By Abiodun Adeniji
Lagos is an enigma; it never fails to surprise both residents and visitors alike. Even if you have lived in the city for so long you qualify to be an “Omo Eko”, once in a while Lagos shocks you with a new, possibly weird experience that convinces you that you are no better than an “Ara Oke”, a term Lagosians derisively reserve for the newcomer. Thus, it is difficult, if not impossible, to capture in one volume the gamut of emotions and experiences that Lagos signifies to different people. Contrary to Ferdinand de Saussure’s assertion, therefore, the signifier and the signified, as far as Lagos is concerned, are not and may never be in one-to-one correspondence.
International Sisi Eko and other Storiesis unique in its attempt to evoke the kaleidoscope of issues, good, bad, and not so good, that constitutes the Lagos experience. The sixteen short stories that make up the 115-page volume are mimetic of different shades of grey that Lagos shows to different people. In the words of Chinua Achebe, it is impossible to stay at a spot and appreciate the beauty and awesome presence of a masquerade. In the same vein,International Sisi Eko and other Storiespresents Lagos to readers from diverse perspectives, all of them reverberations of the glorious and the guttered, and the many contradictions and spontaneous transformations in-between. A few examples will suffice.
In “I Fixed It”, Lola Akande vivifies the mental insalubrity that sometimes accompanies infidelity, a moral rectitude that has become the norm in a city like Lagos where things have fallen apart and the centre makes no attempt to hold them together. “Lucky” by Chris Anyokwu graphically depicts the depth of desperation that barren couples descend, the spiritual and physical consequences of their quest, while “Gabriel in Egbeda” by Sola Ogunbayo dramatizes the catastrophic effect of judging people by appearance and being inhuman to fellowmen. “Mamman, the Party Man” by Hope Eghagha is a pictorial reflection of the chasm in our social organism, a society where senseless waste is displayed at the lavish parties of the rich, while the poor like Mamman and his family are forced to live off the left-overs. It is also a trenchant critique of the have-nots who procreate senselessly without any regard to family planning, lacking the means to cater for their brood of wanted and “accidental” children.
The titular story “International Sisi Eko” by Chinyere Chimodo cynically portrays the futility of the individual’s effort to change the system, “Two-face” by Tope Larayetan captures the hurly-burly of a typical Lagos bus-stop and the mercurial nature of the Lagos crowd, one moment hurling abuses at one another, and the next laughing and singing together like brothers and sisters from different mothers. In “Those Etceteras” Karen King-Aribisala poignantly depicts the haunting fear that a foreigner feels when assailed by a tradition which requires the sacrifice of some human beings who will accompany the late Oba of Lagos on his journey to the spirit realm.
The book is neatly packaged, well edited, and the English language of the stories is enriched by the code-mixing of Yoruba words and expressions whose meanings are apparent in the contexts. In essence, this book in its thematic engagements and deployment of various fictional conventions aptly embodies the potpourri that is the Lagos experience.