The sixteenth Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist was recently announced, and as usual, bloggers give their thoughts on the stories. I begin with The Folded Leaf by Segun Afolabi, who in fact won the Caine Prize in 2005.
The Folded Leaf is about members of a congregation who travel to the city to seek healing for various physical ailments and disabilities through prayer from a celebrity pastor. The story is told through the point of view of twelve-year-old Bunmi, who is blind, and whose keen sense of awareness moves much of the story forward.
From a technical point of view, this is one of the main accomplishments of The Folded Leaf. It takes quite some skill to weave a story this way, and Segun does it well. Through Bunmi, we see the congregants’ hopes and faith before they set on the journey to the city; we feel their panic, fears and anxieties when traffic police stop them and when they are in church trying to get to the pastor; and their disappointment thereafter. We even get an allusion to gay love.
Most significant, I believe, is the sense of uplifting one gets at the end of the story. Bunmi doesn’t feel disappointed. He only chastises himself for having been ‘drawn into all this’, and accepts that ‘this is my life, that it is good enough’. He is thankful for the people he has, and realizes that his situation is in fact not the worst—he recalls ‘the boy dragging himself along the road in the middle of traffic’, who, despite his bleak situation, still has a smile on his face. Segun shows us that sometimes, younger ones can possess maturity and realism beyond their age.
I quite liked the way Segun makes The Folded Leaf a uniquely Nigerian story through use of local phrases that also infuse some humour, such us ‘commot for road’, ‘cannot you see we have been waiting?’, ‘Make we dey go now!’, and na so?’, amongst others. The lighthearted tone of the story makes for easygoing reading, and one might be forgiven for overlooking the underlying sense of desperation that morphs into resignation.
Perhaps one might feel a sense of déjà vu reading about a church, a rich pastor and a miracle that doesn’t happen—recall Miracle by Tope Folarin that won the Caine Prize a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t diminish the merits of the story. I think Segun has done a pretty good job despite the difficulty of telling a story from the point of view of a young boy, which normally entails infusing a measure of simplicity and straightforwardness.
Picture Credit: Caine Prize