If there is one thing Peter Chika’s debut collection screams, it is “Come for the title, stay for the creativity.” It is not the title of this collection that will make you turn the last page of this book, but the compelling narrative voices the author employed. Seventeen stories in all, we journey through multiple continents to experience the realities of different characters whose stories are reflections of our own. There is such beauty and pain in the fact that these stories are brief, yet they are just enough. Their brevity makes them memorable.
The first story, The Condom, explores the relationship dynamic between Ike and Laura, a married couple. Both of them are in a seemingly healthy and happy union until one morning when an unused condom threatens to pop their tiny bubble of happiness. The denouement of this story as with subsequent stories in this collection will leave your mouth agape.
Scents of a Child is one of the stories that would tear at your heartstrings in this collection. There is nothing Ada would not do just to stop hearing the refrain, “You are nothing but a man.” This story packs a punch regardless of its length. It shows us the worst-case scenario in the life of a woman desperate for a child of her own. Martyr is another story that would pull at the seat of your emotions. The story focuses on the way girls and women are turned into martyrs for an unreasonable cause. It is a total erasure of their fundamental right to life and a confirmation of how much their lives are worth. Peter Chika feeds us these tiny slices of our realities in these carefully curated stories, reminding us how connected our stories are.
It is worth reiterating how Peter Chika stretches our imaginations across continents and ethnicity in these stories. Some of these stories transport us through Oxford street, Starbucks in Dulwich village, Bissonet in Houston, Texas down to Rumuola Road in Port-Harcourt. Through this assortment of settings, we experience cultural assimilation, racism and police brutality that shape these characters’ stories. We witness characters make sudden or out-of-character decisions based on their personal convictions tinged with external influence. Seventeen stories of more than seventeen characters pan out story after story, giving us just enough to remember. And a real-life setting in stories gives readers the opportunity to flex their imagination, especially if they are familiar with such a setting.
Another noticeable lure of this collection is that Peter Chika lets his characters tell their story. Whether we are reading through the omniscient point of view or the first person point of view, each story sucks you in immediately. From the get-go, we are hinted that these characters want one thing and at once, we are invested in the pursuit of that one thing with them. It is exhilarating how the stories sometimes unfold, crashing into a chaotic ending and leaving us with more questions than answers.
An onlooker tells the story in The Briefcase. Initially, it looks like an exaggerated gist told to a friend, but in the part of the world where that story happens, anything is possible. Also, we can literally feel the anguish of the woman in Scent of a Child, her potent rage and her quiet resignation. The only way out for her seems to be to get out of her own way. These characters tell their own stories in a way that makes it difficult to just yank them off one’s memory.
The Condom and Other Stories blends drama and humour with plot twists that will leave you intrigued. With each clear-cut twist, it becomes glaring that Peter Chika is obsessed with giving his readers what they don’t see coming. These stories consume the reader quickly, pitching them against its transient nature and leaving them with the need to know more. The Condom and Other Stories is undoubtedly an intriguing one, but a Nigerian reader might not fully appreciate how the author keeps explaining all the Nigerian terms used. Apart from this, the stories are humorous, sometimes dark, but immersive.