On the 9th of February 2014, we set forth at dawn, on a whim, to stamp out 100 words on the walls of Facebook, everyday, for thirty days.
We? Two great friends who love to write. Enobong Odohofreh, a law graduate, and I, Samuel Okopi, an architect.
When we began the contest–a challenge precisely–we realised that prepping our words to dance everyday on the white walls of Facebook wouldn’t be easy. It became clear that asking our readers to comment on each day’s stories, and vote for the better one, pressured us into crafting the best story each could manage with a hundred words. This transformed what we assumed would be a journey of leisures into one of beautiful nightmares. Days receded slowly, dropping nights that swapped sound sleep with intense brain activity. I would turn around an idea for a story in my head for hours, mindful of two things: Enobong would be preparing something great wherever she was, and our readers would be expecting to read enjoyable stories the next day.
Enobong recounts her similar experience:
“… there were so many days I would ordinarily have given up–days when it felt like my head would explode with headaches of trying to think up the perfect idea for a story, days of poor sleep because my mind was never fully at rest with an unwritten story. But the thought that I had a steady audience–people who were expecting me to show up with a story for them to read and give feedback–that gave me all the strength I needed to go on. I could never bring myself to give up on them. They kept me going.”
TWO STORIES (Prompt: “Call of Duty”)
A Basket of Mangoes
By Enobong Odohofreh
I looked up and Ebuka was there, smiling, with a basket of mangoes for me.
I laughed and took it, selecting a clean mango.
Yellow juice was dripping down my chin when he said, “I will like to make you my wife.”
The mango dropped.
He laughed and dropped a kiss in my palm.
“My family will come to see yours.”
But the Biafra war started, and my soldier went to defend his fatherland.
One day, two soldiers brought us a letter. I’d heard about these letters. I didn’t need to read it before my heart knew.
By Samuel Okopi
“Oga, dat ashawo of yesterday say she sabi how to spoil dia juju.”
I frowned at the soldier. “What?”
“Oga, she piss for bottle say make we put am inside all of our rifle.”
I was disgusted but I needed a solution. Last week’s heavy fighting saw our bullets falling off the chest of smiling terrorists as they danced kukere to mock us. We lost 52 men. I had a duty to protect my soldiers.
Empowered the next day by ashawo piss, our bullets penetrated their useless juju and swiftly sent hundreds of the bewildered idiots to hell fire.
Ironically, the assurance of a steady audience worked up to a high, the pressure to turn out great stories every day. Feedback wasn’t always pleasant. “I was sometimes scared,” says Enobong, about a kind of fear many writers contend with: what readers would think about their stories. “Especially when I’d written a story that I didn’t think was really good. And this feeling only developed when I’d already established a winning streak. I was always scared of the day it would come to an end, you know?”
Now you know. Enobong kept winning the votes. I must have won on only six days. The twists to her stories kept charming a better part of our readers who were a mix of writers and non-writers; a mix whose choices and comments pointed to what the average guy on the street looks forward to in the experience of a story.
TWO STORIES (Prompt: Write a story that begins with “Take a ride”.)
By Enobong Odohofreh
“Take a ride with me, Kat?” He smiled.
“It’s a surprise. Something you’ve never seen.”
He had me. I was a sucker for surprises.
His motorcycle practically flew. The trees whooshed by and I whooped with sheer joy. This was fun.
This was crazy.
My jaw hung down as I took in the mansion made entirely of bones.
“Impressed?” He asked me. “We just need some more to complete the front door”
A wave of nausea hit me.
“What kind of animals do you use?”
“Animals like you and I, dear. And,” He looked me over again, “you’re the right kind for the door”
Life of Fai
By Samuel Okopi
Take a ride in the firm grip of the bald eagle’s yellow talons, and as you struggle to wriggle free, while you ascend towards the mighty nest high up in the big trees, think back to your time in the sea: you were born from a spawn, you joined a great school, you learnt teamwork and vigilance, you escaped the horrific mouth of the shark and dodged the gruesome slash of the swordfish; but curiosity pulled you from the school–upwards, towards the shimmering surface of the water, towards your capture that now takes you on this ride to the feast that will be made of your dismembered body.
But back to our readers and their feedback. The story that proved most difficult for me was based on an evocative picture prompt that had much potential. This story turned out to be the one I was least pleased with. Coincidentally, Enobong wasn’t really happy with what she had written for that day, too. Some of our readers expressed their disappointment and even asked us to rewrite the stories. But we moved on. Luckily, some of the best stories we wrote came after that day’s offerings.
Sometimes, the genre the prompt forced on us took us out of our comfort zones and into strangely difficult waters. With all my love for Science Fiction, responding to a prompt about aliens became a nightmare. I toiled for eight hours or more to produce Seven Limbs, a 100 word story I can’t say I am proud of. For Enobong, this kind of difficulty came about with Apocalypse, a story that needed to be sci-fi, one genre she is not a fan of in any way. However, it garnered more votes than she expected it to! Something we finally agreed on: our readers were full of surprises. This is why publishing a book is almost always a big gamble no matter the size and experience of the publishing house.
