Several humour, satire, tragic pieces and sob stories all collected in one anthology. Featured are: Manhole, Yellow Yamaha, Kajiwe and His Boxer Wife, Pains Shortlisted, Multiplications, Gone for Good, The Round Square, Cock Liberation, Dead Value, Stand-off, A Slap for Hire, Freezophobia, The Rope and the judge, Intruders, etc.
Excerpts from -‘Pains Shortlisted’.
The mock interview:
“…‘Next question,’ I take my turn, ‘Do you feel qualified for the position of the chief humorist in our company?’
‘Yes, I do. Never has civilization of centuries summed up and assessed in one man. I have a gift of expanding the smallest amount of joke into the largest dose of laughter. I have advanced further through the dense forest of humour from primary school right to the university. I’ve confronted all the hidden dimensions of humour studies; I was always hungry for humourous information. I read humour books, sifting through propaganda for facts, underlined a great deal, scribbled questions in the margins, asked questions openly. I was always the smartest boy with knowledge of humour words than a pocket sized dictionary. That is why I was elected the Research Fellow department of Gallows Humours because of my outstanding qualification.’
‘That won’t do! Sammie cuts in. You fancy yourself a humour writer but you are merely caught up in the rituals and ideas of mongering rumours than the tangible practice of writing humour. The panel has noticed that you are trying to make too much of your humourous tragedy, which is as exciting as a belching competition.’
‘So where do you see yourself in five years time?’ I put in.
‘Of course, sitting myself where you are sitting your fat...’
‘You are just another ambitious author writing up with a rush. I warn you! You can never be a CEO after just five years.’ I put him off and add, ‘Work out too on your hobbies - you don’t reveal to the panel that you’re a member of ‘Legalise Local Brew Pressure Group’ or declare that you dislike sliced water melons simply because they remind you of John the Baptist’s head. That’s silly, don’t you think so?’
‘When is your birthday?’
‘I have no birthdays. Ah... I really don’t know the exact dates because mine was a stillbirth, which happened next to our granary in our village and was wrapped in pumpkin leaves.’
‘You are a silly lying goose; 450 feet of lying. Your CV states that you were born in January 1798.’
‘Then apparently it has to be true as the CV never lie?’ I joke.
‘That’s your choice date since your updated CV has yet another date.’ Sammie informs him.
‘How old did you say you were?’
‘I didn’t say.’ Onyii puts in cleverly.
‘I didn't think you did. If you had, I wouldn’t have asked you again, because I would have remembered.
But I can calculate 1798 to present!’ Sammie breaks into a mad laughter.
But I don’t. I’ve always wondered why the interview panel would ask obvious questions and some times suddenly fail to understand the simplest words and imagine deafness. The chairman would inquire what day of the week it is. Poor me, I would respectively inform him, ‘To-day is Friday, Mr. Chairman.’
‘Eh! What? What did u say?’
Sammie dismisses Onyii, ‘you can never get the job; you haven’t the invention of a cockroach. You haven’t the street wisdom of chicken, no sterner stuff in you.’ But I suspect Sammie may be wishing that Onyii doesn’t get the job so that he could still hire the suits.
Sammie wants to give me his advice- he has more that the devil got sinners- but I am anxious not to get jammed in any conversation that would delay my voyage. I put on one of the remaining suits and it makes me look like a Second Century Roman Centurion appearing in a scene wearing a Rolex watch and Calvin Klein sunglasses…
After the interview:
… When the chairman (his set time-beeper went off) and the other panelists fully awaken, they take turns to advise me about my aspiration to become the Chief Humourist in the company.
‘You are just ambitious growing up with a rush young man. We strongly urge you in good spirits to be aware that your head could bump abruptly against the low ceiling of your actual possibilities. Good humour comes naturally. One does not prod or poke it like you are trying to. We are afraid to disappoint you, but truth be told- you still have a long way to go before you call yourself a humour writer.’
‘But I am a humour writer and have first-class stories to tell.’ I protest.
