NB This is a HALF-fiction
The year is 2016. And Hajia Yeye Lolo is the winner of the Endless Emotions Challenge. It was a ¥4500-prize, 900-word NaijaStories contest judged by Chimamanda Adichie, Toni Kan and Helon Habila. However, Hajia Yeye Lolo is not her real name. In fact, she is not a she. He is no ordinary he either. Puzzled eyes stare back and forth from the young man walking up the stage with a beauty on his arm to Nkem, the CEO of NaijaStories Publishing Ltd, who has just made the announcement. What a shock to the hundreds of people seated in the hall of the Muson Centre Lagos that twelfth day of June.
Only nine months earlier, Nkem herself was as shocked as everyone else in this hall. She had personally sent a congratulatory message to firstname.lastname@example.org notifying the writer that her work had been unanimously selected as the best from amongst 63 eligible entries. Nkem requested the winner’s bank account details. The next day she received this reply: “THANK YOU NAIJASTORIES. MY ACCT IS EFUNKOYA OLAJIDE JAMES 198.110.38104 INTERCONTINENTAL BANK. HAJIA YEYE LOLO IS MY PEN NAME. PLEASE CALL ME ON 08020777116.” Indeed, she had known it was a pseudonym still she had to make sure this was not a scam.
Her assistant editor called her from Nigeria few days later. Nkem had instantly forwarded the suspect mail to him for further confirmation.
“Hello Ahmed! Good day o!” she waved at him via her ipad’s screen.
“Good day to you too Madam!” he smiled back at his friendly boss in far away New York.
“Nkem, you no go believe wetin I wan show you o! Not only is Hajia Yeye Lolo really Efunkoya Olajide, he is also very very special.” Ahmed turned his iphone’s camera to face Olajide who was beside him.
“Oh my God!!!” Nkem froze. It was truly unbelievable. That was when she began making plans to return home to honour this unusual writer.
Olajide found everything so hard to believe too. It almost felt too good to be true. He had discovered his passion for writing when he was only thirteen. He mostly wrote to escape the loneliness of his colourless world. He mostly wrote for his own personal pleasure. Until he decided to recite one of his poems at his graduation from King’s College Lagos in 2006. The principal, teachers and fellow graduating students cheered him that day but he felt that they did it only out of pity for his condition. What a sad condition! He vowed never to expose his work to a pitying audience again.
Nevertheless, everything changed in 2014, his third year at the University of Lagos. He and his coursemate, Halima, had become best of friends. But on Valentine’s Day that year, he slipped a typewritten note into her bag. Halima was almost breathless after reading the romantic poem. She sighed in relief; she had fallen in love with Olajide since their second year but had been scared to express her feelings lest he mistook it for sympathy. Halima eventually got him to share more of his breathtaking brailled works with her. She surprised him with an internet-connected laptop on his birthday that August.
So using his birthday gift and a feminine pen name, Olajide began his journey in the world-writing-web. It was Halima who convinced him to start sharing his works online. It was she that helped him post them after proofreading. It was she that religiously read out comments and critiques to him on a weekly basis. It was she that secretly entered one of his best short stories into the NaijaStories contest in March 2016.
“I dedicate this prize to my soulmate, Halima Mutalab.” Olajide was speaking into the mic in the hall now. “She believed in me despite my disability.” Many were moved to tears as Halima squeezes his hand affectionately. They wished Olajide could see the love shining in her eyes. “And most of all, I dedicate this prize to all blind writers in Nigeria, Biafra, the Republic of Niger-Delta, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and all over Africa.” Everyone rose in a long and thunderous standing ovation. Olajide would always treasure this moment. The literary world would never forget this legend-in-the-making.