Teju Cole’s Small Fates

03 Aug
Teju Cole’s Small Fates

When Teju Cole began work on this “Small Fates“, a non-fiction narrative of Lagos, Nigeria, his African hometown and one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the world, he encountered a problem. He wanted to move beyond statistics to the experience of the individual Lagosian.

But how do you capture these narratives in any meaningful way, the variety and abundance of life in the city, so he began reading the daily newspapers (eleven in all), and found himself drawn to the small items—petty crimes, metro reports. Here, he thought, was Lagos in the raw. He determined to make use of the stuff, though he realized that it wouldn’t quite fit the book.

To a contemporary reader like Cole, fait divers also have another characteristic: they are eminently tweet-able. As he began to compose his own versions, which he calls “small fates” to differentiate them from the French, Cole realized they’d do well on Twitter. The results are riveting, providing a snapshot of life in Nigeria that invites and repels at once. Each small fate is complete in itself. It needs neither elaboration nor sequel.

He later did same project on NEW YORK CITY. Writing Small Fates about New York City, which is where he lives. This time, the tweets are based on newspapers of exactly 100 years ago — so, exactly on the anniversary of whenever it came out in the papers. Both works are presented here.

Teju Cole has written about the project in detail at his site, as have a number of other sites, but I can’t recall seeing the small fates put together in one place before The New Inquiry published 45 under the title I don’t normally do this sort of thing. Cole’s small fates operate on a wonderfully strange axis of comedy and horror; they are brief but rich, ironic but intensely real. Here are my compilation which includes those of the “The New Inquiry”, those I collected during the project and the ones I scavenged over the net.

If you find these interesting, then you will have no problem devouring his books; Open City; Known & Strange Things and Every Day Is for the Thief. I wish you a wonderful adventure into “news of the weird”.


“Nobody shot anybody,” the Abuja police spokesman confirmed, after the driver Stephen, 35, shot by Abuja police, almost died.

Knowledge is power. He graduated in business administration in Calabar, and Charles Okon has since administered sixteen armed robberies.

Scoop, scoop, scoop, spark. Four of those who were collecting petrol from a damaged tanker in Benue died right there.

Children are a gift from God. In the returns department: a baby girl, left by the side of Effiom Ekpo Street in Calabar.

O believers! Know that during the Hajj, a Jeddah hotel housing 34 Nigerian pilgrims went up in flames, and none were harmed.

Even if one does not believe in ghosts, 2,700 of them continue to draw salaries from the Imo State payroll.

The Nigerian police motto is “the police is your friend,” but Taiwo, 25, beaten in Alapere for not paying a bribe, has his doubts.

Not far from the Surulere workshop where spray-painter Alawiye worked, a policeman fired into the air. Gravity did the rest.

A common fantasy: going back to destroy one’s primary school. Olumide, of Benin City, actually did it, and will spend 18 months in jail.

Wives are flammable, a police inspector, Wasiu, of Okokomaiko has found out.

Cholera, a bus crash, and terrorists, have killed 30, 21, and 10, in Adamawa, Ondo, and Borno, respectively.Eyes closed please.

While one man led prayers at Christ Happy home Church in Sango Ota, three of his accomplices robbed the congregation.

An Air Force officer in Bayelsa who mistook himself for a cop mistook the baker Paul Wisdom for a thief and shot him in the head.

Shamsudeni was sleeping in Nyanya when Abubakar sneaked into his house, crept into his bed, and woke up part of him.

Ude, of Ikata, recently lost his wife. Tired of arguing with her, he used a machete.

Some moms make empty threats. Not Anyah, of Lafia, who brought Joseph into this world and, over a land dispute, took him out of it.

“He doesn’t.” “She won’t let me.” Court testimony from Saratu and Isa, of Kaduna, who last did it ten years ago.

down. The Lagos office of Xerox burned down. The Lagos office of Xerox burned down. The Lagos office of Xerox burned down. The Lagos.

A dyslexic tailor in Bichi accidentally said, “the Prophet has come to market.” Blasphemy. The resulting interfaith dialogue left four dead.

When police interrupted a meeting of the Eiye Confraternity in Alakuko, the cultists flew the coop. But one wingless bird was caught.

