Friday, March 21, 2014

“A Short Drive Through Town”

As she looked for her car key she asked if I must get back right away or would I like to come with her for a short drive through town. 
‘Bori at night is simply fascinating,’ she said… 
She certainly knew the city well, from the fresh-smelling, modern water-front to the stinking, maggoty interior.  
We drove through wide, well-lit streets bearing the names of our well-known politicians and into obscure lanes named after some unknown small fish. Even insignificant city councillors had their little streets… 
I began to wonder whether Jean actually enjoyed driving through these places as she claimed she did or whether she had some secret reason, like wanting me to feel ashamed about my country's capital city. I hardly knew her but I could see she was that kind of person, a most complicated woman.  
We were now back in the pleasant, high-class area. 
‘That row of ten houses belongs to the Minister of Construction,’ she said, ‘They are let to different embassies at three thousand a year each.’ 
So what, I said within myself. Your accusation may be true but you’ve no right to make it. Leave it to us and don't contaminate our cause by espousing it.  
 ‘But that’s another Chief Nanga Street ’ I said aloud, pointing to my left.  
‘No. What we saw near the fountain was Chief Nanga Avenue,’ she said and we both burst out laughing, friends again. ‘I’m not sure there isn’t a Road as well somewhere,’ she said. ‘I know there is a Circle.’ 
Then I promptly recoiled again. Who the hell did she think she was to laugh so self-righteously. Wasn’t there more than enough in her own country to keep her laughing all her days? Or crying if she preferred it?  
‘I have often wondered,’ she said, completely insensitive to my silent resentment, ‘why  don't they call some streets after the many important names in your country’s history or past events like your independence as they do in France and other countries?’ 
‘Because this is not France but Africa,’ I said with peevish defiance. 
She obviously thought I was being sarcastic and laughed again. But what I had said was another way of telling her to go to hell. Now I guessed I knew why she took so much delight in driving through our slums. She must have taken hundreds of photographs already to send home to her relations. And, come to think of it, would she— lover of Africa that she was—would she be found near a black man in her own country?  
…‘I was wondering whether I could see you again,’ 
‘Do you want to?’ 
‘Why not? Let me call you tomorrow?’
An excerpt from the end of chapter 5 of Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People, written in 1966. Posted today on the first anniversary of his passing. It’s a shame that, if people read any Achebe at all, it is only his best-known work, Things Fall Apart, which is monumental, but not his only masterpiece. In looking for this passage, which I thought was a brilliant, multivalent telling of an African city, I came across so many other great little moments just in the 137 pages of this story, which I enjoyed just as much as his other books.

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