The first few pages of Peter Chika’s collection of short stories, The Condom and other Stories, are filled with ingredients of smooth writing and humour. As a reader is lured in, it becomes clear that the trend covers all of the 14 stories in this collection.
The first story, ‘”The Condom”, is about Ike and his wife, Laura. The couple’s home is under threat all because of an unused condom found in their home. Since the beginning of their relationship they have never used condoms so this discovery engenders a crisis. Ike, who cheats on his wife regularly, is troubled that his last tryst has turned out not well-executed. But, the resolution of this crisis shows that what a man can do a woman can do even better. The twist in this tale told in timelines from the third person perspectives of Ike and Laura is unexpected and offers the impetus to dive further into the pages. The opening story is a fitting welcome to an amazing collection.
The second story titled “Wager” shows that what you see is not always what you get, that a man’s stern face and no-nonsense demeanour do not always mean he has no soft side. The story is about Professor Okeke, a law teacher who is feared by his students. It is also about Yvonne Oki, who unveils the Professor’s bowel for his students to see the warped content.
The third story, “The Briefcase”, begins like a subtle criticism of the perennial fuel shortage Nigerians experience every December. Towards the end, it also takes a jibe at instances of suspects getting extra-judicial punishment from police officers. But, the story proper is about two men fighting over the ownership of a briefcase. One claims that the other stole it from his car while on a queue at a filling station. Neither has the key to the bag. The one who claims it was stolen from his car is allowed to go home to fetch the spare but he never returns and the other wants to take the bag and go away. The crowd at the station insists on opening the bag, which he says he inherited from his father and only uses on special occasions. When the bag is opened, what it contains leads to instant denial from the man who claims he has just used it for a job interview.
Humour wrestles humour in “Scent of a Child”. This hilarious tale is kicked off with a wife’s reminisce of her mother-in-law’s constant harassment over her ‘refusal’ to give her a grandchild. Medically, she is certified okay. Her egoistic husband certifies himself fit enough to impregnate a woman and frowns at the suggestion that he should put a scientific seal on his claim.
Along the line, Ada is advised to see a smelly baba who ‘manufactures’ babies in a face-me-I-face-you apartment and charges in dollars for this service. The end of this story is another of the crazy twists in this collection.
The weird Nigerian political scene takes the centrestage in “The List”, in which a university don decides to join politics to escape poverty. The political parties on offer have acronyms such as APC and PDP, but they are not All Peoples Congress or Peoples Democratic Party. Their modus operandi are, however, similar to Nigeria’s two most popular political parties. Osita, the lecturer-turned-politician, chooses to start at the local government level and what his eyes see are more than the seven wonders of the world. He discovers that the rot starts from the grassroots and he discovers a lot of bizarre stuff. For instance, his westernised pattern of campaign is resisted. The audience is riled and replies with the throwing of sachet water. What he considers honesty is seen as a flaw. Chika’s resolution of the conflict of who gets the chairman’s nomination ticket is another of his clever ways of taking the reader to where he or she doesn’t know. In one breath, it looks like this is where he is going and in another, he takes a different route!
The next story titled “The General” is also political in nature, but this time, military politics. It is about a general, who has just taken over government, and his name is Ibrahim and he chooses to be addressed as President rather than Head of State like his predecessors. Nigerians are sure familiar with this development but trust Chika to take a detour that makes you wonder if art has not initially been imitating life.
The story titled “The Offering” is not just the story of Uduak, a man who just got a car after a lot of savings and stress, but also of his pastor. It is a scathing criticism of Pentecostal Christendom,especially the gimmicks some pastors use to get members to give up their prized possessions. This story laced with the right dosage of humour is a delight to read.
For those who live in Houston, Texas or are familiar with this oil city, the story titled “The Pot of Soup” will resonate if not because of the storyline but because of its sociology. It is about cultural conflict and seems to scream out loud that one man’s delicacy is another’s waste worthy only of the trash can.
Buchi and his African-American girlfriend, Shaniqua, dine out most of the time. The author introduces us to the streets of Houston. The popular Bissonnet Street, of course, features and he rightly describes it as Little Nigeria because of the huge population of Nigerians who either live or eke their living there. The sex workers of this popular street, who Buchi wonders include Nigerians, are not forgotten in the sights and sounds.
Ghanaians may, however, ask for the author’s head for referring to their jolof as imitation and declaring that Nigeria’s has no ‘part two’.
One day, Shaniqua is out and Buchi hungers for onugu soup and ignores the stress that comes with it because his palette craves it with fufu.
