FOREIGN DREAMS EXCERPT PART 2

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The thought of rotting in jail made my heart kick sickeningly hard, almost taking my breath.  The tensely sourpuss expression on my face made my bulgy eyes become narrow and my fleshy cheeks, hollow; tried as much as I could, there was no hiding the fact that something was grossly wrong with me. “My brother, are you okay? Do not let the worries of this world take a toll on you, you are still young oh.” A calm soothing voice from the woman sitting beside me in the passenger lounge had asked; her eyes firmly fixed at my chest. I do not have a chiseled chest, so apparently she was staring at my rapid chest movement.  I smiled faintly as I clenched my teeth, “I am fine Ma’am. Thanks for asking,” I responded with an almost inaudible voice. She grinned and shrugged, sipping through the chill bottle of coca-cola placed by her side.  

Within seconds, the thought of possibly dying by a firing squad made my heart even thud the more. But then again, the manic thought pattern was interrupted by the buzz on my phone-a Nokia 3310. “K-K, what’s up? Where are you?” the tiny voice of Eke asked in a high tone, though she was barely audible. The background noise had masked the sound of her voice. I walked into the toilet holding my travelling bag tightly, “I can hardly hear you, call me back,” I screamed and cut off the line. I never wanted to tell anyone about this journey, but the thought of the acute pain my sudden disappearance would cause my sisters and dad became intolerable. I sent her a text, which read thus:

‘My life has taken a new twist n I wud b away 4 over 1 mont. Do not boda 2 call me bcos my fone wud b off. I luv u all. Tell dad 2 relax, I wud b bak.’ 

I am one of the many persons who prefer text messaging to calls because not only was I a sucker for acronyms and abbreviations, it was much easier for me to lie through a text message; not that I was lying in this instance.

I put off my phone immediately, involuntarily brandishing a forlorn look as I rubbed the back of my neck to ease the ache; the ache that I suddenly developed a day ago.   

I had just two days to leave town and go into hiding. In Nigeria, most of the cases are swept under the carpet after a few months of inconclusive investigation without reaching any logical conclusion. So I can still come back to Nigeria after a few years of hiding and be a free man, I said to myself.

It was the fifteenth day of July 2000 and I had boarded a Marco polo bus that is to leave Calabar by six P.M. to arrive Kano hopefully by two P.M. the next day. Our bus had taken off at exactly six twenty five P.M. and in about four hours; we were heading towards Gboko, Benue state. I could feel the rush. Yawning and stretching my hands, I tried hard to shake off the sleep from my eyes.  The night before was more than hectic and getting a sleep during the day was not feasible-I practically spent the whole day looking for money.

I had quite a large sum on me (from my own estimation that is). You see, I could not afford to lose a dime out of the money, the journey ahead was a long one and besides, I was going to start a life in a strange land; I needed all the money I could get. My mind went blank each time I tried to figure out what to expect in the course of this journey. Four hundred and forty thousand naira ($2800) was stacked up in my pockets. I wore a custom-made trouser with pockets that could contain a pair of trainers; am not exaggerating now- just saying it as it is. It had a zip affixed, which I locked with two small padlocks; just so you know that was my mobile vault.

In my quest to get money to make up my personal savings, my father was the first person I called yesterday. ‘‘Okon, your landlord must be very stupid, does he think I harvest money somewhere in a farm. He must be joking; you still have four more months left on your current rent that must elapse. Besides, your sister Eke would be resuming for school this week. I have no such monies to throw around.” My father sounded geeky on phone, his baritone voice thundering in my eardrums.

“Dad, the landlord is not the one cajoling me to pay up, his son who is my very close friend reliably told me that his father is to increase the house rent by 30 percent from next month. The best option I have is to pay up before the increment,” I interjected convincingly. My father is a very frugal man and never wants to be short-changed, so he succumbed. That strategy fetched me just a one hundred thousand naira ($600). My dad was not willing to part with more than that. He promised to pay up the remaining fifty thousand naira ($300) in a fortnight-the fortnight that would never be anyway. 

I looked like the good kid on the surface-calm, collected, quiet and brilliant. Did I say brilliant? Definitely, that was a mistake. For someone who repeated a class in high school and had to take entry exams into the university thrice, I would be telling myself a big lie if I called myself, brilliant. Without wincing words, I was academically challenged. I had to work extra hard to gain the trust and admiration of my father; he never believed I had any dirt in my closet. 

