IN THE WORLD OF GIANTS

Odafe Atogun

October 20, 2017, 10.30 pm, Abuja

I’m sitting at my desk, thinking of what to write. My mind is blank, so I stare at the bookshelf opposite me. I have my glasses on. I can see the lettering on the books clearly. I love my glasses. I got them recently, when it became clear that my eyes had started to dim. I’m told that the glasses make me look like a nerd. I have never looked like a nerd, and I had always wished that I looked like one. So now I wear my glasses at the slightest opportunity, grinning quietly to myself while the world observes me with mild curiosity.

On the bookshelf Kafka sits notably in The Complete Novels. To his left sits J.M. Coetzee in Summertime, to his right Gabriel Garcia Marquez in The Autumn of the Patriarch. I scan the shelf slowly. With reverence. The array of authors is impressive and I tremble at the quality of creativity on display. Amongst them Wole Soyinka sits broodingly, his words, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, like an urgent warning designed to get me writing. Maybe I should write like Soyinka, I think to myself. And then my eyes come to rest on Milan Kundera’s Identity, and I realise that, like him, I must find my own voice.

I look down at my computer, fingertips to keyboard, but still not knowing what to write. I return my gaze to the bookshelf. I try to imagine the boundless worlds contained in those books. Amazing that the authors had started each story with just one word. One magical word that unfurled timeless and riveting tales. Just one word. It occurs to me that if I could come up with that word, my story would be on its way to completion.

I try to think of the word. My eyes return to the bookshelf. Suddenly, I see a book with my name on it, as if it had never been there. I push my body forward to take a closer look, adjusting my glasses on my nose. Nerd! A smile spreads across my face. Five words come to me in a rush: In the World of Giants.

I sigh and begin to write.■ 

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THE INNOCENT THIEF

a short story

Odafe Atogun 

Dudu was famished that evening. He had not eaten all day. He looked gaunt, eyes and cheeks sunken. His boots were torn. His trousers sagged, his collar looked frayed. He cut the picture of a homeless man. Holding a small bag tightly to his chest, he walked into the supermarket with a faint smile on his face, leaving you to wonder what a man like him could be happy about.

He found a trolley. He pushed it with an effort, picking items off the shelves. Gradually, the trolley filled up. The supermarket attendants glared at him with hostility, the same question on their minds: ‘How is he going to pay for all the groceries?’ One or two of them followed him around for a while, but the smell emanating from him drove them back. So they monitored him from a distance.

Dudu was not aware of the interest he was generating. He was minding his own business, the small bag he had clutched to his chest earlier now firmly strapped to his waist. He fingered the bag again and again. It contained all that he would ever need. This thought broadened the smile on his face.

He pulled up with surprise when someone called his name questioningly: ‘Dudu?’

He turned round and was confronted by a well-dressed young man in his early twenties.

‘Dudu?’ the young man repeated in awe.

Dudu smiled in response.

‘My name is Jimmy. I’m a software developer like you,’ the young man said. ‘I met you at a couple of workshops a few years ago and I have been following your progress since.’ There was excitement in his voice. ‘Congratulations for your recent success! I read about it just yesterday. I hope to be like you one day.’ He extended his hand with a smile.

Dudu smiled back. He looked round furtively to make sure no one could hear their conversation. He preferred to remain anonymous. ‘Thank you,’ he replied, taking Jimmy’s hand firmly. ‘I wish you every success.’

As Dudu pushed his trolley away, Jimmy watched in admiration, shaking his head, knowing all that the man had been through.

Dudu could not believe that anyone would recognize him. He was a shadow of his former self. Years of hardship while he had tried to sell the computer software he developed had taken a heavy toll on him. And then his fortune had changed unbelievably in the last few days. In the bag around his waist was the contract, plus some of the cash advance he had received earlier that day to clean himself up. Thankful that he would not be sleeping on the street that night or ever again, he looked forward to soaking himself in a warm bath when he returned to the apartment he had rented a couple of hours ago.

He picked a few more things then headed for the front of the store. There were several check-out lines. On one of the lines was a ‘big man’, with an aide tending to his trolley. He had a potbelly, smelled of freshly minted money and he kept turning round and round, smiling amicably at the world, very pleased with himself. Thinking that that line was probably the fastest, Dudu stayed behind the big man.

The big man made a face and turned away, irritated by the odour that suddenly suffused him. Dudu did not notice the man’s reaction. He was more concerned with the bag strapped to his waist, planning his future, all the things he would do. He was vaguely aware of the big man issuing loud instructions to his aide to go and fetch something from the car. He was not aware that a number of attendants were watching him like hawks from a distance.

