Category Archives: Fiction

You Will Know No Peace

You Will Know No Peace
by Obinna Udenwe

Esther and Ahmed sat on a bench under a jacaranda tree in the Central Park – it was an open park, without a fence to separate it from the road. So it was easy for passersby to enter the park anytime they wanted and sit on the numerous benches scattered around and about the park. It was also easier for mad people who wandered about the city of Abuja uninhibited, to enter the park any time they wanted, unannounced, to take shelter from the scorching sun. There were some corners in the Park that had piles of rags and used containers of all sorts and bags containing God-knows-what heaped in them, belonging to one insane person or another.

Esther and Ahmed had not said anything to each other since they met in the park. Silence sat in between them, studying the road with them, counting the number of cars that passed – their models and colours. Ahmed noticed tears dripping from Esther’s eyes. He couldn’t say a thing – how does one begin to ask a young lady he had raped a couple of months earlier not to cry? How could he ask her to wipe her tears – would he have the temerity to utter words like that?

The long branches and leaves of the jacaranda tree served as a perfect canopy against the sun. Esther wore a skirt that stretched only to her knees, and beneath her sweat polo Ahmed could see that she also wore a shirt – milky or white in colour. She wore a flat shoe and had been staring at the shoe since he met her in the park.

“I… I… don’t want to hear that… again. Please.” Esther broke the silence after a long time. When Ahmed met her sitting in the park already, he had knelt on the ground and said that he was sorry, before she asked him to sit down. None of them had uttered any words after that.

“How can you tell me those words? Sorry? Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“Ah… for… for what I… did—”

“What did you do?”

Ahmed was silent. Esther’s face was up, her eyes reddish and rheumy. She stared at him. Ahmed prayed the earth should open and swallow him.
“For what happened—”

“What happened?”

How could Ahmed open his mouth to mention what happened? What words would he use that would be appropriate? Would he say ‘for raping you’? or ‘for forcing myself inside you’? No. Those words were unsaid in that kind of situation. They were the kind of words that turned into lumps and wedged at the junction between the throat and the mouth, refusing to come out.

“I don’t know how… Please. Please. I am sorry. For forcing myself… inside you.” They were out. The words, feared, abhorred, the lumps, had been pushed out and his mouth was hot. Tears came to his eyes for he saw them run down like water from the young lady’s eyes. Ahmed imagined what she must be passing through.

Silence grew again as the young woman sobbed. He had a handkerchief, but you dare not offer a handkerchief to the woman you raped. How could you do that? Birds flew in numbers, he was sure they could be up to a hundred. They perched on the jacaranda tree, chirping and cooing happily.

Esther began to talk, “That day, I had stayed late in the office. You see, I just got this job then and needed to work hard. I was informed by the manager that they needed creativity and hard work. So every day, I stayed back, few hours after dismissal. I worked till seven, sometimes eight PM, finishing up designs… some front elevation here, some floor plan there….” Esther took a deep breath. Ahmed said nothing. Both of them were architects, working in the same firm. But Ahmed was new in the firm – he had just reported few days earlier when he noticed to his greatest surprise that the young lady he had raped months earlier was his direct supervisor – it meant that Esther would supervise the structural drawings Ahmed made in the office and give orders to him in the construction site.

“They say it is a man’s world. Architecture. When I was in school, we were only five girls out of over eighty boys. My father was an architect. He encouraged me to pursue the career… I love it. I love what I do. But… but… since that day.”
Ahmed brought down his face. Esther had been staring at him. Her gaze had injured him for it was like fire blazing and burning his face, frizzling his hair. He was sweating.

“That day, I stayed back to finish up a structural drawing we had been working on for days. The Director needed to make a presentation at the State Executive Council meeting the next day for some contract… he had asked that I and a few others stay back after work to go over the drawing. When we finished, the other boys left together. I began to walk down the streets to my house. My apartment is a thirty minute walk from the office. I didn’t have money back then. I was just a new staff… struggling to survive.”

Ahmed knew the rest of the story. But the lump in his mouth had returned. He wanted to tell her to shush. He wanted to hold her shoulders. But how could he do that? How would he be able to do that?

“It was around eight-thirty. That part of the street was always lonely, few cars passed once in a while. Only wealthy folks lived there and around seven PM it was difficult to notice anyone outside. There were no beer bars or shops or anything that could keep people outside. You know…” Esther stared at him again. “I had always felt safe when I get to that part of the road, those streets where those folks live. Because I felt nothing would happen there. I knew rapes occurred in dark alleys and streets where plebeians and agbero boys lived. I… I never knew that… I never knew….” Her voice trailed off.

“I am sorry.”

Esther didn’t respond. Ahmed had realized that she probably had never talked about the rape to anyone. It could be the first time she was talking about it, letting the whole story out. But what was astonishing was that she was talking to the person that raped her.

Esther laughed sardonically and said; “Ah, Esther. Look at you. You kept your virginity from all those boys that admired you in the campus… from George that was ready to do anything for you, only to lose it to a stranger.”

“God!” Ahmed exclaimed.

“You didn’t know?”

“I… knew. Please forgive me. I am sorry.” After Ahmed had raped her and left her on the floor, he found blood on his penis and on his body. When he zipped his trousers the blood was on his zipper.

“Forgive you?”

“That day was Tuesday. I remember because George called me that morning to ask if we could renew our relationship. We stopped talking for over seven months before then. I loved him. Oh how I loved him, but I couldn’t sleep with him. I was scared of the pain of sex. I used to do every other thing with him, but I couldn’t make love to him. I was afraid… I was also scared that he would leave after deflowering me. But he left because of that… because I couldn’t agree to sex.”

“That morning George called me. He said he was sorry. He asked if we could get back together. I didn’t waste time agreeing. He asked about my work and I told him how I was coping. I was excited. He hadn’t gotten a job yet. That evening… you raped me.”

The last sentence hit Ahmed in the chest. More tears came out of his eyes.

“Do you know that tears could be hot? They come out of your eyes. Very hot like boiled water… perhaps one day something will happen to you. Something bitter enough to force hot tears out of your eyes, running down your cheeks. Every tear I shed since then has been hot. They burn my cheeks.”

“I stopped wearing makeup since then. What is the need? Am I not worthless now?”

“Please. You—”

“Am I not worthless now? You took away my worth.”

“Please. Please. I am so sorry.” In Ahmed’s mouth saliva had mixed with mucus and he couldn’t even open his mouth. The birds were listening to them. Calm. Even the breeze too.

“I wasn’t scared that evening when you stopped me and pretended to be asking for direction. I wasn’t scared… I didn’t have to. I became scared when you brought out your gun.”

Ahmed wanted to tell her that the gun wasn’t loaded at all. But he felt that would break her more. He kept calm. If only Esther would stop relieving the incident.

“You told me to move. You pushed me and I followed me. You said if I shouted you would kill me and no one would see you. You pushed me through the dark corner into a fenced compound under construction… you pushed me into one of the rooms and asked me to pull off. When I refused… remember that I was begging you. I pleaded and begged. I told you that I had a laptop in my bag. I asked you to take it. I told you that I had some little money too, not up to three-hundred Naira. I told you I was sorry that I didn’t have enough money. I told you that I had just gotten a new job and didn’t have much. I told you all that. I told you that in addition to the money you could take my laptop and my phone and my necklace. Everything I had with me. But the nozzle of your pistol hit my breasts. You ordered me to pull off.”

