Some short stories make you cry, others make you gasp. But there are some that just show you something and that’s all they do. This week’s recommended stories include stories by Simbiat Haroun, an alumnus of the 2018 Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Trust, Adams Adeosun whose “Beloved” (published in “Limbe to Lagos”) is so achingly beautiful, and Chidiebube onye Okohia. The stories featured are from Omenana, The Offing, and COUNTERCLOCK Journal. I hope you enjoy reading these reviews and, more, that you enjoy the stories.
“We had just settled into bed when we heard you climbing up the wall.”—from “The Story of How You Died”.
In an issue that includes works by Wole Talabi (whose story “Wednesday Stories” was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2018 and whose first book—“The Incomplete Solutions”—was recently published by Luna Press), Haku Jackson, and some other amazing writers, there is a not-too-loud but beautiful work by an amazing new voice in speculative fiction.
Simbiat’s story is one that leaves you wondering what you have read at the end of the tale, but one that leaves you feeling something on your inside—that something may be anger, a tiny one, or pain, a prickling one, or admiration, the kind that makes you want to drink water.
Because there are almost no new stories again, the work of the writer today is to take the stories that we know and tell them in ways that make us want to read them again. This is exactly what Simbiat did in “The Story of How You Died”: the story of a man who comes to steal the “Eni Egbere” (the Bush Baby’s mat) in order to take care of something, narrated by the “Egberes”.
In the Yoruba Mythology, the “Egbere” is said to be “a malevolent spirit with a short stature known to carrying a mat of wealth wherever it goes” (steemit.com). The mat, “Eni Egbere”, is believed to make whoever steals it rich, but then it is very difficult to steal. However, in Simbiat’s story, the “Egberes” aren’t all malevolent; our narrators—the “we” of the story—are, surprisingly, very thoughtful and round characters. The malevolent ones (Grandpa, for an example), in fact, had reasons for been that way.
Here, Simbiat writes: “We saw that you didn’t really want our mat. Under the light of the sun, you were a civil servant, slaving away for long hours and receiving a paltry salary in return. We saw your mother, lying in bed from an illness she would never recover from, and we felt pity for you. We saw the fear in your eyes, raw, naked, unfettered. We could see that you didn’t really want to do this, but what could we do? We were merely threads in fate’s spool.” Somewhere else, she writes: “We knew Idowu thought you were handsome. We could see why she would think so. You were dark-skinned, the kind of man we liked, and you had a strong jaw.”
Simbiat’s “Egberes” felt things—pity, fear, admiration—and, when you read this story, this one thing is sure, you’d have no choice but to feel something, too.
Want to read more of Simbiat’s work? Click to read her Personal Essay: On Getting Writing Advice From Chimamanda Adichie, Bonding With The Literati and Enjoying The Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop
“If this was my father’s story to tell, what would he tell you?”—from “A Natural History of Briefly Gorgeous Vegetables”
Exactly! The story is as beautiful as its title. I believe Adam should just write sixty thousand words of different sentences and call it a novel (it doesn’t have to be a plot-driven story or anything; that’s not important for me, what’s important is the voice and the prose), we will read it because we won’t be able to not read it.
This story is called “speculative” (according to Adams in a tweet), and it is. It is the story of ??? Yes, “family history”. It’s about history, the history of “tree people”: “Aunty Sola was a fig tree. Uncle Abdul, a palm tree. Baby grandpa Howard, a jacaranda. Cousin Yetunde, cherry. Grandpa, walnut…”
When you begin reading you read about trees, but don’t be surprised when the story becomes one about running (which is triggered by a particular incident in the story), and don’t be when it becomes something about sex, when the main character is rode “so hard that of the quarter century I’ve spent peddling my body… that first time is distinct in my memory the way a whale out of water would be.”
Though the piece reads like there is more to it than we are reading on the surface, which may be true to an extent, but whatever else the piece is saying, it becomes difficult for us to pause and think of it because of the gorgeousness of the prose. Also, one thing that Adams does in this story is to bring a number of moments together, treading them with the trees’ history, in a way that is so gorgeous.
And, he does this well, so well, I get thirsty when I’m reading this piece.
You just have to read it.
“Brown. Everything brown. Brown is the weight and hue of this city.”—from “No City for Young Bloods”.
In the latest issue of COUNTERCLOCK Journal, issue 7, there are so many amazing works, and this short story by Chidiebube is one of them.
A short story that opens with J.P.Clark’s well known poem “Ibadan”, the piece is about a corps member’s experiences in Ibadan: from seeking transfer from Ibarapa to Ibadan, taking an okada, the music of Ibadan, the food, to the snake that is killed in their compound one night. This short story is a kind I have not read by a Nigerian before, a short story about a particular place, Ibadan, that is just about that place and nothing else.
Like J.P. Clark’s poem, this story is not concerned about the political scene or anything; what it is is a word-painting of what Ibadan looks like, narrated by a corps member.
While any other person writing about this same place, and telling the story as a corps member, might have slipped into the cliché zone of dreams and hopes and the uselessness of the government, Chidiebube does not—he only paints us the Ibadan that he experienced; he does not even add a word on how that experience affected him.
The prose is also very descriptive (although it is difficult, or goes too far for me in some places). It is a remarkable piece.