The blooming flowers in A Handful of Dust

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This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Reviews season one

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy noted that in A Handful of Dust, a collection of short stories that depicts time travel and issues ranging from self-determination, betrayal, and domestic violence, the blooming flowers (young writers) are African literature’s rays of hope.

Well, let us just say that I am fortunate to have a rucksack containing various species of blooming flowers and I must say that it was an enjoyable experience putting these flowers under close observation.

My rucksack is a collection of short stories from the 2013 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop titled A Handful of Dust. The book has a collection of fine stories from budding writers, amongst whom the next great literary light from Africa will emerge. Let us examine the tales in this book.

Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari’s “My Family Tree: My Family’s Journey through Time and Geopolitics” cannot be called a story as such for it spans several generations and the writer deceives us to make us think the story is about his family tree, it is in fact the story of a society being continuously visited by change orchestrated by external forces. Such a tale would have been loftier had it been written in the form of a traditional narrative poem. It would have sounded smooth on the lips of a traditional praise singer for it has the “stuff” of which great epics are made. The adaptation of the traditional storyteller style for telling a story by subconsciously fixing himself in the past as well as the present and a direct translation of thought from the traditional Edo language into English sustains the readers’ interest. By exploring the significance of names (especially its semantic implications) in an African setting and employing it to introduce the birth of a new generation, Buhari tells us his tale in such a way that we find his story both endearing and fascinating.

Gbolahan Adeola’s “Aderoye” might not be my favorite story but it is a satisfying and complete story which leaves very little (if any at all) of its knots untied, there is something about me and traditional Yoruba stories of warriors and kings, I just love them! Aderoye is that loyal warrior and patriotic prince of Ilujin whom his elder brother and king plots against to have banished to the fringes of the village for fear that Aderoye might harm him (the king). Every of Aderoye’s family members are murdered in a gruesome manner except his only son (Dekunle) who is left alive with him. Yet when the king dies and a royal blood is needed for sacrificial purposes before the king can be buried, Aderoye’s only surviving son is used to perform the ritual but wait, that is not all, you should know how Aderoye retaliated the wrongs visited upon him unjustly and that is what I shall not tell you (haha). There exists a close resemblance between this story and the myth of Ogun (the Yoruba god of iron). Like Aderoye, those Ogun trusted connived against him to have his family killed yet they would return to him years after to seek forgiveness and ask that he become their king, this was after he had left the town in annoyance and placed curses upon it. However, the Ogun myth preached forgiveness as against Aderoye which ended in revenge. As in the short story told by Gbolahan Adeola in this book, the theme of betrayal is also poignant in the mythic presentation of Ogun’s story. We should not fail to note the use of the second person personal pronoun in the story which of course makes us to empathize with Aderoye’s plight in the hands of the Ilujin royalty.

In Uchenna Walter Ude’s “Any Last Words?” do we find a schizophrenic protagonist led towards murder by an uncontrollable jealousy. It is strange that a man would kill another man for a woman he never once wooed and even more strange that the same man would go on to kill that woman, such a man must be dancing in the realm of abnormality. The story lacks verisimilitude for me. Perhaps, the writer should have worked more on having an actual love proposal or affair before edging the protagonist towards murders. I noticed the use of two voices in the narration, that of the protagonist in the first person and that of an omniscience narrator. I think the combination is a bad choice, maybe Uchenna Walter Ude should have let the priest pick up the second voice rather than giving it to the narrator, yet that would have amounted to having the voice of the protagonist in quotes. Herein do we see the inadequacy of the first person narrative point of view which does not let the writer go beyond what the narrator knows or witnesses. Uchenna Walter Ude’s “Any Last Words?” is not a story I shall want to read again.

Kelechi Njoku “The Third Silence” captures a child (Abby Sam) growing up to understand that all is not well in her home, especially between her parents; there is too much silence but the third silence signifies the separation of her parents with her mother having to leave the house after the father caught her mother with her lover. Not as interesting as that of Buhari and Adeola but a good story nonetheless.

