An experience today at a water pump

By Nzube Nlebedim

They say being in a foreign land makes you bedfellows with strangers.
Well, I’ve seen quite a number of things to verify that claim, but none would get into my skin as much as my linguistic wars with the people of this village where I live. I mean, asides getting used to never seeing tomato stews but goat meat pepper soup with plain rice to eat here, a whole army of variables clash with my mind for attention, and I attend to many.

Coming to really dwell on it, these folks don’t eat tomato stew at all with their plain rice. They binge on watery goat soups! I would confess that in my earlier weeks of living here, I found that eating practice quite odd, until I tried it and realized it actually tasted good. Although this was largely dependent on where you ate such meals. In some places, you literally feel the warm goat soup dripping down your throat, leaving the plain rice behind in your mouth! But in some other places, you’d wish your food bowl never emptied. But in all, judging from where I came before I arrived here, it sure is an odd practice.

But I’m a linguist, and not so much a food critic nor eater. This means that I’m very interested in the dynamics of the Anang language to my English, Igbo, little Yoruba or pidgin which I speak. It’s a dynamic a perceptive foreigner has to observe if they don’t wish evil to befall them. There’s been many cases when I’d respond to statements whose meanings I never knew. You have to be polite, smile and pretend you understand. If you’re lucky, it wasn’t so important a thing to reiterate, and in some other cases, they’d repeat it, laughing at your obvious confusion. It’s painful to know you’re being mocked sometimes because you can’t understand a language, but, hey, you just have to keep smiling and move on.

This morning, as early as my body could allow, I got up to fetch water. I didn’t have the ten naira charge for a gallon, but then I was pleased when my memory recollected for me some change the old man at the pumps owed me. The truth is that I wasn’t even sure I was owed money, but, my mind had said I was owed money, so I wore work clothes and moved out.
I took my gallon and galloped to the pumps. It’s a stone’s throw from my house. The day was cool. Rain had fallen the previous day and a good part of the night. I got to the pumps and quickly stuck my gallon under the pipe. I detected stray water washed down the tiles and counted myself lucky there was water. If there had been none, I’d have needed to travel down far the road to get some. A torturous journey indeed, and worse for me since fetching water is the chore I hate the most after washing clothes.

The mama stood with a younger man, her fallen breasts bare in the morning brightness. (My time here had inured me to the practice of public nudity!) Usually, I’d have closed my eyes, but I went straight down to her and told her in English that ‘baba’ owed me money.

‘You go pay money before you fretch,’ she said, and the young man joined.
‘But baba is owing me money,’ I replied, startled at her behaviour. She had never been so cold to me.

She said something in their cryptic language to the younger man, and went inside the inner house. I waited with the young man who introduced himself as a labourer.

‘I have no money. I came with nothing,’ I said, showing him some big notes I had planned to use to go to the market with. He seemed sympathetic.

‘Baba is not around,’ he said.
‘OK. Where did she go?’
‘She go bring me something make I work,’ he responded. A nice young man he was.

After waiting a while longer, I went inside to where she had gone. I met her bent over doing some work. I ignored her and spoke to her daughter who I assumed knew me as a loyal customer who paid his debts without a fight. I greeted them in English and told them I needed to get water.
And then mama responded in their language. What she said elicited some laughter from a woman who sat with her. I knew it wasn’t anything polite she had uttered. How did I know? Well, I didn’t know. So, I decided to play it cool.

‘I no hear wetin she talk,’ I said to the daughter, my temper rising.
‘You will hear today,’ she responded, laughing a most irritating laughter. I felt like giving her a hard knock on the head, but then I knew that would be a very foolish endeavour to pursue as the three women could pummel me to my early death.

‘Baba is owing me twenty naira,’ I mentioned to the girl, relaxing.
‘Ask baba,’ she said.

And then I saw him, sitting on a wooden stool, naked to the ground, as he washed old, wrinkled skin. Thin white lather covered him. Good gracious! I thought baba was not in. Oh well! I had not seen him when I entered and as I spoke to the woman, and so I withdrew in shock. I had seen mama naked, but not baba. He was always covered with a wrapper whenever he was at the pump waiting to collect money.

