June 19, 2024

Excerpts from “Ocean of Tears” by Ololade Akinlabi

Excerpts from “Ocean of Tears” by Ololade Akinlabi

Ololade Akinlabi is an author who isn’t afraid to discuss gender and societal issues in his work. Included below are two excerpts from his upcoming novel, Ocean of Tears. The excerpts are followed by an interview with Ololade, where he discusses his inspiration for writing the book.


DUNSI AND HER CHILDREN DRESSED FOR CHURCH and waited patiently for the decision of the pregnant clouds that loomed outside. As she settled into her seat on the sofa next to Ariyo, Dunsi couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride in the vibrant garment she had purchased for her daughter. The intricate details and col­ors perfectly complemented Ariyo’s natural beauty. Itunu, seated beside Ariyo, looked dashing in his African wax print Ankara outfit and brown sandals. Tobi, who occupied the other end of the sofa, looked equally handsome in his matching Ankara attire and sandals.

Dunsi watched her children, entranced by the wind, flip-flapping the sitting room curtain, causing the wall cal­endar to flutter insistently. “Go and close the louvers,” Dunsi instructed Ariyo.

Ariyo closed the steel blinds and nearly jumped out of her skin from the loud rattling at the front door.

“Who could that be?” Dunsi sent Itunu to see who it was. They rarely had visitors before church, and she couldn’t imagine anyone braving the impending storm to stop by.

Itunu peeped through the hole in the iron door. “It’s Daddy,” he said.

“Daddy?” Dunsi raised a brow in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to come home on a Sunday, as he had never done such a thing before.

“Good morning,” Segun said in his usual awful manner as if addressing suspicious strangers. He strode straight past the sitting room and disappeared into his bedroom.

“What’s this drama about today?” Ariyo whispered to her mum.

“Don’t know,” Dunsi replied in a hushed tone. She shrugged and signaled to Ariyo and her brothers to remain quiet. She could feel her palms start to sweat.

Segun surfaced from his room. “I want to tell you some­ thing very important,” he announced, picking up a stool and sitting before them.

Dunsi and her children stared at him, a mixture of curi­osity and concern evident in their expressions.

“The landlord called this morning. Our one-year rent is due for payment, and failure to pay means we’ll be evicted from the house.” Segun cleared his throat and faced the children. “And as you can see, the country’s economy is in recession. I don’t have the money to pay exorbitant rent, so I’m advising your mother to find a new home.” He crossed his legs, signifying his superiority.

“Daddy, what of your house at Lekki?” Itunu asked.

Dunsi locked eyes with her son and shot him with a stern look while Ariyo pinched his rib.

“The one your mother or grandmother built for me?” Segun responded sarcastically.

“He is just a small boy,” Dunsi defended her son. “But to where do you want us to move?” she asked with a sense of decorum.

“How am I supposed to know? Move into your new hus­band’s house,” Segun retorted.

“My new husband?” Dunsi pointed her two fingers to her chest.

“Oh, you think I’m not aware? I’ve only chosen to be silent because I’m fed up with you! You witch!” Segun yelled.

“Ah. You’ve started seeing these fake prophets again. The same fake prophets who have always told you I’m a witch.” Dunsi sighed. “Haven’t they done enough doom to this marriage?”

“Daddy, this is not fair!” Ariyo blurted.

Dunsi motioned for Ariyo to keep quiet and quickly kneeled before Segun. It wasn’t time to defend against al­legations but rather a time to implore for their continued residence in the house.

Tears welled in Dunsi’s eyes. “Please, Segun…” her voice filled with desperation. It had been a long time since she called her husband by his name. The usual nomenclature was “Daddy Ariyo” following the customary way a woman should address her spouse. However, Dunsi understood the power attached to one’s name in Africa. She hoped that by continuously using his name, especially in moments of beg­ging, she could somehow sway his decision and bring about a change of heart.

Ariyo joined her mother on her knees. “Please, sir, don’t send us packing.”

Tobi and Itunu also joined in the sobs. Thirty minutes passed, and they were still kneeling, begging Segun, who seemed to enjoy their pain. He returned to his bedroom and began packing his belongings into the small leather bag he brought with him. Once done, he slung the bag over his shoulder and scuttled toward the front door to take his leave.

Dunsi and her children continued to implore him.

Segun stopped at the threshold and looked at them as if they were street beggars ravaged by hunger. “Okay, all right, I’ve heard you,” he finally said.

Dunsi felt a surge of relief within, but she concealed her emotions. She and her children stood at attention like sol­diers waiting for their officer’s command.

“I’ve heard you, but your request will be granted on one condition…” Segun paused.

They all gazed at Segun’s lips, waiting for him to utter it.

