An inscription written on the chassis of a crawling commuter omnibus triggered the beginning of my newly completed novel. The inscription appeared to me one hot afternoon in the midst of the rush that is often part of our lives in Nigeria. I think I must have seen the bus many times before then but that afternoon I took a few moments to ponder. It set off a notion of how I would tell a story with a bus as a point of confluence, where different lives, and hence different stories connect. What I had hadn’t been enough to crank out anything substantial. So I dropped it, and allowed the story to simply tell itself in its own time.
Then it kind of bubbled to the surface again several months later while reading The Slap, a novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas and Column McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. I became interested in how a single event can reveal so much about the way people are, how our universes often run around one another and how things change when those universes collide. I began to connect the dots. Once the bits of ideas began to crystallize, characters suggested themselves, jostling for a place. With the characters came the backdrop of the story.
I often don’t choose what I write, what I write chooses me. The writing process for me is messy, organic, filled with uncertainties. Sometimes I write non-stop for hours, other times (this happens more often), it’s like pulling out a rotten tooth. I cancel each word, trying to make sense of what’s in my head, fearing that the whole project would fail. There is the silent process of discovering a new world on paper and the harrowing self-doubt that follows after the world has been discovered. I always ask myself the question after finishing a story, “Have I been true to this story?” “Have I told the story the best way I can?” That’s the source of my doubt not lack of confidence in the story itself.
This is the truth: I feel it necessary to tell the Nigerian story. I am proud of it, maybe even obsessed by it. I am not talking about what the West tells the world, or what Nigerian intellectuals sometimes try so desperately to defend but what I see and breathe everyday walking through the busy streets, eavesdropping on conversations. The tales of a land of overwhelming contradictions, and of immense possibilities. I love the power and the beauty of writing about a world the way I see it. The liberty to reinvent and explore the things I am privy to. I love Nigeria. Nigeria is where my stories grow from.