OKPENKE!

“The things I could tell you about the dictator, Sani Abacha! I saw his own death approach…but of course I held my peace…you don’t become someone’s favorite marabout by telling them they will die next month…”

 

I promised you a Chuma Nwokolo marathon right? Yup! This is another of his books; a collection of short stories – The Ghost of Sani Abacha. Another brilliant, brilliant display of humorous wit!  Nwokolo gives us a taste of Nigerian (which mirrors most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa) politics, and the gimmicks that form a part of the society, what eases their tension, what keeps them going even when conditions are hard to survive in, oh and quite a bit of display in marital homes.  It is a collection of 26 short stories, with the title piece itself, in there too.

I’d touch on the stories I really, really liked, which is taking some discipline to limit, because I might as well touch on all 26 of them! Each story leaves something with you, mostly the character(s) themselves! The imagery is clear and almost real, you’d stop a few times to ask yourself if you haven’t met them before anywhere…at some points you’d swear you know them! Anyway, so here goes.

BILLY GOAT

This is a story of a man, his wife of six months, and his mother-in-law. He comes home prematurely one day, no, not to meet his wife in bed with another man…there was a twist. He got home to a house looking cleaner than he had ever seen it, their bed laid neatly, meat stewing on the stove with its tempting aroma, but his wife, nowhere to be found. According to the neighbours, she had dashed to the Pharmacy. This man, Gwarimpa, sits and waits, as his situation unfolds before his eyes First it was another man walking unlike a visitor into his house, whistling…

“He did not wait too long before Harki rode up…propping his bicycle up against the mud wall, and knocked gingerly. Getting no response, he entered confidently only to stand flummoxed at the sight of Gwarimpa in full glower.”

He did not stay too long. He left fast…too fast, he left his bicycle behind. Then came Sara, Gwarimpa’s wife, who entered singing an endearment Gwarimpa had never enjoyed as his, ever since they married.

“She entered singing ‘Darl-ing, darl-ing,’ in a song that harked back to their days of courtship, a song that broke abruptly when she saw her husband.”

Now this was the matter at hand, with Gwarimpa left to make meaning of. He questioned his wife, starting from what exactly it was she went to the pharmacy to buy, that “looked suspiciously like a pack of condoms.” This only led to a rapid escalation of the matter. Sara threw the bright-coloured package out, and before Gwarimpa could comfirm before doubt that it was indeed condoms, the billy goat they had intended to gift to Sara’s mother, ate it. (lol!) The unidentified wrapper had to be retrieved and the mother-in-law arrived just in time for that.  The goat was given a purgative. The mother-in-law herself saw to looking through goat shit to find the said wrapper…and when she found it, confirmed Sara’s insistence that it was a bubblegum wrapper, without showing it to Gwarimpa.

“What is it, Mama? Condoms, not so? She remained silent. What is it? Urged Sara, anxiously. Look at it with the eyes of a mother. Finally the older woman broke her crusty silence. ‘A packet of chewing gum!’ Let me see, he demanded, incredulously. Her jaw dropped slowly… ‘You don’t trust me? You think I will lie? For what?”

Gwarimpa had no choice but to let the matter go, albeit still unsure of the meaning of the matter. So he asked his mother-in-law,

“And if you looked at it with the eyes of a mother-in-law, what would you have seen?”

And she answered;

“How many times must I tell you? I am not your mother-in-law, I’m your mother.’

 

ORANGE CRUSH

This is a story of a blind man. Lol…no, not literally visually impaired…but this is about those of us who do not see love till it is long gone. The revelation at the end of this story leaves you speechless for a moment.

“I still remember the taste of Maitama orange, oddly enough. Nine years have passed since I ate it on a bus stop bench on seventeeth August 1999. I also remember the lonely night that led me there. And the fruit seller that hawked barefoot, her slippers slung like strange ornaments around her neck. I had bought a single fruit, out of boredom, and a habit for oranges, and we barely talked as she peeled and quartered it, the way I always ate my oranges. Her fingers were lithe and quick, going like clever mechanical things, and her carving of my fruit was performance art. It must have been a good day for her, for she waved away my money, and then she left.”

This was a connoisseur of oranges, as he called himself, but never in his life had he tasted an orange with a taste so perfect. He collected the seeds, planted them and waited, for years, for another taste of that goodness! The time came, and he tasted again;

“I open my eyes slowly. It is sweet – like hundreds and hundreds of oranges in my past – but it is not the Maitama orange. I eat all four quarters delicately, with the same mechanicalness with which I have eaten two, three thousand oranges throughout my life. It will be better as the season waxes, I know this…yet even as I console myself, I know the truth now. For though the heart of the animal is cannier than the tongue, it was clear that I knew my fruits far better than I knew myself. I had waited nine years, only to discover that I had fallen for the hawker, not her oranges.”

 

DIARY OF AN HONEST GIRL

You know those tales of a player getting played? Aha, this is one of them, but what I love about Chuma is how he takes a simple story and adds life to it by how he packages it, leaving some of it to your imaginations and conclusions.

“Post-coitus, Paul watched a cockroach cross the pitted lino of her bedsit. Little things that told him that, however good the sex, he and Sara [Sara again??] belonged in completely different worlds…It scared him that she had believed his lies so easily. Why would he fracture the ready-made perfection of his life and leave his wife and daughters for her? Didn’t she see how anyone would say anything in the throes of that hunger?…Then he saw the lovesick face and his heart began to race – at the stressful mismatch of casual sex on his part and an all-consuming love on hers…He had to end it now!

Having played this game a lot of times, Paul pulled out the “my conscience isn’t permitting me to go on with this, you know I am Christian” card, expecting a tearful response full of pleas and heart-wrenching reminding of all he had promised to do. None of that happened. Instead, Sara calmly said she had something to give him before he left. She gave him a diary she started when their affair started, and then saw him out of her house. It wasn’t till Paul had read the very first entry (he needed not go beyond the first to get the message) that it became clear to him;

“There was the same smile on her face that had fired his passions through the months of their relationship, but in the context of her diary it acquired a uniquely malevolent gleam and he realized the mixture had not been casual sex and all-consuming love after all. How blind he had been. How thin the line between love and contempt. She waved at him but he drove away without waving back. His own churlishness amazed him. As he swerved away from a lamppost, he realized that he no longer felt any nostalgia for her lips and breasts and things…it was truly over! Then it struck him…the girl was even more a pro than he was! The honest diary…she had taught him the eleventh and most effective way to end an affair.

Other stories like The Las’ Foolscap, Confessions of General’s Marabout, The Colour of It, A History of Human Servitude, I enjoyed very much but I have already written too much, so I’ll end it here. There isn’t anything I did not particularly like. It’s again, if you read my comments from the last reviews I did on another of his books, a good read, full of laughter, full of truth. A trip through are governments and homes.

Do get yourself a copy! Contact @writersPG on twitter, and we’ll take it from there. And if you’re wondering what the title for this review means, you can ask Cousin Kashim when you are reading. He’s in there somewhere. For those of you who have read or who attended Chuma’s reading when Writers Project of Ghana hosted him here, shhhhhh.

In the mean time….

Okpenke!

 Cheers again!! 

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