This novella does so much in very few pages. Almost everything about humanity is rolled up in it. Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun is a reader’s entertainment. At the centre of the narrative is a sort of characterisation that astounds you. This book builds interesting characters that linger on and live with you. There are surges of emotions from the most unlikely places and in the category of people you would least expect so from in reality. Sarah Ladipo Manyika forks out narratives from places you wouldn’t normally look to. Sarah Ladipo Manyika avoids easy post-colonial slush that is targeted at Western appeal; she gives us something different. In engaging the psychology of the aged, Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun explores humanity’s tender psyche. Nothing engages more like when what you think you know is upended and you see things in different dimensions: like an old woman with an active hormone; like an old woman who masturbates; like an old woman who still wants love; like Morayo who is all sassy in old age.
This book is about people caught up in the sweet morasses of life. There is Morayo; there is Sunshine; there is Pearl and Reginald; there is the homeless Rachel; there is Dawud and Amirah; there is Bella; there is Toussaint. Characters in this book create the story and not the other way around. This book is strongly centred on its many interesting characters, that in the case that a part of the characterisation gives, everything falls away. It isn’t the story per se that hooks you in this book, the characters do. When you meet Morayo in the opening pages of this book, you know you have come to a book with assertive and revealing characters. I have always known poetry genre to do monologues well, not fiction. In Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun, interesting conversations are in monologues. The idea of conversations as it were is redefined. Sara Ladipo Manyika uses conversation with the self to mesmerise. This way, the characters are not only talking with themselves, but with the reader. Sometimes they dare you, sometimes they just want to open up to you. Their lives are so warped up not to. Sometimes, they converse with you like this:
“The place where I live is ancient. ‘Old but sturdy,’ our landlady tells us. 500 Belgrave is so strong, apparently, that it withstood the 1906 earthquake. ‘Didn’t even bust a single crack,’ is what the landlady says. But between you and me, I wouldn’t bet on history repeating itself. It’s the reason why I live on the top floor, for if this building collapses, then at least they won’t have far to dig me out. Of course, I don’t wish any harm to my neighbours, especially not to the gentleman living just beneath me. As for the sullen woman on the ground floor who insists on calling me Mary because she finds Morayo too hard to pronounce, well that’s another story. But I wish even her no harm. I’d like to imagine that when the big one strikes, we’d all be gathered at my place, enjoying a glass of wine, and we’d ride the whole thing out and live to tell the tale.”(8)
This book uses its characters to throw subtle jibes at many things. Unlike books that use headlong comments on issues to bore, Sarah Ladipo Manyika weaves apt characters around significant themes, so that when they talk, you are easily drawn into what ails them. As entertaining as their conservations are, they are also instructive of the many things wrong with our world. Life challenges like women suppression, racism, migrations, and class stratification are presented in an engaging manner. The relationship between Morayo and Sunshine, the young mother of two, begins on a tearful systemic repression of women that has been so entrenched in almost every culture. Morayo is her saviour. This wrenches the heart, nobody should ever be pushed to this limit:
“I know Morayo’s building well. Ten years ago I used to live there and that’s when we first met – one emotion-filled afternoon. My in-laws had been staying, and the strain of having to be the dutiful, doting daughter-in-law in a too-small apartment, with Zach still in diapers and Avi a colicky newborn, had proven too much for me. I’d fled to the laundry room trying to pull myself together, but as soon as Morayo asked what was wrong I’d burst into tears. As sometimes happens with the unexpected kindness of strangers, I found myself telling her everything. I told her how inadequate I was feeling, for it seemed that no matter how hard I tried I would never be good enough for my in-laws: never lady-like enough, never subservient enough, never educated enough, but most of all, never “Indian enough”. It was the latter that bothered me the most until Morayo reassured me by saying, ‘There’s no such thing, darling, as being “Indian enough”, no such thing as one Indian culture.’ And because she was the same age as my in-laws and because she’d lived in India as well as in Africa, I trusted her.” (34)
Morayo saves her, but even Morayo needs saving as she is many scabs of a damning marital upshot with Caesar Da Silva. Morayo’s swift response to her marital challenges could serve as a curious study of how women education could be helpful for women’s emancipation. The intellectual gap between the two women measures the capacities of both women to fight back at patriarchy. Unlike Morayo, Sunshine is dependent and naïve. Could education have empowered Morayo to be different? This may not be entirely true. What about the homeless Rachael? She has a low status and yet owns her mind. If Morayo is the foil character of Sunshine, Rachael is everything Morayo is in another interesting way.
Dawud and Amirah are cursorily used to reflect migrant lives in America. Amirah is the silent of both. Amirah comes alive in Dawud. For the nth time, characterisation elevates this book to a rare awesomeness. They are full of drama and full of life. Sarah Ladipo Manyinka could as well have written a drama instead of novella and she wouldn’t have needed to add anything to what she’s already done here. This book will easily translate for the stage. I want to meet some of the characters someday. We all know Morayo is one hell of an interesting old woman. But wouldn’t you want to meet Rachel and Toussaint?
Rachel is here:
“Okay, so the other day this black lady comes up to me. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m just saying, she was black. And tall and old. Not old-old, but definitely older than me: old enough to be my mom, maybe even my grandma. So anyway, she sees that I’m carrying all this shit, plus I had the dog so I guess she kinda felt sorry for me and then she kinda like asked me if I was okay. But sometimes you get tired of people looking at you like you need pity and shit like that. Yeah, I’m homeless! But so what? Maybe that’s what I shoulda said, but the words don’t always come out when you want them to. Homeless is just because we’re house challenged.” (38)
Toussaint is easily loved with the way he talks here:
Being a chef at an old folks’ home isn’t glamorous. It’s not like cooking at some fancy restaurant with celebrities coming in and hooking you up. It’s nothing like that. No famous people here, unless you count the mother of some opera singer, but I ain’t never seen her. Only opera person I know is Pavarotti, and he’s dead, right? Basically there’s nothing glamorous here on the clientele front and the food isn’t fancy either. No caviar, no foie gras, no truffles, although, now that I’m thinking about it that would be kinda ideal for old folks–soft to chew, easy on the stomach. But I have to make do with just the basics and that’s cool with me. I didn’t learn at the Cordon Bleu. I learned from my mama then got a credential from the Man. But my real cred, my street cred, is from my building and my mom. Turning ordinary food into crack food is what I do. Just one hit of my cooking and you gotta come back for more. Besides, the expectations are so low here; it’s not hard to beat. Plus there’s no real pressure–everyone gets served the same thing at the same time. All I got to do is stay within budget and make sure meals are nutritionally balanced and don’t make nobody sick. Old people with the runs ain’t good…I’m the celebrity chef around here. (80)
You should read this book. You really should.