Title:The Bottom of Another Tale
Author:Su’eddie Vershima Agema
Extent: 142 pages
THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE is a collection of short stories over 98% of which is told in the past tense. They are about disillusionment. They are about loss: loss of hope, loss of life and loss of the mind.
In this book, life is lived in retrospect. Many of the characters yearn for the lives long lost. Not that the past is paradisiacal, but it somehow has something the present hasn’t. Perhaps, it is sheer nostalgia. Besides, time has a way of romanticizing the past.
The most striking, for me, of the themes in this collection is that of faith. In The River’s Testament, we meet the educated Tombo who has become so westernized to the extent that he no longer considers himself the “sort of African who believed in such nonsense” as traditions. To him, “Traditions were old pieces of caution and action that had been created for specific events. Ignorant people continued them even when the importance had long faded.”
Tombo will easily represent all the National Youth Service Corps members who don’t pay attention at the Orientation Camp when they are being told to respect the cultures and traditions of the host community they are deployed to. Being a teacher of English Language and Literature, it is most probable he has read Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and has been impressed by the colonialist who pulls over by the highway to pick out British currency from a pot of sacrifice.
From the very beginning, Tombo doesn’t plan to stoop low to the lesser civilization he has been involuntarily thrust into. We learn that he “exchanged the hell he found for a bit of bliss provided in the opportunity to learn more of the language and traditions of the people- more for literary material to aid his writing than for acculturation.”
Even though Bantaje is “a peaceful village with good people”, Tombo cannot stop reminiscing about South Africa where he had spent his formative years; a place he likes to think of as “the lands of better thinking people”.
“You don’t believe in our traditions?” Rekia, the local beauty that has charmed his heart asks him one night.
“Not at all,” our enlightened Tombo grins. “I think they make for good humour, great laughter and all but that is it…”
The local belief he finds most amusing is that the river has the power to kill on nights of full moon. Of course, Tombo doesn’t doubt that someone can drown and die in the river. That is natural enough and has scientific explanation. But the problem arises when the villagers try to ascribe supernatural tendencies to the river. And to prove them wrong, Tombo runs to the river for a swim in one of the nights of full moon.
Humans have rebelled against God and laws. Humans have always wanted to be master of both their lives and universe. Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were forbidden to touch. Drunken with success, Odyssey declared his autonomy from Posidon the god of the sea who reminds him that “man is nothing without the gods.”
Barely twenty four hours after his challenge to the gods and rites of the land, Tombo is revisits the riverside once more this time around to search for the lump of money he is sure he must have dropped the previous night. Only, he ends up running mad. And by the end of the story, he has become a convert.
While The River’s Testament is about an enlightened soul being converted into a believer of superstitions, Luashie’s Doctrine is of a believer becoming disillusioned. Lushie has seen it all, from the bizarre miracles in Pentecostal churches to the calmness and serenity of mass and communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Attending early morning mass becomes his escape from the harsh realities of (family) life and a bullying wife. He feels so fulfilled in this faith that “there was no way he was ever going to even think about changing his faith.” But he returns home that same day and engages in a fight with his wife, an incidence that leaves him hospitalized and shakes his faith to the point that he becomes sure he’s not going to stay with the church much longer.
In A Lust Intervention, Amina fails to entrap Tarlumun with food and sex in order to steal his prosperity and his luck. She first makes his acquaintance at a construction site which he is supervising, where she approaches him ostensibly to “inquire if she could get a contract to supply some building materials”. Eventually, she sets a perfect scene and mood for seduction and only fails because Tarlumun’s fiancé, Nnenna, is busy that same night in intercessory prayers on behalf of her man.
The Gaping Void takes it a notch higher. It proves faith can reverse fate and that all things are possible if only one believes. I have hardly read through the first two paragraphs when these lines from J. P. Clark’s Abiku ran through my mind:
“Coming and going these several seasons
Do stay out on the baobab tree
Follow where you please your kindred spirits
If indoors is not enough for you…”
You cannot but feel sorry for the family of Ebuka and Adaora who keeps having Ogbanje babies that die only to be reborn eventually. The sestet embedded in the story says it all:
They will delight you with a cry
Then, in early childhood die
Locate your tear bank, prepare your cry
They might deceive you a few years but by and by
Like Tombo in The River’s Testament, Ebuka has little or no regard for customs and tradition. We are told that he views “custom as simply a course to which people willed that which would befall them.”
According to Cacious in Julius Ceaser, neither “stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass/ nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron/ can be retentive to the strength of spirit…”
Ebuka goes on to name the baby Victor, insisting that the child will live despite that the others are clamouring to scar the baby in order to identify him in his next coming. By the time the boy Victor is old enough to go play football in the street, his father is unexplainably absent. Adaora has given birth to another repeater child, a baby girl. Adaora proves to be the antithesis of her husband. Rather than replicate what Ebuka did in the past, she resigns to fate and says to Victor: “Your sister has decided to leave us. There is nothing we can do.”
But Victor, the redeemed Ogbanje, refuses to give up without a fight. He picks up the baby and does to her what his father had done to him in his own time.
While a mere phrase can hardly be said to be devoid of message in whatever way, some of the stories in this collection doesn’t seem to merit their place. You either find them too short for a quickie, or quite fleshy but tasteless. The reader comes out from them suspecting that they were just used to make up the pages. The Pen and Sword, which is approximately 223 words, is still vague even as a facebook status update.
Su’eddie Vershima Agema does something remarkable in THE BOTTOM OF ANOTHER TALE. Faith and fate are ascribed equal powers, the only determining factor being the individual for whom it is left to either let the former overrule the latter or vice versa. Things aren’t necessarily what we think they are. Everything is what we make of them.