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Sanya Osha’s ‘On a sad weather-beaten couch’

Sunday 22 November 2015

Babatunde Fagbayibo

2015-11-09, Issue 750

Will love triumph and invariably bring forth the passport to prosperity? This is the question that grips the reader from the first chapter of the novel. Sanya Osha adopts a simple and clear language to systematically unfold the tempo of this impressive storyline.

‘On a sad weather-beaten couch’ is an enthralling, graphic tale that cleverly captures the unpredictable rhythm of life in a sprawling urban slum. Although not expressly mentioned, it is easy to guess the setting of this novel: Lagos. In this book, Sanya Osha effortlessly switches between the lanes of comfortable and taboo topics, and tempers it with a “read between the line” kind of humour. Sex (and there is lot of this in the novel), incest, adultery, religion, depression, familial bond, crime, hope and courage are some of the themes that carefully sustain the gripping texture of this novel. If this novel was a movie, it would definitely be tagged with the big SNL mark.

The novel is very intense. From the first few pages, the reader is brought face to face with the rawness of the love affair between Ade Bantan (a struggling painter suffering from creativity lethargy) and Enitan (a copywriter and breadwinner). About their first meeting, Sanya Osha writes:

“Ade Bantan looked artsy then; dreadlocks, florid shirts made in Banjul and Dakar, Italian sandals, French cologne, earrings, and metrosexual make-up. It was his time to act, to be cool. Enitan was probably more interested in his get-up than his art. She liked the way he looked and thought he would be an interesting fuck. By the time they left the art gallery, she was already deep kissing him” (page 3).

The juxtaposition of Ade Bantan’s depressed outlook and Enitan’s resilience and matriarchal prowess is cleverly employed as a prism for navigating the rough, topsy-turvy existence of other characters and the harsh neighbourhood they reside in. The picture of the harshness of the neighbourhood is exquisitely presented in the following words (pp 28-29):

“Enitan was lying on the floor. Ade Bantan was on the couch trying to ease into sleep amid the cacophony of tribal drums, Christian singing, and hand clapping. Apart from the noise, the heat made it difficult to sleep. In the entire area, buildings stood very close to each other; the numerous illegal electric connections caused a mess of wires around buildings; generators grumbled and farted at all hours; interminable traffic jams created a permanent haze of carbon monoxide fumes; commercial motorcycle riders criss-crossed crater-littered streets trying to avoid instant death while they chased after money; cops worried about how they would make up their quota of bribes; mortuaries groaned from the weight of the dead; medical doctors schemed to become chartered accountants; street urchins held conferences on new ways to extort money; the ocean vomited coins and cowries delivered by innumerable supplicants on the jolting coasts of West Africa; the streams turned brown and fetid with human waste and dead bodies; hope went around in robes of resplendent colors murdering those who offered prayers to it. Days turned into months, months into years, and the laughter of the dead created earthquakes across the land”

On page 35, the writer paints another interesting picture of the going-on in the area:

“The commercial motorcycle riders hooted the streets. Peddlers of pap, sugar, tea…shouted all day promoting their wares. Fight broke out between husband and wife, distracting everyone’s attention…Clothes went missing on clothing lines and heated conferences were organized to deliberate on new security measures…The mess of electric wires above produced their own peculiar tension. The earth beneath simmered with man-made heat.”

Will love triumph and invariably bring forth the passport to prosperity? This is the question that grips the reader from the first chapter of the novel.

Sanya Osha adopts a simple and clear language to systematically unfold the tempo of this impressive storyline. A “read-between-the-line” type of humour is also cleverly employed to sometime soften the intensity of the storyline. A typical example is the satirical take on Pentecostalism, brilliantly captured through Papa Osaze’s approach:

“The act of prayer in several contemporary Christian denominations was seen as act of war. It was a war against the devil. It was a war against the temptations of the flesh. It was a war against adultery. It was a war against fornication. It was a war against lying. It was a war against covetousness. It was a war against deception. It was a war against disease. It was a war against blindness. It was a war against deafness. It was a war against stroke. It was a war against alcoholism. It was war against drug abuse. It was a war against pagans. It was a war against Muslims. It was a war against adherents of occultism” (pp. 33-34)

Sanya Osha’s writing is vigorously provocative and makes no attempt to conform to "accepted standards" or whatever is deemed as politically correct. This style not only helps sustain the interest of the reader but also fuels the imagination.

One shortcoming of the novel is the disconnected, lengthy discussion of the travails of Benjamin Pancho (pp. 67-122). The author builds on this sub-story as if the novel is a collection of short stories. This approach largely disorganised the flow and build-up of the main story line. However, as soon as this interruptive sub-story endes (pp. 121-122), the intensity of the novel resumes. On the whole, ‘On a sad weather-beaten couch’ is a good, well-written book. It is thus highly recommended.

* Babatunde Fagbayibo is a poet and law teacher. He writes from South Africa.

* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM

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