Olufemi Agunbiade is a Nigerian living in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. He is married, and has two children, a pigeon pair. He is the author of the short story, ‘The Miracle Maker,’ in which a city-dwelling youngster travels back to his grandmother’s village in order to expose a shady clergy. Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards, and Olufemi recently discussed his Trade Secrets entry, crazy things congregants do to ensure being in the good graces of the Lord, and the influence of his Nigerian roots on his story.
‘The Miracle Maker’, an entertaining whodunit, highlights ‘corruption’ in the Pentecostal clergy. Is it as rife as the story makes it out to be?
Yes, if not more. Being that our societies are naturally religious and superstitious, grounds for instant miracles are easily established. Traditional beliefs and fears are heightened. People are encouraged to have more hopes in heaven than on earth. The smart clergies claim they have the knowledge to the paths and keys to the glorious home up there. For fees (tithe, Sunday offerings, first fruits offering), they can lead/show the way. To really drive in the message and convince seekers, instant, incredible miracles will do. The interested congregant will not mind forking over many amounts, all in a bid to be reassured of the heavenly home. It is not, therefore, surprising to find Pentecostal clergies now owning mansions, limousines, jets, financial corporations, all acquired by donations from mostly poor donors. It is a huge business.
Outlandish methods are used to siphon money from congregants. What crazy things will congregants do to ensure being in the good graces of the Lord?
The inspiration for my story came from observing Pentecostal clergies in Nigeria who are always out-doing others in performing miracles (curing HIV/AIDS, curing cancer, making septuagenarians become pregnant, raising the dead etc). It’s no less the case here too in South Africa where smart-alec clergymen are asking congregants to eat grass, gobble down rats, be sprayed with insecticide; the pastors talk to God on the phone — the more a pastor feigns closeness to God, the more gullible are the congregants. It’s all a ploy to show extraterrestrial powers, which will then attract huge fame and money. So, I connected situations in the two climes and decided to write about it.
Ah, so many ways – TRADE SECRETS – of how powerful men of the cloth convincingly part congregants and their pretty pennies.
In your story, Sipho, the protagonist, pays a visit to his Makhulu to find out why her savings are ‘disappearing’. Sipho is, in fact, an ‘amateur detective’. Tell us more about his methods and motivation.
I love detective books, especially the ones with explosive twists at the end. I always fancied writing my own stories, but really, I considered myself more of a ‘reader’ than a ‘writer.’ Writing, of course, is a whole lot more than just reading. Then, Short.Sharp.Stories came along and I told myself, Why not? So, I created Sipho, who left the city to visit his grandmother, who had been enthusing about her ‘Prophet.’
Sipho is just an everyday, normal guy who is painstaking in finding out the truth. He is a rough round the edges amateur who is out to expose the truth, no matter the stress and time and mistakes involved. He is learning, like me. I hope to write more about Sipho and his exploits.
Do you perhaps see yourself as a mystery/ thriller writer in the making?
Oh, no. I am still the same ‘reader.’ Reading voraciously and learning the craft of writing along the way. Being published by Short.Sharp.Stories is a massive encouragement which I, indeed, cherish a lot. It is my first attempt and I struck ‘gold.’ Right now, I am trying my hand at writing more and honing the craft.
Makhulu, who lives in a rural village, is feisty and takes no nonsense. She gives Sipho a hard time! Although the story is a classic whodunit, does it also reflect a certain reality? Not only religious corruption, but a disconnect between the older and younger generations?
I patterned Makhulu after my mum! Though younger and feistier, she fits in perfectly well. I only need to tap into my memory bank and she’s there in words, actions and expressions.
I see the older generations as being set in their ways, watching in amusement as the younger, malleable youths grope about with their technological/developmental processes. This does cause friction in many ways, as it does in the Makhulu and Sipho scenes, but I see it as a form of learning, though healthy and educative — the two represent a blend of the old and new, past and present. Interactions between these two ends will always bring out something that can be interesting, out of which we can learn something.
I always ponder on how old folks get to be who they are in their old age. The adventures they have had, their joys and pains, the paths they have trodden on and the knowledge they harbor.
The setting of Port Elizabeth is evocatively described, yet the village in your story is imagined. Why go this route?
I have always lived in cities, from Lagos to here but, really, I love the outdoors where beautiful nature – thriving flora and fauna – is painted in living colors. South Africa is a beautiful country and all around me, I see nature still pristine and protected. Here, in my suburb in Port Elizabeth, seeing heavy morning mists, rugged green mountains, wild guinea fowl and rabbits right on my doorsteps nibbling at tidbits always evokes pictures of a natural village setting. So, I created one. I wanted the story settings to be a mix of the city and the village, a blend of old and new.
As a novice writer, how did you hear about Short.Sharp.Stories? And are you inspired to keep writing?
I saw Short.Sharp.Stories on Facebook and being interested in writing, I decided to try my hand. I passionately love reading, when I can leave the terrestrial earth and soar! I love short stories with a twist. I have been writing more since my Short.Sharp.Stories entry and I have many short stories in stock now.
In what way do your Nigerian roots influence your writing?
My writing is a blend of the two great countries, coated with past and current happenings around me. I must say it is a great advantage for me as I can switch between the two climes to achieve my aim.
What writing Trade Secret have you gleaned along the way?
For a new hand like me, it is a beautiful experience that I want to take up more seriously. Really, during the writing and editing stages, I felt like a surgeon at the operating table, snipping away, suturing up loose ends and packaging a body of story through tedious edits to make it convincing and readable.
- Trade Secrets edited by Joanne Hichens
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