The April 15 issue of the New Yorker has a story by Chimamanda Adichie, titled “Apollo.” Don’t get your hopes up. The story is not about space shuttles and thersmospheric exploration. In Nigeria, Apollo is the colloquial name for the eye infection called conjunctivitis.
The story traces the budding intimacy between a boy named Okenwa and Raphael, a house-help, and how their vulnerabilities while being infected with Apollo results in the making and breaking of their relationship.
We first meet Okenwa when he is older. An incident triggers memories of childhood days spent with Raphael, watching Bruce Lee movies and sharing small moments of intimacy charged with homo-erotic intensity.
There are people who would read the story and want to talk about Adichie’s commentary on social class and oppression.
But what impressed me are the small moments—like when Bruce Lee enters the story with an almost ghostly intensity to transact the relationship between a boy and the domestic worker he was expected to look down upon.
I love that Adichie goes off on a tangent about the “nunchaku”—a karate training instrument that features a lot in Bruce Lee movies.
In some ways, the story is told like a kung fu narrative—the familiar motif of a wise master and an adoring but fickle student.
I think it’s cute that Okenwa, the main character in the story, finds books and reading boring. His power of imagination takes flight when he encounters Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” and not so much when he reads Great Expectations.
Finally, I like the flitting but palpable moments when Raphael’s leaping, kicking, taut, and graceful pubescent male body is put up on display, contrasted with the aging, menthol-smothered body of Okenwa’s parents.
I really like that the story is about retrospection and how the loss, within time, of a moment in the past can give memory a kind of sad, dreamy texture that storytellers sometimes call melancholy.
I’ll now let you read the story. Leave a comment about your thoughts on the story or on your feelings about Adichie and he work.
What I loved was kung fu. I watched “Enter the Dragon” so often that I knew all the lines, and I longed to wake up and be Bruce Lee. I would kick and strike at the air, at imaginary enemies who had killed my imaginary family. I would pull my mattress onto the floor, stand on two thick books—usually hardcover copies of “Black Beauty” and “The Water-Babies”—and leap onto the mattress, screaming “Haaa!” like Bruce Lee. One day, in the middle of my practice, I looked up to see Raphael standing in the doorway, watching me. I expected a mild reprimand. He had made my bed that morning, and now the room was in disarray. Instead, he smiled, touched his chest, and brought his finger to his tongue, as though tasting his own blood. My favorite scene. I stared at Raphael with the pure thrill of unexpected pleasure. “I watched the film in the other house where I worked,” he said. “Look at this.” Read more
Image by Lexinatrix via Flickr.