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Fiction Friday: read Efemia Chela’s short story “Perigee”

Adults Only

Efemia Chela was born in Zambia but grew up in England, Ghana, Botswana and South Africa, graduating with a BA in French, Politics and Classical Civilisations from Rhodes University.

Efemia’s first published story story, “Chicken”, won third place in the 2013 Short Story Day Africa Prize, themed “Feast, Famine and Potluck”. She has since been shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, and is one of the editors of Short Story Day Africa’s 2017 anthology Migrations.

“Perigee” was first published in the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) award-winning 2014 Short.Sharp.Stories Anthology, Adults Only. The story is about youth, sex and losing.

Its title refers to the stage in the moon’s orbit when it is nearest to the earth.

Perigee

As soon as my phone brought news of where she was, I tore up my room looking for perfume and the cleanest of the clothes on the floor. I thought anything would be fine as long as I could cover it with this fine brocade coat that was hiding somewhere. In hindsight I don’t know why I bothered. I had known her for so long then that she knew how the crevices of my body drew in all fabrics, no matter how loosely draped. And how I smelt a little like alliums and sour milk when I attended early morning lectures without showering.

I slammed the door and jumped two at a time down the stairs. Behind me, my next-door neighbour shouted threats of filing a complaint. I wondered why loud noises bothered her in a way that my dealing never did. I ran, wind rushing in my ears, ricocheting off the clips in my hair. So fast, I didn’t even notice the girth of the moon. Only later I would realise how full, how round, how milky it was. And so close. It was at its perigee waiting to be plucked from that vast black cloth by someone brave. I avoided its pupil-less gaze, afraid of what I would see in its surface.

I got there quickly, my heavy breath arrived a step ahead of me. The bar was full of locals who didn’t bother look up when I walked in. They could smell I was harmless. I caught a glimpse of myself in the cracked mirror just before the pool tables. I looked uncharacteristically beautiful. Maybe it was the moonlight. My looks flickered on and off like a faulty lamp and I never knew when things were in my favour aesthetically. I took a second look in the mirror and saw a kind of mournful beauty like an old silent movie star, losing to the talkies. Losing. Losing. Losing.

I searched for her. Now that she had cut her hair it took double the time. Still that wasn’t very long. I had memorised her silhouette like a redemptive prayer. “Meryl. Meryl,”my heart murmured. I knew almost certainly she’d be in the outdoor bunker, under the fairy lights where you could smoke a joint with the owner’s blessing. I pushed the slow stickied door with an open palm and regretted it instantly. Should have used my sleeve. I put my clean hand on her sloping left shoulder. She looked up and smiled all the way to the curve of her eyelashes. That smile had the same effect on me every time. It stirred the pot and thickened the evening’s plot. My lips queasily formed the word, “Hi.”

“You look really bleak with life, friend,” Meryl said as I sat down opposite her in the bottle green booth. “I’m so glad you came. I was really worried about you.”

She reached over to clasp my hand. I felt the jab of one her pointy rings.

“Yeah. Well… unrequited love isn’t easy. It’s a fucking nightmare. It’s a lot like being a monk but there are no orange robes,” I said.

“Bummer. You look good in orange,” she joked. “But I don’t get it, monks? How? No sex?”

“You’re believing in something. Something… which most people don’t believe in. And honestly which can’t, with real incontrovertible proof, be said to truly exist.”

“Or a person. A person who doesn’t exist,” she said. “He can’t exist the way you want him to. You know that. He’s a bastard! I get it. I know what you see in him. You see everything that’s bad for you and that makes you want it more.”

“My moth tendencies…,” I offered weakly.

“He’s going to fuck you up!”

I ignored her. The pot calling the kettle harmful and all that.

Betty swaggered up to Meryl, the intrusion stopping wherever our conversation was going. All bound breasts and big lies she placed her hand firmly where mine had just been. It seemed to fit there better. It might as well have been a hot brand. Fuck, I hated her and her greasy confidence. She could make you feel like you were enough. “You were all and that was it,” her exes all testified. Betty had the pushiness of someone much older spiked with the hard-headedness of someone much younger. I’d never seen her sit down. Her grasping nature wouldn’t permit it. That and I’m sure one of her exes had a hit out on her. She used her ruthlessness to beat her way in the world and beat people out of it. She didn’t meet people so much as manhandle them. Sometimes I thought I could see the very cogs whirring behind her sharp temples.

This was who Meryl had chosen to be hurt by. But people can live off hurt. They can’t live off nothing. So they kept on.

Continue reading here.

 

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Migrations

 

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