I am jolted awake by shouts of “DODO!” as the bus slows down.
Photo credit: Sisijemimah.com
“Dodo kire!”, I gasp as my consciousness begins to return. “I need to buy some for grandma”, my mind automatically informs me just before I am fully awake. But as I open my eyes and lean forward in my seat to call the hawker, I remember: Grandma died last year.
I slump in my seat and stare out of the windows at the dodo sellers. We must be in Osun State. There are other wares being sold: hot akara, fresh agege bread, soft drinks, water, agbalumo…
Photo credit: thewhistler.ng
Agbalumo. My favourite fruit in the whole world. On every trip back from school (in Ondo), since I got into the higher institution (as grandma calls it) three years ago, I have bought dodo kire for grandma. But long before then, she used to bring agbalumo for me every time she traveled to her village in Osun. And mango, and avocado: whatever fruit was in season.
But it was agbalumo I always wanted most, even out of season, and she always tried to get me some, even though it was two or three pieces. That was the best: agbalumo out of season –selfish enjoyment.
I squeeze my eyes shut against the painful tears. As I child, I loved nothing more than to squeeze a ripe agbalumo into my mouth, and feel its milky juice and flesh-covered seeds squirt into my mouth. It was a good way to begin eating the sticky fruit. Grandma would always tell me, “be careful, open the fruit first, or you could end up with a mouth full of worms”
I never listened.
Now, it seems like a parable for my life. I feel like my life is a mouthful of worms. It isn’t only with agbalumo that I am tactless. I am also tactless with men and my mouth is now full of worms.
I buy 1000 naira worth of dodo kire. I don’t like dodo kire because of the pepper, but it’s a good time for some penance. Then I debate buying agbalumo for a few moments, while the hawker tries to convince me with a smile as she walks briskly to keep up with the slow moving bus, “aunty, o dun gan bi oyin“.
They always promise sweetness. Who doesn’t want sweetness: plenty money and the luxury it provides. It was what I enjoyed in my childhood and teenage years before sickness came and drained it all. Daddy first. Then mummy. Thankfully, grandma wasn’t sick long. But the money was gone by then: we were already living from hand to mouth.
Thankfully, we never had to sell the house in Lagos. We just downsized and rented out three rooms to keep me and Ayomide, my younger brother in school. Ayo would always say to me when he suspected I was about to make a foolish decision, as usual, “Think, Aramide, Think!” I should buy some kokoro for him when we get to Ogun State. He likes it.
Photo credit: ifyscofield.wordpress.com
It’s just too bad that people like me are hardwired to leap before we look. And we don’t learn from experience. We refuse to. Life is no fun that way and fun is risky. Life gives one little pleasure as it is. And then, shouldn’t one go after pleasure, fun and enjoyment?
I’d be lucky if I live long –if one of those Facebook men I take risks with doesn’t turn out to be a serial killer, or end up using me for money rituals.
But then, I have never been very lucky. Or else I would have met the man I’ve been looking for by now: the man with lots of money and an open hand. And he would have married me, and I’d never to work one more day of my life. I would even ditch school.
I turn away from the window and the hopeful hawker. If I buy it, I would still eat my agbalumo the same way. But some wounds are still too fresh to end up with a mouthful of worms again so soon. The last man asked me to meet him up in Akure, and turned out to be a a broke taxi driver.
As an amateur writer, with the intention of admiring beautiful literary pieces, and learning from them, I have intended to review stories (in books and movies) for a long time now. Rumor has it that, the better a writer is able to analyze, review, criticize and appreciate art, the better they are at making beautiful art. And this blog is testament of my commitment to creating beautiful art.
A certain story has finally pushed me to actually write a review, and it has given me great pleasure to do it. Other books have stirred my desire to write, but this has made me write. I suspect that this has a lot to do with its ties to Nigerian history; I’m hopelessly biased. It also has to do with the fact that I consider this book to be a classic; a work of literary genius. While it’s highly unlikely that I would ever write a story of this genre, I have a lot to learn from Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (CBB).
