Archive for June 24th, 2013

June 24, 2013

Elnathan John, “Bayan Layi”

The fourth of this year’s Caine Prize finalists, Elnathan John’s “Bayan Layi” is set among a group of street children during an election in their town.It’s told from the perspective of one of these boys, in a voice that combines an innocence of how the world works and plenty of violence.

I like chasing thieves especially when I know they are not from Bayan Layi. I am the fastest runner here even though I broke my leg once when I fell from a motorcycle in Sabon Gari. Anyway, the groundnut oil thief, we caught him and gave him the beating of his life. I like using sharp objects when beating a thief. I like the way the blood spurts when you punch. So we sat this boy down and Banda asked what his name was. He said Idowu. I knew he was lying because he had the nose of an Igbo boy. I used my nail on his head many times, demanding his real name.

I say “innocence” because there’s an almost complete lack of cynicism in many of Dantala’s thoughts. An electoral win for the Small Party will make a meaningful difference to these characters’ lives (“Things will be better if the Small Party wins. Insha Allah.”). The adult men really respect his friend Banda. Banda himself is less sure of the essential goodness of the world.

“We will win these elections,” Banda says.

“Of course, who can stop us?” We are talking like real politicians now, like party men.

“Will they really build us that shelter?” I ask.

“I don’t like to think of that, all I want is that they pay every time they ask us to work for them. After the election, where will you see them?”

And of course the reader knows that Banda’s probably right.

Three out of the four shortlisted stories that I’ve read so far employ the first person narrator, but “Bayan Layi” and “Miracles” are the ones for which this style seems most vital. John fully utilises that gap in knowledge between his child narrator and his adult reader. It’s like a grimmer (because the death and violence are entirely real) version of Swami and Friends. That comparison with R.K. Narayan might just go further than the choice of protagonist; though their prose styles aren’t really that much alike, there’s a precision and a deceptive simplicity about both that I’m very impressed by.

It’s probably obvious that I have little of worth to say about this particular story, but I think it may be my favourite so far.

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Other people’s thoughts on “Bayan Layi”:

Kola Tubosun at NigeriansTalk
Veronica Nkwocha
Beverley Nambozo
Kate Maxwell
C.E. Hastings for Africa in Words
Jeffrey Zuckerman
Chika Oduah