By Mosarrap H. Khan
[In one of the courses on Postcolonial Literature that I did while at the University of British Columbia, we were asked to creatively rewrite the ending of a novel. I rewrote the ending of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958). Okonkwo’s suicide at the end of the novel has always haunted me as I could not accept a heroic figure like him submitting so tamely. While rewriting, I thought what if Okonkwo had not killed one of the British messengers when Okika was giving a call for war against the enemy (British) and what if the Igbo had won the war. In a way, I placed myself in Okonkwo’s position and thought what I would have done in a similar situation.
On Chinua Achebe’s death (1930 – 22 March, 2013), I thought I will offer this as my tribute to this great Nigerian writer. This was first published in Cafe Dissensus Blog, the blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine.]
When Okika finished his speech, it was Okonknwo’s turn to speak. Meanwhile, the attention of the people turned to the sharp bend in the road which led to the white man’s court. The court messengers could be seen in the distance. They were coming toward the market place. For a moment, there was a hush. The silence was followed by a murmur sweeping through the crowd. The messengers came and ordered the villagers to stop the meeting immediately. The crowd was in no mood to let the messengers have their way. The messengers stopped at the edge of the crowd. Okonkwo was sitting at the edge. A scuffle ensued and soon the messengers were seen fleeing the scene.
Regaining his composure, Okonkwo readied himself for his speech. He had never been a man of words. His strength primarily lay in his physical prowess. He had already made up his mind to go for a war against the white men. He would have none of the philosophical musings of the other orators. Contorting his facial muscles as he spoke, he started in a deep voice:
‘I am not here to lecture you on the terms on which we can be friends or negotiate with our enemies. The battle lines are clearly drawn. We have come to this because of the foolhardiness of some of our leaders.’
At this point, he looked at Egonwanne. He did not hide his hatred for him. The crowd could feel the palpable tension in air.
He continued, ‘If we did not allow the white men to settle at Abame five years ago, we would not have had to face this humiliation today. We have been insulted. Our land is taken away from us. Our culture is termed as evil. We have shown tolerance toward them. The white men, in turn, have taken this to be our weakness. We are a great people. We fought numerous battles in the past and won them. We will not allow the names of our ancestors to be besmeared. We take a pledge on this day to go on a war against the white men and their religion. Death is more desirable than humiliation at the hands of our enemy.’
His oratory was not extraordinary but it touched a chord with the crowd. They swore back to take revenge. The village elders sensing anger in the crowd got into a huddle to work on the next plan of action. It was decided that the villagers will attack the house of the District Commissioner and Mr. Smith that very night. The attack was scheduled at the dead of night when the enemy could be caught off-guard. The men were urged to keep their weapons ready because they were certain that the battle would be a difficult one to win.
Okonkwo felt somewhat happy for the first time after his humiliation at the hands of the messengers. As he retreated to his hut with his friend Obierika, he remembered the heroic days when they fought against Isike. That was the hardest fought battle for them so far. How he missed Okudo! Okudo’s voice could turn even the most timid hearts aflutter with pride.
The word of battle soon spread far and wide. The excitement seemed to spill over as the appointed hour approached. Long after Obierika returned to his hut, Okonkwo sat thinking. Suddenly, he saw the frightened face of Ikemefuna. He did not remember him for a long time now. He tried to shake off that image of the boy walking in the forest looking back at him for assurance. Ikemefuna trusted him! For a moment his mind went back to the blow of his machete, the severed body of the boy lying next to him. He remembered Ezeudu’s words still ringing in his ears, ‘That boy calls you father. Bear no hand in his death.’ No, he cannot allow such weak thoughts to pervade his mind. This is no time to ponder over such trivialities. He had done his duty. That was it.
Ezinma came with his food. He did not feel like eating. He felt nauseated and wanted to rest. He had to ready himself for the impending battle. His body felt strangely fatigued with excitement pouring over. He brought out his gun. He danced wildly at Ezeudu’s funeral. Ezeudu was a great man and the entire clan was at his funeral. The crowd paid their last respect by beating their drums, shouting slogans, firing guns. Then the crowd heard a cry of agony in the midst of the revelry. The blood-spattered body of Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old-son was lying there. Okonkwo’s gun had exploded killing the boy instantly. The thought of death filled every nook of his mind.
The night was pitch-dark. It was one of the fiercest nights the people of Umuofia ever saw. It rained heavily; the thunder slashing across the darkness of the sky. The air seemed to be ominous. The lament of the spirits was audible enough for those who cared to listen. The sound of beating drums could be heard in the distance. The Priestess of Agbala came out on her nightly rounds. The men were already there. Armed with their machetes and guns, wearing warlike clothes, they passed a kola nut around and Okonkwo broke it. They decided to advance in smaller groups. In the darkness, Okonkwo moved with the dexterity of a wrestler.
The women and children saw from far the receding shadows of their men…
[Mosarrap H. Khan is a doctoral candidate in the dept. of English, New York University. He researches in the area of Muslim everyday life in South Asia.]
[Cafe Dissensus Blog is the blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine.]