Title: The Mystery of a Twisted Ladder
AUTHOR: Chineme Friday Ajah
Publisher: TINK Graphics, Lagos
REVIEWER: Henry Akubuiro
Can the dead reincarnate to lead a normal life? Many would equate it with the realm of fantasy, but there are those who would wager a yes answer to the mystery. Chineme Friday Ajah’s The Mystery of a Twisted Ladder exploits the phenomenon of reincarnation and its location in the province of reality. The writer deftly conjures up a narrative that beggars belief, as the line between fantasy and actuality becomes thin.
The book is also an exposé on the dysfunction inherent in a modern-day African society where the craze for materialism has eaten deep into the social fabric, leaving in its wake tears and sorrows. Fake drug merchandising, assassinations and deceptions find a place in the social disequilibrium in this fiction, harnessed by the author to paint a harrowing post colonial African condition.
The little girl, Mma, is central to the plot of The Mystery of a Twisted Ladder. She isn’t your typical bambino learning the ropes in a wicked world —she came fully made. In her repository is a bank of experience carried over from her first sojourn on earth. In the 1962 narrative timeline, we encounter the first Mma, a woman forced into marriage as a teenager, who absconded from the marriage to start school after giving birth to Olamma.
Olamma grew up to learn about her deceased mother, and, in honour of the dead, renamed her own child Mma. The little Mma has come to stay, and her memories of her past stint on earth in the 1960s keep us on the edge of our seats.
Besides the gripping storyline, Ajah offers the reader a reading bet with a free flowing language and scenematic descriptions. While depicting the slum of Mafoluku, Ajah makes us feel the pains of its forsaken dwellers instantly:
“The storm drains were clogged with grime, discharged plastic bottles, nylon bags and other odd and ends, creating a good ecology for mosquitoes…. The decaying refuse rose with a sickly stench in the heat of the sun and made the rounds into town as far as the warm updraft of breeze distributed it. The refuse bin in front of Auntie Nurse’s clinic did not only spill with refuse but also leaked a dark, slimy sewer spill into the gutter…. ” (p. 14).
Describing Lagoon West, Ajah tells us: “Lagoon West sat in a valley. There’s sprawling vegetation running into a wide, devious canal, where evil lurked in the shadows. Spiders wove (sic) webs on low-hanging branches to catch houseflies and little insects…. ” (p. 19).
Ajah sprinkles some realistic happenings in Lagos into his fizzy narrative. We are told of the notorious Clifford Orji who, once upon a time, barbecued humans after killing them under Oshodi Bridge, until the cat was let out of the bag. Humour also abounds in the story. Ojemba Osondu, we are told, gulps two litters of ogogoro on a particular day, saying, “… Jesus is not coming back anything. Because the other time he came he didn’t go back with clear eye. He ran four-forty back to heaven” (p. 27).
At first, when the child, Mma, tells her mother, Olamma, that she was her mother, Mma, back to life, she is confused. Narrating her confusion in her inelegant English, she says: “I haven’t close my eye since the time Mma tell me that she is my mama. Imagine such a funny play. It no even give me mouth to laugh…” (p. 33). The author allows the different narrators to speak in their original language, capturing their speech mannerisms, to make the atmosphere more original.
Shinkafi, aka Arrow of God, is a daredevil character in the book that makes us see how cheap life has become in the fictional setting. He killed his first victim, a final year student and only son, at 21, as an undergrad for his gang, With much blood on his hands, he, nevertheless, becomes rich in a corrupt society until he gets his comeuppance at the end.
The seemingly cock and bull story of Mma to her mother, Olamma, about her reincarnation gradually becomes a tenable tale as the novel races to an end. The abnormal child is established to be the owner of a mansion in Lagos, which she acquired in her previous sojourn on earth. For Olamma, it is a new lease of life for the family. The dead can do wonders!