‘Tell him he owes me twenty naira,’ I said to the daughter who translated to baba who obviously mentioned that it was a lie.
‘He say he don’t owe you any money,’ she said in broken English. I brought myself back in full view. Damn his nakedness!

‘Baba, you no remember me?’ I asked, watching his reaction.

He stopped his leisure wash and seemed to reflect for a moment on what I had said. I prayed silently he’d acquiesce to my demands and let me fetch the water and leave. He nodded and spoke to the daughter.

‘What did he say?’ I asked.
‘He say na true. Say him owe you.’

Relief bathed me clean. I decided to take my luck further. I told her I needed the ten naira change since I was only going to fetch a gallon.

‘How much you say him owe you?’ She asked.
‘Twenty naira,’ I responded with more confidence.
‘Fetch ten naira own, dey go,’ she said.

I shouldn’t have, but I understood her rationale behind that brief but well-calculated financial decision. Since baba was almost senile, she reasoned I could be lying. The ten naira was simply surety!

‘Alright,’ I said, succumbing to her wit.

As I closed the pumps, I reflected on this dynamic. It was an unhealthy one, really. One, they might not have been saying anything disrespectful to me in their tongue. Two, whatever they said might just have not been my business to know! Truthfully, I wouldn’t have felt so bad had they said what evil they said in English. It’d have sounded better, more civil.

As I walked home, my full gallon of water set on my head, I knew that I’d face the same language fiasco in the market today. I knew that a woman would curse me lightly in Anang because I asked for ‘jara’ ugu or crayfish or onions.

I wasn’t assuring myself I’d learn their language. I couldn’t, really.
I’d only bring myself to accepting the reality of my stay as a foreigner here. I wasn’t ever attacked, anyway. I’d simply accept the fact that my inability to understand their language was only a price for staying with them; a simple case of a well-calculated social surety!


A poem in three parts

By Nzube Nlebedim


In that place called street
There are faceless faces
United with a common zeal to pull up
And to pull down
Face me I face you
All lives are safe
And none really is.

In that place called street
Soja pass soja
Call your soja
And I call my own
If I call sergeant and you call field marshal
Na my cup of tea
Na street we dey!

In that place called street
In hidden crevices
Spittle binds Rizzla to herb as
Greatness winds up into the skies
In thick fumes of ganja
Spiritual songs go up to unseen gods.

In that place called street
Nobody know anybody papa
When bottle break
You’d be lucky if your soles get to run
Japa! Nobody know anybody mama
If your head chop blade
Na you cause am
Na street we dey!


In that place called street
Where the Nokia 3310 of yesterday
Evolved into the laptops of today
Get the mugus paying
The magas have no say
In that place called street
Everyone to himself
If SARS catch you
Na you sabi. Na OYO we dey!

In that place called street
With the beautiful women
And mama Riskiat’s gin store
And whatever risky concoction she creates
For men’s bellies
To quell head storms and dull raging senses
No one is normal
In these streets.


In this place called street
With no signpost
With no label
The name of “Chairman” christens
The unknown roads
That witnessed the descent
Of his campaign naira.

In this place called street
If you no jasi, you be ju
As town wisdom flaunts its own royal gown
In the court of professors
In this place, we speak no English
Our words are laced
With the thick butter of unheard sages.

In this place called street
In the gutters filled with shit
Grime, and once
The body of a dead drunk we knew
In these mundane streets
We witnessed a union
Of two bloods that bred
The streets you know.

In this place called street
In these dirt-strewn roads
That know no ambition
Within the four risky walls
Of mama Riskiat’s risky stall
In these gutters that welcomed
The drunk body of father…
We knew home.


By Nzube Nlebedim

I’d begin this post by saying that I might one day be self-published. Therefore, my words should not be nailed to a board as a way of affirming I fell for the very trap I spoke against. But the truth remains: I have a grouse with self-publishing.

Self-publishing has been of great help to African writers now and in the past, too. In military rule in Nigeria, for instance, when the works of some influential writers were censured and stifled because of the critical nature of their content towards the junta, self-publishing lent itself as an avenue for literary and journalistic writers to find voice. Self-publishing became the way out for writers whose works could not be accepted by traditional publishers. That alone gives self-publishing some repute as a veritable medium of publication. In Europe, writers such as John Locke, Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson had some of their works self-published, and others went on to establishing their own publishing houses. If we are permitted to sound one more high note for self-publishing, we would dare add that the best-selling title Fifty Shades of Grey was first self-published.

