Girl-child development in Ojo’s Fire In The Wind
Just exactly two years after the publication of her first novel, The Fragrance of Roses, Kike Ojo, a proficient translator and comparatist, happy mother, grand-mother and wife of a retired diplomat has released her second novel, Fire in The Wind.
Like her first novel, which centres on the development of the girl-child and her rights of citizenship, Fire in The Wind , published by Kraft Books, Ibadan, in 2020, revolves round a female character who from conception suffers all kinds of indignity up to her adult age as a wife and mother.
Angela Wusu-Smyth, a Sierra Leonean who later becomes Mrs. Angela Olagoke Adeoye, having married a colleague of hers at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan Nigeria, had thought that given what she had gone through as a child without parents, her marital relationship would have compensated for her excruciating condition but this is not to be owing to the excessive and damaging interloping stunts of her mother-in-law and her young daughter. They end up destroying Angela’s marriage leading to her relocation to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire with her three young children to take up an appointment at the UN Headquarters.
It should be recalled that Angela is a product of an illicit relationship between Mr. Hayford Wusu – Smyth, a Headmaster who had been transferred to the town of Bo to head the primary school there. Angela’s mother, Onike, at the age of 16 had fallen for the antics of Mr. Hayford Wusu – Smyth because of the terrible economic condition of the latter’s family.
Onike could not go to school because of the family’s financial constraints. Her mother even died as a result of health conditions, which she could not attend to for lack of funds. Her uncle, a catechist in whose place she gave birth to Angela, took Onike.
Onike who was selling oranges alongside other fruits for survival died when Angela was fourteen years old. An arrangement was made to keep her in a foster home after the death of her mother and her uncle. She was handed over to the Fodays but she was treated like a slave and denied the opportunity of going to school, which Angela had so much cherished.
Foday had done everything to lure Angela into illegal sex and ended up raping her when she was 17 years. The relationship between her and Mr. Foday led to a pregnancy, which Foday denied but for the intervention of Mr. Scott, a lawyer who was administering the Will left behind for Angela by Mr. Hayford Wusu – Smyth.
Through the help of her friend, Susan and the lawyer, she was able to make her O’ level examinations. Meanwhile as she proceeded to Fourabay College, her child was left in the care of her uncle’s wife, Aunty Agatha, who unfortunately abandoned her child, James and forced him to go through some humiliating circumstances including being arrested for robbery by the police.
James’s lifestyle and condition changed with the help of St. Patrick’s Presbyterian Church in Makeni where he had relocated to. He was able to avail himself of adult literacy classes in the evenings, ending up marrying a University of Liverpool graduate whose father was an industrialist.
Through Abigail his wife, James became a graduate of the Open University before the outbreak of the war in Sierra Leone.
As Angela is worried stiff about her son James and her Aunty Agatha Sesay especially with the war in Sierra Leone and the consequent refugee problem, James himself is also concerned about his mother who had abandoned him as a three – year old child.
Angela uses every opportunity especially now that she is leading an NGO which distributes food to children affected by the war to check if for any reason Mrs. Sesay and by implication James her abandoned son will be among those refugees streaming into town and she even travels to Yamoussoukro, the political capital of Cote d’ Ivoire for that purpose but to no avail. Another meeting to represent her NGO in Yamoussoukro presents her with the opportunity of meeting with James who now bears Kallon as his surname.
James has also come to represent his group of refugees from Sierra Leone in the meeting. The lost child and her mother meet again after nineteen years. Both Angela’s life and that of James have “been lives of fire in the wind”.
As part of compensating her son and her daughter – in-law, Angela relinquishes her position in L es Enfants de la Rue (Street Children NGO) to James and the name is changed to Les Enfants de Dieu (God’s Children). She also secures a nice accommodation in Bouake, where James and his wife have decided to settle. Angela realises that the nightmare, which has terrorised her for years, has disappeared with the coming together of herself and her son.
Fire in The Wind is a morality tale that speaks to what some women go through at all levels of their lives especially women who belong to the lower estate of the society.
Angela, the heroine of the novel had thought that she would find peace by going to school and improving herself, and that by so doing, she would get the right partner with the accompanying values that could create family stability but her mother-in-law and her daughter did not allow this to happen. This distablises her psyche the more, making her to remember all she had gone through in her country.