‘We can see there is something there if you can get it out…’
‘But you tell them badly, your metaphors bump into each other.’ The chatting god adds. ‘You use aging munitions from the dump of dispensational literature. That ‘pedestrianism’ doesn’t work.’
They all look as if they had been prepared for this moment, and they chatter amongst themselves as if I was no longer there, and deal my ‘pedestrian’ writing an immortal blow (like when someone talks behind your back even though you are right in front of them). They didn’t mince words. ‘Huge translation of hypocrisy! Vilely compiled! Profound simplicity!’ There was no polite formula to summarily dismiss what I held dear.
‘If he is entirely serious about writing humour then seriousness would overcome all obstacles.’
‘Many people write badly at the start and this young man’, the wrath god agrees, ‘is extremely serious that he must have something. But he requires talent-another absolute of writing humour.’ The goddess informs the chairman who sadly adds, ‘his style is dreadfully dowdy-reminds me of a badly bound Hymn Book.’ The gods enact a harmonic uproar. ‘He shouldn’t let the unimaginative mind be a place whose occupants are separate thoughts. That is not humour in the least…’
I think I am done. A hard lump settles in my dry throat as they tear me to pieces without a shred of tenderness. I am troubled at the loss of all my years of humour study. I see them like pages torn from a book, strewn over the concrete jungle and the useless advice is too much for me. I feel like stomping out of the office like my sweet ‘nails-for-display’ girl because their advice doesn’t help me more than the dust we sweep out of our back doors.
‘We’ll get back to you. Go home young man. Is there anything else you want to say?’ The chairman dismisses me when I hesitate…”
Excerpt from -‘Gone for Good’
“…Onyii is a such boring storyteller when it comes to explaining drama. Especially drama that he is part of its enacting. To cut the blab-la-blab, the purported witchdoctor’s house was a hive of activity-sad looking stone faces filled the atmosphere poisoning the scented air with sighs and groans. Onyii’s heart sank to his toes after he asked who was being mourned. It was the very witchdoctor. He had just passed on-to the underworld I guess- peacefully that morning. And his funeral was in progress. African funerals are dramatic occasions so much so that my Kilt-clad buddy Eric is just about to make a hit in publishing Instant Guide Series just from his enduring experiences.
A remote relation will dig for the distant vestiges with the deceased as they clamour for their share of attention while doing all manner of mournful gymnastics. ‘Poor sod!’ one would cry, beating the chest. What a shame you went away in your prime.’
‘He was such a nice man’ another would intone, as they dug deeper into the rice and meat stew provided by the deceased family. Another would enter through the gate in such a dramatis persona that would impress a casting agent eulogizing the departed soul that he hardly knew higher up into the skies. And that’s why Onyii’s weeping himself blind went unnoticed. Each tribute paid to the deceased became a pointed dagger, piercing his heart.
And while he stood there dazed and lost for words to express his truly deep loss, moaning and weeping and gnashing teeth and looking like a man who had just discovered that the earth was actually flat, the other ‘relations’ could not guess what pain and loss he was undergoing. Perhaps that’s why some mourners, on his behalf and prompting, rolled themselves silly in the dust and the courtyard and the grass leaving a pitiable sight for someone else to come and sympathize and kindly give them a shilling or so-for washing the clothes after the vexing funeral. Anyways if rivers were dry, they were able to fill it with those crocodile tears and were the wind down there were enough sighs to drive the boat with.
When the mourners wept louder than the owners of the corpse, whom would Onyii open his heart to? All his ‘Gone for good! Gone for good!’ echoes succeeded only in catching idler’s attention, which followed with a hum of ‘Was he your brother? Was he your brother?’
‘He was such a loving person! He was a man in a million!’
‘I loved him too. He was my favourite cousin.’
