A UK based medical doctor who was born in the eastern part of Nigeria, Dr John Anakwenze recently released his life lesson novel titled ‘ The Bee Chase’ which was inspired by an unfortunate incident that occured during his childhood days in Nigeria.
On a visit to Nigeria on holiday from the United Kingdom where he has been practising as a medical doctor for over 25 years, Dr John Anakwenze woke up one morning in an hotel room in Awka around 7am, remembered he had travelled down with his iPad, jumped out of bed and spontaneously started putting down thoughts about his childhood and his years growing up in Nigeria.
As he wrote down his thoughts he didn’t have the slightest idea that he would end up writing an entire novel. As it turned out, that is exactly what he did. Thus, the novel ‘‘The Bee Chase’’ was born.
Written with ‘Udenka’ as the protagonist, the novel is actually a narration of real life experiences of the author, Dr John Anakwenze while growing up as a child in rural eastern Nigeria in the forties.
When he started writing, the idea was simply to relate the story of an incident that occurred during his childhood which he has not been able to forget since then. The incidence – from which the title of the novel is derived – was such a traumatic experience that 70 years later, Dr Anakwenze remembers it so vividly as though it happened yesterday. In the novel, Dr Anakwenze cast himself as ‘Udenka’.
During his early days in primary school, Udenka’s mother would wake him up very early, fry some akara cake and give them to him in a bowl to go round and sell to the locals before going off to school. On a particular day, his mother woke up much later than the usual time so it was much later when she finished preparing the akara and Udenka set out on his daily selling routine. By the time he was done selling, he was already running late for school.
He hurriedly dropped the empty bowl, picked up his school bag and dashed off. On the way, he was surprised to find a group of four boys loitering around a massive tree and throwing stones at something up on the tree trunk. He couldn’t understand why those kids would be loitering around instead of hurrying up to get to school. As he got closer, he suddenly noticed a swarm of bees burst from up the tree trunk heading at him and the other boys.
Sensing danger, they immediately took to their heels running in various directions as fast as they could in order to escape being stung by the swarm of bees. As if they were bent of teaching the boys a lesson for disturbing their peace, the swarm of bees chased after the boys relentlessly, stinging them all over their bodies, again and again. Udenka opted to follow after the fastest runner among the boys who chose to run up to the school compound and then into their classroom. He figured that if he could keep pace with this particular boy, he stood a chance of probably staying ahead of the bees.
Not very long after the two of them entered the classroom with bees following in tow, Udenka and the other pupils in the school started hearing loud weeping and wailing coming from the nearby community. It was the type of wailing you hear from a bereaved person who has lost a loved one.
Apparently, one of the kids caught in the incident involving the bees could not run fast enough to escape so he was stung repeatedly by the bees as he ran back home. The complications resulting from being stung repeatedly by so many bees ultimately resulted to the boy’s death, hence the crying and wailing.
Offering an insight into Udenka’s feelings regarding this incidence, Dr Anakwenze revealed that ‘‘Udenka was very distraught when news about the boy’s death filtered into their school. Even at such a young age, he could discern the pain the boy’s parents were feeling. Their cries and wails said it all. At that point, Udenka wished that no one ever experienced such pains again so that he wouldn’t have to hear such cries and wails ever again’’
You would think that given the seemingly easy manner in which ‘‘The Bee Chase’’ came forth, Dr Anakwenze must have thought about writing the novel for sometimes and probably made definite plans to that effect. You would be dead wrong though!
‘‘Writing a novel never crossed my mind; there was never a time when it was on my agenda. I never for all money in the world wanted to be a writer. I had taken a 3-week leave and come to Nigeria on a visit from the UK after which I returned. But once I resumed work, I found that I was still very exhausted so I decided to take a two-month vacation and returned to Nigeria. I spent the first part of my return visit to Nigeria in Lagos after which I proceeded to Awka in Anambra state to spend the remainder of the vacation before returning to UK. It was while I was vacationing in Awka that I got hit with the idea of writing the novel. But even at that, it didn’t start with me thinking, oh, am going to write a novel’’.
‘‘While in my hotel room in Awka, I woke up one morning around 7am, remembered I had travelled down with my IPad, so I jumped out of bed and started putting down some thoughts about my growing up years in eastern Nigeria in the forties. As I write, the memory of so many incidences from my childhood kept flooding my mind and gradually, the volume of what I was writing kept increasing. It was at that point that it occurred to me that this could actually be a novel. So I picked up the phone and dialled my wife to inform her that it looked like I was going to write a novel! The spontaneity of the whole thing was baffling even to me’’.
When asked if there are any writers that have inspired him and which of their works he find particularly inspiring, Dr Anakwenze said ‘‘incidentally, I don’t read novels often and wouldn’t say any writer influenced me because as I have already said, I never planned to write. But I would say that I suppose Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold may have influenced my style of writing inadvertently.
Though his childhood was difficult and he had to contend with so many negative circumstances, including poverty, underfeeding and a civil war that interrupted his education for three years, Udenka used his intelligence and capacity for persistence and tenacity to eventually qualify as a medical doctor.
As he grew and advanced in life, most of the unpleasant experiences of his past became distant memory. However, the incidence of the bee chase has been different. At various times, the memory of this incidence comes flooding his mind. Dr Anakwenze takes us on a ride as he shares with us Udenka’s journey through thick and thin as he navigates the treacherous path of wading through the contrary circumstances that threatened to stump him down at every turn in his attempt to make ‘something of himself’ despite the limitations of his background. The vibrancy of the story and the zest with which Udenka lived his young life will surely infuse you with thrill and excitement.