Moments later, the big man reached into a large purse he was carrying, then froze. He searched inside the purse frantically. And then he pointed a trembling finger at Dudu. ‘He has stolen my two hundred thousand naira!’ he screamed.

The supermarket attendants promptly swarmed around Dudu, who could only stammer a few inaudible words of protest. They grabbed him and yanked the bag from his waist while he struggled helplessly, weakened by hunger.

‘He stole my two hundred thousand naira!’ the big man kept screaming over and over, spreading out his hands in disbelief, turning round and round for everyone to see how shocked he was.

Some attendants gathered around the bag on the floor, others held Dudu by his trousers to prevent him from escaping. They opened the bag and found a thick role of naira notes. The money was counted. It amounted to two hundred thousand naira exactly.

‘Here is the two hundred thousand naira he stole,’ one of the attendants announced triumphantly, straightening up and raising the money above his ahead to show everyone before handing it over to the big man.

Dudu wore a perplexed look. He tried to say something but several fists landed on him. And he was soon under a barrage of vicious attack. His cries were hopeless. They struck him with all manner of objects, anything they could find. ‘Thief!’ they yelled. The entire supermarket turned into a riotous scene. Suddenly, an infernal cry emanated from Dudu’s throat, startling his attackers and causing them to step back for a moment. Lying helplessly on his back, he looked up at the wild faces in dazed agony, wondering why something that was meant to be a blessing would turn into a fatal curse. He was bleeding from the nose, mouth, ear, eyes. All over.

Jimmy arrived at the scene then and saw him on the floor. He dropped his shopping basket, his heart racing with anxiety. ‘He is not a thief,’ he screamed, rushing forward, trying to break through the ring of people that had surrounded Dudu. He could not make it. The mob charged at their victim with renewed energy. ‘Thief!’ they screamed louder than before as they struck him. And then they began to drag him on the floor.

‘He is not a thief,’ Jimmy kept mumbling and crying, like a child, completely powerless to rescue the man.

Dudu was almost naked by now, except for his trousers which hung around his knees in tatters. And then someone jumped up and stamped on his head. Blood, flesh and bone splattered everywhere. And then an eerie silence fell.

Just then the big man’s aide came running, panting, relieved to see that his boss was okay amidst the confusion that had engulfed the supermarket. ‘Oga, oga, I have been looking for you,’ his voice boomed as if through a megaphone. ‘What happened?’

The big man pointed at the dying man on the floor. ‘He stole my two hundred thousand naira,’ he replied, still unable to hide his shock.

‘How could he have stolen your two hundred thousand naira, Oga?’ the aide asked, wearing a look of utter dismay. ‘You handed it to me earlier as we entered the supermarket.’ He put his hand into his pocket and brought out a roll of money. ‘Here it is!’

Jimmy began to weep uncontrollably. Holding his hands to his face, his back against the side of a shelf, he slid slowly to the floor.

Everyone began to hurry away. Dudu lay there like a bloodied rag doll, breathing very faintly, until he could no longer make a sound, until a whimper could no longer be heard from the world.■

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Odafe Atogun

For this edition of my notebook, I thought it would be interesting to share with you a short story I wrote in 2007 for the 6th edition of Tender Dream Magazine. It is entitled ‘Cube the Fox on the Trail of a Corrupt Politician’. First published more than a decade ago, it is one of the works that shaped my writing. I have lightly edited it now and hope you enjoy it. Your feedback very much welcome. A copy of the edition of the magazine in which the story was published to be won by the first response I receive!

Thank you!


Cube the Fox on the Trail of a Corrupt Politician

Prologue: Cube works for the Fox Secret Service as an undercover agent. His exploits earn him recognition in the secret service circle as the smartest undercover agent of all time. In this story, Cube is hired by the government of a small country called Cora to catch a corrupt politician who stole all the money in the country's treasury. Cube must recover the loot from the politician or else the entire country will starve to death. The fate of a country of over 5 million people depends on a fox.

1.

One bright Monday morning, weeks after the government of Cora had announced a new budget, the Accountant General of the country arrived at work to discover that all the money in the treasury had been looted, right down to the last penny. Unable to believe his eyes, the poor man collapsed from shock, and was promptly rushed to the hospital by his aides.

News of the heist spread quickly. No one wanted to believe it at first. But as the truth became obvious, the entire country of Cora was thrown into pandemonium. The world watched in amazement.

As soon as the Accountant General showed signs of recovery, he was taken before the President, a man with penetrating eyes, who grilled him with questions regarding the missing money. But it quickly became clear that the Accountant General knew nothing about the theft. So State Security was called in, marking the beginning of an investigation that would grip the world for weeks to come.