“God. Please.”

“Yes. You slapped me. You collected my handbag from me and flung it… I heard the thud of my laptop as it hit the concrete wall. I had just bought that laptop. I’d used all that I saved from the National Youth Service to pay for it. I have not been able to use that laptop since then. It is locked up somewhere in a cupboard.”

“Do you know that I haven’t been able to wear those cloths? The cloths I wore the day you raped me. I didn’t wash them. They are stuffed into a drawer, alongside my laptop, my phone. Makeup kit. And everything that was in my handbag that day. They are all stuffed into a drawer. I can show you.”

Ahmed inhaled deeply. A couple holding hands passed but did not even glance at them.
“You slapped me very hard. Your hand was like a rod. No one had ever slapped me before. I can’t remember if I was ever slapped as a kid. Phosphenes came out of my eyes. You hit me with something. I think the gun and I fell. You pulled up my skirt and tore my pants… I protested with the last energy I had but you slapped me this way and that way. Blood came out of my mouth.”

“You took up my legs. No one had ever done that to me. You placed your gun on my head and said shheee. Shheee. I shook. I shook so much. I remember what you were saying, ‘Don’t make this more difficult for you. Don’t you like me? Don’t you like it?’ I can never forget those words… you said them over a hundred times. Didn’t you?”

More tears strolled down Ahmed cheeks, dropping on the front of his shirt.

“You pierced me. I screamed and struggled. You hit me with your gun till my head ached. You rode me like a horse. My buttocks were bruised by the concrete slab. I couldn’t sit for four days.” She sobbed hysterically. “I couldn’t sit for four days. Four damn days!”

“I pulled down my skirt. You were gone. I brought out my handkerchief and wiped the blood. And put it with everything back inside my handbag. Including my pant that you tore. I was no longer crying… I got to my apartment around past ten and lay on the floor and cried till three am. I took a hot bath.”

“I didn’t go to work for four days. I was in my room. I showered every two hours. In a day… in a day for the four days I took a hot shower twelve times. A total of fourty-eight times in four days. I washed away the blood, the dust, your semen. But I didn’t wash away the fact that I had been disgraced and deflowered by a stranger. I was afraid of HIV and infections.”

“I bought Clotrimazole and inserted into my vagina. And took doses of Diflucan. I was afraid of venereal disease. I feared every day until after three months.”

“Esther. What I did to you… is unforgivable.”

Esther didn’t say anything. She cleaned her face with her hands. And blew her nose.

* * *
It was four days earlier that the director had informed Esther that a new staff would be joining their team on probation. He’d told her that he was an intelligent young man and that he would want Esther to supervise his works for two weeks and report to the firm if the young man would be retained or not. Later that morning, the young man had walked into Esther’s office. When Esther lifted her face from the computer in front of her and their eyes met. She gasped.
“Jesus!” the young man had screamed.

“Esther had bent her head on her keyboard and sobbed.” The young man came to her, after standing for over five minutes, he touched her shoulder.

“Don’t dare!” Esther screamed. “Don’t dare touch me with your satanic filthy hands!”

He had knelt down and apologised. The next day he came before her and was waiting for her in her office when she entered. He told her that his name was Ahmed and that he had not been able to sleep since the incident. Esther walked him out.

The third day he came again, tears in his eyes. He’d said; “What I did to you is unforgivable. I don’t know what came over me. I was a looser. A loner. Evil. Fiendish. What I took from you I can never give back… Please forgive me. Please.”

Esther had asked; “Forgive, you say? You raped me. You hit and bit me and made me to bleed. You took away my happiness and my joy and… my pride. And you ask that I forgive you? Would forgiveness bring back the things you took from me? My womanhood? My pride? How can I look into your eyes… how can I smile with you in this firm or breathe same air with you? No. I am choking right now.”

Ahmed had knelt down. “Please.”

“Please leave. Leave!”

Ahmed scurried out of the office. Other staff had noticed what had been going on. And were gossiping. Some were speculating that they may have been in a relationship and accidentally met each other again in the firm.

The fourth day, in the morning he entered her office again and knelt down. It was then that the director came in. “What is going on here?” he asked. Ahmed slumped, looking at the floor.

No one said anything. “You two know each other before?” the director asked. None of them replied. The director saw tears run down Esther’s face.

“Esther. Esther. What is it? My God. You are one of the best people I have here. I don’t want anything to happen to you… or make you lose concentration. I can see that both of you know each other.” He came to Esther and said; “The park down the street. Both of you should go there. Now.”

“Please… Sir… I have work to do—”

“What kind of work will you do in this condition?”

Esther looked down on her computer.

“Young man? Move it to that park. None of you should return to this firm until you have sorted out your differences, whatever it is.” With that the director walked away.

“Please. Let us go. Please.”

“Tell me why I shouldn’t tell him… what you did to me? Tell me?”

“Please.” Ahmed knelt again, rubbing his two palms together.

Esther had shut down her computer and walked away. Ahmed entered his office to shut down his computer. He met her in the Central Park, sitting on a bench, sobbing.

* * *
“Please, can you listen to me? Let me explain why I did what I… the awful thing… I did?”
“What? Tell me what? What on earth could make you do what you did? What on earth could make a man rape a woman?” Esther stood and paced before him.

“You know what I am going to do? I am going to call George and tell him. He is going to get you arrested and believe you me… I haven’t gotten back with him because of what… happened. He doesn’t know what happened but he isn’t happy. I will tell him everything—”

“Please. Please.”

“But I won’t do that.”

Ahmed relaxed a bit.

“Yes. I won’t do that. What are they going to do to you? I want you dead but they aren’t gonna kill you. So they go to court, drag me to the witness box and ask nonsense questions. Then you get a lawyer to defend you… to say that I have no evidence. What am I going to present as evidence? What? Who will believe me if I bring out all those rubbish I stacked in the drawer in my room? Who? I will end up bringing myself and my family and friends to shame.”

“God. Please.”

“Yeah. I won’t do that. I won’t tell the police. I won’t tell anyone. It is a man’s world after all.” She sat on the grass. “It is a man’s world. You guys kick us around. What you did to me, my heart will never forgive you. My mind will never forget. My eyes cannot stop seeing. I have nightmares almost every night.”

Ahmed stood up.

“I am sorry. When I was a child—”

“Shut up!” She sobbed. “Don’t give me any cock and bull story. You want to justify what you did? Fuck you!”

“No… I don’t want to justify anything.”

“I said fuck you! Look, I won’t arrest you or report you to anyone. I reported you to your conscience the day you raped me. I am not going to ask the office to sack you… you will work under me every day. And you’ll look into my eyes and you see me… right there on the concrete floor of that dark building as you tore my… pants and raped me.”

“That day. That day, before I showered, Ahmed… I held my two nipples and cursed you.”

“My God!” Ahmed began to sob more. He knelt on the ground. He understood the meaning of that – for a woman to hold her nipples and curse a man. Ahmed understood the repercussions.

“As far as I am concerned you will know no peace, Ahmed. It’s the curse that has brought us together. Every day you will look into my eyes and remember what you did to me. I don’t know if there are other women. But you are ruined.”
“If you resign from work, Ahmed and leave the firm, you can never resign from your conscience.”

