Page 1

DEDICATION ―I go forth along, and stand as ten thousand. With all women, of all generations, behind me. Along with me. I go forth along, and own the space.‖- Maya Angelou To all African women using their voice and owning their narrative.

Curated by: Charlotte Addison (Afriwowri Literary Project) Edited by: Adedoyin Jaiyesimi Proofread by: Faye Munetsi, Sheilla Addison and Elizabeth Johnson First Published in 2017 digitally by The Radioactive Blog Individual contributions © The Authors, 2017 Cover illustration: Josephine Ngminvielu Kuu-ire All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic, photographic or mechanical means, which includes photocopying and recording on tape/ laser disk, on microfilm, via the internet, by email, or by any other information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from the publisher. Copyright © The Different Shades of a Feminine Mind





1. Let Lovers make love 2. My Dirty Little Secret 3. An Argument with my Landlord 4. The Escape 5. How to grab a Furnace 6. Laide 7. The Angels are upon us 8. Forty-eight hours 9. Landmines in my mind 10. We are Queens 11. Beauty's Curse 12. My Scars, your scars 13. First Light 14. Hiding under the cloak of Indifference 15. Through the eyes of Regret 16. Fortitude 17. Mirage 18. The Devil made me do it 19. Skin Deep 20. Operation : Mother's Bruises

i. FOREWORD Each of us revels in the idea of how we understand feminism; most of us steep ourselves deeply into it with verve. ‗The Different Shades of a Feminine Mind,‘ is a layered depiction of what is means to be a feminist from the beginning of the individual spectrum, to every type of experience at the other end of the spectrum. The challenges of making informed financial choices, based on fashion trends, hobbies and basic needs are some of the quandaries in the daily life of a feminist, illustrated vividly in this anthology. It‘s heartwarming that within these pages, I saw myself in almost every shade, down to the fine details of the accessories I wear and the portrayal of a woman who ‗has it all‘ despite the real time challenges of keeping a home and extended family. The urban insanity, characterized by traffic jams, whose experiences are heightened by chauffeurs who hold the air of distinguished daytime robbers, robbing passengers of their much needed calm. These experiences in the anthology are as close to reality as they can be. I deeply appreciate that the narratives sway from the usual and hold their own, in unapologetic, melodramatic and confident poise. The characters are people we know, they are a mirror of whom we purport to be, of our urban and rural communities. The specific examples of the dissonance within families, based on the necessary choices we as women make, coaching ourselves to become overcomers in a competitive world. The choices to study several degrees in globally recognized universities, amidst marrying into families whose preferences lean towards traditional values, where a woman‘s foremost duty is to be a superwoman of sorts, in her home. There is no woman in urban Africa who hasn‘t experienced this sort of antagonism at least once in her life. We are always faced with the decisions of whether building our careers will be detrimental to the family and yet it should not. Our society, while changing, still needs to accept the fact that a man‘s duty is also to his family and that once he commits to building the home at every level, like the woman is charged to do, the very unit of a family will become a much safer space for the children and extended relatives.

A woman is blessed with several instincts, with which she uses to develop her skills for survival, development and to protect herself. The world is passive aggressive and women living in African cities across the continent, face passive aggression in all forms. This anthology, ‗Different Shades of Feminine Mind,‘ describes that aptly. Women relate with their inner selves at such deep levels that the ability to make quick and important decisions, often fall on them because of this relationship. We relate with other women, men, children and leaders, always using our instincts to navigate in this precarious, unpredictable and fun-loving world. Reading the stories in this anthology has been delightful, rewarding and educational. Congratulations to all the authors. Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva Poet, Speaker, Author, Wife and Mother of three

ii. ACKNOWLEDGMENT First and Foremost, many thanks to the Lord God who has blessed with the gift of words, the art of writing and the passion for literature and creative arts. I appreciate the wonderful team who have been on this incredible journey with me. To my twin sister, Sheilla Addison who set ‗fire to my bosom‘ to get this project running after having been hesitant to pursue the idea and also for spending hours with me reading and proofreading the manuscript.

To Beverly Nambozo Nsengiyunva, a literary trailblazer and founder of Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation and Awards for making time of her busy schedule to write the foreword to this anthology. Your contribution is deeply appreciated. To Adedoyin Jaiyesimi of Sparkle Writers Hub, our Editor who jumped on board this project with zest and worked hard to ensure we had a great manuscript. To Thuthukani Ndlovu of the Radioactive Blog, prolific publisher and spoken word artiste, our publisher, whose support and contribution to the book are immensely appreciated. To Elizabeth Johnson, writer, producer of Writers Project Ghana and Editor at ThreesixtyGh, whose passion and zeal for all things literary is contagious. Thank you for been meticulous in proofreading and editing the final manuscript. To Faye Munetsi, thank you for joining the team and proofreading the work in its initial stage even on a short notice. Your commitment is admirable. To Josephine Ngminvielu Kuu-ire, the wonderful artist and photographer whose beautiful photo took my breath away and captured the essence of the message of this anthology, thank you for granting me permission to use your photo as cover image. To Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire and Esther Mirembe of Writivism, thank you for partnering with me and using your platform, Writivism to promote this project. Thank you! To the amazing women of Africa Matters, Farai Mubawai, Lauren Hess and Reanne Olivier who are championing a holistic and positive narrative for Africa to matter. Thank you for the partnership and new friendship. Finally, to the writers whose works are curated in this anthology. Thank you for submitting and contributing your works to the anthology. Charlotte Addison Writer, curator and creator of Afriwowri Literary Project.

1. Let Lovers Make Love Every soul has an authenticity to it. Unique combinations of (un)told stories and chosen paths. Our understanding of one another maybe ascertained but you do not feel as I feel! The sensation of comprehension can be mutual but never identical. It is a constant juxtaposition of reason and reality. Fusing two compartments into one (life). Interdependently carrying one another chemically, physically and emotionally. ••• It was the 10th of January and the first time he came to me. Our eyes may have met before but this was the moment our souls had taken to determine our destiny. He shook my hand. To exchange not only his identification but also a sublime spiritual connection. Our eyes locked and my intuition whispered something I have yet been able to translate. Consumed. Accompanied by Pretoria‘s Summer, he gleamed attractive in my direction. Soon Summer metamorphosed into Autumn and our days were spent conversing beneath the ‗Tree of Life‘, nurturing a friendship which was becoming eternally bound. Then on the 16th of May he kissed me... One of those Sunny side-up kisses.

That kind of kiss that makes you forget. You‘re holding a cigarette. Where all the cells in your body pump, Palpitations, to explode and erupt, In lust-streaming rivers. That kind of kiss that turns one delirious and bewildered,

By such sweetness from two souls simply connecting. Kisses that turn atoms, afloat... Up, up and away, I kissed this stallion, good-day. •••

The day it seemed as if history was transcribing itself out-loud, I felt as if every one of my footsteps was ushered by a drum-beat. Directed. I moved through the streets of Johannesburg finding a book sale in the library. Literature was present at discounted prices. Through the wisdom-stricken eyes of old librarians, I found an oasis. I purchased a handful of books and I continued to move mellifluously. To seek the truths, I unknowingly desired. My strides, much like time, moved effortlessly that day. The Sun then had said her goodbyes, shading the sky crimson then stark night. He joined me in the moonlit streets and as lovers, he and I, found ourselves gyrating on the fringe of euphoria. ••• I welcomed Winter with my heart drenched in fresh affections. He and I found time between the jazz nights and school days. To nurture our obsessions with one another. From the Gautrain to a local taxi, I found myself in Sunnyside during the darkest and coldest nights. He and I went out all the time holding hands and devotedly kissing because it felt right. I fixated on his brimmed lips. Found myself day-dreaming of this Saxophonist blowing air into me the way he angelically did the same to his instruments. My mind knew nothing short of happiness because that night he joined me in the moonlit streets. When there was simultaneous gyration on the fringe of euphoria. I gave him what I had held onto so tightly, my purity. My virginity. I handed it to him because I genuinely believed it no longer needed to be entrusted by me, solely. I trusted him. He treasured me. So why not bestow the most invaluable gift I had ever owned? It happened with such ease. My spirit was guided lustfully to share this experience with him. I recall his hands roaming tenderly. My lips travelling carefree. Every motion so intricate it seemed scripted by the stars above. Tucked in the creases of his sheets was the understanding that only a lioness has the ingenuity to provoke or tame a lion. The same applies in contra because it is from the perspective of oneness. Side-by-side these bodies gliding, almost dancing senselessly, while aware of every exhalation of excited breath. How could an experience so natural be defined as sinful? A few weeks down the line… Me, being the poetry-goddess and he, being this Saxophonist travelled east to make way for each other‘s artistry. The National Arts Festival hosted in Grahams-town since 1974. Bags packed with the intention of sharing God-given talents upon arrival. All listeners pursuing truth and beauty. The stages and streets were offered as platforms to become what each of us had intended to become. This could be declared as the age of the nomads. Where lovers of art and artists themselves majestically move through Africa‘s terrain, they leave pieces of themselves and others, capsulated. Documented. Amongst all these people and amidst this evolving Winter my lips uttered, ―I love you‖. My hesitancy of proclaiming love to a man had evaporated. At this point, it dissipated from an uneasiness to pure love seeping into a heart other than my own. Benign to me I had already been unifying with another heart (one which was forming inside me).

Returning home from this trip of natural ecstasy, I found that the anatomy has a secretive nature to it. Concealed to the inattentive and imprisoning to the juvenile. I felt trapped within my own mind and confused within my own skin. What was happening to me? Before I considered thinking of me, He had to travel across the seas and perform in Germany. I put my probing questions beside me and evoked his memories with me to sustain my sanity. Two weeks without him and not even an email or attempted Skype call to me. I thought I felt his love for me or, was that my mind‘s way of playing tricks on me? At the time, I felt that was all it was doing to me, driving me insane. Everything seemed out of touch and out of reach; even breathing did not feel real. An appreciating faith forgives thought-provoking disturbances. So, was my senselessness a sign that the ancestors were communicating with me? Uttering mysteriously of an heir to be born. A secret to be told. A battle to be fought. On the 3rd of August, I engaged my aphorism to self-reliance and set out to find my answers to end a metaphysical plague of multiple questions. Although he had just returned from Germany he didn‘t bother to come with me. Once again, I thrust my despondence behind me thinking he was too busy. Excusing. Pardoned him for neglecting ‗our‘ needs. Alone and petrified the doctor indicated a foetus on the screen. My sense of hearing took brief periods of hiatus. Staring blankly, I caught the summary of this being‘s size and when it would be old-enough to be pushed out. A sudden numbness overcame me because that foetus was fused into me. ‗I‘ had suddenly pluralised into ‗we‘. My sole purpose had been shifted. Mentally paralysed but physically able, my two feet drifted to his doorstep. He and I easily spoke the news of this new being although, not speaking seriously of ‗our‘ conditions actuality. Instead, a romanticisation of each other‘s auras rekindled. Sharing stories submersed in bed-sheets and breaching boundaries of bare-skins. On the contrary, telling my mother was the hardest. For the next two days was the first time I had ever seen snow in Johannesburg. Every icicle that crashed from the sky resembled the tears collectively let out. Chilling reality falling before me. ••• I would prefer for something to disintegrate instantaneously than haltingly feel it escape from my grasp. However, it was slowly happening. I did not want to deprive my heart of this manufactured love. Instead, I began replaying bygone smiles rather than constructing new ones. My heart was failing to understand why the miracle of new life had to be paralleled alongside losing my first, ―true‖ love. I detected that he and I were no longer together while ‗we‘ would swell each day. It was the beginning of my realisation that growing pains are not as physically orientated as we recall them from our childhood. I could feel the introduction of fragility, the accumulation of anxiety and, the progression of loneliness.

