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African Writing Archives


Sefi Attah

Sefi Attah

Attah was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She trained as an accountant in London and began to write while working in New York. Her works have won prizes from Zoetrope, Red Hen Press, the BBC and PEN International. In 2006 she was short listed for the Caine Prize for African Literature and her debut novel, Everything Good Will Come was awarded the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Everything Good Will Come is forthcoming in France, Germany, Australia and Spain in 2008. Swallow, her second novel, and Lawless, a collection of short stories and a novella, will be published in Nigeria in 2008 by Farafina.

Glory is excerpted from Lawless, her forthcoming collection of short stories and a novella, scheduled for a 2008 release by Farafina.



Augustine had this new girlfriend whom he called his “shorty”. Her name was Glory. She was older than him and she worked as a receptionist at a hotel on Victoria Island. The hotel was four-star and French-owned. The hotel management didn’t encourage people like us to walk in. Security guards hovered around the gates, ready to pounce on us, but Augustine seemed to know them. He raised his fist and called them “Chief” or “Oga”. They nodded in response. He asked one of them to get Glory. We couldn’t walk into the lobby so we stood on the cement ramp outside between the casino and the banquet hall. A curved ixora hedge bordered the ramp. A popular police band song was playing: “Guantanamera”. Moments later, when Gloria came out walking in time to the music, my mouth fell open. This was the chick he was calling his “shorty”? She was practically a palm tree. Her legs could have reached my shoulders and she wore high heels. She was in a black skirt and waistcoat. Her hair, which had to be fake, was halfway down her back.

Augustine had said she had recently been attacked. An area boy had tried to grab her handbag outside a Chicken George, but she refused to let go. The area boy pushed her into a gutter and ran off. Passersby pulled her out and said how lucky she was that he hadn’t stabbed her. Glory just sat on the side of the street and howled. She was putting serious pressure on Augustine to leave Nigeria, now. She said she could help him get a visa, through her expatriate connections, but she needed him to buy her a plane ticket.

“How now,” she said, coming to a stop. The breeze was strong enough to lift her hair weave and we had to raise our voices. Cars and taxis crawled up and down the ramp.

I strained my neck. Close up, she had pimples on her forehead and her lips were lined black. She was most unattractive. Augustine introduced me as his cousin and she bent to hug me, as if we were friends.

“Oh, he’s so cute! How old is he?”

Her perfume was strong, yet I could smell her hair weave, which had a similar odour to sour milk. Chicks usually responded to me as if I were one of them. Glory wasn’t my type, but if she were not careful I would rummage through her belongings, I thought. Augustine said I was twelve.

“What’s your name?” she asked, rubbing my head.

“Idowu,” I said.

She looked at Augustine. “But he’s Yoruba. How can he be your relative when he is not from our side?”

Augustine’s people were from Warri. They had English names. His parents were called Eunice and Enoch. He mumbled an explanation about me being related by marriage as we walked away from the ramp. People who talked about tribes amused me. Who the hell cared where our forefathers were from?

The hotel was full of prostitutes, packed with them, and they were dressed in western attire. They could easily pass for proper elite. What gave them away were the crooked-legged walks they acquired from parading up and down the diplomatic district. Glory called them va bene, not ashawo, as everyone else called them. So many of them ended up in Rome, she said. She did not dislike them as much as the other staff did. If the oyinbos at the hotel were not screwing someone out of their money, what were they looking for in a place like Lagos?

“That’s why I love you,” Augustine said. “You’re egalitarian in your thinking. Very enlightened.”

“Ega what?” she said and smacked his shoulder.

She was too old. We found a bench by the car hire service, near a mosque, beauty shop and magazine store. Kuramo Waters were before us. Behind us was a red brick bazaar where Hausa traders sold arts and crafts. Above us was what looked like an air conditioner’s yansh trapped in an iron cage. It blew hot over my head and dripped water occasionally.

“But you know I love you,” Augustine insisted, stroking her arms as she sat there pouting.

“Then buy me a ticket,” she said.

He said he was saving up and it would take time, then he began to compare her to beauty pageants as she rejected his praises.

“You’re my Miss Nigeria,” he said.

“At all,” she said.

“My Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria.”

“At all.”

“My Face of Africa…”

She gripped his hand like a wrestler. “Face of Africa? Please, don’t remind me of that. You know they are holding the next contest here?”

“Eh?” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “The preliminaries will be held here and I am not allowed to participate because I’ve passed the age limit. Can you imagine? And if you see the monster they chose last year, you will run. One girl with a square jaw, like this, and a shaved head. Face of what? Who wants to be that? It is the ugly girls they want. The ones with flat noses. They look like lesbians.”

She pronounced the word “lex-bian”.

He reached for her hair weave. “It doesn’t matter. You would win if you were allowed to enter. Who is finer than you?”

The Face of Africa girls were not bad at all. What they had in common was that they were not rich. The last Nigerian who won was offered a modeling contract for a hundred thousand dollars. She went to live in New York. The rest had to return to their hovels or wherever they came from. The winner had never held a passport before. She was taller than Glory and her body was tight. Any girl who could manage a haircut that low had to be beautiful. This one didn’t have a dent in her head, but a chick that tall was beyond me. If I wanted to have sex with her, where would I begin?