Halfway To Forever
By Enobong Odohofreh
(Prompt: Image below)
I would never forget the Sunday afternoon when the trees were all a fiery blaze.
I knew nothing about her, except that she strolled through Grand Boulevard every Sunday afternoon and I loved to watch her.
This time, she appeared in a lovely red dress, and I couldn’t help but stare.
Halfway down the street, she crumpled to the ground. Scared, I rushed to her. She had fainted, the dainty lady. Thankfully, few drops of water revived her.
When she opened her eyes, she smiled at me and said,
“I had to make you come, didn’t I? You were gonna stare until I grew old and grey.”
By Samuel Okopi (Prompt: Write a story with only one-syllable words.)
I was six. Each week, Aunt Mee our maid would charm me with tales of brave quests to far lands.
I was nine when her tales changed.
“Wealth is bad,” Aunt Mee would end. “Pity the poor.”
Each week, a piece of Mom’s gold changed hands.
“Your good heart makes the poor smile,” Aunt Mee would praise.
I was twelve when Mom found out I stole. Mee took flight. Mom cried and begged I stop. I did.
The next year, I met Mee. We robbed the wrong home. Mee took flight. My two hands were cut.
I am a man now. My heart bleeds each time I see my mom.
How did we come about our ideas and work them into stories? Both our approaches were different. I would happen on an idea for a story and stick with that idea as the story evolved. This was an additional restriction I imposed on myself because I was always eager to see what I could do with an idea even if all odds were against it. Only on three occasions, I think, did I toy with different ideas for a story while I worked on the story for the next day. For Enobong, the reverse was the case:
“Maybe once or twice, a particular idea came and I stuck with it. The rest of the time, I had to mull over several ideas in my mind before the perfect one would come–either by morphing out of an earlier idea, or a totally fresh one. Either way, I was always very glad when I finally agreed with myself that a particular idea was the perfect one!”
By Enobong Odohofreh (Prompt: Laptop)
Amused surprise filled Bala’s mind as he reached for his knife. He’d never had to use a knife when robbing a woman. This one was putting up a brave fight. Good thing they were in a closed alley.
He was calculating how much Don Paddy would give him for the laptop as he quickly jumped aboard a BRT bus.
Blood dripping from her slashed arm, she whipped out a cellphone with her other hand and speed-dialled a number.
“Done, Sir.” She reported as she melted into a crowd.
Inside Bala’s coat, the “laptop” was already ticking.
By Samuel Okopi
(Prompt: Write something on “Central Tendency: the power to tend to source”)
The drug was destroying lives and The Presidency was under fire. Metropolitan Office for Dope Eradication (MODE) was given 6 months to find the source. Elections were next year. Mr. President hated surprises.
Two professors were immediately hired by MODE. They explored complex mathematical models for days until one rookie agent suggested an uncanny answer: finding modes.
MODE moved to action. In Month One, 861,359 wiretapped phone calls by 2,652 drug addicts were analysed for central tendency. The modes clustered around 15 phone numbers discovered to be ‘suppliers’.
In Month Five, with irrefutable proof, MODE moved to arrest the Defence Minister.
In the end, our readers’ comments and the daily dance of our words on Facebook taught us much about the art of writing. We experimented a lot. We crafted stories from proverbs. Pictures, single words, and quotes, prompted a variety of stories that explored different genres. One day, we wrote stories with words that had just one syllable.
When I asked Enobong if she thought her writing had improved, as I think mine had, she let me know with these words:
“Definitely! This contest made me write genres I’d never done before and forced me to experiment with lots of writing styles, for fear of sounding monotonous. Also, just like exercise invariably improves muscles, my writing ability has improved thanks to the constant workout and feedback from readers.”
#100WordsFor30Days gave Enobong the motivation to finally create a serious blog for her writings which, hopefully, would stream out constantly. For me, I now see where I would rather pitch my biggest writing tent. I am currently working on my first book: a book of really really short stories.
Follow Your Dream
By Enobong Odohofreh
(Prompt: Write a story from an animal’s perspective.)
As a rat, life was dangerous. But at Mama Jimoh’s, life was a dream.
I lived in the food cupboard so I never went hungry. I and my friends even held parties in there.
I was used to Mama Jimoh’s threats. I sometimes recited them with her.
“All these rats! I’ll kill them one day. One day!”
One day, I returned from a weekend visit to find everyone packing. Mama Jimoh was leaving Lagos.
My perfect life was disappearing.
I had to follow Mama Jimoh.
As I scampered into a loaded bag, I met there twelve of my friends already wedged inside the family’s shoes.
Where Mama Jimoh goes, we go.
By Samuel Okopi (Prompt: Threads)
Last week, the mai suya by the junction showed me his swollen buttocks to prove nurses are terrible. I visited the hospital after eating his suya and slapped the careless nurse twice before leaving. Three days later, the mai suya came to my house with a long knife. The nurse was his woman. My brother the policeman lives nearby and so the hot pursuit led straight to his house. We met him helping the careless nurse take off her uniform.
All three are in the hospital. I am in a police cell. Don’t ask me what happened.