In “A Simple Case,” by E. C. Osondu, we have the opportunity to look at what makes a good short story. As in the first story of Atlantic’s 2010 Fiction Issue, “Lorelei,” “A Simple Case” does not seem to fit the standard, if not predictable arc of a contemporary/literary short story. Another way to say that is neither one of these stories seem to fit the mold of what is taught in creative writing programs as successful short stories.
The main character, Paiko, is caught up in a raid on a hotel/brothel where he pimps out his girlfriend, Sweet. It’s his first time being arrested, and Paiko is unsure what to expect. He’s told early on that his case is simple, and he’ll “soon be released.” The action takes an unexpected turn as Paiko and the other men in a local jail are gathered up and paraded as the men who took part in the burglary of a commissioner’s official car. It’s their word against the police. Defeated, they have no choice but to go along with the sham.
Moved to a high security prison, the new inmates are confronted by a man who is the leader of the cell block, a self styled President, who asks “Who goes there, human beings or animals?” Faced by the urgings of his fellow inmates, Paiko is told to confess to his crimes as an animal. However, he stands up for himself, and his story envokes if not kindness from the President, than at least some form of justice. He believes Paiko and uses his influence to help him exit the prison system.
But what if Paiko’s girlfriend, Sweet? Where has she been all this time? The driving force of the story is not Paiko’s arrest, but Sweet’s absence through the affair. Upon gaining his freedom, Paiko learns what has happened to Sweet.
What makes this story work is the mystery of Sweet’s absence, and the newness of the situation for both Paiko and the reader. We’re trapped in the prison with him trying to decipher the corruption of the police and the megalomania of the President of the prisoners. This is enough. Also, why this story is not like most short stories is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of resonate images. There is nothing familiar or predictable about the story.