Excerpt from Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Say You're One of Them

by Uwem Akpan

Say You're One of Them
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 368 pages
    Jul 2009, 384 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Happee, happee Ex- mas, tarling!" Mama toasted me after a while, rubbing my head.

"You too, Mama."

"Now, where are these daughters? Don't they want to do Exmas prayer?" She sniffed the bottle until her eyes receded, her face pinched like the face of a mad cow. "And the govament banned this sweet thing. Say thanks to the neighbors, boy. Where did they find this hunger killer?" Sometimes she released her lips from the bottle with a smacking sound. As the night thickened, her face began to swell, and she kept pouting and biting her lips to check the numbness. They turned red—they looked like Maisha's when she had on lipstick—and puffed up.

"Mama? So, what can we give the neighbors for Ex-mas?" I asked, remembering that we had not bought anything for our friends.

My question jerked her back. "Petrol . . . we will buy them a half liter of petrol," she said, and belched. Her breath smelled of carbide, then of sour wine. When she looked up again, our eyes met, and I lowered mine in embarrassment. In our machokosh culture, petrol was not as valuable as glue. Any self- respecting street kid should always have his own stock of kabire. "OK, son, next year . . . we get better things. I don't want police business this year—so don't start having ideas."

We heard two drunks stumbling toward our home. Mama hid the bottle. They stood outside announcing that they had come to wish us a merry Ex- mas. "My husband is not here!" Mama lied. I recognized the voices. It was Bwana Marcos Wako and his wife, Cecilia. Baba had owed them money for four years. They came whenever they smelled money, then Baba had to take off for a few days. When Baby was born, we pawned three-quarters of his clothing to defray the debts. A week before Ex-mas, the couple had raided us, confiscating Baba's work clothes in the name of debt servicing.

I quickly covered the trunk with rags and reached into my pocket, tightening my grip around the rusty penknife I carried about.

Mama and I stood by the door. Bwana Wako wore his trousers belted across his forehead; the legs, flailing behind him, were tied in knots and stuffed with ugali flour, which he must have gotten from a street party. Cecilia wore only her jacket and her rain boots.

"Ah, Mama Jigana-ni Ex-mas!" the husband said. "Forget the money. Happee Ex- mas!"

"We hear Jigana is going to school," the wife said.

"Who told you?" Mama said warily. "Me, I don't like rumors."

They turned to me. "Happee to resume school, boy?"

"Me am not going to school," I lied, to spare my tuition money.

"Kai, like mama like son!" the wife said. "You must to know you are the hope of your family."

"Mama Jigana, listen," the man said. "Maisha came to us last week. Good, responsible gal. She begged us to let bygone be bygone so Jigana can go to school. We say forget the money—our Ex-mas gift to your family."

"You must to go far with education, Jigana," the wife said, handing me a new pen and pencil. "Mpaka university!"

Mama laughed, jumping into the flooded alley. She hugged them and allowed them to come closer to our shack. They staggered to our door, swaying like masqueraders on stilts.

"Asante sana!" I thanked them. I uncorked the pen and wrote all over my palms and smelled the tart scent of the Hero HB pencil. Mama wedged herself between them and the shack to ensure that they did not pull it down. Baba whispered to us from inside, ready to slip away, "Ha, they told me the same thing last year. You watch and see, tomorrow they come looking for me. Make them sign paper this time." Mama quickly got them some paper and they signed, using my back as a table. Then they staggered away, the stuffed trousers bouncing along behind them.

Mama began to sing Maisha's praises and promised never to pound on her trunk again. Recently, Maisha had taken the twins to the barber, and Baby to Kenyatta National Hospital for a checkup. Now she had gotten our debt canceled. I felt like running out to search for her in the streets. I wanted to hug her and laugh until the moon dissolved. I wanted to buy her Coke and chapati, for sometimes she forgot to eat. But when Mama saw me combing my hair, she said nobody was allowed to leave until we had finished saying the Ex-mas prayer.

Copyright © 2008 by Uwem Akpan

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Cruel Beautiful World
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A fast moving page-turner about the naiveté of youth and the malignity of power.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Les Parisiennes
    by Anne Sebba

    How the women of Paris lived, loved, and died under Nazi occupation.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.