By Chukwuma Ajakah
Upcoming Nigerian writer, Esther Chizaram Ngele, has released a series of short stories which portray disturbing social ills bedeviling the human race within and outside Africa. Prominent among the stories is “Stolen Pride” with which the author protests against the menace of rape and related social ills. Other stories in the collection include “Gauteng, Johannesburg South Africa”, “In the Streets of Texas”, and “Labels and Love”.
“Gauteng, Johannesburg South Africa” decries xenophobic attacks against Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa. It features three main characters Olumide – a Nigerian businessman who is accused of being overzealous and subsequently murdered in cold blood by his South African counterparts – Kungawo and Lethabo.
“In the Streets of Texas” has its setting in Dallas, Texas. Esther reechoes the ‘Black Lives Matter” mantra in this exhilarating story which depicts the central theme of racism. Jamal, Donald, and a white racist police officer are the characters whose roles the author uses to reenact the George Floyd “I Can’t Breathe” incident.
“Labels and Love”, set in present-day Nigeria, investigate the fault lines in romantic relationships between two lovers from different tribal and religious divides with Farouk, Chukwuemeka, and Onyinye as lead characters.
In “Stolen Pride”, Esther captures the menace of rape in a contemporary African society where the victims suffer in silence due to overt restraints barring them from opening up on the traumatizing experience which leaves them wallowing in self-pity, rather than seek legal redress against the offending party. The story explores rape as an all-round assault with a resulting trauma that invades every sphere of the victim’s being: physical, spiritual, psychological, and emotional.
“Stolen Pride” has a simple plot structure that revolves around Dami, whose own uncle rapes at pre-teen after luring her into his room. Shamefaced, the protagonist struggles with multifarious internal conflicts, especially in order to avoid the social stigma usually associated with such bizarre incident. Instead, she withdraws into a cocoon that shields her from even her parents who are left to wonder at her unbecoming aggressive attitude. On one occasion, her mother, Mama Dami queries: “Kini?! “Kilode ti o fi binu nigbagbogbo? Why are you always angry? I am your mother. How you treat me is how your child will treat you o! Ireti pe o le gbo mi!”
The protagonist, Dami, is portrayed as a symbolic character, typifying millions of defenseless girls who wobble through life haunted by the memories of the harrowing experience or cowering under the threats of their assailants. Liberation comes after her discussion with the law student as she is enlightened on the constitutional provisions against rapists.
Emboldened by the new knowledge, she confronts her tormentor where he is ironically in a “praise and worship session” with her parents. Dami reveals his atrocious act to the astonished assembly and heaves a sigh of relief when the police arrest the incestuous rapist to face prosecution.
As a characteristic of the short story genre, “Stolen Pride” features a few characters which include the protagonist, Dami; her friend, Yinka; their school mates and matron; Mama and Papa Dami; Kunle, a fresh law graduate; Opeyemi, Dami’s next-door neighbor; Mama Precious; and the antagonist, Uncle Tobias.
The author infuses dramatic techniques such as dialogue and humour into the narration as reflected in Corper Kunle’s response in a dialogue with Dami on the subject of rape: “Ha! That one is quite serious o! First of all, it’s a crime and its offenders should be sent straight to God in a black envelope in my personal opinion.”
There is also the infusion of indigenous lexical items such as Yoruba and Igbo in some of the stories as realized in “Stolen Pride” where one of the minor characters, Opeyemi, exclaims: “O ma se o!” Ko ye mi o! Mama Precious e wa o!” Responding, Mama Precious says: “Nibo ni iwon lo?”
Narrated in the third person point of view, Esther’s short stories constitute a collection of protest literature targeted at injustice, racial discrimination, moral depravity, hypocrisy, tribalism, and other vices that have eaten deep into the fabric of the society. Each story reveals that the author has a message to pass across to a wide spectrum of readers on topical and sensational global issues. For instance, her “Stolen Pride” reinforces the belief that the trauma scar of rape remains like an open sore until the victim decides to “confront her past” by challenging and exposing the villain as the protagonist did.