The story is enough.

The story is enough.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Apollo" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This story can be found here in The New Yorker.

First Line: "Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon."

Last Line: "I could have taken back my lie and left my parents merely to wonder."

"Apollo" is the story of a Okenwa, "a dutiful son", visiting his parents, now retired.  They have changed in his eyes and seem to move from their educated thoughts of his childhood years to accomodate the mythical beliefs, the stories they scorned just fifteen years earlier. 

Okenwa, now 27, is also changed.  He is prompted to return to a moment when he was twelve years old, by a conversation he has with his aged parents about increased crime in their area.  One of the ring leaders is purported to be a one-time houseboy of theirs, Raphael.  His mother shrugs it off, saying that her son would not remember this houseboy - there had been many and her own son had been so young, so unaware.

The narrator turns to the reader, "Of course I remembered Raphael."

The story takes us back to when Okenwa creates a friendship with Raphael. Together they watch Bruce Lee films, master nunchucks, and hide their socialibility from his harsh and unyielding parents.  "It was after school, with Raphael, that my real life began." 

And then this comraderie is taken to the next level when Raphael becomes ill with "Apollo", conjunctivitis.  (The landing of the Apollo 11 on the moon coincided with a pandemic of conjunctivitis that swept through many countries in Africa. The disease was subsequently nicknamed "Apollo".)

The parents banish the houseboy to his quarters, and while they provide him with the medicines he needs, Raphael is not learned in how to put in the eye drops.  Okenwa, with fondness, decides to assist without his parents' knowledge or permission.  Shortly thereafter, Okenwa is stricken with Apollo. The tale then comes to its precipice.

I found this story to be neat and tidy.  It was sparse, but with perfection, containing all the elements of a short story: character, plot, theme, conflict, and setting.  It was classic in its presentation and a great piece to read.

"I am drawn to brave endings that stun you and make you reconsider the beginning," says author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Did her story do that here?  Was Okenwa a dutiful son?

I found myself reconsidering the beginning.  The more I think about this story, the more I find to consider and ponder.

UPDATE - April 14, 2014 - please listen to Chimamanda's Ngozi Adichie's powerful TED talk - The Danger of a Single Story.

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