A letter to Chinua Achebe – Uzor Maxim Uzoatu


this will definitely not be a long letter, especially now that I am writing to you from deep inside the earth of the ancestors. 

I like my things short and sharp like Things Fall Apart, not long and heavy for I’m not in the mood to write War and Peace of Leo Tolstoy. 

A fat book does not a writer make. Fatness in books is like fatness in humans – it only advertises a lack of form. 

The critics would have us believe that this life is one long epistle in profundity. 


Life is a short story. There must be a story and it has to be short, otherwise there is no meaning.  

The failure of leadership that you identified as the trouble with Nigeria is at its worst now but I would not want to waste your time on nonsense. 

All I plan to write to you about is the trouble with me that hinges on my love for Wemimo the Witch. 

In your time, you had a word or two about knowing when the rain started to beat us, and there is no mistaking the fact that the rain started to beat me with the witch named Wemimo.

I cannot now tell how it happened: whether Wemimo stole my heart in broad daylight or in the dead of night. 

I somehow took ill with love such that I wrote my obsession with Wemimo into the drama series I created for the national television. 

“You are in love!” the producer had announced, stressing that all my recent scripts in a monomaniacal manner dealt with the falling in love of a struggling writer. 

Kanmi Kasali could be any age from fifty to seventy but he was unmarried. 

Apart from producing TV plays Kasali made Nollywood movies, and one of his recent films was a hit and afforded him the wherewithal to grow wings. 

He bought a Benz, Mercedes 500 SEL.

“I’m not in love, sir,” I told Kasali, avoiding his eyes. 

“Don’t tell me lies, son,” Kasali said, smiling. “A certain Wemimo Coker is not your enemy, is she?” 

So the old crook knew of Wemimo? My composure shattered, I summoned just enough courage to look at Kasali’s face. A crooked grin sat on the weather-beaten face. 

“Wemimo adores you, young writer,” Kasali continued, saving me from the misery of speechlessness. “You have unearthed a rare jewel in Wemimo. It’s for you to keep your jewel.” 

I turned into a demonstration of nerves, staring morosely into emptiness. 

Kasali was not done yet. “I should not really be concerned with your personal affairs except that you are using it to destroy your writing talent. Our TV audience is not interested in the everyday use of newfangled ideas to justify a love affair based on the so-called high art. When I get a teleplay, I expect to see something as crisp as a short story, not some fancy verbalism. Without a story to hold them up verbal gymnastics and fireworks are a bore. Woolly artistic airs are bunkum. Let’s put the story back into the short story.” 

Kasali then strutted off, effectively souring the new moon for me.

I was staring at the moon, lost in thought in front of my bunk, when Wemimo shot into me like a charge of electricity and awoke me with an utterance: “Umu, you have to see my parents now!”  

“Why?” I asked laconically, reaching for her heavy chest. 

“You do know I’m a princess and my parents would want me to marry from within,” she said, pained. “You do need to see my parents now. I’m under so much pressure.” 

I didn’t want to subtract anything from the artistic surprise I had in store for Wemimo. I must sweep Wemimo off her feet by the magnificence of the surprise party I was staging for her. 

After the party I would walk hand-in-hand with her to see her parents. That would be grand, poetic style.

“Wemimo, give me a little more time,” I said languidly, leading her to the bed. 

Wemimo braced herself when leaving and said, quite uncharacteristically: “Umu, what cannot be had must be endured.” 

Waking early the next day I went shopping, buying up the world in preparation for the surprise engagement party. 

I was adventurously mad in the shopping spree, totting up an awesome debt in the process. 

I packed away the purchases in a friend’s house just to keep Wemimo away from the scent of what I had in store for her. 

I kept the poetic party on its surprise track, inviting friends from all the cardinal points but keeping Wemimo away from the gist. 

I went to Wemimo’s home on the morning of Valentine Day and was told by her little sister that she was at a self-service store down the road. 

Running up to the store I beheld wonder. Wemimo was there floating on golden wings like an angel. 

“Everybody is waiting for you in my house,” I grandly announced, spreading out my hands like I owned the universe. 

“I no longer visit bachelors in their lair,” Wemimo said, gliding a glamorous hand over her great hair. 

“You see, there is this party…” I was saying. 

“A party of bachelors,” she said, smiling. “I’m sorry. I no longer attend such…”

“But the party is for you.”

“For me? What on earth for?” 

I thought Wemimo was joking and made to hug her. 

She brusquely pushed me away. 

“The fun is over, Umu,” Wemimo said, touching her diamond necklace. “I’m waiting for my husband here. And he may not be happy seeing me standing with a playboy.” 

“Wemimo, you must attend this party,” I said, flustered. “In the course of the party I will announce to the world that you are my wife!”

“Too late, Umu,” she said, radiant in her lush lace. “And here he comes!” 

She ran excitedly to the posh car that pulled up. Inside the machine sat the rare jewel thief. 

A mad shriek jumped from my mouth: “Wemimo, I’m coming to see your parents now!”

A roar of laughter rumbled out of the Mercedes 500 SEL. 

“No need, Umu,” Wemimo was saying. “What cannot be had must be endured.”

She banged the car door and off they zoomed, leaving me rooted to a fatal spot. 

Dear Chinua, the last I remembered before deciding to join you in the land of the ancestors was your great friend Soyinka writing about Lakunle and Sidi before the advent of Baroka… 

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