For weeks I had visited the website of the Caine Prize for African Writing, hoping to see the publication of the 2016 shortlist. I kept seeing only the new face of the website. Eventually, I became tired and decided to take a break. It was only at that point that the shortlist was published, behind my back. I stayed for days without knowing, until I ran into the notice on Facebook.
My attention was drawn by the story, Genesis, by Tope Folarin, whose story, Miracle, won the prize in 2013. Should he win again he would become the first writer to have won the prize more than once.
Genesis, a single story with two conflicts and two resolutions, is, thus, a double-edged sword. It is about a Nigerian couple in the United States. The first conflict is played up when the wife became mentally ill, forcing the breakup of the marriage. The result: two homes, with the man left in the first and the wife and their two kids in the second. Since the first child resembled his father he became his mother’s victim of constant violent abuses. Resolution came when, before a judge, the kids chose to stay with their father.
The first kid, in whose voice the story is narrated, was often accompanied by an old white woman midway as he trekked to school. As they walked she would tell him that she would like him to serve her in the afterlife; she believed that all white people would be served by black people in heaven. This is the second conflict of the story.
When the boy’s parent learned about the old woman and her notion the boy was made to understand that, in heaven, there is flawless equality for all races. The boy’s mother, while still sane at the time, started walking the boy to school. When old white granny caught up with them she was told of the racial equality of heaven. This point marks the resolution of the second conflict.
The story writes another story outside the margin of its pages. I find myself using a microscope to locate the African component of Genesis: it is the mere allusion to the Nigerian origin of the couple and the fact that, eventually, the mentally sick wife returned to Nigeria with nothing more heard of her.
Folarin perhaps found himself in a tunnel where he could neither see the sky nor light at the end, as he tried to play up the Africa element in his story; he was not only born and raised in the United States, but lives there –I think that it is much easier handling a story that is set in a locality you have known very well.
If writers, like Folarin, born and raised by African parents outside of the continent must write stories with a good African presence then they must have to take occasional visits to the continent. Living and mingling with Africans for just a month can throw up a good number of story ideas, exploring virgin territories with related nuances.
I wish Genesis and all the other stories the best.