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A Handful of Dust” is the second story that I have read written by Arinze Ifekandu, the first is “God’s Children are Little Broken Things“. And like the first, “A Handful of Dust” tackles societal acceptance cum reaction to homosexuals. Though I have my reservations on “God’s Children are Little Broken Things“, I agree that it is a great story and that Ifekandu took time to give that story flesh and blood. I am afraid the same cannot be said of “A Handful of Dust,” the narrator is far older than the voice ascribed to him, I expect to see a young boy of ten to twelve years in that story, not a young adult already in the university. The inquisitiveness, use of rhetorical question, choice of the simple sentence style and manner of narration simply does not match the narrator’s age bracket. But I understand why the writer raised the age bracket, it is perhaps a question of portraying a ten year old child as having a girlfriend. This is a problem that can be solved if you steer the story towards another direction by not making girlfriends the basis for comparison or just write that the ten year old child was caught having a sexual fling with a girl in the church, kids “innocently” do this you know (winks)? Moreover, if the narrator is over 18 as the writer wants us to see him, I do not think the mother would be having another child 18 years in-between the last one, it is not an impossibility, but a rare one which should even be discussed in the story if thought so.

Maybe there is also that issue of the suicide, do you not think so too, Ifekandu? That suicide is unjustified. Do you think it is the dad’s warning Lottana to stop calling Kamsi which initiated the suicide move or is it the discovery that Kamsi is a homosexual which precipitated the move to give up on life? From what I read in the story, the latter seems to be the case more than the first. The father’s reaction is just not harsh enough for Kamsi to have committed suicide. Perhaps, you might consider giving that aspect more flesh.

However, I like the way the writer is able to interrogate the mind and expose the words in it, perfect for the way the mind of a child runs. Also the image of “dust” keeps appearing so that it becomes a sort of leit-motif and a symbol of the agony of death present in Kamsi’s household following his demise and contrasting deeply with the birth of a new child in the same household.

Kiprop Kimutai’s “Evening Tea with the Dead” is hinged on the theme of a fleeting existence; the journey from childhood towards old age–a journey towards death. It is a lonesome journey even with friends and family around us but what if our fate is as that of Kogo, the female protagonist in the story? Kogo grows old and watches people around her die one after the other. Without a child of her own to take care of her, she refuses to go stay with the family of her stepchildren. She remembers her youth. Kogo is a perfect representation of the frustration of life and her story captures the metamorphosing stages of life.

Timedu Aghahowa’s “Origin” has a narrator who comes from a lineage of storytellers and the mother is insistent on passing this tradition to her daughter despite the fact that the daughter is of a modern age that had witnessed much technological and scientific advancement. One of the striking stories her mother tells her is that of a wicked old woman whose spirit is refused entry into the village after death.

Timedu Aghahowa and Kiprop Kimutai’s stories showcase a peculiar aspect of the African culture which believes in a constant communion with the dead. Our dead do not die and go to heaven or hell, they die physically and their spirit remains roving around our homesteads and hamlets. We even prepare and keep food for them awaiting their nightly visits. Both stories are in the realm of magical realism in African literature, an ideology whose force would be strongly felt in the next story.

Pink Soap” by Abdulrashid Mohammed has its creed in magical realism and it is perhaps my favourite of all stories in the collection, very scary and real! It is the story of Jonke who joins a secret ritual cult for the purpose of obtaining wealth. The story begins with Jonke’s death and a flashback depicting his initiation ceremony. Jonke is dead and against the wishes of his wife, his body must go to the secret cult he belongs to. He must be punished for not presenting one of his sons to take his place in the cult; his body would be grinded and turned into a pink soap! A pink soap always kept to be used to bathe new initiates. How this process is achieved will leave you visibly shaken, that is if you do manage to reach the end of the story. There is a great lesson to be learnt from the story too; the unjustified pursuit of wealth usually comes with dire consequences. Perhaps, Abdulrashid Mohammed’s “Pink Soap” is the African form of horror story.

With Rapulu Charles Udo’s “Oil for Bait,” we move to the realm of ecocriticism to visit the damage caused by the concerted effort of the government and the oil companies. It is the story of a young boy who comes to discover that his father is not a fisherman as he had always been led to believe; rather he is an oil thief. But what is there to aspire towards in a place where the greed for oil has left even nature destabilized.

“Popa is strong. He’ll come back.” I said.

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“Not again. Na the way for all of Tham. Him nat alone.”

“Grandpa was a fisherman. He didn’t die at sea.”

“Ya thank ya father a fisher?”

“I know him as a fisherman.”

“Ya nat know him well. Ya father de steal petrol before he start wark for that refine…”

I kept quiet.

“Ya no know? He dey oil until that man came. E no wan ya Papa spoil his business na im make he put am for that refine.”

“Why he came back with fish sometimes?”

“To cover…to say a ma fisher. Mi know him well. But ya no go be fisher as I live.”

