AiW Guest: Iquo DianaAbasi
This week, we will feature reviews of the five stories shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing. The prize winner will be announced on Monday 3 July. Today’s review is of Nigerian author Chikodili Emelumadu’s story ‘Bush Baby’.
You can read our previous Caine Prize 2017 reviews here:
- Bushra al-Fadil’s ‘The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away’
- Lesley Nneka Arimah’s ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’
The bush baby myth is one that many children who have encountered a boarding school – directly or indirectly through siblings or friends who attended one—are conversant with. Its resurgence in a Caine Prize nominated story is quite intriguing; but this story is more than a tale about a vindictive creature that cries like a baby in the dead of night.
Anticipation begins to heighten when we learn that the banging on the gate which takes Ihuoma, the ‘staid English lecturer’, off her job and tight deadline is caused by none other than her truant, inebriate baby brother. And when this brother falls into her, he passes out on her; a smelly, scary shadow of himself – it should only get more scary from here on, and it does, but I fear Chikodili does not quite succeed at this horror tale as she ought.
But she does well to remind us that sister love is an unending stream whose tide cannot be dammed, no matter what filth colours the past:
“In his sleep, Okwuchukwu appears to revert to the baby I adored, once upon a time. My brother’s eyes might be sunken in dark hollows but they’re still fringed by bovine lashes, brushing against newly-visible cheekbones. His mouth is a pout. In my mind, I see it clamped over my mother’s dark nipple, greedily sucking, the milk running out of the corners of his mouth…”
The character’s mother is mentioned a few times in the story; a cursory yet ominous mention is made in relation to her death and her male child. This only serves to make one wonder: In what way is her son responsible for her death?
Emelumadu paints picturesque strokes on pages with her words. She writes some very graphic sentences – I have no doubt that this contributed to her making the Caine Prize shortlist. But this is a strength that becomes a weakness at points when certain details were superfluous. For instance, I wondered why so much attention was paid to the tinkling of the gateman’s belt. Is it really plausible that the character inside the house could pick out such mundanity as a man’s tinkling belt—and its unbuckled state—on a night when the absence of electricity would ensure that generator sets fill the atmosphere with raucous noise?
A bush baby—gwei-gwei as the gateman calls it—comes for Okwuchukwu, who has stolen the creature’s mat in a foolhardy attempt to win back his father’s property that he had gambled away. Myth has it that if Okwuchukwu can survive the torture for seven days, he will be free. However, the creature comes for him, an intangible but undeniable noise, smell and presence which rips him away in huge fractions.
“My breath hitches in my throat as I survey the wreckage; a dewlap previously hidden behind his thinning beard. I could lift him by his collarbones if I desired… The air whistles through the gap in his mouth, where yesterday, he had teeth. My brother’s once proud nose, so reminiscent of our father’s, seems to have caved in on itself”
In the end, sister love takes prominence, and the reader is left wondering yet again if it is plausible to overcome the bush baby by fighting it head-on, naked.
This may not be your classic magic realism tale—it probably would have been more convincing had the horror been captured better. Still; it will be nice to see how ‘Bush Baby’ fares against the other shortlisted stories this year.
Iquo DianaAbasi writes prose, poetry and scripts for radio and screen. She often performs her poems with a touch of culture-rich Ibibio folklore. Her first collection of poems, Symphony of Becoming, was shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria prize for literature, and the ANA poetry prize; both in 2013.
An avid student of human nature, Iquo’s writing explores socially cognizant themes, pain, love, womanhood and the trials of the griots of this age. Her writings appear in Kalahari review, Saraba magazine, ANA Review, AfricaInWords and Olisa.tv