Writivism Flash Fiction Friday: “1968″, “Amanda”, “Bead Work”, “Daughters of Resurrection” and “Breaking Glass”
The project Writivism, which identifies, trains and engages readers and writers in public discourse through literature, was initiated by the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, in partnership with the Global Changemakers program, in 2012. Initially it only involved Uganda but since last year, it has expanded to the entire African continent.
Last year, Writivism held Flash Fiction workshops, supported by various media partners, including Books LIVE. The workshops yielded good results – 45 flash fiction stories, of which we are pleased to publish a selection in our Fiction Friday slot once per month for the next three months.
This year Writivism has close to 100 African writers enrolled as workshop participants, mentors, judges and advisors. A panel of five judges will select the five most outstanding stories, and crown the Writivist of the Year winner, first runner-up and second runner-up. Five regional winners will also be named. The Writivist of the Year award will be presented during the Writivism festival set to take place from 18 to 22 June 2014 in Kampala, Uganda.
Read this month’s selection of five flash fiction stories: “1968″ by Okwudili Nebeolisa, “Amanda” by Wonny Arthur, “Bead Work” by Caleb Adebayo, “Daughters of Resurrection” by Melissa Kiguwa, and “Breaking Glass” by Saaleha E Bhamjee:
Her son had gone to play outside with the other children before she began writing:
How are you currently doing? I thought I should tell you…
Then she tore the paper, thinking the beginning was too terse. She took another sheet and started.
Hope your last night was fine. I couldn’t help telling you that last night I didn’t experience something that finalised my doubts…
She tore the paper and looked outside to see if her son was in sight, but he wasn’t. Where could he have gone to? The woman who would help her convey the letter to Obinna would soon pass her frontage, on her way to the market, so she wanted to be done with it, quickly. Stubbornly she took another sheet:
I think I have good news. Last night finalised all my doubts about it. I know I’m pregnant and it is your baby. I’m happy writing this, carrying your baby. Don’t worry about me, everything will be fine. I’m well.
She read it over and over again. Then she opened the drawer in front of her and took out an envelope. She folded the letter neatly and tucked it inside the envelope. She thought about writing her name on the envelope, then waived the thought away.
But when the woman came, on her way to the market, and shouted Gladys’ name, she ran out and only greeted the woman, as usual. She had decided not to send the letter, fearing if the woman would open it.
So she kept the letter sandwiched in her notebook and kept it in the drawer.
A month later her husband returned from the war. Moreover his wife’s belly had started protruding and when she gladly told him about it on the day of his return, he pretended to be happy about it. He had been badly injured and was hospitalised for three weeks before he was allowed to go home, pending when he would declare himself fit for battle. It was miraculous to be back home.
War made him too sullen and withdrawn. He avoided their son and mostly talked to himself, scaring his wife and infecting his son with his lust for silence. Mostly he would lie on the bed, hungry for what to read to keep his mind busy and in touch with reality.
One afternoon, he was looking for the only album of pictures he could take while leaving Nsukka, where he lived before the war. He had particularly taken that album because it was leather-bound and had photos of his mother and his favourite cousin who was dead now.
He checked the wardrobe, the cupboard, the scanty bookshelf, but couldn’t find it. Moreover his wife had changed the position of things, in the process of her living in his absence. He was almost furious. She was washing laundry outside.
Finally he found it in the drawer. The notebook was directly under the album. The brown envelope caught his eyes (its edge was spilling from the notebook’s leaves), so he opened it. Carefully he read the content of the letter. He was shocked, particularly because she had lied to him about the pregnancy being his. He wished he knew the Obinna his wife was referring to.
He called her in right away, though he knew that it would’ve been better if he waited for the night to come, when people would be asleep. She was wiping her hands on her dress when she came in. Then he went to the door and shut it, the two windows, too. Only a little light flickered in from holes cricket had drilled inside the windows, soon they began to chirp, thinking it was night.
They stood for a minute, not saying a word. He showed her the envelope and asked her to read what was inside. She knew what was in it, so she only stared at him, ashamedly. She couldn’t even take the letter from him. Next he picked the torch and in pretence of searching for something, he hit her on the head and bruised her. She fell on the bed. Then she tried to get out from the bed but he struck her again on her temple with the torch. The torch went off. They were in the half-dark, imagining each other’s silhouettes.