But as this was drama, they followed Onyii’s cue and changed their tune to match with his ‘how could I be so silly? Curse the day I made a deal with him!’ Professional mourners cried: ‘This twisted hoodlum! Rogue! Robber! For he robbed me too! Demi-devil, for he was a bastard.’ But cursing or no cursing, none could suck the melancholic dirge out of the compound like a weasel sucks eggs. Was there a reverse way? An escape route? A secret mountain passage to make his fall back plan B easier?...”
..And when we make a visit at the witchdoctor,
“…Going back to Prof. Maji Marefu, I almost confuse it for a Minister’s villa where desperate visitors desire to solicit this or that favour before the minister wakes. The mammoth clienteles make me to revise my assumption about his ‘expertise’ and whether the challenge to bring down a piece of the sky was merely empty bravado or not. You know there is credence in numbers as politicians will comfort us. That the majority can never be wrong. And I can attest to this because if masses claimed to see ‘things’ and the psychiatrist agreed to this truth, then chances were high that it were probably right. And for me to say that all those people were hallucinating and seeing ‘things’ then I would the one who was cracked upstairs.
The usher, tall, black and gaunt man, smiled on all and sundry, revealing his teeth stained with tobacco. The clients wait patiently, seated on a rough-hewn bench, whose surface was polished by time and the service it had rendered. We were led straight inside into the consultation room since our doctor friend was a well-known visitor and was welcome anytime. The space reserved for consultation was divided into two by a silken-draped partition. The first half served as a changing-room. In the second and bigger compartment stood a bulky bathtub, which some young girls filled with steaming water; in this, bits of wood were floating.
I was expecting some sort of briefing or consultation but none was forth coming from the way formalities were dispensed. Onyii was directed by the expert to the next room where he changed his clothes for some comfortable long white garb, which he removed in our presence. The expert then brandished a red chicken in his long arms, and struck the naked Onyii with it, from his head to his feet. The chicken squawked its disapproval of this treatment, and then as if laden with all the impurities of commission and omission that Onyii had accumulated, it gave a final cackle and expired. The expert mumbled some mumbo-jumbo and without scruple, bit off the bird’s lifeless head with his toothless gums and executed with the most savage slaughter you can imagine-with his bare hands in a manual dexterity that amused the doctor and offended the animal rights activist in me.
Then he expert drew the gizzard out of the dead bird and spread its contents on the ground. From the form of the entrails, he could foretell the future and the problem. That explains why there was neither formal briefing nor any prior explanations. The doctor explained later on that the swelling in the shape of two horns indicated that Onyii had been bewitched by someone, at whose disposal he now was…”
Excerpt from- ‘Intruders’
“…Jack the Raper came back sparkling clean after the hot shower. He was in her bathrobe. A foreboding indication to her that her fate was sealed. Yet, instead of going straight for her, he headed into the bedroom. Pushed and pulled the wardrobes, browsing through suits, hunting for what matched his taste. Taking a pair of jeans now, trying on a buggy T-shirt, disarranging, shuffling disapprovingly at the owner’s taste for cheap clad. Deciding on one pair of designer suit, he went closer to the dressing mirror to make sure he looked ready for the imaginary ‘date’ he was going.
He applied lotion on his face. Put on an after-shave and sprayed. Took out the purse that had been placed carelessly earlier on, and poured its contents on the dressing table. He gave an amused survey of the debris - puffs, powders, patches, two Bibles, rosary, a love letter. He dusted one of the Bibles and smiled as if, unworthy as he was, had realized that, its inclusion among love letter and cosmetics suggested a general confusion between worldly and spiritual affairs and values. He clutched at the Rosary and for a moment, the husband thought he was reflecting on his sins, as his wife had done, but Jack the Raper couldn’t distinguish between true and false worth for his gaze was fixed on a love letter and smiled at the lady’s picture to whom the letter was addressed to.
‘So romantic of you!’ he commented. ‘Look at this! Where do you get lovely ideas like these?’ and then he recited dramatically.
“I’m dying for you.
My heart is internally
Bleeding for you.”
‘Are you ready to die for the sake of you wife?’ he asked, looking at himself in the mirror.
