To kill a mockingbird and the addled mystics of paraplegic socio-economic organisations — Michael Oloyede

After a lavish puff of perfume at home, I made it for the African literary festival, Oxford; the brainchild of the entrancing Onyeka Nwelue – the ousted visiting scholar and Odogwu of Oxford. I need not share the details of the kerfuffle. We know even the lonesome skies are kept company by dark clouds and a life could not have been truly lived without tribulations. And to borrow a line from the famous poem of Wlliams Henley, Invictus, the menace of the years has found Onyeka unafraid.

My phone chimed ceaselessly – one of the many good gestures of the festival director, Kelvin; checking up on my moves and the progress of my commute as other queries and prompts assailed this closed 2-D shape of luminescence. Sighting the multitudes liming the train station to brim, I knew the industrial strike by train workers was in full swing. But, I would have preferred they harangue whoever ought to accede to their requests and not make this incessant strike, perennial; because commuting during this period is always chaotic. It almost seems like a deliberate plan to gouge what they can’t get from the government from the people through spikes in ticket fares over and over again. 

A lady sat on the floor with pursed lips; she claimed to have just left the prison. She had her wares displayed on the platform and tried to share her worries with anyone that cared to listen. Some responded in kindness while most parried her gesture with disapproving looks. She lifted her threadbare clothing, flaunting her underwear to the pale glare of the public. The pain of wistfulness shone in her eyes. She offered biscuits to commuters, some took from her, but most declined. She was celebrating her freedom, her face besmirched with incoherence and a voice in the range of a mockingbird, which stereotypically, people judged her – when a rainbow of hugs could have reaffirmed her right to life, decent means of livelihood and a rekindled sense of belonging; but seeing how people avoided her, I knew the government had a lot to do with public orientations about reintegrating people back to society at the expiration of their sentences. She had new sneakers which she tried on and asked if they were fine; her face glistened with despair as she traipsed the platform. I affirmed her curiosity with a nod. She asked if she could toss the old one away. I suggested she should keep it – at least, to have something else to pair with the new. She lurched over and overwhelmed every passerby with compliments, before hurling queries about the arrival of the next train at them. She even asked nicely, if she could touch some people’s fascinating hairstyles. She received good and cold responses.The train officials later assuaged her frets with assurances.

I drew parallels between how society judges people who just came out of any sort of incarceration or horrendous bouts and the swiftness of society to swallow the key to the lock of their incarceration, avoid them like a plague and almost consign them to doom. Society needs to do better. I have always seconded the aphorism that in our days of crying,what we need is compassion and not tepid dialectics on the cause of misfortunes.

I decided to go through Paddington via Kings Cross underground station. The train kept thrumming on the rails, inciting us with shrills, slamming passengers against metals and trundling us to where fate met reckoning. My head was engorging like a CAC worldwide revival was being held inside it, due to the floundering clanks of the train. I had some moments of intermissions, then observed that a particular race amongst the passengers always had their heads buried in big books, while others simply flipped their phones or turned their heads to their worries and simmered in a lost gaze –  as they apply rigorous mental mathematical models  to complex issues of life. I was grappling with the network to continue my research on the flatulence of African jurisprudence  – and the addled mystics of paraplegic socio-economic organizations. And If they ever knew that the underserved in backwater cities, tucked deep in remote regions, awaiting economic interventions, are miffed by their orgy of aloofness. I stumbled on comments on their soapy response to the pandemic and sore reputation of abetting senile rulers – always crawling, cap in hand, to grovel for grants while coups are becoming the fad in impoverished African democratic states fettered to misery by legitimised tyrants.

The train squelched to a halt at Oxford Circus, blurting out instructions from the speakers like a doctor dishing out generic medication to patients before hurtling on. I withdrew my left leg to make room for a young lady, carrying a kicking invoice of coitus in her stomach, who had just embarked on the train; she flicked her hair with benign exuberance, squatted into a seat and shot me darts of grateful smiles.

Oxford welcomed me with a blustery face. I fancied her gothic air, imposing baroque style architecture, propulsive heirlooms and ancient sensibilities. I took pictures of Salford Business School that grossly afflicted me with ads on all transmedia platforms. I wish I could  lay hands on the director of programs and force feed him a taste of his own medicine. My jacket began to collect raindrops; I quickly  hailed a cab to the event venue. Coins of sunlight sat on the steeple  and flooded the  streets with sheens of orange lights. I read about John Wesley preaching at this venue, and that John and Charles Wesley studied in Oxford, and the congregation was founded in 1783; the present church building was completed in 1878.The building is now a focus for various social activities as well as Christian worship.The present Gothic Revival building was started in 1877 and opened in October 1878. The architect Charles Bell designed it in a revival of Decorated Gothic. The building contractor was Joshua Symm. Henry Frith of Gloucester carved the capitals of the columns, which portray twelve different kinds of English plants. I already missed the opening remarks by the Mayor of Oxford,James Fry, and the mellifluous rendition of GT the Guitarman.

After the last speaker, we went for dinner at an African restaurant. My sweltering plate of garri and white soup was great – and to hear the songs of Nigerian artistes blaring from the speakers, filled my heart with joy at these classic exports. 

My session was held the next day, dotted with contributions from Adaobi’s mum. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is the author of the Commonwealth award winning book, I Do Not Come To You By Chance. Her mother spoke graciously on sustaining oral tradition as a mechanism for instilling African clinical values in the younger generation. Praise George also raised concerns about representation and the identity of migrants in African literature and how it is being pushed forward. Ikenna Okeh declustered the web of literary publishing and the challenges; Diane Regisford pushed for mindfulness in motifs of identity; while Ever Obi straightened the wefts of African narratives. Adaobi regaled us with the cast of her award winning book, that is being adapted into a movie – and how she was careful of being careful, about the cast doing justice to the characters and story arc. Isang Awah, Adeola Sonola unpacked how African women challenged patriarchal norms in African literature. It was a swell time. Nnenna Otuegbe announced the winner of the James Currey Prize for Literature during the last session: Kenyan writer, Peter Nglia Njeri.The Festival ended after a photo session.

Sequel to the politics of ego earlier in the year, and the attending effects, some of the speakers billed to speak, cocooned their absence in busyness. We understand the coarse workings of  certain cultural milieu, the systemic underhand dealings with those from the Atlantic and their cavil with their grit for exploits and penchant  for exceptional careerism/ artistry – and the cloud between the characters within those walls and the concentrates of our triumphs. 

We might not know who Onyeka is in total, but we know he does not arrogate a Bsc.certificate  to himself. I have read articles with tangy bylines about this talent, but for this multi-hyphenated fellow, every turbulence seems to be a spell of good things. 

From reading one of his novels, A Troubled Life, I knew him as someone given to a life of magnificent finery in all senses of cynicism and exploratory culture-overtures – like a fascinating sci-fi character clad in furs of delicate polemics that often go feral. But, in another flip,this up to the minute individual, is studious, daring and loves to get his feet wet. His world is an odyssey common to exponents of the avant-garde, sustained by his belief in the surreal and often saved by celestial interventions to luxuriate in his colorful world of elaborate artistry and protracted grouse with penury. I will also suggest that those whose continent lies in the four hemispheres, should quell the urge to conjure sanctimonious retorts and constellations of morbid missives just to kill a mockingbird. 



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