
the foodstuff she always brought ―Aunty mi, add this
to your store, somebody brought it to the house you know it is
just me and my husband…‖ we knew through the
amounts she left when she visited just before school
resumed for a new term ―Use this to buy sweet, don‘t be
angry with me because it is small O….‖ The money was
always enough to pay the school fees for the new
term. Still the real situation of things remained
wrapped carefully in Mama‘s rag of carefully
―Leave us Ajoke, go outside‖ Aunty Caro said
staring intently at the ground as if she was ashamed
of something. I went outside, wiping tears off my
cheeks, avoiding Mama‘s eyes.
Aunty Caro waited until Baba returned scratching
his body with a cutlass. He was in an ankara trouser
and a T-shirt with a faded smiley face that he wore to
work everyday. Work was cutting grass in overgrown
compounds in different parts of the city. He did not
work everyday. But every day, Baba rose up like the
sun and went out with his cutlass.
When he returned that day, Mama and Aunty
Caro staged a drama. One they must have rehearsed
for when I was sent outside. Aunty Caro refused to
rise back to her seat after she greeted Baba. She
remained on her knees and started her plea
―Our father, I have a request to make. A heavy
one, but I know you can help me. I have already
spoken to my sister but she said we cannot barb your
head while you are not there. So, I waited till you
came back. You know my condition that I am still
seeking the face of God for a child. My husband is
always away, I am always alone in the house. I need
someone to keep me company. They say thinking too
much, it causes overwhelming tears and you see even
the doctors say if I don‘t have peace of mind, I won‘t
find it easy to get pregnant. I want to beg you, our
father I want to beg you, please release Ajoke for
me, let her come and stay with me for now at least
until God answers me. Please, our father.‖
―Sit down Caro.‖ Baba said waving his hand
towards the chair.
―No, our father let me stay like this.‖
Baba was quiet. ―I cannot leave her, I know I am
offending you but she cannot go. No.‖ Baba folded
his arms across his chest.
―Our father, have mercy on me, you see, this child
issue, it is giving me problems. Please remember
that, please think of that.‖
It went back and forth, Aunty Caro always
steering her argument back to her childlessness. In
the end, I think it was that what made it easy for
Baami to swallow. Aunty Caro‘s constant reminders
of her childlessness served as slippery okra stew
helping the hard morsel of inadequacy smoothly
down Baba‘s throat so he would not choke on it.
It was Sadiat, Aunty Caro‘s house help who told
me about the miscarriages. I had been at Aunty‘s
place for a month when we had this conversation.
Aunty Caro‘s sister-in-law had just left. She had come
to inform Aunty Caro in a loud voice that carried
over into the kitchen, where I was working with
Sadiat, that her brother would be marrying another
wife by the end of the year if Aunty Caro did not bear
a child by then. It was already August. Aunty Caro
withdrew to her room for the rest of the day. That
was when Sadia told me about the miscarriages that
Aunty Caro had experienced. Five in all the eight
years that Sadiat had been the house help. At home
we had always thought Aunty Caro had never been
pregnant. I knew for sure that my mother was not
aware that her sister had ever conceived. Mama
always divulged all about Aunty Caro‘s childless state
after any of Aunty Caro‘s visits. While Aunty Caro‘s
expensive perfume lingered in our dingy home,
Mama moaned about her unfortunate sister‘s
bareness. ―Children are everything, no matter how
much money you have, no matter how much
money.‖ Mama would say examining the provisions
Aunty Caro had brought.
The pastor came every evening for the next seven
days, splashing olive oil on the walls of every room in
the house. Aunty Caro ate nothing in the seven days.
She took only water and could hardly stand up on the
final day. I and Sadiat were not allowed to join the
prayers on the last day of Aunty‘s fast. Aunty sent us
to the market during the prayers. When we came
back, the pastor was gone. Aunty was eating fruits
and smiling to herself. I was happy to see a smile in
her face for the first time in a week.
―How was the prayer Aunty?‖
―Fine Ajoke, I saw a vision, I now know what to
do. The pastor confirmed what I should do. Thank
God for me Ajoke. Thank God.‖
―Madam say make you come see am for her
room‖ Sadist said poking her head into my room.
―Has the pastor left?‖
―He just comot now now.‖
I went to Aunty‘s room; She was sitting on the
bed and rubbing her stomach with both hands this
time. It was a week after the end of the fast, the
pastor had shown up a few minutes earlier holding a
―Sit beside me Ajoke‖ she said softly.
I sat with her. Aunty went on her knees before me
and placed her palms on either side of me. I gasped
and knelt immediately as an unnamed fear gripped
me. I noticed then that she had been crying, silent
tears streamed down her face.
―Aunty, what is wrong, please stand up‖ I
touched her cheek and tried to wipe her tears away
but she jerked back her head.
―Sit down Ajoke‖ Her voice was clear and firm, it
did not match the tearful face before me.
I shook my head ―Aunty you did not teach me
She slapped me then, so hard that I felt the pin of
my ear-ring jab firmly into my skin. I sat on the bed
with my mouth agape, the cold air from the air
conditioner wafted into my mouth. I listened as my
aunt pleaded with me to stop eating her pregnancies,
to forgive her sins and allow her to have one child,
just one child.
―Ajoke, please confess, confess I beg you, don‘t
chase me out of my husbands house, I beg you in the
name of God.‖
―I am not a witch. I don‘t know anything. It was
even Sadiat that told me you had never been
pregnant.‖ I looked into Aunty‘s eyes for signs of
―Ajoke, forgive me and let me have a child please
I beg you. It was you, you I saw in the vision. You
were counting beans throwing them away. You
counted five already, there are only two remaining in
the bowl, please stop counting my beans. Let me
have the two left.‖
I bit the inside of my cheek so I could wake up
from what I was sure was either a joke or a dream. I
did not wake up.
She placed her head between my legs
continued to weep. She blew her nose with my dress
and stood up.
―You this witch, I have begged you and you have
refused‖ She screamed ―God is my witness that you
She turned to lock the door to her room, and then
opened her wardrobe to produce a broom and a
―Pastor gave me these, you say you won‘t confess?
You will confess this today.‖
―Aunty I am not a witch!‖ I screamed as the whip
and broom crashed into my body from opposite
angles, I fell back onto the bed. She went on
whipping me for a long while, I screamed, pleaded
and cursed until I was hoarse, yet she went on as I
rolled around the bed. The band that held the broom
together must have snapped, I felt broomsticks
scatter all over the bed. Aunty stopped whipping me
and started picking the broomsticks. I knew she
would not come after me without the broom. Brooms
were a special weapon reserved for beating witches. I
ran into the adjoining bathroom and locked the door.
I turned on both taps to drown out Aunty‘s curses. I
could not sit, my body ached all over. My dress was
tattered and bloodied in different places. I licked a
drop of blood from my finger. I wondered if unborn
babies tasted like the blood, like licking cold stainless
steel. At that moment, I had a burning desire to
My neighbour said he sat on a rainbow with a ring on
his finger and the world under his feet, while he invited
me to talk with him later. I was amused by this,
especially by how his face contorted when he spoke, as
though he was saying something very serious. But I was
more amused when he had been married for about a
year, and this fact contrasted with the pimples on his
face, the kind only adolescents have. He‘s the kind of
man one meets and who divulges his life history
immediately. And to say the least, he appeared different
from me, with his loquacious mouth. When I moved
here, I sought secrecy; somewhere to tuck my life,
forget the past, move on. Having an opposite-door
neighbor that told me everything about himself in one
night made me feel uncomfortable, and suspicious.
We were sitting outside the house on low stools.
There was an equally low table, and his wife was
beside him. She was reading a book with the light
from a lantern and I was somewhat concerned that
she seemed to be laboring herself. But he seemed not
to mind, he kept talking and talking about himself,
and I could not remember what he said for he talked
too fast and I was not entirely interested. But when
he began to boast about having the world under his
feet, especially because he wore this ring on his
finger, she stopped reading the book and looked at
―Welcome to the house,‖ she said, and looked
behind her, at the house.
―Where did you live before now?‖
―Lagos.‖ I said.
―Lagos!‖ her husband exclaimed. He seemed
distracted, only saying what he said to make us
believe he was still part of our conversation.
―You left Lagos to come here?‖ His wife asked.
―I got a teaching job here.‖
It was at this time that I sipped the Coke they had
He had come to me that morning and asked if we
could talk later, in the evening, ―get to know each
other.‖ I accepted because they were my closest
neighbours. The house was a single flat, divided into
two sections, theirs on the left and mine on the right.
I had a parlour and two rooms and I guess they had
the same too. My younger sister had found the house
for me; she lived in the neigbouring town, about five
kilometers away. So that evening he came and
knocked on my door, and I opened, and he led me
outside where I saw three low stools and two Coke
bottles. His wife did not have any.
―My wife is a teacher too.‖
―Where are you teaching?‖ she asked.
―Izzi Boys High School.‖
―Oh. That‘s where I teach too.‖
―Good.‖ I said.
―I‘m surprised they employed you. They‘re
saying the Depression thing is getting to them, I
don‘t know how schools are affected by Depression.‖
I said, ―My Uncle is the Principal. I told him I was
tired of the city. The money is not what brought
It seemed she did not listen to what I said, because
she replied, ―I am on maternity leave.‖
―Yes, she is going to have a baby,‖ My neighbour
said and raised his hands and his wife slapped it with
exuberant gusto, they acted like two teenagers. They
seemed happy, and as I thought then, too young.
―Congratulations.‖ I gulped the rest of my Coke,
the gas choked me and I spat out.
―Sorry,‖ he put his hands on my shoulder. I was
angry because he already seemed too familiar and
cordial with me, disrespectful even. I knew there
were many years between us, perhaps ten years or
more. So I stood up and walked back to my section of
the house, saying nothing, though I heard his wife
ask him, ―What happened? Why‘s he leaving?‖
The next morning I kept a straight face when he
greeted me and I did not look at his face.
But when I returned that evening, there were two
low stools, the one we used the evening before, and
he was sitting and drinking a soft drink. I offered a
hello and as I was unlocking my door, I heard him
say, ―I took my wife to the hospital today.‖
Ordinarily, I would not have been touched, given my
resolve to keep to myself, but this was a different
circumstance. His wife was pregnant and the hospital
was very far away, about ten kilometers. So I turned
and walked to where he could see me, and I asked,
―This afternoon. She started complaining of pains
and I guessed it was labour.‖
―What did they say at the hospital?‖
―It‘s not yet due. But they want to monitor her
till the baby is due. About a month.‖
I saw how young he was in his eyes, and I sighed,
and sat on one of the low stools.
He said, ―I don‘t want her to die.‖
I remembered my wife, so I stood up and went
inside. While unlocking the door, I felt a tear wriggle
down my face and my hand quivered and I
remembered I had told my sister the same thing he
had said, I don‘t want her to die.
The next evening he said the same thing to me;
that he did not want his wife to die. Because I
wanted to assuage his fears, I sat with him outside,
on the low stool. But I also did not want him to
remind me about my wife. So I asked him what work
―I work in the plantation owned by Mr.
I had heard about the plantation owned by the
white man, how large it was, and how he had many
young people in his employ.
―I hear there‘s a big agricultural Depression.‖
I thought he did not understand but soon
afterwards he said, ―Mr. Halliday talked to us today.
He used that word. Depression. He said we should
pray that it should go away.‖
I liked the sound of his voice, and it was getting
dark and there was no lantern, so it seemed the
silence that descended after he spoke was
―You know how to pray?‖
―Yes. I go to church.‖
―You‘ll wait to go to church before you pray?‖
―No,‖ he said and he laughed.
