Olikoye is the latest short story from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author of Americanah, Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and We Should All Be Feminists – all of which, I am ashamed to say, I have not read yet. But this is why I thought, perhaps, I should read Olikoye first – to be able to have a feel – to be introduced – to Adichie’s writing. Short stories allow readers that: to “sample” authors’ works as a preliminary to reading their full-length ones.
The story opens to the unnamed narrator’s water breaking. She is about to give birth to her firstborn.
How softly the rain fell that Monday morning when my water broke. Because I was used to the raging downpours of Lagos, this quiet patter calmed me, filled me with peace.
Olikoye is the name of the child. He is named after a real-life figure, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, former Minister of Health of Nigeria, the man responsible for introducing vaccines and health care programs to remote villages in the country. Consequently, the man was also responsible for saving the lives of many children and teaching family planning.
The possibility of Minister Olikoye being a real-life figure did not enter my mind until it occurred to me to look up the name on Google. When I realized that he was, I wondered how much of the story was based on real events: Did Adichie know him personally? Did her father? Was the latter the Minister’s driver back in the day?
It took mere moments. A baby’s small open mouth and a drop of liquid. A baby’s warm arm and a small injection. It took that to save the lives of the babies born that year in my village, and in the villages around us and those far from us, in Calabar and Enugu and Kaduna. It took that to save my life.
To be honest, I had no problem if the story was entirely based on someone’s first-hand experiences with the Minister. Neither did it matter to me if it weren’t, and that Adichie merely created a fictional family to demonstrate how the Minister went about the business of introducing immunizations to far-flung places in Nigeria. Instead, I took this story as a simple homage to a man who did his countrymen well during his lifetime. That is something that is hard to come by these days.
“The Minister treated all of us like human beings,” he said. “Like human beings.”
I nearly forgot to say: the writing is lovely, and I will read Americanah next.
Read Olikoye here.