 I was eventually able to garner four hundred and forty thousand naira ($2800) as I told you and the money was safely stacked in my pockets or so I thought. You also might want to ask why I did not just put it in my bag. Well, if you have ever travelled through any of the night buses in Nigeria your best bet is to keep your money closely knit to your body, more like tattooing the money to your skin if you will.

The more I tried to shake off the sleep, the more I realized I could not cheat nature. The weather had become more temperate and it brought with it a cool breeze that caressed my face. Within seconds, it had started drizzling, dotting the windscreen as the driver reduced his speed. Finally, nature took its course and I tilted my head towards the left as I dozed off. The Mallam (man from Hausa tribe) behind me supposedly realized so, and he decided to play a fast one on me.

Getting a hand into any of my front pockets was like trying to break a metal safe. I guess the Mallam realized this well enough and so decided to reach for my back pocket instead. I had just three thousand, two hundred and fifty naira ($22) in the wallet I put in my back pocket. I put that in my back pocket for easy access to buy stuff on the road, I actually forgot to fasten the button. The vehicle was filled to overflowing and I had no proper seat; I sat in an attachment that left my back pocket at the mercy of the Mallam who had reached out his hand slowly for my money.

My prayers before takeoff came in handy; (yes! even the guilty still say prayers and remember God is a lover of all.) I awoke, not because I felt a creeping hand, but because I saw what was going on in the physical in my dreams-do not call me paranoid. Screaming aloud, “where is my money?” I reached for the Mallam’s hand straight up as I directed my flashlight on his face. He blinked rapidly and his lower lip quivered as he said, “Oga, leaf me. Money I dey for ground, e fall from your Focket.” I cared less for his disjointed English and accent as I directed my flashlight to the base of the bus and found my wallet with my money intact. I let loose of his shirt as he subdued into a dull muted acceptance of the crime. He was dead scared to put up any defense because he felt I was a military man. The camouflage cap I wore gave him false hints-I wear those when I want to put up a false front. Luckily, for me, a real military man has never accosted me. 

I gave him a hostile glare as I let my temper come down. We got into Kano the next night some minutes past nine. Our vehicle had developed some engine problem in Nassarawa state that took the mechanic over three hours to fix.  

 My journey was to continue to Kastina the next day and I needed somewhere to lay my head. Before I could finish musing about where to lay my head, I heard a freaky voice from behind, “fine boy, make I show you where to sleep, my house just dey for the other side. I no expensive, I go give you well well.’’ Apparently, it was a tradition for cheap harlots to hang around the car park to lure vulnerable, stranded and maybe sexually hungry men to pass a night at their chalet for just a few bucks, five hundred naira ($3) to be precise. I did notice she had an accent that was typically the Ibibios’, which is actually my native home. I sought to make further enquiry as I greeted her with my native dialect, “aba dei?’’ (How are you)? She responded with excitement, chuckling “didion ke” (am fine). “How did you know I am from Akwa Ibom”?  She asked sharply in more decent English.

“Well, I could tell, you know our girls are very pretty.” I flattered her. Truth is, even with the little shade of light, I could see her disjointed dentition and her discolored skin that must have been caused by years of cheap bleaching. “Oh! Ha, ha ha ha, thank you, everybody tells me the same thing.” She blushed as she flung her surprisingly sleek hair back and forth. “So are you coming, it is getting too late.” She quickly tipped in, not wanting to pass the night without a company. 

The chalet was just a stone throw and her room, which looked too neat to be true, had two beds, a centre table and was nicely perfumed. Although the lights were at low levels, I could see that a ‘couple’ were already having their groove on and paid little or no attention to our presence. The radio that was on somewhat masked the moans coming from the pair. Before we could settle down for anything I asked her in my native dialect why she was into this trade because she sounds educated. “If you say I sound educated you are not wrong because I have a diploma in Business Administration, but the other part I cannot answer.” She said as she smiled faintly, heaving her body occasionally in sensuality. 

Thanks for your time, please do tell me what you think.

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9 thoughts on “FOREIGN DREAMS EXCERPT PART 2

  1. Anonymous

    Unlike the more professional comments you received, I felt that this “jumping around” beginning
    is quite engaging, keeping me wondering what has happened and what is going to happen, so I want to read on.
    Soon I guess you have to tell more about why the character is fleeing.
    Good luck.