But I felt discouraged, he did not seem to know
much, and it was one of the things I missed from the
city I lived before I came here. I remembered long
hours of argument with my friends and sometimes
my wife. I stood up, bade him good night and
The next day was Sunday. My younger sister came on
a commercial motor-cycle. Cars were a luxury at that
time and even in Lagos where I lived, there were few
cars, reserved for top government officials and the
nouveaux riches. Going by how modern everything
was becoming, I knew it was only a matter of time
before cars became duplicitous. But there were
commercial motorcyclists, and they made good
money from their trade. My sister looked beautiful,
with her hair packed in braids and few tresses came
down like a lock an Egyptian prince would have
worn. After the motorcyclist had left and we were in
the parlour, I asked, ―How‘s Obi?‖ She shook her
head, and tried to change the subject, saying, ―Look
at how empty this parlour looks. Boredom must be
―Answer the question I asked you.‖ My imploring
I knew my voice had changed and she could have
easily remembered when I slapped her some years
back. She had worn a gown that did not fully cover
―I‘ve left him.‖
―I caught him with a girl.‖ she looked at the
window. The curtains were drawn, and in better
circumstances I would have commented about the
fading sun. I said nothing back to her and I saw that
she had started crying.
―It‘s fine. You can stay here as long as you want
to.‖ Her sobs subsided.
She said some minutes later ―I saw Chike. He said
he‘s been asking after you everywhere.‖
―What did you tell him?‖
―I said you‘re here. He said he‘d visit sometime.‖
I felt betrayed. I could have hit her face with my
backhand. But she had just stopped crying and it
would be unfair. Chike was my wife‘s brother. He
had stayed with me after my wife‘s death and each
morning he‘d talk about how bad it was that she was
not with me again. He always ended with, ―Don‘t
worry, you‘ll be fine.‖ This always infuriated me,
because all my life I liked to keep to myself, to avoid
anything that would make my life intersect with
―I need privacy. You go about telling people I‘m
―Why do you need privacy?‖
―Please shut up.‖
I walked out of the parlour when I said this. The
low stools were out and it amused me how small
things could easily become a ritual. My neighbour
was sitting already and his eyes were fixed on
something I did not see.
―Hello,‖ I said and sat.
―Hello,‖ he said, in a distracted manner.
―How‘s your wife.‖
―She‘s getting on. She spends all her time in bed.‖
―How are you? It is different without her.‖ I
―Yes.‖ He hesitated before quipping, ―I was
I saw again how young he was when he scratched
his head and left his hands on his head, as though he
needed it to support the weight of what he thought.
But he said, ―So you‘re married?‖
―No,‖ and looking at him I saw that his eyes was
behind me, so I turned and it was my sister. I told
him, feeling somewhat relieved, ―she‘s my sister.‖
It was my sister who outstretched her hand and he
took it. When I thought he had held it too long, I
said to her, ―He‘s my neighbor.‖
She sat and they talked about themselves. She
talked about how she loved to knit and how she
considered starting a business soon, and he talked
about his work at the plantation, how interesting it
had been, how unfair it was that he had been sacked.
I did not listen to them deeply because I was feeling
it was not right for two people who had just met to
talk as though they had been friends for long. I
started listening when she asked him about work and
he said he had been sacked.
―I‘m sorry to hear that. It‘s the Depression,‖ my
―Everybody is saying that,‖ he seemed angry.
―People are getting more unemployed. It‘s
After she had spoken, I remembered that even in
Lagos there had been a protest by workers in the civil
service. Many had been retrenched, and those who
were retained organized a sit-down protest: they
came to work but did not do anything, only read
newspapers in the cafeterias. I had been amused
reading it in the newspaper, it had seemed surreal.
But now, it seemed to have taken more life.
―We deserve to work. Bala says things are not the
way they used to be, our world has changed. He says
we are going to protest the injustice.‖
Neither of us said anything and the silence did not
sound good. So I said, and I don‘t know why, ―how
are you going to take care of your wife?‖
―What?‖ He had not heard me.
Before I had the chance to ask the question again,
my sister said, ―So, you‘re married.‖
I added, ―She‘s pregnant. At the hospital.‖ I said
this for no good reason, just to say something,
perhaps because the thought of how firm he had
gripped my sister‘s hand crossed my mind.
My sister said, ―It‘s good you took her to the
hospital. There‘s a new policy that every woman that
gives birth at the hospital is paid. And they say the
money is big. They started last month.‖
―What?‖ we both blurted.
―Yes. It‘s true. The hospital wants to encourage
people to come there for child delivery. The hospital
is safer, more women die during traditional delivery
at home.‖ She added, ―I know someone they paid his
wife after she gave birth. They used the money to
start a business, and it is going very well.‖
His eyes seemed to pop out of their sockets, and I
could see that he was excited. He asked my sister
several questions about the hospital and the truth of
what she said. I felt tired so I went inside my house.
While I was turning the knob of my door, I heard Ike
say, ―My wife knits during her spare time, and she
has knitted a lot of things. You should come to my
house and see them.‖
I returned late from school the next day and while
trying to open my door, I thought I heard my sister‘s
voice coming from my neighbour‘s house. My
suspicion was confirmed when his door opened and
she came out laughing heartily. He was behind her
and I was so surprised. I think it must have shown
because my sister said, ―I went to see the things his
wife knitted. They are very beautiful, and I would try
to knit like her.‖
―Okay,‖ I said, my hand still clasped the door
―Ike is a funny man,‖ she said, and turned to him.
Both of them giggled and I saw that they were
nervous. What nagged my head was why they would
be nervous, especially around me. But I said nothing
and went inside my house. When my sister came she
just sat down beside me in the parlour and neither of
us said anything. She went and drew the curtain open
and the darkness was already forming. From where
she stood she said, ―Ike said I should invite you for a
rally. It would take place next week Friday. He said
Bala would be talking about the unemployment
there.‖ The only thing I could think about was that
before then I had not known my neighbour‘s name
was Ike. I did not reply.
The rally was held in an open field, not too far away
from the house, and I went because I did not want to
appear immature, as though I had some grudge
against Ike because of my sister. There was a very
large crowd by the time I arrived; it was so surprising
that there was that number of unemployed people.
Bala was already talking and he was a slim, almost
gaunt man, dressed in a fashion he must have seen in
a book. I stood at the back and could only hear him if
I strained my ear. But I could gather that he was
talking about how everyone had a right to be
employed, Depression or not. Since I could barely
hear, I filled my mind with what I‘d heard about
Bala. It was said he had been the personal assistant to
Nnamdi Azikiwe, carried his portfolio everywhere he
went, scheduled appointments, and did anything the
man requested. Soon after Azikiwe became Prime
Minister Bala requested to return to his hometown
and start a business. This wish was granted by a
hesitant Azikiwe, who gave him a lump sum of
money and goodwill, and Bala set off. He used the
lump sum to start a small business of transporting
farm produce to the city, and after his business began
to flourish, he became Mr. Halliday‘s chief
transporter and transported the white man‘s produce
from the plantation to the city. But now it seemed
being Mr. Halliday‘s chief transporter did not stop
him from organizing rallies; he had always been
empathic about the plight of the people, and given
his affiliation to Nnamdi Azikiwe, this was not
Soon I was bored and I started to walk away.
Someone touched me from behind. I turned, it was
Ike and he was with my sister.
―Maria,‖ I called her name first. She smiled and
Ike said, ―You‘re leaving.‖
―Yes. I see you‘re enjoying yourself.‖
―Yes. Bala is a very good orator.‖
All the while Maria had her eyes away from mine.
I nodded, looked at Maria and kept walking, my
head was straight and I did not look back at them.
When it was late at night, about 11p.m., I went
and knocked on Ike‘s door. I banged it hard, because
I had been waiting for Maria in my parlour and I
dozed off there. I guessed they had come in while I
was asleep, and even though it was already late, I
could not bear the thought of having her sleep over
in his house. I kept banging the door until Ike came
out, half-naked. Lurid images travelled through my
head, and I remembered the dress Maria had worn
when I slapped her.
―Where‘s Maria?‖ I asked him.
He was looking at the floor when he said, ―She‘s
inside. She‘s sleeping.‖ I could have hit him, jammed
my fist into his face until he bled profusely, but I
heard Maria‘s voice almost immediately, behind him,
she said, ―I‘m here.‖ Something turned my legs
backward and I was soon in my room, on my bed
where I thrashed about until I eventually slept.
For several days I did not see Ike and in those days I
did not speak to Maria about him. I gathered she was
lonely, given her problem with Obi, yet to date a
married man beat my imagination, and did not seem
decent to me. It did not seem decent, also, that he
was having an affair with my sister, behind his
pregnant, hospitalized wife. An extra affair was not
fair on a pregnant wife. Maria was not married to
Obi, only lived with him on weekends which
sometimes stretched to weekdays, and I was
comfortable with her decision to leave him. We
hardly spoke after she stayed in his house late, and I
felt bad that we were not younger, for I could have
slapped her. She had grown, and now commanded
One day, I met Ike outside when I was returning
from school and there was a single stool. He stood up
when I came near him and said, ―Welcome.‖ A
feeling of superiority came over me, as I wanted
appear mature in spite of what I suspected he did
with my sister.
―How‘s your wife?‖
―Fine. I can‘t wait for her to return.‖
―When‘s the protest?‖ Maria had mentioned that
Bala decided in the rally that there‘d be a protest
against the unjust retrenchment, especially by Mr.
Halliday (once when she wanted us to have a better
rapport after that night she had overstayed with Ike).
I don‘t know why, but I sat down on the low stool
―So what‘s your plan with my sister?‖
He laughed. I could have pulled out his teeth, one
by one, but I abandoned the thought after he closed
―I can‘t wait for my wife to give birth. If that
money comes, I would be better off, you know. I
have no job now and it‘s really bad for me.‖
He laughed again and that thought to eviscerate
him of his denture slowly swept over me again. I
walked inside with silent fury whilst he cackled.
I did not see Ike until the week of the protest. On the
day before, I came back and met Maria sniveling in
the parlour. When she saw me, her sobbing started
and when I sat beside her, she was crying without
control. I calmed her and, in between sobs, she
blurted out, ―I‘m pregnant.‖
I went out and banged Ike‘s door. I kept
banging it until I saw the wriggling padlock, indeed
the door was locked. Maria was standing when I
came in and I just said, ―He wants to use you and
The next morning while I ate breakfast she said,
―I‘m travelling back today.‖
―I don‘t know.‖
After a while I said, ―Don‘t keep that baby.‖ I had
spent a lot of time during the night thinking, what
should be the best for her, what would take the
shame away of having a child for a married man.
―I know,‖ she said, her eyes were clear but they
had bags underneath.
Then I remembered my wife. I said to Maria,
―You are all I have now. Come back when you take
the baby away.‖
I figured the protest did not go well. The next day I
was sitting on one of the low stools and Ike was
running towards the house. There was a dirty piece of
cloth tied around his wrist and I imagined there was
blood underneath. He panted as he ran into the
house and I was so confused I forgot all the bad plans
I had for him. His door made a shutting noise almost
While I slept, I dreamt Maria died and bloodied
babies, like morticians, mobbed her corpse.
The next morning, even before I ate breakfast, I
heard a knock on my door. When I opened there
were two men wearing a khaki uniform and I was
―Are you Ike?‖ one of them asked.
―It‘s a lie.‖
―No.‖ I pointed to the other door. ―That‘s his
They went and I could hear them vandalize his
door with fist and feet until it caved in. I walked
outside and after a while I saw them come out with
Ike. He was not struggling, seemed too young and
stupid, only bowed his head and took his eyes away
when it met mine. For me, this was some form of
compensation for what he had done to Maria.