Pastor Ogbeke, preaching fervently during a storm in Obrura, received fire from heaven, in the form of lightning, and died.

Pomp, pageantry, and tears of joy. A ceremony was held for graduates of the entrepreneurial training program at Kirikiri Prison.

MYXOMATOSIS. n. 1 Viral disease of rabbits. 2 Radiohead song. 3 Word spelled by Ibukun, 15, in Abuja to win the 2012 Spellbound Contest.

Arrested for theft in Mecca, the Nigerian immigrant Ibrahim is now learning to use his left hand.

God is in all things. In Lagos, ThankGod was murdered by his brother. In Abuja, Godswill was appointed Minister of Power.

“It’s the Devil. I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” Ogwuche clarified in Kogi after robbing and killing the fishmonger Victoria Moses.

In a spectacular case of carelessness, Ugbo, 75, of Benin, a witch doctor specializing in arrest-evasion amulets, has been arrested.

Some ladies whisper sweet nothings to their boyfriends. Into the ear of hers, Ejima, 35, in Asaba, poured hot Indomie noodles.

In Kubwa a man armed with a toy gun stole a real Camry.

Monkey see, monkey do! Many of those who gathered to watch a troupe of baboons perform at Ikotun found their wallets lighter afterwards.

A satellite built by Nigerian engineers, the first such, will be launched into space in July.

Children these days. Frank Oriabure, son of the deputy superintendent of police in Onitsha, would rather be a robber.

Joining the fight against AIDS, armed men in Edo carted away a shipment of anti-retroviral drugs.

Lesbians! There are reports of more and more of them in Calabar, which is great. Greatly worrisome. And terrible. Terribly exciting.

The three bodies found after the Ibadan floods, a woman and two girls, had traveled far from home and couldn’t be identified.

Two women threshing corn. Two babies strapped to their backs. Lightning descended in Bauchi, and took all four.

In London (1755), Oyo (1897), and Lagos (2012), respectively, Samuel Johnson was a lexicographer, historian, and fake soldier.

Boarding her London-bound flight in Lagos, grandma Fatimat Abike absent-mindedly exceeded the cocaine carry-on limit by 1.74 kg.

According to the Chief Medical Officer of the Lagos DNA Centre, 50% of their paternity tests came back negative, you bastards.

When you get that feeling, you need sexual healing. But, also, consent. Niyi, 35, a security guard in Ile-Ife, has been arrested.

With a snap, an electrical pole in Sabo fell on Okolie’s car. With a crackle, it began to electrocute it. With a pop, he escaped.

In Cross River, the retired soldier Agbiji slapped his wife just once, but he misjudged his strength and is now a widower.

Prince Monday Whiskey was, on Monday, whisked away by persons unknown.

Unfairly accused by journalist Ibya of abuse of power, the First Lady of Benue had his wife, children, uncle, and mother-in-law arrested.

At Adeniji Adele, Lagos, both of Mr Adio’s wives are in hot water, the first for having poured it on the second.

Mrs Sofunlayo delivered a baby at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital. And another. And another. And another. Done! No, one more.

What has three faces and four legs in Osogbo? Babatunde, 33, and Adebayo, 38, holding the severed head of Abefe, 65.

In Ikotun, Mrs Ojo, who was terrified of armed robbers, died in her barricaded home, of smoke inhalation.

There were 119 first-class graduates from the University of Lagos this year, some of whom deserved it.

Mystery solved. According to the government, car wash operators are the major cause of flooding in Lagos.

Ogunsanya who was shot dead eleven days ago at the Occupy Lekki demonstration, denied it yesterday.

Because his six co-workers were highly unreasonable, Mr Ayogu, in Amuwo Odofin, set them on fire. Two, at least, won’t argue again.

In the matter of a 12-year-old girl in Ekiti, Innocent, 35, admits he wasn’t.

The members of a fake Super Glue syndicate in Ikotun came to a sticky end.

In Ojota last night, Teju Cole, 36, underwent an extreme form of literary criticism: he was relieved of his laptop at gunpoint.

Someone has a mania for democracy. 1,388 voting machines were stolen from the Electoral Commission in Lagos.

In a heavy morning fog, Mohammed, of Bauchi, couldn’t see who was following him. Frightened, he knocked the person dead. His wife.