‘You are such a nice young man. You could do something worthwhile with your talents.’ The husband advised. ‘They will find you. The authorities, you know.’
‘Don’t you lecture me on how to live my life.’ He hissed at him, with such finality that left the husband more terrified, and especially when he went back to the sitting room.
But he didn’t stop in the sitting room. He disappeared into the kitchen to forage for the food that he had been rudely interrupted imbibing, and came back almost instantly, sat near the wife and ate from the saucepan. He ate voraciously, with mouth stretched back to ears to swallow the more, eyes opening wide at the same time as jaws, and throat generating noises like the gurgling in a drainpipe. His eyes wandered to the unpacked dinner the wife had bought home. ‘Is that beef there?’ he asked, looking as if he had never turned a third course of any meal. He neither waited for the answer.
He picked up his fork and poked the meat with the knife; he cut off a slice of the beef, which lay in a mourning sea of watery gravy and heavy enough to hold upright a huge wooden spoon. Put the beef in his mouth, chewed it and, with great effort, made himself to swallow. ‘That tastes swee-eet so still!’ he went on, scrutinizing the almost dressed figure of the wife. ‘Isn’t it splendid to see young people eat? Lot’s of food to build up their strength! They are the people who are going to stir up the fermenting forces of the future.’
He grinned between mouthfuls throwing her a Jack the Ripper grin- his teeth gleaming like a lighthouse and his laugh coming up out of him like the beginning of an earthquake. But the wife only stared him with empty eyes, to which he retorted: ‘Aah! No attempt at conversation? I see you have been through such an experience before. Well, then, I must continue talking.’
She simply looked at the metallic darkness of his eyes and remembered the same look in the eyes of a snake, poised to strike her in the woods of her childhood. Her sobs had died down to a low moan. And she heaved now and then at her sorry state. Her husband had given up pleading. And waited for the worst to happen, a disturbing thought crossing his mind, that the old man made of bones had finally come to lay his cold and heavy hand on their shoulders.
Laying aside the saucepan and wiping his mouth with his thumb, Jack the Raper sat closer to her. He loosened his belt, unbuttoned the shirt. He simply stared at her as a cat would to a mouse that he had caught and was lying helplessly. Perhaps thinking too the thoughts that ran through the cat as it celebrated its feat. She started to plead but her mercy was met with his stern and stone-faced look. ‘With rape, as with making love, foreplay is an all-important factor.’ He reminded her (isn’t that what the cat would say?) and caressed her sweating cold face. ‘Do feel free to let me know how you feel.’ She was now screaming uncontrollably at every kiss that she received.
But before the foreplay could develop any further, there was a loud ‘O-P-E-N!’ noise and commotion from the outside. Then a single mighty blast—the sort of terror-inspiring noise that accompanies all big earthquakes-and the loudest knocking of the door in the history of the neighbourhood shattered the peace that had reigned. Someone slipped and fell heavily on the ground outside. Cursing followed; ‘Open thish houshe thish inshtant before I bring down the door with my rainsh and blowsh and kicksh...’
Excerpt from- ‘Cock Liberation’
“…By then the cock was making so much noise –loud enough to awaken the devil from his afternoon siesta. One soldier, bothered by this, made a gesture to his colleague to shoot the damn cackling cock. But the captain had better ideas. ‘Hey bway! Hey bway!’ he ordered the boy. ‘Run and catch the cock for our lunch.’ The boy thought the chief had gone nuts but he comfortably and confidently insisted that he run after the big bird.
The soldiers started to laugh at him. He also joined in the merriment and mirth and started laughing gaily but when he noticed the general’s silence and his father’s glare, his laugh became feeble, then he coughed dryly in the embarrassed silence, and the laughter died falsely as it had started.
‘Go on! Gwan on!’ the chief barked when the boy became hesitant.
‘Do it urgently, son…’ the mother pleaded.
