“I’ll be ten tomorrow,” said Keffi to himself as he lay in bed, starring at the ceiling of his home in Yaba. Yes, Keffi would indeed become a ten-year-old boy the following day. He had received some presents already, he was sure he would receive some more the next day, and finally, there was going to be a birthday party for him at seven o’clock in the evening. But, of all the presents he had received, there was not one which attracted him more than the book which had been sent to him by his big brother in England. And of the treats which he had promised, the most exciting thing was the one which he had promised himself. The book contained beautifully coloured pictures of the animals in the University College Zoo.
As far as Keffi was concerned, Ibadan was merely a street in Lagos! So, after breakfast the following day, he went to the nearest bus stop, taking with him his week’s pocket money, leaving a note on his mother’s bed telling her where he was going, and promising to be back before the party. Keffi had no idea that Ibadan was a huge town and was over a hundred miles from Lagos; he had read of the University College Zoo in the Children’s Newspaper, and had determined that some day, he would go and see it for himself.
Luck seemed to be with Keffi: for, as he stood waiting for the bus, he saw a kit-car pull up outside a petrol station, and –was he dreaming? – on its doors was written, ”UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, IBADAN.” Keffi at once ran towards the driver, begging him for a lift. But when he got to the car, he saw the driver’s back was turned, and – his heart began to beat very fast – the door at the back was open! How very exciting to climb in, remain very quiet, and surprise the driver by coming out of the car when they got to the college! And this was just what Keffi did. He lay flat on the floor of the car, and waited for the driver to start it. Very soon, he heard the driver’s voice. There was also another man, and they seemed to be coming to the back of the car, carrying something rather heavy! Keffi dared not look up, for fear he would be caught. He heard the driver say,
“Just lift it up and throw it inside.”
What would they throw inside? Was it a box, and would they throw it right on him? Suppose it was a very heavy object and it was thrown on him; would it break his bones? Or was it a new animal for the zoo? Suppose it was a tiger, fresh from the jungle. Poor Keffi’s knees were knocking and he began to be sorry that he ever started on this adventure. Should he scream? But before he could make up his mind, the two men threw the object into the car. It was a motor car wheel, and luckily, only a little part of it caught Keffi on the back. The driver did not even look inside the car, but shut the door, went to his seat and drove off.
Half an hour later, the car pulled up inside a place which looked like a big plantation. Keffi watched the driver get out of the car and after a while, he too crept out. He saw cows grazing in the fields, and a lot of fowls in the special little houses which has been made for them. This amused him a great deal, for the houses even had steps leading from them to the ground! And then Keffi grew very much interested in some vehicles called tractors. These had large iron spades, large iron wheels, large iron teeth and claws, all of which were used in uprooting the ground and felling trees. But he had not yet seen any wild animals, and it was while looking for them that a kind-looking official saw him, enquired where he lived and what he wanted. When Keffi told him, he bursts out laughing. After laughing very heartily for a long time, he told Keffi,
“You are a little unfortunate, my boy. The lions and leopards and gorillas have all been taken away on a holiday. They will return after a week. Will you come back then?” Keffi promised to return after a week, and thereupon the kind gentleman took him home and put him right on his doorstep.
He had spent only two hours away, and when, feeling sure he had been to the University College Zoo, he told his mother his adventures, he was surprised to see her burst out laughing. When he asked why she laughed, she replied,
“You were lucky that the driver did not go straight to Ibadan. That was not the University College Zoo, it was Agege Agricultural Station!”
“Next time,” Keffi promised himself, “I really shall go to the Zoo.”
© Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian academic, writer, social critic and a Nobel Laureate for Literature. He wrote this story at age 19.
The Nigerian Radio Times of July 1954.
Presenting a diverse and dazzling collection from all over the continent, from Morocco to Zimbabwe, Uganda to Kenya. Helon Habila focuses on younger, newer writers – contrasted with some of their older, more established peers – to give a fascinating picture of a new and more liberated Africa.
These writers are characterized by their engagement with the wider world and the opportunities offered by the end of apartheid, the end of civil wars and dictatorships, and the possibilities of free movement. Their work is inspired by travel and exile. They are liberated, global and expansive. As Dambudzo Marechera wrote: ‘If you’re a writer for a specific nation or specific race, then f*** you.” These are the stories of a new Africa, punchy, self-confident and defiant.
Includes stories by: Fatou Diome; Aminatta Forna; Manuel Rui; Patrice Nganang; Leila Aboulela; Zoë Wicomb; Alaa Al Aswany; Doreen Baingana; E.C. Osondu.
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