Shaniqua, who works as a flight attendant with Southwest, an airline that operates out of Houston’s Hobby Airport, deserves some ‘hot slaps’ over the evil she does at the end of this story. The end of this story built around a pot of soup, again, shows Chika’s talent in spectacular climax.
In “Martyr”, the author, in multiple first person point of view, imagines the thinking of suicide bombers and a suicide-bombing planner. The scene is a mosque. Through this story, we see how people are brainwashed to believe they have some special gifts awaiting them in heaven for killing so-called infidels. This story’s climax proves that what goes around comes around.
With the story titled “The Interview”, Chika, using the setting of a typical American consulate in Lagos, takes a swipe at the bad state of affairs in Nigeria. The story is about Chineze, a 20-year-old, who seeks an American visa. The interview session is unlike the usual with the applicant being rude and deliberately difficult and leaving the interviewer to conclude that she really doesn’t want the visa. The story also examines tricks Nigerians use to get the almighty American visa, including forging documents in Oluwole, the enclave on Lagos Island where any document can be cleverly cloned. It also deals some blows on America and its pretences.
Chika also has this hilarious-but-serious story titled “A Provocation”. It is about a lawyer, Ekpen Seghale, who specialises in proving cases of provocation. The story starts in a law court where judgement is being given in a case in which a CEO and his subordinate are at loggerheads. The subordinate is accused of assault and other related offences after catching his boss having sex with his wife in his living room. The story brings back memories of the molue and their drivers in Lagos. It also reminds us of the state of courtrooms in Nigeria.
In “When It Rained”, we meet Iyowuna, a Buguma boy in Port Harcourt who is job hunting. His arrival coincides with an armed robbery operation and he is arrested by the notorious SARS. He is taken to the cell for people meant for extra-judicial killing. While awaiting his fate, he meets the commander of the inmates, a man known for helping politicians foment trouble when it is time for electioneering. Later in the night, his name is read out as one of those to die. By this time, the police record shows that he has been bailed. Meanwhile, the man whose invitation brings him to Port Harcourt is alerted to his situation and he starts searching for him.
In “Headstrong”, the fear of the truth shakes a Houston-based married man when he opens a copy of The New Yorker and a short story draws his attention. The writer is his Lagos-based side chick and the story she is telling is about their sexcapades. His imprints are all over the story. Though she refrains from naming him, if his art-loving wife reads it the truth could come out. Chika also uses the story to highlight the practice of office holders in Nigeria using fronts to hide stolen wealth.
One very interesting fact about this story is that it is the other side of a short story titled “Songbird” written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and published in The New Yorker in 2010. The male narrator here is giving his side of the story narrated by Adichie’s narrator as if to avoid the “danger of a single story”.
Chika returns to Nigeria’s political terrain in “Eye for a Tooth”, a story about a President, Aremu Oladipo, who after failing to get a third term, rallies billionaires to bankroll the election of a lackey as his successor. The names of the billionaires sound familiar: Mike Adeniyi Jr, Anthony Eluemuno, Dr Orji Nnamani, and Oba Odubekun. And the biggest of them all is the one identified simply as Alhaji, who used cement to cement his way to the top of the Forbes list. Interestingly, this Alhaji has a nephew-cum-PA named Aliko.
Alhaji disagrees with the President over his choice of successor and the battle line is drawn. One eventually bends for the other. Here, power passes power!
The rot in the Nigerian police, once again, is the subject of the story, “Police is your friend”. In it, we meet a fraudster known as Parker Pen Okeke and soon we see his dalliance with the police and how this relationship ensures he gets away with his crime.
The last story in the collection, “Today is Today”, reads like a tribute to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart but it is much more. It is about two men fighting over a parcel of land and one turns up dead after succumbing to what appears to be poison. Meanwhile, his rival is from a family renowned for making the most potent poisons in that side of Igboland. It is a matter of the witch cried last night and the child died this morning. Who doesn’t know it is the witch that cried last night that is behind the child’s death? But, in this story, it is not as simple as that.
The stories in this collection take us around Lagos, Port Harcourt, Houston, New York and to other places.
Characters speak English, pidgin, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Street codes and lingo are appropriately deployed.
The stories in Chika’s collection merit being read for their explorations of different facets of life and the skillful way he ensures each character is brought alive in precise, elegant, and accessible prose.
With stories about infidelity, rot in the police, land tussle, politics and clash of cultures, Chika has written a book with the potential to be read and read and well-read!
-Olukorede S Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father, Vaults of Secrets and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales.