Sunday 4 November 2012

Literary Africana: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

The Funeral Did Not End
by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is a collection of 20 short stories. Pius Adesanmi, author of You Are Not a Country, Africa! has described Sylva as “the undisputable master of his own landscape and his characters.”

Here is an excerpt from The Funeral Did Not End by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo.


Guilt Trip

TRAVELLING HOME to Agulu has always been something you look forward to. You have always felt lonely in Lagos, this strange big city where everybody is in a hurry. You love Agulu, not just because it is your home, but mainly because of the memories that it brings to your head. It is those memories that usually drew you like a thirsty man to water, adding extra spring in your steps as you walk to buy your ticket at the bus station counter.

It made you smile and wave greetings to other passengers who you did not know. It made you hum mutilated tunes of nursery rhymes you usually sang in Ntakara School as the bus tore through the rain forest, eastwards. It is those memories that haunt you today. They gnaw at your thought, those memories, eating you up by the bits and you wonder again if you should make the trip.

The lady at the ticket counter is familiar. You know her name, Ifeoma, pretty and tall, just the way you like your women. The last time you travelled to Agulu which was two months ago at Christmas, you had flirted with her. The crowd at the bus station, families eager to wake up in their villages on Christmas morning had been too much.

You arrived late and met a sea of heads. Your ticket number showed that you were not likely to make the trip that day, but you hung around, chatting with Ifeoma at the counter and making her laugh out loud, her eyes glassy with tears. You learned that she is from ObodoUkwu, a town through which the bus to Agulu would pass. She wasn’t going home because she had to sell tickets to other travelers. You promised to bring her ube and udala from the village though you never did. She enjoyed your company that day and showed it by re-writing your ticket and giving you a seat on the very next bus.

Today she smiles at you but you make like you don’t know her, like her smile nauseates you. You see the shock in her eyes. You recognize it. They are yours, the kind that had enveloped you when the text message first arrived your phone. You were sitting before the mirror, just out of the shower, watching as water rolled down your body from your hair and disappeared just before it reached your navel.

Your phone was there on the dressing table and you had reached for it as soon as you heard the beep, your face melting into a smile. You were sure it was Nwanneka, the lady you met the week before at the bank, texting to inform you she was now on her way to your house. But the smile quickly disappeared, like it just did from Ifeoma’s face, as you read the message. You didn’t only feel, you saw the shock as you looked at yourself in the mirror.

The Funeral Did Not End is published by DADA book and is available in
leading bookshops in Nigeria.

Thursday 1 November 2012

5 Books That Made a Difference to Chika Unigwe

ON BLACK SISTERS' STREET by Chika Unigwe has just been announced the winner of the 2012 Nigeria Prize for Literature; at $100,000, it is so far the biggest literary prize in Africa.

On Black Sisters' Street, her second novel, tells the haunting yet poignant story of four women who, in a bid to escape the overwhelming toll of hardship, heartbreak, abuse and pain in Nigeria, migrate (with the help of a loud-mouthed pimp) to Europe where they become sex workers in Antwerp's red-light district.

When we chatted earlier after the announcement, I couldn't help asking her what books had had a great influence in her development as a creative writer, and very happily she mentions five books.

Here, below, I've presented her list in her own words:

EFURU by Flora Nwapa: first novel by an African woman I read. Nwapa was my first role model

ESSAYS IN LOVE by Alain de Botton: it has some amazing writing. Incredible work of nonfiction,

A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: It taught me alternative ways of writing. It also taught me to write with courage

THE BIBLE (King James Version): The Book of Job taught me how to write about pain and loss. The Psalms contain poetry.

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy: brilliant story telling!The description of Anna's turmoil and her suicide taught me that even the goriest of events could be presented in magical prose

Literary Africana: Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn

Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn has been praised now and again for her debut novel, Eye of a Goddess. Okey Ndibe, author of Arrows of Rain describes her as 'a tender alluring storyteller worthy of a large, devoted readership. Her novel [Eye of a Goddess] seizes one's attention from the start - and never lets go.'

Enjoy an excerpt from Eye of a Goddess by Ukamaka Olisakwe Evelyn



I’d always thought it was the distinguishing feature—a growth at the side of my little finger—a sixth finger on each hand that made me different, which took the laughter away. But it had to be more than that, because there was the strangeness that clung to me like a second skin, leaving me hovering between dream and reality. I walked dazedly. Life, a blurred line I could not make sense of anymore.

Then, eyes. Something had escaped from them, something that was supposed not to, that had longed for freedom. It left me gasping, making me realise that there was more about my nature that caused things to go wrong, leaving me in an invisible place where outcasts dwelled, a place of no laughter. It was a time of sadness when I took the tray of food to Mama’s room. It was a time of sadness.