These days, it seems the literary world has put a very sensitive part of its face in the direction of self-publishing, and this is not a very bad place for the face to look, but we won’t deny that there are certain areas that have proven to be an overdoing, an exploitation of the privileges — if we may use that term, of self-publishing.

I’d reiterate that self-publishing is a saviour to many a literary writer, but then we won’t shut our eye to the fact that this mode of publishing has tended to accommodate one too many creative failures. The avenue of self-publication has given talentless ‘creatives’ and bards the status of authors. Self-publication, although with its many benefits has opened its doors to many folks that should never have been published in the first place. And that is where the traditional publishers score a big goal.

In traditional publishing, creatives have their work tested, tried and thrown off the window if it has no worth. Indeed, we should understand, quite frankly, that some works should never see the four walls of the press. With enough money, writers who had their manuscript constantly thrown at them have now found a way to share those same with us hapless consumers who, really, cannot do anything about it. Come on, it’s their money speaking!

In one fell swoop, the filter over what we should be seeing and shouldn’t be seeing have been taken off our heads. We are now flooded with a barrage of bad literature all in the name of self-publication.
And self-publishing houses are not helping issues at all. It seems the agents themselves have cashed in on the wave. Now, everyone with enough money to host a publishing house is busy hosting some. We are then forced as it were to consume poorly-written content with absolutely no content!

I cannot beat the ox too hard. Every good comes with some bad, it so happens to be. But you’d spare me some time in flogging the case a little. Such is the demerit of self-publishing: the publication’s lack of merit. Admittedly, a good number of publications produced through self-publishing houses do not make for an iota of impressive literature; a few are unreadable, and many are outright toxic!

Dear agent of Lagbaja self-publishing House and co., kindly read through what you’re given to publish! Dear agent, not everything should be published. You’d spare the consumers some torture by engaging in some sort of assessment of the content you’re given to publish. Dear agent, not everything that looks like a book should go into the press.

Note, dear agent, that some books cannot see the light of day. Some effort of some sort should be given to advising these authors and potentials that their work doesn’t come off as a book. Let them know, when found, dear agent that they are better off selling books than writing them. Ensure you do that in the most diplomatic way without hurting too much of their feelings, because, dear self-publishing agent, we consumers have feelings, too!

For starters, pay attention to the words on those pages. Many writers are not writers, and many others can’t even spell. Perhaps, this knowledge would compel you, dear agent, to open the pages you want to publish, the same pages we’d open ourselves when you make the mistake of publishing and selling to us.

Nowadays, money makes the man, as well as the author. Readers have begun to eat of a lie we should never have seen or heard if we still were in the reign of the junta when every publication that had the slightest whiff of “shit” was censured and outright banned.

How then do we fight against the so-called authors of medical books rejected by mainstream press who go to our dear self-publishing agents with their book which affirms that the child grows in its mother’s womb for twelve days as opposed to the nine months we know? What then is the filter against mathematics textbook authors who teach in their book their new-found Eureka that one plus one equals twenty? What should our pastors and orthodox priests and reverends do to forestall the knowledge in many Christian liturgies that proclaim Santa Claus as the saviour of the world? What then do we do to explain to ourselves that we were not wrong in believing that “is” has always been the present of “was”? What then can we do?

For a start, I wouldn’t propose we burn these books or take back the badge the writers have used in affirming themselves as authors. However, some education as those stated earlier should do. Filter! It’s a simple case of sieving. Easier than sieving chaff from ogi, really.
It starts with the writers — the would-be authors, and it rests with the self-publishing companies (in the case where the authors are not their own publishers. Indeed, that’s far worse!) The money is good, yes. The exposure a publication gives to your agency or company is great, yes. But the damage the book would leave on readers who would pick up the book in years to come isn’t one that can be negotiated. Haba! Dear self-publisher, you are supposed to be the next best thing in literature now. We hope you can live up to that and do the right things.

Nzube Nlebedim is a writer, editor and critic. He writes from Akwa Ibom.


This piece is a deliberate opening of a tiny space across the large curtain of my person; a revelation into my being.