Soon, there was another knock. It happened so
fast I did not have time to ponder on Ike‘s arrest. It
was Obi, Maria‘s former boyfriend. As soon as he saw
me, he blurted out, ―It‘s Maria. She went to a quack
I remembered my dream of bloodied children
―Is she fine?‖
―No. They say she has lost her womb.‖
I felt guilty as I had felt when my wife had a
complication while giving birth and died with the
baby. This fuelled the reason why I left the city,
especially because I was receiving a lot of pity, and I
am not a man that loves pity. And I thought coming
to this place would heal me, make me forget my wife,
remove me from pity. Now it seemed the pity had
been transferred to Maria, hers would come in
torrents, a woman without a womb.
―At the hospital.‖
He had brought a motorcycle. I was surprised he
was here, not the other girl Maria had seen him with.
I did not ask him. But it seemed a good sign.
Just few meters away there was another
motorcycle coming. I looked closely and saw that it
was Ike‘s wife, she was carrying her baby, and a stern
faced man was driving her. The motorcycle looked
very modern, unlike the one Obi drove, fit to carry a
newborn child. But I diverted my mind to another
thing, to the thought that she‘d go home and not
find Ike, and this made me a little happy. Ike‘s wife
was waving to me, smiling heartily. I smiled back
and said welcome, thinking about how foolish Ike
had been to think he could make money from my
sister, now that she was no more pregnant it was
Long After Death
got off the bus at New Extension, oblivious to the
teeming faces before me, smoothening my shirt and
moving towards the Patent-Medicine Shop. I was
relieved to see that there was no crowd at the door.
There was a couple with a child and a man with his
back turned to me, staring at a large Tuberculosis
poster on the wall. Muazu smiled in my direction and
continued with the couple. Muazu had always been
my doctor. He runs his shop every morning between
7am and 10am, when he leaves for the hospital where
he actually works.
I sat down to wait my turn. It was then that the
man staring at the poster turned to me, smiling.
It was Sam, with a broad smile.
I stood up smiling, too. ―How far?‖
―How far?‖ he replied. His voice was as usual a deep
resonating baritone, rich in texture and strangely
―You don‘t look sick to me.‖
―Neither do you.‖
One thing you take away from a contact with Sam is
his voice. Even if you don‘t remember anything, you
would remember his voice long afterwards. Like
residual thunder, a gentle quake.
―There is this stubborn rash I want to treat and I…‖
―You mean you came here all the way from Sabon
Gari to treat a rash…‖ he chuckled.
I wonder now why it didn‘t occur to ask why he
came. Then I said, ―I will be coming to the barracks
And suddenly a change came over him. That it
didn‘t strike me as strange then is a wonder to me
now. He leaned against the wall and said ―I am tired.‖
The couple and the child were making their way out
and I was standing up to face Dr Muazu, but Sam was
speaking, his voice tired and sad. ―I won‘t be in
barracks this evening. Can you take a message along,
―Oh yeah,‖ I said ―to Pat?‖
Pat was his wife of eight months. She was pregnant
with their first child.
―Yes,‖ he said bringing out a phone, ―give her this.‖
―Why?‘‘ I asked, immediately regretting my
question after it came out.
―Oh,‖ he said with elaborate casualness ―It‘s
something between us.‖
I was already nodding in agreement and getting
ready to apologise when I caught him looking at me
strangely, fixatedly, and with a fierce concentration.
Then suddenly he looked away, out the door, across
the street and in a quiet voice he said ―It‘s a kind of
code, it has something to do with money.‖
For a moment I thought I saw his face contort to a
grimace, then he shrugged, ―Call it a financial code.‖
Dr Muazu cleared his throat, but I couldn‘t help my
view away from Sam‘s face.
―Tell her,‖ he was making an attempt to smile,
―that we‘ll see when we see. She will understand.‖
Dr Muazu was saying, ―Good morning, I hope …‖
I collected the phone, slipped it in my pocket and
quickly turned to the Doctor.
Assuming Sam was staring over my shoulder,
smiling, I began, ―Sorry sir, good morning, I have this
rash on my lap. I have used the regular anti-allergic,
anti- fungal treatment and …‖
Dr Muazu screwed up his face in a doctorial manner,
wrote and then looked up.
―Where is your friend?‖ he asked.
Sam had gone. I quickly stepped out of the door and
scoured the street to no avail. There was no sign of
I went in feeling his phone bulge in my pocket.
My shirt over my trousers, my bag hanging down
my shoulders, I strode into the Bompai Police Barrack,
walking towards the Senior Officers blocks. When I
arrived at the familiar greying blocks, even before I
noticed the little groups huddled around the balcony,
my heart had taken on a strange beat. I ran up the
steps and looking around asked in a pitch too high,
―Your friend,‖ somebody said after a while in a quiet
voice ―is dead.‖
Only one person could be meant. And that was
impossible. I barged into the room, my heart
thumping, and my knees weak. When Pat saw me she
began wailing in that peculiar way that does
something worse than heartbreak to you. I dropped
my bag and walked on to meet her and sat down
beside her, trying desperately to gather my wits
around me. She kept on weeping, more quietly now
and in the midst of her sobs and wails I caught the
But this could not be true.
I looked around the room and saw Sale, I stood up
and went to him.
―Where, when did you see him, what did he do or
Sale swallowed hard. Then he said, ―One o‘clock this say? And why are you staring me like that...‖
morning.‖ And he was silent.
Jackson began to address Ruth in his annoyingly
I was getting exasperated, ―What! What! When?‖ deliberate drawl ―Oh, he is probably just-‖
I turned to pat, ―I saw him. I saw him in New
Then I stopped and looked, ―What did you say?‖ Extension, around ten o‘clock.‖
But Sale was calmly talking, ―the doctors said it was
Pat nodded and stared at me with grave interest on
her face. I could as well have been telling her about a
tsunami in Asia or an earthquake somewhere. I forced
Sale stared at me. I stared back.
myself to go on.
―One o‘clock early in the morning, at the Teaching
―He said he was very tired and sent a message to
―No,‖ I said, staring at him, ―That is impossible!‖
The room was packed now and deathly silent.
Sale expression didn‘t change, he just stared at me.
―He sent this phone to you.‖
―Do you understand what I am saying?‖ I was
I reached into my pocket and brought out the
almost shouting now and couldn‘t help it, ―that‘s not phone. There was a gasp in the room. Then a roar of
speculation rose which presently subsided.
Then I stopped abruptly and turned to Pat, she was
Pat looked at me, in a husky voice she said, ―We‘ve
staring at me, silent. ―I am sorry, so sorry.‖
been looking for his phone. It went missing between
She nodded. Then I said, ―When?‖
yesterday and this morning. What else did he say?‖
―One O‘clock this morning, at the Teaching
―I … I …‖ but I couldn‘t go on. Everybody
Hospital.‖ She said in a tremulous voice. I walked over understood this, believed it, everybody but me. I felt
to her and knelt before her and tried to look into her dizzy for a moment.
teary eyes. I couldn‘t sustain it.
I stood up and backed from Pat as she clutched the
―Believe me, please. I saw Sam this morning some phone.
minutes to ten...‖Suddenly I had to stop. There was no
Again I began say, ―Do you understand, do you...‖
change of expression on her face.
―What else did he say?‖ Sale asked as if he was
‗‘Do you understand what I am saying? Did asking for the result of an EPL fixture.
you...have you seen his body?‘‘
I saw a smile on Mama Rufkat‘s face, a knowing
She stared at me for a moment and then nodded encouraging smile.
almost imperceptibly. Then quietly she said with her
―It is very important that you remember what he
eyes looking far into space, ‗‘I watched him die...‘‘
I stood up and stared at her in stupefaction and with
She said in her gruff, worn voice, ―Everything he did
a growing sense of fear. The others in the room—Sale, or how he acted. See, this is quite normal, I see you are
Jackson, Daniel, Mama Rufkatu, Ruth—were really disturbed. But this happens all the time here, I
beginning to stare at me in growing sense of concern. don‘t know if it happens where you come from. It just
―I saw Sam this morning, I don‘t see how...‖
shows he loved Pat very much. What else did he say?‖
Ruth spoke now, a weary, quiet impatience in her
And they all leaned forward, with unrestrained and
voice, "Did you, you saw Sam this morning?‖
unconcealed eagerness, their blunt dark faces all fixed
I turned to look at her, astonished at the tone of her on my face. And suddenly out of the astonishment,
unbelief and shock, something dark and nauseous took
―Well, then?‖ she said in the same tone.
shape and began to fill me with an indescribable
I turned and looked at the faces in the room; mixture of rage and fear and disgust.
Jackson, Pat, Sale... they were staring at me with the
I turned and began to get out of the room, and saw
same cold, calm, slightly tolerant stare. I began to feel the look of outraged stupefaction on their faces. At the
I needed to wake up soon.
door, after forcing my way I stopped and turned to
Someone entered the room and stood there staring look at Pat.
at the scene with a look of stupefaction on his face,
―We will see when we see.‖ I said almost in a
which seemed decidedly stupid. Something dark began whisper.
to rise in me.
A Boko Haram Affair
It‘s always a question of trust.
The Word Shop
You approach the door bearing
the legend SDROW when the
gran with wafer-thin glasses
pushes it open, eyes scanning items
on her grocery list to add to
the basket hanging from
her other elbow.
Letters stud cookies in cabinets,
bend with the spirals in candies on
shelves or fisted in the pocket of
little Helon pilfering items
for a spelling bee.
The shop girl in pleated skirt,
careless FCUK hat slouching over her
beaded braids takes inventory of poundwords, carat-words on shelves, in showglasses
with little fluorescent bulbs as this
Yahoo! guy sees the ―Park‘n‘Shop‖ sign
and hums in with his jeep, blows his
good-time girl a kiss as he goes
in search of con words, cum words,
words in a cone like ice
cream with caramel dripping from the edge.
In the morning they find a brick
in the front showglass and
one of the key words stolen.
The Rape of Gideolu*
Swimming in pain
My bulging eyes
roll up and down
at what I see.
Stands a pitiable sight
A mass of bones
by dry flesh
sharp and pointed
of a ferocious tiger
in shape of calabash
punched out by starch
on scraggy legs
a lean waist
What I see
is the dodgy craft
of an economy
wild and gloomy
burst at the sides
What I see
A scary reflection
in economy‘s mirror.
The wells now dry are filled with dust.
Dust, dust, Ah! Dust.
The hag‘s breast, long unsuckled,
hang down, an ungainly sight.
Once they stood, twin hills, firm,
at the dawn of morning.
Her grown sons were first to rape her,
then they fed fat,
off the proceeds of her whoring.
Then they fell out, drunken.
Woe! Dog ate Dog,
for they are no men.
Now blind, she dwells in a windowless hut,
where there is no difference
between dark and night.
Her fence is broken,
and none will care for her,
none to cover her nakedness.
She has long been a reproach to her neighbours
in the Committee of Nations.
* This poem is an excerpt from Miasma, first published in The
Economy of Sound: Saraba‘s Poetry Chapbook.
See advert on page 36
Pictures of Darfur
Uche Peter Umez
so great is the hunger
of bullets that blood
might not quench it …
by searching the clouds on her forehead
you think can tell –
see it locked in her bony arms
lips pinched tight
on her knobbly nipple
green flies buzz on its eyelids
she can‘t even lift a hand
to shield her sickly eight-month-old
and you think
you know the force of her agony?
maybe you can tell –
as tears spike her eyes
her thoughts of
her baby with ancient skin
mouth crooked in hunger
her thoughts of
for jackals and hyenas
slain by boisterous soldiers –
even gauge the depth of sorrow
that scraped her soul?
