Yejide Kilanko

Chasing Butterflies: When Love Hurts

By Ráyò

What do you do when love hurts? A pocket review of Yejide Kilanko's Chasing Butterflies.

 

Y

ejide Kilanko’s first book, Daughters Who Walk This Path, was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me—albeit a sad one. Thus, when I picked Chasing Butterflies, I tried to prepare for another emotional rollercoaster. Like the former, this novella, though set in the United States, revolves around family issues and the lasting effects of childhood traumas. Kilanko, as with the first, focuses on abuse—this time, however, domestic violence as opposed to sexual abuse.

Titilope’s 45-year-old husband, Tomide, is quick with his fists and has terrorised her into believing his violence is her fault. Titilope hides her scars, and all that goes on in their marriage, from even her closest friends. Kilanko writes from both main characters’ points of view, so that one is as keenly aware of Tomide’s motivations as one is of Titilope’s traumas. Tomide, himself raised by a physically abusive father, believes that, "early on in their marriage, it became evident that Titilope didn't need him or respect him the way he deserved. Even when he was forced to hit her, she would just stand there and take it as if he was nothing."

Kilanko’s novella explores how cultural expectations of women—to be subservient to the man—foster abuse, especially when met with the slightest resistance. The irrationality of Tomide’s violence is highlighted in how visceral his reactions are to mentions or memories of his father. Yet, the memories of his mother’s sufferings do not keep him from inflicting pain. When his wife offers him the chance to get help through therapy, Tomide balks, showing how equally toxic cultural expectations of masculinity can be.

In Chasing Butterflies, domestic violence runs through the generations, encouraged by dangerous clichés like, “a good mother does not run from her child's home. She always stays, and she fights.” The memory of those words, said by her mother about a neighbour’s abuse, keeps Titilope in Tomide’s house and life longer than she should have been; painting a picture of how often survivors are psychologically embattled and shamed into returning or remaining. Not even finding out that he was abusive in his previous marriage makes her rethink.

As Titilope deals with her physical and emotional wounds, she also has to deal with the hopes of family members back in Nigeria, especially her mother and his. Sentiments as 'Do not break your marriage.' 'How will I hold my head up?' 'What kind of woman sends her man to jail?' spout in the face of conflict. When things then come to a head and he beats her so close to death, their 4-year-old son, TJ, calls the police. Even then, the sentiments still remain. Here, the book paints a familiar picture of the prevalent attitudes towards domestic abuse and victimhood amongst Nigerians.

A quick and easy read, Chasing Butterflies tells a good story. The novella could, however, have dwelt more on the lives of the characters beyond the aspects directly connected to the focal theme. There is barely any learning of Titilope before her marriage to Tomide nor of the couple's childhood. Nonetheless, Yejide Kilanko's work is an important addition to the conversation on domestic violence. She does not shy away from the less spoken about issues—she tackles them head-on.



Have you read any of Kilanko's books? What did you think?

 

A review copy of Yejide Kilanko's novella, Chasing Butterflies, was kindly sent to The Book Banque by Quramo Publishing Limited, in exchange for a review. All thoughts expressed in this review are honest, and that of the writer, Ráyò. Chasing Butterflies was published in 2018.

 

Kilanko's Chasing Butterflies

An exclusive excerpt from Yejide Kilanko's forthcoming novella, Chasing Butterflies, published by Quramo Publishing (April 2018).

From the author of Daughters Who Walk This Path, Kilanko, comes a novella on love and marriage - Chasing Butterflies. Titilope is married to Tomide, a handsome and charismatic man. She, however, spends each day anticipating his moods; living in fear of offending him. Alone at a crossroad, Titilope must choose between duty and survival. Meet the couple.




U

nder the spotlight, all Tomide Ojo could see from the stage was a faint outline of his wife’s face. He’d thought Titilope would vanish through the shiny hardwood floors when he told her he was going to sign up for an open mic spot.

Tomide balanced the guitar on his lap and pulled the microphone close. “This is for my beautiful wife, Titilope. Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. Here’s to sweeter days.”

He smiled when Titilope covered her face with both hands. Tomide strummed the guitar to an acoustic version of Timi Dakolo’s “Iyawo Mi.” As his voice filled the room, Titilope’s face blurred.

When things became serious between them, he’d been upfront about what he wanted from a wife. His expectations were not unrealistic. Bottom line, he wanted a woman who knew how to take care of a man the proper way. The way his mother had taken care of his father. Titilope agreed to the terms, only to change after he’d placed a wedding band on her finger. Any sensible person would agree that Titilope’s behaviour was a breach of contract. To be fair, there’d been some good moments. He was also grateful for their son.

