Title: Suitors are Scarce in Lagos
AUTHOR: Lola Akande
Publisher:Tunmike Pages, Lagos
REVIEWER: Henry Akubuiro
A good story is like a good wine. A sip is all it takes to be lured and not lulled. Getting to the last dreg, the thrill never leaves you. You still crave for more like Oliver Twist. Lola Akande’s collection of short stories, Suitors are Scarce, creates a similar effect.
The author’s intriguing twists and turns take you close to the pinnacle of a mountain, and, suddenly, there is a detour that leads to a cul de sac, increasing your hunger to turn the pages. Her tales are built on realism, making its verisimilitude to sink in. What separates them from the banal are the sometimes bewildering trajectories of the forlorn.
The picture of a dysfunctional society, with all its disappointments, looms large in the narratives, as desperados take to the street in search of prey. Unemployment stares men in the face, while philanderers and randy youths flock together on Akande’s pages for mischief. Hubris is often at play. There is a continuous search for elusive good husbands, and urban grotesque is reenacted by the minute.
“Who is Sane in Lagos?” is a perfect gambit for the collection. Set in Lagos, Akande depicts a city brimming with desperate people, keen on swindling others. Strange as it is, the social malady is gradually becoming a norm, which worries the writer. Here, it isn’t hunkydory for a Lagos worker whose salary can no longer take her home because of the monthly deduction from her pay, having purchased a car with a credit facility. But this particular 29th day of the month is a hell day for Tokunbo, the main character in the story.
Harassed and arrested by corrupt policemen for driving on a wrong route at Ikeja, she, surprisingly, becomes streetwise, and gets off the hook. But that is just momentary. She is soon accosted by another officer for parking illegally by the roadside to buy something. But she frightens the officer to hands off her.
The bad day continues, nevertheless, a little later in a public bus. From the suspicious casual man in the bus to the well-dressed gentleman in the street who suddenly turns to a robber, to the shock that greets her at home, you can’t but ask: who is sane in Lagos?
The erosion of marriage institution is a theme that runs through Akande’s stories. For the divorced Omoye Idehen, it isn’t easy decision to buy into the proposal of George Alawei, a top government official and a married man with three children —two girls and one boy — in need of “a proper son” from her. Omoye was 22 when she was married off to Osaro Ehizefa, a marriage that ended in heartbreak as the husband absconded.
However, George doesn’t want Omoye as a wife. He wants her, rather, as a side chick who will bear him a healthy son, not like the one he has at the moment. It is supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship in which Omoye’s financial needs will be met by the government official.
Try as she can, she never takes in for the man. She fakes a pregnancy, and, with the connivance of her friend, Helen, buys a child from a collaborating doctor. But the bubble bursts eventually when Helen plays a fast one on her, and her world crumbles.
What can make a man take his own child from his mother and kill him? The answer to this is found in “I Fixed it”, which tells the story of a liaison between a married medical doctor, Stanford Williams, and a married female nurse in the same hospital, Theresa Whyte.
For so long, they cheated on their legally married partners, and things come to a head when it leads to a pregnancy and a child. But, in order to regain the confidence of his wife, the doctor kills the innocent boy, who begins to haunt his father till he is presumed mad by colleagues and admitted to a hospital.
Sex is beautiful, but not when it is abused, like in the case of the female university lecturer, Bisi Komolafe, and one of her students, Hassan Ahmed, in the story “Keep My Secret”. Unable to hold her libido when her husband travels abroad on a two-year fellowship, Bisi entices Ahmed to sleep with her severally, resulting in pregnancy, a child and huge consequences ahead.
The title story ‘Suitors are Scarce in Lagos” is another marriage story that turns sour. This time, 41-year-old Auntie Sade is desperate for a husband, no thanks to the society she comes from that denounces you if you remain single after a certain age. After a series of disappointments and exploitations by gold diggers, she eventually settles down with a man old enough to be her father, only for the “undesirable” Gbenga to make the marriage a nightmare and dissolution of the marriage necessary.
Another marriage is on the line in “Caged Bird” where Osas Agbonrie’s unemployed husband, Ohijie, turns a gigolo in a bid to put food on the family’s table. He isn’t shy about it, telling the wife to stop calling him on the phone until he calls her himself. Finally, he abandons home to do the bidding of Romoke, her boss.
Suitors are Scarce in Lagos contains other interesting stories like “Nocturnal”, which questions ethnic stereotypes in marriage; “Testing for Motherhood”, which reexamines juvenile delinquency among university undergraduates; as well as “Photogenic” and “Waiting for 4pm”.
However, some of the stories in the book do not conform to the demands of the short story as regards spontaneity and creating a limited time frame for the plot development. Some storylines, noticeably, stretch up to three-seven years, which is not supposed to be so, as the short story isn’t exactly an abridged novel form. There are also mix-ups in indentation styles. Still, this is one fresh Lagos fiction that amazes in its grim reality and profound spell.