“Breaking the Silence” by Daniel Hanson Dzah.

After she had been buried, and the funeral over, and he had managed to evict all the relatives artfully ensconcing their way into permanent residency, he would sit in his wooden grandfather chair kept under the large mango tree in his compound, breathing in the tropical breeze and cooling off under the shade of the green thicket.

He would sit all day, silent. Sometimes he would daydream for hours, floating freely between patchy nostalgia and pitiful hallucination. Sometimes he would slide into a deep sleep and only be jolted awake by an unusual swoosh of air. Then his stomach would rumble for lunch and he would obediently go into the kitchen. But he would be back soon after lunch, a good deal before sunset, and resume his posture under the mango tree.

The neighbourhood children would return, heartily retailing anecdotes about school or most often, sharing mean jokes about their teachers and classmates.

They would notice him, but they would not greet him.

He wished to scold them for their lack of respect but he no longer had the strength or conviction. Sometimes, thoughts of how things had changed in the last few decades would float to his mind’s surface and spread themselves over its banks. But his body would soon wear out his mind and the two would walk hand in hand in resignation to the times. He would look up at the flower panicles. A tired wrinkly smile would plaster itself unto his face.  

 

************

 

They were late.

At first, he thought the sun was setting earlier than usual. It was nearing the cold season after all. He tried to lift himself upright but paused halfway. The laughter and chatter were not as loud as always, but they were familiar. It was the school children. He sank back into his chair.

They had just laughed off a quick round of jokes and inadvertently toned down their voices to near silence as they approached his compound. Then they heard him call.

A hoarse version of the same sukuu nkwadaa they often heard older people call them. School children, he called out to them again. They stopped, momentarily unsure of what to do. He called them over as any old man would – in a tone of cordial invitation with a tinge of authority. They bashfully moved their human caterpillar towards him.

It was nothing after all. Just old people talk as usual. What were their names? Where did they attend school? What classes were they in? Who did they want to be in future? He mentioned that he had been trying to get their attention every time they walked past his compound, but they never seemed to hear him above their racket. They respectfully apologized. He accepted their apologies and made them promise to greet him tomorrow. Then he dragged his left hand behind his chair and pulled out a black polythene bag.

As was evident on the tree, the mango season had started. He was gifting them the first ripe fruit he had plucked himself. He joked that he was an expert tree climber. They giggled, shy at his grey humour. He counted them. Four boys and two girls. There was a mango for each. They thanked him profusely as they would their own grandfather. He nodded his approval. He would see them tomorrow. His regards should be extended to their parents, he added with a wobbly wave.  

 

************   



Two of the children managed to speak before they, like the others, foamed at the mouth and danced for the last time.

When the wailing brought the entire neighbourhood together, when everybody learned what the children had said and where they had last been and what they had last done, a furious whirlwind of bewildered men and women swept towards the old man’s house. They stopped short at his compound. Silence fell on their numbers. They only gaped, the venom drying in their throats.

A street lamp shone brightly on the mango tree. Two feet like ripe fruit dangled low from its branches. Some young men straggled to the tree to bring down the body. A single loud wail pierced the dusk and broke the silence. A torrent of ululations followed.

Advertisements

“Candid” by Amma Konadu Anarfi.

Dear Lord,

It’s 4am. The entire neighborhood is quiet and those bloody cats are mating right outside my bedroom window, I’ve had to turn the music up although I like to listen to Pachelbel’s Canon with the volume low. Those felines sound too human, Lord, it is very disturbing! Not that I’d rather hear humans do it, but animals should sound like animals.

Anyway about the other day when I wished them dead, I wish I could say I’m sorry. However, I am sorry I am not sorry. Forgive me. It has been hard developing any love for them, those cats; they have lost their sense of decency, it makes me wonder if that is the reason why they sound human. The dogs were much better, why did they have to die when my evil intentions were all directed at those disrespectful scrawny excuses of cats?

Father, I think I need more patience. You keep them alive to test me don’t you? My patience keeps running out. Please keep refilling. I know you are constantly at it. One morning, I was so charged up, ready to poison them and not apologize for it after. When I opened the front door, the tiniest of them all was sitting right there, staring at me doe-eyed. No, it did not break me. Just irritated me!

Which reminds me yet again, I have been meaning to ask you this. If I developed a character in a story, and killed that character, will that be counted as sin? Seeing that I created that character with a real face behind it, and I killed that character so thoroughly, too thoroughly, for it to be mere fiction, and that I relished the kill. I am not a murderer am I? But if I killed those cats I would be, not so? I hate them.

