Foreign Gods, Inc..pdf
Praise for Foreign Gods, Inc.
“We clearly have a fresh talent at work here. It is quite a while since I sensed creative promise on this level.”
—Wole Soyinka, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
"Foreign Gods, Inc. is a blistering exploration of the contemporary African immigrant experience in America. Ndibe tackles tough questions: from the shifting notions of home and identity to the nature of greed. In prose which is fresh and often funny, Ndibe draws the reader into the heartbreaking story of Ike Uzondu's attempt to survive in a world which seems determined to crush him."
—Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street
Praise for Arrows of Rain
"First rate fiction."
—John Edgar Wideman, author of Philadelphia Fire
—Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, author of The Interpreters
"A superb debut; a gritty political thriller with real emotional depth."
—The New Internationalist
"A blueprint for the second generation of African novelists."
—Ernest Emenyonu, author of Tales of Our Motherland
"An ambitious and brave first novel."
—Michael Ekwueme Thelwell, author of The Harder They Come
Okey Ndibe, author of the novel Arrows of Rain, teaches African and African Diaspora literatures at Brown University. He earned MFA and PhD degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and has taught at Connecticut College (New London, CT), Bard College at Simon’s Rock (Great Barrington, MA), Trinity College (Hartford, CT), and the University of Lagos (as a Fulbright scholar). He also served on the editorial board of Hartford Courant where his essays won national and state awards. He lives in West Hartford, CT with his wife, Sheri, and their three children.
Ikechukwu Uzondu, “Ike for short,” parked his Lincoln Continental cab at a garage that charged twelve dollars per hour. Before shutting off the engine, he looked at the car’s electronic clock. Nine forty-seven a.m.; it meant the gallery would have been open for a little less than an hour. Perfect, Ike thought, for he wished to be done transacting his business before the place started buzzing.
He walked a block and a half to 19 Vance Street. Had a small animal been wedged in his throat, his heart could not have pounded more violently.
The eave over the door bore a sign etched in black over a bluish background: foreign gods, incorporated. It was written in tiny, stylized lettering, as if intended to create a tactful anonymity. Few would stumble upon a store like this; it would be found, it seemed, only by habitués and devotees.
Across the street was a bar. Ike contemplated a quick drink or two to calm his nerves. How odd to flack for a war god while jittery.
Yet, to go in smelling of alcohol might also be a costly mistake.
The gallery door clicked, and a tanned woman walked out. A squat carved statue was clutched close to her breast, held in asuckling posture. At the curb, a gleaming black BMW pulled up. She opened the rear door and leaned in, arched backside revealing the outline of her underwear. Her black high-heeled shoes were riveted with nodes of diamond. She strapped the deity in place with the seat belt and then straightened. The car’s front door was opened from inside. She lowered herself in, and the car sped off.
Ike pulled at the gallery door—surprisingly light. A wide, sprawling space unfurled itself: gray marble floors, turquoise walls, and glass-paneled showcases. A multitude of soft, recessed lights accentuated the gallery’s dim, spectral atmosphere. In the middle of the room, slightly to the left of the door, a spiral staircase with two grille-work banisters rose to an upper floor. Ike knew from the New York magazine piece that people went upstairs only by invitation. And that those invitations went only to a small circle of long-term collectors or their designated dealers.
There was an otherworldly chill in the air. There was also a smell about the place, unsettling and hard to name. Ike froze at the edge of the run of stairs that led down to the floor of the gallery. From the elevation, he commanded a view. The space was busy but not cluttered. Clusters of short, squat showcases were interspersed with long and deep ones. Here and there, some customers peered into the glass cases or pored over catalogs.
In a matter of two, three weeks, his people’s ancient deity, Ngene, would be here, too. And it would enjoy pride of place, not on this floor, with the all-comers and nondescripts, but upstairs, in the section called Heaven. Ngene was a majestic god with a rich legend and history. How many other gods could boast of dooming Walter Stanton, that famed English missionary whose name, in the syllable-stretching mouths of the people of Utonki, became Su-tantee-ny?
The thought gave him a gutsy boost. He trotted down the steps to the floor of the gallery. Walking unhurriedly, he cast deliberate glances about him, so that an observer might mistake him for a veteran player in the rare sport where gods and sacred curios were bought and sold. He paused near the spiral staircase. A sign warned please do not ascend unless escorted. He walked on to a chesthigh showcase. A hefty wooden head stared at him from atop a rectangular stump. The face was pitched forward, like a tortoise’s head poking out of a shell. On closer inspection, Ike saw that the carved head was deformed by a chipped, flattened nose and large, bulgy eyes. Inside the case, four fluorescent puck lights washed the statue with crisscross patterns of luminescence and shadows. A fork-tongued serpent coiled itself round the statue’s neck.
