The Guardian Newspapers, the flagship of journalism in Nigeria, reviewed my book: The Familiar Stranger & Other Stories, recently.
Kindly click on the link below to read the review:
By Frederick Mordi
“Yee!” he bleated like a goat in labour, “you are aggravating my pains, woman! Can’t you do it gently? Your hands are as coarse as an elephant’s skin!”
“Sorry, pa Favour,” she replied soothingly, unable to tell him that he was partly responsible for her calloused hands. “I was only trying to help. Should I continue?”
She was more careful now as she rubbed the pungent ointment all over his battered body. There was an egg-sized lump on his head, a deep gash on his forehead and inflated balloons on his thick lips. One would be forgiven in thinking that he ran into a bulldozer…Gogo, who runs the local pharmacy, had stitched him up hurriedly yesterday, after some sympathisers rushed him in.
“Chei! pa Favour, these people are wicked o!” she remarked tearfully between short pauses. “Were they planning to turn me into a widow? See what they did to you! They should be locked up in the police station.”
“How do you mean?” he growled, trying to suppress another pang of pain, which shot through his shoulders. He gritted his teeth and tried to sit up but he fell back on the bed again, awkwardly.
“Why don’t you just take my advice for once and apply for re-deployment to another less hazardous department before they kill you for me?” she whined. “This sanitary inspector work that you do is too dangerous for my liking! You could have gotten yourself lynched by that mob, you know. You were lucky those policemen came in the nick of time. Your cowardly colleagues turned tail when you needed them the most!”
“Are you trying to teach me my job, woman?” the man called pa Favour demanded gruffly. “Mind your business!” She did not give him any more trouble.
Having cowed his wife into submission, he sat up on the rumpled bed with some effort. He finally managed to swallow the pain reliever she left for him on a stool beside the bed, with a glass of water. A dark scowl covered his face as he explored his head with his index finger gingerly.
Pa Favour, the new Chief Sanitary Inspector of the district, is a veritable myrmidon of the law. He takes impish delight in following the letter of the law, his diminutive frame, never an impediment in this often unpleasant task.
They posted him to the district last month. Since then, he had launched a full-scale offensive against the residents, having confided in his meek assistant that he would level down everyone. Sure enough, he has been inspecting their rooms, toilets and kitchens—to fish for kpomo, a local delicacy made from cow skin. As Chief Sanitary Inspector, he felt duty-bound to enforce a ban on the consumption of kpomo announced by the government.
He got himself into hot water yesterday when he ill-advisedly insisted on inspecting the contents of Madam Do Good’s pots of soup, following a tip-off that the corpulent lady, who runs a highly successful canteen outside the mechanic village, had smuggled kpomo into the menu.
Pa Favour had his orders: ensure that sales and consumption of cow skin remained prohibited no matter whose ox was gored. It is whispered in some circles that local leather manufacturers had lobbied government to impose the ban, because unbridled eating of the delicacy was depriving them of vital raw materials for belts, shoes and bags. Dieticians had also enthusiastically thrown their weight behind the prohibition of kpomo consumption, as kpomo does not, according to the eggheads, possess any nutritional value.
What Pa Favour did not reckon with was the angry reactions from the hungry mechanics that formed the bulk of Mama Do Good’s customers. Their initial surprise turned into anger as they protested against having their meal time disrupted. But he ignored them and continued his diligent exploration of the steaming pots of soup whose aroma failed to seduce his nostrils.
Stung beyond reason with fury at his effrontery and total insensitivity, the mechanics pounced on pa Favour. They beat him up mercilessly. Someone later hinted at the fact that mechanics and kpomo are like tea and morning to the Englishman.
The brooding sanitary inspector fingered the lump on his head again cautiously and decided that perhaps that woman was right after all: life has no duplicate!
Author’s Note: This piece was written over 10 years ago. On September 10, 2014, it was reported in the Nigerian media that the Federal Government was considering banning the consumption of Kpomo.