Inside, Mama lay on the bed. Her whimpers filled the room. She cradled the framed picture of Adaeze to her breasts. It was the fourth day in a row she’d lain in that bed, crying; rending tears that came from the pit of her being. Earlier, Azuka, Mama’s sister, had prepared a delicious dinner of orah soup and fufu. Mama’s favourite. There were chunks of smoked fish, the sort brought from Maiduguri, and many medium-sized pieces of beef in the soup. But it was the wrong time to serve such a delicacy.

Nkemjika didn’t touch his plate; he just stared as if expecting something to emerge from it. Ebuka frowned at his. I tried to chew a piece of fish, but it tasted like unwashed onugbu leaf and I spat it out. Then I stared at my plate, as the soup congealed and flies hovered while I swatted them. I was still staring as night came and Azuka called me to take food to Mama.

When I walked into Mama’s room, she lay on the bed, her back to me. The framed picture of Adaeze peeked from the crook of her elbow, and her shoulders shook. I drew up a table for her and placed the plate of fufu and soup, before leaving, soundlessly.

As I came back with a basin of water for hand washing, Mama had stood, looming, in the middle of the room; a strangeness about her. I couldn’t see her face clearly because she was obscured from the light sifting in from the open window. One hand was balanced on her thick waist and the other tightened the old flowered-patterned wrapper wound round her chest. I knew things were about to get bad. And there was nothing I could do about it. Suddenly, the fluorescent light came on and the room took on an eerie white quality.

“Did you put witchcraft in the food?” She demanded, arms akimbo, towering as if she had added extra feet. Her hair was a ruffled bob of savage cotton wool, and her eyes were sucked deep into her skull, seeming like a hollow cave on her unhealthy complexion. My tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth. A cockroach ran across the curtain frame behind her, and a wall gecko slithered from behind it. I wished to turn into a fly, wing into the air and disappear before she pounced, before she squashed me.

“Asim, did you put nsi in my food, the same you used to kill my baby?” She advanced as I took a step backwards; the floor creaking beneath her weight. The bowl of water shook in my hands, spattering drops of water on my leg, and unto the floor.

“I didn’t put anything,” I spluttered.

My leg felt cast in lead. My stomach growled, and I felt the tightness of hot urine threatening to gush out unbidden. I had made it backwards, almost out of the room, when she pounced.

“Ewoo!” The shrill scream left my throat as her heavy fist smashed into my face. I swayed, fell. The pain spread in swift waves, cycling, swallowing.

I tried to run, but her hands were like a vice clipping me to her.

“I will kill you!” She screamed bashing into my skull.

“I will kill you!”

She punched my face, nose, neck, everywhere. I felt her hands on my eyes, as if to squash them, but it was hot peppery syrup that filled my eyes instead. I was on fire; may be in hell.

I struggled. I flailed. I wondered where everyone was. Where was Azuka? Where was Nkemjika? Where was Ebuka? I felt my hair ripped out of my scalp. My nose tickled. Where was everyone?

“Bianu. Help!” I heard a voice that must have been Azuka’s enter the room. They struggled. I struggled. I was dragged here and there. They were shearing me in halves. My ribs hurt and hell was there, engulfing me. I was ripped apart alive as different voices filled the room. I was finally dragged to the floor by someone; the pull very painful. But I didn’t care, I was only afraid of the white light in my head and the hellish pain in my eyes. I heard a rip. My brain kept shaking. A hammer continued on my head, my stomach, and my shoulder.

“Biko, Leave her!” Nkemjika’s voice sifted through. Then, Nkemjika’s hands dragged me outside. I knew it was his.

I was still screaming. “My eyes! I am blind!” I couldn’t open my eyes.

“Njideka, sorry,” Nkemjika said as he covered me with a wrapper.

I was naked. I cuddled the cold ground, like a foetus. I wished the cold would chase away the hell I felt inside.

“I am blind!”

I hugged myself. I held my face. I didn’t know where to begin. To rub my eyes? Or to run mad? I felt more hands patting me, heard sympathetic whimpers. Ebuka sounded as if he had water in his nose. Nkemjika’s whimpers broke into his words; stressed syllables. Mama’s voice kept ringing out, drowning theirs. She cried that the pastor had confirmed I was a witch.

“I will poison her if she stays here one more night. I will strangle her to death! I swear,” she barked. “Egbue mia! I will kill her!” She swore. “Forgive me, Lord,” she cried loudly. “But she won’t stay here again. Eziokwu m!”

I remained on the ground even as Nkemjika’s hand tugged me to stand up. I didn’t. I couldn’t. Warm tears trickled down my face, into my mouth. He stayed with me for some minutes, crying. Then I felt him walk back into our house, where voices were clashing. Azuka was fighting with Mama. I wished for Papa. I wished for Adaeze. I wished for death. But none of these came.

