June 14, 2024

Ekunno’s ‘Soul Lounge’ maps human boundaries and consciousness

  • April 28, 2024
  • 8 min read
Ekunno’s ‘Soul Lounge’ maps human boundaries and consciousness

By Anote Ajeluorou

NO matter how modern we become, there’s always that elemental part of us that yields to the ‘other-worldly’. It’s perhaps why we believe in prophecies, oracular pronouncements from shrines and covens, dreams and associated sensations. For the African man or woman, there’s a little extra in that belief that keeps niggling at the consciousness, where the old or ancient and passing intermingle in the here and now, sometimes in their inexplicable forms. But the human mind is a mine full of inestimable treasures and clutters – who can mine it to its unfathomable depths? Mike Ekunno’s Soul Lounge: Stories with a Psychic Feel (Zemelif, Abuja; 2024) attempts this undertaking with commendable success. In fact, a hint of the thematic preoccupation of Ekunno’s work is first glimpsed on the book cover, which is an abstract surrealist art that conveys a perception of the other-worldly in the immensity of the shimmering waters into which a man’s face is turned.

And so when Nweke Idigo (Agbara as cognomen) woke up to the ominous cry of the owl, followed by a rainless storm that upturns his ikenga in his shrine, the powerful diabia is sure the waist of the world has suffered dislocation and things upended. Upon his consultation of his god, Agbara Ahuru Gbuo Okuko (the terrible spirit whose presence is acknowledged with the life of a fowl), he discovers that a worthy son of Igbo-Adagbe community, who was taken as slave to the white man’s land centuries, and who has kept reincarnating, hoping to return to his native land, had been brutally murdered in faraway America, Minneapolis, Minnesota, to be precise, as the now famous George Floyd! The only way to appease that ancient ancestor’s spirit for the gruesome murder was for him to be ritually bury him in Igbo-Adagbe. Agbara’s duty it is to perform this ritual burial, a task he set himself to at once after the ominous storm.

But this is 2020, the year of the infamous coronavirus that silenced the entire human race, even as millions defied the virus and marched in cities across the world to protest Floyd’s murder. Agbara performs his ritual burial of Floyd, but soon succumbs to the foreign disease that he believes has no place in his shrine. Ekunno’s deft interweaving of these divergent tales is intriguing, as he links Floyd to his place of birth, his dislocation through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and how his death reverberated throughout the world. Floyd was indeed a great man in his Igbo-Adagbe original homeland before he was uprooted to a life of servitude, but he would not depart without making the world know and acknowledge his greatness. We have Ekunno to thank for this important creative and psychic connection in the opening story ‘The Pacification of Umunnakwe, Floyd’s original African birth name.

In all there are 13 stories of varying lengths that make up Soul Lounge, a collection of short but quaint stories that will engage readers all of ages. ‘Queen’s Gambit’ tells how one of the queens to a throne ambushes her husband and prince for using the mobile telephone to announce the birth of his first son to his father and reigning monarch and almost upset the line of succession to the throne. But the vigilance of a judge who saw through the sham and fraud in the inducement of the priest who supposedly performed the ritual sacrifice required to uphold the birth of a prince in Umuokiri overthrows the fraud in favour of the rightful prince. Both queens had given birth about the same day.

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‘The Adventures of Tom the Terror’ is the unmasking of a masquerade by a boy born and raised America, who wants to test if indeed masquerades are spirits and not just human beings in quaint costumes. Of course, the full weight of traditional vengeance is visited on the grandfather of hapless Tom when they smash everything in their path just to appease the spirit beings. But do you blame Tom, when one of the small masquerades stretch out its hands to beg Tom of candy? How would American-born Tom take a spirit begging for candy serious and not attempt to see what is really beneath those masks?

Owanari Hart is in the dilemma of her life, as she prepares for her first antenatal visit to the hospital. Her man has deserted and denied his role in the life of the unborn child. She’s desperate to see a female doctor. A male doctor just won’t cut it for her. Auntie Nneka has prepared her mind, but she’s still diffident. How will she undress for an unfamiliar male, doctor or not, who would poke his hands where they do not belong? Worry eats her up even as she attends the antenatal class. But when her turn finally comes and it’s a male doctor she must submit her naked body to, it’s like breeze and she’s stunned at the anti-climax of the dreaded experience. For her it’s ‘Anti Natal’ encounter instead. It has all been for nothing, her unfounded anxiety.

‘Rites of Passage’ perhaps exposes most tellingly the ‘psychic feel’ that Ekunno sets out to explore in these stories. Urenna is most beloved of everyone who encounters her, especially in the medical field where she’s a star that draws everyone to her side. In medical school and elsewhere, Urenna is it. Even her meeting with Ikenna and eventual marriage is stuff of folktales. But while giving birth, power cut happens and it takes forever for the generators to be switched on, and so ends the life of an illustrious medic and much beloved young lady. Ikenna and everyone who know her are distraught. A petition has been written to prosecute the medical facility, so charges of negligence could be pressed. But when her husband Ikenna goes to visit his in-laws where their surviving child is being cared for, a dream encounter settles the matter of her untimely death, and Urenna’s husband then knows that her brief but impactful life has been mission accomplished, as her promise to live a brief but impactful life. She instructs her husband to let sleeping dogs lie, seeing that she’s happy where she is.

In ‘Work in Progress’, Ambrose makes a living as a comedian and compere, but he’s deeply into women, mostly those from his church whom he has different names for, first lady being one of them. Church is just a distraction for him; his mind is infested with a million lustful wishes while Daddy GO is ministering. He even changes seats and floors just so he could have a better view of his quarry’s endowed assets. This would attract a prophetic message from daddy GO: ‘The Lord says concerning your change of position that the he-goat went in search of a wife but came back pregnant himself. Does that make any sense to you?’ to which he affirms. Ambrose is one philandering bastard if ever there is one. But on this Sunday, he becomes the quarry in Daddy GO’s prophetic ministration, as he’s singles him out for his own encounter with the Lord! And Daddy GO’s message ‘Work in Progress’ ends up being specially designed for him, so he can work in the Lord’s vineyard! And that’s how the devil lost one more soul!

Not least also is Ekunno’s last story ‘Okada’, where an academic exercise becomes the living reality of academics who went on a conference to debate modes of transport and the place of okada (motorbike) riders as a mode of transportation. While some propose outright ban, others sue for its retention but modification for safety of its riders and passengers. On their way home from the conference and amidst heated debate, the university dons are kidnapped for ransom. Ironically, an okada rider becomes the informant that leads to their rescue. When the debaters’ eyes meet, it’s quite clear where the non-verbal language tilts on the possible fate of these reckless riders from hell!

A short story is a shorthand that writers deploy to capture snippets of human interactions and emotions. Ekunno has deftly deployed this shorthand instrument to craft Soul Lounge and what the reader is fed is a sumptuous meal of the ordinary and extraordinary, common and uncommon, celestial and extra-celestial. Although a few glitches can be noticed here and there, Soul Lounge is certainly a rich soul food well made for the reader’s delight.

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