Bura-Bari Nwilo is not new to the literary circle. He has two books, Diary of a Bloody Retardand Diary of a Stupid Boyfriend, and his stories have been published on Writivism and Brittle Paper. I was eager to read his latest book, a collection of stories titled A Tiny Place Called Happiness. From a houseboy dreaming about what it would be like to be wealthy, to a girl who takes steps to give herself a nice burial, to a weird experience with an itinerant preacher, to the different attempts to steal fruits from a cherry tree, Nwilo delivers his stories with enough wit and humor that endear us to the characters.
For a collection titled A Tiny Place Called Happiness, most of the stories end unhappily. The first story, “Port Harcourt,” is a story of two lovers who reconnect after a while and go on a date at a local bar. However, they end up having an unexpected encounter with a thief, which isn’t the way the characters would have anticipated ending their day. The other love stories in the collection, “Like Filtered Cigarette” and “The Smallness of Everything,” similarly end in unhappy ways. “Like Filtered Cigarette” is about a relationship that falls apart, while “The Smallness of Everything” is about a long distance relationship which is not as wonderful as it seems on the surface.
It is hope, not happiness, which characterizes most of the stories. The third story, aptly titled “Like Eyes Liquid with Hope,” is a peek into the mind of a houseboy who gets to imagine what it would be like to wealthy like his oga. The story is written in pidgin, which amplifies Nwilo’s characteristic humour. “Stars,” a story about the hopes and aspirations of a family as they anticipate financial success, and “Slum Diary,” telling of the grand aspirations of a street beggar, continue the hope narrative.
A Tiny Place Called Happiness is a collection with variety: it accommodates readers across age boundaries. “Birth” is a story that engages a childish knack, an older brother telling of the birth of his infant sibling while being more interested in the “tins of milk and Bournvita” that would follow. But “A People of the River” contrasts sharply with that childish engagement in the way it mysteriously presents Kwane’s initiation into manhood – not in the way one would imagine an initiation story.
In A Tiny Place Called Happiness, laughter is a tool for delivering compelling vignettes about everyday life. Nwilo uses laughter to mask the emotional depth and social commentary of what would be perceived as “simple stories.” The sentences, though informal, are not poorly written. There are such gems as this one in “Like Filtered Cigarette”:
“but estrange, why does it exist, that people who once knew each other closely would lose themselves and maybe never speak with them again.”
From the cover, Nwilo’s collection conveys the Do-It-Yourself attitude that has characterized most of his works. This collection, although not self-published, feels like it is. The cover is a photograph of male feet in flip-flops. And some of the stories would have benefited from an editor who did not have any emotional attachment to the work. This lack of rigorous editing is evident in the meandering of some stories; an example being “Nothingness,” a story which loses its focus while trying to juggle a burial ceremony, romance and a failed relationship. Typographical errors appear too frequently while some sentences should have been cut.
A Tiny Place Called Happiness may not appeal to sticklers for syntax and proper language, but it would make a great read for anyone who wants to experience a Nigeria narrated with humor and zing.
First Published by Brittle Paper