My relationship with the short as a narrative format is complex as at times I find myself amazed by the writer’s ability to, in a short space, tell a compelling story and at other times, I am frustrated, finding the mode of narrative delivery inadequate for the weight of the story being told. Nights of The Creaking Bed, Toni Kan’s collection of shorts stories published by Cassava Republic which tackles themes of “corruption, religious intolerance, gratuitous violence, and the importance of joy” with a sole focus on Lagos, Nigeria is one that sees me oscillating between both frustration and awe.
That this collection tackles ‘the importance of joy’ is a bold claim as the lasting impression Nights of a Creaking Bed left me with was horror. The way joy and justice are enacted in Kan’s Lagos are rather unconventional meaning that at moments where the characters gain satisfaction, the reader is left slack-jawed. Kan’s stories highlight the worst in humanity using rape, murder, and even incest to iterate this reality repeatedly and with a jarring conciseness. Admittedly, this is not the sum of the collection, there are moments of mirth and small pockets of hope within the collection but the focus on the bad outweighs the good.
It is interesting that every story in this collection is connected to the city of Lagos especially given the thread of violence and misfortune that runs through the narrative. It suggests in Kan a critically negative view of the city. This is iterated in the story Ahmed, where ‘see Lagos and die’ has varied realisation within the story. Lagos as a place to lose oneself be it literally or metaphorically is a theme that is woven through many stories in the collection. The implication often being that Lagos is a place to be survived.
Survival and gender are linked at points in the story in the sense that for men, survival often looks like life or death where for the women it looks like sacrifice. In the ironically named God is Listening, the lines between rapist and protector are blurred for the female protagonist where in Broda Sunnie, pride or death are the only options for the titular character. The female body and the many ways it can experience death while still living is to an extent, explored within this collection. I found myself needing to pull away from the collection after reading some of the female focused narratives, moving between feelings of rage, despair and distress because of the weight of the topics tackled. That these stories, wild as they sometimes may appear are entirely plausible in Lagos is a reality I had to contend with.
The stories in Nights of a Creaking Bed are not easy reading despite their brevity. Kan’s skill is in his ability to pack punches into very few pages without compromising on the production of well rounded stories. In this collection, you will visit many parts of Lagos, getting to see class, tribal and religious issues affect life experiences in monumental ways. I cannot say that it is a must read for everyone, but it is not a read that will be regretted.