I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up A Broken People’s Playlist. I mean, I’ve read a couple of Chimeka’s stories before, but as a rule of thumb, I emptied all expectations and went into it with a fresh mind.
So, how did it go?
I’d like to let you know that I had an interesting journey with it. Chimeka’s writing is special, and this is because I don’t have adequate words to describe it. His art reminds me of a ballerina who dances like a butterfly, light and sprightly, floating over the surface like she couldn’t hurt a fly. But when you look closer at her legs and thighs and see the power of her muscles, strength and skill it takes to make one fluid movement, you begin to appreciate the work it took to get there. That was how my experience with the book went.
A Broken People’s Playlist by Chimeka Garricks is a collection of short stories, each inspired by a song. Some of the characters in the stories are connected, and as you move from one tale to another, certain characters pop up again. The timelines drift through decades, showing us the lives of people incredibly human. In other words, broken. There are no saints here, and I think anyone can connect with them.
Themes I found in this book are redemption, love, death, coming of age, survival, courage, forgiveness, faith, lost love, rebirth, sexual abuse, vulnerability and circle of life. The beautiful thing about the way all this was depicted was the subtlety. Chimeka doesn’t go hard on the emotions, yet you feel them. They slowly creep up on you, and you soon begin to fall into the rhythm of his style.
It is an easy read, unapologetic about Nigerian patois; and the movement from scene to scene flows flawlessly. Plus, it shocks you now and then – especially with the love scenes. It is not a book for small children. I particularly appreciate two things about it. The first is that Chimeka doesn’t leave you wondering about a character’s reason for why they behave the way they do. Even when your head doesn’t ask questions, he gives you answers, which makes the character arcs richer. The second is that despite the themes, the book is far from preachy. It is, in every manner, entertaining, as it is thought-provoking.
Generally, A Broken People’s Playlist is guy-lit. Yeah, the collection of stories lean more towards the lives and times of Nigerian men that remind us of the ones in our lives. Men we can relate with. Hence, the play at emotions of the characters is as you’d expect a masculine read to be. And this is a breath of fresh air for someone like me who reads and writes similar stories, but mostly from the viewpoint of women. We get to see how men handle their pain, deal with the loss of a child, find redemption after they fall, and hold onto faith when the world around them shakes.
In conclusion, A Broken People’s Playlist is a good book and I recommend it. You really should go get your copy.
My favorite stories there are:
Desperado – because I get to hear a man tell me about the sexual abuse he went through. The rawness and honesty in that story hit me deep inside.
River – because of the pain. You guys know I love to write about pain, but I love to read about it too. This one is intense, but in Chimeka’s style, subtle.
I Put a Spell on You – because it is a funny take on jazz, and it’s so relatable.
Lost Stars – because I just love this one
In The City – because it pisses me the hell off. Fuck Nigerian police.
So, darlings, get Chimeka’s book by clicking on this link. It’s only N3500. I’m definitely going to read it again because, like a good song, little parts of it that you didn’t get the first time begin to pop up on the second and third listen.
Until you get your copy, here’s Lost Stars
A story by Chimeka Garricks
I will sigh and say I don’t know.
It happened in fragments, piece by piece, separate moments over the years. Moments – that’s how I remember it.
They will be surprised when I say you are the only man I have loved.
I hear that familiar whistle from my teens and know it is you. I smile, and my legs pull me, past my parents’ suspicious looks, out to the balcony. You are downstairs on the street, looking up at me, with your smile, still cheeky.
I haven’t seen you in almost two years since the last time I was in Port Harcourt. I make a show of folding my arms. “Hey!” I say. “You can’t still be whistling to call me. Don’t you have a phone?”
“Next time I whistle, you better come out fast.”
“Wait o! Because you’re now riding okada, you think you can talk to me anyhow?”
“Bush woman. This is not an okada.” You pat the black and silver motorcycle you are sitting astride on. “This is a Triumph Thunderb—”
“Ehn, your mates who drive cars, do they have two heads?”
