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Olayinka Oyegbile

Gulu Station as a metaphor

Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future – Ban Ki Moon

(When The Sky Is Ready The Stars Will Appear, Ouida Books, 2021)

 

The history of man right from creation is laden with migration, relocation, movement and search for better life. It does not matter how far or tough it is to get what man desires, as long as he feels the goal is not where he is; the desire to move becomes necessary and all must be done to achieve this.

It is against this background of man in search of better life far from where he is that E. C. Osondu’s When The Sky Is Ready The Stars Will Appear is set in Gulu Station, a fictional village so named because a train station, which eventually was not built was supposed to pass there. It is the story of Bros who has just returned from Rome with lots of goodies that seem inexhaustible and enough to go round everyone that visited him. The nameless narrator, a young boy, seems impressed and the generosity of Bros seems to capture his imagination. He becomes a courier of love messages between Bros and an old lady known as Miss Koi Koi.

Every young person needs a model, at least someone to look up to and pray to be like. The young impressionable narrator sees this in Bros and wishes to be like him. Since the day Bros arrives in Gulu Station he becomes close to him and is able to do a lot for him and get to admire him the more. This serves as the lever for his dream, he begins to see Gulu Station as a place that is too small to make him realise his ambition to live like Bros and influence his community the same way the return of Bros from Rome has done for him.

Bros did not help matters. He stoked the interest of the narrator in the way he gave out goodies to all, he refurbishes his dilapidated father’s house which had hitherto become a resting place for lizards who took refuge in its cracked walls and crevices. The magic touch of Bros and his fairy lifestyle became the touchstone and this becomes a launchpad when some men came to the station in search of young men to recruit into the rebel army. To escape conscription many of the young men flee the village and the narrator joins. Even with just a simple phone number of Bros who promised him before leaving that he should call him when he gets to Rome, he sets out.

As it is with such a journey without map, he goes through the desert and meets many like him looking for the Eldorado abroad. He meets men, women, boys and all on the trip and they all move together in search of the future.

Osondu has in this short novel done a very touching story that points at the dangers of having wrong picture or notion of life abroad. He did not in any way dwell on the usual meal of such journey that paints a picture of leaving hell for paradise. It is a story told from the perspective of the characters who journey through the desert and meet at a point where they know or perhaps never knew their transporters are all part of a web woven to dispossess them of their little earnings and humanity.

On the journey he meets many like him. People such as Anyi, Ayira, Tafiq, and Abdu each with his or her own dream of their destination etched in their minds.

One who embarks on the journey because his love was shunned and by a woman he loves. To make sure he gets her he decides to embark on the journey to make money and perhaps return to have her! He meets many like him and everyone has a reason or the other for embarking on the journey. Humans have varied reasons for doing things and one man’s genuine reason may sound or look foolish to another.

Osondu has used Gulu Station and Bros’ return as a metaphor to represent for Africa that draw to fulfill that human insatiable search for satisfaction to get to know what is going on in other lands and places. In When The Sky Is Ready he has woven a captivating tale that is not stereotypical and a rehash of familiar stories of agonies and suffering while crossing the desert. He has told a familiar story in a new and gripping manner that is typical of him. Osondu has with this book further confirmed his place in the literary firmament that he can choose a familiar theme and turn it around in such a way that you yearn for more. That is the hallmark of a good writer.

It is a book a fast reader can read in a day and feel he has travelled round the world in such a short time without missing all the essentials. He sets the reader thinking and allow him see the issue in a different light thus confirming Helon Habila’s words that his writing is “inventive, entertaining and thought-provoking.”

As Osondu pointed out in an interview, Gulu Station “Is the story of Africa. We were living innocent, happy contented lives until the intrusion from the West and this is what Bros represents.” So, the story is like a dead elephant and the blindmen who all came to partake in the feast of cutting their own share of the meat. It represents or looks different to each of them depending on which side they stand to take their portion.

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