Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

Tank _summer 16_books _1

Paperback, 272 pages
Publisher: Chatto & Windus (July 2015)
ISBN: 9780701188566
Language: English
Selected by Barbara Epler

“Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian, wakes up one morning before a job interview and with horror he sees he’s been transformed into a white man. A wildly funny, irreverent, tragicomic odyssey – Barrett may be riffing on Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, but he brings his own fierce wit to bear on damn whiteness, and boy, does he get that ‘damn!’ in there.” —Barbara Epler 


Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep. He was lying nude in bed, and when he raised his head a fraction he could see his alabaster belly, and his pale legs beyond, covered with fuzz that glinted bronze in the cold daylight pouring in through the open window. He sat up with a sudden motion that swilled the panic in his stomach and spilled his hands into his lap. He stared at his hands, the pink lifelines in his palms, the shellfish-coloured cuticles, the network of blue veins that ran from knuckle to wrist, more veins than he had ever noticed before. His hands were not black but white… same as his legs, his belly, all of him. He clenched his fists, squeezed his eyes shut, and sank on to the bed. Outside, a bird chirruped short piercing cries, like mocking laughter.

When he opened his eyes again the air was silent, the bird was flown. Turning on his side, his gaze roved the familiar corners of his bedroom and rested on his going-out shoes, their brown leather polished to a dull lustre, placed at attention beside the door. His blue T.M. Lewin shirt and his favourite black cotton trousers (which he had stayed awake till after midnight, when power returned, to iron) were hanging from the chair at his desk. His plastic folder, packed tight with documents, was on the desk. He stared at the folder till his eyeballs itched with dryness, and then he rolled to the bed’s edge and blinked at the screen of his BlackBerry lying on the floor. He grimaced with relief. The alarm hadn’t gone off: he had 16 minutes until it rang at eight. On account of Lagos traffic, he planned to leave the house at half past eight. A bath, get dressed, eat breakfast, and then he would be off.

Furo heaved onto his back and fixed his gaze on the white ceiling squares festooned with fragments of old cobwebs. He tried to corral his thoughts into the path of logic, but his efforts were brushed aside by his panicked heartbeats. Through the window and far away he heard the unruffled buzz of traffic, the whale honks of trailers, the urgent beeping of a reversing Coaster bus, the same school bus that arrived every weekday around this time. The accustomed sounds of Monday morning. It appeared a normal day for everyone else, and that thought brought Furo no succour, it only confirmed what he already knew, that he was alone in this lingering dream. But what he knew did not explain the how, the why, or the why today. I shouldn’t have stayed up late, he said to himself, no wonder I had such nightmares – I, who never dream! He tried to remember what he had dreamed of, but all he recalled was climbing into bed with the same dread he had slept with since he received the email notifying him of his job interview.

He was startled back to alertness by his phone alarm. He reached forwards to turn it off, then pushed his legs off the bed, and sat at the edge with his feet pressed into the rug. The pallor of his feet was stark against the rug’s crimson. He was white, full oyibo1, no doubt about it – and, with his knees swinging, the flesh of his thighs jiggling, his mind following these bone-and-flesh motions for bewildered seconds before moving its attention to other details of his physiology, he began to comprehend the extent of his transformation. 

[1] “Oyibo” is a term Nigerians use to identify westernised or white people.