By Frederick Mordi
The boy whimpered behind the television set where he sought refuge. His bright innocent eyes are filled with terror at the sight of the cane. But he is more scared of his father’s harsh tone than the cane. He has never seen his father in this mood before. He did not know what to do.
“If I meet you there, Chike, you will see pepper,” his father warned, as he rolled up his white long sleeves shirt slowly, exposing his hairy arms.
He moved menacingly towards the boy, who had already pissed in his pants.
“Dad, I am sorry, I won’t do it again,” the five year-old boy pleaded.
Tears tumbled down from his checks like a torrential July rain. But his father was not moved.
“You said that the last time!” he reminded him tartly.
With that he sprang forward and caught hold of the boy as he tried to dash towards the door in one last desperate bid for freedom. When he counted six strokes of the cane, he stopped. There was a look of cruel satisfaction on his bearded face as he strolled back to the dining table, where he dropped the cane gently.
The shrill cries of the boy, which pierced the still morning air, assaulted the eardrums of sleeping neighbours. They did not take kindly to it. One of them summoned the Police at once.
But his mother arrived first. As soon as she took one look at the boy, she flew into a rage.
“Emeka!” she screamed at her husband, “What have you done to Junior?”
“I just flogged him,” he announced proudly.
“Well done!” She replied sarcastically. “Do you think this is Nigeria where you can abuse a poor innocent child?”
“I don’t care whether we are in London or not! I will raise up my child the way I jolly well please! Nobody is going to teach me how to train my own child! I have always told you that you are spoiling Chike. It is better to bend a fish when it is fresh; it becomes difficult to bend when it is dry.”
“You call child abuse, training?” she fired back peevishly.
“The trouble with you, Ego,” he tried to reason with his wife, an auxiliary nurse in a hospital in Peckham, “is that you have chosen to forget your roots. We are Africans for goodness sake! We bring up our children by the hand. It is the strict discipline we enforce on our children that still holds the moral fabric of our society tightly together, unlike the West where family values have since collapsed.”
“There you go again! Always sermonising!”
“Well, I don’t care what names I am called; what I know is that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. Simple.”
They were having a heated debate on the long-term effectiveness of spanking a child when the doorbell rang.
It was the Police.
His wife moved quickly. She dashed to the door, hesitated for a while before she opened it slowly. There were two of them.
“Police,” said the taller of the two. “We heard there’s been some trouble here…”
“Not really,” she replied hastily. “We were having a little argument over some personal matter…”
“Hmmm!” the stocky cop interjected, “I see. We are under the impression that someone has been crying blue murder. Would it happen to be that lad?”
He glanced at the direction of the boy, who had stopped sobbing.
“Oh! That’s our boy, he hurt himself…”
“Ah! No trouble then?”
“Absolutely not, officer.”
“Perhaps, some mistake, forgive our intrusion, ma’am, have a nice day.”
“And do take care of the kid,” the short cop added.
“Thank you, officer.”
“Emeka, see how you almost put us in trouble!” she exclaimed when the cops were out of earshot. “I have told you that their culture is quite different from ours. But you won’t listen! You just won’t listen! You have been threatening to flog Junior at the slightest opportunity, haven’t you? See what it has almost cost you! You should thank your stars! You would have been fined for child abuse or worst still, sentenced to jail! Last month, a Jamaican was jailed for beating up his children with a belt. Emeka, learn to do in Rome as the Romans do!”
The man was lost in thought. He felt he was losing his authority as the man of the house.
Tamuno stared wistfully at the letter on his desk. It was inside a white envelope that bore the company’s logo.
He has not been himself since one of the HR officers delivered the letter to him at exactly 4:45pm. The letter completely rattled him. It was the last thing he expected after all the assurances that he got.
It was getting close to 5:00pm, the official closing time of the company. But he was in no hurry to go home on that particular day. He was lost in thought.