Outside. The sprouts of flowers were saying their hellos. The bear-branches of wintered trees were wearing off. Coating greens pristinely. The Earth‘s rebirth introduced more, succulent shades to sit beneath. The parading of bees in and out of blossoming buds reminded my eyes and mind that life goes on. The juxtaposition of what was taking place before me was comparable to the emotions I was experiencing within me. My heart‘s entry way beat itself from receptiveness by recollecting bitter-sweetness. While I was letting go of him I had to consider that ‗we‘ were of paramount importance. To lift the darkness and clouded judgement. I remembered the warmth of brick-paved streets on bare-soled feet. Inside. My body divided into entities of growth and learning. I experienced an infinite dichotomy between the souls-expansion and the depletion of intimateadoration. I forced myself into harmony with abandonment. Although, I felt some of Spring flower within me. In addition to give nourishment to a seed of immeasurable depth. This was contrasted with feeling blameworthy for letting love conjure weakness. Meanwhile, he dabbled in the pits of cruelty by making manipulation his weapon of causing calamity. Indulging in negligence and displaying sheer selfishness. The truth did not only dawn itself upon me. It scorched marks of reality‘s message and extinguished my potential to, swiftly, rise like the phoenix. Realisations cast themselves into my understanding of this particular individual. He was not as angelic as his music had portrayed him to be. He didn‘t deserve the prerogative of being identified as a man. Wrapped in cowardly actions and masquerading beneath blundering lies. What he and I shared was once luminous, fluorescent and it fulgurated. It then turned tired and timid. Disappointments destroyed any dynasty of trust, taking portions of me as it plummeted to the ground. Though the heart cannot dismantle itself, it must fathom the strength the mend itself together. There is little capacity in the butchered pieces of pain. ••• As lovers, he and I had done what was right. Made love. Not only literally but also symbolically, love was the creation of another indestructible verb - love. As a woman, I had done right by my inalienable birth right. Kept love. To pose as another example of an indescribable sensation, a connection whereby no law is able to defy its correlation and combination. I‘ll never know if he truly loved me but by touching my belly I know that expectation has nothing on destiny. Therefore, my vulnerability shall seize to exist for the sake of my consummated love. Made in times of passion and tenderness this gift was bequeathed on me. Where a seedling fermented in the idea of blending Saxophonist and poetrygoddess. The brief period he and I were together resulted in an alteration of perspective through the spectrum of experience. Although I‘ll always love this he, I know it was only meant to be, for the formation of ‗we‘. This experience, this trance-like state and natural high lasts nine months for growth to govern all levels and senses. When mother carries child and child carries mother...

A continued conveyance of changeable characteristics. The collaboration of both cause and destined-change. The certainty is that this channel, curves between clarity and concentrated co-existence. We both survive. For our livelihoods to define, the cycle of life. ***

Let Lovers Make Love By Nokwanda Zakiyyah Shabangu She’s the single mother of a four-year-old named after the deepest river in the world. A performance poet and vocalist who has graced only a handful of stages because she spends her days contesting social ills. She’d like to think of herself as a humanitarian who places emphasis on grassroot activism: To mobilise notions of freedom using my writing, singing and very being. To summarise what you can find on LinkedIn... She is a Digital Content Editor (DiCE) for an organisation that supports small businesses, youth development and women's empowerment with a focus on technology and innovation.

2. MY DIRTY LITTLE SECRET Dear diary, I did something very bad today. Although I have prayed and asked God to forgive me, I still can't help but feel guilty about what I did. I know it is very wrong to keep secrets but I cannot bring myself to tell anyone about it. Besides, I am also very confused. Okay diary, I know you are wondering what this is all about so I'll just go ahead and tell you everything now. It all started some three months ago when Mrs. Folarin, my class teacher sent me to the Principal's office to submit our class register. This was a few days after the new school term resumed. And that was the first day I met Habeeb. We almost collided as he stepped out of the Principal's office just as I was about to go in. He'd quickly stepped aside for me to pass and even said 'sorry' with a smile on his very handsome face. It was the first time in all the fourteen years I have lived on this planet that my heart skipped a beat (not because Mom was about to whip my butt for breaking another one of her precious glass wares), and butterflies fluttered in my belly (which I immediately sucked in because it had bulged after I‘d had breakfast). I was so shy that I merely mumbled an 'okay' before hurrying into the office. When I returned to class, I told my best friend, Vivian about my encounter at the principal's office. She laughed at me and said I couldn't tell a gorilla and a handsome boy apart. Her flippancy annoyed me greatly. She laughed at me some more and brushed my excitement aside with a wave of her delicate hand as if she were swatting a pesky fly. Sometimes I totally hate Vivian, always acting like she knows everything. Vivian is my childhood friend and I've known her forever. We are the exact opposite of each other - she is tall, fair and slim with enviable curves for a teenager, while I am short, dark and chubby with the curves of a teddy bear (assuming teddy bears have curves). In my mind, I always refer to us as 'the Rose and the Wall Flower' Vivian is so beautiful that she has won the Miss Glory High School contest two years in a row. Boys adored her and girls envied her (including me). Teachers also liked her because she was very intelligent. She has always been the best in class except for last term when she took ill during the examination week. Even then, she had come second. I, on the other hand have been struggling with Amarachi Udeh for the 7th and 8th positions for the past two years.

I always made sure I make it to the top ten list because the top ten students were always regarded as the 'serious students'. By lunch break, the class grape vine was buzzing with news of a gorgeous new boy in school who was already making all the boys green with envy, while the girls were falling over themselves to gain his attention. Vivian who has a penchant for 'finding out' things decided to 'investigate' the matter and within minutes, returned to give me the latest 411.

"His name is Habeeb," she informed me. "He is a transfer student. It seems his parents just relocated to this side of town so they decided to enroll him here. He's in science department and I hear he has shown an interest in joining the school's basketball team." I'm sincerely glad that Vivian has decided to become a journalist in future; otherwise her talent for digging up information within the shortest possible time would go to waste. "Have you seen him?" I asked her. "No. I learnt he was summoned to the lab by Big Ben." "Oh," I commented. Big Ben refers to Mr. Ben, the Chemistry teacher. We named him Big Ben because he was a mammoth of a man - huge and intimidating in stature. I sometimes imagine him squashing someone with his large fists. Students feared him because of his massive size, and teachers avoided him because of his loud voice and the way he sprays people with spittle when he speaks. I felt sorry for Habeeb and wondered if he had a handkerchief to wipe his face after his meeting with Big Ben. When school closed for the day, Vivian and I were heading out of the premises when I spotted one of our friends, Kehinde, talking with Habeeb. Kehinde is also in the science department. "That's Habeeb," I told Vivian and pointed him out. "Hmm... He's indeed good looking." Vivian said. "I told you, didn't I?" I beamed proudly as if the compliment was meant for me. "Let's go and say hi."

My smile faded. "Why?" I asked lamely. "Just follow me." Vivian replied firmly and dragged me along before I could back out.

"Hello Kehinde," she greeted when we got to where the boys stood, talking. "Hi girls," Kehinde replied. "Meet Habeeb, he's a new student and he's in my department." As if we don't know all that already, I thought dryly. "Habeeb, these are my friends," Kehinde continued. "This is Vivian, and this is Mayowa." "Hello Vivian, hello Mayowa," Habeeb greeted us politely with a small wave. ―I ran into you this morning at the Principal‘s office, right?‖ He said to me. It took me a few seconds to find my tongue. ―Uh, yes.‖ "It's really nice to finally meet you," Vivian said, sounding a little breathless. I gave her sidelong look, but she didn't notice. "You seem to be some kind of celebrity around here already." She continued. "No way," Habeeb laughed. "I'm just a new comer, but thanks for the compliment." I was very pleased to be standing so close to Habeeb again but too shy to say anything. I wished I could chat with him as easily as Vivian did. We all walked out of the school yard together. Once outside, we saw a brand-new Honda Accord parked near the fence. A driver waited inside. "Okay guys, see you all tomorrow," Habeeb said to us before he got into the back seat of the car and was driven off. "A rich kid too..." Vivian mused as she watched the car disappear out of sight.

"You like him, don't you?" Kehinde asked her. "What's there not to like? Even good old Mayowa was bent out of shape with excitement when she first ran into him this morning." Kehinde guffawed. "Really! ‗Mayowa the Prude‘ likes Habeeb too?― I was so embarrassed, I felt like strangling Vivian. I marched angrily ahead of them and tried to ignore their mocking laughter behind me. For the rest of that week, Habeeb was the rave in school. New facts about him emerged every day. We got to know that he was from a rich family and the only child of his parents. His father was a top government official and his mother, an international business woman and on vacations abroad he travelled abroad frequently with his parents on vacations.

Within a twinkle of an eye, everybody had become his friend. Even the teachers cozied up to him when they discovered how academically sound he was. We walked out of the school gate together every day after closing time in the company of Vivian who always had something to say as well as Kehinde, who was now Habeeb's self-appointed PA, along with an entourage of Habeeb's new friends. By the end of the week, I was convinced that I had found my true love...Habeeb. In my fantasy world, Habeeb and I were already a couple (even though we barely exchanged pleasantries every day). It came to me as a rude shock the following week when Vivian announced, "Habeeb has asked me to be his girlfriend!" I was filled with dismay and disappointment. I tried to speak but my jaw was stiff and my throat dry. I swallowed a couple of times and tried again. "And what did you say?" I finally asked her. "I told him I'll think about it. Although, I already know I'll tell him yes. A girl shouldn't agree to a boy's proposal so quickly or else the boy would think you are too easy and take you for granted. You know how it is with all these boys and how they behave like..." Vivian rambled on and on but I was no longer listening. I was heartbroken and emotionally numb. The rest of the day was a blur. Later that week, Vivian accepted Habeeb's proposal and the entire 'schooldom' was agog with the news of the latest 'power couple'. They were treated like royalty and everyone practically worshipped them. They were the most smashing couple in the history of Glory High School, everyone said. I was devastated and mourned the loss of my first love to my best friend. I tried to carry on as if nothing had changed. We all still walked out of the school gate together as before, but now it became really hard for me. I always imagine how difficult it would be for me to be Vivian's maidofhonour when she'll be getting married to Habeeb in future.

I made sure that I avoided Habeeb during school hours but once in a while we'd come across each other either at the hallway, staircase or canteen and say a quick 'hello' and 'hi' before going our separate ways. Last week, I noticed that Habeeb always seemed to prolong our quick greeting with a brief chitchat. He'd sometimes ask me how my day had been or what I'll be having for lunch or how neat my school uniform looked, and stuff like that. I simply assumed he was being friendly since I was his girlfriend's best friend. But two days ago, a new twist surfaced in our greetandchitchat routine when he came to sit beside me at the canteen during lunch.

"Hello Mayowa," he greeted breezily as he settled himself on the empty seat beside me. "Hi," I responded in a small voice, hardly looking at him. My insides had turned to jelly and I was glad to be sitting down, else my knees would have buckled. "I like your nose," he said with a bright smile. I almost choked on the piece of bread I was about to swallow. I coughed and took a quick sip of water. "Uh, thank you," I mumbled and touched my nose as if I'd just discovered I had one. "You are one beautiful girl, you know?" He continued. Every single pore in my body tingled. I could hardly believe my ears. Habeeb called me beautiful! This has got to be a dream. It was just too good to be true. For a moment, I imagined myself melting into a puddle at his feet. "If only Vivian were shy and gentle like you, she would be more attractive. Where is she by the way?" I took a quick gulp of water again before answering. "In the sick bay. She's having cramps." "Oh. I'll go check on her later." He said. "Got to go now. I'll see you at closing time."

He touched my hand lightly as he turned to leave. I felt like I was floating in a huge bubble. Different emotions conflicted within me - joy, confusion and guilt. I couldn't tell Vivian about my encounter with Habeeb at the canteen. I almost felt like a backstabber because I was greatly pleased by the fact that he seemed to be interested in me as a person, and not as Vivian's shadow. Even the Wall Flower can be seen, I thought. After school closed for the day, as we walked out of the premises, I made sure to put a wide distance between myself and Habeeb, and tried to act normal like nothing out of the ordinary had happened earlier. It took all of my willpower not to glance in his direction, lest someone caught me looking at him and discovered my dirty little secret. I even felt like I was a mistress who was having an affair with a married man. It was a very ridiculous notion but the situation seemed that way to me. I knew Vivian would be upset and very angry with me if she ever got wind of what had transpired between Habeeb and I, so after that day I made deliberate attempts to avoid him completely.

