Magazine article New Internationalist

"Arrows of Rain"

Magazine article New Internationalist

"Arrows of Rain"

Article excerpt

Okey Ndibe's first novel Arrows of Rain is set in the fictional African state of Madia, suffering under its despotic ruler General Isa Palat Bello. When a young woman runs into the sea and drowns, the police question the last man to see her alive, an eccentric vagrant known as Bukuru. His story reveals not just an army beyond control and a disintegrating country but also how his own tragic history is intertwined with the murderous past of Isa Palat Bello. Here, he writes to a journalist, Femi, before being interrogated by the police about the incident.

[Graph Not Transcribed]

Dear Femi,

Your visit in the doctor's company lifted my spirits more than I can express in words. In this grim cell where I spend my days and nights, I count my blessings in the coin of such moments.

In your hands now lies the possibility of my salvation or damnation. I live an unprotected life, with nothing to deflect what the world throws at me. No shock absorbers. Everything hits me in the raw, leaves a sore.

It hardly matters that yesterday, through the peephole in my cell, I saw the sun rise and saw it set. Whether I will again behold this simple magic of nature today and tomorrow is a question other men will decide.

I send you this, my story, neither with joy nor triumph but with a sense of relief. There were times, writing it, when I was racked by doubt. How could I make sense of things happening to me today by speaking of things that happened so long ago? How could I prod my tongue to uncoil and learn to speak again?

I can't even say I fully understand my own motives in writing this story. Is it a desperate way of clinging on to a life that lost its salt many years ago? Or a way of confessing my sins to myself, forgiving myself? Once upon a time I would not have been able to tell this story without first being at peace with my motives. I would have agonized endlessly, the narrative dead in my hand. Alas, I no longer have that luxury. Even if my motives are self-serving I think there is still some good in relating these events. I am not afraid to admit it: the story is flawed, as I am flawed. But it is the story I have to tell.

And yet, I'd like to believe that I have written these words for worthier reasons. I hope I have written not just to save myself, not just to raise my finger and point it at another man (for how could a sinner like me accuse another?), but to examine where my life has intersected with our wider history, how I have touched larger events and been touched in return. I want to reckon up my journey and Madia's, to calculate the cost of things done and things left undone.

Against the power of the state, I can only throw this story. I know; it is a feeble weapon. But it is the only weapon I have. A time shall come when those who today sit on the heads of others will themselves be called to account.

* * *

Their eyes burrowed into mine, six eyes pretending to seek the truth. The voices I had collected over the many years of solitude crowded my head. They filled me with suspicion and distrust. Then one voice echoed clearly across space and time. 'Remember,' it warned, 'a story never forgives silence. Speech is the mouth's debt to a story.'

My grandmother had first spoken those words to me, days after we buried my father. A shame I did not understand her then, for I would not today be in this tragic puzzle that becomes messier the harder i try to disentangle its knots.

The trouble began the moment I told the detectives I knew who raped the dead woman. Okoro fished out his notebook and held a pen to it with eager readiness.

'She was raped, you said,' he said. 'How did you know that?' He began to scribble even before I spoke.

I spoke without reluctance. I narrated the vivid details of the two-hour assault, the woman's screams that had started just after 4 am, the male voices that tried to hush her up, the kicking and slapping that, finally, silenced her. …

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