Psychoanalysing Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms

Season of Crimson Blossoms is another complex story told in the most simplest of form. In summary, the story is about Hajiya Binta whose withering life finally gets to blossom at age fifty-five when she starts going to bed with a certain miscreant popularly called Reza, who reminds her very much of her late son, and how their love affair finally crashes under the barrage of censorious society and a number of independent factors. From the very beginning of the story, the reader becomes aware of a thick blanket of grey cloud over-hanging heroine’s head, indicating that the tale will end in no other way than tragic. Seeing that Hajiya Binta’s premonition– symbolized by the pungent smell of cockroaches– and tragic events have a perfect positive correlation, it would be understandable if one thought that perhaps if she had taken out a little time to pray rather than scouring her room in search of the non-existent cockroaches, things would have played out differently on that fateful day.
There are sufficient reasons to suspect that Season of Crimson Blossoms is the enlargement of ‘The Garbage Man’, one of the stories in the collection of short stories, The Whispering Trees, which was published in 2012. The connections between the earlier short story and the later novel are just too much to be waved off as co-incidental. Hajiya Binta and Reza might as well be the remodelled versions of Zainab and Master. At the middle of Zainab’s courtyard stands a flame tree which “had an almost full head of crimson blossoms”. Just like Hajiya Binta in Season of Crimson Blossoms, Zainab cannot say that she is in love with her husband who also hardly satisfies her sexual needs. Both women happen to own and appreciate literary works; both women fall in love with younger men who are below their social classes; at one point, both women fear that their new boyfriends might lose respect for them; at another point, both women choke with jealousy when they think that the boys are in love with some other (perhaps, much younger) women. Moreover, in the short story ‘The Garbage Man’, the words “crimson blossoms”, “crimson” and “blossoms” are mentioned multiple times.
One of the strengths of this book, which is a very big plus to Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, is its capacity to simultaneously thrust the reader into the shoes of Hajiya Binta’s children who cannot but grow turgid with disgust and embarrassment over their mother’s affair with some thug, and also into the shoes of Hajiya Binta or those of her lover Reza, either of whom seem helpless to the outcome that their first encounter snowballs into. The reader never really gets to jump out of the vortex formed by these conflicting perspectives from which he or she watches on as Hajiya Binta and Reza metamorphose from total strangers to sex partners. And this transformation no doubt cost both Hajiya Binta and Reza a great deal of will-power and the pulling down of the iron walls of religion, culture and morality. However, the demolition does not seem to be complete because now and then we still get to encounter either of the two lovers acknowledging the absurdity of their relationship, which somehow comes across even to them as pseudo-incestuous.
That Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms is able to exude a diverse range of colours only goes further to prove its remarkableness. And since the book has been analysed from political, socio-cultural, religious and romantic perspectives it should therefore not be considered heretic if one chose to appreciate it through psychoanalytical binoculars.
Sigmund Freud, the originator of psychoanalysis– a special set of techniques for exploring underlying motives and a method of treating various mental disorders– holds that essential, idiopathic anxiety is due to excessive sexual tension without satisfactory discharge. He further insists that neuroses are caused by repressed sexual memories. In Season of Crimson Blossoms, thoughts and feelings long repressed by the pentagenarian Hajiya Binta whose own daughter confirms has ‘endured a decade without a man’ finally finds outlet when her path crosses that of Reza whose spiky hair reminds her of her late son. Diagnosis will show that she suffers from Jocasta complex (a psychoanalytical term for the libidinal fixation of a mother for her son), a term derived from the Greek mythological character who unknowingly married her own son, Oedipus. Some writers have it that while Oedipus desired his mother, his mother, Jocasta, had the same feelings towards him. That should explain how Hajiya Binta could indulge in a sexual relationship with a boy that very much reminds her of her late son, or how the burglar, Reza, could bring himself to lay hands on a woman that reminds him very much of his mother. Even Hajiya Binta is shocked that she could get sexually aroused during the brief period that the burglar’s bulgy crotch pushes hard against her backside and his arm crushes her breasts. Before her path crosses Reza’s, Hajiya Binta has had a sexually frustrating life. Married off at the age of sixteen or seventeen even before she could understand what love meant, she was rebuked by her husband the day (after three years of their marriage) she tried to express herself in bed. Since after then, she learns to just lie like a log of wood and count to sixty or seventy when her husband always went out of steam (p 54).
Reza always draws a connection between his biological mother and Hajiya Binta while the latter always thinks of her late son whenever she is with, or thinks of, Reza. While Hajiya Binta thinks “how insane it was that she had just slept with someone who reminded her of her first son” (p 62), Reza wonders “why he was sexually attracted to a woman who was older than his mother” (p 63-64). Even though it “disturbed her, this constant reminder of her son when she looked at Reza”, the latter remains “her lover” (p 115). More remarkably, a careful reader would spot similarities in some of her reactions to both her late son, Yaro, and to her lover, Reza. First, one reads that she “wanted to touch her son… to whisper his name and tell him it would be all right…” (p 126), and then some pages down the line, one reads that she “put her arms around [Reza] and held him to her, whispering into his ear that his father would be alright” (p 167).
In one of his marijuana-induced reflections, he even gets to refer to himself as “the motherfucker” (p 126). And then, we further read that:
Sometimes his intimacy with Binta bothered him, not least because occasionally he ended up thinking about his mother when he thought of Binta, or the other way round” (p 185).
In his thesis, The Waning of the Oedipus Complex, Hans W Leowald holds that:
“… no matter how resolutely the ego turns away from it and what the relative proportions of repression, sublimation, “destruction” might be, in adolescence the Oedipus complex rears its head again, and so it does during later periods of life, in normal people as well as in neurotic… Seen in this light, there is no definitive destruction of the Oedipus complex, even when it is more than repressed; but we can speak of its waning and the various forms in which this occurs.”
The first casualty in Hajiya Binta’s rebirth is her religious devotion. With time, secular books begin to take primacy over spiritual ones to the extent that “the novels and self-help books she had read continued to pile on top of Al Zahab’s Major Sins” (p 160). But the heaviest price she pays for her re-birth is the loss of her second son, killed accidentally by no other person than Reza. While some might want to point this out as an aberration from Freud’s version of Oedipus complex in which the father (that is, the mother’s husband) is the child’s hated villain, Malinosky’s case study of the Trobriand Islanders of the western Pacific shows that the child’s fears and hatred are not necessarily directed at his mother’s lover but at the authoritarian figure in his life.
Whether intentionally or not, Season of Crimson Blossoms enriches and even promotes Freudianism. All through the book, we see the effects of suppressed emotions and memories, and the instrumentality of dreams. More remarkable is that at least two persons including Ustaz Nura, Hajiya Binta’s Islamic instructor, suggest psychoanalysis as the most effective solution to her niece’s neurosis. This is bound to come as a shock to a lot of readers who would have expected the Islamic instructor to recommend exorcism considering that in Nigeria even mundane ailments as catarrh or common cold is ascribed spiritual causes.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms, which won the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Prize for Literature in 2016, was published in 2015– the same year as Elnathan John’s debut novel, Born on a Tuesday. Adding those two to other writers of northern extraction such as Helon Habila and Emmanuel Egya Sule, it might be in order to say that the northern part of Nigeria has become, or is becoming, an equal partner in the literary wealth of Nigeria.

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