“Waiting” by Chika Unigwe

In Celebration of Nigeria’s Independence Day

*Short Story Monday is a weekly feature run by The Book Mine Set*

(Today’s short fiction is from Per Contra:  The International Journal of Arts, Literature and Ideas, Issue 17.  You can read the story here)

It is apparent, in the opening paragraph of Chika Unigwe’s Waiting, that all is not well with the narrator:

“Her hands are full and she when she remembers how difficult it was for her to make a choice, she thinks, The tyranny of choice. Not in those exact words of course, because these days, she finds it very difficult to find the words she needs. In that way, she has become a more visceral being. She feels what she means even when she cannot articulate it.”

It’s the season of Sinterklass, a Dutch winter holiday, and Oge is out shopping for presents for her six-year-old son, Jordi.  The story follows her inner thoughts as she completes her shopping and heads home to her family.  It seems her husband, Gunter, has been criticizing her a lot; calling her clumsy and forgetful.  The tenderness and love between them has diminished somewhat.    And “she wonders why she ever married him in the first place.”

Their relationship wasn’t always this bad, there’ve been happier times.  She recalls their courtship in Nigeria, where she is from.  He was clearly smitten with her and she with him; they marry after dating for two years and then move to the Netherlands, his country.  She recalls their joy at the birth of Jordi and the delight they both shared at watching the infant’s development.

But she returns often to Gunter’s bad treatment and mentions that her pastor has been “ministering to her over and over again”.   And more than halfway through the story, she recalls Gunter’s harassment (again):

“Why don’t you dress up? It’s afternoon already. You can’t be walking around in your bathrobe.

Oge, wake up. You’ve been in bed the whole day.

Oge, you shouldn’t be drinking alone. It’s dangerous.

It is as if she can no longer do anything right. She must be watched. It is eating her up. Ulcer of the throat. The only salve is Jordi. But all these started because of Jordi too. Jordi. Her only child. Their only child. Never mind that these days, Gunter acts as if Jordi was not his.”

It’s hard to dismiss the feeling that Oge is an unreliable narrator.  And once that idea took root, I was also able to correctly guess the cause of Oge’s distress.  The only negative in the story was that Oge dropped too many hints. I didn’t mind discovering the mystery before the author revealed it, no.  I was bothered by the over use of markers throughout the story.

Chika Unigwe is an “Afro-Belgian writer of Nigerian origin”.  I’m looking forward to reading her  second novel, On Black Sisters’ Street.

(The archives of Per Contra has a lot of short stories. For free.)

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17 comments

  1. It always reads a little weird to me, seeing Dutch names intermixed with the ENglish language. I imagine it muyst be the same for others from other countries? “Jordi”, I’m just trying to imagine the English pronounciation.

    Anyway, I think I need to pick up a book/story by Chika Unigwe sometime.

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  2. an interesting perspective and tale despite the over use of markers from an author (another!) I was not aware of, would the novel be a great place to start?
    PS have posted on Nii Ayikwei Parkes’s book & also have found more of his poetry, to post at some future point.

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  3. Kinna, I do think that women going through emotional problems, expecially caused by their male partners may behave in an unreliable manner; frustration! And like Nana, I also wonder what might have happened for hte love between th two to go cold. Gunter does come across as overbearing, previous love or not. I really must read this short story. Can you help me?

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    • Celestine, there is a link to the story in my post. But I will also email the link. I’m not going to give away the ending :). It was obvious that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The author did a good job portraying her disjointed thoughts.

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  4. That sounds like an interesting story, and a Euro-African (?) view is not one you often come across. By the way, there was a recent news article that said people actually enjoy boks more when thet know what’s going to happen…

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    • Wow, that’s interesting Tony … I’d love to read that article. As someone who is happy to re-read novels I can understand that, though I’m surprised still. I suspect though from what Kinna says that re this story there’s knowing and there’s being hit with a sledge-hammer with it. I should try to find time to read the story.

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      • I added a link to the article on my last “Link Gems” post. It confirmed how I like to read. There is too much “spoiler alerts” going on :).

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