The impression a first reader of this Helon Habila’s work will have of this book is that of a romantic piece. Most especially, when the cover page and the content which is a list of names are considered. However, a further probe into the prosaic work will quickly jolt the reader into the grim reality of the memories of the not-too-distant past of the state – nation called Niger Area. Written in an elegant but simple language, the book, a potpourri of fiction and true life stories, says much about life under the military government. Habila paints a picture of the traumatic past the military represents to Nigerians. Like a master painter, the writer gloomily reminds us in very colourful and précis words the ugliness of the nightmare the military visited on our psyche. The book captures the last decade of military rule and the upheavals that characterized the era. Habila tells his story in a unique way, woven his plot around his characters. No wonder he names each chapter after a character. Waiting for an Angel is a narration of the daily experiences of an average Nigerian under the jackboots of the ‘Khaki’ boys. The reader first encounters Lomba. Lomba, the journalist whose diary gives an insight into the life in prison. His attempts to write are not only to document his story in prison but also to keep his sanity and hold on tightly to life in the face of the crunching de-humanization unleashed on him and his likes in bondage. Lomba is symbolic. Lomba, the journalist. Lomba, the activist. Lomba, the enemy of the state, Lomba the poet, an endangered specie.
Before Bola, comes the angel. Here, Habila becomes philosophical showing how the military brutalize, maim, kill and destroy. The character is a youth. The soldiers snuff life out of him for no reason at all. Then, comes Bola whose family, future and psyche is destroyed by the military. He loses his parents and a sister to an accident caused by a military truck, a painful end for a brilliant mind. And then Alice, whose father is a soldier. A girl so sure of herself that she doesn’t fear to make decisions. she, when her soldier-father abandons his family, has to stay in a relationship that she doesn’t enjoy much. But, does she have a choice? With her mother bogged down by cancer and herself to take care of, she must stay in love with a man who has the resources to meet her needs. All because her father leaves his family for another woman in Abuja!
Kela comes next. A young boy, who comes to Lagos to sit an exam. He comes to the grim reality of what it takes to live under an oppressive regime – oppression, poverty, suppression and death. He sees what it takes to get a people’s voice heard: violence. Just in one day, people who he held so much to his heart vanish into thin air. Hagar is dead, Joshua flees for his life. The last chapter named James is the closest to reality. With a number of allusions. Some of the hard reality Nigerians had to live with under the military: state-sponsored arson, Dele Giwa and Ken Saro Wiwa’s murder, wanton looting of the nation’s treasury and the persecution of the voices of truth. Like they all happen yesterday, Habila brings them to the readers’ consciousness.