Love in a time of soot

By Sesede Simeon

A friend who knows about my addiction to books sent me an email towards the end of 2020 (the year I read 86+ books), of a list of books that were considered to be the top books written by African authors in the year. I got e-copies of some of these books, and I ended up not reading any of them in 2021. How that came about is baffling, I just found myself, skipping the titles in the email when it was time to pick a new book to read.

Interestingly enough, most of the books had beautiful, colourful and artistic covers that put the saying do not judge a book by its cover to shame. I started feeling remorseful, each time I skipped any of the titles on this list.

In between digging and reading up everything on Bishop Crowther for the Bishop Crowther documentary project over the past six months, I started with Chimeka Garricks’ A Broken People’s Playlist (Masobe Books), a collection of short stories the author says were written under the influence of music.

The stories broke my heart in beautiful, humourous and creative ways. I love how Chimeka’s love for Port Harcourt reflects in each story through the characters’ names, food, setting – not to mention the menace of the soot problem the city has had to endure in recent years.  

Each story in this collection is different but almost all of them weave into one another in terms of character. And the characters’ struggles touched my humanity as I read them reflecting on some of their daily struggles, which mirrors what we all go through in the real world.

A funeral before I die

The first story is inspired by Adam Levine’s Lost Star. It took me on a journey with Sira, a heartbroken lover mourning the death of the only man she has ever loved. Sira and Khadoni, the main characters, are what Shakespeare would have described as star-crossed lovers, two humans whose affection for each other is doomed.

And as Sira said about her ill-fated love for Khadoni: “Even though we weren’t meant to be, you were always home to me.” Someone may always be home to you and, somehow, you can never be with that person; and as much as that hurt, we have to continue with the business of living anyway.

I cried while reading this story, despite my aversion to love stories. Let me blame those tears on PMS, or the lyrics of Adam Levine’s Lost star. If you love dipping bread in tea or any liquid at all – I find it disgusting – you’ll love this sad love story written under the influence of a sad love song.

“Your mother starts crying when Dami turns up for his funeral,” the narrator says in the story Hurt.

Who attends their own funeral? Over-pampered Damiete Kuruye-Briggs is dying from a stage 4 malignant tumour that is eating up his brain. The doctors gave him five months to live. He decides to have a living funeral, a bury me before I die kind of thing.

Dami in the story influenced by a cover of Johnny Cash’s hurt stole over N196m from the family company’s account, lavished the money before discovering he had an inoperable tumour growing in his brain. This story brings the love of family into play; and to quote the author: “as clichéd as it may sound, the things that matter in this short life of ours are love, and family.”

Forgiving sucks

Ukela, an illegitimate daughter whose influential father was absent through her growing up years suppresses her pain by sleeping with every man she fancies. Ukela’s story in A Song for Someone reminds me that love sometimes can be our only saving grace. If only we can open our hearts so that love can heal us in beautiful ways love alone can.

 As sad as the story of Godson and the superstitious Corporal Eneche is (In The City), this is the story of the Nigerian youth versus our law enforcement agencies. The hunter and the hunted, both victims of the system.

Some women will give anything and everything to tame their husband’s community penis, the same way Moji tamed Ebuka’s “Instrument”in I Cast A Spell On You. Bushmeat caught the hunter in this one, Moji won one for the girls.

In Beautiful War, Kenwi and Woibi’s marriage is falling apart, all thanks to Ken’s infidelity and his inability to lie. Woibi is expected to forgive as a dutiful wife, but she finds it difficult to forgive and let things go back to normal. We hardly talk about the pain of the person expected to do the forgiving, especially in the case of cheating. We forget that cheating is more than just a betrayal of trust – a piece of the person betrayed dies too. 

In River, one has to acknowledge that crying a river or an ocean will not fill the emptiness we feel when we lose someone dear to our heart. You suppose know brings all my fears to my face, especially about death where my parents are concerned. I don’t fear death for myself as much as I fear it for my parents, I don’t know how one will cope when the other dies.

A signature delicacy

The beauty of this collection for me is how some of the stories overlap. Love’s Divine feels like the continuation of Damiete’s story. Desperado is a continuation of Music, a story of rape and its effects on the boy-child.

If you get to read A Broken People’s Playlist, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. I hope you’ll look forward to visiting one of the Bole and Fish markets in Port Harcourt, as I now do. And I hope and hope not, that you start considering having a Living funeral like me. It would be fun to hear the things people plan to say when I die, while I am alive. 

PS: Living funerals started gaining popularity in Japan in the 1990s. Funerals are supposed to be sombre affairs. Japanese actress, Takiko Mizunoe had a living funeral. She was 78 and in good health. She treated her funeral like a celebration, and the trend gained traction not only in Japan but also in South Korea and Britain. Takiko Mizunoe eventually died at 94.

New word learned: ALOPECIA (pronounced a-lo-pe-sh-a): ​loss of hair from the head and body, often caused by autoimmune disease (Alopecia areata) resulting from a breach in the immune privilege of the hair follicles.

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