“Please forgive me…. Please.” By then people were staring at the couple. The birds had resumed chirping and flying about. No one in the park passed in front of them. They were ignored.

“I swear you were the first and only person. I have never raped a woman again.”

“Thank God for that.”’

“Please forgive me.”

“I can’t forgive you. Never. No!”

There was silence.

“When you force yourself on a woman, no matter who the woman is… even your wife, you take away that woman’s pride and grace and happiness along with you. You ruin the woman forever until the day that woman leave this world. You ruined my life. I can never be happy again. I can never allow a man climb me without remembering your face and what you did to me. Each time that happens I will lay more curses on you.”

“Please. Just kill me. Please, Esther.”

“If you can rape a woman. You can kill. You had a gun with you. Use that gun and kill yourself. You think you are living? You are dead.” Esther spat on him. And turned and began to walk away. As she did, she could not hear his cries that were attracting stares from even the mad people that were living in the Park. She could only hear the sweet coos and chirpings of the Asha birds and pigeons fighting for space on the jacaranda tree. For the first time since the rape, she felt lighter. She knew peace.

Bio.
Udenwe Obinna is the author of the novel Satans and Shaitans.

My Girlfriend is Chinese

by Ron Riekki

And we live in France, in Lille.
We take pilgrimages to Paris almost on a weekly basis.
She says she loves the smell of the Eiffel Tower’s metal. We go there and hurt our necks glaring up at the tip of this massive phallic symbol. I tell her this and she says that I need to see trees instead of sex. She says that the Eiffel Tower is alive, a great elm. She says it breathes, it moves, it hears. She says it has heard me.
We sit longer. It is a handsome day. It is a day where you could almost feel good alone, a day where there is so much calm and beauty to the air. I tell her this and she puts her hand near mine. She never takes my hand. That would be too vulgar, too brave, too something. She calls it trop. It is her favorite word.
She speaks Chinese, speaks English, speaks French, speaks German. I hear all of these languages. We go to bars with her friends and she moves her tongue so gracefully that you can listen to a dance. You hear the symphony of countries. She insists that she balances all of her friendships with people from other nations. She is upset I only seem to want to be around the French. She says I am too French, that France is the only country in my blood, the only country in my platelets and my plasma.
We lie down. We stare at the ghost clouds. The last word she has said is blood. I think of the three hundred or four hundred suicides that have happened from the Eiffel Tower. I tell her this.
She sits up. She tells me not to talk of ghosts.
But I tell her the sky looks like ghosts.
She says it does not.
I tell her it does.
She grabs my mouth. She cups my mouth so harshly that I actually cannot speak. I see terror in her pupils, the way that they dilate when they need to take in as much information as possible, how fear seems to open up the darkness in us.
She stands, starts to walk away, tagging me along.
It’s like I can feel all of the spaces where the bodies have landed, the pavement hot where it shouldn’t be, hot in shadows.
She goes down a road, against the traffic of those approaching the building. We get far enough away so that the tower cannot hear. She tells me that if you speak of ghosts, you might just be a ghost. She asks me if I am a ghost.
I tell her no.
She studies my eyes.
We walk away from the tower.
We find a café and sit outside. She faces away from the direction where we came. Buildings hide the tower. It’s harder to find the Eiffel Tower than one might think. Buildings swallow buildings in Paris.
We drink vin rouge. She cups the bloody glass. I know not to tell her this.
She tells me that I need to find the tao. She says I need to find a new way, one where I see more good. She insists I find more grace.
She is Christian. And Buddhist. And Taoist. And Hindu. She mixes religion like a bartender. She is a long island ice tea with God.
She tells me that I need to learn to see trees instead of sex or I will lose everything.
Eight months later, she leaves me. With an almost  pregnancy. Except we had sex rarely. Sex was something that needed to be treated like a tea ceremony. There needs to be a quiet, sober restraint to it. It must feel fifteenth century.
I can hear her voice. Fading.
Until it is gone.
Ghost-like.
And now I sit in parks and I think of her lips. I think of the thin tea of her lips. And I wonder how to not see the ghosts in clouds. I think of how to see the roots of the Eiffel Tower, its branches.
I clutch a brand new Spanish-French dictionary in my hand. I look at the ceiling of the world. The French word for sky is ceil. I can only see ceiling.
I open the dictionary. I say ceilo. I look at the sky and say ceilo. I try to see the sky as a cello. It is not just a ceiling. I try to hear the sky as a cello, its grace-filled notes. It takes an hour, a meditative hour, maybe more, and finally I hear the hint of a brazilwood bow being raised.
Ceilo.

Ron Riekki’s books include U.P.: a novel, The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (a 2014 Michigan Notable Book), and Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.His play “Carol” was included in The Best Ten-Minute Plays 2012 and his short story “The Family Jewel” was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2015.  Twitter: @RonRiekki.

