By Emmanuel Monychol
I am not a critical evaluator of creative works, but I am moved to write something about Lillian Aujo’s fine work, beginning with her poem, The Eye of Poetry. If Aujo’s poem has left me with a sense of mixed excitement, her short story, “Getting Somewhere,” has left me deeply unsettled, like Vincent, the main character, taunted by the world around him, including a dead mother, who hovers around him in her gomesi.
In The Eye of Poetry, one ponders what sort of eye: Is it like the eye of an old man in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, hated by a young character? Can one know if The Eye of Poetry is devilish or angelic? Aujo uses powerful images to describe the subtleties of poetry. Of course, there is no right answer to what poetry is:
“It is useless to try to fathom how/Without seeming to say much, it says so much/How it clings to you like the little hand of a small child begging you to stay/Or, like the sticky filmy strands of the spider whose web you never see – but/You walk right into anyway…”
That is why the persona will not “graduate” from its institution of higher learning, “because no matter how hard – I try/I will never tell it all – the secret way of its patterns…”
Stranger still, is Getting Somewhere. Ironical. In a bus ride to the city, a teenager is unsettled more than the mother, who knows the world better. What is it that bothers him? Is it the running trees or some unknown bad omen? In his adult life, there were more things that made him uneasy than the reminder of a bus ride in a dream. With his mother dead, Vincent is faced with responsibility and exploitation. He has to take care of his father and also pay his siblings’ school fees, as much as five million shillings, yet he works in a small office with a cruel boss, who is willing to lend him money at an exaggerated interest rate in the name of times are hard. ‘He who does not take care of his siblings is a dog.’ Lucky Dube, the beloved South African reggae musician sang: What kind of person are you/If you do not take care/Of your close family members…
Like many Africans, Vincent’s education brings with it greater family responsibility. His Dad is a retired primary school teacher whose pension is delayed, and may never be processed because the officials doubt the spelling of his names. Like Chinua Achebe’s stressed character (Obi Okonkwo) in No Longer At Ease, issues of money may land Vincent in jail.
Getting Somewhere is in fact getting nowhere, which evokes empathy towards Vincent. The consistent use of the second person narrative works amazingly in this story.