Owoicho Adakole’s happiest day also turns out to be his saddest. Earlier, he got the green light to move with his family to Saskatoon city in Saskatchewan Province in Canada after two years of tedious paperwork, but then his wife and three of their children were killed by armed bandits in Benue State. The only survivor is their 15-year-old daughter, Ochanya, who was in Abuja for a school event.
This family tragedy sits at the heart of Leave My Bones in Saskatoon, the sixth novel by Nigerian Canadian writer, Michael Afenfia.
After the funeral services, Owoicho reconsiders moving to Canada with his daughter, and when he agrees to do so, he faces another challenge: money. His late wife, whose idea it was for them to ‘japa’, had saved money from her job as an aide to a governor, but Owoicho encounters legal bottlenecks that refuse him access to her accounts. When he eventually receives the bank statements, he discovers that the amount can’t fund their trip.
He raises money and leaves with his daughter, but in Canada, he meets yet another hurdle: Bimpe, his late wife’s friend, who had offered them shelter, doesn’t show up at the airport. Luckily, they hitch a ride to Bimpe’s home, where the woman and her husband, Damiete, rent them the basement of their new home. Owoicho finds odd jobs, some of which he is sacked from or never returns to.
During this difficult period, his late wife’s employer offers him the job of running the state-owned newspaper, radio, and television stations, and Owoicho agrees to return home. He plans to leave his daughter with Bimpe’s family. But a few days before his departure, a fight breaks out between his hosts, revealing damaging secrets. Owoicho, then, realises that he alone must raise his daughter.
The novel does with Canada what Bisi Adjapon’s Daughter in Exile did with the United States. Set predominantly in Abuja, Makurdi, and Saskatoon, and told in two parts, it demonstrates the immigrant’s travails, the culture shocks they endure, and the diversity of these experiences.
At first, Leave My Bones in Saskatoon reads like it is all about Owoicho, but this is a book about Nigeria, the failure of leadership, corruption, insecurity, and how the country frustrates its people, exiling them to countries where they spend the best of their lives paying unending bills.
Afenfia’s language is accessible; he flirts with simplicity; he embraces a more linear structure to storytelling, and one that is rich with suspense and twists.
Leave My Bones in Saskatoon also hints at the downside of migrating as an adult, the loneliness most immigrants wrestle with, the cultural and culinary differences, the extreme temperatures, and the absence of familiar community. Even with steady jobs and a working system, they are constantly nostalgic about home. Owoicho misses home but the uncertainty about the state of things in Nigeria convinces him that his decision to ‘japa’ was one of the best things he ever did.
About the Reviewer:
Olukorede S Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father, Vaults of Secrets and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales. He lives in Houston, Texas.