Sefi Atta was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1964 and schooled in England, where she qualified as a chartered accountant. Numerical knack aside, Atta’s aptitude for writing has not gone unnoticed. Atta was awarded the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, shortlisted for the 2006 Caine Prize for African Fiction, and the recipient of the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa, among others. Her short stories collection, News From Home was published in 2010. Read an extract from her short story Unsuitable Ties, originally published in Expound here:
She would rather not be here tonight. For her, a dinner party at a hotel – especially a five-star hotel like this in London – is research work. She might notice a seating-card design, a flower arrangement or some other catering idea she can use when she returns to Lagos. She will study the menu from hors d’oeuvres to desserts. As for the company, she knows what to expect; rich Nigerians, all connected to each other.
The hotel, Greek Revival style, is in Knightsbridge. It is cold for May, so she and her husband, Akin, wear coats, which they leave at the cloakroom near the lobby. The cloakroom attendant hands her a ticket and she puts it in her clutch bag. She is conscious of her heels clip-clopping along the marble- floored corridor that leads to the bar. At the entrance of the bar, a waiter lifts a silver tray with flutes of champagne and Buck’s Fizz. She goes for the champagne, as does Akin. They thank the waiter, a woman.
The bar resembles a candle-lit library in a stately home. It has shelves of old, leather-bound books and maroon patterned wallpaper. Cocktails are at 7 p.m., dinner is at 7.45 p.m., followed by dancing. Carriages are at 1 a.m. The dress code is black tie. Akin has decided that means he can get away with wearing a tie that is black.
She took the time and trouble to go from their flat in West Kensington to Kensington High Street to buy a new dress the day before. It was typical of Akin to forget he needed a bow tie until the last moment, yet he was the one who insisted that she come.
Other guests are on time. All are appropriately turned out, a few in colourful traditional Nigerian wear. She and Akin return their smiles and waves as they approach their host, Saheed Balogun.
“How now, my brother?” Saheed asks.
“Hey,” Akin says, shaking Saheed’s hand.
“Saheed,” she says, with a nod.
Saheed looks as if he has only just recognised her. “Yemisi! Long time no see!”
She winces involuntarily as he hugs her. She has become used to seeing his face under newspaper headlines since his fraud investigation began a month ago. He was also recently listed in an online magazine as one of Nigeria’s top ten billionaires. He is remarkably slight in person and sports a grey goatee. His bow tie is not quite as symmetrical after he hugs her. She was not expecting him to welcome her that way. Feeling hijacked, she looks around the bar and asks, “Where is Funke?”
“She’s taking care of last-minute seating arrangements,” Saheed says.
Yemisi grimaces. Nigerians don’t always RSVP and sometimes show up with extra guests. Funke is Saheed’s wife. Yemisi might call her an old friend, though she is more accurately someone Yemisi socialised with when they were both law undergrads. Funke was at the University of Lagos while she was at University College London. Their paths often crossed in Lagos and London. For reasons she can’t explain, she doesn’t mind Funke, but she absolutely cannot stand Saheed.
She leaves Akin with him. She told Akin she intended to stay as far away from Saheed as possible. That was the condition on which she came.
You can continue reading Unsuitable Ties here.
- News From Home by Sefi Atta
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