“I have a car. Or rather, a van, but I use it to deliver eggs from my farm. It’s either that or this. Choose one.”
“I’m not choosing any.”
“Let’s go. Lunch. There’s this buka on Station Road. I promise, you’ll sell your soul for their Fisherman’s Soup.”
“You want to take me to a buka on an okada? You can’t be serious.”
“Your mates who eat in bukas and ride okadas, do they have two heads?” You look at your wrist which doesn’t have a watch. “You’re wasting time.”
“Come up and greet my parents while I think about it.”
You smile, “Still using me, abi?” But you get off the motorcycle.
“I’ll use you more in the next few days. Besides, you enjoy it.”
“Beg me first.”
“You’ll die of old age if you’re waiting for me to beg.”
You sigh and get back on the motorcycle.
We stare at each other till I say, “OK. You win. Abeg now.”
“How long are you in town for?”
“Till a week from today, Monday, after the wedding.” Nua, my immediate younger sister, was getting married on Saturday. “You’re coming, right?”
I add. “And for the Thanksgiving on Sunday too?”
We’d gone by taxi. The buka had almost emptied out from the lunchtime crowd by the time we arrived. It was clean though, meaning we didn’t have to swat flies from sharing our food. The Fisherman’s Soup was good, but I’d had better. I told you so. After eating, we sit back on the wooden benches, waiting for you to finish your Gulder. I take sips from your glass. The beer is almost flat, and I don’t enjoy it. But I keep sipping. “My mother was cold to you today.”
You chuckle. “She saw me with a girl the other day on my bike. She’s been carrying face for me since then.” You tilt the glass as you pour the last of the beer from the bottle. “I don’t blame her sha. She thinks we’ve been dating for two years, I’ve not shown any intention to marry you, and I’m carrying girls all over town.”
After Nua’s wedding, I’d be the only one among the four sisters in my family who wasn’t married. And at thirty-five, I am the oldest. It was a prayer point for my mother, and the start point for our many battles. I sip more beer. “I’m sorry. That’s how she is.”
“After this wedding, perhaps you should stop acting like we’re dating.”
I sigh. “I only do it when I’m in Port Harcourt.” I add, “I’m sorry this is cramping your style with your girlfriend.”
You smile, “You’re not sorry. And she’s not my girlfriend.”
You shrug. “We meet each other’s needs. You know how these things are. She’s not important. Wait! You’re jealous?”
“No!” I hiss. “You wish.”
Your smile says you don’t believe me.
I point at you. “It’s you who’s jealous.”
“Me? Jealous? Of who? Femi?”
“Yes. You’ve always been jealous of Femi.”
“His money? Yes. Him? No.” You chuckle, “How’re you and Femi sef?”
I pause before I answer. “We’re fine.”
“How many years have you guys…” Your words trail off, but I know what you’re asking.
“We’ve been together for over four years, thank you very much.” I hear the irritation in my voice.
You raise your glass to your lips, but before you drink, you cut me with, “Still believe that he’s about to leave his wife?”
You drink. I don’t answer. You leave some beer in the glass and signal-ask if I want it. I shake my head.
“I’m sorry,” you say.
“You’re not sorry.”
You smile. “You’re right. I’m not.”
We never quite happened but everyone assumed we did. Even from when we were teens.
Although we both grew up in D/Line, and saw each other around the neighbourhood, we first met in ’97: you were nineteen, in uni; I was seventeen, about to get in. Your father’s bakery was down the road from our house, though your family lived on the next street. You worked at the bakery, evenings and holidays, sometimes over the counter where you handed out soft, warm loaves, and shy smiles. You stopped smiling when your father died. He was a well-liked man, and the neighbourhood pulled together for your mum. That was when my mother and your mum became close. And when she brought me along for one of her many visits, you and I first talked. It was nothing, just awkward commiserations and silence. Then, on a balmy day in July, I accompanied my mother to your father’s funeral in Omoku, and I remember being struck by how you, the last child, stayed deadpan, while your mum and siblings wailed and thrashed as they lowered the casket. Weeks later, my mother sent me to drop off a big cooler of Jollof rice at your house. I walked into what looked like a meeting in the living room involving your mum, elder brothers and some older men. As you helped me take the cooler to the kitchen, you quickly wiped off a tear, but I’d seen it. You were as surprised as I was when I asked you to walk me back home. Till today, I don’t know what pushed those words out of my mouth – all I knew was that I could sense that you needed to be somewhere else at that moment.
