Phoneme Media, a nonprofit publishing house for literature in translation based in the United States, has shared an excerpt from Natives, Cameroonian author Inongo-vi-Makomè’s English-language debut, translated from the Spanish by Michael Ugarte.
Set in Barcelona, Natives is a scathing satire, the story of an illegal African immigrant who is hired for an unusual assignment: he becomes the sexual object of two successful Catalan businesswomen, who take turns hosting and hiding him in their homes, where he fulfills their wildest desires.
At turns hilarious and hard hitting, vi-Makomè exploits and explodes existing stereotypes of Western charity, African masculinity, and the helpless immigrant.
Inongo-vi-Makomè was born in Lobé-Kribi, Cameroon and educated in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Spain. He has published over 10 novels, essay collections, and oral story collections. He lives in Barcelona, where he contributes to several newspapers and devotes his time to writing and storytelling.
Phoneme editor David Shook says: “Phoneme has only been around a year, so I’m excited to announce that this is just the first of many exciting new works from Africa that we’ll be publishing, including, in 2016, the Burundian novelist Roland Rugero’s Baho! and the Ivorian/Cameroonian graphic novel An Eternity to Tangiers.”
Read the excerpt:
An excerpt from Natives, by Inongo-vi-Makomè, translated by Michael Ugarte
Ever punctual, Montse met Bambara Keita at the time they had agreed on. She drove him to Roser’s place, where she could see her friend waving from across the street. Montse told Bambara Keita that it was ok to get out of the car. As he obeyed her orders, she looked around to make sure that no one had seen their operation.
Bambara Keita went toward Roser. She walked ahead of him. When she got to her door she looked in both directions. When she saw that no one she knew was around, she gestured for the African to come along. She pressed the button for the elevator, but the light indicated they had to wait for the elevator as it descended from the top floor. Roser was nervous. She was afraid she would run into a neighbor.
Just as the elevator was about to arrive, the door to the street opened. Roser mumbled something that the African couldn’t understand. But he thought she was cursing her bad luck. He too was annoyed by the neighbor’s appearance.
The man closed the door and approached the elevator. He was middle-aged, and he wore a nice suit.
“Good evening, Roser.”
“Good evening, Andrés,” she replied.
The man opened the elevator door to allow the woman to enter. Bambara Keita remained at a safe distance.
“Come along, Bambara Keita, your boss is waiting for you” she said, inviting him to step into the elevator.
“He’s working for a friend of mine,” she told Andrés. “He’s coming to fetch something for her, and I need to have him do some things for me too,” she explained nonchalantly.
“Ah,” said the neighbor without giving it another thought.
He didn’t even look at the African. Bambara Keita examined the man’s shoes because his head was kept lowered to the floor. He could see that the man was well-to-do—an important person he surmised.
Roser and her lover-employee got out on the fourth floor.
“See you later, Andrés.”
“See you,” he responded as the elevator doors shut.
Roser opened the door to her apartment, and once they were both safely inside she closed it behind them. As she leaned on the door to rest a bit, she closed her eyes. When she opened them Bambara Keita was looking at her.
“What a scare, but you were great. That’s just the way I want you to behave.”
He nodded in agreement.
Every little cloud has a silver lining, she said to herself. “At least this has allowed me to let people know that you work for me.”
Bambara Keita didn’t say anything. When Roser had recuperated from the close call, she made a formal gesture inviting him into the apartment.
“You know the place, Bambara Keita.”
Indeed he did. He recalled it immediately. He had entered Roser’s place—overflowing with character just like the ashtrays all over the house. Montse was the neat one and Roser just the opposite. He felt a little sad now, comparing the two. But that’s all he could do—compare. He was in no position to choose one or the other.
His grandfather had told him the story of the rat and the cat. The two of them were good friends at first. They were always together. But one day they went hunting and trapped an animal they both liked to eat, particularly its entrails.
“Let’s eat the meat now, and leave the guts in the sun for later. It’ll be tasty that way,” the rat proposed.
The cat did not object. The rat was a loyal and reliable friend. They placed the animal’s insides behind their houses to dry. But as the cat waited for the guts to dry, the rat cut off a little piece for himself and brought it to his house for his family to eat.
“It’s probably dry by now, right?” the cat asked.
“I think in a couple of days it’ll be just right,” the rat assured. And the cat believed him.
But when the cat arrived at the rat’s house to enjoy what they had prepared, he found no one home. The door was locked. He knocked several times but no one answered.
“Maybe I’m early.” So he went to the place where the guts had
been drying. Absolutely nothing was there.
The cat realized the rat had deceived him.
“When I find him, I’ll kill him!” He went looking for him everywhere.
One day, as the cat looked around for the rat, he saw its head emerge from a hole in the earth. He tried to grab him but the hole was too narrow.
“I’ll kill you when I catch you!” he swore. And from that moment the rat lived hidden inside its hole.
Bambara Keita’s grandfather concluded: “That’s why rats are always hiding. Every now and then, when no one is looking, he comes out to look for food, and that’s how he lives.”
The moral of this story helped Bambara Keita deal with his hiding place in Roser’s house. This story would not have come back to him if the memory of Montse’s posh apartment were not so vivid to him. He did not leave Roser’s apartment, as she had directed him. When she went to work, he stayed at home. He watched TV but with the sound off. Roser told him to use headphones. His presence in her apartment must remain completely unknown to anyone. He could not even play music. But even if his patron had allowed it, he would not have made any noise. The music she listened to was not at all to his liking. It had no cadence, no rhythm. Since reading was not his strong suit, he didn’t pick up any books or magazines. Besides, all the books Roser had on her shelves were in Spanish, a few in German. So he opted to watch TV. Lying down on the couch with the remote in his hand, he surfed from channel to channel.
About the book
A scathing satire from Cameroonian author Inongo-vi-Makomè, Natives takes the objectification of the poor immigrant to shocking extremes, laying bare the dehumanizing effects of immigration today.
Having achieved professional success in Barcelona at the expense of family life, best friends Montse and Roser are dissatisfied and sexually frustrated. Over Catalan
champagne and cognac, the two friends hatch a casual plan to employ one of Barcelona’s many illegal African immigrants as a boy toy. When Montse finds Bambara Keita on a park bench at the Plaza de Cataluña, she knows he is the one, and invites him home. The African’s rags-to-riches experience becomes a daily choice between dignity and security, as the two women take turns secretly hosting him at their homes. When the details of their arrangement begin to unravel, Bambara Keita must make a decision that will determine the course of his life.
About the author
Inongo-vi-Makomè was born in Lobé-Kribi, Cameroon. Educated in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Spain, he has published over 10 novels, essay collections, and oral story collections. He lives in Barcelona, where he contributes to several newspapers and devotes himself to writing and storytelling.
About the translator
Author image courtesy of inongovimakome.com