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Fiction Friday: “A Man of the People” by Helon Habila

Guernica Magazine has published a short story by Helon Habila, 2001 Caine Prize winner and author of Oil on Water, titled “A Man of the People”.

Taking the title of a novel by fellow Nigerian and acclaimed author Chinua Achebe, Habila’s short story centres on the mystery of why an ex-minister chooses to move to an unglamorous Lagos suburb. Etunga, the ex-minister, studies some of the young people who live there, and the story follows his growing attraction to a young woman who lives in the neighbourhood.

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The girl is here again. She is talking to the boy under the flame tree. The boy often sits there with a book during his thirty-minute lunch break while fellow workers congregate behind the kitchen to chat up the young cooks, smoke cigarettes, and swap gossip. She is wearing a print dress with multicolored petal design: the petals explode in brilliance under the Lagos sun. From the window, Etenga can see her face clearly: she can’t be more than twenty. He wonders who she is, what she is to the boy. He wonders who the boy is—a student most likely, trying to make some money over the break doing odd jobs.

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Image courtesy Lutz Berger


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