It struck me as strange that I never actually do open up. I’m like a closed book. What made this realization more startling was that I never took time to think about it. The thought came during a cold morning bath. One would say that’s a weird place to get these very profound thoughts. And during this bath, as I introspected further on my reality — a process which, more often than not involved my speaking aloud and placing myself at the risk of being called insane, I wondered at the deep psychological domino cards that fall at childbirth and precipitate the fall of several other cards right until adulthood. And perhaps the cards kept falling. Who knows?

The core of that early morning exercise of introspection — or may I say retrospection, caused me to ponder quite unnaturally on the one singular flaw of the human mind: its vindictiveness.

The mind is one vindictive creation, and it holds on to the hurts and pains of many years and never lets go of any, carefully causing chain reactions in its victim. And sometimes, too, the mind is one confused creature, ignorant of the simple progression of alphabets. The moment it is expected to stamp down its letter A, it casts down a B; and when it is meant, by sheer rule of normalcy, to cast a B, it sets down an A. So was my deduction that fateful morning.

But I’d be doing a great disfavour to my introspections if I continue on my voyage into the workings of the human mind. This piece is about me. Many people know me. Many have seen me. Many have lived with me. Many know what I think and when I’m not thinking. Many love me. Many hate me. But I won’t be too forward as to absolve anyone of any blame in the hate or love business. I mean, everyone’s beliefs are their own personal, unique prerogatives. Rather than convert the many who hate to the Love camp, this piece merely does the job of making a first time explanation on the complex phenomenon on the figure of Nzube Harry Nlebedim.

I’m not a great talker. I have never been. I stuttered terribly as a child and still do, although almost unnoticeably in regular conversations. I have been one to write more than speak. I wrote my hurts down, with the future consequences I’d mete out on the wrongdoers: a stone throw to the head, a slap from behind, a knock on their heads, stealing of their food (for family alone), spitting into their teacups, down to full fledged physical war. I had even served poisoned bone to a dog that bit me. But I wrote them all down, anyways, or else I’d forget.

Growing up, I had very few friends and I stayed alone in my quite big head. More times than none, as a younger boy, I found the fist a better option than speaking. Speaking was too much of work in moments of rage (and they were many), and so in those heated moments, when the words couldn’t come out quickly enough in sharp stutters, I resorted to fighting the words out with my hands. As a boy, I made lots of “enemies,” many still outstanding who haven’t had a chance for a recent conversation with me. They still hold grudges of a decade and many years ago, with me in their heads still the young imp.

But over the years, many things changed, and I learned how to speak more slowly when angry, taking deep breaths in the process and resisting the urge to fight my words out. The stutter came out less. Otherwise, I simply keep mum and argue in my head the rage I can’t utter. I still rarely speak about myself and the true workings of my mind to anyone. Truthfully, I don’t know what I know about myself. To myself, I’m one large maze I’m trying to reach the end. And everyday presents new turnings. I hope one day I see the end.

I grew up with older ones: uncles, aunties, cousins and far living relatives who would come visiting. And this is where the core of this story lies. These people stayed close to us and I with them. And in my being with them, these elders made occasional promises: to buy sweets, take me out, get me a gift, the lot of things you gave a boy of below twelve. And it gets interesting here. These people never came through with what they promised. They said these things, and naturally, I believed them. Who wouldn’t believe a big uncle? But voila! They would go AWOL, never again to be seen to keep to their promises. They told me to wait for them, but they never returned. Those were the older folks I grew up with, the type that granted you access to trust but who broke it each time. An uncle who promised to take my brothers and I out to a beach died some weeks before he was to come do so. In my head, that was merely another tragic case of a failed promise.

Many people would have predicted I’d grow up to be like those people, too. But then the mind pays no respect to order. It does what it wills, flipping a Q card instead of a B. Those childhood experiences granted me a great package as I reached the entry border of adulthood. And this pack came with both good and bad gifts.