He had a good reason to be worried. In the last few days, employees of the company have been receiving sack letters from HR. No less than 80 employees in the organisation that has a staff strength of about 200, have been affected by the ongoing retrenchment exercise…
Finally, Tamuno summoned enough courage to open the letter. His hands shook like a leaf as he did so.
The letter was terse.
Dear Mr. Tamuno,
Consequent on the restructuring exercise embarked upon by the organisation, I have the pleasure to inform you that you have been elevated to the position of Financial Controller with effect from 1st March.
It is the hope of Management that you will see your new appointment as a challenge to redouble your efforts in the face of the daunting business environment in which we operate.
Please accept the assurances of my highest esteem.
The letter was signed by the Human Resources Director.
Tamuno nearly passed out with relief when he finished reading the letter that had got him so worked up.
Then he burst into laughter.
He searched everywhere but he could not find it.
He has been searching for it for the past two hours. He had first ransacked the kitchen—its natural habitat—and when he could not find it there, he stormed into the three bedrooms in the flat and turned everything in them upside down. But he still could not find it.
Fuming with anger, he invaded the stuffy store, where he frightened the living daylights out of an old rat that was scavenging for grub. Seeking a target to vent his spleen on, he hurled a broom at the rodent. But he missed his target, which scurried away. He went back to the living room.
He cursed silently under his breath.
After another futile search in the living room, where he created more chaos, he sank on the sofa dejectedly. This was exactly the third time that he would perform the act. Hunger tore at his entrails savagely.
He reserved his bile for the firm where his wife works, for sending her to London on a certification course, which she had assured him, would enhance her profile in the office.
Profile his foot!
He has been forced to look after his restless 10-month old son, because the nanny, who lives far away, could not come today due to a nationwide strike. Banks, schools and offices have remained closed since the strike, which has virtually paralysed economic activities in the country, started yesterday. The media had dubbed the strike, the ‘Mother of all Strikes.’ For once, he believed what the press said.
He has never felt so helpless all his life.
He gazed once more at the wall clock, which chimed on oblivious of his plight. The old transistor radio assured him, as it has been doing before the strike eventually started, that negotiations between both parties are still ongoing.
He inspected the refrigerator to see if there is anything he could bite to help him think straight. But the refrigerator did not offer much solace. He checked the cupboards for provisions and found nothing that could assuage his mighty hunger.
Reluctantly, he went into the kitchen as a last resort. The last time he cooked was during their honeymoon—a little over a year ago. Feeling quite romantic, he had fried some eggs and made toast bread for his wife for breakfast.
He measured two cups of rice. He sliced tomatoes, pepper and onions that he found in the pantry and poured some groundnut oil in a medium-sized pot half filled with water. He sprinkled thyme and curry on the mixture gingerly. After several attempts, he managed to get the gas cooker working. He put the pot on the cooker and began to boil the rice.
That was when the baby woke up.
He abandoned what he was doing in the kitchen and hurried to the living room to attend to the baby’s cries. The baby stopped crying momentarily upon seeing a familiar face. Then it started all over again. He dashed back to the kitchen. He washed his hands with soap and water and dried them before he went back to the parlour.
Frowning as he made food for the baby, his mind again went to his wife. He gritted his rage with rage. While the baby was sucking at the feeding bottle, he listened to ‘News on the Hour.’ The female newscaster said the situation was still a stalemate. Analysts painted a bleak picture of what would happen to the economy, which was already bleeding, should the two-day old strike drag on a day longer.
He got so carried away with the report that he did not know when the pot dried up. His sensitive nostrils picked up the smell. He was a little too late. The food got burnt. Consternation was written on his face. He was trying to get a smaller pot, encumbered with the baby safely strapped on his back, when the breaking news came.
“The strike action has been suspended…”
That was all he wanted to hear. But something else made him to stare at the radio curiously. He noticed that the radio was sitting on a book. He walked over briskly to confirm his suspicions. It was the missing cook book.
He shook his head with incredulity.
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