“Find your voice and your style” – Interview with Nneoma Mbalewe

“Find your voice and your style” – Interview with Nneoma Mbalewe

TABLE TALK

“Find your voice and your style” – Interview with Nneoma Mbalewe

As we anticipate the fourth edition of Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest, we had a chat with Nneoma Mbalewe who won the flash fiction category of the third edition.

Nneoma is an award-winning writer who was shortlisted for the Creative Freelance Writerz (CFW) prize last June. She currently studies Law at the prestigious University of Ilorin, Nigeria. Nneoma discusses the inspiration behind her winning entry “Ayomide” and also shares some tips for young writers.

Enjoy the read!

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

Nneoma: I’m an avid reader and zealous writer. Besides that, I’m a law student at the University of Ilorin.

Nneoma Mbalewe

Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: When did you first discover your passion for storytelling and what inspired you?

Nneoma: I would say in primary school. I was a ferocious reader (still am) and with such reading, grew my desire to tell stories.

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer and what steps do you take to overcome them?

Nneoma: I would say timidity and lack of confidence in myself. I read some stories/novels and they’re so good that I begin to question myself. Is writing for me? It pushes me to want to better my work and spend time trying to be a perfectionist instead of actually sitting down to write.

KD: Who are some literary figures that inspire you and your work?

Nneoma: I have a lot, actually. Internationally, I read a lot of James Patterson, Sidney Sheldon and Karen Rose. I also look up to Elnathan John, Chidera Okolie, to name a few. But I don’t limit myself and my favorite figures change very often.

“Find your voice and your style. Just because someone writes the way you like does not mean that style is for you.”

Nneoma Mbalewe

Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: Last year, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. What was your reaction like?

Nneoma: I was surprised, honestly. I hadn’t wanted to submit Ayomide because I felt it wasn’t ready but the deadline was approaching and I really wanted to submit something. Winning made me elated.

KD: What was the inspiration and meaning behind Ayomide?

 Nneoma: Ayomide was birthed by the question,” How do we prove our worth if we do not even get an opportunity?” If Ayomide was born elsewhere, at his age, he probably would have gotten a college degree being a prodigy. Besides that, no one else has noticed his genius, except his teacher. A lot of people we meet are talented yet have no way of letting the world know. That’s the story I wanted to tell.

KD: Do you have any other published works aside from Ayomide, as well as any other achievements you’d like to share?

Nneoma: I have very few published works. I was shortlisted for CFWriterz June 2019 prize and one of my stories was published in their magazine. Apart from flash fiction, I have won two essay competitions.

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

Nneoma: I still see myself writing years and decades from now. It’s something I really love and I can’t let it go just like that.

KD: Any forthcoming works or publications?

Nneoma: I have a few incomplete works that I would like to flesh up soon.

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

Nneoma: I’d say, find your voice and your style. Just because someone writes the way you like does not mean that style is for you.

Any final words for Kreative Diadem and its readers?

Nneoma: To Kreative Diadem, thank you very much for this opportunity. You guys are awesome. To the readers, don’t you ever dare quit reading.

Isolation

Our third issue ever, "Isolation" is out. We had thought-provoking conversations with Alexis Teyie and Tobi Nifesi. It's a collection of works from some of the finest minds out there -- poetry, short stories, interviews, and creative essays.

Do you love our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, and essays.

AYOMIDE by Nneoma Mbalewe

AYOMIDE by Nneoma Mbalewe

AYOMIDE

by Nneoma Mbalewe

Ayomide – Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

My body craves water but I have none to give it. I have never stayed this long without water. It’s been forty-five hours or so and I really feel rotten. The human body can live for a month without food but three to four days without water can lead to death. We only have a few more hours. If not, we’d most likely die.
My sister has a higher probability of dying than me. I’m not a pessimist but I have been lying in her blood now for hours and she won’t make it if help does not get here today. The lower half of her body is trapped under rubble and she’s showing signs of shock. Her skin is cold and clammy; her breathing is shallow and rapid.

Masha’s whining pulls me out of my thoughts. I rub my dog’s fur, trying to comfort him. It’s dusty under the bed where we are and I know he really wants to leave. He would have done so hours ago but the truth is that we are trapped here. Not unless someone rescues us.

I remember exactly forty-six hours ago. It was dusk and my sister was preparing Eba and Efo. The healthy meatless, fishless Efo, as she liked to call it. Honestly, we were too poor to put meat in the food. The rain started suddenly and poured without mercy. We were about to eat when we heard something huge and loud fell on the apartment roof, the face-me-I-face-you apartment where we lived. That when everything came crumbling down.

The building was already falling apart but whatever that fell hastened things up and in seconds, the ceiling and the walls began to collapse. We were far from the door so the best thing to do was to hide under something sturdy like they do during earthquakes.

“Under the bed,” I screamed to Aramide, my sister as I grabbed Masha. I crawled under the bed, my sister following close behind. She was halfway in when the ceiling crushed her.

