How did a 12-year-old Nigerian boy end up in a Libyan refugee camp? That is the question at the heart of Samuel Monye’s gripping and award winning debut novel, Give Us Each Day, published by Quramo Publishing in 2018.
Monye landed a book deal with Quramo as winner of the Quramo Writer’s Prize 2017.
The story of Seun Ajimobi aka Abdul aka Saed is a painful and harrowing narrative written as if with a pen dipped in blood. Reading his madcap dashes across deserts and Libyan towns, one can hear echoes of Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday and even Chinua Achebe’s Chike and the River but this is more primeval and more hauntingly bloody.
Shots are ringing out and the body count is rising from the very first pages as the narrative see-saws between Misrata and Warri then Tripoli and Ibadan but connecting the disparate locales is Seun, a young boy cast suddenly into a surreal world of human traffickers, murderous Libyan militia and migrants stuck in refugee camps.
The novel is a thrilling joy ride. Fast paced and written in a simple arresting style, it showcases Samuel Monye’s story telling abilities. His facility in managing to tell a cohesive story despite the changing locales announces him as a talent to watch, one with an amazing story telling gift.
Give us Each Day tells a sad but familiar story but its urgency comes from its unique cast of characters; young African boys set adrift in a war-torn zone where death and danger are ever present.
Hakeem, with his swagger and braggadocio, is the leader of the gang. Just 15, Hakeem has seen enough to make him sneer at death – “I do not fear death anymore, you get used to seeing it.”
Then there are Sadiq and Hussein, two members of the gang who look up to Hakeem for direction.
Omar is the odd one out. Living with his father, he has no reason to run the streets but peer pressure leads him to join the other boys on their dangerous forays into Misrata’s underbelly.
Visceral and gut wrenching in the story it tells, Give Us Each Day, in employing a child narrator is able to present a matter-of-fact bare knuckle narrative without filters or frills. Seun is young and his naivette colours his narrative making it seem as if he is a bystander narrating an event he is witnessing from the sideline. But the truth is that he is not, he is an active participant in a bloody unravelling.
Recalling an attack on a convoy led by his uncle, Seun tells us – “More gunshots follow. The woman sitting by me pushes me off, opens the door and runs off. I scream as she leaves me behind. Fear grips me and I cling to Uncle Ade as I scream for Mama. The gunshots whizz through the air around me. I shut my eyes and pray it stops.
“When the gunshots finally stop, I raise my head carefully, watching to see who is out there. There is a car coming towards us with men yelling
“I tug at Uncle Ade’s arm and call to him but he does not reply. He is leaning against the steering wheel and staring at me. Torchlights shine through the windshield as two men approach the truck.
“’Ug ud weyn maa inta,’ one of the men says to me three times. It is not until his torch falls on Uncle Ade that I notice the hole in his forehead. There is blood dripping from it. My legs go numb and Papa’s face flashes before my eyes. Uncle Ade is dead.”
Death and carnage are ever present in this juvenile adventure story and Seun Ajimobi tells that story without overt sentimentality. He is living in a nightmarish world where the next minute is not guaranteed and he only manages to stay alive through sheer luck, stubbornness and typical Nigerian inventiveness.
The story he tells, even though personal, has a deeper collective ring to it. In the recent past, the Nigerian government has had cause to evacuate Nigerians stuck in Libya following a CNN expose. Viewed from that perspective, Seun’s story could have been gleaned from the features pages of yesterday’s newspaper – Libyan returnee recounts tales of horror.
It is that topicality as well as the very young age of its narrator that provides it with its gravitas. Give Us Each Day shines a harsh searchlight on the rape of Africa’s young, the despoliation of Libya and the treacherous nature of the desert crossing for Europe-bound Africans.
Monye has captured a slice of life that is all too real for many Africans and he has told that story with remarkable aplomb by stating the bare facts without judgement or censure because at the very end, we are all victims just as we are all complicit.
But in telling that story, he has given us a young new hero in the person of Seun Ajimobi aka Abdul aka Saed the quick-witted Warri boy whose story reminds us all over again that – Warri no dey carry last.