The sound of a coal powered train chugging along. It is northern Nigeria before independence. The crowded train moves past a busy train station, the camera pans through the window of the train showing you people dressed in the attire appropriate for Northern Nigeria in the 1940s, traders with goods on their heads, mothers with babies on their backs, and other travelers waiting for the train to come to a stop. Making you realize that this is a period movie if you didn’t know that already. The camera then pans back into the train and shows the hands of our protagonist. In his hand is a passport. Okay maybe this last part is a bit corny but I think you get the point. This is the opening scene from The Passport of Mallam Ilia.
Growing up there were two short stories that I always felt would make really great movies. Juju Island by Gabriel Okara is one, The Passport of Malam Ilia by Cyprian Ekwensi is the other. They both made me feel like I was on an adventure. The made me feel like I was in the story. Okay maybe not really for the latter. It was the same feeling I got from reading the Famous Five even though I had never been in a cave, or a mash or even knew what a strong fog looked like.
First published in 1960, The Passport of Mallam Ilia tells the story of Mallam Ilia’s quest to avenge the death of his beautiful wife Zarah at the hands of Mallam Usuman. Although a fairly short story, (the book is 100 pages long) the plot spans several decades. It starts some time within the late 1800s or early 1900s and ends in 1947 or maybe early 1948.
Like some other novels by Cyprian Ekwensi, this story is also set in Northern Nigeria. Although the plot does take Mallam Ilia to Mecca and back to Northern Nigeria. It is fast paced, well it is short so it has to be.
I enjoyed reading it again. I still think the story would make a great movie, although I am not sure if it can work as a movie for children even though the story was written for children.