Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Dreams and Assorted Nightmares is a collection of interconnected short stories set in Zango, Nigeria. Works by other African writers that employ a similar interconnection of characters and plot across parts of a book or short stories include E.C. Osundu’s This House is Not for Sale, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel. In Dreams and Assorted Nightmares, the stories tumble into one another and reveal the lives of various characters as they progress.
This collection of 12 stories is not for the empath or those who are deeply in touch with their emotions. Simply put, the stories can be very triggering. Dreams and Assorted Nightmares is brutally honest. We find the themes of shameless infidelity, polygamy, violence against sex workers, the stigmatization of people with special needs or those living with disabilities, religious fanaticism, belief in the supernatural and its influence on the natural, betrayal and, most predominantly, death. Ibrahim does not aim to please the senses; death is as sorrowful as death comes. Human life is portrayed with all of its loss, and feelings, both platonic and sensual, ambition and sacrifice, and this, in my opinion, is the where the beauty of this work lies.
In the first story in this collection, we follow the story of Laminde who, at some point in her marriage, has to share her husband with a second wife. It is from her that we find out about the history of Zango as a wayfarer’s town and the mysteries that rule the night. From Laminde’s eyes and the memories in her head, we meet Vera who vomitted hair measuring one meter, seven centimeters. We find Vera in almost all stories as a figure of the deadly magic that hunts Zango. It is only right then, that Malam Sadi Kankat, who Laminde meets to cast a spell on her co-wife, says
This is Zango, and here, we have assorted dreams and nightmares in bottles. You only need to choose one and it shall be yours.
In ‘House of the Rising Sun’, Mira loses her husband to insurgency and has to bear the burden of mourning him and taking care of their special needs child, Abba. The first thing that stands out in this story is the failure of the hospital to make a diagnosis to pinpoint what exactly is wrong with Abba. This incident rings painfully true for Nigerian readers, as we are likely to have witnessed or experienced such occurrences at least once in our lives. Abba hears voices in his head and succumbs to heavy fits of rage, so Mira has no choice but to lock him up in a room before she can go to work. This exposes the fact that there are no systems of support for the mothers of special needs children. The lack of support and infrastructure eventually leads Mira into depression.
Having lived with an autistic sibling for the most part of my life, I know words like ‘Mad dog! Mad dog! That’s what your son is, a mad dog!’ , too well. In Nigeria, children living with autism are supposedly mad, so the first reaction to that is to lock them away. The stigma their parents and siblings suffer from, makes them want to hide them away like ugly things that should not be seen. It is only typical that Mira’s uncle asks her to come home with her son to meet traditional healers to take care of his spiritual problem. She refuses when she remembers how people with mental illnesses are treated there. For Mira, it’s the devil and the red sea with her son; there’s no help for her whatsoever and when it comes, it threatens to reduce her only child to an animal. That is a terrible place to be found in.
Although all the stories in Dreams and Assorted Nightmares are majestic in their style and narration, ‘House of the Rising Sun’, ‘Daughters of Bappa Avenue’ and ‘Weight of Silence’ stand out to me because of their themes. In the final story, ‘What the Sand Said’, Ibrahim changes the plot and time setting by taking us back to the point when Vera vomitted hair, we find ourselves at the beginning and the end of Zango. Kore, a dreaded armed robber and father to Zaki goes missing, Zaki finds the life tree (the very one whose falling of leaves causes death) and then takes a branch off it. Malam Sadi Kankat’s prophesy of a leaf storm materializes, and Zango ends just as it begins.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Dreams and Assorted Nightmares serves you prose unlike what you have read before on a platter of intrigue. This strange city of Zango where people die when leaves fall from the life tree reminds me of Eddie Murphy’s A Thousand Words but I did not get the hopeful stories I expected.
Dare to enter Zango but only if you can.