SEGUN’s CONDITION WAS UNBEARABLE. He had agreed to retain the lease on the house but with the stipulation that Dunsi foot the bill for rent. Of course, he knew this was an im­possible demand. Dunsi couldn’t afford it. However, Dunsi, always resourceful, rented a room in a tenement building using her esusu savings, a traditional Nigerian cooperative society in which members collectively contribute funds and take turns receiving lump sum payouts.

The sudden change in living conditions was quite an adjustment. Moving everyone into one room starkly con­trasted their previous dwelling. Yet Dunsi was grateful that the new house was not too far from her shop, and she took solace that it wasn’t one of the overcrowded, typical Lagos residences. They only had to share the building with the aged landlord and his wife. “Maybe life would not be so bad after all,” she thought.

Dunsi could see her children’s delight in their new surroundings. She often sat on her apoti, a small wooden stool, and watched fondly as Tobi and Itunu frolicked in the backyard, aiming at the plump oranges hanging from the giant tree. Their accuracy improved with each throw, and as each stone found its mark, two, three, or even four oranges would tumble to the ground, prompting the boys to race and retrieve their prizes.

Dunsi had a wonderful gift for storytelling. At night, her children eagerly gathered around her, their faces lit with anticipation as they listened to her recount urban legends while savoring the juicy oranges they had plucked. Before bedtime, they would all gaze out the window, watching the milky moon’s gentle glow seep through the wooden frames. Over time, life in their new house settled into a comforting routine, and each family member found their source of hap­piness within those walls.


RIYO WAS JOLTED AWAKE, HER EYES WIDE AS the haunting sounds tore through the silence.

Never had she encountered such disturbing noises in her life. Her heart raced with fear as she lay in bed, straining to make sense of the unsettling sounds. She didn’t want to wake Grace, so she quietly slid out of bed and tiptoed to the window. She parted the curtain and peered out. However, all she could see were vague shapes and shifting shadows.

The disturbing sounds finally roused Grace. “Are you worried?” Grace whispered to Ariyo.

Ariyo remained focused on the window, her voice hushed. “What could the noise be about?” She turned to Grace for answers.

“That’s Tayo and Tunji,” Grace replied. “I told you, ever since they moved into this neighborhood, we hear them fight and quarrel.”

Ariyo was taken aback. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease as she observed the shadows of her neighbors’ tumultuous relationship through the early morning light.

“I have seen this type of fight with several couples, though not as loud or often as Tayo,” Grace remarked non­chalantly as she readjusted her wrapper. “That’s marriage, my dear.”

Ariyo, however, felt differently. “No, it’s not marriage. It’s the men who cause such troubles in marriages.”

“But not Ayo,” Grace teased, offering a playful wink. “This is not a time for teasing,” Ariyo said, annoyed that Grace wasn’t taking the fight between Tayo and Tunji seri­ously. “Besides, I haven’t been thinking about him at all.”

“Uhn, I don’t believe that;’ Grace chuckled.

“I’m serious,” Ariyo insisted, her determination clear. “Perhaps you’re confused,” Grace teased again, unable to resist a playful jab.

“No, I’m not.” Ariyo shook her head, again turning her gaze toward the window, trying to avoid speaking about Ayo.

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. It was Daddy, signaling the start of the Morning Prayer. Ariyo was relieved by the distraction; she didn’t want to dwell on Ayo any longer. After the Morning Prayer, Daddy had to rush to work, taking only a sip of coffee. Ariyo watched as he hastily exited the house, wondering why he hadn’t kissed Mummy Grace before leaving. Perhaps it was because he was running late, she thought.

For breakfast, they had bread and beans. Grace said a brief prayer before they started eating. Suddenly, a knock on the door echoed through the room. It was Tayo, and her appearance was concerning.

“Good morning, Ma,” Tayo greeted Mummy Grace, her voice trembling.

“Bawa ni?” Mummy Grace asked Tayo how she was, her eyes filled with concern.

“I’m not fine, Ma,” Tayo replied, her voice barely above a whisper.

“What happened? Kilosele?” Mummy Grace asked, urg­ing her to sit down.

“She is like a punching bag to him,” Grace whispered to Ariyo.

Ariyo stared at Tayo as she took a seat on the sofa, her eyes fixated on the visible bruises on Tayo’s forehead, as well as the contusions on her right cheek and left elbow.

“Tunji wants to kill me!” Tayo sobbed uncontrollably.

Mummy Grace tried to console her, gently patting her back as she repeated, “Stop crying, dear.”