My hide-and-seek plan worked well until today. I'd forgotten my text book in the Biology lab where we‘d had our previous class. I had returned there to pick it up when I came face-to-face with Habeeb on my way out of the lab. He stood at the door, blocking my way so I had to take a step backward. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "You've been avoiding me, Mayowa,‖ he said. ―I know that's what you are doing, so don't try to deny it." I really liked the way he said my name, like he was the one who coined it. "Nno, I'm nnot" I stuttered. "Look, I know this may sound awkward but the truth is I like you. I really do." I gaped at him. I was speechless. "The only reason I asked Vivian to be my girl was because she was all over me and Kehinde and the other boys told me that she liked me, that it would be great if I asked her out. I didn't want to disappoint her, so that was why I asked her to be my girlfriend just as she had expected. But the truth is, with every passing day, I realized that I‘ve made a mistake ‗because I don't really like her. ―She's too loud and flashy, and draws too much attention everywhere she goes. I'd rather have you as my girlfriend. You are actually my kind of person." ―I know everything I‘m saying now may sound really crazy to you,‖ he continued. ―But that Vivian girl is too all-over-the-place for my liking. I know she‘s your friend and all, but I can‘t be with her anymore. You are the one I truly want.‖ I remained mute because words failed me. What would I say in response anyway? My dream had come true under the worst possible condition. I didn't know whether to be happy or sad. It was all so bizarre! He took a step forward and he was standing so close to me, I could feel his breath on my cheek. With his thumb and fore finger on my chin, he lifted my face and leaned forward. I closed my eyes just as his soft lips brushed mine ever so lightly, I wondered if I had imagined the contact. He stepped away from me and said, "You don't have to say anything right now. I know all of this is kind of weird and sudden, but think about what I've said. I'll wait for your response for as long as it takes you to decide. You don't have to worry about Vivian; I'll sort things out with her later." After he left, I remained in the lab for several minutes staring at nothing and trying very hard to conjure a single coherent thought, but couldn't. When I finally

returned to class, Vivian asked me why I had taken so long and I lied to her. I told her I made a detour to the rest room. I felt like a traitor because in truth, I wanted Habeeb for myself. But how would that make Vivian feel, knowing how much she adored him? I've spent the better part of today praying to God to forgive me for succumbing to temptation and coveting what was not mine. Immediately after closing time, I hurried out of school before Vivian and the others could find me. I just needed some time to be alone and think. That is the reason why I've run home to you, diary. You are the only one I can share my secret with. I am so confused, and I feel like my head would explode if I just continue to think about this messy situation! Please diary, what do you think I should do now? ***

My Dirty little secrets By Oke Bamidele My name is Oke Bamidele. I write under the pseudonym, Oke Peter. My first novel titled, 'A Life Past Perfect' was first published online in 2012 and then republished in 2015, both times by ComicBandit Press.I have worked as a teacher in a secondary school in Lagos state, Nigeria for 3 years, teaching the English language. I also have a 2-year experience working as a Content Writer with two prestigious media firms also in Lagos. Presently, I work as a Reading Tutor for primary school children.

3. ARGUMENT WITH MY LANDLORD Last week I argued with my landlord. I pay 5,000 Kenyan Shilling (Ksh) a month for my bedsitter in Ongata Rongai. Apart from the neighbours coming to knock on the door complaining about the noises I make at night when my male friends visit, it is a nice place. But my landlord and I fought because he is cruel and does not understand how hard it is to be a woman. I had just gotten my monthly salary and after important deductions including money for manicure, pedicure, facial, and the gym, I was left with Ksh 6,000 enough for bus fare and rent. I was about to send the landlord his rent by Mpesa so that he could stop bothering me when I passed by the City Walk shoe store at the Hilton and saw a pair of nice boots. They were very stylish black velvet boots, with cheetah print detail on each side. Anita had been coming to spend the night and was already waiting for me outside the house, but as soon as I saw those shoes, I knew that she would understand if I kept her waiting for a few more minutes. I entered the shop and immediately requested to try them on. I had been wearing head to toe black that day, black jeans, a chiffon blouse and gold jewellery. When I tried the boots on and looked into the mirror, I realized that they made me look even better and would match many of my other outfits. I asked the shop attendant the price and he informed me that they were Ksh 5,500. I was thrilled. It was such a cheap price for good quality shoes. I would take the boots home. It was only after I had worn and paid for the boots that I remembered that my landlord would start calling me again asking for his money. After thinking about it for a minute however, I realized that if I sat him down and explained it to him (my mother always says that communication is the most important thing between any two people), he would be okay with it and I could pay him the following month. When I arrived home, Anita was outside the house, but unexpectedly, the landlord was also there. I greeted them pleasantly and waited for them to compliment me on my new shoes. Instead, the landlord was quite rude. ―Madam, where is my money?‖ ―Please come into the house and have tea with us,‖ I told him cordially, ―You will be able to admire my new shoes from inside.‖ ―I am not here to look at a pair of shoes. Nataka pesa yangu. You have a balance of three thousand from last month and you are late with this month‘s rent.‖

For a moment, I did not know what to say. I had completely forgotten that I had a balance of Ksh 3,000 from the previous month. I mulled over what to say and decided to be honest and tell the truth. My mother always says that honesty is the best policy. ―I had the money but I saw these boots and decided that I couldn‘t leave them. They look really nice and will go with a lot of my outfits. I‘ll pay your money next month.‖ The landlord‘s eyes widened and he exhaled heavily, clutching at his chest. For a moment, I was afraid he might have a heart attack. The landlord then pushed Anita and me out of the house locked the door with a big padlock and walked off, leaving us outside. It was only after spending the night outside the house that Anita convinced me that he was serious and that I needed to find a way to pay the money. It was with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart that I returned the boots to City Walk, got a refund (minus one thousand shillings, because I had worn them), paid the landlord, and got my house opened once more. This incident really annoyed me. If there are any landlords looking for honest, responsible and upstanding tenants, kindly let me know. I think I will have to move out of this place.


An Argument with my Landlord By Kingwa Kamencu Kingwa Kamencu is a writer based in Nairobi. She has written and published a novella To Grasp at a Star (East African Educational Publishers) and a childrens book, The Shy Girl (Oxford University Press). To Grasp at a Star has won numerous awards in Kenya. Kingwa's poetry and short stories have been published in anthologies locally and internationally. Kingwa also wrote scripts for the highly acclaimed Kenyan TV series 'Stay' (season 2). She enjoys writing and reading humor and has been influenced by writers including Wahome Mutahi, Richmal Crompton, Frank Richards, Sophie Kinsella and Kate Getao. Kingwa holds an MSt. in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford (UK).

4. ESCAPE ―Aisha, Aisha, hurry! Danladi is leaving for Kaduna.‖ These were the words of Turai as she called out to me from the farm. Upon hearing her call, I increased my pace as I took longer strides into the compound. I felt famished and really thirsty. The sun this afternoon was scorching; it was hot enough to fry some sweet kosai. As I trekked back from school, all I thought of was the kunu Mamana had made. It was all I needed right now, a fresh cup of kunu once I got home. However, did I hear Turai say Danladi was returning so soon? Why? Oh! I must convince him to stay back. I was very happy when Danladi returned two days ago. He had received the letter I sent through Adamu. The marriage issue had become hot topic in our home. Baba, my father was about to marry me off to Alhaji Musa Madawaki who already has three wives. Alhaji Musa is considered very rich in this part of Borno and he gets what he wants without a fuss. Any time I remember how old he is I hate Baba and his younger brother Hammed for arranging this marriage. I remember how much Amina, my elder sister had cried the night of her wedding Fathia. She never wanted to marry Hassan the textile merchant. He had two wives already and was ready to make Amina his third. Amina was only thirteen when Baba had arranged her marriage and married her off to Hassan. Though thirteen, she looked like she was eighteen. Infact, she could pass for a twenty-year-old; she was as tall as Danladi and was a lot chubbier than Turai and I. I am very sure that it was her maturity that convinced Baba to get her married without batting an eyelid. Baba did not know he had sentenced our own Dear Amina to death when he gave her hand in marriage. The day she died, Mamana had cried profusely, she locked herself in her room, refusing to eat or drink. Amina had encountered complications during childbirth. It was a still birth. This happened, the period Danladi had travelled to Niger with Uncle Adamu, and he was gone for a very long time. I think it was almost two years he was away; so it was his absence that made Baba and Hammed plan the arrangements of marriage and see its success. Mamana, Turai and I knew there was no way Danladi would have let Baba do such if he was around. Now Baba planned to repeat the same thing but this time to me. Before Danladi had returned from Kaduna, Baba had shut down my opinion by reminding me in the presence of Mamana and Turai that he had married Mamana when she was only thirteen years old. And if Mamana could birth us all what made it impossible

for us? He said it was better we got married early so we don‘t become promiscuous and bring shame to the family. I had cried and cried, realizing that my tears were never going to fetch me a solution. I decided to write the letter to Danladi, which brought him back as soon as he got it. Hence, I wonder why he planned to return to Kaduna so soon. On entering the living room where Mamana and Danladi were seated I genuflected in greeting them both ―Ina wuni‖ I greeted with calmness that had been induced by fear and Danladi replied my greeting with a warm embrace, a very secure embrace that brought trickle of tears down my eyes. I requested to know why he had to return to Kaduna suddenly and he clearly explained that Uncle Adamu‘s business partners had arrived and he had asked that he return as he knew more about the business dealings better than anyone else. He promised to come home as soon as the deal was closed, so he could resolve the marriage issue at hand. Sincerely, I was not happy but there was little I could do. Through Danladi‘s help and his business with uncle Adamu, things have become a bit easier in the home. At least my school fees and that of Turai are paid on time these days. Danladi buys books and stationeries for both of us anytime he returns from his travels and this has helped us improve in our studies at school.

Days after Danladi had travelled back to Kaduna, I overheard Baba and Hammed discussing the ideal day for the wedding Fathia. It was supposed to be on my birthday. On hearing their conversation I felt a chill cold run through my veins. Baba was bent on getting me married. I remember how hard Hammed had laughed when Baba said he was going to marry a new wife and open a small Grinding mill for millet at the market. Alhaji Musa had promised Baba so much and every bit of it was enticing. There was no way he would let this opportunity slip by. That night I eaves-dropped on Baba and Hammed‘s conversation, I told Turai all I had heard. The shock on her face killed me a thousand times. In a teary tone, she reminded me that Danladi had to be told besides it was only five days to the Fathia. The next morning after the call to prayer, Baba announced to Mamana, Turai and I that the marriage ceremony between I and Alhaji Musa would hold in four days. Mamana shrieked in shock. She and Baba argued till I and Turai were dressed and ready for school. As I called Baba‘s attention to inform him Turai and I were about to leave for school, he gave me a shocking news. He told me to enjoy every moment that could come with the day, as that was going to be my last day at school. I did not know when tears streamed down my cheeks, I only recollect Turai pulling me by the hand saying ―Aisha let us go.‖ Throughout the day at school my mind wandered on the thought of marriage, not just marriage but to an old man, at my tender age. In fact there was nothing I knew about marriage. I had heard some girls at the market talk about the dangers of marrying an older man. There was the story of Rammah who poisoned her husband, who was thrice her father‘s age on the night of her wedding Fathia.

Recently school had become my consolation, my safe haven, since the marriage controversy. I had come to appreciate education more than anything. After listening to terrible quarrels between Mamana and Baba, solving some arithmetic equations or reading a novel was always a safe escape. I expected Danladi to be back, Turai had written him a letter telling him what Baba and Hammed had planned, but we had received no reply from him or even Uncle Adamu. A decision had to be made, there was definitely no way I would end up a child bride, I didn‘t want to die like Amina and so I sought a way out, the only way was to run away and I had to do it sooner or later. But this could break Mamana‘s heart and my beloved sister Turai, I couldn‘t leave her behind. If I ran away Baba could as well marry Turai off and that would be very bad. I told Turai about my plan in confidence and she disapproved of it. She told me running away was not an option especially with the recent spate of violence and the kobo boys who terrorized the neighbouring villages. There were clashes these days over cattle, and land. We had heard that in some villages which were outskirts of our town, girls were abducted, raped or sold into prostitution. The reality of my unsafe option starred me in the face, but the reality of staying back and allowing Baba marry me off was what I would not bear to see happen. After thinking hard, I came up with an idea that seemed appropriate. I told Turai I was going to go with the truck that comes every Saturday night to the village. The truck supplies food stuffs like rice, onions, yams and corns that were brought in from Kaduna. I also remember Danladi telling me that the truck driver was his friend and he lived not very far from him in Kaduna. So, my plan was to wait for the truck to come and when it finishes off-loading the goods for the Sunday market, I will jump into it and head straight for Kaduna to meet my beloved brother Danladi. Turai said it was a good plan and so we waited till Saturday came. Actually, Sunday was my birthday and the Fathia had been slated for the morning, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity of getting away. Freedom from getting married early was the best birthday gift I needed now. It was Saturday night and the truck came later than it usually did. I was so happy and ready. I sneaked into Mamana‘s room to wake Turai, still drowsy from sleep, I whispered in her ears what I planned to do, reminding her that the time had come, her sleepy eyes clearly lit up and we both left Mamana‘s room quietly careful not wake anyone, we made for the front door with my school bag strapped to my back which contained two pieces of clothing, two books, my water bottle and some Kuli-Kuli. Just as we had gotten out in the open darkness I noticed Turai was trembling, there was so much dread and fear in her face. I almost changed my mind, but I remembered if I was able to get to Kaduna I could convince Danladi to come back home with me and change things at home.