Rather than go to my house, we ended up strolling through more than half of D/Line, crisscrossing the railway line twice at the Fruit Garden Market and at the bole and fish stalls at Agudama Street, and even heading up as far as the close on Udom Street and U-turning in front of Hotel Chez Therese. Somewhere on that walk, you told me about how your uncles were demanding ownership of the bakery from your mum. I talked of my parents’ unhappy marriage, how I eavesdrop on my mother when she goes to cry in the bathroom, and how I didn’t get along with any of them. You didn’t talk about your father. I didn’t talk about Victor, my boyfriend at the time.
But Victor’s friends had seen us walking. Later, he was with two of them when he asked me about it. I said it was nothing. He said I was lying. He said that I was “perambulating” around D/Line with you and embarrassing him. I said he was overreacting. I even apologized. Then he slapped me.
I was used to my father beating my mother. He did it almost with a nonchalance that came from regular practice and confidence in her perpetual surrender. But I am not my mother. I slapped Victor ― so hard, my wrist almost snapped and the pain volted up my arm. By the time his friends succeeded in pulling him off me, my face was bloodied, my top torn, and my ears rung with, “Ashawo! Ashawo!” which was what he’d been screaming at me.
The beating didn’t hurt as much as the stories which I heard afterwards. I heard I slept with Victor, then with three of his friends, then with you, then with every man who winked at me. Some of the stories had specific details – places, dates, one even had the colour of my panties. I don’t know how, but somehow, the stories found my parents’ ears one day. That evening, my father’s tirade lashed me till I red-misted and answered back. That was the first time he told me to leave his house.
You didn’t seem surprised when I turned up at your room at the BQ behind your parents’ house that night. You didn’t ask why I was there, and I wasn’t in the mood to talk. I flicked through your photo-album, books, and music collection. You played your homemade CDs – Smokie, U2, Bon Jovi, Oasis – tuning me to Rock for the first time. You got me dinner – fluffy bread; Blue Band margarine; and thick, sweetened Milo. I smiled because you dipped your bread in the cocoa before eating. You convinced me to try it when you joked that it was more than comfort food: it was also one of the secrets to happiness. You watched me do it, and the expression on my face confirmed you were right. You laughed. It was the first time I heard that infectious rumble. It prised a chuckle from me, and the simple magic of everything flipped my mood. I told you everything. You didn’t say anything for a long time. We lay on your mattress on the floor and stared unabashedly at each other, but it was soothing, intimate. Inevitably, still in silence, we cosied up till I rested my head on your chest, feeling your heart pound as you stroked my hair. Looking back, I wish I had bottled the peace of that moment and carried it through my life.
We were still in each other’s arms when your mum, without knocking, pushed open the door. My mother was behind her. I trudged home in silence beside my mother. She didn’t speak to me till the next morning when she banned me from talking to you. I managed to obey for only one month. I wish I rebelled sooner.
Years later, we would talk about that night and play out what might have been. We agreed that we would have made love. You tell me that you’d wanted to, but you were reluctant to make a move when I was vulnerable. I tell you that it would have been my first time. I don’t tell you that I’d hoped you’d been my first, and I still wish you were. My first was Victor, who came to apologise the next day, and every day for almost two weeks. I blanked him until the day someone told me about Osa, your then girlfriend. I didn’t tell you that I cried, snuck to Victor’s house, took off my clothes mechanically and lay, zombied, on his bed. I tell you I wish you’d told me about Osa that night. You tell me that you would have mentioned her, but our mothers came in. You also tell me that you’d organised for some guys to beat up Victor, but you called it off when you realised we were dating again. I shrug and don’t tell you that I wish you hadn’t called it off.