A Cadillac Bus: View Through A Stovepipe

by Louie Clay
I hope that I stay asleep, if that is not true. The plastic airplane which fetched me matched one I played with when I was 4 years old. Now my parents’ house has turned to metal, with heavy bright coats of paint–red on every eave, green on the sashes, and white on the metal tree that grows on the orange metal lawn. Each part connects to the next with one metal lip, like an interlocking piece on a jigsaw puzzle. Forty-four. I know I’m 44.
I walk to the house through a stovepipe. An uncle I thought long dead capers beside me, his cane in one hand, his cigar in the other. I hear Mother greet him for tea. Her wheelchair squeaks. She tells me that her wispy gray hair is real–not paint, not dye, not steel wool. I hope that her skin also is real, and look down to check my own. I see instead the dark orange in the alarm clock on the dresser. Only 3:30 a.m. We’re not due for breakfast until 6:15.
No one camps by the lake. One lone moccasin swims the middle, his head high, a thin jet line behind. I nearly stepped on this same one when I frog-gigged with Dad 35 years ago and got out of the boat to come at the frog from behind. The long snake slithered away, and I peed very hot steam down my leg.
Now the snake leads to a lily pond, and the long pipe from my parents’ metal house shimmies out of space like a stovepipe rainbow. I hear angels singing, I think, until it’s just the car radio playing Christmas carols. Someone left the driver’s door open, the seat empty, the light flashing to turn left.
Mother hums as Dad eats his cereal for supper. Dad sucks his teeth. She has complained about his bad manners for fifty years. He orders her to get him some more milk. She leaves her wheelchair and pulls her paralyzed body across the slimy floor to the old ice box, hoists herself, uses her straw to suck up buttermilk from the bottle, turns and sprays a whole strawful at him across the two yards where he sits saying, “Thata good girl. Thata good girl. Now give me some more.”
Jerry Falwell arrives via satellite after the PTL club. On his forehead he has tattooed “666” the bottom to each “6” shaped like a penis head bloated and dripping with sperm.
“In the year that King Sadat died,” Jerry intones, raising his white Bible high above his flaming forehead. The camera almost catches a choir about to pick his nose. The singer scratches instead, and chews his Wrigley’s. “I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, on his throne, and around him were six-winged pornographers, hiding the heads behind their feathers to laugh.”
Mother starts to turn off the television, but instead chooses an evangelist she trusts as “safer,” the pastor of a First Presbyterian Church which has a red carpet, air-conditioning, and a less obvious political agenda.
Someone else approaches her house through the stovepipe walk. He greases the pipe and rides it like a banister. A firecracker rockets him against the gravity. Mother cries, “He collects bills for the doctor who took out your Dad’s second testicle. He claims that Medicare will no longer pay for sex change operations, even though it was inflamed.”
The bill-collector offers to pray with us, a new chant from his mosque. Twilight approaches. We each kneel on one of those paper toilet seat covers which drug stores sell for travelers to use in foul stations. The guest sings Anglican evensong, facing Mecca. Mother falls over asleep within only a minute. Dad’s teeth drop on the floor and he can’t stop laughing, but the guest sings on, as if he does not notice.
A tiny metal red bird flies through the window. I recognize it as the dove which told Noah that some olive branches had just tipped above water, the same dove. Its little motor goes bad all at once and it falls to the floor, dropping a turquoise olive leaf which breaks as it hits the base of the lamp by Dad’s reading chair.
Twelve males holding their guide ropes between their knees, ski in group formation on single skis. The twelve, nude, race past the startled moccasin.
Twelve more males, all gay, appear in Gloria Vanderbilt trunks, skiing behind a faster boat. Each rides a single water ski, with the guide ropes connected to bright metal hoops pierced each nipple.
The first twelve in fear swoop into shore at the base of the stovepipe to my parents’ house. The gay men walk on water, wear clothes the instant the step on the bank, and ask the other twelve if the need a lift into New Delhi. Those twelve, now hiding in the bushes, call to the gay men, asking them to find them some underwear. Brooke Shields arrives with the crowd from Fruit-of-the-Loom and together they fit the nudes right in the bushes. Shields have a bad case of acne. The men don’t get erections.
A Cadillac school bus arrives. Westminster’s chimes sound as its door opens. The gay men deposit their new friends inside and then sprout wings for themselves and fly away.
Mother sneaks some Fritos when the prayer man leaves. Then Dad counts out her 27 pills, signing the cross after each third pill, nine times with a meditation at each swallowing: “Goddess of the universe, I inhale your nurture in minerals. Transform them into spiritual food to be for me an everlasting covenant with the plastic of this generation. Bless this frame. Amen.”
Dad falls asleep. The TV blasts full. Neighbors bang above, below, and on each side. My parents suddenly live in an apartment, not their house. Metal disappears, reappears, disappears again. The Baptist preacher says: “From dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return. Remember, oh person, the Lord is merciful and will not judge us according to our sins, because God knows that we are but dust.”
Tiny flakes of red, green, blue, and orange as thick paint lie at my feet as I step out of bed to the alarm.

Bio:

Louie Clay (né Louie Crew) is an emeritus professor at Rutgers. Editors have published 2,335 of his manuscripts, including four poetry volumes. You can follow his work here.