  2. Anonymous

    Hi-
    i think you have an exciting story to tell and an intriguing character. I also think a revision is in order as regards to style. Your writing will be stronger, especially in this story, if you take out some of the adjectives and adverbs There are way too many, and it takes away from what you have to say. Also, watch the “cliches” – “heart thud” “stone’s throw” – these are overused expressions. Come up with your own unique way of describing things. Your story will be stronger for it. It’s a great start, keep working at it and make it the best it can be. Remember that stories are not written, they are rewritten, and some writers may rewrite a single page twenty of more times. Whatever it takes, right?

  3. You have a good idea, but you haven’t developed a premise. Your protagonist is traveling to Kano to get away from being arrested. Okay, but the question is why. He may be executed. Good reason to run, but it doesn’t set up a premise from which you can develop a story.

    For example, let’s say your idea is that you want to write a story about a young man traveling to Kano because he is afraid of being arrested. Nice idea, but so what? It’s just an idea, not a premise for a story. Now, ask a “what if” of the idea: what if a police person is sitting beside him? What if the Mallam was a professional pickpocket and found your identity with which to blackmail you? What if your sister told you your father was suddenly gravely ill and needed you back home?

    The answers to questions like those–not necessarily those exact questions–can build a story.

    The reason you’re jumping around in your plot is that you don’t have a plan, a blueprint, if you will, for your story. It sounds like you’re sitting down and letting your thoughts flow without a direction. You’re searching for a story and hoping you’ll find it on the way. Unless you’re gifted beyond belief, you’ll not find it this way.

    So, my advice is to stop, go back and outline, develop a sound premise and build your story like a house. Few to no carpenters ever build a house without a blueprint of some kind. Few to no writers create a story “as the muse directs the.” Muses are fickle. Plan!

    And, I agree with JJ Alleson above: Lose the adjectives and adverbs. I think most adjectives and adverbs are insulting to readers; the author telling the reader how to react to a situation, how to see, hear, taste, etc. Example: The tree in my back yard is an aged oak in full leaf. Visualize that any way in your mind and most likely you’ll envision a tree that will satisfy what the author saw. Read Hemingway, the master of precious few descriptive adjectives or adverbs.

  4. Anonymous

    I think the story is engaging and has potential. The delivery bogs down where sentence structure is unnecessarily lengthy, awkwardly phrased and complicated by overuse/misuse of punctuation. You have a lot of good information and thoughts to convey, but keep it simple. You throw out a lot of different ideas, characters and story lines, giving me more questions than answers, i.e. What’s physically wrong with Okon that his chest is heaving and his neck aches? Why is the rent past due? What trouble is Okon facing that he’s got to leave town so suddenly? I think the story would be better if you introduced one subject, thoroughly described the situation, and then moved on. The shotgun approach doesn’t work for me. I just get lost with where the story is going.
    Please take my comments as one reader’s opinion. I’m not a professional writer, just an avid reader. What I like or don’t like has no bearing on the success of your book. I think with some professional editing and re-work, I’ll most likely be buying a copy of your book to read during my future business travel.

  5. Hi Lyam. I can see the gist of the story is a young man who is leaving his life behind out to avoid some serious trouble. I like your writing style; its warm and very readable. You’ve also got a lot of humourous points in your story. I particularly like the line about tattooing your money to your skin. You write with a clear idea of what you want to say. However you don’t always get that clarity across. I would suggest looking at the following:

    Overuse of adjectives. There are quite a lot of these; you can actually get the same message across with less.

    Too much introspective talk. Although you do this well. you could be telling the reader more about the plot line instead. Don’t leave them having to guess what his problem is.

    I didn’t understand the reference to his father. Does he think highly or lowly of his son ? ” I had to work extra hard to gain the trust and admiration of my father; he never believed I had any dirt in my closet.” This seems contradictory.

    The story needs to flow in one direction. Right now its jumping around to different points of introspection: thoughts about the army, father, the prostitute, getting away, education. Pull these together and use them in the right context to make your story flow more.

    Mixed tenses. Be care with these. I understand that you are using past and present and conditional but make sure these stay within context otherwise the reader might be pulled out of the story trying to work out if you are speaking about now or the past.

    If you would like more info on editing services please email me for a quote.

    JJ

    • Hi:
      Your previous critiques have nailed the main points, to which I agree. You will need a good editor. You will also have to rearrange some of the points you are making. Your English is very good, but comicly misplaced in places. I don’t know yet where you are going with this short sample, but I can see a good story coming. As you are riding in that bus, carefully think of the next fear and give the reader a hint. The flow, so far, is somewhat jerky – make it smoother. I spent quite a lot of time in West Africa and am able to visualise the inside of that bus, the discomfort and the knowledge that you are a walking bank. Keep it up – it is good.

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