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Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions

The Reading Room: An extract from a powerful new novel that illuminates the lives of a generation of Nigerian women through a set of interlocking stories.

December 21 2022, 12.21pm

The Reading Room

Welcome to our Reading Room. Dive into a deeper conversation and find leads for your reading list with our collection of extracts from upcoming books - by writers you know, and writers you should get to know.



They burned all her pictures one by one and left me nothing. Nothing. Her baby pictures, all fat cheeks, huge eyes and football belly, impossibly tiny fingers and curled toes. Her naming ceremony picture, her mouth a startled circle just after I pinched her, so we’d have at least one picture of her with her eyes wide open (she didn’t even cry, just went back to sleep after the shot). The Christmas and Easter pictures where we sat in a row in our best clothes, her father and I beaming proudly, our four children flanking us, Solape always at my right-hand side. The one I took myself on visiting day at Federal Government Girls College, Fiditi, with Aisha, Nonso, and Remi holding Solape up as she lay sideways, safe in their grasp, everyone facing the camera and laughing, after gorging themselves on my jollof rice.

“Solape, your mom makes the best jollof,” I remember Aisha saying to her as the other two nodded. I couldn’t hold back the smile that stretched out my lips, though I pretended I couldn’t hear, their reward more rice heaped on their plates.

Solape was the smallest of the four, the only one they could carry that way. The other girls’ nickname for her was No Jagbaja, because her favorite saying was “Please, no jagbajantis,” when she felt that someone was talking rubbish.

I always wanted a daughter, knew deep down that daughters would take the best care of me in my old age, if all else failed. Boys mean well but they are clueless about the little things, and if they bring home a woman who doesn’t like you, forget it. I worried when I had three boys after Solape; I wanted another girl, but none came. Then my periods stopped and that was that. There would be no fifth child.

I cried for four months straight after her funeral, cried until my husband went from cradling me to scolding me. “You will end up in hospital if you keep doing this every day. Deola, please, please stop. I miss her too. We all miss her.”

I heard his distress and nodded, tried to hold the tears in, but they leaked out the sides of my eyes and flowed freely down my face. They weren’t done with me yet; I could do nothing to stop them.

Five months after the funeral, I felt well enough to go visit my best friend, Bisi, and my husband encouraged me to do so, to leave the house whose four walls had been my cocoon.

“Mama Diran,” Bisi said when I arrived, folding me into her arms. It still startled me to hear that name. Just six months prior, I was Mama Solape. The first time I heard someone call me Mama Diran was a week after we learned she was gone. It took all the energy out of me—I had to sit down when I heard it. I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready, all these years later, but now I understand that so many of the things we do are to keep everyone else comfortable and sane, to keep the madman gibbering between our ears safely locked in. I’m careful, very careful to make sure no one else hears him.

I spent two hours with Bisi and finally was able to keep the things that had been haunting me, that had been on a steady replay loop, over and over and over, out of my mind. “Was she afraid? Did she call for me? Did the police officers mock her when she told them she needed air, that she couldn’t breathe?”

When I got home, I noticed it immediately, the family portrait on the wall just opposite the entryway was gone. I felt a sense of dread. It was worse than I thought. Much worse. My husband cried for the second time since we got married, the second time since we got the news. I didn’t care, I would have torn him apart with my bare hands if I wasn’t five foot one and he six feet.

I screamed at him as I beat my hands against his chest. “You will never, ever understand. You have your sons. You have your sons and I have no daughter.”

The look of anguish on his face stopped me in my tracks. “What are you saying? Are they not your sons too? Was Solape not my daughter?”

Confused, I started to mumble, “That’s not what I’m saying. You know what I mean . . .”

“No, I’m not sure I do. I’m sorry, but this has got to stop. You have to pull yourself together. Deola, you’re frightening me and the boys, too.”

After he said that, I calmed down. I knew he meant well, knew he was scared for me, but I’ve never forgiven him. He didn’t burn them himself but he let in those who did and showed them what to torch. So stupid. You can’t burn out the memories, the images etched into my brain. I’ll always see her the way I want to. No one can take that away from me.


