An Uprising Made Me a Writer
Written by Obinna Udenwe, author of Satans & Shaitans – a conspiracy crime thriller on terrorism, politics and love.
My mother was the one who taught me how to read and write. I was three, four or five years old, I can’t remember – but I remember that I would sit on a small stool in the parlour, place my Macmillan English Course on the centre table, and she would kneel beside me – teaching me how to spell, how to pronounce and form words by merging various letters together. I remember how I would forget easily some words she had thought me and she would ask me to walk round the house, and sing the words aloud:
Other kids would laugh. I would never forget the spelling of the words I had sung aloud.
Then at the age of eleven, while in my first year in Junior High School, my classmates discovered I could tell stories more than their grandmothers in their villages. So while we waited for a teacher to come in and teach a subject, they would gather round my desk and I would tell tales of aliens attacking the world from the moon, of monkeys marrying beautiful maidens and turning them into zombies, and of beautiful girls enchanting boys and kissing them till their lips fell off – my classmates would gawk in surprise – I think they knew that the stories were all made up, but they loved to listen, perhaps because of the way they were told, for my gesticulations and demonstrations added flavour. The stories that were always most interesting was about Lagos – none of us had ever been to Lagos, so for us Lagos was the land of dreams and adventure – I would tell stories about wealthy girls in Lagos who were allowed by their parents to go on dates with boys. Soon enough, all the boys in class began to ask girls out on dates, using the lines from my stories. I was a hero, though the shortest boy in the class.
Then the next year, my uncle returned from Kano. There had just been an intifada and Christians were killed and their properties burnt. He had lost everything he had. He had no money to start a new business. As he sprawled on the coach in the sitting room, daydreaming, he would listen to me retell to my siblings the stories I had told in school. Then one day, he came into the room in the midst of an adventure where we had all followed a young boy to Lagos and the boy met a wealthy girl who took him to her family house. My uncle said,
‘You tell beautiful stories. Who told you those stories?’
‘No one, uncle.’
‘You should write them. We will publish them and use the money to start my business.’ I was elated. It was the first opportunity to write my numerous stories. In the evening, he came back with a notebook and a pen. I began to write the stories in Igbo language because Igbo, as at then, was the language through which I could express myself so well, especially in writing. I would write far into the night, until my dad would take the candle away. I stopped telling stories in class and wrote instead. When I had fifteen stories written down, I took the notebook to my uncle – he died few days after.
I think his death may have deeply affected my ability to write or tell stories. I concentrated on my studies. I was like a sparrow whose wings had been clipped. I would not write anything else until I was sixteen. Then I wrote the story of the boy who lost his way in Lagos, and because my calligraphy was poor, a friend offered to have it re-written in his own handwriting, I never saw the manuscript till today – I would not talk to him for years after.
Then in 2005, I was out of high school. I would sleep and eat and lazy about, until I decided to write again. I was motivated by the gift of a desktop computer someone had given to my dad. I never took typing lessons, but as I sat typing my stories, I got better and better at typing. Then one day, I returned from the University of Nigeria Nsukka where I had gone to take the University Entrance Examination, and discovered, to my greatest dismay, that my younger sister had deleted my story – the story that had taken me over seven months to type. I would never be a writer, I thought. I cried till all the tears God put in me dried up. Then my dad said,
‘You know why you would never be a writer?’
‘Because you do not re-write. Writers are known for re-writes. Now you have lost your story, you need to type it again. If you lose it, type again. The more you type, the better you’ll get and the better the story. Try it and see.’
I began to type the story again and discovered it became better and better. I noticed things that shouldn’t have been written and once that should be added. I would wake up in the middle of the night and re-type or re-write a story.
Since then, when I see a child walking to school, I think of turning her into a story. I think of turning the girl who had been raped by her uncle at the back of our house into a story. I write of the woman turned into a punching bag by her husband, and of the man just a street away, whose girlfriend cut off his manhood while he slept. And when a knife was plunged into the belly of a woman named Nigeria, and the terrorists twisted the knife in and cut her in pieces, I knew I must tell a story – I wrote Satans and Shaitans.
Satans and Shaitans is published in the UK by Jacaranda Books and in Nigeria by AMAB Books.
Besides Satan and Shaitans, Obinna Udenwe has also published riveting and bawdy stories such as Holy Sex series and Bedfellows. At the moment, he is busy working on another novel (Sshhh: we don’t want to give away any spoilers, stay tuned!).