Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 7, Number 1
Copyright © 2012
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Fiction by Iheoma Nwachukwu
On Monday morning Yang Yé went to look for the bastard.
Workers were already sitting at their places in white coats and hats, all
wearing their face masks on their chins. Yang had always wondered about that.
In China people fit face masks over their noses. Not here. Were they afraid of
He was looking for the bastard who shouted abuse and threw a stone at
him on Saturday. He had been waiting in front of Lami Gas for the driver,
Baba Dayo, who had gone to patch the old Landrover’s front tyre.
All the factories had let out: Spintex; Iron and Steel; Phoenix;
Laughatdragon—which belonged to Yang’s uncle. A thick wedge of people,
long-stretched like a heedless accordion, pressed through the unpaved road
that led from the factories. It was sometime past six thirty in the evening.
Yang stood beside the car, its bare wheel obscenely exposed by the tipping
jack, smiling at the way the women’s breasts bounced in their hurry, staring
blankly at the men.
The rush had quit when the voice spoke. People passed in threes. Then
in twos. Then there were stragglers. And now Yang could easily see barbets
gamboling in pairs along the top of a brick fence beside the road.
He was impatient for the driver, too, bending his head and scuffing the
earth with his small sneakers, so that when he heard, ‘Chinese dog! Hey you!
Chinese dog!’ he almost felt relief, then he absorbed the words, and he felt
anger. When he looked up, he felt humiliation.
A big scowling woman wearing a loose tee-shirt with the words
Laughatdragon Cracker swimming across her large breasts stood a few feet
from Yang. Two teenagers wearing dark glasses walked past giggling. The
woman threatened Yang.
‘You dey look me, you dey mad? I go slap you now. Go back to
China! You nonsense, you pay little money for big work! If I see you for
work on Monday, I will kill you like a rat! Idiot! Nonsense!’ She quickly
bent and scraped at a stone near her feet, hurling it at Yang, who squatted
just in time. The stone sailed over the Landrover’s hood.
‘God save you, mosquito!’ she cursed, pointing at him as she abruptly
hurried off. In the distance Baba Dayo was returning, rolling a big worn tyre.
‘Hun zhang! Bastard,’ Yang snarled to himself when she had gone,
trying to swagger it off—a little man thoroughly routed by a large woman. He
cursed her big breasts, cursed this hot country where he was burdened with the
sensitivity of a man in a city not his own.
Yang came down the stairs of the administrative floor, fuming, scouring
the faces of the busy workers. Was he not the factory manager? Was he not
royalty here? And one of these drones had dared to insult him?
The smell inside the big factory had long ceased to be that of biscuit, or
plastic, or smoke. Now it was a nameless hovering something that made
Yang reach for his handkerchief often, even though he had been here one year.
On the endless dark ceiling, sickly fluorescent tubes, in formation with the other
healthy, took snap-shots of the floor and the daily movement below. (Fat
shiny silver bars, like metal-Samsons, also pushed against extending ribs on the
ceiling from the floor—paranoid workers, pinching burned biscuits into funnel-
shaped trolleys, habitually refused to stand near these bars wondering, ‘What
if it falls?’) High up on the walls a rank of louvred windows let in daylight and
fresh air. Yang hated the bleating noise that came from the old inclined
conveyor on which two shirtless sweating men loaded market-ready boxes,
pitching the boxes as though harried by an imaginary task master.
He found the bastard when he reached the foot of the stairs: a dark face
amongst many in the section where the conveyor shot Cracker biscuits into a
pale moving tray. The people worked fast, their swift hands snapping up
biscuits—four in a clutch—and throwing them in Laughatdragon boxes.
The sides of Yang’s head collected with rage.
‘You! You! Come, come! You! You sack!’ he cried at once in his
broken English, pointing at the marked face.
All work stopped. People pushed up their eyes to match the ‘sack’ to
a face that hopefully was not theirs. Yang’s target was shocked, first staring
in incomprehension at the woman beside him, then turning to look at Yang, his
hand on his chest.
‘Me? Me, master! Me?’
‘Yes! You sack! You see me Saturday, you curse you throw Yan! Go!’
The man, an old man whose middle finger was sliced off when a rotary
cutter started suddenly, got up, stunned, then started to remove his frock. A
guard wearing a Laughatdragon V-neck shirt began to approach. People
went back to work, used to scenes like this. Every so often a bold dissatisfied
worker would waylay one of the Chinese bosses, hurling threats and curses;
and more often it was the wrong person that got forked out.
Yang Yé stood near the window in his office. In a large aquarium beside
his ebony and elm desk, rare orange-coloured fishes chased each other. He
pushed his narrow hands into the pockets of the blue jeans he wore to work
every day. When he saw the man he had just fired walk slowly through the
factory gates, he looked away, knowing he had made a mistake.
This was the third time he had been attacked since he arrived in Lagos
from Guangdong, the third time he was ejecting someone. His uncle, who told
Yang he was attacked only once though Yang did not believe this, had advised
him how to do it, ‘They all look the same! Pick the ugliest face and throw him
out!’ Had he, Yang, always done that? He was not sure. And his uncle was
right, it did not help that they all looked the same, the colour of black sesame
soup. But he could have managed this one better. A woman attacked him.
He fired a man. A woman protesting what? Low wages? As if the Indians at
Iron and Steel, or those who ran the other factories, paid better. Fifteen
thousand naira was a hundred dollars. Yang had to admit it was not a lot of
money to take home at month’s end; it would not even last him one week. But
to raise wages, how could they stay in business? And if they didn’t raise wages,
how could they keep their workers happy? What if people got more violent?
What if someone shot him one day as he went to work?
Iheoma Nwachukwu was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He has received
fellowships from the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists,
Bard College, New York, and the Michener Center for Writers, University
of Texas, Austin. Nwachukwu’s fiction has appeared in Kwani,
Internazionale, and other journals. His work is upcoming in Unstuck,
Black Renaissance, Jungle Jim, and Flywheel.
On “Laugh at Dragon”:
This work came out of a seminar class taught last fall by the wonderful
Naomi Shihab Nye, at the Michener Center.
I live in a poor neighbourhood in Lagos where teenagers are often
unable to finish secondary school, and teenage pregnancies can be an
escape into the excitement of motherhood. There are many factories here,
owned mostly by Asians, that exploit this hapless local population, offering
wages of $100 a month, sometimes less. The working conditions are
terrible. Tired, antiquated machines rip at fingers; overworked furnaces
shoot red-hot rods into thighs. Many die at night when a fire breaks out
and the factory manager has locked everyone in.
It just drives me crazy, makes me sad. Perhaps this story can draw
attention to what’s happening.
I was moved to write about this (albeit in longer form) after reading
Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle in 2009, but couldn’t find the right pitch into
the material. I found it in seminar class, and hopefully this work can
expand into a novel.
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