In the dying days of March, book publishing giant Harper Collins did a big favour to lovers of short stories in America and the United Kingdom with the release of the international edition of Chimeka Garricks’ A Broken People’s Playlist.
Readers in Nigeria had the advantage of reading it first. Thanks to Masobe Books, which first served this dish inspired by songs.
The titles of the twelve stories are the songs which inspired them. It is written in English that is unapologetically Nigerian. Do not have a heart attack if you see words such as ‘ajebuttered’. Garricks is only exercising his poetic licence.
The use of first-person, second-person and third-person narrative techniques makes room for variety.
A Broken People’s Playlist will make you laugh; it may make you cry; it will get you angry at our nation for the extra-judicial killings, the literal and metaphorical darkness, the corruption, and other ills. It boasts of many unforgettable characters, whose flaws would have made us slap and almost beat to coma if only we could meet them; its prose has the power to make you savour it like palm wine fresh from the tree; and pacing and focus do not suffer from unnecessary swerving in this smooth-singing, hard-hitting collection.
The first story in the collection is about Sira and Kaodini. They had known each other since childhood. They played together, smiled together, cried together and together they pitied people who assumed that they were lovers. Sira, a lawyer, moves to Lagos and becomes a partner in a law firm. Kaodini stays back in Port Harcourt and rebuilds his life by starting a farm after his father’s wealth runs dry like a cursed river. Each of them had relationships at different points but with time it occurs to them that they should be together, but there is a snag: One being in Lagos; the other in Port Harcourt. Kaodini offers to relocate to Lagos, where Sira has a thriving career. She kicks against him abandoning his farm, his dream. He eventually finds someone to run the farm and the countdown to his relocating to Lagos to join Sira begins, but what she hears from his mother shortly before he is to join her is: “Sira. My baby, our baby. He is dead.”
This amazing collection has another story set in Port Harcourt, a city battling the side effects of soot, where your shirts, shoes, televisions and other property are ever at the mercy of smoke from kpo-fire, the illegal petrol refiners. All Godson, a resident of this city’s waterside settlement, wants is a job to support himself and his mother. Corporal Enenche, on the other hand, is looking forward to quitting the police and joining a private firm. He has three weeks to go. On one of his last assignments, he and his team led by Shehu, who is always pronouncing ‘pay’ as ‘fay’, arrests Godson and minutes after arresting him, he fits into the description of an armed robber who struck earlier in the day. Before giving him jungle justice, Shehu steals his phone on the excuse that he has gay porn on it only to end up later that night masturbating to the porn. Enenche makes away with his white sneakers. But where will the one who stole the king’s trumpet play it?
There is also the story of a man who knows he is dying and chooses to witness his own funeral service dressed in designer wear, sunglasses and matching shoes. He wants to have his estranged wife at the service but she ignores him and only comes after he has been cremated. She had wished to spit on his grave for all the domestic violence she experienced while married to him and the sexually transmitted diseases he gave her. But he had no grave because he was cremated.
One of the stories “In The City”, a crime thriller with puzzles you have to piece together, can get the heart racing and wonder: What are they going to do to him? It is a story rendered in moving language.
Some of the stories are linked. Two of such are titled “I Put a Curse on You” and “I’d Die Without You”. Dr. Tonse features in both tales. The narrator in “Music” also features in another story where he is drunk-calling his ex-wife. “Love is Divine” also has a link with “Hurt”.
Garricks’ dexterous management of suspense makes it practically impossible for a reader to guess right. There are good twists to the tales. I like Garricks’ sentencing; he is unpretentious. Sample: “We tore at each other’s clothes, but gave up mid-way and merged, half-dressed on your living-room wall. As your face headed down between my legs, as always, we paused for a moment and chuckled, because we remembered— the first time you ate me, my first time ever, I farted uncontrollably through a long orgasm, and you rolled off and laughed till I joined in. Thursday was kisses, bites, sweat, thrusts and screams— a frenzied mauling because there was no tomorrow.”
The stories also have the right dosage of humour that will keep you turning the pages.
The collection shows that literature is a reflection of society. The major themes include domestic violence, extra-judicial killings, extra-marital affairs, love, hatred and family. There is a recurring motif of searching for meaning and redemption in this laudable collection.
Garricks’ handling of his characters guarantees a damn good collection that will be remembered long after closing the last page. Dami, a very good bad guy, is, for instance, just difficult to forget. Prof. and some other flawed characters are likely to be with an average reader for a long time.
A Broken People’s Playlist has a vital message, which the world has been echoing in the last few days through protests in major capitals of the world: Black Lives Matter. This sentence appears on page 191 of the Masobe edition. It is the inscription on a character’s T-shirt. Since a Minneapolis policeman ignored George Floyd several ‘I can’t breathe’ chants and killed him, the need for racism to be strangulated has come back to the front burner.
Harper Collins needs to do readers in the United States and the United Kingdom one more favour: It needs to acquire Garricks’ first novel, Tomorrow died Yesterday, which remains a talking point a decade after it was published and is bound to be so long after Garricks’ time on earth. The novel, which is told in multiple first person point of view, is a testament to the fact that Nigeria has so much talents and the world has seen, heard and read of just a tiny fraction of them. A deliberate effort is needed to boost these talents locally. Now is the time to stop being local champions.
-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