The portrait of a poet as a psychotherapist
Interview with Niran Okewole
Niran Okewole, psychiatrist,
playwright, and awardwinning poet was
interviewed by Saraba’s
Publishers. He was two-time
winner of the MUSON
Poetry Prize and more
recently, the winner of 2008
International Berlin Poetry
Festival Prize for his poem
First Breath. The following
is the full interview.
Saraba: You seem to be unmarried.
In fact you are a nubile bachelor, what
are your impressions on the family
and its effects on a writer‘s craft.
Niran Okewole: Be careful how you
use a word like nubile [laughs].
Seriously, I think family is a flexible
construct which everyone, writer or
not, has to give personal definition.
For me each time I think of Fitzgerald
I get goose pimples [laughs]. But I‘ll
get round to it someday, I suppose.
Saraba: Do you see yourself
accomplished as a writer?
Niran: Definitely not. I‘ve not even
scratched the surface.
Saraba: How do you take out time
from your busy schedule to write?
Niran: I describe myself as a weekend
writer – weekdays are for medicine,
weekends for literature. Still, I wish I
had more time...[Sighs]
Saraba: At what point of your life did you see writing as a career you
wished to pursue?
Niran: The urge to read and write had always been there, but I
suppose the decisive period was that break after secondary school,
before I entered medical school. I had already won a few prizes and I
liked the picture of Soyinka on the cover of Lion and the Jewel and
Poems of Black Africa [smiles]. That was when I wrote my first play.
Saraba: What are your perceptions especially concerning the ongoing
literary renaissance in Nigeria?
Niran: Two things. First we need to substantiate this notion that
there is a literary renaissance going on. Then we might profer reasons
for it. There was that period in the history of Nigerian writing, the
time of Soyinka and Achebe, when it appeared that Nigeria was
making an emphatic contribution to world literature. Their work was
seen by some as part of postcolonial discourse, the empire writing
back as it were. They were succeeded by several bright writers, too
numerous to mention. Then came the peri-SAP years and beyond,
when the brightest minds in the country either left or their voices
were muted. Of course, there were isolated events – Osundare
winning the commonwealth, Okri winning the Booker, etc. But there
has clearly emerged in the last decade or so a new generation of
literary talents eager to be heard. The emphasis has been on fiction
but virtually every genre is represented.
Saraba: What do you think about the Nigeria Literary Scene in say
10 years from now?
Niran: Some pioneers will have left the scene leaving shoes too large
to fit into. Seriously.
Saraba: We believe that every work is as a result of questions that
bothered the writer. And these works more often than not proffer
answers to the questions? Can you tell us about the questions your
two published books asked?
Niran: The best books may not even profer answers. The goal is
often just exploration. For my collection of poems, the thematic
concerns are so diverse that question can‘t be answered in one breath.
The drama trilogy just tried to provide a slant on two decades of
Saraba: Your favourite writers or is it books?
Niran: Poets like Derek Walcott and Pablo Neruda, playwrights like
Soyinka and Arthur Miller, novelists like Umberto Eco and Gabriel
Saraba: Can you describe the events that precede your creative
Niran: One event. Reading. I read till my fingers start to itch.
Saraba: Reading through your works, Heineken showed up more
than once, what is its relationship to your creative process?
Niran: My favourite beer [chuckles]. Beat Guinness to second place
when I started taking Champions League seriously. I think one of the
most creative moods is when you are having a quiet beer.
Saraba: On Logarhythms, how long did it take to compile those
Niran: Most of the poems were written during my service year. A
few were carry overs from four years in clinical school.
Saraba: Who is your ideal reader?
Niran: I don‘t even know there is such a thing. Is there an ideal
Saraba: In your poem, Stream, you alluded to
ideas held by Physicians, Philosophers and great
men of Letters. Do you often see your poetry, nay
your works, as a tool to espouse some of their
Niran: Poetry is a good opportunity to just play
with ideas, like a child‘s Lego set. I suppose it is a
form of play therapy, very good for the psyche of
the writer and the reader.
Saraba: How has medicine influenced your
Niran: Thematic concerns, characters and
Saraba: Do you ever see yourself towing the line
of fellow doctor writers like A. J. Cronin and Sir
Arthur Doyle, leaving medicine for full-time
Niran: You know, the other day I ran into
Chimamanda and I told her I was considering
doing something drastic. She said something like,
you mean leave medicine for writing. Of course if
one would leave anything, it would be medicine
for literature. But I am in this field that I love,
psychiatry, where there is in fact a creative link
with my writing. I have tremendous respect for
people like Miroslav Holub, William Carlos
Williams, Lenrie Peters and Femi Oyebode.
Saraba: You are also a playwright, in fact a
published one, do you think in the ongoing
renaissance, new insights on the theatre are
neglected, what are your impressions?
Niran: Drama is for now the most neglected
genre. You have a few names, some of whom tend
to mistake their lack of challenge for quality.
Perhaps it is because drama is the most materially
demanding of all. You haven‘t really done
anything until the play is on stage. But I like the
work of people like Kunle Okesipe. Maybe it is
just virgin territory, to be conquered with time.
Saraba: We read that you are more comfortable with poetry than the
other genres. Do you have your reasons?
Niran: I suspect genres tend to go with temperament. Fiction can be
absorbing and I would love to do that, but for me poetry has always
come with more spontaneity. Drama is something I stumbled on.
Saraba: Your sequence of plays, The Watchman Trilogy, was highly
satirical and polemic and there is a lot of reference to Nigeria‘s
history. Do you think you introduced new perspectives to the
problems that plague Nigeria with your plays?
Niran: I tried to do that, yes. Whether I succeeded or not is for
others to decide.
Saraba: We believe that plays should be staged more often than read.
How much stage publicity have your plays garnered? And what are
your plans towards staging them?
Niran: So far, none. A couple of plans ran into road blocks. Right
now I am just weighing my options, giving it time.
Saraba: Are you working on anything creative at the moment?
Niran: A few poems, stories, stuff like that.
Saraba: Poetry seems to be a very unpopular art. Yet there are no
doubts that it is as important as the art of fiction or any other art. Do
you think this is sort of an injustice on poetry? How can it be
redeemed, if it is?
Niran: On the contrary, I think poetry is quite popular. What is rare
is good poetry. Fiction is the gateway to celebrity status but poetry
still has its place of respect among those who take literature seriously.
Saraba: Amongst your contemporaries, whom do you find refreshing?
Niran: [Smiles] I have been and still am very critical of Chimamanda‘s
work – I hope she finds it in her heart to forgive some cruel things I
have said to her – but she is a real pacesetter. Tolu Ogunlesi works
very hard, and Uche Peter Umez is really taking his time to master
the craft of fiction. Kunle Okesipe writes good drama.
Saraba: A friend once said, a novel equals ten
collections of poetry in terms of publicity. Hence
to be seen as an accomplished poet, one needs to
have published at least ten collections, what are
your thoughts about this notion.
Niran: We touched on this earlier. This is true,
has been for a long time. People remember Boris
Pasternak for Doctor Zhivago – in fact he
probably got the Nobel on the strength of that
one novel – and yet he was regarded as one of the
best three poets in Russia at a time, together with
Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetsaeva. You
have people like Michael Ondaatje and Margaret
Atwood who have written fabulous poetry but are
better known as novelists. How many people can
reach the status of a Seamus Heaney or a Paul
Muldoon? It takes, like you said, propably ten
collections to one novel.
Saraba: As an award-winning poet, what do you
think is the role of awards to the craft of a writer?
Niran: Awards tell people that they can take you
seriously, that out of a truckload of books yours is
worth reading. Kind of a short cut to the canon.
But awards are so subjective and politicised that
any serious writer would be careful with them.
Saraba: What is your advice for young upcoming
Niran: I can‘t do that. I am young and upcoming
The E.C. Osondu Interview
With Temitayo Olofinlua On Bookhalolic Blog, June 2009
E.C. Osondu was the winner of the 2009 Caine Prize for African
Writing having been shortlisted earlier in 2007. He won the prize for
his story Waiting.
(Question in Red, answers in black)
Three adjectives that best describe you
This is little hard for me. The question, I mean, puts
you in a hard place. I have a tendency to ramble but
I also adore precision I don‘t know if that makes me
quirky. I like contrariness, sometimes for the sheer
heck of it.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to play a musical instrument. I have this
fantasy in which I walk up to the stage and casually
take the saxophone from say Fela or Miles, cut to this
reaction shot of the audience sneeringly wondering
what this upstart could possibly be up to and then I
begin to play and they start to applaud.
Why did you write ‗Jimmy Carter‘s Eyes?‘
The story was written in response to the phrase-The
road to hell is paved with good intentions, good
intentions here referring to the sometimes misguided
dogoodism- for lack of a better phrase- of Western
charities and of course the universality of such human
impulses as greed and selfishness.
What is the last thing you read that made you laugh?
A couple of aphorisms make me chuckle each time
they come to mind:
A man shouldn‘t be angry with the sun because it
failed to light his cigar
Anyone who insists on calling a spade, a spade should
be made to use one.
There is only good writing and bad writing, there is no
such thing as Christian writing, after all, there is no
Christian way to boil an egg.
Who is your perfect audience?
A well read audience.
What is the worth of a book?
I am sure you mean a good book – priceless of
When is the best time for you to write?
Any time is a good time. I e-mail my work in
progress to myself so I can access it at any time
Name your five favourite books and why?
This is like asking me to step into the same river
twice-impossible. I fall in and out of love with
books all the time. There are a few writers that I
return to often and again: James Baldwin‘s
collected essays for their candence, humor and
Old testament- like rhythm. Ben Okri‘s short
stories for their magic, musicality and almost
perfect exquisite charm. Jose Saramago‘s Blindness
for its parabolic and fabular wisdom. Cormac
McCarthy‘s The Road for its pessimistic optimism
and its cautionary tale quality.
And of course VS Naipaul‘s essays for his
unflinching and unafraid gaze.
What is your most treasured possession?
Ah I‘m not gonna reveal that one o, make dem no
About nominations and awards
They are good insofar and they make you realize that
the world is paying attention. But the work is the
What is your advice to young writers?
Keep reading and keep writing. Easy, right?
What books are currently on your bedside table?
Books are scattered everywhere in my house including
a bunch piled around the commode. Here are a few in
no order-The Yacoubian Building, The Price of the Ticket,
Fugitive Pieces, The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary
African Writing and The Braindead Megaphone by
Best decision in writing career
Going to Syracuse University for graduate studies in
Leaving meaningful marks on the blank page.
Your first words when you made the Caine shortlist...
Actually, a friend heard the news first and
congratulated me on my wall on Facebook, so I was
like O‘l boy you sure abi is this a hoax? I was excited of
What would a story about your life be called?
Look and laff to paraphrase Fela that inimitable wit and
chronicler of the Blackman‘s condition.
What is your greatest fear?
I wake up one day and discover inspiration has fled
never to return
If you could make a wish right now, what would it be?
To close my eyes and by the time I open them
I‘m in Nigeria. To suddenly have the ability to
speak the foreign language of any person I meet,
now that‘ll be so cool.
What is the first piece you wrote and when?
I started out as a poet and you don‘t even want to
see my early pieces, quite frankly they were
cringe-worthy and just talking about them now
fills me with fear and loathing.
Education or experience: which is more important to a
Get some educative experience but also
experience some education.
How will you introduce your child to reading?
Read that which interests you and when s/he
develops a love for reading, they‘ll read
How do you overcome writer‘s block?
I wish I knew how. I think the same way you
overcome a hangover-biting the hair of the dog
that bit you. Simply attack the page even if you
end up writing crap it makes way for all that
good stuff to come later.
How do you relax?
This question presupposes that I work a lot and
that I need to create a special time to relax which
is not the case. I relax so much that I think the
question should be when do you find time from
your life of relaxation to do some work?
What is your philosophy of life?
To be a good man, and a good writer. By the way
I borrowed that from Hemingway. S
The Audacity of Pain:
A Review of I Am Memory
Author: Jumoke Verissimo
ISBN No: 978-978-088-065-1
ersonally, I don‘t like reviews. I find them
highly opinionated, utterly sentimental and
directly related to book sales. But often I ask
myself if sentiments can be distilled completely from
a work of art. Can sentiment, the gnawing emotion
that wills pen to paper and occasions the resultant
work, be separated from Arts? Absolutely not. So we
can safely conclude that Sentiment is the artery
through which Arts in itself is fed and one is tempted
to end it there.
In the fashion of American writer, Richard
Matheson‘s novel recently made into movie, I Am
Legend, Ms. Verissimo substantiates her claim to her
chosen genre with her first collection of poems, I Am
Memory. Erstwhile Jumoke Verissimo has been heard
and read both as a performance poet and in literary
journals respectively and I must say, her collection
was anticipated and timely.
I noticed the book featured about thirteen poems,
divided into four memory lanes after I got passed the
rather lengthy acknowledgments. Then I launched
into the first of her offerings which perhaps is her
most outstanding poem, Sequence (of desire).
This love poem is nothing like the Shakespearian
sonnets, or Robert Frost‘s verses, its much bolder,
penned specifically for performance. The lyricism is
quite remarkable and works in tandem with the
eloquent string of emotions that builds into a robust
narrative on one of the most unifying themes in the
universe. Recently I was privileged to watch a
performance and I was struck with awe.
As a poet, Ms Verissimo is versatile as well as
judicious in her use of literary mechanics to furnish
poems with a fluid progression. Like the Free Verse
poet she is, her style borders more on internal rhythm
than rhyme and stanzas, often uneven, do not mince
or maneuver words, rather it hits the proverbial nail
on the head. Generously, she coins words with pun
intended. Words such as Shell-ers, aba-shed are used to
further buttress and delineate her emotions, setting
them as roots and templates for revisiting issues that
bulked most of her themes. Truly, an African poet
can‘t be without activism.
I Am Memory revisits past issues swept under the
carpet of history, gnaw at old scars and initiate new
tears, and perspective, to the several woes that have
betide the Nigerian state. So often, the poet assumes
an angry tone and one could envision the pains the
poet had undergone to sift such inflammatory
emotions into verse. Her poems tackled themes like
tyranny and dictatorship, hunger and famine,
unsolved murders of politicians, unjust killings,
leaving out only HIV/AIDS to have become a
complete personal reproach on African sensibilities.
Ms Verissimo has penned a book of nostalgic history.
She has collected poems that truly reflect the
reactions of a bona fide Nigerian to the turbulence
and tribulation the nation has suffered almost
endlessly. This collection is a bold stance of pain and
other emotions, filtering through the pores of gross
indifference and achieving a communal cry of
With I Am Memory, Ms Verissimo asserts and secures
herself a seat on the table of the new Nigerian
contemporary poets, the likes of Ifowodo Ogaga,
Chiedu Ezeanah, Lola Shoneyin, Afam Akeh, Tade
Ipadeola, Niran Okewole etc. No doubt she would be
heard from for a while.
The Ethnic Theory
of Plane Crashes:
A Review of Outliers
Outliers: The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
―A good chunk of this book is about making
generalizations about culture. And we don't like to do
that. And what I'd argue is...it's ok to do that are if you
have a purpose in mind.‖ ―Malcolm Gladwell on All
Things Considered, NPR, Nov. 18, 2008
―Q: What's the most surprising pattern you uncovered in
A: It's probably the chapter nearly the end of Outliers
where I talk about planecrashes.‖―Malcolm Gladwell
t is said that a painting is distorted in the act of
viewing. This enigma goes to the heart of
Heisenberg‘s Uncertainty Principle, a cardinal
law in the esoteric fields of Quantum Mechanics. It
has also held a lure for the transcendental musings
of philosophers from ancient times, and in recent
times, it forms the basis for Karl Popper‘s theory of
I have not had too much schooling, and I am more
interested in practical matters, like money. I read
somewhere that George Soros [who is one of the
richest men in the world and perhaps, the greatest
technical investor (as contrasted with Warren
Buffet, the greatest fundamental investor, and also
one of the world‘s richest)] based his investment
strategy on the theory of Reflexivity.
The truth is, Charles Soludo was right to claim that
Nigeria would be insulated from the shocks of the
Global Financial meltdown. The crash of the
Nigerian Stock Exchange was due to my
experiments with Reflexivity. I apologize to all good
people who lost money. I have gone into all these, to
serve as a caveat: I neither have a handle on the
subject of Reflexivity, nor have I resolved the agelong mystery of why Mona Lisa isn‘t a particularly
Nevertheless, I believe that all Matter (dense things,
like the human brain) that are transparent and that
serve as optical instruments (like the human eye)
have overcome the opaqueness that is characteristic
of matter, by concealing their density. However,
they will no longer be Matter, if their density is
totally hidden. There is a point where all the hidden
density is stored, and that is the blind-spot. If you
have not understood the preceding, there is no way
to mitigate the egregious blunders of judgement in
Malcolm Gladwell‘s latest book.
One can safely conclude that both the author, the
writers of the book‘s glowing reviews, and many of
the readers who purchased and made the book a
bestseller are native speakers of the English
language. Having never witnessed an educated
Yoruba man and a fluent speaker of the English
language unconsciously attempt to prostrate while
receiving a phone call from his father, it is easy for
them to gloss over Gladwell‘s suggestion that the
sometimes insidious hold on an individual‘s mind by
their culture can be broken by training the person in
English and forbidding the use of ―vernacular.‖ A
blind-spot is present at the point of not having
learnt English as a second language and coming
from a non-Western culture.
Gladwell posits that the rash of plane crashes that
plagued Korean Airlines between 1988 and 1998
was because Korean Culture inculcates politeness
and deference to authority, to a point where
individuals can not express themselves freely or
exercise their initiative when working with others,
who are ostensibly higher than them on the social
hierarchy, on a task to which teamwork is crucial.
However, to suggest that the turnaround in Korean
Airlines came about because Korean Airlines
adopted English as the Standard Operations
language, and not because the Koreans identified
the moribund parts of their own culture and worked
hard to mortify the parts of their make-up that
would not have been amenable to change is the
most harebrained suggestion to come out of that
head of unkempt hair (may be he thinks it makes
him look like Einstein).
In the turnaround of Korean Airlines, the American
expatriate, Greenberg, who was brought in to take
over the helm of affairs in the airline‘s restructuring
comes across as the hero who singlehandedly saves
the day (by teaching the Koreans to speak English).
But the whole of the first part of the book is
dedicated to proving that such heroes do not exist
and are a myth perpetuated by the Western cultural
legacy of the Heroic Ideal?
Furthermore, to illustrate his point, Gladwell offers
a couple of case studies drawn from real life. He
provides some of the exchange between the pilots of
the 1982 Air Florida crash in Washington DC. He
also provides another case study from KAL 801. His
aim: ―I'm not trying to make a generalization about
all things Asian, or all things Western, or all things
Black. I'm trying to answer a very, very narrow
question, and in the case of the chapter I have on
Koreans I'm trying to answer what is it about
Korean culture that creates a problem in the cockpit
of an airplane. Right? If you can ask your question
as specifically as that, then I think you're fine.‖
A cursory look at both dialogues provided in the
book is sufficient to reveal that both the American
co-pilot and the Korean co-pilot behaved exactly the
same way: they hinted to their captains until they
were convinced of the inevitability of their planes
crashing, and only then do they lose some of the
deference and upgrade to Crew Obligations.
Irrespective of the racial profiles imputed by
Gladwell, the co-pilots behaved in like professionals
operating with incomplete information, which is
completely at odds with Gladwell‘s arguement.
The editors of the book, and indeed the Publishing
House, for patently mercenary reasons did a sloppy
job. Outliers does not only continue in the
Gladwellian tradition of unearthing obscure research
and combining it with mainstream theories to
connect disparate pieces of information, in order to
support his restating of the blindingly obvious, but
goes a step further to provide contradictory evidence
in the support of his theories.
Gladwell is celebrated by the reading public for
articulating what is already known because,
according to J. K. Galbraith, ―It serves the ego: the
individual has the satisfaction of knowing that other
and more famous people share his conclusions. To
hear what he believes is also a source of reassurance.
The individual knows that he is supported in his
thoughts―that he has not been left behind and
alone. Further, to hear what one approves serves the
evangelizing instinct. It means that others are also
hearing and are thereby in process of being
Outliers is an interesting book, richer for its
Under The Brown
Rusted Roofs: A Review
Under The Brown Rusted Roofs
By Abimbola Adunni Adelakun
Kraft Books Limited 2008
bimbola Adelakun burst into the Nigerian
literary scene early 2008 with a little known
book that was slowly gathering a lot of fans,
creating a lot of excitement and finally finding
validation after being shortlisted for two prestigious
literary prizes in 2008 - the Nigerian Prize for
Literature (sponsored by the LNG) and the
Association of Nigerian Authors/Jacaranda Prize.
Adelakun, a graduate of Communications and
Language Arts from the University of Ibadan, has
said in some interviews that she was inspired to write
the novel as a personal challenge to move away from
the proliferation of the city/urban novel that seems to
be very popular with contemporary Nigerian
novelists and focus more on the traditional lifestyle of
the Ibadan people in a contemporary era.
One thing I have to say after reading this wonderful
novel, is that it is a marvelous achievement on many
levels. The author told a complex story of family and
community and was able to sustain her narrative with
unforgettable graphic imagery, language and
elements of factual events in our checkered history.
Under The Brown Rusted Roofs tells the story of the
polygamous household of Chief Arigbabuwo and the
surrounding agbooles (which I believe are the family
compounds and close clan units); it tells us about the
politics of such a rowdy family; the petty jealousies,
the fights, the gossips and the naked ambition of
many of the family members; it tells us also about the
tradition of the people, their language that is steeped
in many hilarious proverbs as well as the graphic
nature of their everyday vernacular. It is a story about
family and an evolving society. Above all, though,
Rusted Roofs could be treated as a seminal work in
both Yoruba/Ibadan culture and women's writing in
Nigeria. Adelakun's literal translation of Ibadan
dialect, positions her as a kind of folklorist as she
strove to represent speech patterns of the Ibadan
Yoruba through an ethnographic and holistic
approach. One book that readily comes to mind for
its similar approach is the 1937 Zora Neale Hurston
classic, Their Eye's Were Watching God. And like the
contemporary Indian writers (Roy, Desai, Adiga etc),
Adelakun was successful in capturing the essence of
her provincial setting with characters that we cared
The book has some minor flaws unfortunately, most
of which are the publisher's fault more than anything.
The first obvious thing is the bad typesetting at the
beginning of the book. There were some
typographical errors as well as repetitions, and some
words and phrases were overused; a good editor and
copy-editor would have noticed and advised the
author to change or work on these. Also, for such a
wonderful novel, the publisher should have done
better with the overall packaging... this novel is really
that good and yet they could not invest in a better
production. It is sad to see this and it says a lot about
the 'traditional' publishers in Nigeria and why novels
published in Nigeria are not winning major
international prizes like novels from India or, looking
closer to home, novels from our South African peers.
What Adelakun has shown with this debut novel, is
that pure, raw talents abounds in Nigeria. She is a
truly gifted storyteller and I for one cannot wait for
her next novel.