But I tell you that anytime I get blue, I eat bread dipped in Milo and it makes everything better.
They will ask me how often I told you I love you. And I will sigh and say I don’t recall ever saying it. But you knew.
You knew those times when you’d look up and catch me watching you, and I’d refuse to look away. You knew in your darkest days — when you missed your father, when your uncles took over the bakery and ran it down, when your family’s money ran out, when you didn’t have a job, when the depression smothered you and you wished for death to end it all — you came to me, to hold you till some light pierced through. You knew on those nights when I called you, after Femi had gone home to his wife, after I’d dried my tears, and you made me laugh, and talked me to sleep, and lied that everything will be OK.
You were cutting my hair when you proposed.
It was the Thursday before Nua’s church wedding. On Monday, after the buka visit, you finally convinced me to get on your motorcycle and we rode — you weaving through traffic, me shrieking parts of the way — to your farm in Igwuruta. There I watched, fascinated by the incongruous sights of you, guy-man, walking through the poultry house, feeding fish in the tanks, and calling a king boar “Oga” at the outdoor pig pen. Between brief meetings with your workers, you talked about how after years of unsuccessfully looking for work, you became an accidental farmer, starting small with a tiny poultry behind your mum’s house. You beamed as you talked about how well the farm was doing, how surprised you were that you were enjoying running it, and how you seemed to have found your place in the world. I told you, you looked like you were finally at peace with yourself. Your smile was shy, and for a second, I caught a glimpse of the boy from the bakery. And my heart was suddenly full because I’d never loved you as much as I did at that moment. The ride back to the city that night wasn’t as hairy, and when you dropped me off at my parents’ house, just like old times, you walked me to the door and kissed me easily. I warned you not to kiss me that casually as if the last time we kissed was ten minutes before, and not three years, five months and two days ago. You asked if I’d really been counting. I told you to stop being silly. You laughed, and we kissed properly till I accidentally leaned on the doorbell. The next day, I went with my family to Bori for Nua’s traditional wedding which was scheduled for Wednesday. You came with your mum to Bori for the ceremony and rolled your eyes as she bear-hugged me and made you take pictures as we pouted and posed. As a pretend-boyfriend, you were perfect – spending as much time with me as possible and even briefly sitting under a canopy with my brothers-in-law, the husbands of my two youngest sisters, where you smirked and made faces at me.
When I returned on Thursday, I went to your flat at Stadium Road. Famished, we didn’t make it to your bedroom. We tore at each other’s clothes, but gave up mid-way and merged, half-dressed on your living-room wall. As your face headed down between my legs, as always, we paused for a moment and chuckled, because we remembered – the first time you ate me, my first time ever, I farted uncontrollably through a long orgasm, and you rolled off and laughed till I joined in. Thursday was kisses, bites, sweat, thrusts and screams – a frenzied mauling because there was no tomorrow. Liquid electric, it coursed through every cell, jolted my body alive, but felt good for my spirit like a homecoming. Eventually, we collapsed to the floor beside your door. After, we stumbled to your room where we drank wine, cuddled, and ribbed each other. Then we did it again, slower, bodies rhyming gently, because of scarred souls. Then we napped (different sides of the bed because I disliked being cuddled when I slept), woke, and talked. It was when you touched my head that I realised my wig had fallen off.
I’d developed alopecia when I turned nineteen. By twenty, I’d lost almost all my hair apart from ugly patches, which were so irregular and sparse, I couldn’t even wear weaves. You went with me to buy wigs, helped me choose, and deliberately cracked the unfunniest jokes when I cried so I’d get annoyed enough to hit you and stop crying. Then, you started cutting my hair regularly, balding my head: and when I got confident enough, you accompanied me to barbershops. At the time you were still dating Osa, I’d long moved on from Victor, and technically we hadn’t yet crossed the line, but our “just friends” shtick didn’t fool anyone.