2.

Several days passed without success. Nobody had been arrested. In fact, the agents didn’t have the clue as to who the culprit could be.

Each passing day heightened the anxiety of the President and the whole country, knowing that if the money was not found they would all starve to death.

One week passed, and still the investigators made no progress. The FBI were called in to take over. They came with state-of-the-art forensic equipment. They fingerprinted everyone and launched investigations in major towns and cities.

They assured the President that the culprit or culprits would be caught, and that all the money would be recovered. For many days, they were upbeat about the investigation. They went about with shiny pistols in leather holsters. They chewed gum and grilled anyone they cared to with a flurry of questions. They went about looking and talking tough.

But at the end of three weeks they drew blank. The thief or thieves remained at large. 

3.                

The FBI reported their lack of progress to the President, who responded angrily, calling them names.

'We are only trying to help,' one of the FBI men grumbled. 'After all, you must appreciate that we are dealing with an unusual situation. It is not our fault that you have very unusual criminals in your country.’

The frustrated President dismissed the FBI and summoned an emergency cabinet meeting.

4.

It was at the cabinet meeting that the President learnt of the existence of a fox from Newbury by the name of Cube.

Without wasting time, the President sent officials to Newbury to request Cube's help with the investigation. To the President's delight, Cube arrived the very next day.

But the President was dismayed when Cube arrived armed only with a pen and notepad.

'Where is your forensic team and equipment?' the President asked.

'I don't need any of those,' Cube replied simply, smiling, a toothpick in a corner of his mouth.

'Then how do you intend to catch the thief?' the President asked in amazement.

'You have asked me to do a job. I will do it my way. Just give me time.'

For some reason, the President felt confidence in Cube. So he allowed him to carry out the investigation his way. 

5.                

Cube spent the next few days eating and drinking in fancy restaurants, talking to anyone who cared to listen. He ran up huge bills on expensive champagne, to the consternation of the President.

'Hey fox, we are bankrupt as it is,' the President complained to Cube on the phone. 'And now you are trying to make things worse for us.'

'Don't worry, Mr. President. Just trust me. OK?'

'OK,' Mr. President said reluctantly.

Cube continued his eating and drinking spree.  

6.

A week later, Cube met a certain elderly man with an impressive potbelly in a five star restaurant. He had an entourage of over fifty people who were singing his praises, and he spent money as if it was going out of fashion.

Cube approached the man and told him how great he was. This compliment inflated the man's ego, and the two of them chatted away like old friends.

The man introduced himself as Babake (meaning ‘the man’). Cube told him just how wonderful his name sounded, and with that they became the best of friends.   

7.

'What do you do for a living?' Cube asked suddenly.

'I am a politician,' Babake replied proudly.

'I see!' Cube sounded very impressed. 'Do you hold any political position?'

'No. I am just a politician,' Babake replied, patting his potbelly and smiling from ear to ear. He went on to tell Cube how he wanted to get a chieftaincy title in every village, every town and every city of the country. 'I have enough money to pay for a million titles. And then I will marry one hundred new wives,' he boasted.

Cube smiled with admiration. 'You are a great man! In fact, you are fantastic!'  

'I am being crowned with a chieftaincy in my village in three days' time. The ceremony is taking place at my country home which I just finished building at a cost of five hundred million dollars. You are cordially invited as a special guest of honour.'

Cube smiled to himself.

8.

Years of experience had taught Cube that those who steal big are the most reckless people you could ever imagine. He had no doubt that Babake was his man.

On the day of the ceremony, Cube requested sixty special agents, and instructed them to take strategic positions around Babake's home.

The ceremony commenced with Babake spraying wads of dollars and pounds. The music was intoxicating. There was enough food to feed an entire city, enough wine to drown a battalion of soldiers. People travelled from far and near. Present at the ceremony were pastors, imams, cabinet ministers, labour activists, human rights lawyers, secret cultists, drug barons and mafia bosses. It was the guest list of a society without conscience. 

The village shook with excitement.

Three hours into the ceremony, Cube gave a signal, and special agents sprang out and placed Babake under arrest. Promptly, they commenced a thorough search of his country home. To the amazement of all, money was found in overhead storage tanks, in barns, in cooking pots. Every wardrobe was stacked with wads of money. They found pillows and mattresses stuffed with money. They found money in underground vaults.

'This place is a goldmine!' Cube thought with a smile.

Under interrogation, Babake confessed that he masterminded the looting of the national treasury along with several top ranking cabinet ministers, many of whom were present at the ceremony. The trial was brief but sensational.