Glory’s phone rang. “S’cuse me,” she said, flipping it open with her fake nails. “’lo? Yes? No. No. I’m otherwise occupied. I said I’m otherwise occupied. Yes. Later.”

She returned the phone to her pocket as Augustine watched her.

“Who were you speaking to?” he asked.

“My sister,” she said.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Look,” she said, raising her hand. “Don’t come here and accuse me of all sorts. I’ve told you before, this body is not for sale. I don’t give it up easily. I’m not a va bene. I may not have money, but I am coming from somewhere. My father was a famous footballer in this country. If not for his leg injury…”

“Okay! Okay!” he said.

She herself was like a footballer. She was all thighs. Her calves were as thick as her thighs and so were her ankles; there was no in or out. A simple “are you sure?” and now, she wanted to give her life history. All that talk was like his bragging about sex anyway. If her father was that famous, she wouldn’t have to say he was.

Augustine was a mugu, big time, or too much in love to care. He had probably paid for her nails and her phone. How they would qualify for visa interviews, I didn’t know, but rather than sit there as he continued to toast her, I excused myself and decided to explore.

The arts and crafts bazaar was open. Oyinbos were shopping there for souvenirs like ebony busts, bronze masks and malachite ashtrays. No self-respecting elite would buy any of that. From what I’d observed, they preferred to surround themselves with objects that reminded them of Europe.

I saw a woman with an oyinbo man who looked old enough to be her grandfather. Her T-shirt was tight and short, and her bobbies stuck out. He had a hooked nose and his hair was wet with sweat. So was his shirt. He carried a brown briefcase that seemed to weigh him down.

“Is good the eh, eh, art effects?” he asked.

“Yes, of curse,” she said. “They have a lot of artifacts here. Any artifact you want, you can boy.”

Nigerians. Why did we always change our accents whenever we spoke to foreigners?

“Is eh, eh, hex pensive?” he asked.

An illiterate would have been more articulate.

“Oh, my gourd, no,” she said, patting her chest. “They are not expensive at all if you convert to naira. They won’t cost you much.”

From his appearance, he didn’t seem to be worth much, wherever he was coming from, but that was the trouble with the naira. Anyone could come to Nigeria and become rich, once they converted their currency to ours.

The Hausa traders called him “Oyinbo!”

He refused to acknowledge them, as if he was too scared to be without her protection. They came out of the bazaar and beckoned at him, “Oyinbo! Oyinbo! Oyinbo!”

“Heave,” he cried out as their calls grew louder.

He clutched his briefcase to his chest. Eve? That was her name? He was most likely French then. I’d heard they had problems with their Hs.

Oyinbo! Oyinbo! Oyinbo!” the traders kept shouting.

“Heave,” he cried out again.

She hurried over to rescue him. He was now using his briefcase as a shield against the Hausa traders as she shooed them away.

Heave indeed. The new wing of the hotel was to my left. Other women walked in and out and I tried to guess which ones were the prostitutes. It was hard to tell. They all moved with such pride. I counted about three suspects who were accompanying oyinbo men and then got bored of watching. Oyinbos were strange.

When I returned, Glory was ready to leave. She hugged me again.

“You’re so cute,” she said, with regret.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You must come and see me again. I’ll give you a non-alcoholic cocktail.”

I noticed those pimples on her forehead again and her black lipstick. Did she emit an odour? That had to be her secret. She was also attracting the attention of a few Hausa traders in the bazaar, one with tribal marks on his cheeks. He polished a beaded necklace with a rag as he watched her.

“What about mine?” Augustine asked, stepping forward.

“Be patient,” she said, wriggling her fingers.

I almost vomited. Her hands looked like crabs. He hugged her and the top of his head barely reached her neck. He wouldn’t leave until she’d walked back up the ramp. Her hair weave was like a horse’s tail and her heels were shredded.

“Come,” he said, turning towards me. “Are you trying to chase my girlfriend or what?”

“Me?” I asked, smacking my chest. Of all questions!

He pushed me. “Is it because she said you were cute? Is that it? Oh boy, do you know how old she is? Do you think she is your rank? Are you mad? Who told you she likes you? Look, take time o! Relax yourself well, well! You’d better have been expecting a non-alcoholic cocktail from her. If you were expecting more than that, you must be very stupid.”

Their roles were reversed. He was meant to be the deceitful one, not her. What was going on? It was like an invasion of extraterrestrial creatures, when they took over your mind and controlled your inner thoughts.

“You’re crazy,” he said. “Because I brought you here to see her? Where would you have been allowed to enter a hotel like this without me? Your head is not correct. You think you can take my girlfriend from me?”

“She’s not my type,” I said.

“What?” he asked, squinting.

“She’s not my type, jo. Anyway, I have a girlfriend.”



“You’re lying. What is her name?”


He smiled. “Is she fine? Is she fine?”


“But Glory is fine, too, eh?”

I nodded. We couldn’t help our attractions. I couldn’t explain mine to Auntie Florence. Glory’s father was a famous footballer, he said. The bobo had suffered an injury early in his career and, instead of retiring, he carried on playing until he was eventually crippled. Now, Glory had to fend for the family. You had to praise her for that.

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