I had come to realize I took an almost diabolic interest in keeping to my words and keeping to them in time, at the time promised. I tell a kid I’d get them a doll on their 9th birthday, and I come through on their 9th and not the 14th. I tell my baby sister I’d take her out to the movies on a Tuesday at 10am and we are right in the cinema hall at that time. I get an assignment to be submitted at 10am, and I find myself presenting it at 9:50am!
Without knowing it, my mind had been programmed into a moving calculator whose dials must never be toyed with. I set schedules in my head, and I killed myself to meet them. Pressure of goals unmet jerked me up every time I sat down, and I’d make haste to clear the grass under my feet. Keeping to my words then became the price I paid for peace, a redemption from the nagging voices in my head to not be like the men I saw growing up. I make a promise, and come hell and thunder, I come through, beat and drained, but there with my promise. And for what? Subconsciously, without even thinking, I never wanted to be the people I grew up with. Great stuff, yes. I come up tops in teams. Medals and praises for doing jobs in two hours others would do in two months. Great guy!

But this came at a cost, one not so great as the shiny medals on the shelf. The mind is like the devil. It goes through the experiences in your head, sieves them out, separating opposite consequences, and saves them up, ready to serve them in time. We just wait. Over time, I had come to realize I never could trust. While I had become successful in being the fastest folk in the team, I became the most distrustful one, distrustful of the intention of others as well as their capabilities to work as efficiently as I would. I found myself always doubting the words people said, always confirming in my head that people were up to no good. I found myself unable to work with a team because people were too slow for me. I felt uncomfortable because I worked as a locomotive on overdrive and many worked at the pace of snails.
When I am told to wait so a task would be done, I say, “oh no, I’m going with you!” I say, “No, I’m going to watch you do it.” Because I know, deep down (and many times I have been right), they never would return. I am convinced they would forget. And while some returned, many never returned still.

I have become too aware of the weakness of the other person that I usually ignored their good. In my mind, they would never come through. So I found myself doing the work, because I know I’d never disappoint myself. It’s an almost suicidal task, but I can say I have become used to it. But that’s one terrible thing to get used to. I’d always get to work with people, and I must learn to trust people to do things well, the way I feel I’d do them, and better.

And so about two years ago, I thought to stop my clock for a minute, pick up a monkey wrench and begin to work to recreate my mind.

I work on this everyday. To trust people more, to know that some folks would come back with those sweets they promised, with the books they said they’d get, with the request they promised to do. I try, push myself to believe people would be good, that people can be good and would do the things set for them to do. It’s work that involves me learning to let people just do it! It’s work that has led me to deciding to stop waiting for people to fall on their words and then I say, “aha! I said it.” It’s work that forces me to believe that humanity is beautiful, and that other people are just like me, flawed and imperfect, working to perfection. But moreso, that everyone else is also a victim of their pasts, and of the confusion of the vindictive human mind.


The Shallow Tales Review is an online literary magazine that aims to share the unique African story.

In The Shallow Tales Review, we accept fiction, articles, reviews, poems, drama, essays, art photographs, and thoughts that touch on the sensibilities of the African.

Note: Essays and criticisms must concern literary texts that are of modern and African temperament.

We DO NOT publish horror, sci-fi, travellogues or any sociological piece without a literary tilt. We could, however, break our rules for exceptionally great pieces that reflect the African/human condition.

For now, we do not pay contributors, but we hope to do so in the nearest future.

Entries should be sent in by mail to the editor at: theshallowtalesreview@gmail.com with “TSTR Submissions” in the subject line.
Works should be properly formatted and edited as best as possible.

Non artwork entries should be between 1,500 – 4,000 words and should come in .doc or .docx format. Poems could come in any length.

We would respond as soon as we review for publication.

Visit us to read our previous issues on https://theshallowtalesreview.wordpress.com.

Deadline: May 15th, 2020.


By Echioda Oche Joseph

Guest Writer Session with Echioda Oche Joseph

Issue #25

In this work, the guest poet interrogates the validity of Europeanism, and advocates the return of Africans to mother nature.

Tales beneath the moonlight
An antique phrase
For the African moonlight hangs buried by skyscrapers
To these younglings it is these tales by fluorescent
Hand-woven mats replaced by porcelain.
Modern boxes lay around ding-donging.

Dancing around fire barefoot
One with the earth with our jiggling flesh.
Now sitting on plushy chairs
Feets adorned with foreign wears
Towering inches above mother Earth

Offsprings uprooted from traditional roots
Plucked out by claws of civilisation
Sacred rituals considered obsolete
Once beleaguered crimson shrines lay forgotten.
The tattered clothes adorn the glorious edifice.

