Happiness, Like Water
On Ohaeto Street
“On Ohaeto Street” is from Chinelo Okparanta’s debut story collection, HAPPINESS, LIKE WATER (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Her story, “America,” was a finalist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing and her collection was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her stories have appeared in Granta and elsewhere.
Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Tinkers,” calls her book, “astonishing. Her narrators render their stories with such strength and intimacy, such lucidity and composure, that in each and every case the truths of their lives detonate deep inside the reader’s heart, with the power and force of revelation.”
Okparanta said this about her story: The years before my family moved to the United States, there was an upsurge in armed robberies in and around our Port Harcourt neighborhood, and there were stories of people who struggled to part with their prized possessions, sometimes risking or even losing their lives in the struggle.
These days, there are still cases of armed robbery in Port Harcourt. Sometimes, when the offending band of robbers has been identified and can be communicated with, a group of neighborhood leaders negotiates on behalf of the neighborhood, and money is raised to be given to the armed robbers as a sort of payoff, as a sort of settlement agreement. As long as the neighborhood continues to pay off the armed robbers, the robbers will not attack. In writing “On Ohaeto Street,” I wanted to tell a fictional version of one of these armed robberies—a domestic narrative in which the robbery functioned as a catalyst for change.