Have you ever gotten something without wanting it and later realized how much you had needed it without knowing? That was me with this book. A friend of mine wanted to attend a book club meeting that was discussing this book. She didn’t but she reminded me of this book that I had seen as I was perusing through the Magunga bookstore.
It had gotten my attention because it had a naked black woman seated facing the other direction as the cover. Africans love colours. Or at least, most of their book covers are colorful. And they also love abstract paintings or drawings. The ones that don’t go for colorful substances go for colourful abstracts as their cover images. But Unigwe Chika chose a white cover with a black image for her book.
If I was to advise my friend, I would tell her to buy the book regardless of the book club meeting having passed her by. It will take her to Lagos, Sudan and Belgium. But beyond that it will take her into the minds of the common mwananchi outside there. Of men who play around with the fate of the women’s lives placed in their hands. Of life that is never fair to anyone. But is more unfair to others. It will remind her of hard decisions that have to be made. We judge prostitutes a lot. But had we been in their positions, would we have made different decisions?
I watched a clip of Oprah Winfrey saying that in life, there are no mistakes. I wouldn’t have watched it if it were not for that opening line. What did she mean? We all make mistakes, don’t we? Her point was that there are no wrong roads or wrong turns in life. Because when you feel disgruntled, that’s when you change your mode of operation, right? For example, a person who was meant to be in business, and gets employed will in most times be complaining about their work. And if things go ‘well’ they might do their jobs so badly that they get fired or they get so depressed that they quit their jobs. According to people and the world, this are mistakes that the person is making. But that person, having no options anymore in the employment world, ends us opening a business. Which is what they were so supposed to be doing all along. So, see, employment was not a mistake, it was life nudging you to get to your end point. So mistakes are not failures, they are life’s way of taking you to your destiny. Otherwise if people succeeded in doing things they were not meant to be doing, who would invent for us things or come up with solutions or even lead?
On black sisters street brings out that point so well. That life will throw many things your way. Some will break you, others will change you, some will leave you bleeding, others will make you happy. But by the end of the day, for as long as you want more out of life, regardless of the a thousand turns you take in life, you will end up where you were supposed to be. And the a thousand turns is what we call ‘my story’. Everyone has one. Some are heart wrenching others are mundane. But by the end of the day, they make us who we are.
The book is full of loss, pain, desperation, crushed hopes and failed dreams. It reminds me that we can never run away from our past. It always catches up with us. Make peace with it. The present might also not be what we dreamed off. But like those sisters, don’t lose sight of your goals. Even when your dreams are crashed, come up with new ones. Its a story of darkness painted with light. Loss that leads to gaining. Hopelessness that gives birth to new ventures. Desperate measures in desperate moments that kill some while prospering others. Crashed dreams that pave way for better dreams. Its not a happy book, buy it leaves you with the kind of hope that leads to happiness. It talks of an unkind life that breeds kindness at least to thyself by the end of the day.
But one thing I really loved about it , is how it brings out the role of fate in our lives. The criss crossing of our lives with strangers. Some fade away after the first encounter. Some stay for a while, do more damage than good and leave. Others die. While others stay for as long as our lives are going in the same direction, and leave an impact that lasts forever in our lives. Others stay for life. But that’s the beauty of our lives. Like streets, some shops stay for forever, while others don’t even last for a month.
I might forget this book. And it’s beautiful sad story. I might not even remember to look for more of Unigwe Chika’s books or works. But I won’t forget how it made me feel. I will not forget the places it took me to. The men it made me sleep with willingly but mostly unwillingly. The laughter it evoked in me. The cities it made me walk in. The chicken soup and jollof rice that I took. Or Dele’s wealth. Or Brother Cyril’s white clothes. Nor will I forget the dreams it gave me. That a degree equals a good job while in school only. I will not forget.
It goes without saying that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I really did. Its the kind of a book that befits a gift ( hinting for all those who missed my birthday). But it does justice to what can be termed as good writing. I don’t repeat books, or anything else for that matter( only Sarafina was an exception) but I see myself rereading this book in my old age. Or when life takes me through a maze and I feel lost, which is bound to happen a lot in my twenties. In my world, I choose not to rate it. Because sincerely I will be rating my feelings, or how it made me feel, and not the book. Which will not be objective at all.
But in case you have some money and want to invest in your soul, then On Black Sisters Street by Unigwe Chika, is the correct investment.
A disclaimer – you will need a dictionary close by should you choose to read this book. Especially the first few chapters.