Essais: Cell One by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
'The first time our house was robbed, it was our neighbor Osita who climbed in through the dining-room window and stole our TV and VCR, and the “Purple Rain” and “Thriller” videotapes that my father had brought back from America. The second time our house was robbed, it was my brother Nnamabia, who faked a break-in and stole my mother’s jewelry.'
Straight in, like a sledgehammer to a window, Adichie hurtles the reader into a plot of archetypes: the prodigal son (Nnamabia), transformation from innocence to experience (an arrest), a trial in the desert (a stay in prison), a tyrant challenged (the jail officers over the treatment of an old man) and the emergence of a hero, newly minted (Nnamabia's release from prison).
The political overtures are highly audible. There is corruption amongst the police; the youth, especially the young men, are dabbling in cults and ever escalating acts of violence, too spolied to be disciplined, too naive to be meaningful players on the main stage of Nigeria's war within itself.
Nnamabia is the apparent central character, but the sister is the narrator - who there holds the real power, I wonder. She starts the tale as a younger sister, observing the wayward behaviour of her brother; she is there, the voyeur, when her parents systematically ignore all the red flags of a youth bent on reckless exploration, and she is there, to throw a quiet stone in the windshield, protesting that that day, she will not have her and her parents drive three hours to visit her feckless brother in prison. But though the child may start as the cynic in the garden of earthly delights, upon the release of her brother, bruised and beaten, she is a young woman, desperately in need of a hero in an uncertain world.
Adiche gathers the folds of the story with ever quickening pace towards the end. The parents of before, mute to the delinquencies of their son, find frustration and exclamation ever more their chosen language;
'Good day, sir,” he said to my father.
“Where is our son?” my father asked. My mother breathed noisily.
“No problem, sir. It is just that we transferred him. I will take you there right away.” There was something nervous about the policeman; his face remained blank, but he did not meet my father’s eyes.
“We got the order this morning. I would have sent somebody for him, but we don’t have petrol, so I was waiting for you to come so that we could go together.”
“Why was he transferred?”
The fear that perhaps their son will never return, is an electrifying point in the story, and with verve Adichie keeps the reader flat-footed, until the son emerges, '...his arm was covered in soft-looking welts. There was dried blood around his nose.' He has survived, but no more is he the cock-sure young man of the opening lines. He is awake now. The question I find haunting in the final few lines, does he remain the hero, or is his loss of innocence a call into the dark?
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