“I’m Usually Inspired by Everything” – Interview with Agbai Ematerry Chinonso

“I’m Usually Inspired by Everything” – Interview with Agbai Ematerry Chinonso

Daniel Ogba

TABLE TALK

“I’m Usually Inspired by Everything”— Interview with Agbai Ematerry Chinonso

Kreative Diadem is known for its Annual Creative Writing Contest, demonstrating our commitment to young writers’ literary growth across Africa and beyond.  We recently chatted with last year’s flash fiction winner—Agbai Emmaterry. Enjoy!

Agbai writes for fun. That’s the core of her writing. She loves writing without the pressure of commercializing it because she begins to worry and already worries enough about people taking a positive interest in what she writes. She finds herself comfortable writing stories that show the dramatic facets of life. Stories that point out both the good and bad parts of humanity, but in reading – she is a sucker for romance.

Kreative Diadem: Who is Agbai? Tell us briefly about yourself.

Agbai: I am a final year student of law at the University of Ilorin. My only talent has to be writing, so it has all the passion I have to offer. But it’s something I genuinely enjoy, right next to sleeping.

Agbai Ematerry Chinonso

Winner of the 2021 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: When did you first discover your passion for writing, what inspired you?

Agbai: I have no idea what inspired me or when I discovered it. It’s something I’ve always done as far back as I can remember. I have so many uncompleted “books” from my childhood that I decided to write only short stories. I’m usually inspired by everything, from what I eat to things I watch, hear or see.

KD: What challenges do you face as a writer in a developing country like Nigeria? What steps do you take to overcome them?

Agbai: Well, most importantly, it is money. It takes a certain skill and level of writing for a person to make writing their full-time job with a consistent inflow of substantial cash. While this is a similar occurrence worldwide, it is often heightened by the nature of our country. So, the only way to combat it is to work at multiple income streams while developing your craft to be worth more.

KD: Who are some of the literary figures that inspire you/you look up to?

Agbai: I admire multiple writers, but two that come to mind right now (internationally) are Sidney Sheldon and Amy Harmon. Sidney Sheldon is a popular author with various thrillers to his name. While Amy Harmon is also a notable writer in the genre of romance. Their use of words and storylines always has me hooked and envious, making me want to be better.

Tons of African writers are amazing, Chimamanda, Bolu Babalola, Chiemeka Garricks, and more are always able to strike a chord with relatable stories that leave you wanting more.

 

“I always say I want to write something that provokes emotion, something that could be a topic of conversation amongst people that others recommend. An anthology of such short stories is one goal I would like to achieve.

KD: In 2021, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. How did you feel about winning?

Agbai: Oh, I was quiet for a while. I didn’t even tell anyone. But I was excited and happy and grateful. So, I quietly soaked in the knowledge that I had won, grinning internally. Then when I was satisfied with my private celebration, I eagerly shared it with my loved ones.

KD: Let’s get down to your flash fiction. What was the inspiration behind A MATCHING PAIR? Was there a specific message you intended to pass along to your readers?

Agbai: My inspiration was Twitter. There was a point when paternity tests were trending. With the competition in mind and me looking for a story idea, it just stuck and wouldn’t go away, so I just developed on it. There was no specific message. I just wanted to tell a story of how two bad people deserve each other.

KD: Apart from winning first prize in the flash fiction contest in 2021, what are some of your other achievements? (Awards, nominations, published works, etc.?)

Agbai: There are no published works, works, or any of that. I tend to be shy with my work, so entering the Kreative Diadem competition was quite the step.

KD: What are some of your long-term goals as a writer?

Agbai: I always say I want to write something that provokes emotion and could be a topic of conversation amongst people that others recommend. An anthology of such short stories is one goal I would like to achieve.

KD: Are you currently working on any books now?

Agbai: Not yet.

KD: What advice would you give young writers like yourself, especially in Nigeria?

Agbai: Just keep writing, the financial aspect might not always be encouraging, but once you love writing, it wouldn’t matter. Also, shoot beyond Nigeria as well. The world is your playground.

KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?

Agbai: Kreative Diadem is a very helpful and healthy community with contests I look forward to every year. I love how they give all sorts of writers a voice to share their craft on the website.

KD: What’s your writing process like?

Agbai: My writing process is sometimes chaotic, I get an idea from something I hear, read, or even say myself, and it keeps nudging me to write it down. I could ignore it for months because I have no time, but it stays with me, silently judging me until I give in, and the actual writing process is so much fun. The hardest part is building the storyline in my head and also naming the story. I’m terrible with titles.

KD: Any final words?

Agbai: This was an honour that I appreciate. I hope to have more people love the little tales I weave.

AND THIS IS HOW THEY BECOME BEAUTIFUL by Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba

AND THIS IS HOW THEY BECOME BEAUTIFUL by Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba

photo of daughter hugs her mother

AND THIS IS HOW THEY BECOME BEAUTIFUL

by Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba

First Runner-up of the 2021 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

The boy wants to cry. 

He sniffs in mucus for the umpteenth time, but his mother holds his arm and tells him that he will have to make a choice. He stares into her face, searchingly. Tears stream out of her eyes. And so he turns to his father, but his father stares into space. Hopeless, he turns back to his mother. “I want to stay with both of you,” he drawls.

His mother’s hand finds her face. She sniffs. She says she can no longer tolerate his father, and the boy shudders. But he cannot deny his mother’s words either. They are fact, and his memories are proving it. In recall, his mother’s wails are loud and raw. His father keeps lashing her. The cane in his hand comes down swiftly, eliciting pleas from her. He joins his mother, pleading, pleading. His father barks at him: “Get away from here, asongo!” 

The boy buries his face into his palms. His father might be wicked, but he still loves him. And his mother—ankara-clad, ginger scenting—he can’t part from her—his sweet mother who kisses his forehead and pinches away his nightmares.

He lifts his face. Breath raspy, his mind tears into a whirlwind. His mother’s countenance prods him and the thought that he will have to choose scatters shivers all over his body. He looks onward. The door is ajar. So he gets up suddenly, chest heaving, and bursts through the door. One thought in his head, he runs and runs. Runs through the sandy street. Past houses. Past Madame Ura’s puff-puff stall and takes a turn around the bend. A tarred road ahead of him, people scream. It teems with vehicles whooshing back and forth, but the boy’s body is no longer his own. Before he realizes, a massive force slams into him and he is not on the other side of the road but rolling and rolling over its roughened surface.

 “Jesus, Jesus!”

“Yesu terem ka tor!” 

“Check pulse, check pulse. Is he dead?”

Everything in the boy’s vision blurs. Mind muddled, he can barely decipher what people are saying.  A sharp pain blazes in his ear, but it is becoming mild because he is growing lighter and lighter. When his father and mother arrive, their faces hover over him, he, however, makes out their faces. He smiles. His parents are here with him and all is beautiful. 

He doesn’t have to choose anymore.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mhembeuter Jeremiah Orhemba (b.2002) is Nigerian. A 2021 ARTmosterrific artist-in-residence and an alumnus of the 2020 AFRIKA-WRITES PROSE WORKSHOP, his works have found a home in FictionWrit Magazine, The Shallow Tales Review, Arts Lounge, Eboquills and The Muse. He is an Editor at FictionWrit Magazine, wishes to attain the serenity of water, and enjoys watching TK and Carlos kiss. 

A MATCHING PAIR by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso

A MATCHING PAIR by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

A MATCHING PAIR

by Agbai Emmaterry Chinonso

Winner of the 2021 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

“Good night mummy!” Benjamin calls as I walk past their room. 

“Sleep dear, you have school tomorrow.”

“Must we go?” Grace, the 5-year-old miscreant, whispered from the dimly lit room.

“Yes, you must go,” I answer calmly.

“What if Daddy says we can stay?” This time it was Benjamin, a 7-year-old, who always encourages his sister’s mischief a little too much.

