A Cell Is A Box That Has An Illusion Of Safety

Out of all the short stories we have read from The Thing Around Your Neck, the one that always comes to the front of my mind and does not get buried is “Cell One”. While reading it I felt like I was Nnamabia’s sibling and when his eyes filled with tears, I too felt a tenderness for him. This story has stuck with me the way it does is for two reasons.

The first reason is that the story of Nnamabia breaking into his own house and the description of him being a smart kid immediately made me think of someone I know personally. Interestingly enough, the same exact thing happened with that person. And falling into the wrong crowd and him once being a smart kid always came up in conversation surrounding the incident. Additionally, when the policeman said, “You cannot raise your children well, all of you people who feel important because you work in the university” (20), I thought of Nervous Conditions and the theme of education. Nnamabia and the person I know could have been considered well-educated individuals who should have known better at the time. In Nervous Conditions, education was seen as having both successes and failures, and how it was important to have one without having education take over your life. And in my blog post about this topic I asked: what does it really mean to be educated? And I think one could make the argument that in this story, Nnamabia being a popular boy, befriending everyone, was the street smarts side to obtaining an education.

The second reason this story stuck with me is really just the harsh realities of being imprisoned in a cell. When I took the course Deprivation of Liberty, we discussed how the news may sometimes twist everything, and that prison has these gray areas. I found this evident when the policeman released Nnamabia to his family and how the entire ordeal, Nnamabia being moved into Cell One, transferred, and then appearing with scars, was not spoken about and it was completely vague as to why it happened. In one of the books we read, A Question of Freedom by Dwayne Betts, there was the discussion of how one is a witness to what happens in a cell and do not underestimate the criminal justice system for age is just another number and one will become a number too. Identification is no longer one’s first name, but the digits on one’s wristband. And in “Cell One” we see that the injustices that happen in the system in Nigeria is seen as normal as the father brushes his knee, not understanding why the mother was stating the obvious.

In the same course, we also read a short story and play called “Cell Buddy” by Robert Johnson (whom taught the Deprivation of Liberty course when I took it) and one take away we had from that reading is that occasional explosions are seen as normal when one has no one to help him/her sort through his/her emotions and suffer less. We saw that Nnamabia’s emotions started to get the best of him and he had this bottled up anger that ate him from the inside out that he had to let go.

Posted on November 20, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I enjoy how you established a parallel between “Cell One” and “Nervous Conditions.” The tension between the narrator (the sister of Nnamabia) and Nnamabia reminded me of Tambu’s animosity toward Nhamo- the manner in which both of these older brothers received special treatment from their parents and immediate amnesty for any of their wrongdoings (they could do no wrong), infuriating their sisters in the process. The moment the narrator in “Cell One” threw the stone at her parents’ car (to prevent them from driving to see Nnamabia) was a symbol of revolt along the similar but different lines of Tambu tackling Nhamo in the school yard upon learning that he was taking her mealies. To expand on your question, “what does it mean to be educated?” I consider some nuanced approaches to education throughout the story. I suppose one form of being educated was the realization that the mother had to dish out jollof rice to police officers in order to see her son; or that the old man realized he had to humiliate himself in order to obtain clean water, for he could not afford any otherwise. What does it mean to be educated? In this context, being educated is knowing how to get what you want, when you want it, under a certain set of challenges, such as a broken police system or scarce resources. Sound rather economic, doesn’t it? Being educated in this context is understanding that your system is corrupt and that sometimes one must learn to navigate accordingly, whether through bribery or downright exploitation. To me this is what “street smarts” represent.

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