It was not so many weeks ago when Papa was with us, when Adaeze was still with us. It was all not as Nnem-ochie had said it would be. She had lied. I knew that I was going blind, that I would never see the light again; I would never see the world again. When I couldn’t hear a voice close by, when all footsteps seemed to have gone into the house, I stood up, tottered on my feet, and slumped again. I was determined to escape. I crawled my way out of the compound. I felt my feet around the sandy ground, testing my blind vision in the familiar terrain.

I held unto the lattice fence of ogiris trees and made my way blindly out of the compound, out into the neighbourhood and prayed no one saw me. I willed the tears that scalded my eyes not to run. When the pain didn’t stop, I collapsed to the ground. I lay there, a secluded spot I knew well, a place where I had played hide and seek with Adaeze. I stayed there, for minutes, hours, until the sounds of night life was left in the world. I lay there, remembering how it all started, how easily one’s life could change. My memories flooded with the same sharpness of the cries of the crickets around me.

Eye of a Goddess is published by Piraeus Books, US, and available in some Nigerian bookshops and on Amazon

Literary Africana: Richard Ali

In his review of City of Memories by Richard Ali, the literary critic and columnist, Ikhide Ikheloa, considers Richard as "perhaps the most important Nigerian writer at home or in the Diaspora writing about Nigeria from a Northern perspective, bar none. We have not had a Nigerian write about the North with such passion and intellect as Ali. Not since Cyprian Ekwensi. Ali demonstrates a good mastery of prose, employing nuanced turns of phrases.”

Here is an excerpt from City of Memories by Richard Ali


MARYAM BAZZA'S FINGERS, gripping the stub of a half-finished pencil, slowly applied the eyeliner to her brows. She looked in the mirror on the table where she sat—perfect, she thought. She put the pencil back in her little pink leather purse, a gift from Faruk, and took out the beige lipstick which she then proceeded to apply.

The room reflected in the mirror was neat with a blue duvet on the bed, touching the floor, carpeted brown. A door led to the bathroom, and another set of doors held the wardrobe. One of these was slightly ajar, so that rows of metal hangers bereft of clothes were caught in the span of the mirror on the table.Satisfied, Maryam Bazza looked at herself in the mirror.

She had grown lean in the last two years, shedding the last of her adolescent plumpness so the face that stared back was ovoid, accentuating her elegant brows and her full lip. She winked at herself and in one movement leaned back so the chair pushed backwards noisily. She got out of it, taking care to pick up the leather purse.

She smiled at her reflection and said her name under her breath. She was ready. She pressed the lid of her blue travelling trunk shut, pulled out the carrier and rolled the trunk to the door. When out, she shut the door with a sense of finality. She struggled with the trunk down the stairs and left it to find her step-mother in the kitchen.

“I’m leaving,” she said.

The woman, Saadatu, just a decade older than she, looked her over then smiled.
“It’s today,” she said meaninglessly. Then she gathered Maryam Bazza into a full hug.

“Here, this is for you,” Saadatu said, giving Maryam a small Maggi bag full of N1,000 notes, “You will need it. Keep it safe, okay?”

The women hugged once more.

Maryam found her father outside, overseeing the washing of his car, as he did every day. Idi sat with him and they were sharing an early morning cup of coffee for Idi’s benefit.


“I see you are ready?”

But she did not answer. She merely looked down at her feet.

“It’s okay. I will come and see you next weekend, okay?”

“Yes, Baba,” she finally said.

She did not look at him until after she had entered Idi’s car, a green Peugeot 406 wagon, when they were reversing out of the gate—then she looked up at her father with tears in her eyes. He waved and smiled bravely.

The herdsmen had already passed, there were no cattle and no egrets to bid Maryam Bazza goodbye—all there were were Bolewa’s trees, dotting the harmattan-ravaged savannah like mistakes. But they too were witnesses, had been there at the very beginning when a young princess had fallen in love with one man, and then with another.

Maryam sat in front of the car and watched the silent trees pass her by, and she wondered about Faruk and his mother, and about his wife and his mother-in-law, who was serving a life sentence in Yola. She thought of all the women she was and the dreams she would pursue at the University of Maiduguri, and the rest of her life to come past her day by day like these trees.

She did not see herself as the trees of Bolewa saw her, as a spot of calm moving on, a closure borne safely by the wheels of the Peugeot which turned up little geysers of dust as they spun sedately out of town to the highway.

She did not see the playful breeze that suddenly started to make the trees wave their hardy branches, enwrapped as she was with being in her time. But she did wonder when the rain would be here.

City of Memories is published by Black Palms Publishers and is available in bookshops around Nigeria.