“He won’t,” I say with finality. “Now good night.”

I walk away and head into our room. Easing the door open, you hurriedly stand to your feet, blanket and pillow in hand.

“Are they sleeping?” You ask carefully, your eyes watchful of my expressions.

“Not yet, wait a while.” Quietly, you lowered yourself into the couch in our room.

Even though it was more of my room these days. For the past few weeks, it had only acted as a storeroom for your belongings. My nights now end with you sneaking away to the guest room and the mornings had you crawling back in. 

It was a noisy process that always woke me up, no matter how quiet you tried to be. But the sounds of you ‘tip-toeing’ through the house had never woken the kids. That was the aim, to not let the kids know. That was why we were only true to ourselves under the hood of the night, only then could we drop our acts.

Turning off the lights by the wardrobe, I quickly begin to change into my pyjamas. I swing my head backwards to ensure you’re not watching. Testament to your smartness, your gaze is averted. Your eyes pointedly fix on the unplugged television, you understand that you lost the right to see me naked.

My eyes quickly go over your body before turning to unfasten my bra. It was a mere glance but I still noticed the difference, I have always noticed the little things about you. Your white tee, the one worn out from being a night-shirt, now hangs loosely on your frame. You had never been a very bulky man, but you were looking leaner within a month. 

A month of anger. A month since betrayal broke my trust in you. Since I donned on a unique shade of hypocrisy. 

Ben’s question echoes in my memory, “What if Daddy says we can stay?

How could daddy say ‘yes’ when he was struggling to appease mummy? How could he go against her after he had cheated? 

 *     *     *

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

One month ago, on a night like any other, my feet were folded underneath me as I worked on my laptop. I had managed to procrastinate another task until the dying moment and now scrambled to compile a report one hour before its deadline. 

‘You say I led you on, you sef dey follow me’ Ckay sang to Ayra Starr on their track – Beggie Beggie, on her new album. My head bobbed absent-mindedly and my lips sang along unconsciously; that was how much I had listened to the album. 

You stirred beside me, over and over again, making me wonder if the music was a disturbance. It never was, you always slept so deeply, only your biological alarm could wake you. But then you stirred again, 

“Maybe I should just turn it off,” I thought.

The silence that descended on the room was comfortable, leaving the irregular tapping of my fingers on my keyboard. But something was unusual, I couldn’t hear your snore. This was not the first time I noticed the absence of that light gravelly noise punctuating the air at night. After ten years of marriage, it was a sound I had grown accustomed to. I had come to even depend on it on some days, to lull me to sleep, my personal lullaby.

“Babe?” I called out lightly to you, unsure if you were actually asleep.

There was no reply. “Babe?” I called again, just to double-check.

“Yeah?” Came the reluctant reply.

“You good?” I asked, already getting distracted by the fact that my report was still waiting.

“Yeah, I am.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, my fingers skidding across the keyboard again, “You’re not snoring.” I added.

“What?” You turned slightly to look up at me.

“You’re not snoring,” I repeated, “That means you’re not sleeping well.”

“You know I’m not sleeping well because I’m not snoring?” You asked, your voice sounding surprised.

My eyes were fixed on the laptop as I answered, “Of course.”

“But I thought you hated snoring?” You asked, I could feel you watching me.

“I do, but not yours. I like yours now, I kind of even need it.” 

I smiled at the irony, remembering how I gave you grief about it when we had just started dating. The night I first slept over, it served as the subject of my playful jabs at you the next day.

“Oh.” Was all you said.

“So, what’s up, why aren’t you sleeping well?” I asked again as I flipped through one of the documents, I had brought home.

You were quiet for so long, I thought you had ignored me and tried to sleep again. But when I turned, I saw you blankly staring at the ceiling.

“Gozie what is it?” I was getting genuinely concerned now. Far off wonderment was not your thing, I was the ‘deep’ person in this relationship while you never got bothered or dwelled on one thing for too long.