First of all, the retention of the actual names of places in Nigeria within a fictional world of fantasy and magic, even though with different geographic and climatic features, gave me (especially as a Nigerian) a sense of belonging.
For me, it gave the story a plus by sort of ground-truthing the story. The story explored themes of: African traditional religion (the belief in the supernatural power and sovereignty of the gods over human fate), (quasi-Yoruba) African culture, fear, familial love, loyalty and romance, and led me in from the beginning. I thought it was bumpy ride, but a fulfilling journey: down a twisting and winding plot. It bumped along with conflicts of loyalty and emotions: passion and pain, joy and sorrow, hopelessness and hope in spite of it, fear and courage in spite of despair, the thin line between fear and hatred.
I loved that the story was told by showing, not telling; leaving pictures in my mind which answered my questions. The words used to tell the story were poetic and vivid with imagery (painting abstract things such as wonder, awe, conflict, betrayal) so that they concocted a believable fantasy. Also, the flashbacks (of memories) were used very well, so that their strength and potency drew me into the lives and emotions of the characters.
While I thought it was a great idea to give an early (and quite intimate) introduction to characters that were going to meet a sad fate later, the technique seemed to me to become so obvious at a point, that I almost expected it. But maybe that’s just because I’m aware that it is a writing/story-telling technique. Or maybe the author needs to master that technique or get more creative. However, using this technique made deaths affect me, (no names for spoiler’s sake) which would never have meant anything emotionally to me, but would have been lost in the crowd of other deaths. The mass deaths were more painful because I already knew some of the characters who were affected.
I found the characters to be so human and relatable, even the villains. I was made to feel their love, conflict, warring loyalties, fears, pain, and resolute convictions in the face of these. I would even venture to say that the author did a great job of developing most of the characters. I love the how they (sometimes, surprisingly) changed as life happened to them.
While I found the innovation of additional bodily/facial features (such as silver and amber eyes, white locks, etc), to that typical of Africans, beautiful and interesting, I found it quite hard to imagine brown skin blushing and blanching. But then, it’s post-yoruban Orisha, so maybe. But I couldn’t help wondering though if it had to do with the influences of reading literature with predominantly white characters, or perhaps living among a lot of white people. Or perhaps with being hard-pressed with the need to show, not tell.
I found it to be a beautifully told story: one that grabs you at the beginning, draws you in, and holds you to the end (and then drops you off a cliff into untold suspense). Even though I think the suspense in the last scene was drawn out a bit too much, it was probably worth it, because now, I can’t wait to read children of virtue and vengeance.
CBB by Tomi Adeyemi, in my opinion, would remain a relevant book for many years to come, not primarily for its socio-political undertones of racism (as described in the author’s note), but for its rich description of Yoruba folklore (complete with songs). It was so vivid that after I finished reading it, the story was still seared in my consciousness; I couldn’t help but keep thinking about it for a while. I consider this book to be a deliciously innovative contribution to the growing body of African fantasy literature.
This story holds the promise of a beautiful motion picture to me, animated or not. Although I think the producers of the audiobook did a great job (with the dramatic reading paced appropriately in different contexts, and the different voices), I look forward to a movie; but hopefully, with the characters speaking correct-sounding Yoruba (that would make it even more magical).
And because I am so opinionated, I can’t resist adding a
As I read, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a theme more relatable to humans than the tensions between these: • Good and evil within people • Living for yourself (based on my individual feelings and experiences) and living for a common (societal) good (“duty before self”) • Hatred and fear.
It’s interesting to me to note how these themes come up in most of the best stories i.e. the ones that are immortalized in many hearts (and mine) as classics. Some which are particularly dear to me presently are: The Lion King and Maleficient: Mistress of Evil. Somehow, the conflicts faced by the main characters in CBB (especially at the end) echo Kiara’s questions in The Lion King 2, “If there’s so much I must be, can’t I still just be me the way I am? Can I trust in my own heart? Or am I just one part of some big plan?”
