A loud hiss above me let me know that my bunkee was not yet asleep. It had been a full hour since lights-out so I was sure she was hiding under the covers, texting “Uncle” Mike on her contraband Nokia phone. I found it in her garri tin last Sunday when Uncle Mike wrote about how much he missed his “Amazing Grace”. The memory of that corny text message made me shudder in disgust, causing the bed strings to creak again and drawing a longer hiss.
As I tried to quietly continue my transcription, there was a bang and a scream rang out from outside. Whispers of “Chineke!” and “Armed robbers in the convent!” floated around the dormitory. “Shut up!” the house captain hissed, “Turn off the fucking flashlight!”
I turned off the flashlight and prayed that there were really armed robbers on campus. I had a feeling that, if there were, our principal would be less concerned about the 1000 transcriptions of the word “respect” I was supposed to turn in before the Angelus tomorrow. And, maybe – just maybe – I wouldn’t be forced to cut grass. It was a gamble I was willing to take.
You know, God works in mysterious ways.
Busola Olukoya's story, Divine Intervention, was selected from our 4th #WriterPrompt. Tiah chatted to her about mixing science and fiction (an equation that doesn't equal science fiction).
Tiah: You mentioned on #WriterPrompt that you write a number of scientific reports. How did it feel to stretch your fictional wings?
Busola: Scientific writing is much like story-telling; there's always a bigger picture and the writer's work is never done until the readers are able to see that picture and to apply it to their own perspective of the world. The only difference is that much of scientific writing depends on being able to arrive at the same conclusion in four different sections of your paper. In story-telling, that's called repetition. So, I guess it's been a struggle.
Tiah: What tips from the #WriterPrompt participants helped you the most in creating your final version of your flash piece?
Busola: Yossie Paul-Olaleye and Ian Tennent were the biggest (and best) critics of my work. Yoss gave me feedback on the draft before the "first draft" that made me aware of just how awkward it is to put sentences together in a way that would mean something to someone else. Ian helped me focus more on writing the feeling into the story rather than telling the readers what I wanted them to feel. Also, everyone was so welcoming and respectful of my work regardless of my little experience which made the biggest impression on me.
Tiah: You also mentioned during #WriterPrompt that this has inspired you to write more. Any ideas already in the works?
Busola: Since participating in this workshop I've realised that I'm interested in telling the everyday stories of ordinary people. Most often, I think we get caught up in the spectacular tales of extraordinary people who lead exciting lives and almost always have the happy-ever-afters of our dreams. But, as a Catholic Nigerian living in America, it's difficult to find pieces that make me think, "Hey, that's me!" or, "I can totally see that happening."
Real life is more interesting, more spectacular and more beautiful than the alternate realities and fairy tale romances I grew up engrossed in. I'm teaching myself to write about those life experiences that may seem boring at first look but hold so much power to evoke compassion and camaraderie in readers. To do this, I'm reading a lot and then I'm working on writing my stories first. I don't have much to say, but I've had many boring, interesting, weird and joyful experiences that I think a lot of people can relate to. But I also want to do this in a way that the story is never finished so that the dialogue of many stories told will always be an open, honest and dynamic one.
Tiah: Which writers do you admire?
Busola: Toni Morrison, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Ernest Hemingway and Louisa May Alcott are the five that come to mind. I think that each of these writers is skilled in weaving ordinary everyday stories into the bigger picture of their work. I also really admire Brandon Stanton of the Humans of New York series.
Tiah: Lastly, what question do you wish I'd asked? Please answer it.
Busola: "What inspired you to participate in this event?"
When I was younger, I told my parents that I was interested in pursuing a creative writing degree. They didn't take the news too lightly. They advised me to pursue a standalone career and to spend my free time cultivating my other talents. As I was never great at following directions, I ended up being that science student (according to the Nigerian educational system) that wrote 9 papers for the West African Examinations Council (W.A.E.C.) Exam when most of my high school friends wrote 8, just because I wanted to fit in Literature in some way.
Including those sentiments in my application essay helped me gain admission to a competitive liberal arts college where I was able to pursue my interests in the humanities and in Neuroscience. I participated in writing workshops, readings and the occasional open-mic event. However, by my Junior year of college, I started working towards an honours thesis in my major which didn't leave me much time to "dabble" in anything other than scientific writing. And, now that I've started this awesome job doing cutting-edge Neurobiology research, I decided I wanted to make something of the "bits of nonsense" scribbled on sheets of paper, journal pages, and the inside covers of textbooks.
I think it has everything to do with turning 21 and thinking, "If not now, then when? If not this, then what?" Yossie and I had been talking about throwing caution to the wind and actually trying out this writing thing a week before she invited me to participate in the event. The 200-word requirement was a lot more blood, tears and self-doubt than I imagined it would be, but aren't we all masochistic in some way?
On Busola's Bedside Table
I've been reading Achebe's There Was A Country: A Memoir almost exclusively these days. I started reading it before he died but I wasn't able to finish it because of my science stuff. I've also been sneaking peeks at Ellen Degeneres' Seriously...I'm Kidding at the bookstore on campus because I'm in the process of moving to Boston and can't afford to buy all the books I want. The next books on my Kindle are Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go, Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and Amy Poehler's Yes Please.
Busola Olukoya is a Neuroscience enthusiast (read Neurd) that is currently making her debut in the Boston scientific community. Born, "bread and buttered" in a tight-knit Catholic Yoruba-Igbo household in Lagos, Nigeria, she is fascinated with exploring narratives of marginalization, inequity and inequality, as well as perceptions of religious and ethnic identities in the diaspora. Much of her time is spent watching Korean dramas, beginning (but never quite finishing) craft projects and planning when next to attend Confession. You can find her older, and more cringe worthy, work at tellmewhenyoufindme.blogspot.com. She dreams of eventually becoming a terrifying (but super awesome) professor of Neuroscience at a Medical school with an intelligent yet un-emasculatable husband, 2 ginormous dogs and 10 adopted kids. And, of course, writing. Always writing.