The truck had off loaded the quantity of foodstuffs it had brought for the market. Seizing the opportunity, I had before me I quickly made for the truck, holding the wooden slab at the door of the back of the truck I carefully placed a foot beneath the iron metal of the door and gently climbed in; I landed on a heap of millet with a quiet thud. Once I got into the truck I used the trampoline that was covering the yams to cover my head. Now I heard the driver get in the truck and slam the front door. As I peered out into the darkness I could see Turai crouched in between tables used by Yaro the Suya seller. I put out my hand through the little opening on the back door of the truck to wave to her as she stuck out her head from her hiding place, it seemed like she was crying, but the darkness hindered vision clarity. I could not make out what she was saying because it looked like her lips were moving. Just at that time the driver started the engine then I saw two young men approaching and I quickly retreated into the truck they threw in something that looked like a parcel it was tied tightly to a small gas can which I was quick to dodge as it landed and rolled in to stop a few inches where I was. I stuck out my head to see if Turai was still standing, and noticed it seemed like she was speaking, her lips were moving but her voice was not loud for me to hear. That was very strange as Turai was never a faint speaker. Just as the driver started to pull away slowly from the front yard, Turai‘s gestures became frantic, she kept waving, and I initially thought she was calling out to me wishing me a safe journey, on a second look she became hysterical, I could now tell she was telling me to get off the truck. At once the truck gathered some speed and the driver began to move at a fast pace; it all happened so fast all I remembered was a very loud bang an explosion and then my dreams faded. *** Escape By Francisca Ogechi Okwulehie Francisca Ogechi Okwulehie is the Author of Tari's Golden Fleece an African Fiction based Novella and a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She worked as a radio presenter on the programme Girl’s timeout on Unilag (103.1)FM, and as a journalist has reported and contributed for feminine lifestyle magazines. As a multipassionate individual, she is the founder of Smile-Africa Foundation a Nonprofit organization and is also the CEO of Moncoeur Global Concept and Moncoeur Proposals a marriage proposal and event planning company. She undertakes a Creative writing workshop for secondary school students once a year. She is a recipient of the Educate a Girl (EAG) scholarship on the &Fundamentals of Journalism& funded by the Ladies Fund in conjunction with the Whole Woman Network of Canada and the Dawood Global Foundation of Pakistan.

5. HOW TO GRAB A FURNACE It was the aridity in the air, or maybe it was the deadness of the city, that made every Sunday seem like Christmas. She did not like the season which had just ended. It often brought with it a sudden rush that engulfed the people, making them act as if possessed, momentarily. But more than that, she hated seeing the neighbours pack up their belongings and overload their vehicles with utensils. She hated to see them wave from the rear windscreen, their wavy palms being barricaded by cooking pots and too many Ghana-must-go bags. Each goodbye marked for her the finality of the years she was never sure she had used to her fill. It left her depressed every time. That was how she felt today as she sat curled up at a corner of the bare foam they both shared - the one that caught her tears when they almost touched the ground the night before. How did he do it? She thought. How did he, at the whimsical wave of a hand, change the face of a hero to that of a devouring beast? "But this did not begin today", she heard her mind say, and she cupped her entire face in her palms as hot clouds of tears gathered to set her eyes ablaze again. It began with the words she forbade herself to hear; with every tantrum, she ignored. Her palms still held her teary face when the visions came, and she welcomed each scene with more sobs. First was that night when she and Chioke sat on the bare floor of his living room like a newly married couple on their first honeymoon. They were watching a local movie on Africa Magic. Or was it AIT? She could not remember. But she could recall vividly the frown on Chioke's face when he reprimanded her because she instinctively jumped upon the sofa at the sight of a straying cockroach. "Why do you jump on my seats like that?'' he roared. "And for a cockroach! It is not as if you were born with a silver spoon.'‗ Ugonwanyi was cold to her feet when he finished. It was not as if she could not kill a cockroach. She only did the first thing her brain suggested at the sight of the cockroach. And what did a cockroach and a silver spoon have in common anyway?

She never understood what led to Chioke's reaction but she decided not to give it too much thought. Their relationship was a fragile one that had only managed to reach the engagement stage, and finding faults in one another was not the best way to sustain it. Come to think of it, good men are not quite easy to come by. The next scene she remembered, now peering into her palms like a watchman searching the sky for the moon, was the day in his car when they were on their way back from Buchi's wedding at St Peters chaplaincy. Chioke had narrated how Buchi had beaten his ex-girlfriend and how the girl refused to take his calls since then. "Girls of these days!" he exclaimed. "A man can no longer give his woman a pat on her skin to correct her. They go to school and think they have grown beyond control," he concluded, shaking his head sympathetically. Ugo had her eyes glued on him as he spoke. They were questioning eyes. "But she is not a child. Even children deserve some respect sometimes, let alone a grown woman...." She still had words in her mouth when Chioke's condescending gaze located her now submissive eyes. "You have started with your women rights nonsense, okwia? I ma arapu feminizim gbo?" His right arm had left the steering and his index finger was pointing accusingly into her face. By the time they reached home, she was cold again - like ice. She had mellowed to listen to yet another of his long sermons on how a woman ought to make the effort to sustain her relationship simply by keeping her mouth shut and accepting correction when it is offered in whatever form. "Is that too hard a task for you women?" he would ask. "You had better drop that attitude and realize while you still have the time that the success of marriages lies in the hands of women.― Chioke always came off with an air of boastfulness that reminded Ugonwanyi that he was seven years older than her and therefore, he had to be obeyed and she had to obey him like she would her father. She hated this part of him. But she knew better than to walk away. She and Chioke had already exchanged the covenant that is inherent in love-making. If she left, would she then begin to nurse a whole new relationship? And suffer the shame of adding yet another frog to her kissing list? She couldn't risk that. She knew she had to get it right this time, at least for her mother's sake and for the sake of her younger sisters whose hope for marriage would be dependent on the success of her own marriage. She owed her mother a son-in-law - a capable one like Chioke, who would play the role of a man in the place of her dead father. "Mama has tried," she would say to herself. "She is my responsibility now." And how best to grease the elbows of a mother than to bring her a befitting son-in-law? So that night, in the hours that separated Saturday from its successor, Ugonwanyi was still bitter from Chioke's neglect. He had abandoned her to his

friends that cold night and went about Nsukka Stadium with his arms around the shoulders of a mystery Nsukka girl. They had gone to watch Tuface and Phyno perform on Star Trek. Ugo did not see Chioke until the concert was almost coming to an end. What hurt her most was not his absence. It was that he had laughed it off when Stanley playfully asked him to shield her from the cold by placing his hands on her shoulders. So, when she saw him holding another girl so close to himself, it felt like a slap on her face and her body went stiff. She had hoped that he would leave her some time to enjoy her anger after he tendered his rather evasive apology, and that later, she would find herself back in his bosom. But Chioke was not human that night. He was something else, something far from human. He did not mind that her body did not respond when he touched her. Nor did he mind that she repeatedly returned his hands to him when they cupped her tiny breasts. He seized her by the wrists and allowed the weight of his body to overwhelm her. Ugo was suppliant under his grip. She did not scream for help when her head hit the wall again and again in his effort to steady her. Nor did she yell out her pain when she felt her wrists wriggle from his tight grip. What would people say? She thought.

"They would say that I should have stayed on my own if I did not yearn for his touch.― She had tried to fight her way through. But the only thing that could define her strength that night was the repeated mumbling of "bikonu, please", which sounded like the guided mantra of a sleep walker, weak but steadfast. She knew she would be shamed if she screamed as loud as fear and pain compelled her to. "Mba!―

She would hold her peace and save her life and her pride, even if it meant begging for it. So, she let him wiggle his rock-hard body into her resistant self. She did not gasp in pleasure and wrap her arms and limbs around his waist, to welcome him. Instead, she lay there like a log of wood, and let the fire burn between her legs as he thrust in and out of her, growling like a newly mad dog. She felt her ears wet from the tears that ran down the corners of her eyes, and she knew in that moment that she would never look at him with the same eyes again. She would never feel safe in his embrace again. She knew that she would spend her life a slave to this beast of a man who had become her mother's dream. She knew in that moment too that no one would listen to her nor let her deny her siblings the future they have nearly grabbed.

She could hear her mother tell her never to deny her husband the trophy that was her body. Had he not paid for it in full? It was these thoughts, and her mother's voice saying "ugwu nwanyi bu di ya , a woman's glory is her husband, that sonorously sang her to the much-desired dream land. On the sixth of February, Ugo would take a walk down the aisle - both arms clutching a red, white and gold bouquet - her gown dazzling. And with a wrinkly smile plastered forcefully on her lips, eyes darting from side to side, she would peer into the pitiless faces of those who had come to bear witness to the solemnization of her holy martyrdom. ***

How to Grab a Furnace By Ifunanya Adannaya Anih Ifunanya Adannaya Anih is an aspiring Nigerian author who is of Igbo descent. She graduated from the University of Nigeria Nsukka where she studied English and Literature. Her interests include matters surrounding Gender, Culture and Art.She lives everyday with the hope that through stories told by prose and poetry, she will reach out to the world and touch lives.

6. Laide ―A story is told of a man and a woman. No, he is not a farmer, and she is not a farmhand either. This is not a peasant story. He is fascinated by planes and she likes to create, but between the two of them there is enough lacking. One day, God came down to grant them wishes. No, not the usual three wishes but one each. The creator wished God to grant the man all his heart desires. She could have wished for everything she wanted – good health, wealth, beauty – instead, she wished for him to get his heart desires. The one fascinated by planes, on his turn, wished God to make the woman happy. He could have kept his wish for a rainy day because he still would have received his heart desires, thanks to the woman, but he wished for her happiness instead. In the end, both got more than what they asked for – an affirmation of a love so true and selfless.‖ I was still in a bubble of mushiness, lost in the story, when Laide laughed out a loud contemptuous laughter that got me more shocked than irritated. ―But why are you laughing like that?‖ I asked her ―Go and look into the mirror‖ she said ―Why?‖ ―Did you see your face? You looked so stupid oooing and aahing to some silly story I just told you.‖ ―What?! It is a beautiful story.‖ ―That I made up.‖ ―You mean you lied?‖

―You are a fool to believe every story you hear because stories are lies, especially the sweet ones, and where there is truth, it is often manipulated. Have you ever heard of a woman who preferred broke love to wealth and beauty?‖ She hissed loudly and continued, ―You‘re so gullible. I do this to you every time and you still do not learn. Come, check my back, are the pimples very visible? Are they noticeable?‖ I carried my long-irritated face to Laide‘s back.

―They are. Maybe you should wear a dress that fully covers your back instead of this string-like thing.‖ ―Ah, no way! There‘s no way I‘m changing into one of those boring dresses. Besides, it really depends on how I wear the dress. Confidence covers imperfections, do you not know? I can rock this dress so well that no one will notice the dark spots on my back, and even if they do, who cares?‖

It was typical of Laide to ask, my opinion, and then turn around and answer the question herself. It was as if she wanted to show me she was more knowledgeable, more conversant, more experienced, and that she only asked to reiterate my limited knowledge of things – my stupidity. But oh, how I loved Laide. She was a free spirit. Her own person. Laide woke up and lived, where I moped around for excuses and validation. She would say to me, ―when are you going to step out of the shadows and become one with the light?‖ She never got any reply. Not that I didn‘t say anything or attempt to answer her question, but that my answer wasn‘t what she wanted to hear. Laide spent time knowing herself. She could reach within her and pull out her desires like a magician pulls a white rabbit out of his hat, and every day, she seemed to discover pleasant little surprises about herself. She made life seem so easy and uncomplicated, but not for me. Maybe her way of living was for those who dared – women who dared. Women like Laide who could say vagina and talk about sex without flinching so that you could hear the sound of each letter as it left their lips. And there I would be, seated on the bed, my face burning hot with shame as she goes on and on about the thing between her thighs – the part which makes her feel like a cloud when stroked, the part which makes her twist like a thick maggot, and the part which makes her water. Laide had no shame. ―Why should I be ashamed of my own body parts? Each has its own purpose, you know. There‘s a reason for holes and spaces.‖ She would say, then bring her face close to mine in such a way that I could feel her breath, ―Have you ever kissed a woman before? I have. I can teach you.‖ Her eyes would grow wide with excitement. I would push her away. ―You‘re such a drab‖, she would say and walk past me into the bathroom. I would hear fidgeting, a clunker of things, water flowing. A few minutes later, she would emerge, sober, and hop into bed beside me. I figured that maybe, she leaves all her madness inside the shower. *** When we were nineteen, one of our mates from school died from food poisoning. Laide and I were in the school choir. We rehearsed every day for three weeks until the day of burial arrived and we sang and sang till our bellies were full with air and sadness. It was here I got to know and understand that singing – passionate singing – sometimes triggered tears. Laide never cried but she cried that day.

