The Funeral Did Not End: social commentary at its best
Reading Sylva Nze Ifedigbo’s long awaited short story collection, the first thing that struck me was the way story after story mirrored the society perfectly. Knowing the writer and his interest in social commentary, I was not surprised. What surprised me though, was the writer’s ability to turn everyday occurrences that most of us overlook into captivating stories.
From the first story to the very last one in the 20-story collection, TFDNE brims with a depth of knowledge of the Nigerian state and the Nigerian situation, that could only have come from a conscious effort by the writer to pay close attention to instances others see as commonplace and ignore.
The stories are immediately familiar, the characters people we could put faces and provide names to from our immediate environment. The wow factor is the ability of the stories to hold you and cause you to wonder at your place in the whole. They question our politics, our humanity and our reason for being.
The first story, “Tunji’s Proposal”, about a young man’s brilliant idea and the journey of that idea—collected in a proposal—through the administrative bottle necks that are synonymous with Nigerian Civil Service. And yes, it did not fail to capture the corruption, nepotism and laxity that are also commonplace.
“Lunch on Good Friday” is the second story. The story follows a young child’s recollection of childhood and her family’s last lunch together. Here the writer employs twist as a device in a way that is very effective. You follow the story, and when you think you know everything there is to know about the situation, a twist appears.
With “Death on Gimbiya Street”, Sylva takes us back to the horror of the Apo 6 police murder. Through the eyes of one of the victims, the only girl in the group, we follow the story of the now deceased youths, who still call for justice from beyond the grave. This story shows the strength of Sylva’s social commentary, a theme that resounds through most of the stories in the collection. By giving the dead girl back her humanity, the writer allows her to tell us that she is aware of the happenings here and that she still seeks justice.
“The Funeral Did Not End” is the title story. It tells of grief, not just because of the loss of a loved one, but for the uncertainty that hung around when most of the deceased’s worldly possessions had been sold to pay for a “befitting” burial.
“On The Hot Seat” takes us to the hot seat of the popular game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and we feel the heat with Mr. Ben Okafor when the moderator asks, “On what date was Murtala Mohammed assassinated?” And when Sylva does that twist at the end again, you smile.
“The Call Room” places a young doctor in a compromising position with an older female doctor, though the handling of the sub topic of HIV infection and sex between colleagues could have been better handled, the operating room tension and the young doctor’s back-story are well done.
“Share the Money” is hilarious and serious at the same time. You can easily imagine our “honourables” having conversations like the following as they shared our money in Abuja:
So this is my share?
Yes, it’s ten million. You want to count it?
Ah! No now. why didn’t they even bring it in dollars? Carrying naira around is so much trouble.
I just collected my own and immediately called that girl from one of those banks who have been worrying me sick about helping her meet her target…
“One Lonely Harmattan Night” also has a sub-theme of HIV/AIDS but it is more about family and sacrifice.
“Sound Proof” is a very hilarious story. Told from two points of view, has a background of a campus investigative panel that is about to look into the case of sexual harassment filed against a professor by a student. However, Sylva has an ace up his sleeve, the story is not as straight forward as one expects and the twist happens, more than once.
“On the Line from America” is one of my favourite stories from the collection. It follows the telephone conversation between a father and his USA based son. Again, social commentary is the major theme, hidden among the general banter, and the story is finger licking beautiful.
“The Second Invitation” is another favourite of mine. Here, we meet Nwokebuike and fall in love with his steadfastness and his pursuit of the truth. It is the story of the Nigerian media, where government patronage is the difference between staying afloat of going under. Nwokebuike finds out, just before what he believes is his greatest triumph, that those he had fought through his column for years, are the ones that butter his bread.
“Musa the hired Supporter” is a humour packed story about Musa who left Kaura Namoda for a Fiii Diii Diii rally in Abuja. Paid 1000 naira for his troubles, Musa had a rethink at the venue and decided to hot tail it home. Social commentary at its best, this story somehow manages to capture Musa’s life in a few pages while keeping alive the background of the story, a Fiii Diii Fiii Rally.
“My Abroad Husband” will resonate with those from the south east of Nigeria, where a few years ago an “Abroad Husband” was many a girl’s dream. Here, a young wife reminisce her experience of marriage to an Abroad Husband as she waits for him at the arrival hall of the airport in Enugu. Loved this story, but did not care much for the ending.
“Blood is not so thick” is another very well written story about the death of a twin. Sylva somehow manages to make us feel empathy for a murderer and that is how beautiful his writing is.
“Sister Stacy” is a hypocrite. She’s one of those Bible hugging girls whose holier-than-thou act is worn like a garment in church or around “brethrens” only to be dropped when they in the “real” world. With this story, the writer questions religion and the two-faced nature of many of its adherents.
Sylva went back to governance and government in “Council Meeting”. Again, as the writer has shown several times before, the portrayal is done in a way that we fall into the narration and forget this is just a story. It’s one rare peep into what happens inside the Aso Rock council chambers that you will sure enjoy.
“The Scourge of Vandals”, a tale about death on campus and the campus cults that deal it with reckless abandon, resonated with me. Perhaps it is the topic and the fact that it reminded me so much about the foolishness that is campus cult as Eghosa Imasuen’s “Fine Boys” did only recently.
“The Lord of the Creek” explores the world of Niger Delta militants at the height of their power when they held the Nigerian state to ransom. In this story, a leader of one of the numerous gangs that made the creeks of the Niger Delta their boardroom reflects on that last deal. A very good story, expect that surprise ending that Sylva does so well through this collection.
In “The Smoke And The Fire” a journalist interviews a student union type, the PRO of a National Association of Students, who reminds you of the good old days when student activism still had meaning, before the unions compromised. Even back then, Unionists were pretty arrogant people.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo actually left the best for the last. “Guilt Trip” an incredibly well-told story of a young man returning to his ancestral home for the burial of his brother and facing demons of a secret that weighs heavily on his chest. “Guilt Trip”, more than any other story in this collection shows the incredibly vitality of Sylva’s prose. Told in the second person, the story resonates with power that only a master storyteller can weave.
If books are means through which authors announce their entrance into the realms where masters of the craft walk, then Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, has effectively trumpeted his worthiness with this delicious collection. If reflection on its society is a criterion for judging good books, then TFDNE has staked a claim that very few will find reason to deny. One of the best books I have read this year on many levels.
The book will be available for digital download at www.takada.com.ng from September 15.