Saturday, July 24, 2010

Short-a-Day: E. C. Osondu's "A Simple Case"

Originally published in The Atlantic, Fiction 2010. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 60.

This is really a simple story, bulked up simply by being a foreign tale, of police corruption in, I think, Nigeria. Basically, the protagonist, Paiko, is waiting for his girlfriend--Sweet, a prostitute--when the brothel she works at is raided. Before he can bribe the officers, as usual, he is taken to the jail, and--after armed robbers snatch a Commissioner's car--he is used as a scapegoat, paraded around as if he's a hardened criminal. Powerlessness becomes a theme, especially as he's carted off to Area F: "'Sergeant Torture will hold a suspect's penis in his hand and insert a rusty sharp bicycle spoke into it. Sometimes, if he does not want you to suffer too much, he will use a sharp broomstick, ah, that place na waya,' the speaker concluded."
Once incarcerated in the darkness of Area F, he is taken to task by the head prisoner, who calls himself Presido: "This is the Jungle Republic. No human beings live here in the Jungle Republic. We are all animals. The only people who are human beings live in the outside world. Those of us in the inside world are all animals. Abi, my people, no be true I talk?" Paiko boldly sticks to his guns and refuses to make up a story that will make him seem more hardened to these violent criminals--and in turn, they help him make a phone call to his fellow stall-workers back in the city, and he is freed. What he finds, of course, is that Sweet has moved on--to Italy; her "love" for him was an illusion. At last, he snaps to the harsh reality of his situation, but, really, so what? Most of this story is dialogue (authentic enough, I guess), so the writer does little beyond relating this bare-bones story. No tricks, no fancy writing, just a tough sort of honesty that, for me, is not enough.

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