The Writer as Wiayor
Ayo reviews the enduring backdrop of Ken Saro-Wiwa‘s writing
―The Wiayors are ordinary members of the society who when
a spirit descends on them, acquire unusual powers of
clairvoyance that make people accept their judgement and
views. When the spirit deserts him, a Wiayor has to return
to society and live up to its laws and mores, but he also has
to accept the conditions under which his special powers were
given. A Wiayor loses his power if he betrays the vision he
was sent to tell. A writer is a Wiayor, forced to live in the
society but yet apart from it: critical of society and himself
being critically watched by the society.‖
(Ken Saro Wiwa, in a lecture delivered to ANA in 1993:
In the shadow of a Saint.)
here has been much debate over the person
the writer should be. Why many fancy the
writer as a superb romanticist writing about
flowers and their petals, others have contrary
opinions. Many see the writer as being continually
locked up in the contemplation of the beauty of the
forms of life and existence.
It would take a close reading of Ken Saro Wiwa‘s last
work and prison memoirs, A Month and A Day, the
recordings of his eventual execution alongside other
nine Ogoni leaders, Tom Mbeke-Ekanem‘s Beyond
The Execution and his son‘s personal memoirs, Ken
Wiwa‘s In The Shadow Of A Saint to locate the person
of a writer for the beleaguered Nigerian society and
the continent of Africa and indeed the continents
across the globe. A writer‘s personality is enmeshed
in the vicissitudes of that society and cannot be
Ken Saro Wiwa, one of Nigeria‘s literary best is
much known for his pursuit of the cause of the
Ogoni, his people for whom he accused the Nigerian
government of genocide alongside the peoples of the
Delta from whom he claimed the same government
drew barrels of oil in commercial quantity and gqve
nothing in return, leaving them to die away under oil
spillage and gas flaring and other environmental
damage. Before coming to play the role of the
President of the Movement for the Survival of the
Ogoni People (MOSOP) for whose cause he was
eventually executed, he had ventured into literary
enterprise with many works to his credit.
To him, literature in a critical terrain such as Nigeria
cannot be divorced from politics. Literature must
serve society by steeping itself in politics, by
intervention, and writers must not merely take a
bemused look at society. They must play an
interventionist role. While submitting further on the
writer in the African experience, he explained:
My experience has been that Africa government can ignore
writers, taking comfort in the fact that only few can write
and read, and that those who read find little time for the
luxury of literary consumption beyond the need to pass
examinations based on set texts. Therefore, the writer must
be a l‘homme engage: the intellectual man of action.
Traditional literature in Africa is oral and it is the
hybrid of the common consciousness of the people –
their dreams, hopes, travails, victories, defeats,
struggles: the past, the present and the future. The
litterateur in Africa engages society and as a
custodian of society‘s tradition and history taking
society on the reflection of the past and the
contemplation of the future.
The coming of written literature in Africa has not
been a departure as the peoples of Africa writers like
Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Mongo Beti and
Ferdinand Oyono reaffirm the pride of Black
Consciousness. As the post-colonisation regimes of
Africa collapsed into corruption writers like Ayi Kwei
Armah and Festus Iyayi emerged. With the rise of
military regimes and dictators, writings critical of
their nature equally arose. Thus, African literature
has not been detached from the political vicissitudes
of the peoples of Africa. Ken Saro Wiwa, who fell to
the second generation of African writers demanding
for justice from crassly opportunistic African military
mis-rulers, equally reflects this about the writer:
He must take part in mass organizations. He must establish
direct contact with the people and resort to the strength of
African literature –oratory in the tongue. For the word is
power and more powerful is it when expressed in common
currency. That is why a writer who takes part in mass
organizations will deliver his message more effectively than
one who writes waiting for time to work its literary
His writings, either journalistic or literary, therefore
engaged the Nigerian society. His poetry portrayed
the pangs of his heart for the people, his prose poured
out the perspectives for the future and his plays
deepened the portrayal of the rot and the materialist
philosophy engulfing the Nigerian society. For this,
he declared that:
…the writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a
mere teacher; he cannot merely x-ray society‘s weaknesses, its
ills or perils .He or she must be actively involved in shaping
its present and its future.‘‘
To further deepen his conviction that the writer can
only carve its niche in the social struggles of the
people, he argued further that:
This is probably the reason why the best Nigerian writers
have involved themselves in ‗politics.‘ Wole Soyinka,
Nigeria‘s Nobel Laurete is an outstanding example. Even
the normally placid and wise Chinua Achebe was forced
within one of the political parties to buttress his call on the
Nigerians to ‗proselytize for civilized values.‘ Chris Okigbo
died fighting on the side of the Biafran secessionists. And
Festus Iyayi gas been involved in labour unions…in a
situation that is as critical as Nigeria‘s, it is idle merely to
sit by and watch or record goons and bumpkins run the
nation aground and dehumanize the people.‖
For the press he equally has a message as they also
write in portrayal of the society:
I also appeal to the Nigerian press to continue to stand
courageously for a democratic Nigeria according to all the
wishes of all Nigerians, to crusade for social justice and for
the rights and liberties of the oppressed masses, oppressed
ethnic groups and the disadvantaged in our country. Else
the curtains will fall.
And for this cause, he truly gave himself organizing
and mobilizing the people of the Ogoni to demand
for political autonomy under Nigeria and reach the
heights of their destiny which their oppressors do not
want them to reach. It was not long before desperate
men conspired to get rid of him for he stood in their
way of fraud. Hear him:
…the men who ordain and supervise this show of shame,
this tragic charade, are frightened by the word, the power of
ideas, the power of the pen; by the demands of social justice
and the rights of man nor do they have as sense of history
.They are so scared of the power of the word, that they do
not read. And that is their funeral. With further neoliberal attacks on the oppressed masses, the writer cannot but
take side with the people as organizer, mobiliser and
agitator as they seize their fate and overturn the present
ruling class and take what is theirs as theirs. S
The Economy of Sound
With an introduction by TADE IPADEOLA
…in the economy of sound, music is found in scribbles…
Arthur Chigbo Anyaduba
―That poetry reinvents itself, that it finds a home in every succeeding generation of humanity,
that it endures - is a function of a deep, and spare, economy.
In the current edition of Saraba, I find this to be true.‖
From the Introduction by Tade Ipadeola
Download the Chapbook free! at www.sarabamag.com
Click on ‗Chapbook‘ to download and see submission guidelines for our forthcoming fiction chapbook to
be published in November 2009.
Eghosa Imaseun reading from his book, To Saint Patrick
Eghosa Imaseun tells us why he wrote To Saint Patrick and what he set out to achieve.
‘ve tried many times to put on paper my reasons
for writing To Saint Patrick. What could I explain
in 2000 words—the energy expended in writing
the book itself? Kai!
So what did I write? I wrote a genre novel.
Something even I thought odd: an Alternate History.
Of Nigeria. Alternate history is a subgenre of the
science fiction and fantasy genre. When I first
pitched the idea to publishers in Nigeria, I wasn‘t
laughed at. No. What I got were those looks of,
―Eiyah, this one don crase o. Naija no dey carry last!‖
And then they would ask me what my ‗alternate
history‘ would be about? I usually replied this ‗polite‘
inquiry with the questions of my own: ―What if
Murtala didn‘t die in ‗76? What if Dimka missed?‖
Because that is what alternate history does. It asks
questions. It creates an opening for those half-chances
and what-might-have-beens of history to be put
I have always been a ‗fan‘ of alternate history. From
Philip K. Dick‘s The Man in the High Castle to Harry
Turtledove‘s Great War series, and then the greatest
of them all, Richard Harris‘ Fatherland. But while I
enjoyed all these books and the questions they
What if Alexander the Great had turned back
from India an afternoon earlier? Would the
mosquito that bit him have taken his life? Would
a farming tribe of Latins from the Italian
peninsula have been given a chance to rise to
world-conquering status?What if the Leif
Ericsson‘s colony in Newfoundland had survived?
What would be Cristoforo Colombo‘s claim to
fame? What language would be spoken in North
What if Tesla had been less of a misanthrope?
Would Thomas Edison have gotten away with his
bullying? Wouldn‘t we now be travelling to the
moon via electronic teleporting, a la Star Trek?
What if the Nazi‘s had won World War two?
—there was something I always wondered about.
And that was about my people—Blacks, Africans,
Nigerians—and their place in this universe of the
The logical conclusion was that I would start asking
What if Queen Victoria had changed her foreign
minister before invading Benin, Koko and Opobo?
What if, kpa-kpa, she had died of the childhood
measles before she even heard the words Slave
Coast or Gold Coast? Would she have become the
famous carrier of the bleeding gene? What if
Anthony Enahoro had gotten a toothache—or
worse, a sore throat—in ‗56 just before he was
due to move that famous motion?What if Awo
had called the Sardauna‘s bluff about the North
not being ready for independence? Or, to go back a
few decades, what if Lugard had broken up with
Miss Shaw before she came up with idea for that
name, or the anthem, or the amalgamation even
There were so many more questions that boiled in my
mind. But what is noteworthy about these thought
experiments—as I like to call them—is that I have had
them all my life. As far back as I can remember I
have always been intrigued by how easily history
could have been turned by the proverbial missing
horseshoe nail. How something as simple as Major
Nzeogwu coming down with a bout of acute
diarrhoea on the evening of the 14th might have
forever changed this country‘s history. Would the
Nigerian Civil War have been fought over the
seceding Ibos? There probably would have still been
a civil war, I think, but maybe in Tivland. Maybe the
Tiv crises of late ‗64 would have escalated into a fullblown war had its main protagonists been
encouraged by the distraction caused by the Western
Region House of Assembly . . .
But wetin concern agbero with overload? I am a
medical doctor. Up till early 2005 all I had written,
apart from a few laughable attempts at comics and a
three-page outer space/time machine story in primary
school, were essays describing in excruciating detail
the inner workings of the human body and, after
getting my degree in ‗99, case notes detailing in
boringly excruciating detail the humdrum lives of
patients. I had tried travelling overseas, to the US
and the UK, and had been bounced twice. I was
waiting for my primaries—nasty exams that decide
which doctor gets to become a specialist and which
ends up prescribing anti-malarials for the rest of his
life—when one day I got into a heated argument
with my mother over stagnated potential and Godgiven gifts. She waved a magazine page in my face. It
featured this attractive Ibo chick who had just
written a novel about royalty-coloured horticulture,
or so I thought at the time. My mother said, ―See
this. Is she not your mate? Did she not study
medicine too? Why can‘t you do something like this?
You‘re always so quiet. Do you want to be dividing
chloroquine and chloramphenicol for the rest of your
life?‖ This is the way my mom argues, twenty
questions punctuated by a statement or two. Still, her
questions got me thinking. So I travelled to Lagos
and bought the book.
I was pleasantly shocked.
It was not about hibiscuses at all. It was a breath of
fresh air. It seemed that the writer spoke with my
voice, with my pain, with my joy. And it didn‘t
apologise for any of this. It removed the apprehension
with which I read most of my country‘s fiction. I had
studied Literature in secondary school and had always
been depressed about how most Nigerian novels
post-Things Fall Apart read like clones of their far
Inspired, I said to myself, I can do this. How hard
can it be? I sabi write na (I now regret that initial
optimism—writing is hell, lonely hell). I already had
an idea for my first novel: for many months it had
lain fallow, bubbling beneath my consciousness, lifted
from deep down during those hypnagogic moments
before deep sleep, but forgotten during my waking
hours. And it was simply this: What if Murtala
Mohammed didn‘t die?
My mom was in her fifth month of confinement—I
was the chap in her womb—when General Murtala
Mohammed was shot dead at Onikan on his way to
work. Two of my earliest memories are of my mother
changing the calendar from 1978 to 1979 and my
father explaining to me who the guy on the pink
twenty naira note was—this was before the Buhari–
Idiagbon regime changed the colour to green.