You ran your hand through my tufts.
I said, “So…you’re waiting for me to ask you to cut my hair, abi?”
“I’ve stopped cutting hair for free. Especially for ungrateful women.”
“Ah, sorry o. Cut it first. I’ll prostrate in gratitude later.”
You shook your head and sighed, like you always did when you had no comeback. And that was how I ended up sitting in your bathroom, naked except for the barber’s cape over me, watching in the big mirror, while you cut my hair with your electric clippers. We stared at each other in the mirror.
“Ahn-ahn, you just started cutting.”
“No. I’m tired of being your friend and occasional fuck-buddy.”
“Correction. Best friend and my One Who Got Away.”
“For the record, I never went away.”
“You know what I mean. Our timings are always wrong. I’ll be available, you’ll be dating someone. Vice versa. I keep telling you — it’s like we aren’t fated to be.”
“Nonsense. We were together once.”
“Yes, but that was for just the three weeks before I moved to Lagos.”
“Best three weeks of my life.”
You sighed. “I wish you didn’t move.”
“Why didn’t you ask me not to?”
“C’mon now. Since I knew you, you always wanted to leave home. Remember those times you talked about running away and I yabbed you because running away only works in oyibo movies. And you finished school, finished NYSC, got this dream job. I didn’t yet have a job, we knew we weren’t built for long-distance crap…” Your shoulders slumped.
“Another correction — I wanted to leave home, leave this city, only because all that shit with Victor messed up my reputation. Aaand…” I mimicked your voice and did air quotes, “for the record, you didn’t ask.” I shrugged.
You stooped and flicked the clipper off as the realisation hit you. “You would have stayed if I asked?”
I smiled. “For someone who knows me as well as you do, you ask silly questions sometimes.” I sighed. “So, you’re tired of being my friend. What are you really trying to say – that we should stop talking? Because, let me warn you, it won’t work.”
“Now you’re being the silly one.” You fluffed hair off my head with a duster, leaned forward from behind me and kissed my scalp. You held my eyes in the mirror.
“I want more. I want everything. Marry me, Sira.”
They will ask me why I said no. And I will sigh and say exactly what I told you — because I wasn’t a child anymore, and because I knew love alone was never enough in this life.
You said you didn’t understand. I explained that we’d both moved on. I was in Lagos, about to be announced as a partner in the law firm which I’d worked in for years; you were in Port Harcourt, running a growing farm business which required your presence. I told you that I didn’t want to give up my life and move back to Port Harcourt, that I would eventually resent you if I did. I told you that I wouldn’t forgive myself if you gave up your life, and all you’d worked hard for, for me. You said we would work out something. I told you not to be naïve.
Then you said I sounded materialistic.
There was an unspoken undercurrent to that statement — years ago, you’d “joked” that I was with Femi because he was rich, and I felt this statement was a continuation of that jibe.
So, I told you to fuck off. And I left your flat. And I refused to see you on Friday. And I was cold to you all through Nua’s wedding on Saturday, as well as at the Thanksgiving on Sunday. And I refused to answer your calls or reply your messages.
And before I left on Monday morning, I told my mother the truth – about us, about Femi, about Victor, about my relationship with her. Her face was inscrutable when I finished talking, and remained so when she held me, suddenly, woodenly, because it had been years since we hugged, and we’d forgotten how. Then, voice strong and lifted, she said a long, lyrical, heartfelt prayer for me, in Khana not English – because Nigerian mothers don’t apologise in conventional ways.
“Hey. Good morning.”
“Behave. It’s just ten days.”
“Feels like ten years.”
“So, I need to talk to you. Right now.”
“You think you can walk out of my life and walk in anytime you like, abi?”
“I know I can.”
You chuckled. “OK.”
“They just made me partner. Signed the partnership agreement ten minutes ago. Formal announcement and notices to clients tomorrow. Party on Saturday.”
I shrugged. “Thanks.”
“Are you OK?”
