The JRB presents an excerpt from Here Again Now by Okechukwu Nzelu.
Here Again Now
Little, Brown, 2022
Ekene had always been a rebellious child, but the confusion he felt surrounding his sexuality only got worse as he got older. He decided the best way to ward off bullies was to become one himself. He made bad friends and bad choices. Once, he got excluded from school. By the age of seventeen he had run away from home six times. Coming home the seventh time, drunk out of his mind, he dimly heard his mother tell him to stay outside.
He was surprised when Chibuike welcomed him in. Achike’s mother had died only a year earlier, and Achike was still finding words for his feelings. And yet Chibuike had allowed him to stay; had given him stability and routine. Had let the two of them finish growing up together.
‘I’ll owe him for life, Achike. But you need to be realistic. You know he’s too proud. I bet he doesn’t even like you looking after him.’ He looked hard at Achike. ‘I bet you had to drag him kicking and screaming out of his flat, didn’t you?’
‘It took some persuading.’
‘So how will this work?’ Ekene asked again. ‘Are you going to take him with you on location? Have you thought about this at all?’
Eventually Achike said, ‘I thought you’d be proud of me.’
‘It seems silly now,’ Achike said. He heaved a heavy sigh. ‘I hadn’t said it aloud before. But being in Nigeria was …’ He shook his head. ‘It made me think about things.’
‘What’s Nigeria got to do with us?’ said Ekene, before he could think. ‘You know what I mean. They hate us there.’
‘I know,’ said Achike. ‘But … it just made me think, you know? Everything there was about family. For a week of the filming I was staying with this one family that had four generations under one roof. You remember I Skyped you from their house?’
‘It was really hard sometimes. They did have arguments once or twice when they thought I couldn’t hear them. It was about the computer, or in-laws. Or about money. And there was no privacy. Everybody knew everything about everybody else. Towards the end of the week I think they started to suspect I was gay. I was worried about it, actually.’
But Ekene saw in his face that there was more to it. Achike’s eyes were focused on something in the distance, as if trying to remember a dream he’d had. Ekene knew: Achike had fallen in love with something.
‘But they were this amazing family. The great-grandma was ninety years old or something, and she didn’t have a pension, but it was okay because her son and his wife and kids looked after her. They all woke up really early every morning to pray together, and then they ate breakfast and talked about their plans for the day, and about what the kids were doing in school. And everybody helped everybody do things, Ekene. Nobody had to cook or clean alone, or look after the kids alone if they didn’t want to. There was always somebody home. The family was like this big thing that everyone was part of. Nobody was lost or left out. Nobody was ever alone.’
‘Sounds great,’ said Ekene. ‘Wish I knew what that was like.’
‘I had no idea, either,’ said Achike. ‘Being there, it hit me, you know? I’d never seen it before. I’d never had a chance. And I know you haven’t either. And I know it was stupid of me to think I could ever have what they have. I know I could never have a family there.’ His eyes clouded over for a moment, and he seemed to be contemplating something sadly. ‘But I couldn’t not try, Ekene. Being there, I felt like I was just on the outside of this amazing, strong, warm, loving, infinite thing. After that, I had to try and see if I could have it for myself, somehow. And I thought when I got back, and I brought my dad to live with us, you’d look at me …’ He spoke hopefully now. Deep breaths. ‘You’d see how much I care about him, and you’d see … I don’t know. Something. You’d see what I could do. What I could build for us. And something would change. And we’d be a family.’
- Okechukwu Nzelu is a Manchester-based writer in the United Kingdom. In 2015 he was the recipient of a Northern Writers’ Award from New Writing North. His debut novel, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney (Dialogue Books), won a Betty Trask Award; it was also shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. He is a regular contributor to Kinfolk magazine, and a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
- ‘A beautiful exploration of grief and family, written in exquisite prose and told with compassion and tenderness.’—Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half
- ‘Tender and honest, pulsing with love. Nzelu is the future of Black British writing.’—Derek Owusu, author of That Reminds Me
From award-winning author Okechukwu Nzelu comes a spellbinding literary novel that asks, how do you move forward when the past keeps pulling you back?
Achike Okoro feels like his life is coming together at last. His top-floor flat in Peckham is as close to home as he can imagine and after years of hard work, he’s about to get his break as an actor. He’s even persuaded his father, Chibuike, to move in with him, grateful to offer the man who raised him as a single parent a home of his own.
Between filming trips, Achike is snatching a few days in London with Ekene, his best friend of twenty years, the person who makes him feel whole. Achike can put the terrible things that happened behind him at last; everything is going to be alright. Maybe even better.
But after a magical night, when Achike and Ekene come within a hair’s breadth of admitting their feelings for each other, a devastating event rips all three men apart. In the aftermath, it is Ekene and Chibuike who must try to rebuild. And although they have never truly understood each other, grief may bring them both the peace and happiness they’ve been searching for …
A heartbreaking and immensely uplifting novel about lovers, fathers and sons. If you love The Vanishing Half, Shuggie Bain or Moonlight then you’ll adore this incredibly moving book that shows the power of family—both the one into which we are born and those we choose for ourselves.