By Noel A. Ihebuzor
Flash fiction as a genre is enjoying an amazing lease of life and burst of energy in Nigeria’s literary space. Kemi Ogunniyi’s “My wife’s husband” is one more manifestation of the blossoming creativity in this genre. A tale that probes relationships and loyalty, it packs a punch which is starkly at variance with its brevity.
The first striking thing about this work of art is its title, a title that sets the mind wondering whether one is engaging a work that deals with polyandry or one that suffers from some deliberate aberration in its title. When the reader emerges from the jolt caused by this provocative title, he/she then encounters a tightly told story of love where the lives of the living are tied up closely with the dead. The story of woman still in love with a dead man and the struggles of the man who loves her in the present to relate to her crisis and support her in the process is heart wrenching.
The story is compact and packed with “virtual” detail which the mind of the reader unpacks as he/she reads along. By exercising very controlled parsimony and brevity, Kemi provides space for her reader to fill out the unsaid and the unspoken – the death of a husband, the remarriage of the widow, the unhealthy love of the dead, the hallucination that comes with such obsessive attachment to the past, the long suffering of the present husband and the tragedy of dreams and lives shattered by sudden death. Kemi’s skill in this micro fiction lies partly in the space she allows us for these legitimate inferences. But beyond this, Kemi serves us a micro fiction at its very best – a story with single focus but with multiple subterranean subthemes and streams all ambling along and supporting that single focus. The story’s denouement is startling, plausible and touching. The denouement I have referred to is not one of closure since it leaves the reader still asking more questions and wondering why! All of this is achieved in a prose passage of 309 words using a first person narrative voice where the narrator, despite his pains, manages to remain composed and dignified, thereby revealing his own capacity for empathy and love.
This micro fiction is a must read! May our land continue to witness the flourishing of creative skills of the type we have seen displayed by Kemi and ladies of her generation.
By Noel A. Ihebuzor
The word count is 295, that is when you include the title; less than a page of typed text but “Dressed like a Prince” (DLAP) is a great story. Brevity does not deny it depth and breadth. Rather, brevity is used cleverly to accentuate depth and to increase the poignancy of the tragedy it narrates. DLAP is a story that stirs, that sears your body and soul and one which overwhelms you in the end by its delicately handled pathos, a pathos that has none of the antics of pity porn that tear streamer tales usually resort to. The start of the story is abrupt but innocuous enough, children desiring new clothes on the occasion of Nigeria’s Independence day celebration. Narration is through a third person. We meet the vocally talented and light-hearted Godspower and his aspirations to a career in music, ambition in sharp contrast to the reality of the extreme poverty he lives in with his sister. Their poverty is aptly and economically conveyed through their tattered clothes. Close by to them in a neighbourhood called “America”, are signs of opulence. Living in such close proximity to affluence only accentuates their and the reader’s senses of social inequities in our society. Two sub-themes flow like quiet streams shaping the story and increasing our empathy for these two children trapped in an exceptionally difficult situation. These themes are the possible deaths of their parents in Yobe (victims of religious violence?) and the failure of our child protection systems to pick up these children and provide them some protective care. (Grandma headed households in urban settings are usually very deprived, so we can imagine the daily existence of Godspwer and his sister).
We learn that urban demolition is on-going in “America”. The two children are drawn to the scene where they rummage in the rubble and find a bag half-filled with clothes. They grab this and run. And the noose of tragedy suddenly tightens around the necks of these already traumatised lives. Urban jungle justice is swift and savage. And it is only in death that Godspower eventually gets the decent dressing he had so longed for in life but never got. Where were these kind neighbours who contributed to buy the suit in these children’s moments of need, we ask silently as we read? The story prompts other questions too – questions on indifference, the collapse of our social safety nets and human savagery!
DLAP is a slap on our faces and our consciences. It is many things – an indictment of the failure of our child protection systems and a sad commentary on the inadequacy of social provisions in our societies. It is also a reminder of the savage that lurks in each one of us, the savage that accounted for the tragedy in #Aluu 4. StNaija has written a very moving story, a story of poverty and death, the death of a child and by implication of the underlying progressive death of social institutions that should ensure that the deprived and underprivileged have life. By locating the death on the day that our country was born, St Naija also sends a very strong message to us all. Should a child die in the midst of plenty on the day of birth of our country? We can only wonder why. We can also wonder on the anonymity of the location and with that the anonymity, the implied message that sad events similar to those in DLAP could be repeating right next door to us, in our very town, in our own very neighbourhood. What are we doing? St Naija has written a troubling story about our troubled land. Her skills in micro fiction come out very beautifully as she effectively exploits a number of literary techniques to tell her story and jolt us. The mastery of the skills in writing flash fiction displayed by the author, the theme as well as the handling of theme commend this piece of art that says so much with so few words.
Good things are happening in our land and one of them is this flowering of fresh talents in literary creativity as evidenced in the works of ladies like Kemi Ogunniyi, Ego Okoro and N. Bassey