A couple of years ago, I had to check in at the airport for a trip to school. The lady at one of the checkpoints was a no-nonsense person. Her brows were arched high in honor of Cruella de Vil.
“Where are your documents?”
I pulled out my passport, acceptance letter, and letter from the embassy.
“Give me your university certificate.”
I obliged, even though the woman was taking her sweet time with each piece of paper.
“Wharrof your WAEC result? Birth certificate?” she asked.
My phone was ringing madly. It was my dad asking what the holdup was. I could see him craning his neck in the distance.
I turned to ask the woman if she needed any other thing and she winked. Once, twice, thrice. “Sissy, shake body nahh,” she said. “Wetin I wan do with all dis document?” Her smile was all lips and no sincerity. Garish.
I didn’t know whether to smile back or ask her to go to hell.
This experience was foremost in my mind as I read Reward Nsirim’s Fresh Air and Other Stories. Nsirim’s book is best described as a collage of Nigeria. Bits and pieces of corrupt government officials, suffering-and-smiling citizens, and bottles of sparkling champagne help mould many stories in the collection.
The first story is about Bekwele who lives a mediocre life in the UK while most of his savings go to extravagant family members. When his father dies and he visits Nigeria, he experiences a rude shock that leads to a long deserved awakening.
Ex-military governments, Saro-Wiwa, and memories of the injustice meted out to the Ogoni tribe are the backdrop for another story. Ever hear about the raids on suspected supporters of the Ogoni protest? One story takes us into prison where a ‘survivor’ tells his side of the tale.
The great thing about this book is that it’s not all about the dreariness and suffering we know so well as Nigerians. I also got to laugh when some guy who’s stuck on a bus gets diarrhea.
In another hilarious story, two ‘oyinbo’ detectives are invited to Nigeria to investigate the death of a prominent senator. Via this masterpiece Nsirim explores the elaborate whitewashing of our problems by the government, political ass-kissery, and the unavailability of important facilities in the country.
I am stunned that this book somehow gave life to worn-out themes of corruption, the White-Black divide, migration, and the oil spill crises. Fresh Air and Other Short Stories is literary fire; no wonder it was on the long list for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature.
This is the first time I’m reading anything from this man and I’m wondering why he isn’t widely known. Am I the last person to find out about him? He is fearless in his writing and it shows that he is not afraid to criticize the system.
Fresh Air and Other Stories is the perfect gift for the year. Get an e-copy for yourself, loved ones and haters, too. OkadaBooks never runs out of copies so you can download one, two, or three books right now! Feel free to read other stuff when you’re done, and remember to spread the word.
Good people never hoard good books.
Chiamaka Onu-Okpara is a freelance editor with an absolute love for anything weird. When she isn’t wading through punctuation errors, she binge-watches cartoons and writes speculative fiction.
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