There was always this thing. Everybody felt it. What
if the guy had gotten more than six months? But as I
got older, I began to hear more things. This ‗saviour‘
was a more complex character; there was nothing
black and white about him. Some people thought
him a bloodthirsty villain. My own grandfather, an
Itsekiri police officer who had been accused of being a
Biafra collaborator during the invasion of the
Midwest, spoke of how he had barely escaped the
clutches of Murtala‘s murderous 2nd Division. Then I
began to hear whispers of what he, Murtala, did
during the ‘66 countercoup. I heard about the Lagos
and Kano airport incidents. I heard about the
temper. Yet even granddad, who couldn‘t stand the
man, would grudgingly admit that he had done some
good during those final six months. So if I was going
to pick a ‗point of divergence‘ for my great alternate
history novel, a point in history where a simple
change could have had a good—or probably just an
interesting—effect, what about this?
If Murtala had been head of state would the infamous
‗two-thirds of nineteen‘—Nigeria‘s arithmetic
gymnastics that settled the ‗79 elections—have stood
a chance? Or would a runoff between Awolowo and
Shagari have featured a re-aligning of allegiances and
promises? Imagine if Zik‘s NPP, Waziri‘s GNPP and
Amino Kano‘s PRP had formed a coalition? Shagari
would probably have lost the run-off. The country
might have had a great chance to teach its people that
presidential elections in which more than three
parties stood are scarcely won on the first ballot;
Nigerians would have learned to be more discerning
when reading magical winner-take-all election
But Murtala died.
What about the anti-corruption war? If Murtala had
handed the reins over to Awolowo in October 1979,
how do you think this fight would have gone? Would
we have heard of Dikko and Co? Probably. They
might have become a vibrant opposition instead of the
brazen kleptocrats that history has condemned them
to continually deny that they are.
But he died.
And then imagine the thirty-six states of the
Nigerian federation. Would we have had as many?
Would Enahoro‘s dream of a regional structure
composed of no more than 6 elements have come into
being? Six regions, forty-one provinces—the cost of
government would have been dramatically reduced.
No salaries for thirty-six governors; no allowances for
thirty-six times x first ladies (no blame me o, some of
them are polygamous!); no salaries of thirty-six times
twenty commissioners; for thirty-six times twenty-six
House of Assembly members; for thirty-six times
And most important of all: would he have had a
chance to apologise to Nigerians for the excesses of
the sixties, for the tears, the massacres in Asaba?
Would he have wanted to?
But he died.
To Saint Patrick is my attempt to construct a Nigeria
of our dreams from the ‗what-ifs‘ and ‗what-mighthave-beens‘ of this country‘s recent history. It is
fiction, it is alternate history; but beyond that, I hope
I have succeeded in writing a lovely, readable story
that touches anyone who reads it. That is my
definition of what a writer must set out to do.
And it is also my emphatic answer to the accusation
of stagnated potential.
Several excerpts from Principles of a Story by Raymond Carver
It‘s akin to style, what I‘m talking
about, but it isn‘t style alone. It is the
writer‘s particular and unmistakable
signature on everything he writes. It
is his world and no other. This is one
of the things that distinguishes one
writer from another. Not talent.
There‘s plenty of that around. But a
writer who has some special way of
looking at things and who gives
artistic expression to that way of
looking: that writer may be around
for a time.
Ambition and a little luck are good
things for a writer to have going for
him. Too much ambition and bad
luck, or no luck at all, can be killing.
There has to be talent.
Every great or even every very good
writer makes the world over
according to his own specifications.
I hate tricks. At the first sign of a
trick or a gimmick in a piece of
fiction, a cheap trick or even an
elaborate trick, I tend to look for
cover. Tricks are ultimately boring,
Too often ―experimentation‖ is a
licence to be careless, silly or
imitative in the writing.
It should be noted that real
experiment in fiction is original,
hard-earned and cause for rejoicing.
But someone else‘s way of looking at
things—Barthelme‘s, for instance—
should not be chased after by other
writers. It won‘t work. There is only
one Barthelme, and for another
writer to try to appropriate
Barthelme‘s peculiar sensibility or
mise en scène under the rubric of
innovation is for that writer to mess
around with chaos and disaster and,
worse, self-deception. The real
experimenters have to ―make it new,‖
as Pound urged, and in the process
have to find things out for
themselves. But if writers haven‘t
taken leave of their senses, they also
want to stay in touch with us, they
want to carry news from their world
It‘s possible, in a poem or a short
story, to write about commonplace
things and objects using
commonplace but precise language,
and to endow those things—a chair,
a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a
woman‘s earring—with immense,
even startling power. It is possible to
write a line of seemingly innocuous
dialogue and have it send a chill
along the reader‘s spine—the source
of artistic delight, as Nabokov would
have it. That‘s the kind of writing
that most interests me.
That‘s all we have, finally, the words,
and they had better be the right ones,
with the punctuation in the right
places so that they can best say what
they are meant to say. If the words
are heavy with the writer‘s own
unbridled emotions, or if they are
imprecise and inaccurate for some
other reason—if the words are in any
way blurred—the reader‘s eyes will
slide right over them and nothing
will be achieved.
But if the writing can‘t be made as
good as it is within us to make it,
then why do it? In the end, the
satisfaction of having done our best,
and the proof of that labour, is the
one thing we can take into the grave.
There has to be tension, a sense that
something is imminent, that certain
things are in relentless motion, or
else, most often, there simply won‘t
be a story. What creates tension in a
piece of fiction is partly the way the
concrete words are linked together to
make up the visible action of the
story. But it‘s also the things that are
left out, that are implied, the
landscape just under the smooth (but
sometimes broken and unsettled)
surface of things.
VS Pritchett‘s definition of a short
story is ―something glimpsed from
the corner of the eye, in passing.‖
Notice the ―glimpse‖ part of this.
First the glimpse. Then the glimpse
given life, turned into something that
illuminates the moment and may, if
we‘re lucky— that word again—have
even further-ranging consequences
and meaning. The short story writer‘s
task is to invest the glimpse with all
that is in his power. He‘ll bring his
intelligence and literary skill to bear
(his talent), his sense of proportion
and sense of the fitness of things: of
how things out there really are and
how he sees those things—like no
one else sees them.
The essay first appeared in the
New York Times Book Review in 1981 as A
Storyteller‘s Notebook. Entitled On Writing,
it is included in Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories
(Harvill Press) by Raymond Carver. ©
1968 to 1988 byRaymond Carver,1989
to present by Tess Gallagher.
It was also published in
Prospect Magazine September 2005.
Long Fiction Ethics
Principles for the Novel found in John Irving‘s A Widow for One Year
In the beginning of a novel, there are so many possibilities. With each detail you choose, with every word you
commit yourself to, your options close down.
The writing of a novel demanded privacy; it called for a virtually isolated existence. In contrast, the publication
of a book was an alarmingly public experience.
When, if only for a moment, the novelist steps out of the creator‘s role, what roles are there for the novelist to
step into? There are only creators of stories and characters in stories; there are no other roles.
A novel is always more complicated than it seems at the beginning. Indeed, a novel should be more
complicated than it seems at the beginning.
The best fictional detail was a chosen detail, not a remembered one – for fictional truth was not only the truth
of observation, which was the truth of mere journalism. The best fictional detail was the detail that should have
defined the character or the episode or the atmosphere. Fictional truth was what should have happened in a
story – not necessarily what did happen or what had happened.
To tell a believable story, you just have to get the details right.
Poverty is easily shared.
Everyman is a Race
A Collection of internationally acclaimed books, with short synopsis for each
Format: C Format
Price: £ 11.99
Pages: 194 pp
Date: October 2006
Set in contemporary Angola,
The Book of Chameleons is
populated with characters
whose stories never quite settle.
It is some pages in before you
realise that the narrator rather charming, witty as he is
- a lizard, living on Felix
Ventura's living room wall.
Felix trades in an usual
commodity - he sells pasts. If
you don't like yours, he can
come up with an entirely new
one for you, full of better
memories and with a complete
lineage. This is a book about
the landscape of memory, its
inconsistencies and its
Selected edition: Paperback
No of pages: 208
Price: £10.99 (Paperback)
Imprint: Faber & Faber
The author of Maps for Lost
Lovers gives us a new novel—at
once lyrical and blistering—
about war in our time, told
through the lives of five people
who come together in post9/11 Afghanistan. Marcus, an
English doctor whose
progressive, outspoken Afghani
wife was murdered by the
Taliban, opens his home—
itself an eerily beautiful
monument to his losses—to
the others: Lara, from St.
Petersburg, looking for
evidence of her soldier brother
who disappeared decades
before during the Soviet
invasion; David, an American,
a former spy who has seen his
ideals turned inside out during
his twenty-five years in
Afghanistan; Casa, a young
Afghani whose hatred of the
West plunges him into the
depths of zealotry; and James,
the Special Forces soldier in
whom David sees a dangerous
revival of the unquestioning
notions of right and wrong
that he himself once held. In
mesmerizing prose, Nadeem
Aslam reveals the complex
ties—of love and desperation,
pain and salvation, madness
and clarity—that bind the
characters. And through their
stories he creates a timely and
achingly intimate portrait of
the ―continuation of wars‖ that
shapes our world.
Roseanne McNulty, forgotten
centenarian, long-time resident
of the Roscommon regional
mental hospital, is facing an
imminent upheaval. The
decrepit Victorian institution is
soon to be demolished, leaving
its residents displaced in a
starkly changed modern
Ireland that has all but buried
its violent origins. Attempting
to organise her memories, some
reliable, others shifting, she
embarks on the writing of a
chronicle. Her account forms
the main part of Sebastian
Barry's compelling new novel,
in which Roseanne's testimony
interweaves with that of her
psychiatrist, Dr Grene. A man
who feels fatherly, "even
motherly", towards his
patients, he is plagued by
memories of an uneasy
marriage. He and his late wife
were "like two peoples that
have once committed grave
crimes against each other, but
in another generation". Barry
writes about loss, broken
promises, failed hopes. In
addition, The Secret Scripture
offers itself as a kind of
thematic cousin to his Bookernominated masterpiece A Long
Long Way and his awardwinning stage play The Steward
After accident, illness, and the
loss of his job and marriage,
meets Mutsuko, setting his
already derailed life even
further off course. Their first
encouter is, unseen, in an
overcrowded hospital. It later
transpires that the mysterious
Mutsuko is in her late sixties,
but when they next meet she is
younger, in her forties, and the
two fall seemingly and
hopelessly in love. With
Mutsuko‘s age decreasing each
time they meet, however, time
rapidly starts to run out for
these two damaged souls. Short
and enigmatic, Yamada‘s novel
is a bold and disturbing
exploration of love and loss.
Simon & Schuster Adult
Number of Pages: 304
Orange Prize winner and
shortlisted for the Man Booker
Prize 2008, Linda Grant has
created an enchanting portrait
of a woman who, having
endured unbearable loss, finds
solace in the family secrets her
estranged uncle reveals. In
vivid and supple prose, Grant
subtly constructs a powerful
story of family, love, and the
hold the past has on the
present. Vivien Kovacs, a
sensitive, bookish girl grows up
sealed off from the world by
her timid Hungarian refugee
parents, who conceal the
details of their history and shy
away from any encounter with
the outside world. She learns
how to navigate British society
from an eccentric cast of
neighbors — including a
fading ballerina, a cartoonist,
and a sad woman who wanders
the city and teaches Vivien to
be beautiful. She loses herself
in books and reinvents herself
according to her favorite
characters, but it is through
clothes that she ultimately
defines herself. Against her
father's wishes, she forges a
relationship with her uncle, a
notorious criminal and slum
landlord, who, in his old age,
wants to share his life story. As
he exposes the truth about her
family's past Vivien learns how
to be comfortable in her own
skin and how to be alive in the
Imprint: Jonathan Cape
Number of Pages: 287pp
Not many novelists would
wander around the seedy redlight district of Antwerp in a
mini-skirt and thigh-high
boots to carry out research. But
this is what Nigerian writer
Chika Unigwe did for her
novel about the lives of African
sex workers in the Belgian city.