She begged, but he didn’t listen. Most of the other women had gone to the market. She considered the chances of calling for help. He slapped her with his strong palms. She whimpered, her lip and nose were bleeding. She tried to get out from the bed but he pushed her back. If she could grab his arm, she would bite it fiercely to the extent that he would bleed. For a moment she thought he wanted to rape her or do something to harm the foetus in her. There was nothing handy to hit him with, she hadn’t expected it would anything like this.
Another slap and her head struck the bed’s edge with a dull thump. She went silent, didn’t move. He tugged at her but she was still.
He took his army bag and stuffed it with a few clothes and shoes, both for himself and his son. He had money in his pocket. He took the keys to his motorcycle and went out to look for his son.
“We’ll be travelling tonight,” he told his son, in Igbo. When the boy asked about his mother, if she wasn’t going to leave with them, he was shouted at to shut up.
Quietly they left for the next village after he draped a bedspread over Gladys.
The past 24 hours ran like a sequence. In flashes. The sunny afternoon. The good man. The sweet, cold drink. The rushed escape. And then, nothing.
But only for a minute, this time, there were blurred faces – snares, exposed teeth and wide eyes. Amanda sits in the dark, panting. The door whines as it was pulled open. Amanda jerked up, squinting, trying to make out the face of the one who stood by the door, his hulking frame silhouetted by the dim light from the passage way. And then another frame appeared beside it. And another. Until they were crammed together, morphing into one scary thing. Until Amanda felt light in the dead, as she was sucked in by the darkness. She began to scream, but a pair of arms grabbed at her, pinning her to the floor, tugging at her dress, muffling her cries. A strangled moan filled her ears, just before she slipped into the quiet.
Amanda is awake. She is numb. She cannot breathe. She cannot see. It is as though someone was strangling her with a cord. But she is alone, panting.
Amanda sits up. The door hangs open, and weak light sifts in from the passage way. Quietly, she tiptoes across the door, careful not to make a sound. Careful not to upset her stomach which kept rumbling and rumbling, as though hadn’t had a meal in a week.
Amanda is awake, but Amanda knew that Amanda is in a dream, the type where each step taken seemed as though one was thrown ten steps behind. But she is determined, to escape, to breathe. Then she is running. And after she has walked out of the door, she kept on on running, without stopping. Her hear thudding, her breathe choking, her stomach rumbling. She keeps running, because stopping meant she is back to her nightmare. Running meant that the hulking figures would be back again. Stopping means to remember.
She bumps into a stone, and then she was falling, smack down in a puddle of murky water. But she jerks back up, as though she hadn’t fallen in the first place. For a second she doesn’t remember where she was coming from, how long she had been running, or where she was going. But the key to freedom, to survival, as her mother told her months ago, was one leg in front of the other. And to never stop.
Amanda reaches the major road. Her wet, dirty clothes cling to her skin. The breeze whooshes around her. She is catching cold. But she is smiling, because cold means she can feel, which means she was alive, she means she is free, which means she will not be back to the shack again.
Without thinking, she staggers into the road. Car blare their horns and screech loudly before coughing to a stop inches from her. Some bumped not each other. But Amanda keeps walking, without stopping, because stopping is never an option.
Suddenly, she feels weaker and light headed. Her vision blurs. She wipes her face with the back of her hand. She is crying. She sees the big church, the one where her mother had lain those days before the churchpeople took her to a hospital; before the churchpeople told her that her mother had gone to heaven, to join her Papa. Amanda’s knees give away under her. But she crawls to the stairs of the church. And just then a pair of shoes stops before her.
Amanda stops breathing, and then, gradually, takes in the long stretch of trouser-clad legs, trousers the colour of night. Miles and miles of it. And then the high thin chest clad in the immaculate black jacket. And then she catches his eyes.
Concern had gone and climbed into those eyes that always cared for Amanda. And then Father Kevin was carrying her up in his arms. He smelled of soaps and perfume. He smells of safety. Amanda begins to cry.
Amanda is dreaming. Of her Mama’s face. Mama looks healthy, without those skin eruptions that her made her look ugly. And her face was fuller, like she had been eating and doing nothing in heaven. And her hair was fuller, blacker, and hung around her shoulders, like balls of black wool. Mama is smiling. And touching Amanda’s face, and saying things Amanda cannot make meaning of. Mama smells of oranges. Those small sweet types Amanda loved. Amanda wants some oranges.
Amanda is awake. And she is crying. And she is happy. Because Mama is happy and healthy and beautiful.
Father Kevin stands a few feet from Amanda, assessing her, his face crumpled with concern.
“Will you now tell me who did this to you, my dear child?” He asked, holding Amanda’s hands.
