By Rhoda Ola-Said
Describing this collection of short stories is a difficult task, simply because I do not think a few typed up words are sufficient to capture the imagination and creativity used to produce such diverse stories. The title alone attempts to prepare you for the thought-provoking tales that will flow from page to page, steeped in abstract mysticism.
When I first picked up this 300-page body of work I was not sure what to expect, I was willing to read, learn and receive along the way. However, the journey I encountered was a turbulent one, having no beginning or distinguishable end. Instead, I was pulled and pushed in different directions, anchored only to the town each story centred upon - Cross River. I call it a body of work in the more literal than literary sense because each experience, story, poem, document, and legend work in tandem to create a limitless odyssey. Each part is necessary to pump the heart of this wonderfully otherworldly town.
What is Cross River you ask? I am still attempting to solve that myself. Is it a dystopian land, set in a future where self-aware robots fight a bloody civil war to end the lives of their human slave masters? A religious town where the ‘Riverbeat’ sound is an incarnation that ignites scatting tongues and spiritual revelry? Or is it a town where its inhabitants are running away from the stories and legends that are too real for comfort. Stories of water women who seduce you to an early grave or the mysterious creatures in the forbidden Wildlands that screech and fly overhead. Cross River is all these things and much more. It was fascinating how real this fictional and impossible town slowly revealed itself to be.
I was exposed to writing that danced unapologetically from one place to another, abruptly and with no explanation. My role was just to be present in that current moment of reading; to go along with the ups, downs, and loops. What remained most captivating while reading these short stories was each one claiming its own space, time, and reality. They all contributed to a rich blend of beginnings, middles and ends but in no particular order. Individually, they worked together to create a great orchestra of voices and sounds. I then had the job of weaving together these different voices and identifying the themes and messages hidden within. Scott truly created a new world within this town, similar to our own, but definitely not the same.
Let’s get back to the entity that is Cross River, a town established by the leaders of the country’s only successful slave revolt in the mid-nineteenth century. Cross River, along with the areas that surround it, are signposts that create a familiar sense of continuity in the book. A story can be set decades in the past, future, or present and each story can easily take you far away. Cross River is your anchor, and like I said the heartbeat of each story. Pride resides in those who call themselves ‘Cross Riverians’ but they are sinisterly followed by the echoes of the past. With stories that highlight race, gender, music, religion, love, and even loneliness, Scott writes stories that speak to the depths and character of our human nature.
The collection starts with ‘David Sherman, the Last Son of God’, a story that I felt encompassed the spiritual and magical elements of music. Scott pays homage to the deeply entrenched history the African diaspora has when comes to expression through sounds, beats and harmonies. In this story, music has a life if its own. It is an entity, a driving force, an idol. The quest to find your sound and its individuality is a lifelong desire and dream that hangs on the fingertips of the protagonist - to find the ‘Riverbeat’ is to find one’s own purpose of living. In contrast to this, the last story, ‘Special Topics in Loneliness Studies’, is both poetic and disturbing with its dark take on the world of academia. Infused with poetry and fables, this intertextual narrative that centres on a ghost of a lecturer hellbent on causing disruption and chaos to the renowned University of Cross River, looks profoundly and one could argue, savagely, at how as learners we are forcibly bound to the status quo.
By simply mentioning two stories you can see the stark difference and uniqueness that Scott carries in each story. The lack of boundaries in his body of work makes me think that this is not the last we’ve heard of Cross River. I do hope the town within a world of itself comes back to grace us with its presence, with new tales that go above and beyond the expected.