And it wasn‘t because of death. I know this for sure because Laide didn‘t even shed a single tear when her father died. So why did she cry that day? I‘ll tell you why. It was because of the singing. We could all feel it on our skin. The hairs on our arms rose, as if growing with our voices. When I turned to peep at Laide, I saw a tear run down her right cheek. I wasn‘t brave enough to take a second look at her. When it was time to go around the corpse, when some of our colleagues said we had to do it three times and others argued that once was enough, Laide said she wanted to die young – still beautiful and in her prime. She said dying young was everything. You get to retain your youthfulness, your beauty, your body shape. She also said you‘re remembered for potential. ―Potential is good. This way you don‘t have to deal with any pressures or failures. People‘s last memories of you would be rich and fertile.‖ she added. She also said she would want to be cremated. Not to be put in a cramped box and dropped in some hastily dug out hole in-between or on top of skeletons of people she‘d never known. ―Cemeteries are so crowded these days‖, she said, ―and people do all kinds of things there. They spit on the dead. They pee on them. They shit on them. They even take their gold. I don‘t want anyone to disrespect me this way when I‘m dead. I‘d rather be burnt. Set free.‖ That was exactly what we did for her. We set her free to travel with the winds at twenty-seven. Somehow, I felt she lived the wild life because she wanted to die young. With all her beauty. With her soul still intact. It made me believe, that somehow, we go exactly how we want to. How we will it in our hearts to go. Laide was such a fighter. Unlike me, she knew exactly what she wanted, and as they say the universe does, it conspired to give it to her even unto death. ***

Laide By Victoria Naa Takia Nunoo Victoria Naa Takia Nunoo is a Ghanaian writer, poet, and a reader with recent bias towards reading African Literature. Her work has appeared in The Kalahari Review and is forthcoming in other literary magazines. She currently lives in Greater Accra, Ghana. You can read more of her work on her blog or connect with her via Twitter or Instagram.

7. THE ANGELS ARE UPON US Mummy is fond of saying the angels are upon us every time something good happens to us unexpectedly. Last week, we were in the kitchen peeling yams on wooden stools with the door wide open because there was no light and it was stuffy. While using her arm to wipe the sweat off her face, Mummy had said, 'It's too hot. I hope they bring light soon' and on cue, the ceiling fan began to move and the fluorescent lamp buzzed twice before switching on. She had sighed in relief as she dropped the yam she was holding in order to enjoy the soothing breeze of the fan above us. The pores on our skin were on fire and like water, the breeze had quenched the flames. Mummy looked at me some seconds later before she smiled and said, 'Ah, the angels are upon us.' Today, as she stirs the pot of beans she‘s preparing for dinner I ask, 'Mummy, why do you always say that phrase when something good happens to us?' She replies, 'I say it because I know God has seen that we need some help and has sent the angels down to help us.‗ 'Why don't you think it's God helping us on His own?‗ 'He's helping us through the angels. You have to understand that God is God and the angels help Him carry out different tasks while He works on the big ones like your daddy‘s job. Isn't it God that made the rich man that lives down the road hire your daddy to make the furniture for his new house in Ikeja?‘ I nod in agreement. Ever since daddy was hired to make furniture for Mr. Bello — the rich man that lived down the road— he'd been able to pay for my brother and I's tuition fees without a problem. 'It‘s truly the work of God,' I say. 'But Mummy, what makes you think more than one angel is upon us?‗ 'We all have two angels watching over us, that's why I believe they move in groups of two. I also believe that it's only the angels of higher ranking that work alone. Why do you think Angel Jibril was responsible for revealing the Quran to Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, and Angel Mikail is responsible for the rewards given to good people in this life?' She pauses for a few seconds before she continues; the confidence is obvious in her voice now. 'That's just my theory anyway.‗ I laugh. Mummy has so many theories that it's impossible to keep up with all of them. I watch as she taps the edge of the wooden spoon on her palm before licking the small trail of beans and pepper the spoon leaves. She nods at the taste before replacing the lid on the pot.

'Falila, bring out the plantains from the store,' she says. I go into the store to find the plantains. It's a small room in the kitchen, about the same size as a broom closet but wider. It has provisions arranged on the wooden shelves and baskets of onions, yams and potatoes on the floor. The basket for plantains is empty. 'Mummy, the plantains are finished.' I say as I walk out of the tiny room. 'Then you'll have to buy some from Mrs Tijani. I told your daddy that he would have beans and plantain tonight. The man has even sent a text saying he's looking forward to dinner.' 'I'm not surprised. That man likes food too much,' I say mischievously. 'Let him hear you,' she says in Yoruba as she eyes me. 'It's because I play with you too much that you think you can make jest of my husband. Your sharp mouth will soon put you into trouble,' she warns as she pretends to slap me with the back of her hand. I feel the heat of the slap that could have been anyway. 'Mummy sorry o, I got carried away.' I laugh nervously. She waves my apology away with her hand as she unfolds the inside of her wrapper to reveal folded amounts of money. 'Buy six yellow plantains. Make sure they aren't too soft o. I don't want to drink oil tonight,' she teases. She has started again. 'Mummy don‘t start this soft plantain versus hard plantain argument again o. You‘ve started again.' She laughs deeply as I say exactly what she was expecting to hear. 'There's nothing to argue about. Soft plantain isn't appealing at all. At all, at all,' she says as she shakes her head vigorously. 'I'm going to leave before this argument intensifies but I want you to know that soft plantain is the reason many men love their wives back at night.' I begin to back away as I mimic Emeka's accent from the movie, Blackberry Babes. 'You this child, I will beat you oh!' She screams as she chases me out of the kitchen. 'And change out of those basketball shorts before you leave this house,' I hear her shout as I run up the stairs. I can still hear her laughing as she walks back into the kitchen.

Mummy told me that I had the freedom to dress as I pleased in the house but if I were to step out, I'd have to leave in a skirt or dress. As I take off my shorts, I remember the last time I'd worn them had been during a fight with Fatiu, my brother. Fatiu was a year older than me. We both attended the University of Lagos but anytime Fatiu saw me in public he'd pretend he didn't know me. I couldn't blame him though. He was popular on campus and I didn't live up to name of being his sister because I preferred wearing baggy jeans and basketball jerseys to heels and fashionable outfits. I didn't even wear make-up. Anyway, on that particular day he'd been angry with me for some reason, so we'd been arguing in the compound. 'I'll beat you oh', he shouted. 'If you have the liver, you'll come and beat me.' I retorted. He approached me and we began to wrestle like village men competing for a title. As we scuffled, we were oblivious to the sound of footsteps coming towards us. The only sounds we could hear were the abuses we rained on each other and groans as we struggled to grab our opponent's legs in order for us to lift and slam our opponent onto the ground. Once that happened, the fight would be over until another day. I heard someone exclaim 'Ah!' but we carried on fighting. Fatiu had left a spot open so I was able to carry his skinny legs and lift his equally skinny body onto my back. 'Ah!' the voice exclaimed again. I slammed Fatiu onto the ground. 'Ah!' the voice screamed. 'Fatiu! Come here.' I looked up and had seen Daddy's tall and lanky frame standing a few feet away from us. His dark face was attempting to fight the laughter about to erupt from his mouth and failing terribly. Fatiu had gotten up from the ground, dusted off his clothes and walked towards him slowly. The shame was evident on his face. Realising that he couldn't fight it any longer, Daddy allowed himself to laugh till he was sure all form of humour had left his body. Then he became serious and asked, 'Do you think it's good to put your hands on women? Answer me.' From where I stood, I couldn't see Fatiu's face but I was sure his face contorted before he whined, 'But Daddy, she's the one who—‗ 'Shut up! I've told you not put to put your hands on women. Haven't I?'

'Yes sir', Fatiu mumbled. At that point, I knew his fair skin was red due to a mixture of anger and shame. Daddy was a feminist, which was sort of rare because as he stated, most men his age didn't know jack about women's rights nor acknowledged that women should have rights at all. The day the gender equality bill was rejected, Daddy had come home in a dark mood and didn't speak to any of us until dinnertime. At the dinner table, he'd expressed his disbelief that a bill able to move the country one step forward even if it was at the pace of a turtle, could be rejected due to misogyny and misdirected religious beliefs. He'd also stated that this decision had taken the country several steps back into the olden days. Due to all the discussions, he'd had with his mother as a child about real life issues, Daddy ensured he had the same discussions with us. Last week's topic had been about violence. A man shouldn't hit a woman and a woman shouldn't hit a man. Period. The message was loud and clear. So Fatiu felt guilty because he'd disobeyed Daddy. He hated disappointing our father. 'If you'd been eating like we've been advising you to, do you think your sister would have been able to carry you like that? See what has happened now. Go inside my friend.' He hissed. I tried to explain to Daddy about our genes and the fact that we'd inherited his lanky frame. He'd always listened to my explanation before stating that people could also be shaped by their environment, and then go on to give me work that involved research on the nature versus nurture debate. Sometimes, strangers are amazed at how intelligent my father is because he's just a furniture maker. They have no idea that if he'd been given the opportunity to go to university he might have ended up being a professor or even a doctor. Despite being poverty-stricken, my father has never allowed poverty to stop him from acquiring knowledge. Fatiu walked inside quickly, mumbling in anger as he took each step. Daddy then turned to look at me and raised up his arms with balled fists, the way people do when they hail someone. 'O ga ju. You beat your brother in a fight? Champion.' he sang as he walked towards me, shaking his levitated arms for emphasis. I blushed. Fatiu had been scolded while I'd been hailed; the score between us was now 2-0 with me way in lead. I was so distracted that I didn't see my Dad reach out to box one of my ears till I felt a sharp tug. 'Ouch, Daddy.' I winced in pain. 'What was last week's topic about ehn? You never listen to instructions.' He said as he twisted my ear harder. I winced; it felt as if fire was burning my ear. The pain was unbearable.

'You can't seem to comprehend that you're no longer in secondary school. You should act like a lady. If I see you fight again, I will deal with you mercilessly,' he warned as he gave my ear a final twist before letting it go. 'Now, get out of my sight and change out of those ugly basketball shorts.' *** As I walk out of our compound, I'm greeted with the noise of horns as a number of vehicles zoom past. We live in a house around Anthony and living here is to live with the knowledge that peace can only come at night. The horns of cars in traffic are the songs we hear constantly around here, and what contribute to the traffic are the narrow roads and the presence of businesses. The parking spaces for these businesses are usually small areas in front of the building itself. Chains attached to stands with 'No Parking' signs on them prevent outsiders from obstructing some of these parking spaces. It can be a place of confusion where looks of frustration are observed on the faces of people driving home from work and on the faces of passengers in danfo buses, sweating as they wait in the traffic that is usually along the entire expressway. Despite all of that, Anthony can also be a place of joy where old Nigerian songs can be heard at loud volumes on certain streets filled with buildings that have supermarkets with red CocaCola signboards bearing the name of the shop and wooden kiosks in front of others. I walk past the Mosque as I make my way to Mrs Tijani's kiosk. Mrs. Tijani has been my mother's best friend since they were children. They grew up together in Ibadan and moved to Lagos around the same time before they got married and moved into the same neighborhood. They are entirely different from each other. My mother is short and petite with fair skin while Mrs.Tijani is tall and curvy with dark skin. My mother is outgoing and a chatterbox while Mrs. Tijani is quiet and reserved but unlike my mother she can be extremely intimidating when she wants to be. The windows in the Mosque are open and I can see children having their Arabic lessons; their mouths are moving as they repeat after the teacher. I can still remember my Arabic lessons in this Mosque and I begin to recite the Arabic alphabets as I approach the main road. There are a number of traders selling different foodstuffs weighed down on wooden tables on both sides of the road. Mrs.Tijani and her juicy plantains come into view as I recite to myself. Alif. Mrs. Tijani roasts plantains in addition to selling them and the aroma has travelled along the road and into my nostrils. Baa.

Maybe I'd buy one or two in case Mummy wants as well. Taa. Someone is walking very close to me and there's a lot of space around. It's making me uncomfortable. Thaa. I quicken my pace. Two more steps and I'd be directly in front of Mrs.Tijani. 'Jiim—' The person grabs a handful of my shirt and making me stop abruptly in fear. 'I will tear your shirt, if you don't give me your number,' a voice says roughly. I look down at the hand holding my shirt. The hand is manly and I can see the outline of many veins, as if ready to yank my shirt off my body any minute. I look up at the person. I've never seen this man in my life, yet he looks at me as if I owe him money.

'Ehn?' I ask. There is no way he said that he'd tear my shirt if I didn't give him my number. 'I said if you don't give me your number, I will tear your shirt', he says again. His dark face is frowning but I can tell he's about the same age as me. Twenty. Twenty-one. Whatever. I'm distracted by the disgust on his face. He's looking at me as if I smell and it irritates me because it's clear his aggression is masking his insecurity. He's probably afraid I'd reject him and in order for him to prevent that, he's decided to grab my shirt so he can get what he wants without a fight. Typical. 'Remove your hand from my shirt!' I shout. His grip tightens. 'I will tear your shirt o!' He shouts back. 'Give me your number.‗ 'You dey craze? I said you should leave my shirt and you're still asking for my number.' 'See ehn, I go show you madness today. You think say I no know who you be? Your Papa dey make furniture and you dey go UNILAG. Do you think you're better than me because you're in university? I also went to school oh and I can speak good english.'

