When you arrive at Umuahia by 10pm to visit your cousins for the Christmas holiday, because their house is closer to your school than your parents’ house in Lagos, you will pass by the tall square-shaped tower with a sign at its peak on all four sides proclaiming “Welcome to God’s own state.” When you get to the bus park, do not attempt to leave without calling your cousin to pick you up in his black, battered catering van. If you do, you will wander in the dark night, pulling your noisy roller bag behind you, looking for your cousin’s house in Amuzukwu. You will wonder again for the umpteenth time why the capital of Abia state does not have functioning street lights, and the rationale behind the governor ordering transport companies not to move about after 9pm for security reasons. You will ask questions of two people in white cherubim and seraphim robes sitting in front of a church and you will be directed to the wrong place. Then you will give up and walk to the only landmark you know—Shoprite. You will call your cousin with your phone battery on 4%, fervently hoping you are not robbed before he gets there. You would be disillusioned by this experience if your mind hadn’t already given your past experiences the surreal quality of a fairy tale since the two times you were here as a child.
Three words to describe the climate: early fall, harsh.
Best time to visit? Spring
The most striking physical features of the city/ town are:
A first time visitor to Nsukka will notice an environment full of hills, with houses at the valleys and at the breasts of the hills. Then he moves closer to notice a usually crowded park where the people’s central market, Ogige, is located. Not long ago, the roads were really in bad shape but things have changed now. The new state governor gave the town a serious facelift in terms of road reconstruction and it has increased access to and from the town.
When the storm’s coming, you can feel it. The atmosphere’s tense, quivering the leaves, hot, damp air close up to your face, the cloud doubling and darkening, metallic grey, sucking in the light. There’s a portent in the frenzy of birds and the cat’s retreat into the bottom of the clothes cupboard. Sometimes night falls and everything is still on edge, pending. The child loves to hear the thunder sneak up in the dark with a low growl. She counts the seconds after each cannonade. When the rain finally falls, you can’t hear much else, even when there’s shouting. She likes to climb out of bed into her window and get gooseflesh in the wind, then to jump back, shivering, under the covers to get warm. Then she does it again. Once there were hailstones, thrashing the asbestos roof. The noise obliterated everything, like a drug; she slept.
Happiness, Like Water is both an apt and a paradoxical title for Chinelo Okparanta’s debut collection. In these ten stories which deal primarily in the domestic, happiness is indeed essential and elusive, but it is neither clear nor cleansing. Many of the characters can only be happy at someone else’s expense: mothers who pressure their daughters to marry rich men or barren women who prey on pregnant ones, for example.
Okparanta dedicates the book to home. Home is the center of these stories, and whether in Nigeria or the U.S., it has the power to haunt. The protagonists are Nigerian women who find themselves on the edge of some great rift. Okparanta explores their descents, surrenders, and occasional elation using quiet language and unadorned structures. Her interior focus makes the high drama of midnight robberies, murderous “old maids,” and a virgin turned escort feel commonplace in comparison with the unyielding pressure, internal and external, facing these characters.