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Read Lidudumalingani’s 2016 Caine Prize-winning story “Memories We Lost”

Read Lidudumalingani's 2016 Caine Prize-winning story - and listen to him read it

 

This Fiction Friday, celebrate South African writer Lidudumalingani’s recent Caine Prize victory by reading his winning story, “Memories We Lost”.

The piece was originally published in the 2015 Short Sharp Stories anthology Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You, when it was described by Diane Awerbuck as “a terrifying examination of mental illness based on the writer’s real-life familial experiences”.

At the prize announcement, Chair of Judges Jarrett-Macauley said the story “explores a difficult subject – how traditional beliefs in a rural community are used to tackle schizophrenia”.

“This is a troubling piece,” she continued, “depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape. Multi-layered, and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.”

Tseliso Monaheng gives a beautiful reading of the story, available to listen to on Soundcloud:


 

 
Don’t miss Lidudumalingani in Johannesburg for an iSwareyi at the end of July.

Without further ado, read an excerpt from “Memories We Lost”:

There was never a forewarning that this thing was coming.

It came out of nowhere, as ghosts do, and it would disappear as it had come. Every time it left, I stretched my arms out in all directions, mumbled two short prayers, one to God and another to the ancestors, and then waited on my terrified sister to embrace me.

The embraces, I remember, were always tight and long, as if she hoped the moment would last forever.

Every time this thing took her, she returned altered, unrecognisable, as if two people were trapped inside her, both fighting to get out, but not before tearing each other into pieces. The first thing that this thing took from her, from us, was speech, and then it took our memories.

She began speaking in a language that was unfamiliar, her words trembling as if trying to relay unthinkable revelations from the gods. The memories faded one after the other until our past was a blur.

Some of the memories that have remained with me are of her screaming and running away from home. I remember when she ran out to the fields in the middle of the night, screaming, first waking my mother and me and then abducting the entire village from their sleep. Men and boys emerged from their houses carrying their knobkerries as if out to hunt an animal. Women and children stayed behind, frightened children clutching their mother’s nightgowns. The men and boys, disorientated and peeved, shuffled in the dark and split into small groups as instructed by a man who at the absence of a clear plan crowned himself a leader. Those with torches flicked them on and pushed back the darkness. Some took candles; they squeezed their bodies close and wrapped blankets around themselves in an attempt to block the wind, but all their matches extinguished before they could light a single candle.

Those without torches or candles walked on even though the next step in such darkness was possibly a plunge down a cliff. This was unlikely, it should be said, as most of them were born in the village, grew up there, got married there, had used that very same field as their toilet for all their lives, and had had in overlapping periods only left the village when they went to work for the white man in large cities.

They had a blueprint of the village in their minds; its walking paths, its indentations, its rivers, its mountains, its holes where ghosts lived were imprinted in their blood.

Hours later, the first small group of men and boys, and then another and another, emerged from the darkness. They did not find her. They had looked everywhere, at least they had claimed. They were worried about not finding my sister or annoyed at being woken in the middle of the night – I could not tell. Morphed into defeated men, their faces drooped to the floor, and their bodies slouched as if they had carried a heavy load. Each group was not aware of the other groups’ whereabouts.

They did not even know if the other groups still existed or if the night had swallowed them. They had last seen them when they wished them luck when they split up. They had heard them yell my sister’s name, in the dark, before going silent.

She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not respond to the calls.

Each group chanted with great terror. With each group that emerged, I hoped that it would chant something else, but nothing changed; the chant was, as if it had been rehearsed for a long time, repeated the same each time, tearing my heart apart.

She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not respond to our screams.

The chant went on until all groups had returned.

Mother, a woman of tall build and wide hips, only returned home when the sun was way up in the sky the next day, carrying my sister on her back.

She would scream in intervals as if to taunt me, my mother said.

Related stories:

Incredible JourneyLusaka Punk and Other StoriesThe Gonjon Pin and Other Stories10 Years of the Caine Prize for African WritingA Memory This Size and Other StoriesThe Caine Prize Anthology 2009: Work in Progress and Other Stories

 

Book details

 

Images courtesy of The Caine Prize

 

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