You sat up and looked at me. Your left eye twitched, in some other people, that may be a sign of anger or dishonesty, but in you, it had always been evidence of nerves. 

“I-” You began to say then stopped, then tried reaching for my hand but stopped that too. 

“Gozie?” My interest was piqued. I set my laptop aside and watched as you sprang up from the bed and began pacing. 

With every step, the pending report slipped further into the back of my mind-forgotten. Your lower lip suffered between your teeth as you began to chew on it like a stubborn piece of ‘shaki’ – this was your other nervous tic. Whatever you had to tell me was big.

“Babe, I’m so so sorry.”

My heart began to slap against my ribcage. The broken look in your eyes tempted me to tell you to keep whatever you had done to yourself.

“What did you do?” I asked carefully.

“Babe, I’m sorry, I promise I love you, with all my heart. I love you, I love the kids, I love you.” You professed on and on until I raised my hand to stop you.

There was silence in the room, quite unlike the one I experienced earlier. This one was thick with unspoken confessions hanging in the air. An open secret I now suspected but you were terrified to admit.

“Did you cheat?”

My eyes followed you as you knelt beside me, holding my hands in yours. “Ebube, my love, please!”

I snatched my hands from yours and scurried away, “Oh my God!”

“How could you Gozie?!” I spat.

“She meant nothing to me, I promise you it was a foolish mistake!” Your words arranged like something in a nollywood script.

Sadness sank in my belly, like boulder thrown in a lake. My eyes glazed over as tears quietly ran tracks down my cheeks.

The kids could not wake up, I couldn’t risk having them witness this, so I swallowed my urgent scream. After what felt like an hour, but could’ve been 5 minutes, my voice croaked out, 

“Why are you telling me now?” 

“Uhm…” You paused, “She’s pregnant and threatening to tell you.” The words ran out of your mouth in one breath.

My head snapped up so fast, it’s a miracle I didn’t strain a muscle. “She’s what?”

“Pregnant.” You repeated quietly.

A peal of sardonic laughter bubbled in my throat and escaped my lips, then ended as suddenly as it began. 

“So, you’re only scared of blackmail, you’re not even sorry,” I stated flatly.

“I am sorry.” You emphasized the ‘am’, your eyes pleaded with mine. 

If there was one thing you knew how to do, it was how to be repentant, apologetic; you were always quick to be remorseful. So now that apologies easily fell out of your seemingly sincere face, it meant nothing.

“Get out.” It was almost a whisper, laced with intense anger and disgust. There was no protest, you slipped out quietly.

I immediately leapt towards the bathroom, the bile I had been suppressing now clawed its way out. The sounds of me retching into the toilet bowl echoed off the tiled walls.

Maybe you would feel the same, if you know that we deserve each other, cheats deserve cheats.

But mine was different. I cheated out of necessity, and that was why I knew your mistress was a lying whore. The child in her womb could not be yours.

The two sleeping angels in the other room were proof, no child could be. 

NNEOMA IKE-NJOKU’S NOTE ON CRAFT

NNEOMA IKE-NJOKU’S NOTE ON CRAFT

close up photo of gray typewriter

Nneoma Ike-Njoku’s Note on Craft

As part of the Notes On Craft series, I (Olakunle Ologunro) reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work that is most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it.

Here’s Nneoma Ike-Njoku’s pick: Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Atonement by Ian McEwan is one piece of writing that has greatly influenced me. The book does so many things so well, like weaving the bildungsroman structure with a war narrative and having a protagonist with a strong, distinctive voice. I first read it at around thirteen or fourteen and remember being deeply moved. At its heart, it’s a story about a writer, which perhaps is a cliché for a writer, but it’s also a story that gets to why many writers do what we do in the first place. We write to understand ourselves, our lives, our pasts, and our world. For what writers can take away, McEwan’s attention to language and sensory detail make this novel an easy one to immerse oneself in.

You can read an excerpt here.

workplace with laptop and opened diary

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nneoma Ike-Njoku was born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Transition Magazine, The Winter Tangerine Review, The Kalahari Review, and NANO Fiction. In 2016, she won a Miles Morland Writing Scholarship.