Although I never thought about racism as I went through CBB until I got to the author’s note, the story had me thinking a lot about differences, fear and suspicion. Thus, I understand how racism could fit with the narrative. While I might not be able to relate with racism on an experiential level, I can relate with tribalism and other forms of discriminatory behavior (some already named; others, to which I will not dare ascribe nomenclature, lest they become living things with minds of their own and go wild) based on certain in-group differences. To a great extent, I consider them all to be caused by a fundamental issue: fear –fear of difference.
An average Nigerian understands what it means to be afraid of what the other people might be saying about him/her in a room where he/she doesn’t understand the language of the majority tribe; maybe they will “sell me, and give me change” (as we express the sentiment), or worse. Thus, we can relate to the fear that exists between the Maji and Kosidan, the humans and the faeries, the lions of the prides of Simba and Scar. This is the fear of our differences; the fear that brings division, especially when complicated by the virtue of loyalty to kin and the pain of injustice, hostility and/or worse from the other camp.
It caused the brutal stealing and oppressive treatment of Africans many centuries ago, and now causes racism in whatever direction. This is the fear we need to fear (each in him/herself), as we call for understanding: everyone coming out of the shadows with hands raised like the suspected criminals in the movies.
Thanks to those (Jeremiah and Samuel) who made it possible for me to hear this book read on audible.
It is about 6:45 on Thursday morning. I hope to get on a bus before 7:00 so that I can leave Lagos and arrive Benin-City in good time.
However, I can’t help but notice the happenings around me, peculiar to this time and this place. I think it’s beautiful, an intersection of the stories of the lives of so many people. It’s a reminder of the One who set it all up, desiring that every soul finds true satisfaction, now and forever *.
An open pot of water stands on a charcoal stove, as though on one leg. The light greyish colour of the calm water tells me there is rice at the bottom of the pot. Around the pot, a woman (the food vendor) and her children chatter excitedly as though it is perfectly okay for a pot to be standing on one leg. Perhaps it is.
Not that the rest of the world has to be like me and demand perfection from such mundane things as the central position of a pot on a stove or the symmetry of the distance of a table from the two opposite chairs which stand on both its sides.
A man sits with a glass box case in front of him, stacked from top to bottom with Ghana buns. I resist the temptation to succumb to the tantalizing smell of his wares. “Another time”, I say to myself. He moves his thumb up and down the screen of his android phone, passing time as he waits for customers. MTN has prevailed upon even the Ghana buns man with their ‘drop that kpalasa phone!’ campaign.
Two young men, fast asleep, lie on a table in front of a kiosk. As they lie bum to bum, if one looks on them from above, they will form the shape of a narrow hourglass with an open top.
Two ladies, heavily made-up and bejewelled, sit at less than 5 metres apart from each other with their goods having identical arrangements: Agege bread on a circular board, margarine containers stacked up in the centre of the board in a vertical line, providing support for the conical tent formed by wrapping transparent nylon bag over the entire thing.
A little boy brushes his teeth over a gutter by the side of the road. Now he is scrubbing his tongue furiously. With the expression on his face, you’d think he was washing a dirty rug. I want to walk up to him and ask, “Shu?! Na rug??”, and hopefully, watch his expression turn from bewildered to amused. I resist yet another temptation.
Two beggars sit on the side of the road, a few metres from each other. They both perform a curious exercise: a simultaneous act of eating breakfast and waving at passers-by to solicit for alms.
Finally, I get to the express road.
Cries of “Oh-shode! Isaleh-Oh-shode!” fill the air, mingled with shouts of “Ejigbo, wa-so!”. Leave it to Lagosians to find a fancy way to say ‘fifty naira’ (it still tickles me everytime I hear it).
Then I get past them. The bus park: all the transport workers by the filling station perk up. The only question I hear out of all the ones being thrown at me by the different transport workers is this, “Sista? You dey go Bini?” That’s why I left my house.
This evening, I watch my mum carefully spoon salt into her pot of soup cooking on the stove. She doesn’t want to put in too much or too little. And I wonder which of our (mankind’s) ancestors first had the eureka moment (the gasp, “the food tastes better!”) with salt in cooking, and at what point in history.
