“You sit beside a fat woman dressed in an expensive Aso-ebi, the type Lagos women wear to weddings and funerals. The harsh feel of the lace-material reminds you of sacks. You spare her one more glance; purple eyelids and a contrasting pink blush on her very dark cheeks, her face is a palette of several colours.
You know you smell of rotten fish and nicotine but you prefer your stale smell to her stuffy perfume harassing your nostrils. The woman glares at you. She knows by the time you both alight from the bus she will smell more like you than the expensive perfume she has bathed herself in. She squirms and mutters about the lack of space…”
The Writivism Literary Initiative deserves commendation for promoting the art of storytelling, and in particular, elevating the short story sub-genre of Prose, which is usually regarded as a “less serious” creative effort when compared to the novel. With the inauguration of the annual Writivism short story prize, as well as the organizing of collaborative workshops, more and more young African writers are encouraged to hone their craft in writing short stories.
“Your Heart Will Skip A Beat And Other Stories” is a compilation of thirteen short stories, published in 2016 by Writivism Literary Initiative. A product of workshops and mentoring classes, it features writers across various nations in the continent, from Nigeria to South Africa, from Botswana to Tanzania. The anthology contains the works of a few young brilliant African writers, including Adeola Opeyemi, Chivimbiso Gava, Tolu Daniel, Helen Herimbi, Lilian Akampurira Aujo, Margaret Muthee, Sima Mittal, Socrates Mbamalu, Thato Angela, Uzoma Ihejirika, Warimu Muriithi and Magunga Williams.
“Justice” explores jungle justice and mistaken identity, “Overcome” dwells on the lives of call girls, “Aduke’s Waist” is a story about generational gaps and values, “The Miners” talks about street urchins, A cleaner has a strong crush on a senior bank staff in “The Kind Of Water I Like”, and an old widower kicks against being kept at a nursing home in “The Escape”. A bipolar lady attempts suicide in “The God of Death”, a young lawyer is torn between a widowed landlady and a horny teenager in “Lagos Doesn’t Care”, a woman aborts a foetus without her husband’s knowledge in “The Convenient Doctor”, a debtor tries to play smart in “Your Heart Will Skip A Beat”, a boy finds it hard to woo his love interest in “Tomorrow’s Burden”, loss occasioned by death alters gender roles in “Same Size Feet”, and in, “Juliet” (the concluding story in the anthology), a recently jilted lover experiences the ugly side of Kenyan night life.
This short story collection beams the spotlight on a number of issues, including mental health, societal values, social classifications, pain and the complexities of love. There is also an insight on life in different parts of Africa, with each writer coming with their own unique perspective of how the world revolves.
The compilation in itself shows great editing work; the stories are pretty well structured, and there are hardly any grammatical errors. However, it could be argued that the themes could have been more diverse; for a body of work published in 2016, the level of “freshness” leaves much to be desired. Some of the stories have their beauty dented by length too, ending abruptly before readers can really get into the narrative.
“Your Heart Will Skip A Beat And Other Stories” has its rough edges, but it is promising nonetheless, and it is obvious that the contributing writers have enormous potential. There will be better stories and compilations (at least that’s what it hoped for), but this is good enough, and the editors should be proud.
Jerry Chiemeke is a lawyer who resides in Lagos. His works have been featured in The Kalahari Review and Brittle Paper. His editorials have also appeared on True Nollywood Stories and he is currently a book reviewer on literary blog Bagus Mutendi. He recently published his first book, “The Colours In These Leaves”.