Oh God, about Maurice though, I thought briefly, just a little bit, what a relief it would be if he died. When I heard he had died, I felt like you, yes like you Lord, before I felt sorry. Just a little bit. That is just wrong. I’m sorry. Is he with you in glory? I will be so surprised if he is. I mean he was an ass to his last breath. Forgive me, o forgive these thoughts, but Maurice was the devil.

At the funeral while half the family lied through their tributes and the pastor shamelessly committed him into your hands, I watched; silent, cold inside. I should have read my tribute. But James, who is still not on talking terms with me, tore it to pieces and would not allow me to say it from memory; it was all in my head, word for word. I only wanted to say the truth. Lord he is still angry with me. Is that justifiable? I forgave him a long time ago for not allowing me to vent. I’m still working on forgiving Maurice, so help me. He was after all my brother.

I think that is the only time I have felt that way towards a human, but these cats…these cats bring out the worst in me! Thinking about them has angered me so much I can’t even breathe! I really can’t breathe Father… I should breathe. Lord??? I can’t breathe!!!

Salma folded the letter and placed it back into the chest that contained other stuff that had been her daughter’s. A year gone and she still could not let go. She could still remember that morning, exactly at 6am, when she had gone to her room and found her face-down on the floor, naked, her eyes wide open.

She closed her eyes and fought back tears.

“You really are a scrawny excuse of a thing!”

She whispered, stroking the back of the black skinny cat on her lap.

“Marie” by Antony Can-Tamakloe.

She came to the hospital a broken-spirited girl; the tumour in her brain neared its expiry date. She spoke to no one, not even the doctors that tried to help her. Everyone said she had given up. But not me. I was the first one she spoke to, they say. Strange though, that the first person she’d spoken to was a hospital janitor, well past his retirement age, who worked in Intensive Care Unit. I remember the night clearly.

I was mopping the floor of her room late in the night when I heard her shift in bed. The poor thing; she was the most beautiful helpless girl I had ever seen. She was watching me mop the floor. Her eyes, they still haunt me now. In them was desolation. But that desolation seemed to be countered by the vestiges of cheerfulness and energy. She had been a very happy person before all this, it looked like. I grunted in her direction, as a way of apologizing for waking her up. Dragging the mop trolley, I attempted to  make my exit. I didn’t want to be in the same room with a dying person. That didn’t give me much hope, seeing as I was quite advanced in years.

“Do you know what it’s like to be dying?”
The question was asked so innocently, it wrenched my heart to realize that it came from none other than a sixteen year old girl.

“I’ve known that feeling since I turned 65,” I reply, in a gruff voice. I can’t handle being in the room. I’ve worked long enough at the hospital to know not to talk to dying patients. It made their deaths just routine, and never to be taken personally. I try to leave again. My fingers are on the door handle when she speaks again.

“I’m dying,” she states simply. My grip on the door handle slackens a bit.

“We all are,” I say, “from the time we were born.” I mean only to be frank.

“Do you mind sitting with me? I can’t sleep,” she says. Who invites a complete stranger to sit by them? Silly girl. I don’t have many more rooms to mop, so I find myself shuffling over to the vacant chair by her bed.

“Thank you,” she whispers. I shrug. Then we lapse into a little silence, and all that is heard for a minute is the beeping of the life support machine.

“So… aren’t you going to tell me your name?” I ask her, simply for the sake of conversation. She relaxes on the pillow propped up behind her. She looks at me shyly.

“Tell me yours first.”

“Fair enough. I’m Thomas, but you can call me Oluu. Everyone calls me that.” She smiles at that.

“I’m Christabel,” she offers. She gives no surname, but I’m not bothered for I didn’t give mine either.

“Nice name,” I compliment her. Then she asks a question, and it leads to another then another till I find myself having the kind of conversation I’ve not had ever since my daughter married and moved out of my house ten years ago. We talk for a while, until I hear her say she sings for her church choir. Sang, I guess.

“Well, let me hear you sing then?” I ask. She keeps quiet for some time, as if she didn’t hear me. Then just when I think she’s finally drifted off to sleep, she launches into a song so beautifully that it takes a while for me to realize I’ve stopped breathing. As she sings, it’s almost as if Death, who was in the room with us, was shrinking away to the depths from whence He came. I found myself thinking of beautiful things I hadn’t thought of in years. My late wife’s musical snoring at night; the time I made enough money to buy my first car…Emotions flooded my heart. A single tear strain, or perhaps two, slid down my cheek. She was singing a hymn.

