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Maik Nwosu: Alpha Song

Our hero is called Taneba Taneba or, rather, he isn’t, but this is a name he has adopted for himself. We know his father’s surname was Brass. The only time anyone uses his old first name, he is called Alien by an old schoolfriend, which may well be a nickname.

At the start of the book, he is forty-five years old and dying. He has an incurable disease, exacerbated by his immune system not functioning properly because of his riotous life. The book we are reading is a testament to his five-year old son, from whose mother he is estranged. The book, of course, tells his story.

His father came from an old-fashioned family where marriage was for social or commercial reasons and not for love. His father, however, broke with tradition and married whom he wanted to, thus cutting himself off from his family. He was his parents’ only child. His mother died young and his father remarried (twice – it could have been a third time if he had not died). His father had four children from his two later marriages. Taneba did not get on with his stepmother so moved out and lived with his mother’s brother, a married but childless postmaster.

It is his uncle who gets him a job in the post office sorting office. It is not a job he particularly enjoys but it is a job. He spends his time at Mama Senegal’s restaurant, admiring the fancy house opposite, strangely called January 15. One day, a car pulls out of January 15, and stops by him. The driver calls him by name.

It turns out to be an old schoolfriend, Tamuno, also known as Don. Tamuno was always playing truant at school but now seems to be doing well. Taneba had written his thesis for him, for which Tamuno had promised to pay him. Tamuno ended up with better marks than Taneba but never paid. However, he had not forgotten and his payment is to give Taneba free access to his nightclub, The Owl. Taneba welcomes this and is a frequent visitor, to the disgust of his uncle.

We now follow Taneba’s somewhat dissolute life. He makes other friends at the club as well as Tamuno. One friend, called Bantu, encourages him to accompany him on board a ship bound for Liberia, where they will work in catering and be well paid. It does not go well. He had quit the post office job and now on return to Lagos, learns that Tamuno seems to have disappeared so he goes back to his uncle, who gets him put on a post office management training scheme. His new job is much better paid than before.

However, we are now learning that there is something with Taneba that seemed to prevent him making commitments or set down roots or, alternatively, things just seem to go wrong for him. He loses the post office job and drifts around.

However, it is in his romantic attachments where he seems to particularly fail. He has a host of girlfriends, starting with Lovelyn. On his first visit to The Owl, Tamuno offers him Lovelyn. They adjourn to a place where rooms can be rented by the hour. However, when she undresses, he sees that she has a clock tattoo between her navel and her pubis and this causes him so much concern, that he cannot perform.

He has various girlfriends, some of whom look like being serious but, for one reason or another, it does not work out. Even when he finds a woman he loves enough to marry, it does not work out. The first one dies. With the second one – the mother of his son, to whom he is writing – it simply does not work, not least because she was once engaged to his father!

Something similar happens with his friendships. He makes various friends – Tamuno, Bantu, Yellow and others – but they all the friendships end. They die. They disappear. They go insane. Nothing lasts.

So here he is, aged forty-five, dying of an incurable disease and not much to show for his life, except a five year old son, from whose mother he is estranged and whom he does not see. It is a sad story, even if he is the author of much of his misfortune.

He is not entirely alone in this. Many of his friends and girlfriends also seem to struggle in this way, unable to make commitments, losing their way, ultimately failing, dying without having really achieved anything. There seems to be no redemption for anyone and while he is pinning his hopes on his son, we get the feeling that the boy, too, may well turn out like his father or his grandfather.

Publishing history

First published 2001 by House of Malaika & Beacon Books