Ariyo couldn’t comprehend how Dare and Grace could focus on eating when a woman was in pain just a few feet away. She couldn’t touch her food, her gaze fixed on Tayo as she contemplated the beauty marred by scars. Her thoughts swirled around why some men acted like animals.

“Mummy, I’m thinking of divorcing him,” Tayo said, an ocean of tears streaming down her face. “O ti su mi. I’m fed up,” she repeated.

Mummy Grace’s eyes widened in alarm. “Ha!” she ex­claimed. “Don’t do that. It’s evil. Remember, marriage is for better and for worse. The burden is on you; you must try to change him into the man you desire. These are just normal tussles that, as a new couple, you must endure in your hus­band’s house,” Mummy Grace counseled.

Ariyo disagreed in her mind vehemently. She believed every married woman had the right to leave if she no longer felt safe. After all, her own mother had found peace and happiness after her Segun abandoned them.

“Why should a wife be treated like a slave and not per­mitted to leave her husband if things do not work out?” Ariyo asked Grace after breakfast as they sat on the veranda watching people pass by. She felt strongly about the subject, and her words were resolute.

“That’s our tradition,” Grace replied.

“No, it’s not our tradition. It’s what we’ve been taught, and husbands take advantage of it,” Ariyo argued fervently.

Later that day, Ayo visited, bringing along his skipping rope. Grace took the rope and skipped, hoping for Ariyo to join in and count along. But Ariyo was silent, not interested in counting the jumps, her mind still preoccupied with the disturbing images of Tayo’s plight.

“Is everything okay?” Ayo inquired, noticing Ariyo’s distant expression.

Ariyo’s response was curt. “Yes.”

“Let her be o.” Grace hoped to divert the conversation from the topic bothering Ariyo.

“Is she okay?” Ayo asked Grace.

Grace explained the situation: “We argued about divorce earlier, and she’s angry because I didn’t support the idea.”

“Divorce isn’t a good idea. Religion is against it,” Ayo stated, addressing Ariyo directly.

Ayo’s response caught Ariyo by surprise. “So, when a woman is assaulted and afraid of her husband, divorce isn’t necessary?”

“I don’t think so,” Ayo replied, his words causing Ariyo to grow increasingly upset. She couldn’t believe he was defending the religious narrative that held marriage above all else.

“Should a woman stay in a toxic marriage because of religion?” Ariyo challenged Ayo hard. She didn’t want Ayo to be one of those men who would mistreat their wives.

Ayo tried to clarify his position. “Yes, she should stay, but it doesn’t mean I support domestic violence. I will never beat or assault my wife. Scripture doesn’t support it, either.”

Ayo continued, citing scripture to support his view­ point. “1 Peter 3:7 says a man should honor and care for his wife. However, divorce shouldn’t be the immediate response to a domestically violent marriage. The couple can always consult their pastor to sort it out.”

Grace nodded in agreement with Ayo’s perspective. “Okay.” Ariyo resigned. She knew their religious beliefs would not allow them to see her point of view, and she ap­preciated Ayo’s firm belief in scripture.

“Don’t be angry.” Grace moved closer to Ariyo and play­ fully tickled her.

“Leave me, jo.” Ariyo frowned, her mind still clouded with thoughts about the turbulent marriage she had wit­nessed that morning.

“Sorry, but I will tickle you until you are no longer angry,” Grace said.

With a change of subject, the conversation shifted to more enjoyable topics as they discussed Nigerian celebrities.

“What about Olu and Tolu Maintain?” Grace asked.

Ayo told them everything he knew about their latest Afrobeat record. Then, he shared the story behind Plan­ tashun Boiz’s latest Hip-Hop album.

Ariyo enjoyed Ayo’s entertainment gist. She was com­pletely engrossed by his animated storytelling. She was drawn in by how his lips moved with every word and how his accent seamlessly blended with Yoruba and English, adding to his charm.

“Can we walk around the neighborhood on Saturday? I can show you around,” Ayo asked Ariyo, sounding anxious that Ariyo might reject his invitation.

Ariyo was genuinely interested in exploring Grace’s neighborhood. She had asked Grace to show her around several times, and Grace declined each time.

Before Ariyo could answer, Grace interjected. “You bet­ter say ‘yes’. It’s the only way to see the places you want to see.”

“Fine,” Ariyo said, attempting to hide her excitement and avoid appearing overly eager. She turned to Grace, who was grinning, and asked, “Will you go with us?”

“The journey will be more enjoyable together. I mean, as two lovebirds,” Grace teased.

ON THE SATURDAY THEY HAD been looking forward to, Ariyo woke up earlier than usual. Today, she would embark on a neighborhood stroll with Ayo. She fidgeted in bed, try­ing to contain her excitement.