“I’m just…I don’t know what to feel. I slaved for this for years. I’ve finally gotten it, and honestly, it feels a bit empty. Like, is this all? Is this life? Right now, I’m making this call from the toilet in my office because I can’t stand people congratulating me. Is this normal?”
“Are you sure it’s not PMS that is doing you?”
I guffawed. “No. I just finished my period.”
“I just had breakfast.”
“OK o.” You sighed. “Try not to worry too much. These things happen. You’ll probably feel better later.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. I’m just saying this shit because it sounds nice.”
“Thanks for nothing.” But I was smiling into my phone.
“You’re welcome.” Pause. “I’m sorry, Sira.”
“I know. I’m sorry too. I overreacted.”
“Don’t push it.”
“So, I’ve got news. I found a guy.”
“I found a guy who’s going to manage my farm and the workers when I’m away. Trustworthy guy. All his references check out. People say only good things about him.”
“Why do you want someone managing your farm?”
“So, I can move to Lagos. I’ll call him every day, double-check everything he does with my customers, and go to Port Harcourt twice or thrice a month to see how things are. I also plan to buy land in Lagos for another farm.” There was silence for a while. “Sira, I was serious when I said we can make this work. I’m willing to do what it takes.”
I felt the bird’s wings beating furiously where my heart used to be.
I exhaled. “Like I said, my firm’s throwing a party on Saturday for me here in Lagos. Are you coming?”
“Only if you ask nicely.”
“I need you. Please.”
“That’s shameless emotional blackmail. But it works. I’ll be there.”
“Thanks. You can stay at my place, you don’t have to get a hotel.”
“And, in case you were wondering, I broke up with Femi last week.”
It was a long time before you spoke. “Why? How?”
“It was the right time.” I sighed, “I’ll give you the details when we see.”
“Cool. I’ve got to go now.”
“OK. Talk soon.”
Till today, I don’t know what made me tell you then because I’d planned to wait till I saw you. But looking back, I’m glad I did.
“Yes, I’ll marry you, Kaodini. You’re welcome.”
You don’t come to Lagos. The party was cancelled.
Later that day, as you rode from your farm, a commuter bus which was parked by the kerb swung suddenly into the road without the driver indicating. It slapped your motorcycle off its course, and it careened into the concrete median strip that divided the road. But the force flung you over to the other lane, where your body was quickly mangled by oncoming traffic. Your helmet protected your head, and this kept you conscious long enough to call me as they sped you to the hospital. 4.17 p.m.
I saw the call, but I didn’t answer it because I was in a meeting.
I called you after, but you didn’t answer. 5.42 p.m.
I get a call from your phone. 6.33 p.m.
I answer it, “Hey, Baby.”
“Sira, it’s me o.” It was your mum. As soon as I heard her voice, the crack in it, I knew.
“Hello, Ma, where’s Kaodini?”
“My daughter, I hope you’re sitting down.”
“Hmm, Sira. My baby, our baby. He is dead.”
Two years later, they don’t ask me why I resigned from my job, or why I walk around without my wigs. They don’t ask why I moved back to Port Harcourt, to your apartment, piled your clothes on the bed and lay in them for days. They don’t talk about the time when I fought my mother and sisters and your mum, when they came to drag me off the bed, to give me a bath, and washed your clothes and your scent off them. They don’t talk about my display at your funeral, where I flung myself at your casket. They don’t ask me why I became an insomniac, or why for weeks, the only thing I ate was bread dipped in Milo. They don’t talk about why I’m in therapy.
Gradually, they’ve learned that I like it when they talk about you. So, they do. They ask questions about everything – about how we met, how I first knew I was in love with you, how often I told you, how you proposed.
Today, they even asked me why I love you. And I sighed and said because even though we weren’t meant to be, you were always home to me.
‘Lost Stars’ (written under the influence of Adam Levine’s song of the same title), appears in A Broken People’s Playlist, Chimeka Garricks’ collection of music-inspired short stories published by Masobe Books, and now available in leading bookshops and online at https://masobebooks.com/books/a-broken-peoples-playlist/.