*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 ‘Miracle’ by Tope Folarin
By Veronica Nkwocha
‘Miracle’ (read here) begins with an all too familiar tale in the diaspora, a people uprooted and fragmented leaning close together huddling with the familiar. The thread that binds them in this story is religion and its ‘familiar’ rituals of service. The particular service presents an extreme focus on a man at the apex and a shivering pool of the faithful expectant of the heady feelings that herald a shared knowing as to their wholesomeness.
A most fascinating attribute about the story lies in the things it doesn’t say. ‘Miracle’ presents the congregants as almost child-like. Like a group of uniform wearing kids sitting up straight jacketed in class afraid of breaking any of the many rules, whether written or unspoken. The service is orgasmic but even when they dance happily and ecstatic, they do so in tandem with the dictates of an unseen conductor.
It is a church service and the supernatural typically trumps the physical, a spring where the faithful can draw strength to face the tough world outside. (Edit) It’s everyone doing the same thing lost in an ‘other-worldliness’ that creates an unsettling feeling, is that how its adherents are really perceived from the outside looking in?
Here wishes and desires take a front seat before reality; hope is worn leaving the dress of truth behind. The eyes of the boy were not healed but the glasses were cast aside. Is that faith? Will he see with perfect clarity? As the story draws us along, hope clatters to the ground and shatters into many pieces.
The craving for success especially in dollars burns showing up in the prayers of the faithful, a twin of the driven energy they left back home.
The author’s use of a blind Prophet tugs as though the fine print at the end of a tedious contract, caveat emptor. It is waved aside and explained away as if any intrusion of this all important fact would muddy the otherwise pristine pool of faith.
The role the individual plays in receiving the miracle lies in the emphasis of the Prophet’s words;
“The only barrier to your blessing is the threshold of your belief.”
And so any failings should the miracle not happen squarely rests in the ‘unbelief’ of its owner; the dispenser shirking any responsibility deftly passing the buck although his role in dispensing it appears ‘God-like’.
Through it all, the isolation of the church setting from the mainstream is evident. If they have come from far away to evangelise the people of strange lands, it would be counted as a dismal failure. Their absence from the room sits loud akin to the proverbial elephant. If they are here to be an oasis for its people uprooted from Nigeria, they are a heralding success.
The author tells the narrative from the point of view of one who is part of the congregation but there is a suspicion that he sits in the service but has seen it play out almost like a voyeur. Embarrassed, like a young child who has just witnessed its parents lie.
He leaves, not totally empty handed, he is grateful for other blessings and he reaches for them content. In a sense, he has drawn out of the spring although he took a very convoluted route towards a destination that would have been apparent without the ‘shenanigans’ of the Prophet.
The stories of miracles in modern Christianity are mostly told from the compassionate viewpoint of its proponents. ‘Miracle’ by Tope Folarin stands at a different vantage point emphasising the one less spoken about, the millions who leave as they came.
*Miracle is on the shortlist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.
Please click on the names below to read reviews of ‘Miracle’ by other bloggers:
- Literary Prizes: Joining the Caine Prize ‘Blog-Carnival’ (africainwords.com)
- Tope Folarin (Nigeria) ‘Miracle’ from Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012)