Identities lost in the Euro-African merger
African veins pumping with black blood,
Racing through veins on dirt roads.
The rippling savage dancing to the drums
The roads now tainted by gooey bitumen
Blood drifting on cemented paths of unknown tranquility.
The literate trapping to the drums

But as long mother root calls
Our hearts churn and yearn
Her comforting arms the final Rehoboth
From mother we came
From mother we return.


Echioda Oche Joseph was born on March 9 in Abuja. He is the first of three children, and he hails from Benue state. His strong spiritual background tends to play a part in his writing. He is a whitelion with fire on his paw to make a mark.

He can be reached on Instagram: whitelion_god and on Twitter: @Echiodaoche

Cover photograph credit: http://www.shutterstock.com


Writers are intentional. We are divinely positioned, appointed and selected to tell the stories affecting our generation and effect the necessary changes, or at most provide solutions, to them. I take writing seriously, and it’s beautiful that I have naturally come to take good writings and writers seriously, too.

I have come to that point where I can’t help but reject — and even disdain, “writers” whose sole duty as writers is to talk about love, sex and red roses. I personally feel their writing “licenses” should be stripped off them.

Many young writers of this generation are victims of European literary propaganda — of the James Bond, Harry Potter and Hardley Chase fame. Many are victims of American literary sensibilities. So now, we want to write about America and set our stories in far flung places away from home. We have become dehomed and detribalized, so much that we don’t see the inherent beauty in writing for our people, for writing about our people. We now prefer Auriel to Somto, Jake to Okonkwo.

The moment young writers stand up and realize we have eaten the tip of the poisoned chalice given us by European literary propaganda, the better for African literature.

You African, you black! What more insult is it to spit at our fathers’ faces — Soyinka, Achebe, Tutuola, Okri, Okigbo, than to deign to write about the lives of strange men? We must realize we only plant in the garden of a stranger if we continue, as writers, to “write away from home.”
The condition of African literature is still an ongoing debate, I must say, and serious writers draw back the discourse if they continue speaking unknown tongues.
Let’s bring the pen back home where it belongs. Writers, let’s farm on the garden our fathers left us. Let’s come into our God-given responsibility!


For my brother,

It is a wonder how you forgot.

His instructions to your heart you shut.

Ezemmuowu said to you as you gripped your locally-woven bag

Your cap perched on your head.

I did not notice. Did the cap cover your ears?

I do not believe it blocked off your hearing

From attending to Ezemmuowu’s voice.

Ezemmuowu had said that it was unwise to leave.

It seems his wise words were foolish to you.

Nothing of his sayings did you sieve.

You let his revered words drain down uncaught in the basket of your mind.

I recall Ezemmuowu said,

“It is a foolish son that abandons the farm of his father to till the land of another man.”

Were you not skilled in the art of riddles and proverbs?

You should have understood Ezemmuowu’s words.

But, Chinedu, you left that same evening

As we bent our backs

Forward to extricate ourselves

From the hold of his revered hut.

It has been exactly ten years you left that hut.

Now you are back to Ezemmuowu.

You are back to the hut you left many moons ago.

But it is no longer a hut.

On that same spot you found a brick house.

You come back haggard and

Defeated… penitent.

You do not have to bend your back forward to go in now.

We go in together the same way we did many nights ago.

Ezemmuowu is still there,

He sits on the same aged stool

His wrapper, although changed now, is still wound over his lean buttocks.

Ezemmuowu smiles at you

He knows the reason you returned.

Ezemmuowu says to you without preamble

His voice quivers with age, but

His words have never lost Wisdom

“You have finished tilling the white man’s land.”

Words abandon your lips.

They move, but no words come out. Was it a question?

You close your eyes to hold back the tears.

You open them, and Ezemmuowu is gone.

The tears run freely.

Water released from its containment.

Ezemmuowu had never gone.

Ezemmuowu had been with you as you searched the bins for scraps of unwanted food.

He had been there as you were spat on by your white owners.

He had been with you in the cold nights on strangers’ corridors.

Ezemmuowu had sensed your sufferings, tasted your pains.

Ezemmuowu was always there

Ezemmuowu was your conscience

Ezemmuowu was you.

…the groit who returned.