‘Most urgent? I’m dere before me legs.’ He confirmed and started to plot the quickest means to advance to the brood. The soldiers were watching the boy as they would look at a juggler about to execute a trick. And suddenly, he realized he had to run after the big bird after all. The solders expected it of him and he had to do it. He could feel their wills pressing him forward, irresistibly to that undertaking.
The brood scattered when the boy tiptoed in their direction and did what their ancestors before them had done, and what all their successors after them might—cackle and scuttle wildly in different directions.
‘Chase him! Chase him!’ a soldier called out like a bass-voiced parrot. ‘Gwan, get him!’ and at that moment, the cock seemed to concur with the Ibo proverb: “It is true I do not hear English very well, but when they say ‘Catch Am!’, nobody tells me to take myself off as fast as I can,” for in an instant, the cock increased his pace to a maddening cruise.
He ran as fast as his fat legs could carry him toward the cock, which kept on dodging his steps each time he neared it. ‘Catch Am! Catch Am cock!’ They jeered at him as they rounded the house for the second time, and encouraged by his mind, driving him faster than his legs could push him.
Three confused hens protested by joining in the race for the cock, and ran alongside their beloved big bird. But the cock dodged them too, and looked resolute to his own death-as if saying that it was better he died at once than the hens, by redeeming him, should die forever, then increased his speed swiftly as it rounded the house a fifth time, still not giving up.
The cock kept fluttering its wings and moving it’s thick feathers to the ground and began to croon and crow ‘Cock-cock! Cock-a-doodle! Nothing annoyed the boy more than this, for to him, it meant, ‘Bway! You are joking. You won’t catch me.’
He ran across his father’s threshold and courtyard the seventh leg, stumbled several times and fell over his face but the grass in the lawn was as soft and thick as a pillow; so he didn’t hurt himself. It was at this moment, as he ran desperately for the big bird, that he first grasped the futility of his adolescent liberty. Here he was, running for all his worth, looking like the leading actor in a drama- but in reality, he was only a ridiculous marionette pulled back and forth by the will of those laughing faces….”
Excerpt from- ‘Manhole’
“…And there was no denying that he was in a manhole. It was no time to have second thoughts whether he shouldn’t have taken the shortcut path. In his cloudy puzzlement, there was no gainsaying that shortcuts were dangerous. He had fallen into a manhole. His hopes lied drowned in a drowsy sea of despair for when a man fell into a hole, the bottom was there, right there! And there he was, right in the bottom. Lady luck had been considerate, for she never let him break neither his neck nor his limb at the impact of the fall.
Here he was, trying to use his hands, struggling with energy, and zeal to get himself out of the fifteen-feet manhole, but every attempt was a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure because he had never learnt to get better of his life. He always ended a task even before he began. Besides, his one and only exercise? Lifting a beer bottle from the table to his mouth and replacing it back to the table! That’s why the secret forces of despair and guilt seem to pull him earthward, at his every attempt. And he learnt, to his cost, that that kind of struggle was only good for tough mohines, not drunkards with noisy bladders.
He cursed again Mother Nature and gave up his heart sinking with him, as they say, into his boots, at the thought that he was going to spend another night-out, this time in a manhole. Not a comfortable lair for a gentleman who after imbibing one too many, bragged to his mates, that he could drink himself silly out of his five sentences, but still find his way home, and with his eyes closed. Not a very comfortable place for a gentleman who had sworn to drink as long as there was passage in his throat. Nor for one so proud to admit that he was supporting the global cause against misuse of the scarce water resources by drinking beer.
So he made himself comfortable, creeping to the deepest and the darkest end of the manhole the now abating showers couldn’t reach. To keep himself busy, he chanted faint hymns to the cold fruitless crescent, as if pleading to the lunar goddess to petition the wrath goddess against further aggression, against an intelligent gentleman who had been forced to drink one for the road, just to spend time with his fools. Yet the gods, as always, seemed deaf to cries and drunken lobbying, especially ones coming from lips of such a supplicant, for they were polluted protestations, more detestable than spotted livers in the sacrifice….”
Excerpt from 'Dead Value'