One of the three recommended short stories this week is by a writer we know well; the two others are from writers whose name we’ll hear more and more very soon. One of the stories was published in an African mag, Agbowo’s ‘Limits’ Issue, while the two others were published in non-African mags—Barren and Zoetrope.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
“24, Alhaji Williams Street” by Pemi Aguda (published in Zoetrope: All Story)
“Alhaji Williams is a very long street. The plots are small, and many hold clusters of flats. So we had enough time to see what was happening before it was our turn. My turn. By the afternoon the fever reached the fourth house, the rest of the street had braced for its arrival.”—from “24, Alhaji Williams Street.”
From the winner of the 2015 Writivism Prize for the short story “Caterer, Caterer” comes this story about children dying of a fever that has no name, house by house. Narrated by a boy of seventeen who loves Brymo, it is a moving piece. What seems to be a light story at the beginning becomes darker and darker as the story moves on and we wonder if the fever would take the narrator, too, if it would take all the children on Alhaji Williams Street.
At last, it becomes a tale about survival and what we do to make it out alive, about how we die sometimes to live.
Pemi also does well in building suspense in this story, the way I was drawn into the story from the start (at this point because of the voice), and the way I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to know what would befall the narrator, a boy that’s in my age category. And maybe that’s why I can relate well with the story, with the voice, because the person in trouble is a boy like me. Could have been me. Also because the world Pemi creates is very familiar—a street in Lagos, boys who smoke, boys who listen to Brymo (I’m a big fan of Brymo’s music!), boys attending tutorials in preparation for JAMB, going to Ibadan to write the exam. And it’s not surprising that she knows all these things about the life of a young boy living in Lagos, in Niaja—Pemi does that all the time.
The way Pemi creates gloom in the story is amazing.
“We went to a pharmacy and pooled money to buy a thermometer. “What’s the normal body temperature?” Junior asked.
I asked Google. “Thirty-seven degrees Celsius.”
He raised his T-shirt and stuck the thermometer in his armpit. As we waited, we watched the passing cars. He pulled it out, and we crowded over it, squinting.
“Thirty-seven point two?” he asked.
I leaned in. “Thirty-seven point one.” Then it was my turn.
He shook the thermometer, and when I told him to wipe the end on his shirt, we laughed.
I placed the device under my arm, hugging my elbow tightly. I sent a message: Be cool, be cool. And when I pulled it out, a whiff of sweat dissipating in the air between us, Junior read, “Thirty-six point nine.” I looked away from the envy he tried to hide.
We shared a joint at the back of Iya Risi’s buka, staring at the goats and cooped chickens that would soon be lunch. We argued over which of Brymo’s albums was the best, if Klitôris showed a dip in his arc, if he was maybe the Fela of our generation.
“If all your friends were in hell, would you still go to heaven?” Junior asked me.
I blew out smoke. “I don’t know, man.””
“I had dreams of hellfire. I think it was hellfire. It burned the University of Ibadan, the one legacy I’d hoped to continue on for my father. It burned my fantasies of ever seeing Brymo in concert, or of watching my sister finally marry her boyfriend. And sometimes, from the inferno, Junior would call out to me.
I’d wake up from these dreams, stick the thermometer in my armpit, and stare at the numbers—36.9, 37.2, 37.3, 36.9, 37.1—until they blurred into black smudges and I drifted back to unconsciousness.
For the JAMB exam, we were required to bring photocopies of our forms and receipts. I piled all my documents in the backyard and set them aflame.”
Pemi also writes about how we treat people when we know we might lose them soon:
“I woke the next morning to discover my sister at the foot of my bed, peering over me as if trying to memorize me, scaring me fully alert. She told me to get dressed, that she was taking us to the new amusement park on the expressway. We were having a family day.”
And when we come to the end, we still keep wondering—but this time, it’s a gentle kind of wonder.
“Hurt” by Chimeka Garricks (published in Barren Magazine Issue No. 2)
“Your mother starts crying when Dami turns up for his funeral.” – from Hurt
…That start got me big time, and Chimeka did not disappoint.
Dami, after he was diagnosed with brain tumor at a time that it had become too late to treat, insists on organizing and attending his own funeral (“a living funeral”) a few weeks before his death. Narrated in the second person, from the point of view of his brother, Priye, the story is painful but also a little bit funny. And it has the Nollywood kind of feel to it, only that Chimeka ties things well here.