Babake and his gang were sent to prison for a very long time.■ 

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Saturday Morning at Jabi Park

Odafe Atogun

It is a bright morning. Like the sun, I’m out early. I drive to Jabi Park, and manage to find parking after driving round and round for minutes. It seems the whole city has converged. Abuja is a small city; I often tell myself that the entire residents can fit into a small football field.

Jabi Park is a mecca for fitness enthusiasts, brimming with people every Saturday. Ironically, it is also a food bazaar of sorts. Today is no different. I start to jog and promptly lose my zeal, bogged down by too many thoughts. I slow to a walk. Petrol. Water. Light. I haven’t seen electricity in days. I’m almost going deaf from the noise of power generators that has continually consumed my neighbourhood. My head is throbbing just thinking about it. I wish I wouldn’t have to go back home.

In spite of all the noises in the park, the music and all, it is sane compared to the environment around my home. I stop under the shade of a tree. A man with a potbelly is power-walking in my direction, dressed in Nike t-shirt, shorts and trainers. He has a small parcel in one hand. I’m inspired to get down to business. But to my utter surprise, the man unwraps the parcel and brings out a piece of moimoi, which he proceeds to stuff into his mouth, breathing heavily from the effort. He brings out another piece. I watch him with amusement, wondering why anyone would work out and eat at the same time. I laugh quietly to myself, careful not to draw his attention as he goes past me. A man wearing a tie walks by hand-in-pocket. He looks bored with life, his clothes are hanging on him. I note that his tie is bright red, probably trying to draw attention. His shoes are worn. I wonder how many miles the poor shoes must have covered and what he was doing in the park dressed like that. Two young women, one fat, one thin, walk by, quarrelling loudly about a man, who each claims to be hers. They are dressed in similar sportswear; they wear similar lipstick.

The harmonious sound of music from different dance classes grows louder. Heady. I begin to sway slowly under the tree. A couple of children on skates go past me at a dangerous speed, howling with infectious delight. I smile to see them so happy, so free, so young.

I know I should start jogging, but I feel too heavy with thoughts. I wish I could skate away from all my worries.

The potbellied man is coming back in my direction, still holding the parcel in one hand, stuffing moimoi into his mouth with the other hand, breathing heavily. To my surprise, he approaches me. ‘Hey, share my moimoi with me,’ he says. ‘No, thanks,’ I respond with a smile, shaking my head. ‘Go ahead,’ he insists, stretching the nylon towards me, ‘it is delicious!’

The aroma of the moimoi overpowers me; I can tell that it is delicious indeed. I did not wait for another invitation. Time to get down to business, I tell myself. I start to jog away. Either that or I would be tempted to share his moimoi with him. I pick up speed. Gradually, thoughts drop away from my mind. I drag air slowly into my lungs.■    

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

15-12-2017

For this edition of my notebook, I present you a story I wrote ten years ago. Many thanks for always making time to read my work. I’m greatly inspired by you. In a bid to provide you something fresh and exciting, I would like to inform you that my notebook will now be published monthly. Look out for the next edition at the end of January 2018. If you are yet to subscribe, please do so. My notebook will hereafter be sent only to those who have subscribed and will no longer be available on my website. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Odafe Atogun


Talkido the Parrot Takes on Seven Armed Men

Prologue: Talkido is renowned to be the greatest orator in the parrot kingdom of Boca. In this story, relying only on her great power of speech, she takes on seven armed men who had taken the parrots of Boca hostage. 

1.

The parrot kingdom of Boca was very quiet that Saturday morning. After the party thrown the night before by the king of Boca, most parrots were still tucked up in bed, apparently in no hurry to get up.

The sun was rising on the distant horizon, and a perfumed breeze blew across the kingdom. The rivers of Boca flowed with dreamy songs and trees and flowers swayed in harmony.

On that particular morning, Boca was the most peaceful and beautiful place on earth.

Suddenly, the quiet of the morning was shattered by the sound of gunshots. Then more gunshots. And Boca was thrown into confusion. 

2.

Parrot after parrot flew from their homes to see what was amiss. At first no one could explain. The marketplace was full of parrots all talking at the same time. The commotion was so great that no parrot could understand what the next parrot was saying.

More gunshots rang through the kingdom. The parrots became noisier than ever. 'We must be under attack!' one said.

'It appears so,' others squawked in agreement, fear etched on their faces. 

'I think we should go in the direction of the gunshots and find out what exactly is happening,' a parrot suggested.

The rest nodded in agreement.

3.