Under Your Feet

By Darlene P. Campos

Every time I went outside to play with my friends, Dad grabbed my legs and placed me in his lap. Then he would bow his head, close his eyes, and say “May the angels be under your feet.” I never understood why he said that since we were not religious. We believed in God, like nearly all of Ecuador, but we didn’t go to church except for weddings, baptisms, or funerals. By Grandma’s judgment, we were heathens.
As I approached my teenage years, Dad stopped saying his quick prayer. I assumed he didn’t worry about me anymore. I was old enough to take the public bus alone, run to the grocery store four blocks away, and cook simple meals for myself. But I missed hearing his prayer. There probably wasn’t as much substance in it as one of Grandma’s prayers which dragged on for several minutes. It was nice to know Dad cared for me and how he enjoyed showing me.
“Dad,” I said one evening. He didn’t turn to look at me from his recliner. The World Cup was on and Ecuador was in the lead.
“What is it?” he asked, impatient.
“Why don’t you sit me on your lap and pray for me anymore?” I said. Dad muted the screaming announcer on the television. He squinted his eyes and scrunched his mouth.
“You’re 17 years old,” he said.
“So? You don’t have to put me on your lap, but you could still pray for me.”
“Since when do I pray?” he said. “I haven’t been to church since your grandmother died five years ago. Now either watch the game with me or go find something to do.” I took a seat on the couch across from Dad’s chair and watched the Ecuadorian team make another goal. The whole neighborhood erupted in joy. Dad stood from his chair and jumped up and down. I never saw him so enthusiastic about anything else.
The day after my 20th birthday, I left home. I moved into a tiny apartment on the north side of Guayaquil. It was much quieter than living in the central neighborhood. Dad visited me about two weeks after my move-in. He brought a basket of fruit, olive oil, and assorted breads and cheeses. He took a seat at my little table and looked out the window.
“Are you sure you like it here?” he asked. “It feels like a ghost town.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I sleep easy at night.”
“You know you can come back home anytime,” he said and crossed his legs. “Your room is empty. I haven’t touched it since you left.”
“I’m okay by myself,” I said, even though I wasn’t really sure.
My first year away from home was the easiest. I found a good job at the public hospital, writing and editing health related articles. It gave me enough money to pay bills and spoil myself on the weekend. Occasionally, I missed seeing Dad every day, but I reminded myself I was now an adult and I didn’t depend on him anymore. As the second year approached, Dad started to worry me. He was diagnosed with advanced diabetes and my cousins who lived fairly close to him told me he got into the habit of taking long walks at night. He would leave the house around seven each evening and he wouldn’t return until midnight or later. I asked how they knew this and they claimed to be following him to make sure he was okay.
One evening, I waited for Dad down at the corner. He came around 7:15, wearing dark clothes and a pin striped hat. He didn’t see me, so I tapped his shoulder and he fell into the busy street, almost hit by an oncoming taxi.
“What are you doing?” he said. “Don’t you have work?”
“It’s Saturday,” I said. “Where are you going?”
“Out,” he said and hurried past me. “Dictator.” I walked behind him, but he picked up his pace and soon, I couldn’t see him anymore.
A couple of days later, I rode my bike to Dad’s house. It was past nine o’clock and he wasn’t home. I still had a key, so I let myself inside. The living room looked the same as the day I left. The kitchen seemed fine too. Dad’s study was different. Dad retired from dentistry when I was 18, but he still read about it during his free time. All of his books were torn and scattered on the floor. A set of plastic teeth he used to practice on when I was younger had been crushed. I heard the front door unlocking and I ran to the living room. Dad wobbled inside, sweaty.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” he said, breathing heavily.
“I didn’t want you to worry,” I said.
“About what?” he asked and flung himself into his recliner.
“I didn’t want you cooking for me or anything like that,” I said. “I know you get tired more often because of your diabetes.”
“There’s leftover soup in the refrigerator,” Dad said. “Help yourself.” I shook my head and told him I wasn’t hungry, but he still got up to get me a bowl of soup. He placed the steamy bowl on the table and whistled at me.
“Sit, sit,” he said as he pulled out a chair for me. “Eat, this stuff is healthy for you.”
“Dad, shouldn’t you be eating this?”
“Me? I’m 67 years old,” he said. “I got to 67 years old by eating that soup.” He sat next to me and took off his hat. As I ate, I could feel his stare upon me.
“You look just like your mother,” he said. “I wish she could have seen you grow up.”
“I’m sure she did,” I said to make feel him better. She was kidnapped and murdered when I was two years old. Gang members mistook Mom for a rival’s wife. They apologized to Dad for the misunderstanding, but he never forgave them. Dad rarely talked about Mom, but every time he did, his face changed. His eyes shut halfway and his mouth tightened, like she was a dark held secret only the two of us knew about.
“Your mother loved soup,” Dad said as I continued eating. “She swore it was the cure for all ailments. For any kind of sickness I came down with, she had a soup recipe for it. She loved cooking so much she wanted to open a restaurant at the beach when you were older. Well, then you know what happened.” Dad got up from the table and walked outside to the balcony. He spit off the side of the railing multiple times to cover up his soft sobbing.
On Dad’s 68th birthday, we took a bus ride to the cemetery to visit Grandma. She lied in a small grave with my grandfather next to her. Dad placed flowers upon both of them, even though he had never met his father in real life.
“How about some cake?” Dad asked me as we walked back to the bus stop.
“But you’re a diabetic,” I reminded him. He shook his head.
“I’ve lived,” he shrugged. “What better way to die than by eating cake?”
We walked to a small bakery down the street. I looked over the display and asked for two slices of bread and two slices of chocolate cake, Dad’s favorite. We sat down at a rusted table near the front window, sipping on cold guava juice.
“68 today,” I said. “How do you feel, Dad?”
“Hungry,” he said. “Where’s our cake and bread?”
“They’re cutting it up for us,” I said and took a drink of my juice. “I meant do you feel 68? Or do you feel younger?”
“I can’t feel my legs most of the time,” he said. “Doctor says he might have to cut part of them off. I feel old. Really old. I wish I would have had you when I was younger so you could’ve known me better. You’re blossoming and I’m wilting. I’m sorry.” The waiter brought the fresh bread and cake to our table. He took our glasses to bring us more guava juice.
“You don’t have to apologize for that, Dad,” I said. “Kids happen.”
“I know, but you should have happened sooner. The older you are, the better you can deal with problems. It’s just common sense.”
I wasn’t sure what Dad meant until a couple of weeks later. His circulation was getting worse and the doctor said amputation was necessary right away. Since I was working at the hospital that day, I managed to take a break during Dad’s procedure. Dad lost both of his feet, but he didn’t react the way most people would. He looked down at himself and said, “At least I don’t have to buy shoes anymore.” I offered to move back in with him to make sure he was taken care of. He told me he was fine.
“Feet, who needs them?” he said. “Things live without feet all the time. Look at fish.”
“You’re not a fish,” I told him.
“I am now,” he said and held his breath. I patted his back and reminded him to call me if he needed any help.
Dad finally called me after three weeks. He sounded distraught, so I hung up the phone and got to his house as soon as I could. When I arrived, I found him staring at the television, mumbling words I didn’t understand.
“Dad?” I said and placed my hands on his shoulders.
“Yes?” he said, clearly.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. He pointed down to where his feet used to be.
“That,” he said. “That is what’s wrong.”
“You couldn’t help it, Dad,” I told him. “It’s not your fault.” Dad shook his head. He muttered again. Then he reached out to my arm, squeezed it, and looked into my face.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I appreciate all you do for me.”
Working at the hospital started getting tedious for me. My pay rate rose as did my holidays and benefits. They loved having me as their writer, so much that my supervisors often gave me gift baskets. But I couldn’t stand seeing Dad at the hospital every week. He needed more frequent checkups after his amputation to make sure he could keep his other limbs. Every time he came in, he would race by my office in his wheelchair. Sometimes he would toss a paper airplane at me which contained either money or one of his unfunny jokes.
What do you call a man without an ability to speak up? Married!
The staff at the hospital grew to love Dad, probably as much as I did. But I hated seeing him there. I wanted him healthy again. I wanted him to have his feet and be able to walk endlessly at night the way he used to.
On Christmas Eve, Dad invited me over for dinner. He made soup, chocolate cookies, and a large tub of Caesar salad, even though he hated Caesar salad.
“Why did you make all of this if you don’t like it?” I asked him.
“You like it,” he said. “Do you know why it’s called Caesar salad?” I shook my head and he cleared his throat to give me a ‘history’ lesson.
“Caesar salad was invented by Brutus,” he said. “You know, the one who stabbed Julius Caesar. Nobody actually likes salad, so Brutus called it Caesar salad because nobody actually liked Julius Caesar either.”
“What book did you read that in?” I asked.
“The one you obviously didn’t read,” he said. “Sit down and eat before this food rots.” He pulled out a chair for me and wheeled himself beside me. I served myself a hearty portion of the Caesar salad and soup.
“Your teeth look dirty,” Dad said. “Have you been flossing?”
“Dad, who cares?” I said. “It’s Christmas.”
“So because it’s a holiday, your teeth can go to hell. That’s good thinking. For New Year’s Eve, I won’t wipe my butt after using the bathroom.”
“Okay, Dad, I’ll floss,” I said. “It’s my New Year’s resolution.” Instead of dropping the topic, Dad wheeled over to his study and came back with his plastic teeth set, even though it was still breaking apart.
“What are you doing with that?” I said. “Get that away from the food, it’s full of dust.”
“Those are your teeth without floss,” he said. He laughed loudly, but then he clutched onto his heart. I dropped my fork on the floor and felt his chest with my hand. His heart was beating so fast, I could hear it.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “Side effect from my medicine.”
“Are you sure? I don’t think hearts are supposed to go that fast, Dad.”
“Hearts can take a pounding,” he assured me. “They go through a lot. The only body part that deals with more crap than the heart is the rectum.” I laughed lightly and he squeezed my arm, laughing much louder.
After dinner, I sat with Dad in the living room. We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” with the Spanish dubs. Dad’s first language was Spanish, but he was also fluent in English, French, and Portuguese. He stuck his tongue out at most of the scenes.
“Whoever translated this movie must have been drunk,” he said. “Or, maybe the translator couldn’t speak well because he didn’t floss his teeth.”
“I’m sure,” I said. “It’s almost one in the morning, do you need help getting to bed?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t sleep in my bed anymore. I sleep in my chair.”
“Do you want me to help you get in your bed?” I asked. Dad nodded and opened his arms out to me like a small child. I lifted him out of his chair and carried him to his bed. He threw himself on the mattress, smiling.
“This feels amazing,” he said. “I forgot how great a bed was.”
“Anything else you need from me?” I asked. “I’ll be in my old bedroom.”
“No, I’m fine,” he said. I turned to walk away, but I felt his hand tug at my pants. I looked back at him and sat down on the bed.
“Have you had any nightmares lately?” he asked.
“Not any I remember,” I said. “Have you?”
“I had one a couple weeks ago,” he said and pulled a blanket over himself. “Ecuador banned guava juice.” I smiled and told him something like that would never happen.
“Just like Ecuador winning the World Cup,” he said and I laughed out loud.
“They might win next time, you never know.” He stayed quiet and held my hands tightly. They were cold and clammy. Then he bowed his head and closed his eyes.
“May the angels be under your feet,” he whispered. “And hold you up, away from all danger, away from temptation. May the angels lift your soul to the sky and never let you go.” Dad unclasped my hands and sunk his head down into his pillow.
“I never knew there was more to it,” I said.
“There always was, I just never felt like saying the whole thing,” he said. “Your mother used to tell you that every night as you slept in your crib.” I nodded and straightened Dad’s blanket. As I left his bedroom, he whistled, so I turned back.
“I figure the angels, if there are any,” he began. “Should be under your feet since they don’t need to be under mine.”
“You still have feet, Dad,” I said as I leaned against the doorway. “You just can’t see them. I still have a mother, don’t I?”
“You’re right,” he said. “I still have a wife.” He held up his hand and his wedding ring, now a shade duller, stood out from the rest of his fingers.
“Goodnight,” he said. “Don’t forget to floss. I refuse to have a child with bad teeth.”
“Goodnight,” I told him. “May the angels be under your feet.”
“The angels probably smelled my foot odor. That’s why they left me,” he said. I gave him a kiss on his forehead. After he finally fell asleep, I went to his study to try to put his plastic teeth set back together.

