Blood Will Call
by Sola Osofisan
Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2012
Sola Osofisan’s Blood Will Call is a 131-page collection of ten short stories. The stories are thematically linked, mainly concerned with the private and social life of the African, Nigerian, migrant who either settles in the United States, or moves between the States and her homeland. Coming several years after Osofisan himself has settled in the States, Blood Will Call (don’t mind the rather apocalyptic title) is a testimony, even a testament, of a keen insider-watcher of the alarming phenomenon of migration that hit Africa in the 1990s, bringing about the exodus of Nigerians to the States, and other parts of Europe. A significant dimension of this book is its recalling of slavery, of enslavement, which historically began with taking African captives from their land and sending them across the Atlantic. And the feeling one has after reading the entire stories is that the condition of slavery for Africans is a continuous one – it continues to remain in existence except that it takes different shapes.
The first story “A Mother Screaming”, strategically positioned, dramatises the earliest condition of slavery. It is about a mother and her daughter, Ebitimi, who stray far into the forest in search of firewood. The heavily pregnant mother suddenly succumbs to labour. She suffers spasms of pain. Ebitimi is not able to help. Even when her mother asks her to go seek for help, she wanders about the forest and, alarmingly, circles to where her mother has been lying down in pains. But by now her mother, all alone, has been delivered of the much wanted baby boy. Father will be happy; but Mother is still losing blood. Suddenly they hear a sound: “It was the rattling sound […] like chains swinging in time” (7). Mother immediately knows slave dealers are here; she knows her end has come. She gives the infant to Ebitimi: “Be gentle. Promise me that you will take care of him and get him back to your father” (8). Mother, in spite of her loud cries and supplication, is forced to join “a long coffle; men, women and children chained in pairs with iron shackles and neck collars” (8). That is how Mother becomes a victim of the slave trader, and “Ebitimi cried and would not be consoled” (10).
To juxtapose the story of Ebitimi’s mother and that of Uche in “Don’t Come to America, Emeka” is to discern the link between what in the past was forced enslavement and what today is wilful enslavement. As moving as “A Mother Screaming,” the story of Uche begins from a wilful surrender to the lures of “America” through the instrument of American Visa Lottery. Uche had been a practicing medical doctor in Nigeria, doing quite well at Maumedina Specialist Hospital in Lagos before his wife, head of Planned Parenthood in Lagos, wins a Diversity Visa Lottery. The hope of living big in God’s own country deflates, as soon as they relocate, having realized that their “bags full of professional experience and academic credentials from Nigeria meant nothing in the American job market” (69). Worse, when Uche has to start at the beginning by attempting the US Medical Boards Step 1 examination, he fails; in fact, he attempts it four times and fails. His conviction is that “the owners of [America] really don’t want [him] here” (70). What is even more stressed in the story is the reversal of gender roles which extremely hurts Uche. His wife Martha happens to do well, qualifies as a nurse, is lured by the wealth behind multiple shifts in her nursing job (thus having no time for her family), and buys a house in an exclusively white neighbourhood. Besides his contempt for his wife’s extravagance and her boundless desire to Americanise herself and her children, Uche has the feeling of being completely reduced to a housemaid having to play all the gender roles his wife played in Nigeria: “I make most meals for the children, help them with their homework, do the laundry, attend school functions […], and shop for groceries” (73). His conclusion is that “My wife lured me to America to castrate me” (72). With such conclusion, Uche advises his friend, Emeka, who has decided to relocate to America, not to come to America. Indeed, Uche tells his own story in order to discourage Emeka from coming to America.
Similar stories of African migrants in the States, each with its dose of satire, are “Fire is an African God,” “Afterlife,” “Maka Knows!” and “Fallen.” Other stories take us to Nigeria, giving us vivid descriptions of the incredible poverty and systemic failures that come as good excuses for emigrating out of the country. “Black Maria,” for instance, tells the story of a family that moves back to Nigeria, having lived for a while in the States, and faces the horror of cheap death. Maria, middle-aged, is pregnant for the first time after many trials and wants her husband to take her to the US to deliver her baby. But labour comes earlier than expected, and at a time her husband is crucially engaged with the president of the country. When she asks for ambulance to convey her to hospital, a Black Maria is brought. Reason: no ambulance! Heavy traffic on the way to hospital forces her to go into labour in the van. And when the driver breaks police rules in order to drive faster to hospital, the police spray bullets on the vehicle, killing Maria and the driver. Osofisan’s Blood Will Call can therefore be said to capture the struggles of Nigerians at home and abroad.
In each of the story Osofisan is at his best as a wordsmith, waxing poetic, even consciously sounding turgid in the story “See! (The Maker of Images).” His sense of humour comes through in the stories of Nigerian migrants in the States. He displays commendable skill in the crafting of dialogue as exemplified in such stories as “Fire is an African God,” which is structured mostly as conversations. Blood Will Call is certainly a significant contribution to the growing literature by migrant Nigerian writers about the social issues in their host diasporic societies.