Tomide stood up from the stage stool and finished the song with flourish. He took a bow and stepped off the stage to enthusiastic whistles and applause. And that’s how to make a romantic statement, Tomide thought as he walked towards Titilope with hands stuck in his pockets.

“Welcome back, Mr. Superstar,” Titilope said dryly as he took a seat beside her.

He leaned into her. “I remembered our song.”

She rolled her eyes. “Darling, that was sweet of you.”

Tomide grinned. They normally didn’t use terms of endearment. Up on the stage, it had felt like the right thing to say.

The silence between them stretched as Titilope stared into her glass of water. “So, what did you think of my performance?”

Titilope bit hard on her lower lip. It was what she did when she didn’t know what to say or felt the need to embellish the truth. “It was…nice.”

Nice was just another word for mediocre. “That’s all you’ve got?”

She held his gaze. “Tomide, love is more than grand gestures.”

Her melancholy was beginning to grate on his nerves. “I don’t do anything in half measures.”

Titilope’s eyes clouded over. “No, you don’t.”

Determined to hold on to his good mood, Tomide took a deep breath. “The plan was for us to have a fun, child-free weekend. We can sit here and rehash old issues or move to the dance floor and have some fun. Your choice.”

“If only it could always be like this,” Titilope said in a wistful tone.

He gave an emphatic nod. “It can be.” Titilope snorted. “It can?”

He still believed so. “Things just get messy when we both forget to play our part.”

She searched his face and then visibly pulled herself together. “It would be a shame to waste our dinner and dance coupon.”

Tomide held out his hand. Titilope took it. “That’s my penny-pinching girl,” he said with a smile.

"


Chasing Butterflies will be available in bookstores nationwide from April 28, 2018.

 
 

ABOUT YEJIDE

Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. She is a writer of poetry, fiction, and a therapist in children’s mental health. Her debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, was published by Farafina Books in 2014. Yejide currently lives with her family in Ontario, Canada.

This excerpt from Yejide Kilanko's Chasing Butterflies has been pubished with permission from the publisher, Quramo Publishing. It may not be republished, modified nor stored in a retrivial system without prior written permission from the author, Yejide Kilanko or Quramo Publishing. All rights reserved.

 

The Solace Of Sisterhood

By Afoma

A review of Yejide Kilanko's Daughters Who Walk This Path.

Daughters Who Walk This Path_TBBNQ.jpg

This review may contain spoilers!

The town of Ibadan is the stage for which Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters Who Walk This Path is set. A debut novel, it is the coming of age story of Morayo Ajayi. The book opens with the birth of her younger sister, Eniayo. It then follows the lives of both girls through a quintessential eighties Nigerian childhood, with afternoons of watching trains and evenings of folk tales from their father.

Things, though, take a different turn when their cousin - Bros T - moves in with the family. Initially, he seems to be exactly like any loving older cousin, but time proves this untrue. Morayo is soonafter forever changed as she becomes the bearer of a grinding secret. In the isolation of this oppressive silence, only her aunt, Morenike, understands; becoming Morayo’s safe place as she walks this path that many before her have trodden.

 

'AFIN'

To the distaste of some of their neighbors and extended family, Eniayo is born an albino. Some neighbors to the Ajayi household worry because of their belief that having an afin (albino in Yoruba) is “not a good thing” — for “all they [afins] bring is bad luck.” Eniayo’s father’s great-grand aunt, Iya Agba, on the other hand, blames the child’s mother; insinuating that she has borne an albino because she walked “outside when the sun was up high in the sky.”

By means of Eniayo’s story, Kilanko draws attention to the many issues and stereotypes faced by over two million people with albinism in Nigeriaa. It reflects the sad reality in which so many myths still surround the cause of albinism: simply a recessive genetic trait. Till today, a good number of people (mostly Africans) hold a varying number of false beliefs about albinism — from albinos being immortal ghosts; to good sources of body parts for magical potions as this research shows.

These misconceptions and lack of social acceptance are often the leading cause of discrimination, bullying, violence and other heinous crimes against people with albinism; in turn, potentially deeply traumatising albinos. Unlike many who are starved of an education and opportunities, Eniayo is fortunate to have educated and loving parents who never make her feel less than anyone else. She grows up confident in her own skin; never for once feeling that there are things she cannot do because she is melanin-deficient or an afin.

