In the middle of his second year in prison, Lomba got access to pencil and paper and he started a diary. It was not easy. He had to write in secret, mostly in the early mornings when the night warders, tired of peeping through the door bars, waited impatiently for the morning shift. Most of the entries he simply headed with the days of the week; the exact dates, when he used them, were often incorrect. The first entry was in July 1997, a Friday. Today I began a diary, to say all the things I want to say, to myself, because here in prison there is no one to listen. I express myself. It stops me from standing in the centre of this narrow cell and screaming at the top of my voice. It stops me from jumping up suddenly and bashing my head repeatedly against the wall. Prison chains not so much your hands and feet as it does your voice. I express myself. I let my mind soar above these walls to bring back distant, exotic bricks with which I seek to build a more endurable cell within this cell. Prison. Misprison. Dis. Un. Prisoner. See? I write of my state in words of derision, aiming thereby to reduce the weight of these walls on my shoulders, to rediscover my nullified individuality. Here in prison loss of self is often expressed as anger. Anger is the baffled prisoner's attempt to re-crystallize his slowly dissolving self. The anger creeps up on you, like twilight edging out the day. It builds in you silently until one day it explodes in violence, surprising you. I saw it happen in my first month in prison. A prisoner, without provocation, had attacked an unwary warder at the toilets. The prisoner had come out of a bath-stall and there was the warder before him, monitoring the morning ablutions. Suddenly the prisoner leaped upon him, pulling him by the neck to the ground, grinding him into the black, slimy water that ran in the gutter from the toilets. He pummeled the surprised face repeatedly until other warders came and dragged him away. They beat him to a pulp before throwing him into solitary...
About the Author
Helon Habila is aPoet and prose fiction writer. He studied Literature at the University of Jos and lectured for three years at the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, before going to Lagos to write for Hints Magazine.
Extracts from his collection of short stories, Prison Stories, were published in Nigeria in 2000. The full text was published as a novel in the UK under the title Waiting for an Angel in 2002 and received a Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best First Book) in 2003. Also in 2002, he moved to England to become a Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia. Helon Habila won the MUSON Poetry Prize in 2000 and was the arts editor of the Vanguard Newspaper.
In 2005 Habila was invited by Chinua Achebe to become the first Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College, New York. He spent a year writing and teaching at Bard, and after his fellowship, Habila stayed on in America as a professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
His second novel, Measuring Time, the tale of twin brothers living in a Nigerian village, was published in 2007, and his latest novel is Oil On Water (2010), which was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book). In 2015 Helon Habila won the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for literary achievement.
Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila is available in our Community Library at 196, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.