Title: Vaults of Secrets
AUTHOR: Olukorede Yishau
Publisher: Parrésia, Lagos
REVIEWER: Henry Akubuiro
All human beings, says Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “have three lives: public, private and secret”. This is a given. While some secrets may outlive its repository, some don’t — no matter how hard you try, they will always escape the closet to hunt its custodian, nay, affect many others associated with its mystery.
Olukorede Yishau’s new collection of short stories, Vaults of Secrets, has a surfeit of secrets kept by characters acting on strange whims and who have taken it as a religion to cover their tracks. Interestingly, a past unexpectedly unspooled creates a boom of excitement for the reader. Welcome to the highland of thrills!
Vaults of Secrets contains ten short stories majorly set in Nigeria and others mixed with UK, American and Ghanaian locales. Here, amours and sordid deeds are the secrets grinding against each other, looming out of proportions towards reckoning.
In half of the stories, the author melds the narratives with a sprinkling of epistolary, making the plot more realistic. Often told in first person, the stories also enjoy limitless flashbacks across time and space, with the consciousness of the characters streaming alongside their actions or inactions. For some of the characters with blood on their hands, from prisons, we follow their trails and revelations, which tend to purge their emotions and, at the same time, bewilders.
“Till We Meet to Part No More”, the first story in the collection, leads us to the travails of Oluwakemi. Jide, whom she marries in New York, turns out to be no better than the 89-year old randy man craving for a quickie in the home for the elderly where she works. When failure and frustration make the husband drunk and violent on his return to Nigeria, Oluwakemi murders him in self-defence, and lands in jail.
This story also beams light on child abuse and sex trafficking. Oluwakemi is a product of sex slavery, having been taken to the US at 14 by Madam Koikoi and turned into a sex slave at 18 to assuage the greed of randy men. She is also a child from a dysfunctional home, her dad having abandoned her mum at the height of opulence.
Interestingly, the narrator of this story is a prison inmate, too, waiting for the hangman, but he owns up to causing many deaths through the selling of counterfeit drugs. The author presents the prison, in this story, as a house of horrors inhabited by villians.
In “This Special Gift”, another philanderer, Mr Essien, is caught in a liason with a housemaid, Idato, by a neighbour, the narrator, whom the man begs to keep as secret. There is yet another sexcapade involving a cheating brother she chances upon, who begs, too, for secrecy. The worse of them all is that involving Nonso, a notorious newspaper publisher, with the wife of his colleague, and, how, despite concealing the secret of catching her with Nonso, the husband, Ozolua, gets to know when the randy wife is consumed in a sex rump with Nonso and a second woman.
Vaults of Secrets teems with unputdownable stories, including “My Mother’s Father is My Father”, a story of how a young man learns, belatedly, that grandfather is actually his biological father, having impregnated Evelyn Ababio, his mother (grandfather’s daughter). This abomination, kept as a secret for many years before it is unravelled by William himself, as well as the psychological trauma on the misbegotten son, creates one of the most haunting tales of this collection.
For a change of point of view, Yishau uses 2nd person point of view in “This Thing Called Love”, a story about secrets and second chances. Once again, a wayward paternal phallus is unmasked and somebody is saved from the gulag. The author of Vaults of Secrets seems to have mastered the underbelly of the sequestered world and its behemoths. “Better than the Devil” reveals a sadist out of that underbelly boasting of protection from high places. The atrocities associated with cultism and its aftermath are dominant issues here, the author using the recollections of the campus hitman, Ekiwetan, and his boss, Mr Johnson, whose macabre deeds, even after graduation, remain a dark secret.
Also, Yishau’s “Otapiapia”, ‘When Truth Dies” and “Open Wound” echo mysteries that are unravelled but with bitter pills to swallow. Vaults of Secrets is a sizzling offering that explores contemporary social dynamics and a lot of baggage we never bargain for in relationships and everyday living. This work deserves to be read over and over.