THE [ALMOST] NIGERIAN ALPHABET
February 11, 2022
by Chantelle Chiwetalu
Letter A is an ancient professor with a tall, unbending brown body that has chosen to shrink secretly instead. He is irritatingly correct and his learnedness smells on everything: his woolly hair, his arthritic fingers, the palazzo-culottes hybrid he wears when he gardens. B is a combination of round balls: pendulous boobs, a stomach like a misshapen calabash held sideways, a small oily head on top. Her laugh is boisterous, her belly bulbous. When she walks, she heaves and rolls, heaves and rolls: left, more left [balance, pause, phew]. Right, more right. Repeat. C is a young woman you might like. She wears glasses and applies for every scholarship and twerks on Friday nights if the mood is right.
D has a history of filling boys’ mouths with sand. Her first impulse in a confrontation is to take off her wig so you can see the gold cornrows underneath and think twice. Old Nollywood used her a lot in their movies about girl cults on campus. Now that they’re all about Lagos-as-only-the-Island narratives, she has very little to do. E was A’s student, and he is much like A but shorter, less comfortable in his skin. He laughs a little too loudly at parties and wonders where his life has gone every time he hits the bed but it’s a lot better when the university girls share it with him and not the missus and so he makes that work. We cannot tell F’s gender; we only know that they are largely unsuccessful and have a constant scowl and a merciless overbite.
G loves hats and oversized clothing and is constant in goodness. She expects you to be, too, and so she will tell you to offer to shine your horrible boss’s shoes and tame your abusive husband with [more] love and [more] submission. Watch her float down the road like a mango seed in mango skin. H is thick and wide like happy bread. He is happy. He does not mind when children ask him to do the boob roll at the parties he MC’s at and their mothers don’t mind either because what harm can he be, really, a man with a face like that? I is an introverted idealist no one understands, or wants to understand. He likes the colour white and has PTSD from his brief stint with the Nigerian modelling industry.
J wears agbadas with colourful filas all the time and laughs throatily, bellily, because his boys are all loyal. He has made it so they have to be. People hail him as he walks by and he throws mint notes at them. When asked what he has achieved for his constituency, he makes a peace sign and chants his party’s slogan and the crowd goes wild. K is a short musician with pink lips and hair that drips oil. He’s famous even though his nine songs combined have a total of thirty eight real words and fifteen made up ones. He’s treating herpes but we’re not supposed to know that so maybe don’t tell anyone?
L is mild-mannered and long-limbed and so simple you have to automatically presume his profundity. Think of Richard from Half of a Yellow Sun but Nigerian and without all the sex. M could pass for a sturdy middle-aged woman but he is really just a man with mini boobs. N is in a toxic relationship with his skin. Pomade and serums in the morning, exfoliating scrub and bamboo soap at night. Dermatologist’s once in three days. O is said dermatologist. She wears long gowns in pastel colours and washes her fruits with mild detergent and warm water and everyone forgets to find her quirks adorable. You know who is adorable? P. Petite, demure, soft spoken. She’s told she can’t be that anymore because, well, don’t you know how men are?
Q is regal, very regal. Her children are all grown now and she spends her afternoons sunbathing on her Lekki terrace and entertaining marketers in the small-small parlour because they fascinate her, the fake confidence in the poverty-beaten bodies. R does not conform and hates Q for very obvious reasons. She is an upcoming rapper and her hair is dyed a puzzling teal. S is ancient and sly and wily. She influences all of T’s decisions, the poor man. Tall. Handsome. Amazing with a basketball. A body odour we can forgive. U is regal, but not like Q: she doesn’t have the money or the years. She tries to manage her crowd as best she can. V is short and top-heavy. He’s great for moving equipment and loves the government. Loved. Until his wife fell deathly ill and the local government chairman he’d once maimed a man for told him, ‘I cannot help you, but here’s a bar of soap from my wife’s soap factory.’
W is wary of company and has strong values and could be great friends with A if they didn’t live so far apart and he didn’t hate technology. X doesn’t even know why he’s here, and nobody really wants him, so he wheels in and spoils everything. Y worries that the poverty of his past life seeps past his Ashluxe and his Louis Vuitton and the girls he gives rides in his Benz and his G Wagon and his Bentley can smell it. Z sometimes tries to be like S, but lacks the range. And so she buries herself in the job of governor-wifery: cutting ribbons and commissioning tippy taps and smiling for the camera and giving hungry women gele styles to aspire to.
Chantelle Chiwetalu lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Her works have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, After the Pause, Kalahari Review, The Muse and elsewhere. She was a Reader-in-Residence for Smokelong Quarterly's 72nd issue.