The Gospel According to the Oppressed

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Billy Bisa’s Secrets and Other Stories by Dulue Mbachu; The New Gong Publishers, Lagos; 2022; 143pp

The art of the short story is a very delicate form to master. The great masters of short fiction such as Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, Isaac Babel, O. Henry etc. are as relevant today as when they put pen to paper back in time. Dulue Mbachu, with his debut short story collection, Billy Bisa’s Secrets and Other Stories, displays compelling qualities that stand him in good stead to be read for years on end.

Billy Bisa coverThe eight stories in Billy Bisa’s Secrets and Other Stories “were written between the mid-1980s and the end of the 1990s” but they are still apt in this day and age. Some of the stories had earlier been published in anthologies and esteemed magazines like West Africa and BBC Focus on Africa.

Every of the story published in the collection is preceded by a verse that somewhat emblematizes the theme. In the first story “Say Sorry”, the eccentric 25-year-old Nath living in “a provincial university town” raises hell when a professor’s wife driving a Renault 16 car “brushed his trousers past him, tearing it and a bit of his skin without even noticing him as she pulled up a few metres ahead.” The matter is taken as far as to the police station where Nath’s only demand goes thusly: “I just want her to say sorry!”

The next story, “The Magic Ring”, is set in the university town of Nsukka where two young friends, Chidi and Paul, are caught up with the shenanigans of a magician selling a magic ring until Chidi ends the friendship by throwing away the magic ring, and after earning admission into the university he sees that his erstwhile friend, Paul, who had gone to learn a trade in Onitsha “had acquired two more rings…”

The police can get into all kinds of caper in Nigeria, and in Dulue Mbachu’s story “Arrested for Wandering” two friends, Chuks and Bad Joe, attending a party in a nearby street end up wasting almost two hours of their time and paying bribe after being spuriously arrested by some policemen.

The story “A Great Debate” is Mbachu’s adroit reprisal via personal terms the Nigerian national debate over taking the IMF loan during General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).

In the story “The Blood Donor”, a man whose wife is about to deliver in hospital is asked to look for two pints of blood in case his wife may have to undergo caesarean section witnesses a woebegone man collapse in the bid to earn some quid as a blood donor.

The police again come in for crooked mention in the story “Joji and the Police” this way: “In all his 25 years in the police, Sgt Aduboni had never heard anything like this… That someone could walk into a police station, tell the police that he wants to go and steal, and was proposing to the police to help him steal and share the loot with him.” The renowned human rights lawyer, Femi Soares, springs a happy ending surprise.

“Paapa’s Modernization” deals with the eponymous old man who cures the venereal disease of his fellow prisoners but mysteriously re-infests them with the disease and has this defence for his action: “You see, in those former days a person could give us a chicken or a goat – and our method worked so fast that before our client got home from consulting us the enemy would be dead, just by remote control. It’s just that I’ve modernized it so that it becomes ordinary gonorrhoea instead of death; besides I can cure it and don’t kill anybody.”

The title story, “Billy Bisa’s Secrets”, is the longest tale in the collection and has a “Prologue” and “Epilogue”. It starts thus: “There once lived in grim oblivion a musician who once stirred his country. Chyke Skido led the formerly famous Question Mark band. In the early seventies he was quite a phenomenon in Nigeria and across West Africa.” Then along comes into the band the maverick rhythm guitarist who introduces himself as Billy Bisa or Bisa Billy or BB, and brings younger musicians under his wings with his secrets, the top of which is: “Learn your guitar, know an instrument so that you can use it… in any business there is nothing like mastering the instruments of the biz! That’s the secret!”

The only criticism of Billy Bisa’s Secrets and Other Stories is that “The Great Debate” is placed as the third story on the contents page even as it comes as the fourth story, after “Arrested for Wandering”, in the book. This can easily be corrected alongside some minor printing errors in the next edition.

Dulue Mbachu’s Billy Bisa’s Secrets and Other Stories teems with revelatory insights at a subtle tenor. This collection confirms the high promise of Mbachu’s 2005 first novel War Games. Mbachu understands the world of the oppressed folks, and he writes their gospel with street-smart aplomb.                      

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