Short Fiction on a writer
|The work of a paperback writer is never done. One should be able to finish a manuscript and feel proud of the achievement, sit back and smoke a long pipe with a long and satisfied sigh. However, I was far from that utopian scenario. Having written my magnum opus (at least in my mind it was), I found myself in the peculiar position of having a feeling of inadequacy.
Mind you, it was no mean effort. Come rain or shine, I had pored over the document, giving it my all. However, the book felt incomplete. It didn't come together as I had envisioned.
As I pondered over the printed pages lying in a neat stack on my table, a tentative knock ensued from the front door.
A little boy stood outside. He looked to be in his mid-teens. His dark skin glowed with health, and his black hair was like that of anyone else in West Africa.
"My Moda na sick," he mentioned with no preamble.
"That's fine. There's not much work today, anyway. And you are?"
Suddenly, a thought struck me.
"Sorry to ask Jomo. But can you read English?"
Jomo's eyes narrowed. "Of course. I go to the government secondary school and am the best student in English!"
I apologized for my stereotypical assumption but wanted to clear up a point.
"You spoke in pidgin, though?"
Jomo smiled, giving me the full impact of his gleaming white teeth.
"My father doesn't want me to show off."
I nodded and made a comment about how obedient a son he was.
"Jomo, do you have some time now?"
"Yes, ma'am. Saturdays, I am free all afternoon. You want me to clean the house?"
"No! No!" I exclaimed. "I need your help with something else."
He came in and stood next to the three-seater rattan sofa.
"Please sit. I want you to read something I wrote and tell me what you think. Give me your honest opinion."
He sat down on the sofa edge, unsure of this request.
Gathering the sheaf of papers, I laid it on the large wooden coffee table in front of him.'
"It's a few hundred pages, so it might take you a few days. Feel free to stop whenever you want and return on any day you're available."
He eyed the loose papers with curiosity and again flashed me his big open smile.
"Not to worry, Mrs. Lavanya. I will finish it soon."
I got him a glass of fresh orange juice and some biscuits.
He took on the air of a professor as he settled into the sofa, all the papers to one side, and took out the first page.
Not wanting to disturb him, I went back to my desk and continued my fretting. My mobile phone had all the Beatles songs. One song always pepped me up – 'Magical Mystery Tour.' There was something optimistic and joyful about that song.
I leaned back in my chair as the strands of the music commenced, earphones plugged in so as not to interrupt my first reader.
We went on this way for a few hours, the only external sounds being that of paper rustling and a few crows on the branches of the tamarind tree that bent over my house.
Around noon, I realized the boy may be hungry. Jomo was deep in the reading, and I hesitated for a second.
"Would you like some lunch?"
"No, ma'am. I have eaten garri in the morning."
I had never tasted the cassava-based cereal typical in Nigeria but knew how nutritious and filling it was.
"I have some sandwiches, "I insisted.
"Okay, only one."
My real question remained unasked, but he sensed my angst.
"The book is very good, ma'am," he proclaimed.
"Can you tell me more?" I asked excitedly.
Jomo stood up as if he was going to deliver a sermon.
"The character of Lucy is developed very well. Her early childhood, the abuse she suffered, and how that shaped the person she was, conniving and sly but still innocent in many ways. However, I am not so sure about David. I can see where the story is going, and I am pretty sure she will kill him, but I do not see enough of his side of the story for me to accept her justification."
I stood in stunned silence.
"How many pages did you read?"
"About a hundred or so, ma’am."
"And you got all that from hundred pages?"
Jomo looked apologetic.
"Sorry, ma'am. I didn't mean to offend."
I waved my hands to dispel his notion.
"I am not offended. I am amazed at your keen intuition and acumen?"
Jomo's eyes narrowed.
"Because I am black?"
I waved frantically again.
"Because I didn't figure it out, and very few people, even in the literary world, would be so quick to do so."
The smile was back.
"I also would like to write a book, ma’am. I will call it the 'A Day in the life of an author."
It was my turn to smile.
"I am sure you have better things to write, Jomo."
I was right.
Years later, at Columbia University, I sat in the first row, thanks to the insistence of Jomo, as he received his Pulitzer Prize.