I become terrified. I want to ask how he knows all these things about me but he's speaking quickly without allowing room for interruption. 'I went to Arabic school with you and you never noticed me then. I always see you walking around here, buying plantains from this woman,' he says as he points to Mrs. Tijani. My fear prevents me from speaking. When someone tells you details of your life like that, you can't help but feel exposed. It's as if the person has stripped you of your clothes and has left you to stand naked in the middle of the road for everyone to see. A party had been thrown for me at the Arabic school when I'd gotten admission into UNILAG earlier this year. Had he been there? How many times had he seen me buy plantains from Mrs. Tijani? Had he been planning to accost me all along? Did he know where I lived? 'Please, let go of my shirt,' I say. 'Give me your number.' 'Let go of my shirt.' 'Give me your number.‗ 'I'm not giving you my number so you better let go of my shirt!' I scream. Everyone is watching now but no one tries to do anything about it. Some shout, 'Stop playing hard to get. Give him your number.' Others yell, 'Give him what number? See the way he's holding her. Does he want to tear her clothes?' Yet no one tries to help me. This man isn't Fatiu that I can slam onto ground. This man could strip me naked without any effort. As we stare at each other, I know neither of us is going to give in. It seems as if we're both going to die here. As tears form at the bottom of my eyes, I wish I hadn't wasted time teasing Mummy or changing my clothes. If I'd left the house immediately after receiving the money for the plantains, I doubt I would have run into this man and I wouldn't have to be here, humiliated as I wait for a strange man to decide my fate.

Finally, someone walks towards me from behind. It's Mrs. Tijani. 'Leave her alone. What kind of rubbish is this? Do you want to tear her shirt? See ehn, you better leave this place before I open my eyes.' She shouts as she closes her eyes. There is fear in his eyes as he immediately lets go of my blouse. I'm surprised at how quickly he lets go, maybe it's because he didn't expect anybody to help me. The fact that Mrs Tijani poses as an obstacle to his goal scares him to the point that he begins to back away, quickly. She can be extremely intimidating when she wants to be. I sigh in relief and think the ordeal is over when he begins to shout 'Prostitute! Prostitute!' in Yoruba. 'You will not give me your number but you can give it to old men and lecturers! Prostitute!' He screams other profanities as he stretches out his palm towards me. He shouts with such vigour that it seems as if I've stolen something from him and he's shouting 'Thief! Thief!' Mrs Tijani grabs my arm, drags me to her stall and attempts to distract me by asking how many plantains I want. I'm still shaking from anger and fear so I find it hard to focus on the words coming out of her mouth. I study the plantains and choose the six I want, trying to distract myself from the man that's still shouting behind me. I can hear him walking backwards towards the road as he screams. Can't he just leave? – I ask myself 'This child will not watch where he‘s going', the woman on the table next to Mrs Tijani says in Yoruba. She's about to warn the young man to watch where he's going but Mrs Tijani puts her hand on the woman's thigh and signals at her not to say anything. I'm no longer paying attention as I count the right amount to give Mrs Tijani. 'Idiot. Do you think you're better than me? Stupid girl. Pros-' It happens so fast; the screeching of a vehicle, the sound of impact and finally, silence as though an angel has passed by. Then chaos follows. Everyone on the street is focused on the scene behind me. The woman next to Mrs Tijani is on her feet, trying to see what has happened. I finally turn to see a body in the middle of the ground covered in blood. The body is moving, and some people are checking to see how badly the man has been injured. Luckily, he's only sustained minor injuries on his body and a gash on his forehead.

A trail of blood rolls down the side of his face as more people run towards the man to help him. The driver of the danfo that hit him is pacing back and forth in anguish while his passengers are getting off the bus to take a glimpse at the fate of the man on the ground. I can't help but think of the traffic this accident would have caused if the man had been killed. It's close to rush hour, Daddy will be home soon and Mummy will be wondering what's taking me so long. The man takes heavy breaths as he remains on the ground in shock and pain. He turns his head to look in my direction and catches my gaze. A thought comes into my mind that I try to flick away, but it lingers like the sound of a mosquito flying around my ear. It demands attention and a reaction and so I react, by laughing. I walk closer to the man and I look him in the eye and say 'Look at where your entitlement has put you. Shey you know good english so you must know what entitlement means. Fool.' One of the spectators that watched as the man held my shirt shouts, 'Ahn ahn, is that fair? A bus hit the man and you're abusing him. Shame on you.' I wave my hand in dismissal. 'Mister man, please mind your business. Were you not part of the people watching as he harassed me? Shame on you.' The spectator keeps quiet and looks away uncomfortably. As the man that harassed me remains on the ground, groaning in pain and embarrassment, one of the passengers from the bus shouts, 'Stand up now, do you want to cause traffic?' I laugh to myself as I return to the side of road to collect the bag of plantains from Mrs Tijani. 'Thank you', I say. My gratitude is not just for the plantains. She smiles in response and I smile back at her as I begin to walk back home. Dare Art Alade's 'Fuji Music' is playing loudly, drowning out the horns of vehicles and the chatter of the people gathered around the injured man on the ground. When I reach the end of the street, I look back and see that the injured man has been carried to a bench on the side of the road and the danfo passengers are realighting the bus. Someone is tending to the gash on the man's forehead as he winces in pain. His right hand covers his face, it seems as if he's embarrassed about his accident and my heart can't help but feel vindicated. Every (every) Body (body) Vamoose to the dance floor

Come shake your body No be wetin you ask for The upbeat tempo of ‗Fuji Music‘ passes through my ears again and I dance to the beat in response while singing along. With everything that transpired between the man and I at the main road, it's safe to say that Mummy was right; the angels are upon us. ***

The Angels are upon us By Wonuola Lawal Wonuola Lawal is a photographer and writer whose work focuses on exploring the identities and vulnerabilities of herself and others.

8. FORTY - EIGHT HOURS She was a stranger to herself each time she passed the mirror to take down a dream catcher that sold. She smiled like a painted doll. The pain in her chest was growing. The other stall holders gathered around her with their outstretched arms for a hug, their sweet-smelling perfume and hot cups of tea. ―Ag, shame, we can cover for you. Don‘t worry about a thing. Shame man.‖ They said. ―Go home, we‘ll manage lovey,‖ Sarah looked into her eyes, her head at a slight angle. The sun light was fading into a pink and orange haze by the time she parked her car outside the house. It was a beautiful summer evening but she couldn‘t have cared less, his car was not in its usual parking place. She hardly noticed the dogs as she thrust past them into the house. The air smelt of old cooked food and remnants of nag patchouli incense from the night before. His ghost was everywhere; by his bed, around the computer, on the entrance table. Francesca opened a bottle of wine and poured a high glass. I need a sign she thought to herself. Aaah, the lunch box she filled every morning so tenderly for him. He must have left it on the kitchen table as a sign. He will come back. His words echoed in her mind. She downed the red sharp wine and filled up her glass. She drank that too and then went to lie down. His wedding ring was gone from next to their bed where it lay before she had left for work. That was a great sign she thought. He will be back. Clutching the rose quartz crystal that lay around her neck she tossed and turned in the bed. How do you grieve the loss of someone who is still alive? She whispered aloud to herself that she was in a cocoon, she was safe and must stop this fear from growing. His pillow was squashed between her legs, his smell on the soft cotton sheets. Sleep would not come. Francesca kicked off her make-shift safe space of duvet and sheets and tossed his pillow in a corner of the room. Making her way to the kitchen, giddy and drunk, she pulled out her favourite tarot cards from the book shelf and filled up the glass with more wine. The cards were bad. She pulled another. Better. The youthful plump face of a pretty lady with a pink bodice smiled up at her. Vines and lilac little roses surrounded her dark curly hair. It was the card ‗Guinevere.‘ ‗The romantic stirrings in your heart have propelled the universe to deliver great love to you,‘ the card read. ―Oh my God,‖ she shouted up into the empty lounge, ―my Jack will return.‖ The card was the ultimate sign.

Now very drunk and so thankful there were only the dogs to witness her epiphany she began to wonder around the empty house. She recalled his words after the fight that night, so unlike him. ―I cannot go on like this, you have no boundaries with your kids. It‘s so sad Francesca that you won‘t listen to me, that I am leaving but there has been no betrayal.‖ ―Are you sure this is what you want?‖ Francesca had asked sitting next to him in the bed. Turning to look in his eyes and holding his strong brown forearms with both her hands. There were tears in his eyes. ―Yes.‖ The bottom of her world dropped away. That long lost twice over familiar pain filling her up. Her first husband lost to betrayal, her second to addiction and now her true love leaving because it was all too much. Failed business ventures, step children, bad boundaries and a wife who would not hear him. Back in her cocoon Francesca began to lament. The pain was so bad she floated up toward the ceiling, its old white pressed patterns stopping her from going beyond. The wine was doing its magic in a terrible way. She knew those stories of woman and men who woke up one morning and walked out of years and years of love. Just like that. It was rare. She skirted around the idea of Karl, the handsome blonde neighbourhood bachelor who was now a good friend of Jack. They spent many nights together at the local bar. She remembered the day she had found herself loving him at a party, years ago. His kind words and hard kisses. It had only been one night and that was long before their love. The wine started to wear off. Francesca checked her phone. No messages. Jack had last looked at his phone at 11 pm. He could be lying in the arms of someone else. What of her children, how would she explain her pain to them? How would she even get up in the morning? She could not drop one foot onto the floor and sit up. Never mind two. There was a knot of the worst kind in her stomach. Heavy with lost love and shock. Sleep must come, she thought. She would need her job more than ever if he was truly leaving. Tomorrow would be a nightmare. Her last dark imaginings were of her husband and Karl embracing.

When she woke her right hand was still clutching the smooth rose quartz by around her neck. The garden birds were unforgiving in their tweeting happiness. Her mouth was dry as hell. She bolted up and leant over the bed sliding her fingers around the carpet for her phone. It was cool in her hands. There was a message from him. ―How are you? I am sorry for the pain I am causing us but we both need to evolve. Do you want to meet at the local around seven tonight?‖ She stood dead still in the middle of her room. The first real sign. When he did eventually walk in, Francesca was peering at the door above a young man on a couch in the smoking section. She stood up reaching out her hand into the air and waved to him. A weak smile on her face. The pub was full.

There were tables of loud people laughing and flirting and raising eyebrows above exaggerated big eyes, Glasses being thumped on the shiny brown mahogany bar counter beneath a sheath of glass. There was woman in the latest fashionable tight tops and big hoop earrings leaning into each other on the table to her right. He made his way to her and sat down. ―Can I get you a drink?‖ he smiled and looked her straight in the eyes. ―I‗ve ordered already. The usual. The waiter was here earlier so I just asked him.‖ ―How are you?‖ ―Terrible,‖ Francesca looked down at her fingers with their bitten nails. ―I don‘t want to leave you in suspense but I still love you. I really don‘t want to leave but things need to change,‖ he said. ―Anything, absolutely anything.‖ She lifted her shoulders and smiled at him, the grief and shock giving way to delight. ―Of course, anything, thank you Jack.‖ By the time the drinks came they were chatting and laughing as if it had all been a dream. It was a wakeup call for her, Francesca knew. She would have to write it all down so she would never forget, never take him for granted again. Life was full of surprises. The music got louder and louder. They had to lean over the table to hear each other but the drinks were making her smile more and more. Some locals came over to say hello. Karl sat down next to her and commented on her necklace. ―Very pretty, like you.‖ She blushed. Karl and Jack began to chat. She couldn‘t hear what they were saying but knew it was about Jack‘s recent business that had failed. Both faces grew stern. It was the perfect time to go to the washroom. She was already nauseous from the night before, and she wanted to scold herself for drinking again. Instead she smiled and tossed her head in front of the mirror checking her teeth and putting on extra eye-liner. Back at the table things were looking rosy. Both men and a friend of Karl were joking about something. They kept roaring with laughter. The night drew on. ―You really are glowing Francesca,‖ Karl said after downing a tequila. ―I would love to take you home.‖ ―You would have to ask my husband,‖ Francesca tilted her head and laughed. Her husband glanced up at her and blew a kiss. The pain in her chest began to subside. When they left the pub, there was a full moon rising in the dark sky. Clouds grew white as they passed over her high up toward the stars.

