Extract Question – Odenigbo’s character during the war

Extract question - Odenigbo during the war

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Read the extract below and discuss what we learn about Odenigbo’s character:

Olanna glanced at her watch although she did not need to. It was too early for Odenigbo to be home. He was sitting on their bed, his back hunched, his shoulders heaving silently.

‘O gini? What happened?’ she asked.

‘Nothing happened.’

She went to him. ‘Ebezi na, stop crying,’ she murmured. But she did not want him to stop. She wanted him to cry and cry until he dislodged the pain that clogged his throat, until he rinsed away his sullen grief. She cradled him, wrapped her arms around him, and slowly he relaxed against her. His arms circled her. His sobs became audible. With each intake of breath, they reminded her of Baby; he cried like his daughter.

‘I never did enough for Mama,’ he said finally.

‘It’s okay,’ she murmured. She, too, wished she had tried harder with his mother before settling for easy resentment. There was so much she would take back if she could.

‘We never actively remember death,’ Odenigbo said. ‘The reason we live as we do is because we do not remember that we will die. We will all die.’

‘Yes,’ Olanna said; there was a slump to his shoulders.

‘But perhaps it is the whole point of being alive? That life is a state of death denial?’ he asked.

Olanna cradled him closer.

‘I’ve been thinking of the army, nkem,’ he said. ‘Maybe I should join His Excellency’s new S-brigade.’

Olanna said nothing for a while. She felt the urge to yank at his new beard and pull out hair and draw blood. ‘You might as well find a sturdy tree and a rope, Odenigbo, because that’s an easier way to commit suicide,’ she said.

He moved back to look at her, but she kept her gaze averted and got up and turned on the radio and increased the volume, filling the room with the sound of a Beatles song; she would no longer discuss this desire to join the army.

‘We should build a bunker,’ he said, and went to the door. ‘Yes, we certainly need a bunker here.’

The flat glassiness in his eyes, the slump to his shoulders, worried her. If he had to do something, though, better he build a bunker than join the army.

Outside, he was talking to Papa Oji and some of the other men who were standing by the compound entrance.

‘Don’t you see those banana trees?’ Papa Oji asked. ‘All the air raids we have had, we went there, and nothing happened to us. We don’t need a bunker. Banana trees absorb bullets and bombs.’

Odenigbo’s eyes were as cold as his response. ‘What does an army deserter know about bunkers?’

He left the men and, moments later, he and Ugwu started to map out and dig an area behind the building. Soon, the young men joined in the work and, when the sun fell, the older ones did too, including Papa Oji. Olanna watched them work and wondered what they thought of Odenigbo. When the other men cracked jokes and laughed, he did not. He spoke only about the work. No, mba, move it farther down. Yes, let’s hold it there. No, shift it a little. His sweaty singlet clung to his body and she noticed, for first time, how much weight he had lost, how shrunken his chest looked.

That  night, she lay with her cheek against his. He had not told her what made him stay home to cry for his mother. She hoped, though, that whatever it was would loosen some of the knots that had tightened inside him. She kissed his neck, his ear, in the way that always made him pull her close on the nights that Ugwu slept out on the veranda. But he shrugged her hand off and said, ‘I’m tired, nkem.’ She had never heard him say that before. He smelt of old sweat, and she felt a sudden piercing longing for that Old Spice left behind in Nsukka.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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