THIS TOO SHALL PASS by Jesutomisin Ipinmoye

THIS TOO SHALL PASS by Jesutomisin Ipinmoye

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

by Jesutomisin Ipinmoye

This Too Shall Pass – Second Runner-up of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

To Peter.

 

Your mother, a woman of greying skin and brittle bones told me that was your first name today. We were eating rice for the first time since your burial, watching as the sun fell into the horizon, and she turned and she said it. That name, a name that carried the mark of a saint, fell off her tongue and lay listless in the soft earth. She asked me if I knew. I told her I did not. That I called you Sir, Oga, Uncle. That I called you other things like Animal, Dog, and Beast. Any word that would strip away the humanity you loved to sheath yourself in, the humanity that you draped over your sins, claiming them to be errors that everyone made. I wanted to tell her that we did not have that sort of relationship between employer and employee, which would allow me knowledge of your name. Or even knowledge of you as a person. 

Not even on the nights that you’d slip into my room and demand perverse things that your wife sleeping upstairs would not do for you. I wanted to tell her these things, but I could not. 

So I let her eat in peace. 

To Peter

Your mother is virtue. 

This is something I have struggled to understand in my months living with her. She is a woman with many hearts, a woman of much love. I have been unable to explain your specific brand of horror, your callousness, and evil, by looking at your mother. In the months after you died, where I searched for someone to blame, I looked for ways to blame her. I looked for signs that perhaps she watered a particular demon in you, gave it the earth, and the fertilizer it needed to grow. But I found none. 

Your mother is virtue. 

It only makes me curse you more.

 

To Peter

I started living with your mother because, after the funeral, your wife and daughter moved far away. Your mother says they’re coming back, but I know better. I know how people run. I remember how your wife held your little daughter’s shoulders tightly, as sand was slowly heaped unto your casket. I remember how she cornered me later that night and asked me questions. Do I still want to go back to school? Do I know how to find my family? Her eyes lingered in spaces above my head, as though making eye contact would legitimize me as another person she had to worry about. I told her what she wanted to hear. I was fine. I would stay with your mother until I know how to fend for myself. I remember the mist in her eyes. She was just about to leave when she turned back and whispered, I’m sorry.

To Peter

 

I don’t remember how to get back home. Sometimes, I sit under the guava tree in your mother’s yard, and I try to draw maps in the earth that lead to home. Perhaps it is the fact that I’ve never owned anything, so where do I start understanding what it means to own a place. Or maybe it’s the fact that I was five when a tall man with a shadowed face took me away from where I might have called home and into another world. 

I do know that I’m not from here. 

I remember there was a language in my mouth that my tongue spent years breaking into pieces, just so I could understand when your wife told me to wash plates, sweep the yard, and clean the car. I have come to learn that I existed in your lives, as a result of compromise. Your wife wanted help in the house but didn’t want another woman in the house with her. It fascinates me that she was so aware of the type of person she married, that she went out of her way to choose a little foreign boy, hoping it would dissuade you. Sometimes, I think she knows it didn’t. But of course, we don’t speak of such things.

We don’t speak of the violence. The cracking of leather belt on supple skin. We don’t speak of the loneliness. The countless hours I spent staring into space. We don’t speak of the abuse. The insults. The fact that all I owned, all that felt familiar enough to call mine, was the pain.

Now that you’re dead, I don’t remember how to get home Peter. 

And now, as the pain slowly calcifies int

To Peter

Your mother’s favorite thing to say when confronted with suffering is this too shall pass. She said it again just this morning when we woke up to find the poultry farm raided and the chickens missing. 

She said it when, as we cleaned the living room, I finally told her about everything. She was silent for very long, her eyes watering her cheeks. I expected her to say it, to try to swallow up the confusion with a promise of things to get better. 

But she said nothing. And I said nothing. And we both cleaned the room, sweeping away the silence. 

Photo Credit: Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels

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