Teju Cole’s small fates
After reading Teju Cole’s subtle and haunting novel Open City, I began following him on Twitter.
Right away I noticed that he was doing something quite different from the random links and observations most people disseminate. Each tweet was a miniature story—an example of flash fiction taken to the extreme. The ones below were posted on a single day.
Since Mrs Okafor, of Ikoyi, has a phobia of banks, her cook Peter helped himself to the $50,000 she left lying around the house.
Brick by brick, the new mosque sponsored by Alhaji Yusuf in Ijebu Ode went up, and when it was finished, it came down, all at once.
Police will never catch Ojo, alias Paraga, one of Akure’s most notorious criminals. With a noose, he escaped to the afterlife.
It is true that Chidi, of Anambra, beheaded his aunt Margaret, but it wasn’t for a ritual. He just couldn’t stand the woman.
The Audi 80 compact sedan is fast and reliable, with a trunk roomy enough to fit the swollen corpse of an adult male. In Yenagoa.
Digging a little further, I discovered that these tiny stories were not invented but instead were gleaned from Lagos newspapers as a side effect of Cole’s work on a nonfiction book about the city.
As I began work on this project, and was paying more and more attention to daily life in Lagos, a peculiar thing happened. I found myself drawn to the “small” news. I began to read the metro sections of newspapers, and the crime sections. In Lagos itself, where there is a thriving newspaper culture, I bought several papers and went through them each day. In Brooklyn, I rely on the internet, through which I have access to some dozen Nigerian papers each day: Daily Times, NEXT, Vanguard, Punch, This Day, National Mirror, Tribune, PM News, Guardian, and so on. What I found in the metro and crime sections of these papers was a different quality of everyday life. It was life in the raw, as one might find in the Daily News or the New York Post, but not in the Times. A lot of this material does not have direct bearing on the book I am working on. It is too brief, too odd, and certainly too sensational for the kind of writing the book requires. The material needed another outlet.
Teju Cole may consider them a mere by-product, but his collected “small fates” would make a strange, small, oddly absorbing book of their own.