By Temitayo Olofinlua
I wake up in a strange bed. It is a big bed; I can stretch my two hands across it yet there will be space for another. There is a fan squeaking, rolling, blowing in my face. There is a wardrobe and a table. My laptop is on the table, staring at me. My bags — my travelling bag and my laptop bag — sprawl on the floor, open.
It is quiet, except for the muezzin’s cry calling people to prayer, and the crowing cocks telling everyone it is morning. I am in Iseyin, Oyo State, Nigeria. I am here as one of the writers on the Ebedi Writers’ Residency. My housemate, who is in the next room, is Barbara Oketta from Uganda. We watched TV together in the sitting room last night and had a chat about Nigeria and Uganda. I wanted to know about Kony. Was he as brutal as they said, as Kony 2012, the documentary showed? Did she know the sitcom, Shuga, though it is made in Kenya?
She asked me about the House of Representatives’ investigations into the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Were they as thorough, tough as they looked? A few hours before that, there had been: “Welcome to Iseyin!”
A voice shook me awake from my drowsy world — you know that border between being asleep and being awake. It was Mr. Bode, the Personal Assistant to the founder of Ebedi International Writers Residency, Dr. Okediran. I checked my watch. Must have taken us about 145 minutes. Minutes of small talk, and sleep, and small talk, and sleep.
Before Iseyin, there was Ibadan. Ibadan with its dusty brown roofs sitting atop houses that lined potholed roads. There was Iwo Road with its hustling boys, begging to carry my large, grey travelling bag. One tried to open my laptop bag. He opened the outside zip a little but not large enough for his hand to reach through to pick anything. I felt it, I saw him. A knowing look passed between us. He knew I saw him. He walked away, turning shyly to look at me, his eyes begging that I do not alert anyone. I didn’t. Dem no tief from me for Lagos, nah for Ibadan dem go come tief from me? Lailai!
Another carried the bag to Mr. Biggs, where I waited for Mr. Bode and the driver from the residency. Before Ibadan, there was Lagos. There was also an email from Dr. Okediran that I’d been selected to spend six weeks at Iseyin. There was a rush of excitement in my body. There were lone shouts of “Yes! Yes!” There were days of smiling to myself repeatedly. There were hurried interview appointments. There were deadlines to be ticked off to-do lists. There were articles to be written.
All these had to be done before Ebedi. Getting the residency was, for me, about the freedom to do anything that I wanted during that time, without succumbing to the pressures of deadlines and work. It was an opportunity to do what I always wanted to do – to write. You ask me what I do for a living; I write. And edit. In recent times, I had been writing all sorts; press releases, content for websites, articles, investigative pieces – everything but the fiction that was supposed to be my forte.
Last year, I wrote just one short story, quite many non-fiction pieces. Shameful, right? You cannot compare writing for money, writing what you really want, and writing what you have to. There is that confusion, that sitting on the fence. There is fiction on one side, and then there is every other form of writing/money-spinning on the other side. There are bills to be paid. So, you know within you what side to face. And to think, for me, fiction writing is so demanding, less paying, but more fulfilling.
So, getting the Ebedi residency was, for me, a chance to write what I really want to write. I am here in Ebedi, my dreams of getting at least six short stories out of my system in my mind. I hope that the characters will tease me here, their words will urge me awake, push me to my laptop, and force their way out of me. Write, I shall. But while here, I will tell you about Iseyin; about weekly sessions with students from Ekunle High School; and about the interesting places I go and the fascinating people I meet.