Worst thing was how father and son kept calling me ‘jobless’. I’m a writer; that’s what I am.
This is a wrap from two weeks back; the third and final part of a 3-part review. You should read the first two if you haven’t, to better understand some of the things I may refer to here.
The last part of the book is where Abel, Meme’s first son, comes in. Abel the writer. After Calama burnt down the entire household and business of the midwife who accidentally castrated him, dying in the fire, news reached Abel, together with letters from his mother, and his father’s diary.
“Calama’s handwriting is lousy. To worsen matters, he spells things the way they sound, which is the way to get into trouble with a language like English…Found myself crossing ‘t’s and dotting ‘i’s. It’s a sickness I have…When I rose, it was still difficult to grieve for Pa or Calama. But I’d started my own diary.”
Meme Jumai was a pauper, Calamatus Jumai was a rich con-man, and Abel was somewhere in between. Upon receiving and reading the diary entries, he swore to not end up like his father and brother.
“They’ll know there is a difference between Jumai and Jumai.”
My bias towards Abel moves beyond the fact that he is a writer (hehe…ok, not entirely true)…not too far beyond, he is in my opinion, more sensible of the lot. When Calama died, Abel was sent a message not to set foot in the village. We all know it was not in necessarily his interest, buit because they wanted the chance to loot all of what Calama left behind. As if Abel cared for those;
“As if I’d have waited for his death were I keen on his cash. There’s a passion that fires me, and it’s not just a passion for money. It is a passion for success, and inheriting from Calama doesn’t qualify as success. My passion is burning me up right now. Used to be desperate to write a successful book just to show all those who had given up on me. With the death of Pa and Calama, that list is getting shorter – and I’m getting more desperate.”
Abel has been living a lie ever since he returned to his village in Nigeria, from Cameroon. While in Cameroon he became so broke he oneday stole bread, which landed him in jail. Meme on receiving the news through a letter from Abel, decided to tell the entire village his son was in Cameroon studying for a degree in Business Management. Through nothing of his doing, he had to live with that lie, since the huge welcome party he came to meet in Ikerre-Oti, and it imprisoned him more than anyone would think, I am pushed to think hew may have been successful had he been able to live without that falsehood.
“True, I envied Calamatus, but not the way he thought. Envied him for the honesty of his life. He was a conman and didn’t hide it. Had the money to show for it too. I? I went to jail for a loaf. That’s the truth. And never got to eat the wretched bread. Now Pa who stuck me in this mess has died with his pride, I’m stuck with this permanent dread…[of] public exposure.”
It would be a hard way to live, wouldn’t it?
In this last part of the book, we finally get to meet Stella Jumai, the wife who eloped with the Warri vulganizer. She visits Abel and chances on the diary, reading parts of it that were enough to shock her. Apparently there was a lot she was not aware of. She broke down completely – it was a scene.
“She reached the last page of Pa’s diary. She broke off her low-key wail and grabbed me: What happened? I looked at her. Real or fake, her tears had ruined her makeup. Hardest thing for me was to see my mother, real and actual wife of a farmer, losing her eyebrows at age forty-eight. She’d lost the pencilled brows again after all the weeping…she screamed and rose in slow motion. Her hands stretched towards the ceiling, as if the fire that consumed Pa was burning again. The diary and her shawl fell on the ground. Decided to get everything over at once. Told her how Calama was also dead. Only thing I hate more than a soap opera is a rerun of a soap opera. She screamed and started whooping, ducking her head like a fowl. Would have been comical, but this was my family…She began to whoop again, making little jumps in the air, turning around in a small circle.”
And at this point, we come to an even sorrier fate of the late Meme – Abel too was not his son. Stella Jumai! (lol!) And when Abel came to this knowledge, he couldn’t stand her anymore, he threw her out of his house – her raging self;
“You are driving me from your house?…You know what happened to your brother and your father?…That’s mercy killing! …That’s mercy killing compared to what will happen to you.”
In the midst of all this, Abel still wrote – his passion keeping him alive. He expressed his grievances with publishers and the pile of rejections, which I suppose a lot of writers can relate to;
“Why won’t publishers take a chance on me? Must everybody write like Chinua Achebe? I like to write about Tortoises. That is how I am.”
I particularly liked his choice of words, (lol!) how else will one know he is a wordman? Unfortunately for Abel, the death of Calama was not an end but a beginning for him. The paths he had crossed, generating bad blood, boiled over and spilled into Abel’s life. The fattest cow Calama had been milking finally found Meme’s house, along with Abel…and was bent on not leaving any Jumai alive. Question is, did Abel die too? I’d like to think not.
“Suddenly I was startled back into the present by a ragged snore. Glanced up increduously. Billy Barber had gold fillings in several molars! Under the table, I slipped off my shoes noiselessly. Hesitated. If he had dallied this long because he wasn’t angry enough to kill, could an escape attempt provide the provocation to pull the trigger? Could I take the risk? Wet with sweat. But for the farcical snoring of the sleeping assassin, it was a silent night in Ikerri-Oti…I think I can hear Opportunity clearly.
I’ll just get the door…”
This book gets you laughing till you’re in tears, but again in very deep ways, it addresses humanness in raw terms, exposing the ills that plague us. I would have loved to read the diaries just as they wrote them, especially Calama’s in his unique spellings. Out of the three,it was Abel’s diary that held more of himself, in my opinion, in terms of how he wrote it. Calama follows, and then Meme, whose entries I thought had word choices that a man with his level of education and exposure most probably wouldn’t be using. All in all, this is a book I’ll recommend any day! If you ever get the opportunity to meet Chuma in person, do not miss it. He reads marvelously and is a burst of energy! Such a delight to have met and interacted with him.