“You’re awake?” Grace asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“I noticed your restlessness. You’re in love, honestly,” Grace said, playfully poking fun at Ariyo.

“Stop it, jo.” Ariyo hoped Grace wasn’t right. Love is something she couldn’t understand.

As Grace prepared for her Morning Prayers, a sudden, tumultuous noise filled the room.

Ariyo’s heart raced. “Tunji is beating Tayo again!” She jumped out of bed and paced back and forth, hissing in anger. Won’t someone save her?”

Unlike previous fights, this one was accompanied by wails of pain. Ariyo and Grace stood by the window, straining their eyes, desperate to see what was happening.

Suddenly, they heard a piercing scream and rushed into Mummy Grace’s room. Dare was already there, and Daddy emerged from the bathroom with a towel tightened around his waist.

”A neighbor just called me. She said Tunji beat his wife into a coma!” Mummy Grace exclaimed, her face filled with shock and concern.

“Jesus!” Grace shouted.

Daddy leaned against the wall, his mouth agape, unable to find words. Dare, who didn’t fully grasp the gravity of the situation, mirrored the solemnity that gripped everyone in the room.

Ariyo stood frozen like a statue. Her thoughts returned to the day Tayo visited Mummy Grace, wanting to divorce her husband, and Mummy Grace advised against it. “Tunji wants to kill me!” Tayo had said, but Ariyo did not imagine her words were prophetic. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought about the pain and suffering Tayo must be going through.

Later, when Ayo arrived, dressed and ready for their neighborhood stroll.

Ariyo opened the door and saw Ayo posing at the entrance wall. His shirt and trousers were pressed like he was attending an important meeting.

“You’re not ready?” Ayo inquired.

“I’m not interested anymore,” Ariyo said sharply. “Why?” Ayo fidgeted nervously.

“I don’t know!” Ariyo said before she slammed the door.

She was still terribly upset about what Tunji did to Tayo.

Ayo was taken aback. He stood at the door, wondering what had caused Ariyo to change her mind. After thirty minutes, he walked home with his head hung low.

Ariyo sat on her bed, trying to process the emotions that raged through her. “I can never be friends with a boy who believes a woman should stay in an abusive marriage.” In that moment, she vowed always to speak up whenever she saw someone trapped in such a harrowing situation.

Interview with Ololade Akinlabi

  1. When did you first get the idea to write this book?

Answer: In 2017, while serving as a National Youth Service Corps member in Benue State, Nigeria, I conceived the idea to write Ocean of Tears. Before 2017, I had always been deeply concerned about the issues stemming from socio-cultural interactions between the female and male genders and their contributions to social injustice, particularly towards women. Consequently, I can assert that “Ocean of Tears” emerged from a profound curiosity—a desire to investigate and address the social injustices faced by women.

  1. What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

Answer: To have found someone whose story closely parallels that of the main character, Ariyo, left me profoundly impressed. This revelation convinced me that my novel genuinely reflects not only my immediate society but also the broader human experience. It can therefore be said that the main character (Ariyo) lives through a relatable journey, not only in my community but in others as well. 

  1.  In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Answer: Aside from the fact that the book I authored turned out to be more extensive and superior than I initially intended, it was never my intention for Ariyo to lose her mother, Dunsi. Regrettably, Dunsi was unable to endure the pain her daughter went through. 

  1. Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

Answer: The person who has had the most significant influence on my creativity and work is my late mother. Our close relationship allowed her to share with me a wealth of real-life stories, encompassing various aspects of life, including her own experiences.  

  1. Persuade someone to read Ocean of Tears in 50 words or less.

Answer: Dive into Ocean of Tears, a heart-wrenching novel that masterfully weaves love, loss, betrayal, and resilience. The vivid storytelling and profound characters in the novel will captivate your soul and linger long after the last page. A must-read for those seeking an emotional, traumatic healing and an unforgettable literary journey.

Ololade Akinlabi is a prose writer with a particular focus on themes related to gender relations and gender biases, as well as a poet with poems featured in various international journals and magazines.
Ololade’s latest work is the adult fiction novel Ocean of Tears – a purposeful story exhibiting the realities of gender violence against women. Through his work, Ololade hopes to amplify the voices of women whose stories and experiences related to gender-based violence and biases are too often misrepresented or ignored, particularly throughout largely patriarchal societies.

When not writing, Ololade enjoys reading African novels by authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ayi Kwei Armah. He currently resides in Ibadan, Nigeria, where he imparts his knowledge of social issues as a teacher.

Ololade is the 2018 winner of the Ken Egba Poetry Prize by Poet award and the 2017 Nominee for the Writer’s Award in Nigeria. 

Instagram @ololade_ige94
Ocean of Tears book launch.

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