For “Allah Dey” Odunewu: Ikhide, Meet Chekhov
by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
I once wrote some nonsense on Facebook right after my second glass of cognac, the sort that comes easily to me after ogogoro has started making me see tomorrow. It went something like this: “America. Night. The trees lean on the road, limbs gnarled with need, pawing weary cars, leaves whispering, ‘Oga sah! Anything for the boys?’” An impressed white writer who happened to be at home drinking also, asked me: “There is something Chekhovian in your use of language. Do you write short stories and, if so, was Chekhov an influence?”
I had heard of Chekhov, a great white writer who wrote many great things. All African writers are on first name basis with him including those who have never read Chinua Achebe. Over the years I have acquired Chekhov’s books hoping to bone up on them in case I get that all important call from The New Yorker for an interview in which a great legendary writer, say Salman Rushdie, would ask me questions on the post-Chekhovian influences in my profound works. Unfortunately, each time I try to read Chekhov; I fall asleep on his book. It is an embarrassing medical issue. Ben Okri’s books fill me with wonder also, that there are human beings on earth that have managed to finish one, just one of his books. I have all his books and I can assure the world that I have fallen asleep on every one of them, beginning with The Famished Road. Okri is a genius but many of his books are quite simply unreadable. I said it, sue me. Life is too short to be miserable just because you want to brag that you have read Okri.
So when the writer asked me about Chekhov’s influence on my works, I panicked. This man was going to disgrace me today on Facebook with over one thousand pair of amebo eyes watching gleefully. Before I could google Chekhov, my good friends, the writers Olu Oguibe and Obiwu Iwuanyanwu (Obiwu) rushed to my rescue. Well, sort of. They assured him that Ikhide would not know Chekhov from Czechoslovakia, that indeed my drunken words were influenced by ogogoro – my number one influence in life. I am not making this up, here is word for word what Obiwu wrote: “Now dem dey say na Chekhov dey make Ikhide write as im dey write! But no, no be Chekhov at all. Na Chike Offia im next door neighbor for Okpanam dey influence Ikhide im grammar! “Chike Offia! Right after that hurtful but awfully accurate analysis of the degree of my vacuity, my white friend immediately unfriended me on Facebook. Now, thanks to my friends Oguibe and Obiwu, I have no white friends on Facebook. With bad belle friends like those who needs enemies?
It took me exactly two weeks to finish reading Teju Cole’s Open City because every sentence required a visit to Google, all these dead white people that have written wondrous things and played heavenly music. My nightmare is that I will one day meet Teju Cole AND debate him on Alexander Solzhenitsyn and something called the Gulag Archipelago, gulp!
Whenever I am going anywhere stressful, like work, I always take Chinua Achebe’s Thing Fall Apart with me, don’t ask me why. One day, at the hospital, this doctor glances at the book and said casually, “I have read that book!” I was so excited, I almost wept with gratitude, why, a Westerner has actually read the greatest book ever written by a human being who happens to be African. I don’t know any white writer who can name an African writer besides Chinua Achebe. We should call them shallow insular illiterates. I am now studying important dead white writers because this newspaper would like to interview me (yes, I am a superstar, may your bad belle not kill you). If they ask me to talk about my literary influences and I respond truthfully, it would be full of nonsense: “Well, my most powerful literary influence is Achebe, followed by James Ngugi (that’s what we called him before he got confused and started writing in Swahili!). Also, my uncle Elephant taught me about the power of words especially after a very tall tumbler of apeteshie. My mother Izuma, Razor Blade of Nigeria taught me how a woman with the right words can get a tall strapping powerful man like my Papalolo flying across a room whimpering with hurt. And Alade Odunewu (Allah Dey!) and Andy Akporugo and the comics. Fearless Fang used to ride his elephant in Boom. There was Rabon Zollo and Lance Spearman And of course all the njakiri poets I have hung out with on the rugged streets of my village, prattle prattle prattle!” I can just imagine the pen in the interviewer’s hand freezing stiff with shock, her face going, “You are shitting me! YOU don’t know Chekhov?” Now, dear oyinbo interviewer, do you know “Allah de” Odumewu? Nonsense.