“…whatever my lot, you have taught me to say… It is well … it is well …with my soul.”

I wipe off my tears with the back of my hand as she’s about ending.

“That was beautiful,” I tell her. But she doesn’t respond. Maybe she’s gone back to her sleep. The life support machine by her side has not gone off, so I’m not worried. I get up from the chair, leaving it vacant once again, and grab my mop stick. More work to be done.
“It’s Marie,” she whispers aloud, “my real name is Marie.”

“And I’m still Oluu,” I say with a smile. Then, I leave.

That was a week ago. Now I stand over her freshly dug grave in my best suit, which isn’t much. I occasionally dab at the tears rolling down my cheek. The funeral is long over. I can’t find appropriate words to say.

“It was nice to hear you sing,” I mutter.

That should be good enough. I turn to walk away, on my way to work. Someone has to mop the corridors where Death often treads. But my mind goes back to Marie, and I say a quiet prayer for her.

“All In A Night’s Work” by Jermaine Kudiabor.

Innocence breathed deeply, then tugged his black jacket closer around his shoulders. It was a chilly night. There was a full moon, and it provided the only light along the tarred road. The street-lights had long been destroyed by the wayside robbers who prowled this route, and had not been replaced by whoever was supposed to be in charge. Once in a while a taxi would roar by, its headlights making it look like some amber-eyed monster. The bush on one side of the road was filled with the music of crickets, and the occasional sound of some creepy-crawly moving within the undergrowth. This was the scene for a perfect horror movie. Or a mugging.

“Hey you”, a voice said. “You know the directions to New Ejisu?”

Innocence looked towards the bush and had his view almost fully obstructed by a massive chest in a black and white stripped muscle shirt. Innocence wasn’t a shrimp, but this guy reminded him of WWE matches between Great Khali and Rey Mysterio. He could smell the heavy scent of weed in the air. The figure stepped into the moonlight and Innocence, much against his own will, gulped. The guy’s dark, hard face had a long scar from the right side of his forehead to his cheek. His red eyes quickly went over Innocence’s jacket and black knapsack, his Tag Heur gold watch and moved down to the black Levis and expensive Nikes he had on. A sly looking grin twisted his already dangerous looking features.

“You’d have to walk along the road till the get to the crossroad junction, then you turn right.” Innocence croaked.

“Since you seem to be going there I hope you don’t mind if I tag along?” the smile appeared again, the scariest attempt at affability he’d ever seen. Innocence couldn’t say no, so they set off together. The giant took his time walking, and Innocence had to shorten his stride to accommodate him. His name was Gideon, but everyone called him “Shotta”, he said. He inquired after Innocence’s name, and where he was staying. He also said he was from the nearby nightclub and had gotten lost on his way home, and that Innocence was the only one he’d seen that night. That last statement put him at rest somewhat, but he still didn’t let his eyes of the huge man. Was it a trick of the moonlight, or did he see a grin when he told Shotta he didn’t stay anywhere around here?

“Don’t move!” Shotta barked.

Innocence froze, just as he asked. The moon had chosen this time to hide her face in a cloud, as if terrified of what was to come. Even the crickets in the bush had gone silent. They were alone.  The blow to his head wasn’t hard enough to knock him out, but he still saw stars as he fell to the ground.

“That’s so you don’t have any funny ideas. Give me your watch and other valuables before this becomes more painful. For you.”  He added as an afterthought. A kick in the ribs made Innocence grunt in pain.

“Please I beg”, Innocence said weakly as huge hands grabbed him by his jacket and hauled him to his feet.
Innocence let the jack knife he’d palmed as he lay on the cold road slash across the man’s throat. Shotta stepped back as his blood started to trickle down his neck like a waterfall of wine, his eyes opened in shock. Innocence followed a step, plunging his knife into his chest over and over again, even as the man lay still on the road. He knelt by the thug, his arms shaking and breathing hard with exhaustion, but with a maniacal grin on his face. He ripped open the man’s shirt and placed the tip of the knife under his left breast, and pushed downwards…
By the time Innocence was done cutting out the heart and testicles from the dead man, he was covered in blood. He took out the spare clothes in his knapsack and changed into them, wiping the blood carefully of him. He wrapped the body parts the fetish priest required for the ritual which would make him rich with the soiled clothes into his bag. He dragged the body into the bush and continued walking along the road to New Ejisu. The moon was back out now, so he could see better.  He tried to whistle an accompaniment to the crickets’ symphony, and there was a spring in his step as he walked, his sneakers crunching on the gravel.