This month, CLR presents Oyebanji Ayodele’s opinion of Chimeka Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday. Enjoy and do engage our guest blogger in the comment box. We appreciate your comments.
Chimeka Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday is a recountal of one of those realities that define the entity clad in the nominal fabric, Nigeria. It is worth mentioning that its emissaries in a matter of months would be
cutting murdering its centenary celebration cake. They
are used to murdering cakes. And funds. And people. They do so in place of the
ill-realities that blot the country.
Chimeka Garricks’ novel resonates with Chinua Achebe’s voice. In the proverbial way peculiar to him, he speaks through one of his creatures in Anthills of the Savannah:
“…Age gives to a man some things with the right hand even as it takes away others with the left…”
Age is a dunce in the case of Nigeria. It stares wide-eyed and unmoved, saliva dripping from its tongue as the nation’s grip on the droopy breasts of its shameful history refuses to slacken. I find myself wondering why all that could proceed from my thought about Nigeria’s resilience in holding unto the ugly side of history, is a quotation from Achebe’s work. It goes beyond the fact that we have just lost him. I’m not trying to evoke a memorial. No. What I’m saying finds articulation in the similarity of the plot of his Anthills of the Savannah and that of the novel being considered. Both stories present how the private existence of a group of friends spill into public discourse.
Tomorrow Died Yesterday tells of the reason one needs to blind one’s eyes to a future that has been aborted before its birth.
There are times when realities seem so bland to take in, their closeness to you notwithstanding. Such realities easily earn the ‘overflogged’ tag. Tomorrow Died Yesterday treads the path of stereotypes and I refuse to mark it down for it. It hinges on one of the nondescript realities that characterize Nigeria: the Niger Delta region issue. I have not read much Literature about this region but, having read Garricks’ Tomorrow Died Yesterday and recently, Christie Watson’s Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, I can assertively say it that the Niger Delta is not only a mine for crude oil, it is a mine for narratives too. All that matters is telling your story. And doing it, your own way.
Chimeka Garricks has told his. His is that of angst and pessimism:
“…‘You still get it, Kaniye, do you? There is no future for the children of the Niger Delta. Their tomorrow is already dead. It died yesterday’…” (Page 236)
“ ‘Why are you crying, Amaibi? Were they crying for us in ’97? Ehn, Amaibi, answer me. After 1997, weren’t you the one who always wrote, and I quote, ‘violence is now a justified option for dealing with the injustice in the Niger Delta’? This is violence, Amaibi…’ “ (Page 38)
“…After more than six nightmarish years, who would have thought that I’d get an erection again, in Port Harcourt Prison of all places; and they say there was no rehabilitation in a Nigerian prison…” (Page 50)
And a whole lot of other motifs. The novel is complex on different grounds. The scope of its plot is wide, but it is palpable enough that it is not a burden for the author to manage. His four-stranded cord of Kaniye Rufus, Doye Koko, Amaibi Akassa and Joseph Tubo are allegories of the different shades of humanity in the Niger Delta.
The novel reverses the convention in a lot of binary relationships. The most evident are in the light of sex and race. In the duo, the conventional ‘other’ finds a voice that either drowns its converse or that which gives it a similar standing as the privileged.
I remember reading Achebe’s essay, AnImage of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness’ where he alludes (though without resentment) to one Albert Schweitzer, an ‘extraordinary missionary’ as he puts it, who says:
"The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother."
It is in such context that one would understand that Garricks, though indirectly, writes back to the west in his work. Imagine these:
“I turned to the white man. His pink face was a blotchy and sweaty mess. Sweat plastered his thin, fair hair to his big head, and highlighted, starkly, how large his eyes were. He wasn’t really fat, but had a stomach that fell odiously over his jeans. His breathing was loud, wheezing and heaving. I interpreted it as fear.” (Page 7)
“ ‘Gentlemen, let’s focus on poor Manning, okay?” Granger said.
We all smiled at the description. Manning was anything but poor. He was an arrogant, obnoxious bully, and a little more than a racist thug…’ “ (Page 17)
What an honourable disrespect to one’s elder brother!
Garricks does not extend his disrespect to his female characters. In a situation where the African society has always rendered the male in the guise of a hegemonic entity, Garricks’ female characters refuse to be relegated to the background. Not even when ‘victim-hood’ looms. Kaniye’s mother and Dise typify this. Deola, even more.
That a male writer presents this is something tangible to note about how contemporary African Literature engineers a novel mode of treating gender issues. For instance, one would wonder what kind of feminist statement Doreen Baingana makes with her characters in Tropical Fish. Hers is a different approach to the issue of gender, in that her female characters take responsibility for their actions and not that they ascribe them to some domineering males. Here are some instances:
Rosa says this:
“…For swaying my hips deliberately, enticingly, as I danced with you, with others. For those jeans I bought that hugged my buttocks so tightly men turned to watch and whistle as I walked by. I am mocked for saying yes. I am guilty…” (Page75)
Christine has this to say too:
“…Why did I always seem to have my legs spread open before kind men poking things into me? I let them.” (Page 98)
Chimeka Garrick’s prose is scrumptious. His ability to invoke images is alluring. Here are my favourites:
“From Juju Island, Asiama River surges on, in elaborating crooks and turns, expanding at every mile. Then, a few hundred miles from the ocean, the curves stop, and the river suddenly opens out – the swollen head of a king cobra. The river can now sense the ocean and flows faster to meet it. The only obstruction, right in the middle of its path, is Asiama Island. The river is divided by the island. Two hydra heads are formed, but the river flows on nonetheless. It glides round the island, and finally, embraces the roaring ocean.” (Page 32)
“I stared at the beautiful body I worshipped for the past months of my life. The body I knew so well. The breasts were full, firm, big nippled, the aureoles the colour of dark honey. The tuft of hair between her legs was shaved in a neat triangle, one of Dise’s quirks. Her legs were long, slightly knock-kneed. My unborn son slept in the small bulge of her tummy.”
Such is the best compensation for the time a reader spends on a bulky paperback.
The book is bulky (429 pages in all). So are its editorial issues so innumerable that the reader feels like demanding the head of the editor that does a book like this such disservice.
As much as I acknowledge the author’s cultural background, I won’t spare him and whosoever helps him with his Yoruba translations the rod for allowing this in the book:
“ ‘…It’s the neighbourhood with the best bole and fish in town…’ …
“Bole with dry groundnuts?” I shook my head in disbelief.” (Page 62)
For someone to have written booli as bole is a signal that our indigenous languages are on a fast track into extinction.
Chimeka Garricks is a writer to watch out for. His prose is luminous one cannot but anticipate other offerings of his.
Oyebanji Ayodele blogs at www.ayoyebanji.blogspot.com