Bio:
Darlene P. Campos is an MFA candidate at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Creative Writing Program. In 2013, she won the Glass Mountain magazine contest for prose and was awarded the Sylvan N. Karchmer Fiction Prize. Her work appears in Prism Review, Cleaver, Red Fez, Bartleby Snopes, Elohi Gadugi, The Writing Disorder, Connotation Press, Word Riot, Plain China, and many others. She is from Guayaquil, Ecuador but has lived in Houston all her life. Her website is http://www.darlenepcampos.com

Dreams Of Night

By Kofi Takyi Asante

 

I dreamt a dream. In the dream, I sat on a bench at the OPD. I was sitting among a small crowd of patients waiting to see the doctor. I didn’t know what day of the week it was. I didn’t know which doctor I’m going to see. Neither did I know the ailment for which I was going to seek medication; indeed, I had no idea why I sat there in the first place. Yet, I sat there. I sat waiting, waiting, waiting expectantly.

 

A minor commotion at the doorway caught my attention. They were pushing a man on a stretcher through the crowd at the doorway. As they rushed past us, I rose to catch a glimpse. I looked down on the bloody man twitching on the stretcher and I started: it was I! But I wasn’t alarmed to the point of stupefaction, and the initial jolt soon wore off.

 

I joined them to push the trolley I was lying on. I don’t know why I decided to assist the hospital staff. We transported me into one of the operation rooms. Although I knew absolutely nothing about medicine, I got a vague sense that I should guide these medical staff. So I directed them to place me on the surgical table. After all the others have put on their surgical gowns, I also dashed to the dressing room and emerged in a green gown and face mask. I walked into the surgery room with my left hand gloved. I stood among the medical team and put my right hand in the other glove. All was ready for the surgery!

 

I watched silently as the theatre attendants fixed the drips and brought out and arranged the surgical instruments. Then they all started staring at me; quietly, intensely, as if to say, ‘Do your work!’

 

I got their message! I picked a scalpel and moved closer to the table. They crowded around me. I looked down at me, lying there under the lights of the operating room. They had cleaned my bloody body. The chloroform mask was still over my nose. I lay there, as one in sleep. I made my first incision as gingerly as I would pick up a sleeping baby. I slowly dragged the surgical knife, still in the flesh, to create a little rift in the flesh. Then I slowly pulled out a damaged tissue. I made another incision, carefully, as though the life sustaining silver cord was under the very skin.

 

 

I looked at the attendants and in their eyes, I read disapproval at my slow pace. But I still continued at the same pace. I picked out another tissue. The third incision I made was a long and deep one and I might have taken about ten minutes making it. Maybe they felt the pain vicariously or else I might have pushed their patience to its limit, for they grunted and mumbled inaudible sounds of discontent. I probed into the incision and cut out some flesh. Their throats thundered. A vein snapped and blood squirted out. An attendant yelled. Another shrieked. The ensuing protestation was rapid and unexpected. It was tumultuous. Some grabbed steel instruments and struck them against metal surfaces. Loud angry voices filled the air. A number of the attendants rushed at me, one brandishing a large syringe. Just at this point, the door gave way and people gushed into the surgical room, shouting.

 

There was now a confusion of voices. The voices remained loud, but the emotions in them changed, slowly. They changed from anger to concern to sorrow. I was now totally perturbed. I couldn’t tell why they were now wailing. The noise coming from the attendants striking objects against metal surfaces grew louder. It was absolute anarchy in the surgical room!

 

 

I stood silent, still, as if thunderstruck, watching what was happening. The bedlam was unbearable. It rose above the wailing and the general commotion in the room until I felt my nerves firing dangerously away…

 

*               *                 *

 

I am jolted from the dream at the sound of men hammering nails into my coffin. Soon, they finish driving in the nails through the lid and the coffin is shut tight. I have been laid in state, in the large hall of my house. The wailings from mourners outside is loud indeed! The lid of the coffin is made of glass. I look at the mourners through the glass on the coffin; the mourners look back at me through the glass on the coffin.

 

‘He seems to be only asleep, he seems to be merely asleep; asleep and not dead! He looks like he’ll wake up at any instant, at this very instant,’ a mourner sobs and bursts into a dirge which gets everyone weeping again.

 

As I watch, I see many relatives and friends who cannot control the tears. Some are fighting hard to hold it back and others to produce it. One of them comes in from the backyard, where she has peeled onions under her nose. She comes in with tears rolling down her face and her nose running. She comes in wailing, sobbing, screaming and losing her voice. She bursts into the room like a rushing wind and crashes heavily on my casket. She is dragged off. She howls, laments and will not be comforted. She kicks and screams; she squirms and turns; she asks to be left alone; she wants to go with me to my grave. Her piercing screams soon bring people rushing into the room.

 

‘What’s happening to her?’

 

‘Please hold her before she harms herself!’

 

It takes the combined efforts of about six strong men to drag her out of the room. The crowd follows her out.

 

And then I see a sight! My wife stands over the coffin, clad in black. There cannot be a more poignant image of human misery than the picture she cuts! The intensity of her anguish is not issuing forth in vocal effusions. She just stands there, weeping softly as the billows of sorrow surge inside her like ocean waves and like the ocean waves, she breaks in silent, soft sobs. My dead heart is pierced with grief.

 

I cannot bear this sight. I cannot endure it. Will a dead man’s heart be broken? Will he have to endure pain again? The bitter thoughts fade as another stupor sweeps over me.

 

The stupor transported me to dream-world again. Except that there was nothing fantastical about this land of dreams. This was my life. But I was not living it again, not even vicariously. I was only a witness to my life now. I saw me as a child; a frail, helpless and an amorphous thing which was quickly taking form. I was whizzing over this landscape of my life. I saw me crying, eating, playing, schooling, falling down and falling ill, getting up and getting well. I saw myself running round and chasing things, singing, laughing, jumping, fighting… it was bewildering watching this from the perspective of a disembodied spectator; there was no rest, no wait. Even when I slept. Even when I crashed from fatigue. The arrow had been fired and it only kept flying. That arrow was my life.

 

I saw the friends I grew up knowing and the friends I made along the way, in the journey of my life. There were moments of carefree and careless play. My heart lightened at the bubbling laughs and I almost smiled at the mischievous pranks. As I grew to gain more understanding of things, sometimes I had flashes of insight into the things that extended to eternity.

