“He goes through the narrow and shop-less Nzimiro Street and runs left. He connects the Ogbumnu-Abali Road with locked-up shops that make the calm and soulless road look like a scene from an apocalypse movie. He empties himself on Aba Road through Garrison. Most times, he is alone on his routes; but for one or two expatriates of companies that may not have enough funds to put their oyinbo workers in a large yard with expensive homes and a great workout space…”
It’s significantly, difficult, really, making ends meet and staying above the byline as a millennial in these parts. Youths have to look over their shoulders every other minute in fear of kidnappers, gang-related skirmishes and trigger-happy law enforcement agents. The pressure to be better than the next man bears down with the force of a vice-grip, and these emotions, these seemingly endless struggles, need to not just be documented, but expressed in relatable prose.
Bura-Bari Nwilo, graduate of English and Literature from the University of Nigeria (Nsukka) is no stranger to the art of storytelling. His creative prowess has earned him nominations for the 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2017 ANA/Abubakar Gimba Prize for Short Stories, and his enthusiasm for analysis of the human condition reflects in his social commentaries about his native Ogoniland.
“The Colour of A Thing Believed”, published in late 2018 by Griots Lounge Publishing, is Nwilo’s second collection of short stories, the first being 2016’s “A Tiny Place Called Happiness.” The number of stories in this body of work would rub off the wrong way on the triskaidekaphobic, but in churning out thirteen stories, Nwilo sets out with the aim of weaving compelling narratives.
“Saate” is the story of a delivery man who develops an intimate friendship with a preacher’s wife amidst his dreams of becoming an on-air personality, a young couple struggle to balance their careers with starting a family in “An Origin of Loss”, an abandoned child is thrust into premature adulthood in “A Beautiful Thing Coloured in Blood”, a widowed man finds time on a long cross-contry trip to teach some lessons on love to an estranged pair in “The Walk”, A lady channels her past hurt into extreme feminism in “The Colour of Courage”, and “Monsieur Pierre” sees a woman use a vibrator to fill the void created by an emotionally absent boyfriend.
“Fantasy” chronicles a man’s obsession with rape, “The Colour of Fire” is a love story involving two misfits, “Such a Small Thing” focuses on a low-income earner’s attempt to impress his wife, infidelity plays out like a sport in “The Most Fucked Up Couple In The World”, a mechanic’s apprentice dreams of taking a photo next to a car in “An Issue of Fate”, and in “Joy Factory” a boy born to poor parents has to meet a woman’s sexual demands in exchange for food and new clothes.
The stories herein are delivered in ways that make the emotions palpable and unforced. The inevitability of loss, the instinct of survival, the intricacies of love, and the search for ways to describe pain when it comes, all sandwiching the realities wrought by social media, find a place to breathe in these pages.
“She picked a brick and shattered the window of the vehicle and dropped at her feet carrying a lifeless baby in her arms. It had stopped raining but the puddle of water was her altar and she called on all the gods she had read about from when she was a child to adulthood. But people just gathered and recorded her grief with mobile phones. It was what her generation did – record one’s sad moment and upload it to the world and people who are in no better positions would judge her and called her names…”
Worthy of commendation, too, is the casualness with which Nwilo hints at relevant social themes without excessive vituperation, from gender equality to domestic violence to economic disparity to sexual repression. The points are succinctly made, and there is hardly any faux-deep posturing.
“Often, he was between her thighs with his tiny fingers fighting through thick hairs to give her a shave; or when she requested, he ate through the untrimmed hair of her vagina until she shook tremendously like she was under an attack and his mouth was filled with juice…”
Nwilo has obviously come a long way from “A Tiny Place Called Happiness”, and it reflects in the quality of penmanship on display in this book. Where there used to be too many stories without depth, he emphasises on quality over quantity this time around, akin to a recording artist who prefers to put out ten bangers than twenty-one fillers on a studio album. Where the narratives used to end with the abruptness of a man ejaculating prematurely, he works his way more patiently this time around. If his previous collection was comparable to sitting around a fireside in Ogoniland to listen to nightly tales, then this one is a road trip around the country, a departure from comfort zones, a willingness to engage the imagination while remaining plausible at the same time.
The drawbacks to this compilation would be the indecision as to whether to employ the first-person or third-person narrative in certain stories, as well as the use of passive sentences in one paragraph too many. These do little harm to the overall creative texture of this book, however, and “The Colour of A Thing Believed” is (if not anything else) a clearly example of a storyteller’s artistic growth.