*This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for the next five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.
My Thoughts on Bayan Layi (A Short Story by Elnathan John)
By Veronica Nkwocha
‘Bayan Layi‘ boils down the effects of socio-political problems of a certain kind of abandonment, distills it and presents it to us as Dantala and his friends. Nature abhors a vacuum and we are cast into a tale of the repercussions. And one wonders how this  ‘travesty’ became a reflection of us as a people, tied as we are to the author’s vivid description. It sets the tone where one feels a revulsion but can’t quite look away.
There is the niggling sensation as one reads this story; is it our failings as nurturers that spawn the ones who view killing as no more than a fly to be swatted? Empty spaces filled up with perverse watering holes feeding the plains where teenagers can strut their stuff boldly. Enabled by puppeteers who weave their hypnotic lies into the webs in which the Bandas and the Dantalas roam, stars in their eyes, believing they are free. They are there, barely mentioned in the story, a metaphor for real life; behind the scenes, unobtrusive but superlatively influential.
‘Bayan Layi’ peels all the layers of the onion and as we read, our eyes water at the hopelessness of the situation, babies bearing arms, the thing in them, the tender part of them broken, viewing the ‘other’ as worthless; a blurred reflection of a long forgotten part of themselves.
The absent giant, a Mother appears to have unwittingly bred in her children, an anger, a fear. The pita pat of her little ones feet, ‘Bayan Layi’s children evocatively ran not to collect presents from her but to commit the forbidden. To fall down in the middle of the streets, ill and broken, hunted and at the same time, the hunter…reaching out for her hands and never quite getting there.
The hope of a shelter for homeless boys and the opportunity to learn a handicraft making chairs or clothes tickles Dantala’s imagination. “Will they really build us that shelter?”he asks giving away a longing for normality. Banda, older toes the line of reality culled from years of observing politics playing itself out, wisely opines, “After the election, where will you see them?”
Doomed to a life of wandering as the story ends, a question hovers un-uttered perhaps urging the reader towards introspection; who will gather the scattered? Among them are those who might otherwise be teachers, doctors, and builders etc., cast away as younglings into a dark pit. And we wonder at the spitting cobra that emerges years later machete in hand, his only concern, the weight and sharpness of the tool. Is it a wonder why he does not recognise us when he sees us, he has never ‘seen’ us, it was too dark in there.
- Four Nigerians shortlisted for African writing prize (vanguardngr.com)
- Per Contra, Fall 2012, http://www.percontra.net/issues/25/fiction/bayan-layi/