This short story review has been imported from my now-defunct review website. I will progressively import the remaining and available reviews throughout the coming months, all of which can be found here.
A family lunch seen through the eyes of a child takes on a different light to the way it would be perceived by the participating adults. A child notices both more, and less, than the adults, and their sensitivity to fluctuations of mood and their empathy for feeling is strong. But their innocence causes them to miss things, to brush over the significant glances shared between adults, the inflection of tone concerning matters that mean little. Sylva Nze Ifedigbo’s The Lunch on Good Friday recounts a particularly important lunch, both because of its significance as a Catholic religious day, and because of the events at the lunch and the repercusions.
The family in question is an unhappy one, and as Tolstoy wrote, unhappy families are different in their unhappiness. For us, it’s a matter of determing why they are unhappy, and how it affects them. Ifedigbo gradually introduces us to the family, which is seen through the eyes of a young girl. She is sensitive and rather delicate, her thoughts often turning to matters of pretty things and delicate objects. She likes eyes, and hair, and mentions them often. She’s a sweet girl, and she knows something is broken in the family.
Surprisingly, what’s wrong is the mother. She is a workaholic, and spends so little time with the family that our narrator’s sister, Mmesi, told her teacher at school that she didn’t have a mother. This caused some laughter at the family’s Sunday dinner, which is the only time they are regularly together, but the laughter was her mother’s, and noticeably not her father’s.
But it continued and with time she stopped coming to my bedside. She got busier. We didn’t see her even on some Sundays. She left us in the care of Aunty Nkoli, Fathers younger sister who lived with us. It was she Mmesi knew as Mummy. Mother was this strange woman who appeared once in a while, buying us snickers chocolate bars and Supreme ice cream and making repeated visits to the fridge to grab a bottle of beer.
The little girl misses her mother, but she does so in an abstract sense. She misses more her Aunt Nkoli, who used to live with them to help out, but no longer.
I missed Aunty Nkoli. Her mien, her smile and the way she ran her hand through my hair. She did not call me by my name. She called me Omalicha and said my beauty was like that of a river goddess. Every Saturday, she would plait my hair in tiny braids that often left me squirming in pain. On cold nights Mmesi and I would snuggle in her bed while she told us stories of life in the village and about the Tortoise and the Hare. It was now almost a year since she stopped living with us.
Ifedigbo very leisurely introduces us to the lunch on Good Friday, peppering the little girl’s thoughts with recollections, which basically serve to provide enough background to make the lunch significant. Her mother is a significant person in her life due to her absence, of course, but the love she feels for her father is strange. It is buried amongst the confusion over her mother’s constant absences, and we suspect that her father, who has been unemployed for some three years at this time, is a particularly weak man. He is being dominated, and this domination extends to both when his wife is not there as much as when she is. He never cringes within the confines of the text, but we have good reason to suspect that he does quite often.
The lunch begins. The guest of honour is Nonso, which is the narrator’s mother’s assistant. The two take over the conversation, filling the table with talk of banks, mergers, accounts and corruption. They seem more outraged at people being caught than what they did, though they are quite incredulous at how blatant things have become.
“I remember you told me about it then. Shameless old man. How on earth did he think he would get ten million without collateral?”
“See me see trouble o. You should have seen the way he stormed out of my office when I told him it wouldn’t be possible. Hmm..he almost barged into my door o on his way out as he was cursing in Arabic and swearing to make sure I lost my job. But you will be shocked my dear, he walked into BNB and walked out with the loan.”
“Ah BNB? Na their way now” Nonso let out a long discomforting laugh which Mother joined in.
We suspect, though the narrator perhaps isn’t aware enough of finance to help our suspicion, that her mother and Nonso may be involved in the shadier aspects of banking as well. At the very least, their job makes them work very close together, and their relationship is presented as being clearly more than just ordinary business.
Nonso’s wife didn’t ever utter a word. She just smiled or sometimes she made a sound in her throat. Mmesioma was busy picking out bones from the fish in her soup and lining them in irregular patterns on her side plate. She was lost in her own world. Father interjected once in a while but for most of the time it was Mother and Nonso talking and laughing. It felt uncomfortable sitting on that table. Though I was done, I couldn’t leave. Mother said it was wrong to leave the table before your elders. So I sat there looking from Nonso to Mother and wondering if Father didn’t feel uncomfortable too.
The ending may not surprise, because the build-up has lasted for so long (the entirety of the story), but it works and slides in well with the rest of the piece. The ending functions as an epilogue of sorts, and in it the narrator is a young adult, and her perspective is coloured from her maturity. Ifedigbo handles both levels of perspective well, and special attention should be given to the way in which he, to my mind, captures the particular and peculiar manner in which a small girl concerned with prettiness and niceness perceives the crumbling of a marriage. The tension of the lunch is exhausting, and everyone bar her mother and Nonso seem paralysed from the oppressive weight of the sheer lack of consideration the two show for their respective families.
The Lunch on Good Friday is another fine story from Ifedigbo, and shows a very different side to his writing style than his other story I have reviewed, the much darker (and lighter, oddly), Death on Gimbiya Street. Certainly an author to keep an eye on.
The Lunch on Good Friday by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is a short story published in The Maple Tree Literary Supplement, an online magazine which “is a new ‘triannual’ journal with 75% Canadian content.”
|Author||Sylva Nze Ifedigbo|
|Title||The Lunch on Good Friday|
|Publisher||The Maple Tree Literary Supplement – Issue 7|
Other works by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo under review:
—Death on Gimbiya Street
—The Hundredth Friend
Nzesylva’s Weblog – Author website
Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.