Antic, Thesis, and Antithesis in Aito Osemegbe’s “The List” by Oyin Oludipe
I didn’t care if they understood what ‘bringing the pot down from fire’ meant. I saw no reason to explain. They want to marry an Ibo girl and they can’t speak Ibo. Nonsense!
It is, sometimes, the critic’s idea that a play, a novel, a poem, a painting or any other creative composition is not a thesis on the ultimate condition of man – even though evolutionary summaries may be made. Still, the praxis, the operation of such testaments is only as compelling as the professing forces that, for a lesser portion of infinite time, invade the stage of the world. This seems to be standard in every progression of the creative human endeavour.
Same is true for culture; namely, the activities, the interactions, the exchanges, upsurge and downswing of palpable manifestations derived in the reproducing of human existence. Somewhere across that rich but protean phase, the authority of the individual is trapped. It is rational to claim that the human society, as history has taught, holds a boundless space to accommodate this non-indulgence. The battle, however, is fought either in the submersion of an escapist rhetoric, a total rejection of all established standards; or a strained acceptance of structures that have been most blatantly retained. The List is an exposition of the antics of culture in practice and in conversation – by a satirist’s pen.
The decision-making should not have been harder than it usually was, but for goodness’ sake, her Chris did not even know that ‘mba’ meant ‘no’ and all he wanted was a ‘Yes’ from us.
The human society, which is portrayed, with a remote class exegesis, is two sparring worlds, yet dancing on the precipice of common gain; each, resolute, declining manipulation into a tacit acceptance of the public slaughter of its kind. The dangers and benefits posed to general society are found in this curious sort of encounter, in this clash of the theses of cultures. On the one hand, an intrusive host that paints a bleak, uninspiring picture of a fragile, fragmented world; and, on the other, the ideologues who claim secession as an utopian counter to the obscenities of a tyrant-world.
“This is insulting. We asked you people to bring one keg and you bring two? Are you saying you know more than us? Or you think we are begging you people?”
Aito’s short story is written as a fascinating account of a marriage arrangement in a “father’s compound” at “Ogudu, Lagos”. The voice, though from a contemporary, is classic; and his sarcasm is revealed in the paranoia of two strange parties, two strange theses – an Ibo household and a Londoner family. But, clearly, as the writer dramatises his character structure, both are an amusing anti-thesis: the arranging, scrupulous former against a casual latter which, by the virtue (or vice) of its eccentricity, is deemed uncaring and arrogant.
The course is easily traced across the lines of subtle antics which run, like a pictorial thread, over the writer’s plot. First, it is the practical contradiction of self-confessions in a first-person narrative. For instance, it is the List-bearer, the Ibo principal arranger of marriage, the “Whirlwind of Umuchoke”, who accuses the Londoner “boy”, Adaeze’s choice, Chris, of ignorance; yet, it is he who says, after a display of a lack of exposure, “Young man, don’t you know that when an Elder farts, the children around must perceive the smell in silence? Whether it is London, Canada, Italy, Portugal, China or Japan, everything is ‘America’. A white man’s land is a white man’s land.” In the earlier part of the story, he also recalls the decision-making phase for Adaeze, the “stubborn fly” who has chosen to marry a white man, as “the transactions of her head, deciding her fate”. Still, he later says, with a consoling gusto, “All these things on this list and our strict adherence to it is not us selling our daughter out to you. It is tradition that has been passed down for centuries.”
At a point, when the bride-list is almost consummated, Aito stages a conflict of expectations—or was it, again, a culture’s antic? Anyway, it is the prime emotional conflict, and his contemptuous narrator explodes. Unfortunately, in attempting to interpret a thesis against an anti-thesis, he becomes the hero-turned-villain, an anti-thesis in himself.
With the loudest voice I could muster, I hushed every other person and spoke the words; the words of doom, “You people should leave here and return when you’re ready to marry.”
What follows, the writer describes, is “silence”, one that “grew intense”, with Chris’ “trembling hands” stretched towards “the backyard door”, towards “the tears on Adaeze’s face”.
The motif of Aito Osemegbe’s work is well-masked. On the surface, it parades itself as an expression of the anti-thesis of differing cultures. Within its distinctive kernel, however, emerges a universal inquiry into what this anti-thesis does to the individual or the idea of individualism; what it does to freedom as a guaranteed plurality of choices; and what it demands of human volition as a responsibility to society or self.
Oyin Oludipe is a Nigerian poet, critic, essayist and columnist. He is on the Wildsound Film Festival Review’s Society Poetry Contest shortlist and edits nonfiction at EXPOUND Literary Magazine. His works have been published in places like The Elduvain Review, Prachya Review, The Bombay Review, and Image Magazine, a journal of creative and critical writings at University of Ibadan, Nigeria.