She looked into my eyes. “Ya no go be fisher as I live, pickin. Na the story for those wey steal petrol. Tham go. Tham no dey retarn.” (104)

The choice of pidgin in dialogue gives to the story a local colour and verisimilitude although the choice of polished English for the boy character is not a good choice even if the intention is to show that the boy is partially educated.

Rapulu Charles Udoh tells a sad tale but not a delightful one.

Damilola Yakubu’s “I Killed You” engages the “self” in a conversation. It is an explication of how we, humans, live our life as one person today and become another person tomorrow. As we grow, life (its challenges and experiences) affects and changes us so that we might look back to see the man we once were and not recognize that man again, that former man becomes a stranger to a new you.

Perhaps, the unique thing about this story is the use of two voices; the first and second person pronoun to represent two voices from one narrator; the first person pronoun represents the narrator in the present while the second person pronoun (you) represents the narrator in the past. So with this, you would understand how it becomes possible for “I” to have killed “you”.

For young Idi, the protagonist, the avoidable death of Ebun through an avoidable road accident (if only the governor had thought it wise to install road bumps on the newly constructed road that went by the school to slow down vehicles) meant the death of his young self. Ebun was the only one with whom he found acceptance and innocent child love in, her demise translated into him never being himself again and this is how “I” killed “you”.

The story Adaora Nwankwo tells us in “Little Things” is that of a society infested with too much corruption and decay. A society where lecturers collect bribes before awarding pass marks to students or force their students to buy irrelevant materials and handouts. A world where civil servants think it irrelevant to resume at their offices and perform their duties, where you have to bribe government hospital workers before they attend to you. It is always a case of giving something to get something.

But amidst all these are people who are prepared to keep their heads while all others are losing theirs, people like Nnenna who would neither collect bribes from her students nor give bribe to corrupt lab attendants in the government hospital where her husband is admitted. She is also the caring type who would never stop thinking about the plight of others. There are also people like the doctor who would sweat it out (despite the challenges posed by the refusal of the government to make available necessary hospital equipments) to snatch human lives from the very jaws of death!

These people, although quite few and rare, are the treasures of the society and give to the insanity of our existence a semblance of sanity.

Maryam Isa has a great story but left it unfinished, her story left me feeling dissatisfied and like Oliver, I was itching to get more. “Incense” is a comment on the culture of forced child marriage in northern Nigeria and depicts the experience of the first bridal night between Kwaise, a young inexperienced lady betrothed to a more matured and experienced Abdul Mu’umin. The burning incense serves a symbolic purpose for it captures Kwaise’s innocence and beauty, and at the end the incense is spilled on that which Kwaise loves most about her new home, the Persian rug. It burns it; clearly a symbol of the pain and destruction caused by the sexual contact between the newly married couple. The rug becomes her innocence and virginity burnt by Abdul Mu’umin’s insistence to defile her against her wish.

A Night of Regrets” by Sifa Asani Gowon is actually ironical if we consider the conflicts that would have evolved had the narrator engaged in the act he is regretting. It centers on the issue of infidelity among married couples as well as making the right choices in life. I love how the writer developed the story and employed suspense to engage the reader. Next to Abdulrashid Mohammed’s “Pink Soap“, it is my next favourite story.

You do not know what you have until you lose it; this is the lesson to be learnt from Efe Paul Azino’s “Dying Alone“. When a man quarrels and makes enemies of those who should stand by him when he is falling, he ends up living a solitary life till death comes knocking. Alongside this is also the issue of arranged marriage by parents who think it to be the only way to cement their friendship. The tale is told in a series of flashbacks giving vivid images of domestic violence and that is perhaps its most potent technique.

One thing I find out is that in Africa, we always seek spiritual rather than medical help to resolve our problems and that is what I come to encounter in Okechukwu Otukwu’s “Fighting Temptations“. The story is that of a man struggling against the rising urge to become a paedophile. He runs to the priest to confess his impure thoughts and narrates how he almost committed the act itself, this was after he had tried curing himself via seeking spiritual assistance elsewhere to no avail. I think these priests once confronted with such challenges must make it a point of duty to advise the penitent to seek medical assistance while they support him with prayers. However, the most important thing about the story is that it helps us to examine the disturbing issue of pedophilia from the perspective of the supposed villain, it helps us to know that some of those who commit the abominable act are not pushed by the urge to have sex only but might be mentally unstable, a condition that also needs to be further investigated by science. The story employs the same monologue style as Uchenna Walter Ude’s “Any Last Words” in its narration.