Oluwatosin was swimming in a pool in Ikotun when he entered the past tense.

Four men of Zamfara who went deep into the earth in search of gold are now the earth’s.

If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother. With petrol and matches, Akinkuotu, of Ondo, orphaned himself.

Fleet-fingered Wasiu skilfully snatched N20,000 at Anthony Bus Stop but, being a modest man, insisted it was the Devil’s work.

At the City Centre Hotel in Surulere, Boniface Nwachie died happy.

To prevent future terrorist attacks and fix dangerous roads, the Nigerian Senate will consider a bill prohibiting gay marriage.

A man from Chad, stopped in Badagry, was carrying nine tusks from which the elephants had been removed.

At N7 million per kilo, double its price three months ago, cocaine is no longer affordable for most middle-class families in Lagos.

Age is nothing but a number. For James Eze, businessman and pedophile in Ogoja, the number is 2.

As the deeds of the former Speaker of the House were being brought to light at the Federal High Court, there was a power outage.

The Nigeria Police motto is “the police is your friend,” but Taiwo, 25, beaten in Alapere for not paying a bribe, has his doubts.

Did too many of Professor Igbafe’s pretty female students at the University of Benin graduate with honors? Yes.

Precious Ogbonna, of Owerri, whom God gave 7 babies, nevertheless has an intact hymen, and has been charged with child-trafficking.

With a razor blade, Sikiru, of Ijebu Ode, who was tired of life, separated himself from his male organ. But death eluded him.


At West 36th Street Station yesterday, police misjudged the resilience of Insane Fox, a clown, and he died of a fractured skull.

A mosquito bit Mrs. Hartman in Atlantic City. The bite became infected. The infection turned gangrenous. Tetanus followed. Reader, she died.

After a four hour cab ride around Manhattan and Brooklyn, Robrich tried to pay with a quarter. He is now in the Bellevue psychiatric ward.

On Pike Street, Rubin, 4, who fell six stories from a roof while flying a kite, was saved by the clotheslines below.

Intrigued by the ambulance sent for Rubin on Pike Street, Abraham, 9, leaned too far over the edge of another roof and fell, but was unhurt.

As Rand, 56, a busybody, ran after the ambulance that came for Abraham who had fallen on Pike Street, he slipped and broke his leg.

In Yonkers, Nagle, 70, was beginning to worry that Death had forgotten him. He got into bed, and shot himself.

Daley, whom curiosity drew to the site of the Dorchester train wreck, had a heart attack and became its fifth fatality.

Byers, after a lingering illness, McGee, suddenly, Bannin, at home, and Drucker, at his daughter’s residence, entered the obituaries column.

Just to see, Gamble, in Philadelphia, held a golf ball down and struck it with a hammer. It exploded, blinding him.

“Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear.” John Donne, a gilt-tongued milliner, wed Countess Auralia de Stireun, in Greenwich.

With the death of John Lyle, 94, in Tenafly, Julia, 32, lost a dear husband. It is true she also gained a $20,000,000 fortune.

Andrew Carnegie complained that he and other American millionaires are insufficiently taxed, an injustice, in his view.

Falling from a Queens trolley, W. H. Bunn was just missed by its wheels. God winked at this one and he remains among the living.

During a discussion of women’s rights at 2436 Broadway, a nose owned by Patrolman Neushafer encountered a fist belonging to Mrs Kirtland.

In the town of Niagara Falls, emulating the river’s ceaseless flow, Mrs Phillip Webster, 44, gave birth to her twenty-eighth child.

Stretching from a roof to reach a kite in a tree is a delicate procedure. Eight-year-old Morris Sanders, of 3rd Street, is no more.

With an umbrella, Miss Farnum, of Brooklyn, attempted to fracture the skull of Patrolman Lau, who had broken her heart.

Elegant in a black silk dress and Panama hat, Mrs Grace, of Atlanta, heard court evidence that she, not the negro butler, had shot Mr Grace.

As he sped to a Manhattan court to answer a previous charge of speeding, James Waters was killed in a car crash.

An effort is underway to oust William Lewis, of Boston, from his position as Assistant Attorney General, for he is a negro.

John Bowes, 3, tumbled from the roof of a four-story house on West 40th Street, and was caught by the clotheslines below.

