AUTHOR: Molara Wood
PLACE OF PUBLICATION: Nigeria
PUBLISHER: Parresia Books
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013
NO OF PAGES: 165
GENRE: Short stories
The cover of Molara Wood’s short story collection, Indigo, provides an accurate description of the content. Art by Muraina Oyelami, the piece is titled ‘pensiveness’ and it depicts a woman with an indigo covered headscarf, long neck, dark skin with head tilted to one side. It appears she is considering something, weighing her options. The rest of the cover is decked in stripes reputed as the dressing of the Egba people of Ogun state. This collection examines the lives of ordinary people as they deal with different challenges. Wood’s first collection of short stories offers fresh intellectualism into grief, sadness, trauma and a woman’s place in the society among other things.
In the cover story, Indigo, we follow Idera who spoke against the accepted wisdom in a room full of mothers. Her barrenness became the butt of jokes so that she felt hollow inside and her home felt strange, like a second skin. Women who had no children were barren, whether by choice or not and Idera is a character many women can relate to. Harking to his Mother’s call, Idera’s husband, Jaiye, decides to relocate back to Nigeria and in a barely heated argument flings the childless accusation at her. He claims that he kept her happy by not pressing for a child even after professing that with or without children he was happy.
The cultural shift was most likely responsible for the shift in mentality since his ears became full from what people were saying. In a stroke of luck after her husband abandons the house, Idera discovers she is pregnant and her shame is washed away by the indigo river that becomes the name for a girl child her husband hopes will be as beautiful as his wife. Indigo is a flawless balance of character and conflict that weaves in and out between past and present and yet is unforced.
There are other stories that resonate for me. Gani’s fall is a story about polygamy and one woman’s endurance when her husband rejects her because of female children and takes a second wife. The relationship between a man and his two wives is explored through a fight with the younger wife and the nonexistent relationship between the man and his female children.
In Night Market, the story is traumatic. An African American woman is traumatised by the death of her unborn child. She visits the night market in search of spirits and lycanthropic beings in hopes that they return to her her unborn child which she lost as a result of the ineffective NEPA. After a week at the hospital, she decides to find her baby and ends up getting unorthodox healing from her gateman who turns out to be a Sango worshiper.
The relationship between two sisters and a couple is explored through a sham marriage and an overburdened guilty conscience. In Name Only is told through the first person point of view in sombre tones through the eyes of a nine-year-old. He is forced to attend his beloved aunt’s fake marriage ceremony that she sets up to get papers. Sadly, it backfires when immigration denies her a visa and she has to return to Nigeria. Eventually, the boy’s parents’ divorce when the ties that bind them together frays.
I also particularly like Girl on the Wall, a story about servitude. A photograph reveals another sibling telling a tale of sacrifice. It is a story that stays with me long after.
I enjoyed reading The Scarcity of Common Goods, the sequel to Free Rice. The story is explored through the eyes of a twelve-year-old whose father just died. The story starts at the burial ground where there is a rude interruption at the funeral of Mr Falode and oscillates between the child’s memories and the present. Aduke, Mrs Falode’s deranged sister came as a principal mourner to the funeral announcing herself with ‘kerosene is cocaine’ and an empty calabash on her head to signify shortage. Aduke was well aware of scarcity of another kind, men.
Voicing out her concerns to her sister who was privileged to be educated and also marry a rich man, Mrs Falode although burned by her guilt-induced generosity drove Aduke away from her home with a broom. Drawing the attention of the neighbours who loved to engage in idle gossip, Mrs Falode sought to air her dirty linen out in the open. Her father’ mistress is also present and the narrator discovers that she has two younger half-siblings. Her mother becomes a matriarch ruling over the business and the household providing sustenance for many others.
The collection is capped off with Written in Stone which explores history through a heartbreak that leads a girl to find the truth about what happened to a noblewoman who placed a curse on a trio of dubious elders. It is indeed true that ‘not all princes are sterling material.’
With 17 stories gathered together, the collection is richly diverse. The strongest unifying feature is the calibre of the narratives. They all fit in even with stories that are sometimes devastating in its deep emotion. A short story is like a kiss from a stranger in the dark and with the short shorts, there is a sense of not having fully savoured each delicious bite. Those stories end just as they are beginning to reel the reader in.
There is often a change in gear between stories – from Nigeria to the Diaspora, past to present, joy to sadness – but this showcases one another rather than detract from it. This collection shows that the author has mastered complex and heart-wrenching emotions without watering down the strong characters portrayed throughout the collection. It shows that Africa is richly diverse and strong. It would be reductive to seek a linking theme in this collection that has achieved so much with a variety of characters, themes and POVs.
About the reviewer: Damilola Olaniyi is an eclectic creative. She is the creative director of Onkowe Contest aimed at helping children discover their creative side through writing. She is a scriptwriter. She loves writing, reading and has a passion for moving images. Some of her writings have appeared in The Daily Sun, Nigerian Pilot, The Writing Disorder magazine and the Kalahari Review.