By Anote Ajeluorou
Edozie Udeze’s two novellas and four short stories in the slim volume, This Wonderful Life (Concept Publications Ltd, Lagos; 2011) in association with Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), documents slices of life in its various forms. Essentially, they are slices of the realities of life in urban centres, with Lagos forming the centre-piece. The stories chronicle city life in some of its most absurd, sometimes bizzarre, and even funny. At other times, life appears in its starkest form delivering its hard blows. The range of Udeze’s narrative is as wide as it is varied.
The first novella, ‘Adventures of Brother Harry’, is set during the military era when the Advance Free Fraud menace, otherwise known as 419, was most rampant. It was an era when the con artists held sway, and some unscrupulous Nigerians were bent on giving the nation a bad name, and fed fat on some gullible and greedy foreigners who would reap where they did not sow.
Harry and his cohorts, led by Chief Daniel Ogaga, who had all risen from the depth of poverty from their respective villages, and without the prospect of getting decent jobs, had just found 419 the easy way out; and they were making the best out of it. But like every business boom, the bubble also bursts, as they were soon to discover.
Like most dubious men also, they rely on the efficacy of juju to successfully con their victims and to escape police dragnet. But even juju has its grand rules that must be obeyed to the letter without which, instant retribution is certain. Also, Harry’s girlfriend desires more than she currently gets from her man. Eventually, things get to a head, and Harry and his gang come to a fateful end, falling into hands of the police, and thereby paying the supreme price with their lives.
‘Michael Story’ is perhaps more evocative of the lot. With a prostitute mother, Amaka, in the thick of her trade, Michael joins the fate of unfortunate children that come to unwilling mothers at the wrong time; he is abandoned in a gutter to either die or be picked up by chance passersby. Life smiles on Michael, however. Some reverend sisters pick him up and take him to a motherless babies home from where he gets adopted by the Adeyemis.
His mother, however, quits her evil trade after a while, and with luck, gets a man to marry her. She begets Ednah. Eventually, Michael and Ednah’s paths cross, and they get married. What becomes of the marriage? Does their mother get her just desserts for her earlier crime? What becomes the fate of the trio? It is the story of a woman trapped in life’s most unhappy circumstance, and who tries to deal with life in her own peculiar way, and the aftermath of such lifestyle…
Again, Udeze picks up the trend of the military era again in his third story, ‘The Spoilers’. Like most journalists had it, Toby is thrown into jail without trial for writing a politically sensitive story just while he is enjoying his honeymoon. Gashua prison is his fateful lot. He, however, regains his freedom after a palace coup by another set of soldiers. For those who didn’t know much about the dark days of the military and their dangerous dealings with journalists, Udeze’s story will fill up some of the missing links.
Also, Udeze does a bit of romance in his stories. Two stories deal with this subject. First is ‘Travails of Love’ with Tobi Bosah romances a Ghanaian prostitute, Gladys, who suddenly become rich through inheritance in her native Ghana. It’s a moving love story that evokes a lot of emotion from both ends. Udeze, a journalist himself, gives a bit of an insight of the newsroom. Will the journalist take the Ghanaian challenge and move over with her to Ghana and manage the inheritance that just came her way?
There is also the encounter at Ife, where young girls con new guests to a hotel with the intent of using their gang members to fleece them. Finally, an author dredges up the pain of losing a manuscript…
These tales by Udeze show slices of extraordinary lives inhabited by his everyday characters. They show the ups and downs of life and how these fellows variously deal with their peculiar situations. Udeze employs a simple, easy style to tell stories that appeal to the heart. They are memorable stories in their own right and will resonate with readers long after putting the book down.
However, the stories suffer from editorial and narrative lapses. In the first story, Udeze seems groping for his narrative voice, and never quite finds it till the end. Sometimes, words’ co-location is largely confused and out of place and they ring false. A good editorial work is needed to smoothen this out. But in the second story, Udeze would appear to have come into his natural element. His narrative voice is much more confident, and he tells his story a lot better.
Indeed from ‘Michael’s Story’, readers would greatly enjoy Udeze’s collection of stories as they show remarkable variety and subtlety. Importantly, they ring true to the heart and invoke feeling of fun and enchantment…