Until she has made peace with her past, her stability cannot be guaranteed. Her past was that of poverty, humiliation, man’s inhumanity to man, abandonment and total depravity caused by forces beyond her control. But it is heart-warming that in the end in spite of the forces at play, she finds peace with herself after reconciling with her son who circumstances had led to his abandonment.
The novel is a twenty-one chapter book structured in five parts. Employing the technique of In Media Res, the novel begins from the middle of the story of the life of Angela, a Sierra Leonean lady – lecturer in Nigeria whose marriage to a Nigerian lecturer colleague has irredeemably and irretrievably collapsed and she is on her way with her children to Abidjan to start a new life. In this part, the writer goes on to give the background of how Angela was born, her mother, the stranger Headmaster who impregnated her at the age of sixteen, Angela’s grand-mother’s state of destitution and the death of her grand-mother and that of her mother.
Part two of the novel opens the eyes of the reader to the sufferings Angela goes through in her matrimonial home because she has not given birth to a male child.
Angela confides in her friend, Busayo: “If this is not a male child, I know that those two women will make life unbearable for me…” (81). Part three shows the level of frustration of Angela in her matrimonial home and her consequent move to live in a separate apartment.
The story also returns to Angela when she was fifteen years as a ward to the Fodays. Her ordeal in Mr. Foday’s hand, the efforts of Mr. Scott, the lawyer, her pregnancy and her O ‘level examinations which she passed in flying colours are all recorded in this part.
Part four deals with her relocation to Abidjan and clearly shows that the heat is still as heavy as it was on her while in Nigeria or even before she left Sierra Leone. This part also engages the out – break of the war in Liberia, a country between Cote d ’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.
The war leads to an influx of refugees into Cote d ’Ivoire and Angela has been unable to go to Freetown to look for her son, James and Aunty Agatha Sesay. Part four also contains Mrs. Sesay’s untoward treatment of James, James’s wayward lifestyle, his repentance and the accompanying success.
Part five is the last part of the novel which focuses on the war that has broken out in Sierra Leone with a lot of people including children moving in droves to Cote d ’Ivoire. This part brings the novel to a happy resolution with Angela and James re-uniting after missing each other for nineteen solid years.
The novel is set in the mid 1980s to early 1990s under the dictatorship of the military in Nigeria. The military had introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme, which unleashed in tow, poverty and hardship on Nigerians and foreigners alike.
This led to an exodus of many categories of professionals including university lecturers. As can be seen in the novel, Angela is under intense pressures not only from her home front but also her economic base which is nothing to write home about arising from the harsh economic policy. The setting also reminds the reader about the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone with debilitating consequences to the West African Sub-region. Countries like Nigeria and Cote d ’Ivoire bore the brunt of those wars in human and material resources.
The novelist clearly brings to bear on the novel, her understanding and grasp of literary creativity with the use of dreams, divine invocation, stream of consciousness, foreshadowing, etcetera.
Angela is always dreaming and these dreams open up her grave psychic state of mind and foreshadow the grief that she will be confronted with in her matrimonial home. She keeps having nightmares until she meets her son and reconciles with him.
There is also a large dose of the technique of the stream of consciousness which gives insight into the benumbing state of the minds of most of the characters – Angela’s deep emotional destabilization before, during and after her marriage to Goke; Angela’s putative father who was troubled unto death by not only his infidelity to his lovely and lovable wife but also the dalliance between him and Onike, an otherwise innocent girl of sixteen years that he was not ready to marry because of her social class and coupled with the fact that he was already happily married; the psychic disposition of old Foday after violating and impregnating Angela, a young girl under his care; Angela’s worries and dreams occasioned by her background and reflections of that background; her crisis – ridden marriage with Goke and many other pressures that she is burdened with. On the part of James, immediately he realised that Aunty Agatha Sesay was not his biological mother, he became devastated and therefore, decided to opt for the street. At every point in the characterization of the novel, the characters are haunted by one sordid event or the other with the negative consequential outcomes on their stability.
Fire in The Wind is a psychological novel imbued with history for didactic purposes. It is also a feminist novel which champions the cause of womanhood, celebrates family values, the girl-child, the marriage institution and above all, opposes all sorts of intrusions that undermine happy marriages. For Kike Ojo, the new voice on the literary block, it is morning yet on creation day!
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