They walked home hand in hand. On the steps to their front door Jack kissed his wife. A car door slammed. Some steps followed behind. It was Karl. ―Welcome,‖ Jack let go of Francesca and opened the door, a little unsteady on his feet. Karl stepped into the house. She followed the men in and watched from a distance as they opened up a bottle of champagne and stood around arranging wine glasses. They were giggly and definitely tipsy. ―Come sweetheart,‖ Karl called to Francesca. ―Let‘s celebrate. Tonight, will be a first for all of us.‖ Jack came toward her with a champagne glass bubbling over. He bent toward her ear and whispered ―I said yes.‖ ―Pardon?‖ ―I said yes, you know, to you sleeping with him and me, together. What do you think of that, you said he could ask my permission?‖ ―I was joking Jack. It was a joke.‖ She felt a lump in her throat and held her breath to stop herself from letting out a sob. ―Don‘t worry J, she was probably joking. I may have read it all wrong.‖ Karl spoke with a slight aristocratic tone. He didn‘t look up from the champagne bottle he was fiddling with. ―It‘s a ridiculous idea anyhow.‖ Francesca thought of her last forty-eight hours, of the pain, the loneliness, and the shock. That one second when her world had fallen away beneath her. The fear. She pulled her shoulders back and smiled. ―You two are pretty drunk but, well, let‘s give it a whirl.‖ Francesca downed her champagne and kissed her husband firmly. The bedroom was stuffy and dark. She slid open the glass veranda door and for a moment stood in the salty sea air breeze. She took out a lighter from her pocket and lit the candles. When she saw how awkward they looked standing at the doorway, soberer now then a few minutes before, she laughed out loud. She slowly undressed, pulling in her tummy and sat up tall on the bed. It was not how she imagined it would be. They concentrated only on her. There was a moment or two when she noticed strong rough hands in the dull light pressing on a shoulder for support. The men seemed to flitter past each other in their movements. How kind they both are to me, she had thought to herself.

When the last of them was satisfied Francesca rolled over to the end of the bed with the sheet wrapped around her and lay in the cool breeze. She pretended to fall fast asleep. The men dressed in silence, only a Christmas beetle could be heard banging again and again into the window above the bed. They crept out closing the door gently behind them. Like thieves in the night, she smiled to herself. She heard music begin in the lounge and a cork go off. Soon Jack and Karl were chatting and laughing, she could hear snippets of their usual philosophical tipsy banter. The moon rose high above the sea and some of her light fell into the room. Guinevere lay facing out, surrounded by the pink and green and pretty flowers. She smiled up from the top of the deck with the king tucked just below ‗The romantic stirrings in your heart have propelled the universe to deliver great love to you.‘ And it had. A gust of wind encircles me with the same rotating movement of a tornado and I imagine the wings of my two angels fanning me as they dance by my side. They may have flown me home without my knowledge because I return in good time and the plantains are sizzling in hot oil before the horn of Daddy's car announces his return. ***

Forty-eight Hours By Catherine Shepherd Catherine has a degree in journalism from Rhodes University. Her short stories have appeared in various publications including My Holiday Shorts, My Maths Teacher Hates Me, Imagine Africa 500 and the 2016 Writivism Anthology. Her latest project was the editing of a young writers anthology 'Misplaced and Other Stories' under the supervision of author and editor Karina Szczurek and Rachel Zadok, founder of Short Story Day Africa. She lives in Cape Town, but has plans to build a writer's retreat in the historic village of Suurbraak in the Langenberg mountains.

9. LANDMINES IN MY MIND At times, I still get embarrassed when I say it out loud. There are days when I feel like I‘m lying even though the reality I live tells me otherwise. I am a young African woman that suffers from bipolar disorder. I feel like an abomination in a society that believes that black people do not suffer from mental illness. I felt the emptiness at a very young age. As a child that never knew her father I always thought the void was because of his absence. It was as though a piece of my soul was missing. I would nag my mother to let me call him. There were days I would attempt to run away, my three-year-old self not aware of the fact that one could not walk to America. The feeling of emptiness got worse when I began living with my uncle. My mom had accepted a job in a smaller town and I was left in the city to get a ―better‖ education. The psychologist kept asking but I can‘t seem to pinpoint what exactly made the void grow into a full blown mental illness. I remember getting more reserved. I started staying home while my friends played outdoors. I had convinced myself that if I hated what I saw in the mirror, then everyone else did. It was as if they could see my weakness and were free to judge me. The only thing I could do while hiding was to develop habits that made me relax. I began obsessively cleaning; everything had to be in place and in even numbers if possible. If I couldn‘t control the world around me, I would control my immediate surroundings! The repetition, the constant checking and double checking, the growing insecurities about who I was, all began affecting my work. I went from being an A student to one that could barely get a C. I moved from the front of the class to a corner in the back, hoping that no one could see me. Perhaps this was the reason I became an easy target for bullies. I was taunted and teased for being too tall, too dark, too quiet, and too uncool. As the bullying intensified, I stopped crying and began to internalize. I didn‘t have anyone to talk to. My mom was in a town far away and my sister in boarding school. I was a 6th grade student that didn‘t have any friends except the suicidal thoughts that visited every day. The crying only started in high school. Every day during Biology class I would sit in the bathroom and cry. With every tear, the darkness seemed to gain more life, growing bigger and faster. I cried because although I was a top student, I still was seen as uncool. I cried because while my friends were seen as beautiful and began dating, I was still viewed as somewhat of a weirdo. I cried because I could not tell any of my friends that on some days we didn‘t have water and food at home or that I wore an old and dirty uniform because my uncle didn‘t see the importance of looking presentable at school.

But most importantly I cried because I was broken inside and no one could fix me. While many teens were preoccupied with parties and relationships, I hid in my room trying my best not to slit my wrists or drink the entire bottle of Panados. Weird enough, pills have always been my tool of choice. The first time I tried to kill myself, I bought myself a bottle of painkillers and a box of sleeping pills. My mind felt like a dimly lit maze. I could not find my way out nor could I find a reason to keep going; to keep looking for a place of refuge where I could not find rest. That day I skipped lectures and lay in bed all day, hoping that someone would notice my absence and save me from myself. Like every day, no one came. No one realized that I needed help. No one seemed to perceive me as important. I took all the pills and lay there waiting for death to come. I waited, but it seemed like even death didn‘t want to be in my presence. My body was aching, left exhausted from the trips to bathroom and my inability to keep food down. I remember my first attempt at killing myself because it plunged me further into the abyss. I began skipping lectures and slept all day. I didn‘t see the need for anything and anyone. The thing about depression is that it‘s very selfish; it wants you all to itself. There is no room for friendships let alone studying to get a degree. It puts you in an invisible prison where you are in constant agony but unable to articulate it. And when you can finally admit to those around you that you are in a lot of pain, they dismiss it since it has no physical manifestation. They confuse the depression that is slowly choking life out of you with mere sadness. Even with the dark cloud of depression following my every move, I still managed to get my degree which was a blessing because I was contracted to work in an audit firm after graduation. In the beginning, the thought of working made me excited. An elaborate reality had been set out in my mind: leaving school meant leaving depression. This was true at first. I managed to wake up every morning and go to work. I even managed to make a few friends. Everything seemed perfect until I began to unravel. Soon going to work felt like a chore. All I wanted to do was cry and sleep; and this is what I did. I began to miss work regularly and began running behind with deadlines. My mental health was aggravated by the fact that I worked under a partner that seemed to enjoy screaming at people. My failing health was attributed to stress until I came close to succeeding in my suicide attempt. I remember coming from a client in Windhoek‘s Industrial Area. I had already been in a terrible space and a conversation with a loved one pushed me over the edge. It was the feeling of being unloved that I couldn‘t stand. I got home and locked myself in the toilet where I cried for a long while. It started off as a need to sleep; I wanted to sleep to escape the pain. I wanted to sleep to forget the gaping hole that exists in my soul. In my wanting to sleep, I reached for my sleeping pills. Initially I wanted to take one pill, however I ended up finishing the entire box. Within five minutes I could feel myself grow sleepy. As my body got heavier, I lay on my bed almost excited at the thought that I will never wake up again.

The next thing I remember is my mom telling someone to help her carry me to the bath tub. I kept drifting in and out of consciousness, not entirely sure if I was dreaming or if this is what death looked like. To this day, I am still unsure why my mom didn‘t call the ambulance or take me to the hospital. Perhaps she was ashamed of the fact that her daughter, who everyone thought was perfect, tried to kill herself. Perhaps whatever she did in the bath tub was enough for her to believe I wouldn‘t die. Or maybe she took me to the hospital and I couldn‘t remember. When I finally became fully conscious, I was in my bed. All my mother asked was, ―Why did you do it?‖ How do you begin explaining to your mother that you prefer death over life? How does one articulate the emptiness and torment that is experienced daily? It‘s like hell is resident in one‘s mind. An urgent appointment was made with a physiologist. It is not normal to want to die all the time or at least that is what I was told. However, when I wasn‘t swimming in sorrow, I was plotting and planning how could hide from the world or how to die. The psychologist quickly referred me to a psychiatrist because it seemed as though talking through the darkness was not enough. I remember my first visit with the psychiatrist because it made me nervous. The reason for me seeing her was never explained to me; so, I sat on her couch waiting to be interrogated. Instead of interrogating me, she allowed me to talk openly; freely. For the first time, someone wanted to hear what was causing my pain without any judgement. The visit to the psychiatrist meant I was going back on medication. I say going back because in my honour‘s year at varsity I was diagnosed with severe depression and immediately put on antidepressants. I despised it. It was like living in a fog; I couldn‘t think, I couldn‘t sleep, I couldn‘t eat. My brain was moving in slow motion and my body still couldn‘t catch up. Everyone around me thought I was fine, but I was far from it. So, when the psychiatrist placed me back on medication, I waited for the fog to roll in. But it didn‘t!

For the first time in a long time my mind felt clear. I felt a peace I had never experienced before. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of what ―normal‖ felt like. The will and the ability to hang out with friends was suddenly there. It was amazing and I loved every minute of it. It was as though I was on a high. If this is what everyone felt like every day, why was the world such a horrid place? The moment I thought my life was perfect, I began gaining weight. At first it was around my waist and I could hide it from the world. However, I couldn‘t fit in any of my clothes. Instead of being happy and excited, I became self-conscious. The girl that looked back at me in the mirror was both lost and afraid. I started staying away from any and all social occasions because I never felt comfortable. I never felt good, sexy enough, and even smart enough. My self-worth evaporated and I was left scared of my own reflection. My mental illness began to spiral out of control. I no longer wanted to go out or be seen by anyone I didn‘t live with. The one thing they never prepare you for is the side effects of medication.

They don‘t tell you about the insomnia or dizziness, let alone the excessive weight gain. It‘s the type of weight that does not seem to go away regardless of how much one exercises. I had to go back to my psychiatrist and beg for new medication that won‘t make me feel like a whale. I felt like a guinea pig as we experimented with medication and dosage. I remember going to pharmacies only to find out that the medication or the dosage of medication that I needed was not stocked in Namibia. There were days when I would cry out of fear and sometimes out of pain; scared that my entire 20‘s would involve moving between various treatments in order to stabilize my moods. In that time, I realized I will forever be different from those without mental illness. My moods were a continuous roller-coaster, my medication acting as a safety belt to keep me from falling. As I write to you today, my dosage has increased twice in the last six months. I‘m more stable than I was three years ago, but I still slip into that place from time to time. My mind continues to be my enemy as it drags the past into my present and future. My biggest trigger is past relationships. They say the broken find each other. It‘s almost as though one has an antenna that sends out signals of low self-esteem, no self-worth, does not expect to be loved wholly and truly. While my friends were asked out by several people in school, I always seemed invisible. I guess I chose to settle for anything rather than being alone. My first relationship was an abusive one, but I never wanted to admit it. There were signs from the beginning; he drank too much, he treated my body as an object and felt like he could have me and several other women. The first time he hit me, he was drunk. He kept forcing me to have a drink even when he knew I hated alcohol. For a moment after he hit me, I thought I was imagining things. And just as I was about to convince myself that he didn‘t mean it, he held my face and said ―next time I‘ll hit you harder‖. He smiled and walked out the door. I couldn‘t leave. Leaving him meant leaving the only guy who ever-showed interest in me. I doubt would have left him had he not ignored me while continuing his cheating ways. Going to university was also a push in the right direction as it put distance between us. The thing about running away from a problem is that it only gets bigger. So, hiding the shame of being in an abusive relationship simply fed my depression. It solidified the notion that I was worthless and deserving of nothing good. Perhaps I hid it well, because no one seemed to notice I was in pain. On the days when I had to be in public, I used to wear a smile in hopes that no one would notice my scars. But like I said before, pain recognizes pain, and you attract those that will only feed your pain and misery. The next relationship I was in was more like a telenovela. From the moment, I met him I knew something was wrong, but I still said yes to being in a relationship with him. I ran from a physical abusive relationship into an emotionally abusive one. I did not realize just how manipulative he was until I was out. I remember the time he put me on a diet. All I could have was tea, apples and a handful of laxatives. In my head, I thought if I lost weight, he would love me more. He would spend hours telling me how beautiful and sexy my cousin was because she had the body of a model.

