AiW Guest: Divisha Chummun
AiW’s annual Caine Prize review series is back. We’ve been talking about prize culture for a long time at Africa in Words; Kate Wallis started off this series in 2013. In the coming days we are featuring reviews of the stories shortlisted for the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing ahead of the announcement of the winner on 2 July. You can read previous years’ shortlist reviews and coverage of the Prize from AiW here as well as our coverage of the Anthologies. A series of events with the shortlisted writers are also planned in London (UK) this week.
At first glance, The Armed Letter Writers is a peculiar story about a well-planned visit by the Armed Robbers Association to the community of Abati Close. The unsettling first letter politely announces to the residents that they should expect to be robbed in the imminent future. A second more official letter arrives a little over a month later, providing exact details of when the robbery will occur, along with some rules that should be followed if everyone wants things to go well. Ironically, the police also receive a copy of that second letter, creating a very unsettling feeling amongst those who live in the community. As the story unfolds, one starts to wonder the meaning behind these satirical letters, and the successful robbery despite all efforts to defeat the Armed Robbers Association.
Olufunke Ogundimu’s story can be roughly divided between the anticipation of the doomed day and the recounting of that day. Prior to the robbery, members of Abati Close devise elaborate plans to keep their community safe. Yet, their efforts are in vain. The meticulous planning of the robbers in contrast with the indecisive members of Landlords’ and Landladies’ Association creates an advantage for the robbers. The evolution of the planning and execution of the robbery is exemplified by the difference in the two letters written by the Armed Robbers Association: the first one being a handwritten letter without any particular distinctiveness and which asks to not involve the police. The second letter more assertive – typed in a professional manner with even a letterhead representing the association through their logo and motto – is also voluntarily sent to law enforcement.
The story clearly brings the judiciary system into questioning by presenting us these rather incompetent policemen, who remain incapable of investigating the provenance of the letters, protect Abati Close from the attack or get a straight account of what actually happened that night. The ending of The Armed Letter Writers leaves readers perplexed, questioning the very story they have just read.
Our story takes on several layers of untruths depending on who is telling the story and where the telling is taking place but the essence has been the same. There were two letters and a visit, on that we, the residents of Abati all agree.
Are the details Olufunke Ogundimu providing us reliable or are we invited to also participate in the unfolding of that night bearing in mind that the only constants we can rely on are that there were indeed two letters addressed to Abati Close and the fact that there was a robbery.
While some of the residents of Abati Close give fake accounts of that night either because they are ashamed of how they themselves reacted that night or to further sensationalize the robbery, The Armed Letter Writers does present us with a philosophical dilemma about truths or untruths. Do we all share the same truths or are our truths colored by our own perspectives? For all the residents of Abati Close most certainly experienced the robbery in their own personal ways. Some simply obeyed, others hid in fear and uncle Ermu dared to defy them at the cost of his right hand’s fingers. While the absolute truth may never be known, the story takes on a life of its own and changes at the discretion of the teller and the circumstances in which it is told.
Olufunke Ogundimu was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She has an MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her work has been published in Dream Chasers, Nothing to See Here, Red Rock Review, New Orleans Review, and Transition Magazine. She is working on a short story collection reluctantly titled The Was Thing, and a historical novel set in the twelfth-century Oyo Kingdom, titled Memories of Three Rivers.
Divisha Chummun recently finished her PhD from Boston University and will start a Lecturer position at the University of New Hampshire in fall 2018. Her research is focused on Francophone African Literature with a focus on insular spaces. Dr. Chummun’s work examines the intersection of traumatic memories: that of slavery and indentured servitude, and how it has shaped the present in the islands of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius in particular.