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 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 ‘The Whispering Trees’ by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
By Veronica Nkwocha
The story opens with a tragedy; the protagonist is involved in an accident and loses his beloved mother. He is at first protected from this knowledge having lost consciousness for a period until he finds himself in hospital.
‘The Whispering Trees’ happened in stages; as though they were five stories woven into one. The ‘Accident’, where the faint moments when he merged almost seamlessly with the other world is described in lyrical language. It carried on to the ‘Awareness’ (of his blindness and the knowledge of his permanent separation from Ummi); the ‘Anger’, (during which saint Faulata lifted the heavy load). The ‘Limbo’ (where the malam had to carry out a ritual) and then the ‘Awakening’ into a quasi-heaven much longed for at the start of the story.
The bruising of Salim’s soul from the moments of the accident was instant and it never got better. Apart from the brief period when he tried; studying braille, weaving baskets and waiting for Faulata. His pain was described in detail taking over more than half of the story. It didn’t detract from the essence because one comes away with a deep understanding of how much his loss impacted him. (Some questions linger; in reality would Salim’s schooling end with just one month to graduating from Medical school?)
The second bruising where Faulata left him to marry someone else sheared off the scab of the wound and pierced another knife. This time, he did not lose consciousness as with the accident but appeared to enter into a trance; as though the first unconsciousness was a twin of this new disappearance from life. It was near identical, like looking in a mirror; the first, a precursor and tangential to the new happening because they both occurred in such close proximity.
Abubakar Ibrahim fluidly and effortlessly moves from one unexpected aspect of the ‘story’ to the next, weaving them together like a tapestry. They work together like an intriguing painting, one almost never knows what to expect next.
In all of this, the move from the known spirituality of religion to that of ‘Sage’ Salim becomes apparent. We see him creating his own philosophy from his awakened soliloquising. It runs like a tiny refrain at first then bursts into a crescendo towards the end.
“Most hearts were tinted crimson because they were so full of anger: They were angry because they felt oppressed and cheated by greedy politicians and their stooges. If the police could pray for accidents and rob the dead, what else could one expect? The fat politicians made it worse. They came with their darkened souls and spat out rubbish about equity and good governance and then farted out corruption’s putrid air. The hypocrisy was stark.”
The soul so hungers for righteousness it invents one. That is what a writer does. And the author does it delicately. He created a world, ethereal, out of the hopelessness. Hues and tints, of beautiful colours and shades; a place where Man is not the king but Kindness, Hope are the ultimate arbiter. A reality where every other living thing but Man (except for a few) carry the mark of perfection; painting their immediate space with a glow of their uniqueness.
“The souls of the trees were so pure and welcoming without a hint of evil about them. All these souls, so pure, so clean, so many, and not one stained by anger, malice or envy: no treachery, no guilt, just innocence. I began then to question man’s moral justifications for lording it over all these beautiful, innocent souls. The contrast from the world I had just come from was so vivid and, somehow, I felt at home among all these pure souls.”
From the Ashes of his accident and his disillusionment, Salim dissolved into a world where he invented peace and a whole new language. ‘Whispering Trees’ started rooted in the concrete, and ended in the ‘supernatural’. (Apart from the odd bit about the gold wristwatch).
“Now, sitting here, in the Whispering Trees, amidst all this beauty and these innocent souls, listening to this heavenly orchestra, I realise that happiness lies, not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you have.”
At the end of it all, Life for Salim was no longer an intrusion as it was when he lost everything. His ‘Awakening’ became a unique gift, a new prism from which Life became something malleable.
* ‘The Whispering Trees’ is on the shortlist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.
Please click on the names below to read reviews of ‘The Whispering Trees’ by other bloggers:
- Literary Prizes: Joining the Caine Prize ‘Blog-Carnival’ (africainwords.com)