Now, my sister is struggling to stay awake. Thank God she knows that there is no guarantee that when she closes her eyes, she will wake up again. I don’t have to tell her that.

“It was the transformer,” I say. “It’s the only thing high and strong enough to bring down this building.”

“Ayo,” she murmurs. “The periodic table.” She ignores my statement. There’s no use thinking about the past. The future is the most important thing now. Sadly, the past is all I can think of.

I’m smart. I know I am. I’m seven years old and I can recite the multiplication table from one to fifty-seven by heart. I know all the 118 elements of the periodic table and I know a lot more than my fifteen-year-old sister. I help her with her assignments when she can’t solve them and I topped my class last year at grammar school. My headteacher calls me a prodigy even though in Nigeria, no one knows what to do with prodigies.

“Hydrogen, helium, lithium,” I begin. It’s dark but I’m looking at my sister, hoping that when I’m done, she will still be awake. When I’m done, thankfully, she still is. I need to get her talking. That will ensure she stays awake. Although, I think talking will drain the little energy she has left.

“Do you think Daddy knows what has happened?” Even as I ask, I know he doesn’t. He stays away from the house days on end, drinking around with friends. He’d only come back, sometimes, to eat Aramide’s food when he didn’t have enough money to buy food outside.

Aramide doesn’t reply. Her shallow breathing informs me she is still alive. “Don’t sleep, Aramide,” I tell her.

“I’m tired,” she tells me.

“Don’t sleep,” I repeat. I begin my fifty-eight times table. I am almost finished when Aramide murmurs, “You should be a doctor.”

“Why?”

“Doctors are smart. Like you.”

I shake my head, even though she can’t see me. “Doctors are underpaid.” I think back to the doctors who treated mama at the general hospital, who worked grudgingly and couldn’t save mama from her sickness. They never even knew what caused her death, they just left us with debt and my mother’s corpse after injecting all kinds of drugs into her body.

“What do you want to be then?”

“I don’t know. I have to think about it.”

In any other situation, Aramide would have scoffed and said something like, “You have to think about it? You know the answer already.” Now, she doesn’t even make a sound.

My eyes tear up. It is times like this, I wish we were living in a good country like the United States. If something like this happened over there, they would be busy in less than an hour and we would have even forgotten about it by now. However, we are in Nigeria where an entire building of fifty-two apartments collapses and two days later, no one is doing anything about it.

I wonder if other people were still alive. The first thing anyone would have done when the building began to collapse was to run outside. Those on the third and second floors would have never made it down in time. Those on the first and ground floor would have survived if they had gotten as far away as possible from the building when they made it outside.

We live on the second floor. I know people are trapped underneath the rubble like we are and I know that some people are dead. I know my sister will soon join them if we aren’t rescued today. I know I will be next, if another twenty-four hours passes by and I’m still here.

“It’s been forty-six hours,” I say.

“How do you know,” Aramide asks, like she does when I say something smart.

“I just know,” is my reply. The truth is, I have been keeping track.

“Are you hungry?”

I smile ruefully. She’s doing her big sister business even though she’s the one bleeding to death.

“No,” I answer. I know hunger- we both do. Since both parents are out of the picture, Aramide has been the breadwinner. She doesn’t tell me much but I know she gets money from her boyfriends, one of whom, lives in the building, two floors down. She also hawks after school. I don’t do much apart from helping her with her assignments and reading the library books. I help her when I can with the hawking but she never allows me to stress myself. “You will make us rich,” she usually tells me.

“I will be helping you after school to hawk,” I announce. That is, if we both get out of here.

She doesn’t answer. I have to listen closely to hear her breaths because I am fainter than ever. When she first got trapped, she would scream in pain for hours. The screams turned to groans after hours passed and now, I don’t think she can even feel her legs.

Masha whines again. He doesn’t know hunger like us because he is always eating any leftover he finds around the building. He can barely move at this point.

“I love you,” Aramide tells me, out of the blue.

Fear grips my throat. It takes me a while but I say the words back.

“I want to sleep now.”

 I don’t stop her.

I close my eyes and imagine us in a better place. A few days ago, Aramide washed clothes, and I read a senior secondary school textbook on physics. Masha ran around us, playing with the little puddles of water that formed around Aramide’s washing buckets. Sighing, she splashed soapy water on him and on a second thought splashed on me too. “Stand up and play with your dog. Can’t you see he’s distracting me?”

“I’m reading,” I told her.

She dragged the textbook from me and sat on it. “Abeg, go and play. You have your whole life to read.”

I open my eyes and I realize that I am crying. Not the small sobs like I usually do but noisy, heart-wrenching sobs. Neither my sister nor my dog move.

I rub Masha’s fur one last time. I remember two months ago when Aramide gave him to me. She had found him, a newborn puppy, abandoned on the side of the road. “I know how much you love dogs,” she said, as she handed him over to me.

I reach for my sister’s cold hands, the dried blood-forming hard flakes. “I want to be an engineer. I like physics and engineers are rich,” I say, in between sobs.

She doesn’t reply. She never does.

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