She also spent time persuading
these women to share their
stories. Her diligence has paid
off. On Black Sisters' Street is a
probing and unsettling
exploration of the many factors
that lead African women into
prostitution in Europe, and it
pulls no punches about the
sordid nature of the job.
Number of Pages: 352
Date Published: 06 Sep 2007
Things have never been easy
for Oscar, a sweet but
lovesick Dominican ghetto
nerd. From his home in New
Jersey, where he lives with his
old-world mother and
rebellious sister, Oscar dreams
of becoming the Dominican J.
R. R. Tolkien and, most of all,
of finding love. But he may
never get what he wants,
thanks to the Fukœ-the curse
that has haunted the Oscar's
family for generations,
dooming them to prison,
torture, tragic accidents, and,
above all, ill-starred love.
Oscar, still waiting for his first
kiss, is just its most recent
victim. Diaz immerses us in the
tumultuous life of Oscar and
the history of the family at
large, rendering with genuine
warmth and dazzling energy,
humor, and insight the
experience, and, ultimately, the
endless human capacity to
persevere in the face of
heartbreak and loss.
On Trends, Cranes, and Caine!
ow I must feel like a literary enthusiast
extraordinaire, being the most regular
Saraban columnist who feeds you good
quarterly literary gossips. I have always emphasized
the power of observation. And both readers and
writers alike would understand that without that
keen interest at surveillance, a writer wields his/her
pen in vain. Also the critic/reviewer would be a
flotsam in the high seas of a writer‘s rendition.
As always, after keen observation, the attendant
result is picking up trends and the joy of finding a
trend is in shouting (Eureka!) by all journalistic
means. Correct me if am wrong, but am I the only
one who sees a new trend in the way books are
being named in recent times? Gone are the days
when you would look for a phrase in the many
words of a philosopher or poet and tag your book
after it. Most old writers are all guilty as charged. I
mean, from Sheldon to Achebe, they are all guilty.
But this seems not to be the trend these days. It‘s
the time of long phrases as novel titles. It all began
with Uwem Akpan, Commonwealth Prize winning
Jesuit priest, his collection of short stories, Say you
are one of them. The title was lent to it by one of the
stories, the Rwandan-based My Parent‘s Bedroom.
Next is humor-writer, Adaobi Nwaubuni, who I
hope is as funny as Zimbabawean Petina Gappah,
with a novel on 419 scams, I do not come to you by
Chimamanda Adichie now tops it with her new
book, another collection of stories entitled, The
thing around your neck. Just after I noticed this trend
and I informed a friend, he showed me his new
story. It was titled, They do not always remember. So
to all literary enthusiasts and writers, a new style of
novel nomenclature as evolved. It might just be the
crane for your literary success, who never can tell!
Now I think I should not have published that ye-ye
review of the Caine 2009 shortlists in
AfricanWriter.com. I wrote and I would quote of
the winning story, ―personally I was not moved. And I
doubt if the judges would be.‖ Mr E.C Osondu, I am
sorry and Congratulations. I am still convinced that
you won on the impressive precedence of Jimmy
Carter‘s Eyes, and not Waiting. As much as I am
seeking to pick a trend in the distribution of
Africa‘s Booker amongst African Nations, am
aware of the role politics play in literary prizes, nay
all human endeavours. But at least na my country man
The famous Chimamanda Literary Workshop has been
slated for September. And even though entries
have closed, I am one of those who entered for it.
As much as possible, I wish they would come open
with the yardsticks with which they choose
participants. Personally, I think an interview would
be much better than just an entry and a short
review of yourself. But that‘s another story. I hope
I would be chosen, in the face of this ASUU strike.
I would be able to bury myself in literary sands.
Like all literary meets, especially like the 9 writers,
4 cities tour, workshops are places to meet your
editors and mouth-wielding literary giants. They
are also places to secure your writing career!
creating unending voices
8 Issues + Advert on website
4 Issues + Advert on website
Call +234 (0) 806 005 0835 or +234 (0) 806 703 3738
The Advert should be in A4 size, in pdf or jpeg formats.
Cheques or bank drafts should be addressed to Saraba Publishers.
SPECIAL DECEMBER ISSUE
In Our December Issue, we would accept only fiction. It is themed ―The Story Issue.‖
Unsolicited poetry and reviews would not be accepted for this issue.
We hope to work with distinguished fiction writers as editors and reviewers.
Word count is between 3,000 and 10,000 words.
Stories can be on any theme, but send your best! Deadline for this is October 30, 2009.
Send to [email protected], or [email protected]
You can now receive this e-zine without having to visit our site.
Subscribe for the e-zine, free, by clicking the subscribe button on the site.
Filling the form also gives you access to comment on works posted on the site.
Submit your works (Short Fiction, Poetry and Creative Non-Fiction) for the online magazine.
Do this by clicking on the ‗post‘ button on the site. A form would appear where you would be
required to fill your name (preferred author name), email add, title of work, category and the work.
Word count for the online magazine (all categories) is 2500.
You can only post your work if you have subscribed for the e-zine.
Flash Fiction Chapbook
Our next chapbook is a flash fiction chapbook. Send a maximum of five stories to us.
Word count is 600.
We are on…
THE CHOPPING BOARD
‗Biyi Olusolape gets into the fine details of pop, and not so gently…
Yes, it does sound like he‘s honed his delivery on the
late night sessions of urban radio. He manages to
walk the line between the insouciance of Lil Wayne‘s
voice and the seasoned sonority of Isaac Hayes‘s,
enough to make the ladies swoon (a marked
departure from 9ja‘s own 9th instalment of the
Robocop with his woodpecker delivery).
Sure, he rhymes tight, although he might have
software help, but hey! DJ‘s use it, why not MCs?
And the period between the release of his lead single
and his debut album isn‘t ten years (like the
bespectacled, dreadlocked lady. Somebody tell her,
that tactic won‘t be tolerated if she tries it with her
follow-up). His punch lines work in a very effective
one-two combo: to the pit and to the mark, the latter
coming out of the blue, like the jab of a southpaw.
Having said all that, I did sleep off, waiting for him
to be done, preening before the mirror. Narcissism is
a characteristic ailment of all rappers (for instance,
there‘s this OG from Long Beach who insists on
spelling his name on every song), but this short
dude‘s vanity, it is of mythological proportions. He
must be compensating for something. He really can‘t
help fondling himself, verbally. But the microphone
is not the place to work out one‘s self esteem issues.
And he‘s yet to graduate from the school of basic
techniques. His exclusive reliance on rhyming leads
to inane utterances like:
Your boyfriend is a hater
But he can be our waiter
Or the more absurd suggestion that the ears can
substitute for the nose:
I‘m always inside your telly
Your lyrics are smelly-smelly
Or worse still, self contradiction:
I got the magic static
I got the chrome automatic
So systematic, erratic
This raises the question: is it possible to be orderly in
a disorderly fashion?
No doubt, die hard fans will provide us with some
contortions of logic to explain this away.
But should one give up making sense in a senseless
compulsion to rhyme?
Maybe that‘s why a few lines later, he inadvertently
All mature lyricists know that rhymes are subsumed
in the larger body of poetic effects called assonance.
When the assonance is at the end of a line, it is called
rhyme, when it is at the head, alliteration. There‘s a
whole world to explore, restricting oneself to the use
of rhymes limits the range of the emotions that can
be expressed and of what can be said, resulting in
insincere and contrived creations like the ones above.
And if the Rhymester insists on staying on in
kindergarten (because he loves nursery rhymes), he
should, at least, vary his rhyme schemes. Even WC,
who was not the brightest in his pre-schooler class,
could come up with:
As God don change my water to wine a
You wan come change am back to water b
Wey the person wey dey think sey him fit stop my shine a
For your mind now I don turn to butter b
(Complete with internal rhymes)
Perhaps this is why our Rhymester‘s claim to:
Make mo‘ hits than Mo‘ hits
Is not the ―orijooo, na panda.‖
Thankfully, he‘s not another rugged opportunist.
Like an upcoming Juju artiste, he gives props to those
who‘ve come before him. On one of his skits, he gives
the thumbs up to Psquare, D’banj, Mode9, Banky,
Naeto C and the list goes on. But the mimicry of a
Hausa Head of State, on another skit, the intro to the
album, is uneven and neither funny nor convincing.
Dave Chappelle‘s impressions of Mandela, Gil
Scott-Heron, Lennox Lewis, and Rick James on
the Train of Thought by Talib Kweli & Hitek are
unparalleled in the annals of rap. In contrast, the
endorsements on this album are at best prosaic. SS
might be the greatest underachiever on the Nigerian
music scene, but, at least, his funny skits are well
thought out and brilliantly executed.
Blaze, the eponymous guest on a track on Talk About
It, was completely out of her depth. She simply fell
off the Abaga brothers‘ ―space ship from NASA‖ at
blast off. The fall shook her up so much; she could
barely muster any intelligent rhymes, and relied on
ooohs and aaahs as fillers. The subject matter of that
song, the number and gender of the collaborating
MCs and Blaze‘s voice suggest a comparison to The
Firm and Foxy Brown‘s unveiling on It Was Written.
The Ill Nana ripped the beat to shreds with her
vixen claws. Even Escobar couldn‘t touch her on that
When the Rhymester does get round to talking
about some subject other than his big... His views
restate the blindingly obvious. Yes, the politicians are
corrupt; life is hard and so on. Who doesn‘t know
that yet? He has no singular angle of attack, with
which he comes at the Nigerian issue, no fresh
perspective. On topical issues, the yardstick by which
relevance is measured isn‘t the rhyming or the
delivery, but the new insight one gains from
adopting the artiste‘s viewpoint. A listen to Public
Enemy or The Roots will illustrate my point.
portraits, of people that come alive and come to live
in our hearts, long after the music stops? Where are
the graphic scenic descriptions that transport one to
the rapper‘s own world? Does one plough through
the second rate beats, cobbled together by Charlie
and his Chocolate Factory schoolboy mates (the
tracks with defective drum rolls and amateurish
cadences, which supposedly are in time to the
heartbeat of Africa), only to discover there are no
nuggets to make it worth one‘s while? One feels led
on. That was the only reason I endured the second
rate production on the album, I believed there was
something of great value to discover. I was
With the exceptions of ―Problem‖ and ―Long Time,‖
Illegal Music is more of the same, albeit with a slightly
Blow past you like Pirelli on Ferrari on Safari
Inane lyrics abound here too, the natural fall-out of
indulging a childish urge to rhyme at every turn, in
spite of the risk of sounding fatuous. Ferraris are not
built for the off-road demands of Safaris. Illegal Music
also― Why go into all that, and repeat myself?
At least, the Robocop outgrew his reliance on
Similes, to incorporate more advanced techniques in
his art. Robocop (v 9.0) always fancied himself a
storyteller, and he pulls it off more often than not.
And he works with better producers. Little wonder,
the Hip-hop press rated his album higher than the
short black dude‘s. Mi is where the Robocop was,
three albums ago. One can only hope he grows too.
The paucity of stories on the album raises questions
about his narrative powers. Where are the character
Q: Your father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father enslaved
my father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father‘s father.
-“FAQ” by Biyi Olusolape