There was an electronic key code for the showcase’s twin-winged door, and several perforations in the glass, small and circular, as if designed to let in and let out just enough air to keep the glum, rigid statue from suffocating. A strip tag glued to the glass cage identified the deity as C1760. Ike picked up a glossy catalog and thumbed to the C section. Each page was columned, with sections marked “inventory code,” “name,” “brief history,” and “price.” He ran his finger down the line until he saw the tag number. Then he drew his finger across to the price column: $29,655.
He flipped the pages to the catalog’s last section, marked “Heavenly Inventory.” The lowest price in the section was $171,455; the highest $1.13 million. He studied the image of one of the deities in that section. Carved from soot-black wood, it had two fused figures, one female, and the other male. The figures backed each other. The female was big breasted and boasted a swollen belly. The male figure held a hoe in one hand, a gun in the other, its grotesque phallus extending all the way to its feet. They shared the same androgynous head, turned neither left nor right but forward. A pair of deep-set eyes seemed to return Ike’s stare. It was listed for $325,630. Ike read the short italicized description: A god of the crossroads, originally from Papua New Guinea.
“Wait until they see Ngene,” he said under his breath, a flush of excitement washing over him. Surely, a legendary god of war would command a higher price than a two-faced crossroads idler.
At the thought, the catalog slipped from his hands and thudded on the floor. He hastily picked it up, glancing all around. Perhaps the gallery’s surveillance camera was beamed on him, trailing his every movement?
He moved to another showcase. He squatted, bit his lip, and peered intensely at the encased quarry, nodding like a connoisseur. From nowhere some foul whiff brushed his nose and he recoiled.
He heard a woman’s low voice and stood to look, but two showcases blocked his view.
“Have I ever—ever—been too busy for you?” a man answered in a stentorian voice.
A pair of sequined magenta shoes descended the staircase. These yielded toned calves, then sturdy thighs that disappeared beneath a tight purplish skirt, and then the tanned, tight upper body of a blonde. Then, behind her, the man appeared.
Ike recognized Mark Gruels, the owner of the gallery. He did not panic, his poise a remarkable feat, considering what was at stake. Neither the woman nor Gruels looked Ike’s way. Her right arm was around his waist, his left arm draped over her shoulder. They circled the staircase and walked down another aisle, toward the far wall.
Ike watched them but pretended to be riveted by the catalog. Gruels was a head taller than the woman, even though she looked at least five nine. Cerise pearls adorned the woman’s neck. Gruels’s groomed appearance seemed to leave some room for cultivated ruggedness. He had a full head of black hair, garnished with dots of gray. He wore a dark green down vest over a bleached green shirt, one sleeve rolled up to the elbow, the other left unrolled.
Gruels and the woman spoke inaudibly for a moment, entranced by the same object: a mammoth, snout-faced statue in a showcase.
“So?” the woman finally asked.
Gruels swayed side to side, as if in deep thought. Then he shook his head doubtfully.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Not that one,” he said in the tone of a man accustomed to confident judgments. His voice was deep, even a little gravelly. “You’re looking at a goddess. She’s definitely not a good fit. Not for you. You do better with strong male gods. You’d find her—shall I say—a bit too feisty. Too cranky.”
“She’s quite the cutie,” the woman said, leaning into Gruels.
“No question, but she’s not your type. Trust me.” He pressed her closer to him. “You don’t want a goddess that clashes with your personality. Plus, it doesn’t jibe with your other acquisitions.”
“It’s actually not for me. I’d like something amazing for my brother. And this should do.”
“Birthday?” Gruels asked.
“No, he’s never been big on birthdays. He’s just having a tough time rebounding.”
“Has he been sick?”
“Josh?” Gruels sounded incredulous.
“Yes, darling—you know I have only the one brother.”
“He and Heather parted ways?”
“Oh, Mark, have you been living in a cave again?”
“No, really,” said Gruels. “I’m sorry to hear it.”
She turned sideways and rested her body against his. Gruels rubbed and kneaded her shoulders. Ike felt a tug in the crotch.
She related how Heather had run away with another woman, leaving Josh crushed.
Finally, Gruels said, “A man dumped by his wife for an...
Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.
Ike's plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes.
And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity.
A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the "exotic," including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.