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Fiction Friday: Jekwu Anyaegbuna’s Commonwealth Prize Winning Story: “Morrison Okoli (1955-2010)”

Last month, the Commonwealth Foundation announced the regional winners in this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Nigerian writer Jekwu Anyaegbuna won the award for the Africa Region for his short story, “Morrison Okoli (1955-2010)”.

Granta published each of the five winning stories on their website during the course of this week. We invite you to read “Morrison Okoli (1955-2010)”, in anticipation of the announcement of the overall winner this evening:

Morrison, my brother. You came in fifty-five and left at fifty-five. What a coincidence! The coffin has killed you. So this is the end of it all, Morrison. I warned you, didn’t I? But you lied to me that everybody in America kept a coffin as household property for preserving valuables – things you do not want others to see. I could not argue with you because you resisted my point of view, saying I was rustic. I sealed up my mouth. After all, our people say a traveller is more knowledgeable than a white-haired old man sitting on an armchair. It’s true I have never travelled beyond the map of Nigeria. I don’t even have an international passport, to start with.

At the airport, customs were worried about the empty coffin you carried. When they opened it, they did not see a corpse. They saw dollars, and their faces migrated from sympathies to smiles. They rubbed their palms like starving squirrels, and flaunted their coconut teeth like precious stones plugged to their gums. They knocked on their stomachs. They were hungry. But you did not understand until I told you what they meant. Did I say it with my mouth? No, I didn’t. I clicked my fingers, and you understood the sound and sign with your quick American brain. When you handed some crisp dollar bills to them, they let us go. They did not see the narcotics buried underneath the dollars. They did not even bother to check. If they had checked and found out, there could not have been any problems because a kilogram or two handed to them would have made them happier, and of course richer.

Image courtesy Black Heart Magazine


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