Merker, Sass & Co, a wholesale supplier of butter and eggs at 124th Street and Morningside, burned down in a delicious fire.

God is good. Nevertheless, Albert, 13, making a swing for his mates in a cellar on Hoyt Street, accidentally hanged himself.

Coin counting drove Los Angeles beggar Seybold, who is worth $300,000, out of her mind. She has been placed in the asylum.

This is horrible. In Norwich, New York, Mrs Bowers killed a hen and found forty-eight eggs inside it.

In Phillipsburg, Osman leaped, elegantly but inaccurately, for a locomotive, and was crushed under the wheels.

A thousand feet above Canton, Heifield’s parachute didn’t open.

Bees! In Brockton, Personious inhaled one and lived. In Monterey, another stung a horse, and the horse dragged Carey to her death.

Rouquette, a large Briton, is no more. He was heroic in the Boer War, but lost a fight at the Café des Beaux Arts on 40th Street.

Death did not part Mr and Mrs Wagner, who were found in each other’s arms in Sodus Bay, drowned.

Since Carter, the man he shot dead on 34th Street and 5th Avenue, was a negro, Plitt was at first not held. But he is now in custody.

As thunder interrupts a clear blue sky—no one expects it—so Death came for Cunliffe, an iron worker in Philadelphia, who died of laughter.

“I’m going to meet God,” said Johnson, 70, a janitor in Galena. He climbed thirty feet up a church belfry, lost his footing, and did

At 41 Park Row, Conroy criticized his lawyer Fettretch. With a bullet. Fatally.

While at dinner with his wife and children in Hoboken last night, Max Kunow suddenly jumped up and fired two bullets into his head.

“Two sailors murdered a girl at 2205 Neptune Avenue,” Lillian O’Neil told police by phone. They hurried over. “In a dream I had,” she added.

A train is derailed in Alaska: a stag had tripped the switch.
Rich Mrs Adams had Tangebaum arrested for flogging his horse in midtown. Oh, he was trying to get his child to hospital? She paid his bail.

July saw a murder every day in the city and August is following suit. An unidentified man (hammer, skull) is the latest.

“I’ll. Get. Even. With. You!” bellowed Weinberg, as he was convicted of theft in Paterson. The judge fined him $200 per word.

They are ever returning. At latitude 49.06 N and longitude 42.51 W, the sea gave up the body W.F. Chiverton, chief steward of the Titanic.

John D. Rockefeller’s automobile was lightly damaged yesterday by the body of Ettinger, 73, who was crossing 8th Street

We are what we do. At a Baltimore trouser factory, Hilda Lacks, 16, mishandling the machine, stitched a button to her right forefinger.

But what is Fate up to? Alice Breman, 65, sitting on the subway at 116th on Broadway, one moment breathing, the next not, and never again.

Patrolman Chaffee, beating his wife because dinner wasn’t ready, was shot in the head by Patrolman Collins, their guest. In Brooklyn.

As she put her head out the window in Jersey City, Anna Neteace suddenly saw the train coming from the other direction, and then didn’t.

Striking seamen and strike breakers dueled yesterday in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. Three ate lead.

As John Wallace, 14, cleaned his revolver in Illinois, an excitable dog bumped into his arm. Clara Ferris, 10, next door, fell down dead!

Certain tweets I read only but once, never have I been in doubt as to the intent and purpose, each time and every time, Your tweets, I repeatedly read!

Lightning came from heaven and Singer, in Urbana, fell down dead. But at his funeral, sudden as lightning, he awoke.

A dishwasher from Nancy, Vital Frérotte, who had just come back from Lourdes cured forever of tuberculosis, died Sunday by mistake.

An Englishman enlists in the Foreign Legion: to avoid spending Christmas with his mother-in-law.

Someone must have slandered Josef K, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was killed by a Predator drone.


In Plateau state, a father denied his daughter the use of some of her fingers permanently when she failed to suppress her urge for meat in the pot.

At the London Olympics, in a swimming competition, Phil was arrested for going for gold, gold earrings belonging to one of the swimmers.

There is, still, nothing to quite touch “Small Fates” by ‪@tejucole‬, snippets of lives lived, lost, left behind.

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Posted by on August 3, 2016 in Career, Life


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