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Lilian Izuorah “Pickled Peppers” offers to us the archetypal tussle between the mother-in-law and the wife. Here it is not just an issue of physical quarrel but also of spiritual attack which will lead to a family keeping its distance from the mother-in-law so that even when she dies, the grandchildren know not of her good sides since she spreads the war, declared upon the mother, to the kids also.

Faith Tissa tells a terrifying story in “Siege” about a young man (Kewe) who has series of midnight imaginative attacks. Strange enough, Kewe is always quiet and calm during the day so Tina could not have known about this abnormality before renting an apartment in the same flat as Kewe. The story captures the challenges faced by Lagosians seeking an abode to dwell. Lagos is a place where you come in contact with the good, the bad and the ugly. The trouble of getting a reasonable and calm atmosphere to dwell in is almost a miracle for those who are not too rich, it is either the landlord or his wife are quarrelsome troublemakers or the next door neighbour is always beating  his wife. With Lagos, there is always a palaver waiting in ambush for you and there are neighbours who are so clever at minding their businesses that they care little if you are sinking into the ground or even dying!

Lagos to Servile: A Schengen Visa” by Tajudeen Kojeyo is hinged on the issue of infidelity and the embarrassment of Nigerians travelling abroad as a result of past history of drug crime and illegal immigration. Great thematic content but not my idea of a good story.

Lastly, we have Adanna Adeleke’s “On Finding Home” with the main character no longer feeling at ease in her home after a painful rape experience and the death of her mother. In her bid to escape these tribulations she runs from home to London in search of peace but there she meets with racism and societal castigation. At the end, she makes a u-turn journeying towards home to find peace at long last in the embrace of her father’s arms.

The good thing about Adanna Adeleke’s “On Finding Home” and Tajudeen Kojeyo’s “Lagos to Seville” is that both show a sharp departure from the story of migration or travelling abroad that we have come to be used to especially Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Ike Oguine’s A Squater’s Tale. In both of these tales, the need to travel outside the country is spurred by the total loss of fate in the workability of the system of things in the country, characters are disillusioned and with no hope of better days ahead, they seek an escape route outside the shores and borders of Nigeria and it matters little what had to be done to get there or what jobs are available at the place they run to, they just want to “check out!” But with Adanna Adeleke and Tajudeen Kojeyo, we see that Nigerians also travel not to do drugs, engage in prostitution, or become second class citizens in another man’s country but to seek inner peace or for brief vacation.

On a general note, I see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s influence on these writers; most were influenced by her style of narration (especially in the choice of the second person pronoun for narration) but they forget what makes Adichie thick. Adichie is a combination of two great African writers. While her style of narration is obviously influenced by Chinua Achebe, she also has the uncanny ability to make her readers sympathize or empathize with her characters (like Buchi Emecheta); with Adichie, you can develop deep-seethed hatred for a character that you might find yourself wanting to reach into the book to strangle that character to death, yet will you find that character who you would fall in love with and, like Pygmalion, wish that the character become real. Almost all of the blooming flowers in this anthology miss this aspect of Adichie; except perhaps Gbolahan Adeola who has a most moving tale.

With these blooming flowers, we see a variety of experimental writings (“I Killed You” for example), we meet stories spanning various epochs and travel with the writers as they take us from one place to another. We are confronted with issues ranging from self determination, betrayal, homosexuality, domestic violence, the search for inner peace and more. With them we also venture into the realm of history, myth, ecocriticism and magical realism.

It would be wrong to expect these young writers (blooming flowers) to be near perfection, in fact, they are the definition of imperfect on! But with them, I see hope for the future of African literature. The best is yet to come! Adichie and her team deserve our applause for gathering such great minds to weave for us beautiful tales that leave us hungry for more.

© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2017

Read Eazy’s reviews on Memorila.com every Saturdays!

Series Navigation<< The folktale tradition in a technological world: A review of Onyemaechi Maxwell Opia-Enwemuche’s The Oracle of IsiekeWomanism in African Literature: The example of Flora Nwapa’s Women are Different >>

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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

2 thoughts on “The blooming flowers in A Handful of Dust

  • March 11, 2018 at 5:42 pm
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    A long read yet adequately informing and engaging. Objective too. Keep them coming!

    Reply
    • March 14, 2018 at 11:22 am
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      We will try to always keep them coming. Abubakar Eazy is really doing a wonderful work…

      Thanks for the comments. They show our works are not in vain….

      Reply

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