Amanda smiles. And shakes her head.
“I saw Mama. She is happy.”
“That is great news, my child.” But Father’s face is still crumbling with more concern.
“I want to join Mama. I want to be where she is. Will you help me meet her, Father?”
You are crazy. You are very crazy. You must be completely crazy to sit in that chair, so prim in this little office and listen to that woman hurl insults at you and your mother and do nothing. Just because you want a job? I am not crazy like you. I’m not. So I stand up to to the woman sitting at the desk.
“Don’t you ever try that again. What nonsense! Who gives you the right to insult this woman and her mother?”
The woman shifts sideways to face me. She must wonder where I come from to be so daring. We have been sitting here for two hours. We’ve been waiting for this woman to check your file for a job at the Ministry of Environment.
You tug at my arm. You urge me to sit down, to let things calm down but I am not crazy like you. I won’t.
“How dare you?”
By now I have the attention of everyone in the room; some staff are sitting at the other end of the room in front of a computer and there other people who have been waiting along with us. None of them interrupts. All eyes are on us. The woman stands up abruptly. She hurls fire with her eyes.
“Come on, onyeocha who do you think you are? Are you the one looking for job, enh? I na nu kwa trouble!”
She claps her hands in mock excitement and lets out a short laugh.
“Now get out of my office. Get out!”
She looks over my head.
You are torn. This was a chance. At least you have gotten into the office. You plead. I hate that you are pleading. I hate that you look weak. You did nothing wrong. She was the one who hurled insults at your mother. Your mother, Maami, like my mother is a poor woman in the village works so hard while you play hide and seek. You seek and government hides. You search and government jobs don’t come to you. I am infuriated. I’m angry at you and mad at the woman who can’t see us for what we have to offer.
“Anyway, that is how you all are.”
I’m trying to dismiss the woman by challenging her authority, by masking the fact that we are being kicked out.
“It’s my friend here lets you insult her mother who should be blamed. Let’s get out of here, Temi.”
I take your hand and pull you, with your file and jacket and everything.
“Let’s go. You don’t need this.”
I hate government jobs. I hate government people. I hate thinking about the encounter I had at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There was no day I wasn’t at the ministry in those days, lugging files with me, pleading, making calls, sitting and waiting, sitting and waiting. And every moment I thought something positive was going to happen, someone would say there was an oga who had an oga whose hands would need to be greased before my file could move. My file never moved and I never got a study leave for Dada. But you say a government job is what you want so as to have time for your bead work. In the hallway, I pull you aside.
“You are crazy, you know that, right?’
You look at me like I am insane.
“Me? Did you have to shout like that? If anyone is crazy here, it is you. I’m the one who is looking for work, not you!”
You stop walking and face me.
“Do you know what you just did? You are just too…”
You sigh. You seem to be lost for words.
“Think, Temi. Think! Are you not the crazy one, sitting there and letting that woman insult Maami?”
“Those are just words. I don’t have to swallow them. Sometimes there are things you can take…sometimes. Just so you can get…”
I try to shut her down. It never works that way. If you don’t stand up to it one time, it just goes on. I just couldn’t let it go.
A woman approaches us, walking briskly. She is one of the other staff from the office.
She is shouting after us.
I wonder if she’s talking to me.
“No, not you.”
She waves me off. She is addressing you.
“I like that jewellery … the bead thing … the necklace, everything. Who does it for you?”
You speak up.
“Me. I make them myself.”
The woman’s eyes widen.
“All of them?”
“Yes. All of them.”
“Wow! So what are you doing looking for a job here?”
You look at me and then back at the woman who is now standing at arm’s length from us.
You laugh a small laugh. The woman smiles.
She sticks out her hand for a handshake.
“Sorry about my co-worker.”
I feel I should reply, but she focuses on you.
“Temi. I’m Temi.”
“Okay, Temi. I’m Ugochi. I think you have a job already, if you want one. Do you know Curion House?”
“My sister owns it. She’s been looking for someone to head up the bead-craft section. I think and I hope that I just found the person she needs. I mean, you’re good. That stuff is good.”
She points to the bead necklace that is shimmering with dignity.
“Here’s my number. Call me tomorrow morning, before nine. I’ll be waiting for your call.”
She turns to leave, then turns around again to face us.
“And I love your calm spirit. It will help you a lot.”
“Thank you,” you respond.
You turn to face me.
“It seems like I may just get a job. It seems like I will be doing bead work. And I didn’t have to shout at anyone for it. So who’s the crazy one now?”