And so the parrots flew in the direction of the gunshots, south of the kingdom. It wasn't long before they found the invaders stationed at the Great Gate, which was the only way in and out of Boca.

There were seven huge and muscular men in bulletproof vests, armed with guns and grenades. Their mean faces made the parrots shake with fear. Realising they were in mortal danger, the parrots tried to turn and run. But it was too late.

4.

'If anyone moves we will shoot every parrot in sight!' the ringleader of the invaders barked. He fired a round of bullets into the air to demonstrate his seriousness.

Every parrot stood still with fear, not daring to move a muscle. They looked at each other in disbelief that these violent men could have invaded their kingdom. 'Please, don't shoot!' one implored. 'We will do exactly as you say.'

'Good!' the ringleader said with satisfaction. 'Remain right where you are.'

'Anything you say. Please, don't shoot.' 

5.

Talkido stepped forward at this point. Renowned as the greatest orator in the animal world, she had used her power on many occasions to resolve conflicts.

'What do you want from us?' she asked.

The ringleader laughed. He marched towards Talkido, his gun dangling from one shoulder. The rest of the men had their guns trained on the parrots, ready to shoot.

'You must be a very bold parrot to ask me that question,' the ringleader sneered. 'What is your name?'

'My name is Talkido.'

'Talkido? What a name for a parrot. I bet you are very talkative!' the ringleader taunted.

'I am not talkative. I am simply the greatest orator alive.’

6.

The ringleader and his men laughed until tears rolled down their faces. They could not believe how boastful Talkido was.

'The greatest orator alive, indeed!' the ringleader said, roaring with more laughter.

'What do you want from us?' Talkido said calmly. The other parrots continued to shake with fear.

The men stopped laughing. The ringleader assessed Talkido carefully, stopping just a few feet from her.

'We have come to take some of you away with us to the city where you will be sold in cages to merchants from distant lands.'

'That is slavery!' Talkido sounded incredulous.

'You have no choice,' the ringleader said firmly.

'We have a choice!' Talkido replied.

The ringleader and his men were stunned by Talkido's audacity. A brief silence followed. 

7.

'What choice do you have?' the ringleader asked at last.

'Give us the chance to fight for our freedom.'

'And how do you intend to do that? We have military might, you have nothing, not even bows and arrows.'

'I will fight all seven of you on behalf of my fellow parrots,' Talkido replied confidently.

'How?' the ringleader sounded puzzled.

'I will take you on one after the other with my oratorical powers. If I lose, take as many of us as you like. But if I win, you go away empty-handed, never to return.’

8.

The ringleader and his men exchanged curious glances, unsure how Talkido intended to use her oratorical powers to fight their guns and grenades. Sensing their hesitation, Talkido persisted: 'Surely, it is only fair that you give me the chance to defend myself and my fellow parrots. After all, you have military might on your side.'

The men had no choice.

'Okay,' the ringleader agreed.

'Tell your men to attack me one after the other,' Talkido said, stepping away from the other parrots.

The ringleader gave order, and the first of his men charged at Talkido with his gun.

'I command your bullets to turn into yellow petals!' Talkido yelled in a high-pitched voice.

As the man squeezed the trigger of his gun, bright yellow petals fell out instead of bullets.

'I command you to fall asleep!' Talkido shouted with authority. And the man promptly fell asleep on the ground.

9.

There was a stunned silence. The ringleader barked out furious orders, and the second man charged at Talkido.

'Be paralysed from head to toe!' Talkido squawked. And the second man froze, falling to the ground with a heavy thud.

The other parrots looked on in disbelief. The ringleader barked out order after order until all his men were lying on the ground, taken down by Talkido's magical oratory.

10.

For a split-second the ringleader was gripped with fear, but he shook it off. He cocked his gun and took aim at Talkido. There was a boom. Several parrots began to cry, knowing that the bullet would surely blow Talkido apart.

But just before the bullet hit Talkido, she commanded in her shrieking voice: 'Return to sender!'

As the gun smoke settled, all the parrots were amazed to see the ringleader rolling on the ground in agony. The bullet had returned to him, catching him on the right thigh.

Slowly, the other men rose drunkenly to their feet. They were all shaking with fear.

Talkido marched towards them.

'I won. You lost,' she said proudly. 'So you must return to your city and never come to our land again. Is that understood?'

The men nodded in agreement.

'Off you go now before I finish you off!'

Falling over themselves, the men carried their leader on their shoulders. And they left Boca as fast as they could.

'Let the party begin!' one parrot shouted in delight.

And then the whole of Boca exploded into celebration as the parrots sang the praises of Talkido.■

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