Here is what I mean: Dami was the last child of a very wealthy family, and was spoilt. He got everything he wanted, because his mother would not let him not have anything he wanted. Third year in Unilag, he decided he was going to the UK to school—and the company of their late father, which at the time was struggling to pay salaries, was required to pay for that choice. Ten years later, he would be deported from UK, with nothing but the achievement of dropping out of two universities and gaining a drug habit. Back in Nigeria, his mother insisted that his elder brother, who was handling the company his father left behind, appointed him as a director in the company—and Dami surprised everyone by working hard, getting married and cutting parties. But then there was another surprise—almost a year later, he cleaned out over a hundred and ninety-six million naira from the company’s main account. Then the tumor; then he’s all changed.
The very beautiful thing about this story is how it speaks of family, how we will always forgive our loved ones who do the shittiest of things—not because they deserve it, but because we have to, because family is family. It’s about where we fall back to when our time is dripping its last, when we can see the end already and there’s no running. And, this: It’s about what brothers do, about how your ‘lil’ bro will always be your ‘lil’ bro no matter how tall he grows.
The little twists in the story are nice, too. For example, this conversation between Joy, Dami’s ex-wife, and Priye, Dami’s brother:
“You took advantage of another lengthy silence to finish your drink. You caught her eyes, held them and said as honestly as you could. “I hope you forgive yourself and you heal fully soon.”
Her smile was sad. “I’m glad you didn’t say I should forgive him.”
You shrugged, “I suspect that comes as part of the full healing package.”
“I’ll heal when I see Dami’s grave. I plan to spit on it.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
Her eyes flashed. “Is that a dare?”
“You don’t understand.” You exhaled. “He wants to be cremated.””
Chimeka also does well with the use of Nigerian English in this piece, the only thing being that the characters’ voices sometimes slip into the narrative voice. But it still remains a wonderful short story.
“Made of Water” by Erhu Kome Yellow (published in Agbowó’s Limits Issue)
“His name is Akpo and he could not be more than 17. He had told me what was going on. Why he and the other boys had to sit there every day, watching and waiting. He spoke some form of broken English but I understood every word.
“The matter start small. Oil company people discover oil for here. Them help us build primary school, build water tower even give us generator and our chiefs give them free pass to work. When time reach to con work, those Oteri people, our neighbor town say make the oil company people no drill for the land.””—from “Made of Water”.
A YA story about what we do for love, for family, about the sacrifices we make. It is narrated by a teenage girl named Rossetti and is about her mom and her best friend, Jazz, and the two boys, Akpo and Ben, who mean something to her. A number of things happen in the story which are generally things a young person would notice: She meets Akpo, the seventeen-year old boy who carries a gun to defend ‘our’ land, and she’s somewhat fascinated by him; she’s angry because she wasn’t invited to a party; her mother, who lost her job not long after her father died, buys her a tulle dress that must be very costly, and she wonders where her mother got the money; she hangs out with her best friend Jazz, and the boy, Ben, she has a crush on, who seems to like her, walks by—later in the story he invites her for a date. But all these things blend to make a wonderful story, and there’s a nice twist at the end, and I like the note on which the story ends.
The use of a mix of pidgin English, which Erhu calls ‘broken English’, is nice—the only thing being that the boy, Akpo, who is supposed to speak broken English, sometimes speaks fluent English.
Here for example:
“”I no know for am. Evil mind? But e stop so I join my mama for farm you know. Man’s got to eat. This work,” he holds out his rifle, “it will give me and my mama money so we can find house of our own. The oil company people will give chiefs money, the chiefs will give us our share. Na so e be.” He pauses. Then he begins to speak again with emotion in his voice. “And the oil land is our land! I must protect wetin belong to us by fire by force. No small pikin mind here.””
—Akpo speaks good English.
However, I like the voice in the story; it’s gentle, and it was really what kept me in the story.
I hope you enjoy reading these stories. I’ll be reviewing and recommending more interesting short stories in the coming weeks.
Did you enjoy these stories as much as I did? Please leave your comments below.
ERNEST O. ÒGÚNYEMÍ is an eighteen-year old writer and spoken word artist from Nigeria. His works have appeared/ forthcoming in: Kalahari Review, Litro ‘Comedy’ Issue, Lucent Dreaming, Low Light Magazine, Canvas Lit Journal, Agbowó ‘Limits’ Issue, and elsewhere. He is a 2019 Adroit Summer Mentee, and currently serves as an editorial intern at COUNTERCLOCK Journal. In 2018, he won the Association of Nigerian Authors NECO/ Teen Prize for his manuscript of short stories, “Tomorrow Brings Beautiful Things: STORIES”. He is currently working on his first novel.