Admittedly, strides - including free skin cancer treatment - are being made towards albinism awareness and care in Nigeria. There is, however, still more to be done to protect and reduce the stigmatisation against the 600,000b embattled with discrimination. As individuals, it is increasingly mandatory that we eliminate biases that we have unwittingly developed towards people with albinism. It is also important that we teach our children how to treat albinos with respect, just as they would any other person.

 

Hurt People Hurt People

From the start, Bros T is a problematic character: doing everything from petty thievery to voyeurism, yet managing to sweet talking his way out of consequences. Through his relationship with the Ajayi family, one sees what happens when parents fail to protect their children. It also highlights the role of the typical African home setting — silencing children and cohabiting with extended family — in the prevalence of sexual violence. Though Morayo’s parents had moments of discomfort with Bros T’s relationship with their girls, they did not intervene.

As the novel progresses, tables turn. Morayo eventually rapes her celibate University boyfriend - Ladi. Very easily, one could miss the fact that he was indeed raped, mostly because he is male and it was not violent. Still, he repeatedly rejected her advances and did not consentc. This experience points to the reality that men are often sexually assaulted but do not recognise it as such, or, are too ashamed to report incidences. Ladi’s experience with Morayo also highlights a chilling truth: abuse victims can easily become abusersd.

In the different cases of sexual violence, the worrying issue of weaponising shame - that is, using shame and blame to silence survivors of sexual abuse - is preeminent. The reader sees this with Morayo, her aunt Morenike and Ladi. Yet, when survivors fail to speak up after an assault, people tend to ask: “why didn’t you report sooner?” And I ask: can you really blame anyone for wanting to protect their already bruised soul from further trauma?

 

Sisterhood

The aftermath of abuse is debilitating, especially in a culture of silence. Morayo’s parents walk on eggshells after discovering her secret burden but no one actually listens to her. It is only when Aunty Morenike provides an understanding ear that Morayo begins to find a way to put her fragmented heart together. Morayo’s need to say the words “he raped me” underscores the necessity of a safe place for abuse survivors. For healing to begin, one has shown exactly where it hurts.

As Aunty Morenike becomes Morayo’s confidant, a true friendship and sisterhood blossoms, and the two are nearly inseparable. Before Morenike, though, was Eniayo. Through these different relationships and through Eniayo and Morayo, Yejide Kilanko successfully portrays true sisterhood in Daughters Who Walk This Path. They love and support each other, and disagree and cry with each other in turns. All of their childhood memories are intertwined, and incomplete without the other.

If one could summarise this novel in a single word, it would be: sisterhood. It is a reminder that women need each other; we must be our own allies in a world that constantly seeks to undermine us. Mothers must look out for their daughters; sisters for each other; and aunties for their nieces. For women, ‘together’ is always stronger — like Aunty Morenike says:

Even a strong sieve cannot sift yam flour by itself. It needs a hand to hold it up.
 

Love & Borders

Kilanko’s portrayal of young love is sweet and nostalgic; anyone who has ever been a teenager in love will identify with Morayo and Kachi’s love. Their interethnic love affair, however, brings to the fore the tribal prejudices that Nigeria is rife with. Morayo’s father goes as far as drawing red lines to mark out the few western Nigerian states his daughters are allowed to marry from. Ironic as it may be, these prejudices persist, despite national efforts like the NYSC scheme - which brings the two lovebirds together again - to promote “national unity.”

Citing, especially, “proper communication” as a top reward, some people extol the benefits of intra-ethnic marriages. Thankfully, more Nigerians are opening up to interethnic marriage and are thriving regardless of tribal differences. Irrespective of obstacles faced, Kachi is kind, patient and consistent. His relationship with Morayo, nonetheless, shows that love - as soothing a balm it can be - may not erode the effects of trauma. Most sexual violence survivors will have to do the hard climb to a satisfactory level of self esteem, in order to have healthy relationships.

Yejide Kilanko’s debut novel remains a necessary addition to African literature. Morayo is only one of the many daughters who walk the fraught path of abuse and toxic silence in Nigeria and other (African) countries. Her story shows that there can be hope after life-altering trauma. It proves that healing can occur if - and if, only - one creates the necessary safe spacese. Daughters Who Walk This Path is vivid, compelling and hopeful.

 

Have you read Yejide Kilanko's Daughters Who Walk This Path? How did you find it?

Follow this thread for our Twitter chat in September 2017 with Kilanko.



Notes

a As at 2013.

b According to Albino Foundation.

c Here's a simple video that explains content using an analogy with tea.

d A short feature by Being Bola titled 'Peter' that shows the cyclical effect of (male) abuse.

e A list of sexual abuse support centres in the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria, curated by The Book Banque. Kindly share.