• Title: Lives That Enter Mine
  • Author: Emmanuel Iduma
  • Publisher: Invisible Borders Trans-African Project
  • Number of pages: 32
  • Year of publication: 2016
  • Category: Travel/Nonfiction

In Lives That Enter Mine by Emmanuel Iduma, every encounter is a story that the writer tells in segments and unfolds as if one is leafing through a photo album.

This book is an output of the Borders Within 2016 Road Trip by Invisible Borders. Invisible Borders is committed to visiting places in any part of the world, telling stories of people and places, and showcasing every embodiment of those places through writing and photographs. The Borders Within project, Invisible Borders’ expedition in 2016, saw a group of Nigerian artists travelling through sixteen Nigerian cities and towns whose works chronicle Nigerian identity. Apart from Iduma’s travel essay under review, the other chapbooks from the trip include What the Road Offers by Uche Okonkwo and Collective Truth by Yinka Elujoba.

Emmanuel Iduma’s Lives That Enter Mine tells stories of encounters, drawing light from people he meets during his journey. This narrative style is similar to Rachel Cusk’s trilogy, Outline, Transit and Kudos; like Cusk’s books, Iduma’s exudes the telling of random encounters to its fullness. The reader is asked to ponder: how do people stay with us even when they are physically gone? Does every encounter count? How does one immerse oneself in the memories of past and present encounters and then conclude that they had, at a point, touched one’s life? How do people rent spaces in one’s life? How does one preserve memories?

In Lives That Enter Mine, Iduma’s keen observation is lucid as it clearly shows every encounter. At first, he weaves it round the variety of people he encounters: co-travellers, his taxi driver, Mr Ok – an elderly man he conversed with who, in commending Iduma’s writerly achievement, conversed about his own family – the librarians at the state library in Enugu, a government official in Yola, and others. On and on, this observation evocatively infuses awareness into every mannerism. Ordinarily, people wouldn’t see stories emanating from these encounters; however, Iduma brings relevance to every peculiarity and then perfects it. For instance, when Iduma recounts his encounter with a government official in Yola, he beautifully creates a similitude of societal shortcomings in knowing a person; the society claims to know a person, but this knowing hinges from the viewpoint of positions and affiliations instead of individuality. This poses a question: how much do you know a person, outside what they might have achieved? This thoughtfulness is profound and also echoes in other encounters.

The beauty of places is also constantly evoked as the narrative foregrounds the people and history which intermittently inspire Iduma’s quest of a story. In the state library in Enugu, he stumbles onto photographs and newspaper headlines which remind him about his ‘fascination with events leading to the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa in the second week of November 1995’.In Asaba, he recounts the voice of a man who speaks about the atrocities of the Biafra war. In Calabar, he sees a photograph of Flora Shaw and then projects scenarios of the events that he imagines leading her to give Nigeria its name. In Koko, he comes across the history of the life of Nanna Olomu, the governor of Itsekiri land from 1884 to 1894, and his household.

Other meetings without such a direct link to Nigerian history are not left out; Iduma gracefully uses them to draw out the many, many occupations taken on by Nigerians. In Warri, Iduma visits a school library where he meets a man who stands in for many of his colleagues to teach their classes and who addresses himself with ‘I am vast’. In Lokoja-Okene Road, he sees labourers with an alert poise, waiting to be hired. In Enugu, two sisters own a food stall. In Maiduguri, soldiers guide him and other co-travellers towards the facilitation of the road trip project.

One of the narratives of this book is closely akin with a narrative in Iduma’s book, A Stranger’s Pose, which is part-travelogue, part-memoir, part-poetry, and part-photo essay. For instance, he mentions in both a meeting with his Abuja childhood friend, Egwu, in Umuahia. Their first meeting in eleven years, their encounter is decorated with the embroidery of mutual assessment until Iduma browses his friend’s photos on Facebook and there, he questions his friend’s assessment of who he had become.

Lives That Enter Mine also explores issues such as religion, history, power, dreams and human eccentricities from the standpoint of encounters and connections. In Osogbo, Iduma meets a man who expresses his thoughts on the complexity of religion and ethnicity, and on how being oppressed makes one meritorious for easily-answered prayers. Iduma also produces stories from his dreams to disclose his all-round experiences in the course of the project, especially to showcase the consistency of his dreams as against the fickleness of reality. In his dreams, he speaks with a ferryman about the afterlife, in an Ijaw dialect, standing beside the Benin River. He reconnects with a childhood friend, sharing memories. He sees himself naked, which reminds him of his first time being photographed naked in Calabar.

Lives That Enter Mine banks on the notion that every person carries a story to be told, and even when the person tries to be conscious of his acts, a story lives there. In Enugu, at a food stall belonging to two sisters, after a careful observation of the customers trooping in and out, Iduma opines that ‘for each customer, there is the fragment of a story’. Similarly, in one of his dreams, he and his friends visit the Ijaw king. After moments of eulogizing the king, the king angrily chases them away; while they flee, the king screams at them, ‘you cannot get anything from me, not even a story’. The writer’s account of this incident resonates with the notion of people equating to stories; this king’s statement outlines the human propensity to conceal acts they consider not worthy of people’s attention, not knowing that this act itself is a fissure for the passage of a story.

The book has no suspense, no drama and this makes the writer to be fiercely present in the telling of every encounter. The language is accessible, the imagery is detailed and as such, the reader is immersed in the writer’s adventure. However, Iduma dwells only briefly on every encounter as if rushed: it is as if he wanted to document every experience as quickly as possible and didn’t want to miss out on the next possible encounter. It keeps one wondering: why the haste? After this person, what did he encounter before he recorded the next person? Were there people, incidents and places the writer omitted? And how did he manage to get to the next person?

In conclusion, Lives That Enter Mine is an embodiment of people, places and memories, and it is also a book written in honour of the lives the writer’s soul saw.

^This is the second part of a series of reviews focusing on Invisible Borders’s chapbook series that will be published in the coming weeks. You may read the first post here.

Blessing Uche read Mass Communication at the University of Benin. Blessing loves questioning – which she uses in escaping societal norms – and opening herself to the wonders of the world. She is fascinated by the curiosity of children and when she is not reading or holding book conversations, she is marketing goods.

Cover photo credit: Cometo Nigeria