I heard that the girls were at the funeral, but of course, Solape’s father and I weren’t there. You don’t go to bury your only daughter. No parents should be at the funeral of their child. The first time I remember the girls visiting me was two years after but it’s possible that they showed up even before then. It’s the time I remember most vividly. They came to the house all together, and at first there was this awkward and stilted conversation. I asked about their mothers, their fathers, their sisters and brothers. I offered them food, but they’d eaten. I offered them cold Fanta and Coca-Cola, and finally, they said yes. Solape’s father wasn’t home. He was rarely home those days and even if he had been, he’d probably have stayed in the confines of our bedroom. He resented the fact that they were still here and she wasn’t. He knew it wasn’t right but he couldn’t help himself, and when he told me that, I said I felt the opposite. She talked about them nonstop when she was on break—it made my heart lighter to know she had such good friends, that she chose wisely, because here they were years later, not forgetting. It was Aisha who took us from clumsy platitudes to something real.

Solape used to steal from my purse when she was in primary school. One naira here, fifty kobo there. We didn’t have a househelp back then, I was pregnant with my last child, and the other two boys were too young to know what to do with money at that point. I knew it had to be her. I knew why. I didn’t let them eat sweets, wouldn’t give her money to buy them.

“Your teeth will be rotten,” I said each time she asked. Eventually she nodded and stopped asking. Then I noticed these small amounts missing from my purse. Not every day. More like every two weeks or so. One day I found some discarded Goody Goody and Trebor wrappers stuffed under her mattress. Don’t ask me why I was looking under her mattress, I wasn’t snooping, just decided to change her sheets and there they were. I’d taught her to make her bed to prepare her for boarding school, so I left things the way they were, backed out of her room, and didn’t say anything to her when she got back from school, her face bright with excitement because she scored ten out of ten on her math test. She loved math but she also loved to read. Anything and everything—Pacesetters, mysteries, you name it, she read it and I let her. I let her ignore her chores sometimes because she was so absorbed in those books and it made me feel good that my daughter loved books so much, that she would be the first woman in my family to go to university.

Aisha said Solape wanted to tell me about the money. It bothered her and she wanted to say something because I was always so proud of her, but she didn’t know how I would react. She was waiting until she got to form five to tell me because maybe then we could laugh about it, but she’d felt so guilty after taking money from my purse. “Stealing,” I said. Aisha went quiet. Remi averted her eyes and said, “Solape knew it was wrong taking money from your purse, but she loved Goody Goody so much. It was . . . she was never allowed to have any.”

Solape told Aisha, Remi, and Nonso about it and they asked her whether I’d ever said anything about missing money. She said no.

Nonso, smart girl that she was, told her, “Your mom probably knows.”

Solape said, “No, if she did, she’d beat me, one for taking money from her purse without asking and two for eating sweets.”

Nonso guessed right, though. I don’t know why I never confronted Solape about it. I was half-amused, a little disappointed, but in primary six, she stopped taking money from my purse and then there was no point dwelling on it. Talking to the three of them that day, I realized that I could bring up how she cursed at me sometimes, mix in the bad with the good. Solape wasn’t a saint, just a young girl with so much ambition and so much living to do. They weren’t afraid to say her name, weren’t afraid I was fragile or I’d break because they didn’t see me during those early days. They never saw me cry. I wanted details. I wanted to know everything about how they lived in boarding school, what she thought of the food, how much she missed me, her father, her brothers. What they fought about, laughed about. I wanted to know this daughter of mine, see her through her friends’ eyes. I knew her to be fierce, determined—I mean she knew she wanted to go to university when she was just four years old. Her uncle had a land dispute and the rest of the family decided to show up in court to support him and I took Solape with me; I’m not sure why. The judge was a forty-something-year-old woman in long black robes and a ridiculous white wig; she looked stern but forgiving, like Oya in human form. Solape watched her all afternoon and then announced that she was going to be a lawyer and then a judge. She never forgot that judge. I looked at Solape that day and thought about my childhood classmates. Maybe they were lawyers and judges and doctors now. I did very well in the school in my small town but most of the time I came fourth in my class; there were two girls and one boy who did better. Sometimes I switched with the boy for third place, but usually he beat me. One term, I came second and I was on a cloud of joy for two days; my mother gave me my own piece of meat as a reward, a fat chicken drumstick all to myself, instead of the chicken feet that us kids usually shared. I wanted to go to university but the scholarships in my town were only for those who came first, second, and third overall. I was fourth. Fourth and my father said he didn’t have the money, so I never went. Fourth. It ate at me for years, but after I had Solape, I realized that she could do everything I didn’t get a chance to do. She would be a lawyer. She would go to university, because I married a man who went and who wanted that for his children as much as I did. Even though I never studied at a university, I found my own way; I made enough money feeding people at my buka, Come Chop, that it didn’t even matter whether my husband was able to pay fees, because I could. My father couldn’t or wouldn’t, but I could.

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions will be published in hardback by Trapeze on 19 Jan 2023.

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