by Ujunwa Omeje
On the night of November 6, I didn’t sleep well. I woke up every now and then to check my phone as if my life depended on it. I left the phone on the sofa where I slept, close to my head; an email was going to come and I didn’t want to miss it. Not that I was going to miss it anyway, it was my phone of course. Anxiety crept up my back the way cockroaches crawl up walls, and it made me jumpy so that I couldn’t just keep my damn hands off that phone.
The mail was going to come from Miss Adichie. I had applied for a spot in her Purple Hibiscus creative writing workshop.
A friend I would call Peters, who was an alumnus of her writing workshop, said I would see the mail at 6 am on November 7. But I felt it could pop up anytime from 12 am.
This mail wasn’t the kind one received every day. I had fantasied about it. I vividly remember the mental and physical stress I endured while applying for this prestigious creative writing workshop, so I was confident that she would reply, with an acceptance letter. I deserved a spot for all the work I’d put in.
Don’t judge me. It wasn’t hubris. I just had a firm and strong ‘belief in myself’. I needn’t tell you that it was the longest night of my life—it was as long as the letters of the river Mississippi.
On the morning of November 7, at 6 am, I received a mail.
I came down on my phone the way an eagle would pounce on its prey. My heart was beating so fast I thought it would jump up my throat and out of my dry mouth. The mail was from Brittlepaper. I clicked on the Gmail icon and it formed a circling cyan circle. As I waited, my anxiety floundered because it wasn’t Brittlepaper I was expecting a mail from. Nevertheless, I consoled myself saying Brittlepaper could be the news bearer. After what seemed like forever, the mail opened.
The mail was n’t about Purple Hibiscus Writing Workshop, it was about an annoying new prize for prose, for African francophone countries. I found it annoying because that wasn’t what I was expecting; I do not have any problem particularly with the prize. I hadn’t seen how my face looked, but I was sure it was gorged up in blood. I felt deep pangs of anger that held tight to my throat, and I had to breathe through my mouth for it to recede.
After that, another mail came and then another and another. It seemed all the emails knew I was expecting a special email so they decided to play tricks on me. Why else did they all choose the 7th of all days to announce themselves so flagrantly? I checked carefully but none was from Miss Adichie. The last drop of patience fell off my body, and I switched off my phone.
Peters had been confident when he said I would receive the mail at six, and I had no reason to doubt him since he was at the workshop a few years earlier and had more information than I did. At 6:21, I powered my phone to send him a message on messenger: Dianyi, itz 6 o.
At 6:25, he hadn’t replied so I sent him another message: I have been jumpy since morning — walking up with a start, refreshing my phone every now and then, visiting Brittlepaper so often. Waking*
I am particularly concerned about time. I love to keep time the way I would love a woman I cared about. I love it when someone said they would show up at 6 pm and did. The greatest yardstick I use in measuring seriousness is one’s ability to keep time. I could be wrong but I don’t care. On the 8th of November, I hadn’t heard from Miss Adichie and this became the basis of my anger. It wasn’t particularly anger, it was some sort of disappointment interspersed with anger, like a plate of fried rice sprinkled with diced liver. She hadn’t kept her words. I googled Purple Hibiscus Writing Workshop less often than I did the day before. Each time I keyed in those words, a complete name of the workshop showed up, meaning that some other people elsewhere felt the way I did or perhaps worse. This knowledge comforted me.
On November 9, I didn’t bother to search again on Google, I encouraged myself to accept the mail whenever it came, and if it didn’t come at all, well, everything good will come.
The mail from Miss Adichie didn’t come.
What surprised me was that when Peters finally replied on Messenger, he said the result for the Purple Hibiscus creative writing workshop was out since November 7 but wasn’t official yet. I didn’t care to get into the details of how he knew. The only thing he told me which stuck was that literature was subjective. And today when the editor at Creativewritingnews.com sent me a mail that prompted this narrative, she again said that literature was subjective.
Yes, literature is subjective. Last year I bought Ben Okri’s The Famished Road to read— I had heard a lot about it and thought it would be good if I read it. I hadn’t known what genre it was. It’s been a year now and I have only read five chapters of it. Not that I don’t want to read the book, I found out bitterly, so sourly, that the book didn’t interest me. Sci-fi and abstract stories do not interest me. That doesn’t mean The Famished Road isn’t a good book, of course, it is, otherwise, it wouldn’t have won the prestigious Man Booker prize.
Again, to drive my point further so as to keep this piece tight the way a nail does two pieces of wood, see this. I have read a lot of James Hadley Chase’s novels. In fact, I could skip a meal to read a Chase just because I feel they are good. I know a friend who never reads Chase, but that doesn’t mean the author’s books aren’t good. They all are, in my humble opinion.
And if you feel compelled to judge me and call me embittered, wait a minute. You’re right about one thing. I am bitter, but I am not wallowing in self-pity. My goal is to share my experience and all that I have learned.
Sometimes writers succeed, sometimes they don’t. We only have to accept what we can’t change hoping that one day everything good will come.
Ujunwa Omeje grew up in Nsukka in Eastern Nigeria. He’s a Civil Engineering student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. As a firm believer in storytelling, stories help him understand that human beings are flawed and that no one is completely good or completely bad. With this understanding, he strongly believes that stories can change the world. This is why he keeps telling stories.
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