I try to visualise the scene. In my mind, there is a blurry picture of a woman. It’s blurry because I am not sure it is a woman, it might as well be a man.
It’s more likely (in my mind) to be a woman because she is the one (of the two sexes) that might be instinctively concerned with nourishing the family because of the responsibility of nourishing a child in her body, and after it comes out. It might be a man too because the man might have had the instinctive responsibility of protector/provider. And providing in that day may have included cooking.
Back to the picture, this ancestral mother is bending over a cooking pot, or whatever contraption might have represented the pot in that day. Up until this time, neither she nor her family has any idea that they have been eating tasteless food. They happen to live by the ocean, or close to it. So, on this day, by some accident (a mischievous child) or necessity (no other water source), just the right amount of salt water gets into the cooking food. Mama stirs with her wooden spatula (or whatever else she uses) and moves a finger from the spatula to her tongue in one fluid motion. Her eyes widen and she screams for Papa. At mealtime, everyone’s face is filled with wonder.
They will never again cook without salt. But they will find out, through trial and error, what amount of salt is too much and too little.
Maybe if too little salt had gotten into the food that day, Mama would not have noticed it. And if too much had gotten in, she might have banned the substance from her cooking space.
Or Mama would have figured out that it was a useful substance, and try to learn the right amount to use, and eureka moment would have come a little later.
And there may have been many eureka moments in different parts of the world, at various times in history. Whatever the case, however the scene(s) played out, we have salt today to give our food taste.
It happened, not because of anyone’s diligence in seeking ways to best flavour food. Maybe someone was searching, but they had nearly equal chances of discovering a potent poison, and trying it instead of salt. This is my conclusion: it was granted to Mama (or any other member of her family) to discover salt in cooking. In essence, it was and is a gift of Providence, for which we must be thankful every time we eat delicious food.
Thus begins my writing journey (in the public eye), with an invitation to come along, for:
All who care: to jeer or to cheer
All indeed, are welcome.
It’s funny, because this journey begins at an intersection of the many roads I have taken, and I’m taking, in the journey of life. This take-off point represents a harmony of sorts, of a motley of experiences and perceptions, now coalesced into what I have become, and am becoming. This harmony describes ‘my life’, as I have experienced it up until now.
I am many things. Perhaps the most generic term with which I will describe myself is this: ‘writer’. I have always loved stories: reading and hearing those of others, and making up mine. I also happen to be a scientist who enjoys studying the biology of nature. I often describe myself (to myself) as a scient-art-ist: a scientist who loves art of all forms: fine, literary and performing arts, and sees art in nature. You can learn about more about my science here.
And the most important thing that I am, which directs my life’s journey, is that I am a believer in God through Jesus Christ. This is important because becoming a believer (or more appropriately, being given the ability to believe) has opened my eyes to beauty in its truest sense, and this has determined the course, and the goal of my life’s journey. It was kind of like the astigmatic child (not completely blind) who was given corrective lenses for the first time. And when I saw Beauty, off I went in hot pursuit!
But what I will become, as a result of what I am becoming, remains to be seen. But I am sure, because of what I have become (not of my making), that what I will become will be better than what I am.
This (writing) journey I now undertake, further into my pursuit of beauty, and more so into the practice of expressing beauty, I do so with a desire, a task and a goal.
My desire: to learn and practice the art of “spinning gossamer webs of prose”, to borrow the words of Christopher Scanlan (in the Complete Book of Feature Writing) from my imagination, thoughts and knowledge.
My task: to perfect the craft of writing by speaking with short (fictional) stories, poems (of rhyme and free verse) and essays, of my musings and philosophising as I experience and ponder this enigma called ‘life’.
My goal: To paint the most beautiful pictures possible, to the best of my ability, with words; of my experiences, observations and opinions (I must warn however: I might happen to be too opinionated for my own good).
As I embark on this journey with the quest to see beauty in the ordinary stories of life, and tell them beautifully, I invite you to join me –to share, to discuss, that perchance, we may learn, one from another.
Thank you for joining me. Please enjoy!