Matter is neither created nor destroyed, and yet, Earth is slowly sinking through this galaxy. The weight of the unrisen is too heavy.
There are moments that move so slowly time trickles from the woman’s mouth like molasses. Nilote Nurse X3452 stares at the woman and sighs, Poor, poor Icarus… he was only a boy. But you are woman and you still think like that little Greek boy- your silence the size of burning feathered wings.
The nurse’s skin is so black it looks wet. The Nilotes say their black is the color of a darkness that sighs like creaky shoes but the woman only sees slick tar and a wide gaping mouth. I am dizzy, she says to the nurse.
From my words…or my skin? The nurse asks. When the nurse gets no response, it tries again. We are not the enemy… Mahmoud Darwish, a human poet, wrote: a place is not only a geographical area; it’s also a state of mind…Your species is capable of so much abstraction. Why is it hard for you to understand that Earth- the way you know it at least- no longer exists?
The soldiers were guarding the dream, but I will enter it when they sleep, the woman whispers.
Ahh! The nurse claps its hands in joy. So you do know Darwish?
I know you are guarding, the woman responds.
The nurse pauses, Earth is sinking…not because of any science or sense, but because your people forgot that the bodies falling to the bottom of the ocean matter. What was slavery? Atomic detonation? Piracy? The ivory daggered tooth sitting in the front of the nurse’s mouth begins to rotate. You are falling…like Earth… like Icarus.
The woman is silent.
The nurse continues, Even though I am the resurrection, it is a mental exercise to think of the weight of all those bodies tossed over slave ships. Falling… falling into your oceans. But the Nilotes rose when the clarion called… We cannot guard what does not want to live.
Is this living? The woman asks.
Yes, though not as you know it. We would have given you wings, daughter of Icarus… but you are falling. Poor, poor you.
She fell then, as though her skeletons were an emaciated kiosk of bones. Too weak, not enough resurrection, another replies.
The nurse picks up her limp body and takes her back to the ward.
Humans are too weak; not enough resurrection.
He comes to me as the day begins to breathe its last, his smile, like birth. There is a mole above his right eye. A period that completes the sentence of his brows.
“Heya,” he clears his throat.
“Hey.” Gurgling words.
“Long flight?” He is sitting in an armchair now, fragmented by the light filtering between shutter slats.
“The pilot found a wormhole. We gained twenty minutes in the air.”
My laughter is brittle.
He shakes his head.
I stretch out a hand. He takes it. His fingers are long. I see them now, covering my left breast, tweaking my nipple. He catches my gaze, his brow raised, a question. I blush. He kisses my palm. Trembling hands that can no longer bear the weight of an All-seeing God; the words I’d been cradling, spat at me by a critical conscience; his too warm mouth.
He doesn’t speak. Instead he closes the gap between us. I gasp against his lips as his crotch presses into mine. Laced fingers, my conscience’s pontificating displaced, the All Seeing God rolls onto the balcony.
I expect fucking but this is nearly lovemaking. When he leaves, I am both emptied and filled. I sleep, curled around ‘his pillow’. I smell his hair every time I move. I miss the call from home. The kids want pictures of everything. This is the message they leave me.
I return their call as I get ready for the first of the weekend’s meetings. I tell my husband that I love him. My conscience refuses to talk to me.
He has come to see me four times in the last three days. We’ve fucked every time, except this, the last visit. A daytime moon swims in an indigo sky. He wears shorts today. Has traded his All Stars for a pair of flip flops. I find myself distracted by the way the hair on his legs curls. Notice his feet, the scar just above his ankle. It saves me from having to meet his gaze. We are careful not to touch. I give him a bottle of cologne as a thank you gift. I’ve dabbed some of this on the lining of my handbag. He does not need to know.
The Airport is a yawning maw that swallows me. I’m almost late to check in. That last caress-the-pillow-inhIale-deeply-as-you-do-even-when-you-promised-yourself-you-wouldn’t stupidity is to blame. And the gifts. There had to be gifts for home.
I hurry down the gullet that leads to the belly of the plane. 12C, I find the seat, stow away my laptop and settle in. The two seats on my left are empty. The rest of the plane, bloated.
Raihaan? I look up. The woman walks in front of him. He is telling a joke. She is laughing, her voice shattering like breaking glass. What is he doing here? Before I collect my scattered thoughts, they’re standing beside me. As I stand up to let them pass, I look straight into her face.
She’s definitely not my sister.
Image courtesy James Murua’s Literature Blog