Lagos men are not for the faint-hearted and Kuku’s women are not the women who ‘sit down and take it’.
Akin to the Grimm brothers collecting European folklore (and even perhaps watering down the horrors in the original tales), Damilare Kuku assembles the greatest mythological anecdotes we all know and love about the crazies embodied in the men of Lagos. Kuku’s debut collection of short stories is arrestingly titled Nearly All the Men in Lagos Are Mad.
Making the much-appreciated transfer from oral mythology to formal literature, Kuku immortalizes the Legend of Yoruba Demons with a warning for anyone considering pairing with the men in the aggressive streets of Lagos. The myth of charming men who leave a trail of broken women, soon to be as notorious as the Transylvanian Dracula globally, is enshrined here in all its shades of debauchery and self-indulgence. And yet, in this book, we must assume there is something in the water in Lagos for the insanity of the men cuts across tribes.
Kuku’s stories are a snapshot of the caricatures that roam the streets of Lagos with titles such as ‘Beard Gang’, ‘The Gigolo from Isale Eko’, and the cleverly coined, ‘Òdè-pus Complex’. The collection includes the well-known tales of fraternities of gay men in the corridors of power. These gay men have ‘beards’ who know the truth and insulate themselves with affluence. Then there are the other usual suspects—the naïve girl who goes to a party with a ‘toaster’ and is raped; the former ‘runs girl’, originally from Makoko—the almost iconic floating slum—now in her palatial mansion as a wife. There is, of course, the young upwardly mobile lady who has decided to ‘marry Oyibo’. She washes her hands off the men in Lagos and actively places herself in all the locations she expects white foreigners to socialize. In Kuku’s world, even the streets of Lagos are characters. We encounter different suburbs of the mega city, from Egbeda to the ancient streets of Isale Eko. Of course the indisputable main citizen of Lagos, the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge, makes an appearance in all its glory.
While there is an enjoyable freshness to Kuku’s storytelling, her characters and their shenanigans, there isn’t much depth. The characters in Nearly All the Men are superficial like Lagos—products of their origins. Kuku makes a point of giving the Nigerian women who have to deal with the men some grit. Lagos men are not for the faint-hearted and Kuku’s women are not the women who ‘sit down and take it’; nor are they the women that Nollywood tends to present to its audience: meek and virtuous. Kuku’s women have some agency over their lives, demand sex even from shy church ‘brothers’ or offer it brazenly to their roommate’s new lecherous boyfriend.
The women of Lagos in this collection push back, spitting fire and promising to rain brimstone on the men who wrong them, albeit only on the surface. At their core, however, these women are declawed domesticated felines begging for morsels of affection. A married roadside corn seller accepts the ‘indecent proposal’ of her rich customer and, somehow, blames her infidelity on her husband. She insists that she slept with her rich customer for her husband and family’s sake. The fact is simply that she made a connection with someone else and felt seen. When her new beau asks if she wants a new job, and she says, ‘not really’, it is clear what kind of woman this is—one who accepts and maintains her status as secondary to her man with a touch of victimhood. She sets the tone for the rest of the women in the stories.
Then there is the ‘mummy GO’ who fabricates an alibi for her pastor husband. She is unwavering in her support publicly, while trying to grapple with the truth his libido hinged on a Madonna-whore complex. The protagonist of ‘International Relations’, Ohemaa, recalls being a fool for Nonso, an ex-lover and describes herself as a ‘mumu at the time’. Fortunately, she has some spine to her and expels the two men about to come to blows for her affection from her apartment. Ohemaa wants a man, but refuses to accept the misogyny they both toss her way.
In ‘Òdè-Pus Complex’, the unnamed mother of Uche is a thorn in the flesh of his new girlfriend, Yejide. ‘Uche’s mummy’ fails to see the merits in her success at taking her late husband’s business to impressive heights. She is dismissive of her female off-springs because of their sex and is laser-focused on consolidating a legacy for her Igbo son by ensuring he marries the right Igbo girl. The tribal subtext and implications here are clear. The Igbo family in the collection has an auto parts business—this itself is almost a cliché. Kuku utilizes well known tropes regarding cultural expectations of manhood and women as gatekeepers of the societies in which such expectations thrive. At least in this story, Yejide, perhaps due to being a member of a different tribe, knows to run away with alacrity from potentially marrying a lily-livered son and having an overbearing mother-in-law.
In telling these stories, Kuku’s writing is modern, generously peppered with imagery from pop culture. ‘We broke up like P-Square,’ the first-person narrator of ‘The Gigolo from Isale Eko’ says. While there is some poetry to the language, it shines through especially when Kuku indulges in Naija speak or colloquial pidgin. Some metaphors, however, fall flat and there is the flaw in overusing ‘swan like’ as description of an attractive silhouette. Still, this is an unpretentious read, comfortable in exactly what it is—a fun look at the madness that is Lagos infused with the theatrics of Nollywood. A couple of plots offer surprising twists and turns. The stories, separately, have a solid humorous voice. Some of it is written in the second person, a choice that distorts the divide between the different worlds the characters inhabit.
The flow of the stories is smart—we are hooked by the women, presented as courageous as they tussle with the men with whom they are entangled. Especially, the first woman we encounter: a woman defiant in the face of her jury in-laws. The further along we read, however, the less we find the women inspiring because while they are easy to root for, a bigger picture soon emerges. One that exposes these women as enablers of the men, if not just as mad⎈
‘Nearly All the Men in Lagos Are Mad’
254 pp. Masobe Books, 2021
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