Many people struggle to find the time to engage with a full-length novel when they are dealing with emails every second of everyday or having to meet deadlines or rush home to put the kids to bed. A short story offers the perfect antidote – it’s the equivalent of listening to a single track of music instead of a whole album. – Elizabeth Day.
Since the emergence of the short story from earlier oral storytelling traditions in the 17th century; traditions which originally produced epics like Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’, the short story genre has continued to dominate 21st century literature. The reason behind this can probably be attributed to Day’s postulation above. What remains impressive about the short story is that the more it dominates, the more it acquires interesting new elements. These new elements are likely to be seen reflecting in Su’eddie Vershima Agema’s The Bottom of Another Tale. Agema’s anthology of twenty-six enthralling short stories is a collection that is worth reading as the author does not only craft his stories within the strict ambience of the short story genre but also garnishes his narratives with striking new features that blend perfectly with the photographic way in which the literary meal is served for public consumption.
A first look into the collection definitely brings one to wonder at the impressive way Agema has demonstrated his knowledge of the myriads of problems affecting contemporary Nigerians. His correct capture of the social nuances causes him to be viewed as a social critic, a historian and a documentarian as well. If this is considered, Agema’s writing cannot be viewed as following the philosophy of art for art’s sake, but a critical mirror aimed at redressing the current ills in the contemporary society. Agema’s thematic contemporaneity then forms an interesting feature of the anthology. Contemporaneity as a word that best captures Agema’s motifs is premised on the fact that the author navigates through current issues confronting contemporary Nigerians. In ‘A Lust Intervention’ (73), Agema dons his religious robes to re-echo the power of prayer; the power that most Nigerians, especially the youths, are oblivious of. Through the story, one gets it straight that the gift of seeing another day could possibly be based on the prayer(s) of the people in our lives. This philosophy can be applied to the country as well. However, in similar clothes, the author lambasts the religious hypocrisy and the failure of the church to enforce its doctrines on its members in ‘Luashie’s Doctrine’ (67). Agema, through this story, conscientizes the public of the inability of the religious leaders to adhere to the great commission, hence the laxity of the church can be attributed to the scattering of the ‘sheep’. It is no wonder that Luashie, at the end contemplates changing his mother church.
Apart from the above, the author exposes other ills like the sad extinction of railways in the country in ‘Finding New Routes’ (77), the consistent political, religious and economic crisis in the universal ‘Puzzles’ (43). The everyday bomb blasts in the country in ‘Luamba’s Battle’ (21) while the racketeering of the Niger Delta indigenes is captured in ‘Hunting Pipes’ (113). In the style of a lecturer this time around, Agema gives out a comprehensive and cogent analysis on how to avoid accidents on the bad Nigerian roads in ‘Eyes of the Road’ (93), while in ’Garage Blues’ (103) stands the interesting lecture on self employment. No matter what the narrator of ‘Garage blues’ goes in, it is an exploration of the condition of graduates in the
country. Historically, Agema paints a photographic picture of the Tiv massacres at Zaki-Biem in ‘Trails to the Tail’ and the ritual activities that once became dominant in Makurdi can be seen in ‘Trailing on Danger’s Tail’. Other issues like alcoholism and the effects of the country’s badly equipped hospitals on pregnant women are recorded in ‘A Tale of Another’s Crime’ (107) and ‘Awaiting’ (123) respectively, among other issues of concern. Apart from Agema demonstrating his knowledge of the problems affecting his people, his thematic contemporaneity makes the entire anthology involving, as readers can easily identify with the characters, thus enhancing realism.
A unique feature that Agema creates in his anthology is to make his readers feel the actions carried out. This he achieves through a heavy use of onomatopoeic expressions like: Pheew! (14), KPOAAAAAAAA! KPOAAAAAAAA! KPOAAAAAAAA! (43)Whaaaaaaaam! (54), Pow! Pow!! Pow!!! Tratatatatattata! Pow! Pow! (55), Screeeeeeeech! (56), Gbuum!! Kpaa!! Gbuo!!(90), Heyaa! Ayeaaa! (91), Kpof! Kpof!! Kpohoof!! (114). With this interesting feature, readers are able to weigh for themselves the prominence the author wants to achieve using these words of sound. Above all, Agema’s onomatopoeic usages enhance greatly the paucity expected of short story as these serve for the long descriptions.
The entire stories are captured in a language that is obviously beautiful. The artistic language can be viewed as Agema’s poetic ability which has come to bear on the stories. This language use is tantamount to one reaching the end of the story in oblivion. Expressions that are typical of this colourful language use include; “He gave no reply but sprinted on like a a man whose feet were fit with wings while carrying his son” (44), “There was a deep sadness swimming in the waters of his eyes”(128), “Take those eyes of coal and fry something else!(127)etc. Agema must be commended for this artistic display of language especially as this tradition has long been ignored by many writers due to its imaginative requirements. Apart from the language, Agema’s italicized expressions are another unique aspect of the anthology that takes us deeper into the minds of the characters, despite the fact that it is an anthology of short stories.
What makes the short stories gripping is the narrative technique, especially the plotting. In most of the stories, the author avoids the traditional sequential narration; instead he employs dreams in most of the cases which may likely make understanding difficult for an average reader. However, in ‘Trailing on Danger’s Tail’, the internal subheadings give away the obvious, and as such, the curiosity of reading a detective story is lost. This is the story that I think, needs the most twisting in the anthology. In ‘If Everyday Were Christmas’ (33) the possibility of seeing the story as more like an extract from a novel than a short story is increased. This is not based on the length but on the features that the story acquires, especially in the gradual opening and the development of the character, Captain Chris.
On the whole, as one peruses the anthology, one is gripped by the artistic display of language, universal and contemporary motifs, humour and pity at the same time among many other fascinating encounters. With all these, one is left at the end of each story with the feeling of being at the beginning of another one and ultimately, fulfilment at the conclusion.
Terese Uwuave, an award-winning critic and writer lives in Makurdi, Nigeria.