Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

meeting-soyinka-olaoluwa-oni

Tuesday, 4th October, 2016

The Universe speaks, sometimes, through hot angry rays, expressing disappointment over the several holes we drilled in the ozone layer, or something like that. Other times, a lovely alignment of stars so that on the day Soyinka is scheduled to speak in my school, I am chatting with Ainehi, and she mentions, in passing, that I should take a picture with Him. It is also the day I brought my camera to school. On the day Soynika spoke, the Universe spoke.

It is not the first time Soyinka is speaking at New York University – He spoke the day before; it is not the last time – He will speak again, on Friday. But I received instruction today, clear: “Speak to Soyinka.  Actually speak- engage Him, not loiter in silence, a voiceless prop, like you did at Ake Festival, as you are wont to do.

The first opportunity comes soon, not later, just before the event begins. He is standing outside the venue, away from His minders, a clear invitation. I walk to Him, past Him, then U-turn, to a spot beside the registration desk, a complete cycle. I pretend to study the materials on the desk, arranged in neat stacks, as I entreat courage to accompany for the encore.  From the fringe, I watch one of His minders walk towards Him, until they are mouth to ear. A few seconds, imperceptible sounds relay, He nods, turns, away from the venue. A wave of regret, panic hits, activating stalker mode so I follow Him – to a nearby restaurant where he is sitting out the pre-commencement wait. I sit at a table, far from Him, accept the menu from a smiling waiter and stare at the listed items until I actually see – that the price list is way, way above my budget for stalking miscellaneous. I stand, adjust my shame so it spreads over all of me, and leave to find food I can afford.

I return as the event is winding down, in time to catch Soyinka chastising the “Youth” about our obsession with technology, and perceived disinterest in real living. Ostensibly, literary greatness and godlikeness does not exclude Him from His generation’s irritation at our generation’s “pressing phone” habits. The moderator invites questions from the audience – Opportunity 2.  Again, I decline invitation, especially after the first questioner throws ominous suggestions that Soyinka entertains latent gender bias, thoroughly irritating Him.  The event ends slimming my chances to comply, expanding the portent of my striking a toe against a stone, or some other sign that the Universe is out to get me.

I join the throng of admirers jostling for His attention, His knowledge, acknowledgement that we exist – seeking to fashion an affirmative answer to the question often asked, in mockery, of enthusiasts: “Does *insert famous person’s name* even know you exist?” I attempt invading His personal space, enough to take a picture with Him, without actually taking a picture with Him. I fail. I settle into the realization that I will have to follow the Universe’s instructions closely – “actually speak, engage Him”. I watch Him round off a conversation with an insistent old lady who had dug up a frayed picture: her and Soyinka, when He still had dark hair, fossilized proof that they go way back. He ended the conversation, eyes first: a slackening of His gaze, before turning away bodily, an indubitable “I’m done with you.” I step up, game plan somewhat arranged – Introduce myself as Nigerian, Student and Worshipper of the sentence, then with a straight face, make a joke about how His white hair bears striking similarities with the angelic halo, reap the rewards of making a great man laugh – public acknowledgement of my wit, humor.

I tell Him I am Nigerian and He tells me He figured as much, interrupting the exhibition of my wit. I lose track, can’t figure out the next line, so I fall to incoherent sycophancy: I think He is a great writer, I think Abeokuta is picturesque, I think Ake (the book, place and festival) are proof of heaven. He looks concerned, then bored, His eyes are beginning to glaze, I need a plan B.

Then, my mouth develops a brain of its own and I hear it challenging the genius of the man, something about how it is not accurate to suggest that young people are constantly faffing on their phones, and how most of the time, we are actually engaged in intellectual debates. My hands follow my mouth and start gesticulating, emphasizing, like I am in court and Soyinka is the opposing lawyer. In this analogy He is also the judge, obviously. He smiles. Kindly? Indulgently? Impressed, I decide.

“Interesting” He says, before His minder whisks Him away, making an excuse about time.

As I head home, I cannot explain it, but Adekunle Gold’s “Pick Up” strikes as the song for the moment so I schedule it on replay.

My one regret? The fuzzy pictures. But, hey, “so as not to offend the gods”, right?

***********

About the Author:

Portrait - Olaoluwa OniOlaoluwa is a graduate Student at the New York University, School of Law. If you can’t find her on the streets of Manhattan, check the library. She may be reading or writing, or, most likely, doing both. Otherwise, she is tucked away making life-defining choices: Beer or Red wine, E-books or Paper-print. She typically tweets her final answers on @lalspeaks or blogs about them at www.olaoluwaoni.blogspot.com

Tags: ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Chika Unigwe Speaks About Igbo Identity at Centre for Memories Monthly Distinguished Speaker Series

Photo credit: woman.ng

Nigerian author and professor Chika Unigwe recently spoke at the Centre for Memories, Enugu Sports Club, in Old GRA, Enugu […]

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Second Novel Acquired by Booker Prize-Winning Publisher, Oneworld

10288785_10152345455529486_3443296343730493266_n

Oneworld has acquired the rights to Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s second novel. Titled The First Woman, the novel is the third […]

African Literati React to Oscars Disqualification of Nigeria’s First Ever Entry, Lionheart, with Conversation on Language, Colonial Legacy

Photo credit: Lionheart still, Netflix

On November 5, 2019, African Twitter was abuzz with the news that Lionheart (2018), Nigeria’s first ever submission to the Academy […]

Opportunity for African Writers | Submit Your Work for the 2020 K & L Prize

k-l_poster_2020_final

The 2020 K & L Prize is open for submissions. Currently in its second year, the $1000 NZ prize was […]

South African Literary Awards 2019: All the Winners

Photo credit: Litnet

The winners of the 2019 South African Literary Awards (SALA) were announced on Thursday, November 7, at a ceremony held […]

“A Hymen is Where Angels Live”: Chika Unigwe, Molara Wood, Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, and the Definitions of Hymen You Never Knew Existed

Image credit: William Blake, Jacob's Dream

Yesterday started off as an ordinary day on African literary Twitter. There was the usual announcement of newly published books […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.