The Other Side of Truth is the story of two Nigerian children who are sent to London as refugees after their mother is murdered. The story is fiction, but it makes references to real political events in Nigeria, most notably the execution of the poet Ken Saro-Wiwa. Like Saro-Wiwa, the father in this story angered Nigerian authorities by criticizing them in his writing.
The novel begins in Laos, Nigeria, as Sade (pronounced shad-deh, with the pitch rising on the second syllable) and her brother Femi are getting ready for school. Sade hears gunshots and runs outside to find her father in their driveway, holding her mother’s unconscious body. Sade sees a growing bloodstain on Mama’s dress. Soon the doctor arrives and says Mama has no chance of surviving.
Later the phone rings, and Sade speaks to a man with a cold voice who asks if her father is the reporter Folarin Solaja. When Sade says yes, the man says, “Tell him: if we get the family first, what does it matter?” Sade understands this is a threat against her and her brother from the people who just killed her mother. Her uncle, Tunde, sees how upset she is and tries to grab the phone, but the caller hangs up.
When Papa writes articles for the newspaper, he always tells the truth. Uncle Tunde has often warned Papa not to write articles that upset Nigeria’s leaders, but Papa always says, “The truth is the truth. How can I write what’s untrue?” His latest article, which probably angered the people who killed Mama, criticizes Nigeria’s leaders for sending their children to school in Europe and America while Nigerian schools fail. Uncle Tunde reads part of this article out loud and shouts at Papa, saying that he is risking his own children for the sake of everyone else’s.
The family needs to get out of the country fast. Papa and Uncle Tunde decide it will be best to go to London, to the home of the children’s other uncle, Dele. The children are not allowed to tell anyone—not even their best friends—they are leaving. The government has seized Papa’s passport, and Uncle Tunde says it will take time to get him out of the country. However, he finds a woman, Mrs. Bankole, who is flying to London right away. She has two children, a boy and a girl, who are listed on her passport but are not traveling with her. She is willing to pretend that Sade and Femi are her children during the plane trip. The children have to leave right away—without Papa.
The children say good-bye to Papa, and then Uncle Tunde makes them hide on the floor of the car, covered with a blanket, for the drive to the airport. When they pass a police checkpoint, Uncle Tunde tells the officer that there is “only rubbish” in the back of the car. Uncle Tunde is allowed drive on and Sade thinks he probably bribed the police officer. At the airport, Femi wants to run away, but Sade makes him stay. She tells him the police will arrest Papa if he reports the children missing. Femi reluctantly does what he is told. He avoids speaking to Mrs. Bankole and seems almost to hope that they will get caught, but they make it to London and through customs.
London is much colder than Nigeria is. Neither Sade nor Femi has warm enough clothing. Far worse is that Uncle Dele is not waiting to pick them up. Mrs. Bankole warns the children to never reveal her name to anyone or people she knows in Lagos will make sure their Papa never reaches London. She takes them to a café, where she gives Sade money to buy drinks and cake. The children buy their snacks and sit examining the eighty pence they receive in change; they are interested in the English money. When they look for Mrs. Bankole again, she is gone.
The children wait in the café until a waitress kicks them out. Sade figures out how to take the bus to the London College of Art, where Uncle Dele works. They spend all of their eighty pence on the bus ticket to get there. When they arrive, shivering from the cold, they learn that Uncle Dele has not appeared at home or work for more than a week. A receptionist says Uncle Dele’s boss has reported him missing to the police. She suggests that the children speak to someone in case they can help the police find him. However, in the children’s experience, police are corrupt and dangerous. Sade takes Femi’s hand, and the two of them run away.
Unsure what to do next, the children set out walking. They are soon hungry and tired, and the people in the various shops act angry and suspicious whenever they try to go inside out of the cold. A homeless man shouts at them and grabs their bag, and they run into a video shop for protection. While they are inside, some boys run in and smash up the shop. Sade and Femi watch, terrified. When the boys leave, the children try to go too, but the shopkeeper stops them. He thinks they were working as decoys for the gangsters, so he forces them to wait until the police arrive.
Sade and Femi sit in terrified silence, thinking of all the times police threatened Papa back in Nigeria. The London police do not seem to want to hurt the children, but Sade knows that anything she tells them may put Papa in danger. Neither she nor Femi says a word. After being shuffled from office to office for a while, they find themselves in an emergency foster home. Their foster mother, Mrs. Graham, is white, and her home is a stained, dirty apartment—frighteningly different from...
(The entire section is 2214 words.)