 

But all too suddenly, I was youth; that giddy stage of life when almost all things are riddled with excitement. I found myself in the centre of the excitement. So I fought for causes and I designed grand plans and envisaged splendid futures. I could be a master of my destiny. And it was all in my power and within my grasp. I was going to be unstoppable! I was going to be a force. I would be a giant. Yɛntie obiaa!

 

But soon the whirl of youth stopped, and when I saw, I had a wife and some children. I wondered at the speed of my transformation. My grand designs had all disappeared. I now marveled how I had fitted myself into a regimen I wouldn’t even have imagined in my adolescence. No matter how early I rose up, I wasn’t early enough: Finishing off office papers, getting the children up and ready for school, and crying, ‘Sarah, my socks!’ And then dashing off to beat rush hour traffic – sometimes missing breakfast – and getting caught up in it nevertheless. At work, there were many things to do and time ran slow, unlike the mornings when time just flew.

 

Exciting moments at this stage were when work closed and friends met. We laid aside the burdens of work, and fiercely debated the latest issues in football and politics. There were also lots of laughs. Oftentimes, we did this over many bottles of beer.

 

On one such night, the thought fell into my head, like a lead weight, that I was going to die. This wasn’t like the vague knowledge that we all have of the finality of human life. This particular case was a sudden acute awareness of my own mortality. It weighed so much on me that I withdrew completely into my broodings and was oblivious to the loud arguments taking place around me. When they couldn’t get me to respond to anything, one of my friends pushed me so hard that my chair toppled over and I went crashing heavily to the ground…

 

*             *                   *

 

I am jerked back to the present as my coffin hits the bottom of the grave. I can see my wife looking down on me from the mouth of the grave. She is surrounded by our children. Beside them stands the priest. Behind them, a large crowd of mourners; some weeping, some wailing, others are listless and are waiting to go home. The priest is speaking. He narrates my life as he knows it. He says I was a good man. He says I loved God. He says that I always obeyed the voice of God; loyal church member, ever ready to volunteer, ever ready to give to the cause of the church. He says I was a good Christian.

 

*                 *                       *

 

I was transported from the cemetery to my death that fateful morning. I left home early as usual. With the children now in secondary school, mornings routines were no longer the feverish events that they used to be. But we also missed them. We only saw them twice in a month, when we visited them at school. I promised to take my wife out for dinner after work. I had wanted to pick her up from her workplace but she wanted to buy some things after work so we decided to rather meet at the shop. I never thought that morning would be our last time together.

 

I had a meeting with the staff in the morning, and a board meeting later on in the day. I’d prepared everything necessary for the meetings. I had the secretary yesterday send all staff copies of the agenda and other documents. I’d already contacted the members of the board and made sure all was ready. I’d even made sure that all was perfect for the night out with my wife.

 

And so I drove towards my workplace, never to get there. My whole day was planned. I’d prepared for the day; the staff meeting, the board meeting, and the night out with my wife. But this was where my arrow struck the bull’s eye. My mortal journey ended there.

 

*                 *                         *

 

And now I lay in a coffin. The priest has finished his sermon and has just given the shovel to my wife. She scoops a heap of earth and readies herself to hurl it on me. And suddenly, the weight of the fact of my death and burial falls heavily upon me, just like it had done that night with my friends! This can’t happen! I shout:

 

‘Stop it! Stop it! Don’t throw it,’ but it was in vain.

 

‘Don’t do it! Don’t bury me! Don’t you see I’m headed for doom?!’

 

She cast it, obliviously, to my protests. I see the earth hurling towards me, and I see my final doom furiously speeding towards me. Yet I see the sand falling upon me in slow motion, darkly portentous. As the grains rain on the coffin, I can hear the sound of each thunderous individual particle. Each grain sings a grim song, unmelodious and abrasive. They sing of untold terrors beyond the grave. They hum about vindictive spirits and of furies which can never be placated. They foretold of tortured souls ruing the day they were born. They conjure images of desiccation, of exquisite trauma which cannot be described, of spiritual wickedness beyond the most sadistic of human imaginations. They sing of a hell, and of the infinite love and mercy that had invented it. The song of the pieces of earth beating upon the surface of the coffin is breaking my ear drums.

 

My wife hands over the shovel to the labourers who immediately go to work covering me up. I continue screaming, protesting, begging. My protests are in vain. I scream and scream. The only response I get from my wife and children is uncontrollable tears. The fools, I think bitterly, tears won’t save me; stop them! Let them not bury me! With every falling sand particle, I sink lower and lower into the grave. I now see the mourners as if from a very great distance; as if from the other side of a great gulf. Slowly, I see the mourners going away. I am almost gone, and my shrieks have now turned into an inaudible whimper. They scoop the last shovelful of earth and cast it, and I see the dread finality of my case.

 

In that instant, visions of judgment burst on my sight. I see a Great White Throne, and of myself standing weak and sapless before it. Standing before the Throne, I hear the voice in me rise and start to utter something…

 

*         *                   *

 

I awoke suddenly from my sleep, drenched in sweat. It was the time of night when everything goes to sleep and it felt like a big blanket of stillness and silence covered the earth. Against the placidity of the night, I could hear my heart pounding furiously away. The sound of my beating heart howled in my ears. I looked around the dark room. I turned, and my wife lay silently by my side. The night was still absolutely still. My heart still hammered away. My head was heavy with thoughts and fears and sounds. I was gripped with terrors.

 

I sat up until my heart stopped racing. I listened to the silence of the room. I wanted to hear the sounds of other lives. But all was still. Not even a single cricket shrilled. I listened for sounds of my wife breathing. The howling in my ears was now a faint throb. But I heard not a sound.

 

‘Jane’, I called softly. No response.

 

I called again. And again. She didn’t sleep this deep. I decided to tap her softly on the arm to wake her. My hand touched the flesh of her arm. My hand touched ice. I swiftly recoiled and touched her forehead. Again, my hand was stung by the bitter chill of her flesh. My wife has died in her sleep.

 

The night air was slit by my anguished cry…

 

*           *                         *

 

I leapt out of my sleep, screaming like a man escaping from deadly assailants. I sat bolt upright on the bench like a man who has just been revived by a defibrillator. Up above, the wind played lazily with the leaves of the mango tree under which I had been sleeping. I looked around me with wild eyes, scared that I may slip back into another bad dream. The fierceness of my waking scream brought the women in the compound house running towards me, concerned.

 

‘Are you alright? What is happening? Are you alright?’

 

‘Where am I? Where is my wife?’ I asked. They laughed in response and went back to their chores.

 

*           *             *

 

At school the following day, my class five classmates laughed at me when they heard I had asked about a wife when I woke up from an afternoon sleep.

 

Bio.

Kofi  Takyi Asante is a Ghanaian blogger and writer. He blogs here.

 

 

 

The Rustling of the Leaves

By Adelaide Aseidu
She stared up into the sky for the millionth time that day. Well, probably not into the sky, but into the bright gold spots of light that seeped through the canopy of dark green mango leaves. The sun’s rays painted dancing patterns against the background of leaves swaying in the breeze. She felt a bit like them, these leaves that moved not of their own accord, but simply swished wherever the wind blew. Occasionally, one would fall gently to the ground, another addition to the graveyard of varying degrees of rotting leaves lying beneath her feet.
She wondered, if the leaves had voices, would they cry out when they fell? Would they resist the call of the wind or simply mouth their contentment, in humble submission to their fate? Maybe the rustling sounds they made were whispers housing the secret desires of rebel leaves, who liked her, yearned for something greater than kowtowing to some unseen, all-powerful wind, but could see no way of escape, other than the piles of decaying foliage beneath. The life of the leaf; danced to the tune of the wind, or shriveled up and died….had become her life.
Looking down at the ground now, she traced another seemingly meaningless image in the sand with her big toe. It was a shapeless, almost hideous creation, nothing like the strokes of her paint brush against canvas. There was life in her brush and it gave her paintings breath so that they would leap out of their frames, giving some silent message to whoever cared to look. Their yellows spoke of happiness and their reds of anger and their blues of a myriad of things that could only be decoded by the discerning eye. Right now, her toe carried the opposite of the blood that coursed through her brush and her sand monster spoke of death; the death of the leaves and the death of her dreams.
She stood up. Enough time had already been wasted under the mango trees- not as if there was anything important to be done at the moment. She was playing a waiting game and her time was almost up. She had merely hours left until she would be packed up and shipped out to be made into an engineer. What manner of engineer she would be, she could not fathom. But her father was the wind and she was the leaf and she would bend or fall. She had been born into a life that had already been planned out. Father had said, “Awura will go to kindergarten early” and of course she had. “Awura will be the best pupil in her primary school,” and she had obligingly complied. “Awura will get into the best High School in the country” and she had all but killed herself to do so and had done so. She had lived to please her father. She had basked in the glow of his attention and flourished under his praise. But over the sunshine of his approval, she had always honed the cloud of her art.
She would never forget her first scribbles with a crayon, in the kindergarten she had started at 1 ½ years old instead of the normal 2 ½. The colours had made her almost giddy with excitement and she had discovered from that moment that she had been imbued with the power to turn colours into spirit and that her markings on any surface, were not just ordinary, but spoke volumes. That was the birth of the cloud.
She had bent, oh how she had bent and had been blown and tossed by his stone will and steely resolve to mould her into the lead character of the script he had written even before she was born; an answer to the questions raised by his unfulfilled dreams. She had played the part well but it had been consistently adulterated by the additional lines sparked by her fire. And her father would have none of that. So for years she had painted in secret so that his conditional sunshine would never give way to a night that gave no guarantees of a moon’s guiding light.
But now the time had come when she was no longer a tender green leaf, desperate to drink in the sun’s radiance. She was dark green like the mango leaves above her head, but unlike them, she had a mouth and a will and a fire that gnawed at the seams of her soul, urging her to do more than just rustle.
So she got up and went into the house. She went to the file cabinet beneath the staircase and gathered them. There were some beneath her bed and she gathered them. The sack in the basement was full of them and she gathered them also. There were piles of them in the storeroom that her father never entered and she gathered them from there too. Then she picked up the last ones from her late mother’s locked up art gallery, whose key she kept in the locket hung around her neck.
She walked to her father’s study and entered before he could answer her knocks. She told him she was tired and she could not star in the charade anymore and that she was a time bomb about to explode and that she would not be made into an engineer. And he sat there and exploded but she stood firm and would not be blasted to bits by his dynamite. And in response to his tirade, she spoke no words but would pick them up one by one. First the painting of the happy family she had made the year before her mother had parted; the painting where the sun was a bright yellow and the sky a true blue and their smiles were more than bared teeth. Then the one from her thirteenth birthday, that depicted running blood and a broken heart, when her mother’s death snuffed out her father’s joy and grew the cloud between her husband and their daughter. Then she showed him the black hole swallowing the colours which carried her creativity. And then she picked up the shimmering gold work of art that her mother had painted for her just before the cancer had stolen her, in whose center, she had carved in the words, “Follow your dreams, then you will shine, my star.” Those words were like lyrics to the song of her heart beat. But her father was a tone deaf bomb that refused to be deactivated. She would not remain to be torn into little pieces as he detonated, she would rather evacuate.
So she turned around with the gold painting in her arms and her admission letter to the art school somewhere in Paris, which he had refused to look at, and walked, away from her rustling, up the path of her dreams, so she could shine. Before she stepped out of the compound, packed up to be made into a star, she cast a sidelong glance at the leaves of the mango trees and whispered a parting message to them, “I’m sorry my old friends, but I had to do more than rustle to the wind.” And then she flew…

Bio.
Adelaide Aseidu is student at University of Ghana. She blogs here.

The Storyteller

by   Alfred Yayra Kpodo

Things have never really been the same again. He went up north and she went down south. According to her, he has lost it. He has lost what she wanted; the very thing that energized her and brought  her alive. She didn’t remember when they last had any quality time in a world where everything was quantified. He was jarred and getting lost in his world; dealing with his devils. He was up against everything except himself. He hasn’t lost the magic that fixated  her and  the charm befitting a prince. Only that no one had told her that reality was harsh. She has shut her eyes to the occurrences around her and has given up on life. However, she clung and became friends with hope; an attribute she needed so badly in that dire moment.

Hope would come around anytime, even uninvited. Hope told her it was going to be alright. It also told her to take it easy and hang in there. Lastly, hope assured her that her man has not lost the magic of loving her the way she wanted neither has he lost the art of telling her stories. Even though she didn’t believe it, she smiled at the insight of it.

The insight of it  energized her and brought back fond memories. So she reached out for her backpack and stuffed it with a Walkman, a pen and a paper, a couple of assorted fruit bonbons from the dining table  and her phone she had switched off all day. She  headed for their favourite spot at the beach to have a quiet time. For a change, she was going to do what she hasn’t done before. She wanted her man and she was  going to do everything  just  to have him.

She was going to try her hands at penning down her feelings in simple terms. She was  no award-winning writer. She was  just a lover who wanted  things better than they were.

Just before she set out to write a sestet for him, she felt some eyes boring into her. She frantically looked around  but saw nothing so she began writing,

My bony ebony
If only I can see you
I will not be this blue
And we might just sail through
just as wishes will not be horses
I can never get over your kisses

As soon as she dotted the last sentence, the apparent feeling manifested. He has come looking for her after calling her phone all day. He hugged her from behind and a combination of fear and a clout of mixed feelings of whether to be indifferent or hug back came to the fore. But before she could actually think, her body, spirit and soul have taken over her  reasoning  and she hugged back. He then pulled a mail envelope from the back pocket of his branded Akademiks denim Jeans. While the moment was still tensed up,  he gently shoved it into her already opened hand.  “Here”, he started to walk away.

She quickly opened the envelope and shakily removed the pad  but it was tightly folded. She unfolded the first one and it was blank. Second one and it was the same. This, coupled with the fact that the distance between them was widening was not amusing. She was becoming apprehensive. The suspense heightened till the fifth one  which was coincidentally the last one. This had something scribbled on it.

I haven’t lost my story telling abilities to you  and I’m still your man. I will forever be your prince charming and I want you to now and always be mine. Call me when you are ready and let’s make up. Come see me and let’s change the world!

And now, with her lit eyes, she didn’t even know if she should just jolly after him or sit back and refine her poem for him.

 

Bio.

 Alfred Yayra Kpodo was born and bred in Accra, Ghana.  He blogs at http://www.alfredkpodo.blogspot.com.