He wanted me to be her and I never had courage to say no. I turned a blind eye to all the flirting he did with other women. I would listen and accept the flimsy excuses he gave me whenever I found inappropriate pictures on his phone that other women had sent him. I tolerated the verbal abuse and told myself he still loved me. Until one day I log onto Facebook and find out he was engaged to a woman he always claimed was his best friend. I will be honest and say that him marrying someone else broke me, especially since he had made me believe I would be his wife. In the aftermath of this discovery, I attempted suicide several times. Should I be ashamed for wanting to die? What people don‘t understand is that I was not heartbroken because of his betrayal. I was heartbroken because it reiterated what I have always believed of myself; I am ugly and unwanted and my true self can never be loved by anyone. The thing about depression is that it takes any bit of negativity it finds and plunges you further into isolation. No number of antidepressants could save me from the darkness that crept up on me and enveloped my life. I hated the numbness that came with depression. I was desperate to feel something, anything. The numbing feeling always made me feel like I had nothing to live for. So, I began doing things in order to feel again. I‘m ashamed to say that I started undertaking reckless sexual behaviour in order to feel wanted; to feel needed. I chose to be with someone that had a girlfriend and a child because even when I found out he was in a stable relationship, I refused to leave him. I refused to believe that yet again I was being used and being regarded as trash. I shied away from the idea that I had become a prostitute, but instead of cash I was receiving false love and affection. The literature always tells you how reckless people with bipolar disorder can be. However, they don‘t tell you the toll that it takes on one‘s physical and mental state. They don‘t explain to you that the drinking, the drugs, the sex, or whatever vice one settles for will not change how you feel about yourself. They do not tell you that those with bipolar disorder always dance with the thought of death, hoping that those around them will notice and offer some help. As I write this I am in my first healthy relationship. I am with someone that understands my illness and the baggage that comes with it. It is not easy on him because I have become so accustomed to pain. I have become used to people using me and abusing me in various ways that it is still a challenge to respond to love. At times, I am unsure on how to react to his supportive nature. Days come when I try and push him away because I feel he is too good for me. However, his presence in my life has taught me several things: I am stronger than I give myself credit for, my past mistakes do not define me, I am not an illness, and, I, like everyone in this world, am deserving of unconditional love. I realized that in order for me to survive the ups and downs of my illness, I would need to let people that love me provide me with support. Support in the way of someone to talk to when I‘m down, or a hug when I‘m crying.

I‘m a black woman with bipolar disorder and many people don‘t believe it. Many people think I‘m either a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or simply one that is desperate for attention. I‘m an African woman with a mental illness and my culture says I should seek a traditional healer instead of going to the doctor. Some think I am cursed, while others think I have denied my calling as healer. I‘m a young woman who battles everyday with my mind in hopes to live another day. ***

Landmines in my mind By Ros Limbo Writer, blogger, yogi and lover of life. http://memoirsofavirginprostitute.com

10. We are Queens So, I've noticed that many people don't know how to describe us. Us, being women; Us, being the very embodiment of what resilience is; Us, being the bearers of generations to come; Us, also being the very people that they easily disrespect; Us, being the people who are expected to keep quiet while witnessing injustices and inequalities; The people that they constantly try to put down; Us, being the same people who get back up whenever they try to do that; I find it fitting to define exactly who it is that we are. We are Queens. And we are Queens since birth. I see hair wrapped up in head wraps. Hair wrapped up not knowing that our hair is yet to be silver and people are yet to come to us for wisdom. Skin that's been dipped in melanin so many times that people can't help but realize that we are born Queens. That our hands are here to mould them; And our words are here to chisel them. That for endless years we have had to carry them on our backs and for years to come; We will never allow them to take us back; To the times where they placed us under their feet. For there is no place fit for a Queen; They will find maps of their existence all over our bodies. As we have stretched continuously for them. Our nails are covered with different colours; Trying to cover the dirt from beneath them from the soil we continuously fertilize for their growth. Our shoulders have carried the weight of the world on it and then some. We have been at war since birth; Emerging as prayer warriors, gracing people with our presence here on Earth. And people need to stop questioning our worth; I said we are Queens, and we have been Queens since birth. Our names are too heavy for anyone to carelessly carry it in their mouths. Our existence is something many still have to come to terms with. Our history is something they have tried to erase. But you can't erase what is running through our veins. It wasn't fought for us in vain. Our strength is something many will never be able to grasp.

They have tried and will try to break us down. But we have never allowed ourselves to be broken down by what we have built. They are yet to discover who we truly are; And all the power that we really possess. And yes, this is a praise poem; Because I don't hear enough people singing our praises. I don't see enough people genuinely appreciating us. I don't see enough people accepting us for who we really are. I said we are Queens; And we have been Queens since birth. We don't need to be told what we're worth; But here are just a few words; Courageous, caring, loving, powerful, warriors, beautiful, generous, intelligent and respectful. Just a few words that can be used to describe us instead of those offensive words that easily escape people's mouths. And no, I am not angry; Although that emotion seems to be intrinsically linked with our very existence. I am excited for our futures; Not necessarily for the occupations we will acquire. But for the mere fact that I can confidently say that I do not stand alone; That I am not on my own; That I am surrounded by women of immense beauty both inside and out; That I am surrounded by prayer warriors; That I am surrounded by hands that have reached out to help one another; That I am surrounded by people with brilliant minds who have already acquired so much wisdom; That I am surrounded by people whom we know will always be there but whom we don't always have to speak to. I am surrounded by people. I am surrounded by women. Women of Strength. Women of Courage. Women of Hope. Women of Faith. Women of Love. I am surrounded by Queens and we have been Queens since birth. I am surrounded by women and we have been Queens since birth. Say it in your mind over and over again and don't allow anyone to make you believe otherwise. Say it every day as your daily reminder. Say it until you believe it. Say it until you accept it. Say it until you see yourself for who you really are. You are Queens and you have been Queens since birth. ***

We are Queens By Charissa Cassels I am Coloured Woman, aged 21 and I am a Third year Journalism and Media Studies student and I major in Politics as well. I am an activist at heart and believe that we cannot rest and cannot allow us to ourselves to be tired while people are still oppressed and marginalized. It is our duty, not as citizens, but as human beings, to fight for those who are unable to fight for themselves and to speak for those who have lost their voices. We cannot lose faith and hope, we are fighters and we shall fight until the fight is won.

11. BEAUTY’S CURSE Alara woke up with mixed feelings. It was the dawn of a new day. A day that held so much promise yet was pregnant with uncertainties too. At 35, if anyone had predicted ten years ago that she would still draw her morning breathe under her father‘s roof, she would have branded the person a liar. They had to either be a false prophet or just one who didn‘t know better. But here she was, ten years later, without as much as a stable boyfriend much less a husband. The future looked bleak. She of all people, any of all ladies should not be finding herself in this situation. She had always been brilliant. Right from the very first day her inseparable parents, Barrister and Mrs Akande enrolled her at Base Private Academy; her Kindergarten class Teacher had seen something in her. Shaking off her early morning reverie, Alara got up, muttered some semblance of a prayer to a god she was almost certain had better things to do than listen to her staple prayer. A prayer she had started to say as she approached the ripe age of 25. A prayer she had repeated again and again. A prayer she automatically whispered each time any of her friends sent in that dreaded text message or BBM chat about getting married. A prayer she said when she attended the naming ceremony of the third child of her best friend Chioma. A prayer she said when she was able to buy her own car. A prayer she had cried out in the solitude of her room when she got promoted at work. A prayer she said whenever her birthday was approaching – a stark reminder that a year had passed by once again, and she was still as single as the seed of a mango fruit. A prayer she had said one time too many. God had to be tired. He was no longer listening.

2 The irony was that, Alara never lacked attention. She got plenty of it. But men were not what they used to be. She remembered her father‘s words one lazy Saturday. It was one of those rare moments when everyone was at home and the whole family indulged in food, drinks, a bit of TV time and plenty of catching up. Her father, Peter Akande had given his children the detailed story about how he successfully wooed their mother by being the perfect gentleman and ensuring that he excelled as a young lawyer just so she could be proud of him. Her mother had also happily narrated her husband‘s sheer ingenuity in the way he went out of his way to make her comfortable even within his meagre earnings at the time. Sometimes, she was tempted to doubt her parent‘s love story. Not that they never quarrelled or had a misunderstanding, but her soft-hearted father was always willing to be the bigger person, even when the rest of the family knew their mum was wrong and was only taking advantage of the poor man‘s gentlemanliness.

Things were different these days. Men were more concerned about having swag. Swag - a word that irritated her to no end. A word that was synonymous with trousers that almost dropped to the knees. A word that typified plaited hair, earrings, meaningless rap music and fake accents. Swag – the new definition of irresponsible. Nowadays, men were all about swag. Grown men who wrote ―Good morning‖ as ―Gm,‖ men who wrote ―was‖ as ―wuz,‖ and ―they‖ as ―dey‖ like her five-year-old nephew who was still learning how to string sentences together. She met men who appeared to have some sense at first, but turned out to be painfully lacking in the brain department. Sometimes she wondered if she was the problem. Was she too cerebral for these men? Were they intimidated by her combination of beauty and brains? No, she didn‘t think too highly of herself. She didn‘t even particularly think of herself as beautiful even though people said it all the time. 3 Alara wasn‘t drop dead gorgeous as some would say, but she had a unique kind of beauty. She hadn‘t succumbed to the temptation of giving her skin a little help like many of her friends had done while they were in school, which made her virtually the darkest among them. She didn‘t even begin to wear make-up until her penultimate year in the University. She had never worn a wig in all of her existence and shied away from clothes that left little to the imagination. She was definitely a late bloomer. Yet, for all their skin lightening, weaves that hung all the way down to their bottom and heavy make-up; none of her friends could boast of the kind of attention Alara received from the male folk. Maybe it was her well rounded buttocks and considerably sized breasts that were just right for her slightly plump stature. Maybe it was her 5ft 7inches height that many agreed was just perfect for a girl, or maybe it was just that natural, unassuming beauty that reeked of an innocence that clearly belied her age. Whatever it was, even she could hardly deny the effect she seemed to have on men. It didn‘t matter if they were her age mates, younger or much older, single or married. They were willing to do almost anything to be more than just friends with her. It was therefore a mystery that she still hadn‘t found the proverbial ―one‖ after so many years. Today was the Saturday she had agreed to go out on that defining date with Ruyi after putting him off for so long. Omoruyi ―a child lifted high or respected‖ was called Uyi by everyone else, but whom Alara called Ruyi for reasons she chose not to acknowledge. Since they met at the bookshop in Ikeja City Mall on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, she had been quite impressed by him. He was soft spoken but with the self assuredness of one who knew what they were doing. As they got acquainted over ―Everything Good Will Come‖ by Sefi Atta, she had become slowly intrigued by him. In the first place, anyone who loved books was sure to pique her interest. In the second place, any man who had the fortune of being blessed with the deep, baritone voice of Nollywood‘s Yemi Blaq was sure to get her attention. At least until they proved they had cotton wool for a brain. Ruyi possessed both qualities, and she knew she was going to see him again.

Alara was not new in the dating game. She had been with a couple of men. She was wary of having a long list of ―body count‖ as they called it nowadays, but it was becoming almost impossible to achieve. Her beauty made it impossible. How many times had she thought a relationship was bound for the altar only for her expectations to be cut short along the way. She had been with the good ones and the bad ones who disguised as good. She had once dated a younger man, and it wasn‘t such a bad experience except that he thought of himself as the Tupac of his generation. His chain wearing, pant drooping habit irritated her to no end until she thought she would definitely explode if she didn‘t end things. She would never date a younger man again, she vowed. Siji was her college sweetheart. They should have gotten married. It would have been the stuff out of fairy tales. The classic boy meets girl in school, they strike a friendship that blossoms into a relationship, and they do almost everything together, and are the envy of their friends and colleagues. It is young love and they have the world at their feet. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Then the worst happened. Boy puts another girl in the family way. Boy is forced to marry the Bebe‘s Kiosk sales girl he impregnated. Relationship comes to an abrupt, painful end. Then there was Ifeanyi, the typical Igbo man. Ifeanyi did not know where to draw the line when it came to spending money. Alara was no gold digger but even she had to admit this was a man who knew how to take care of a woman. Even though his heavy torso sat disproportionately on painfully thin legs, and he possessed that thick Igbo accent that made him sound as though he was in an argument with someone every time he spoke, she didn‘t mind so much. The problem was that she was far from being in love with him. She had only dated him out of a need to forget the wasted years spent with Siji. Besides, his family had not been particularly pleased about their son seeing an ngbati ngbati girl. There was no hope for their future together. The relationship died a natural death. Tade was the much older man who had almost swept her off her feet. Almost. He was the widower who was 15 years older and had two kids already. He was also the best between the sheets…striking chords in her that she had never known existed before then. Maybe it was the experience of having been married before that made him a pro at doing all the right things. Maybe it was the age difference. Whatever it was, Tade was the quintessential good lover. Only that he had that nagging H-factor, which ensured that he pronounced words like ―enter‖ as ―Henter‖ and ―eye‖ as ―Heye‖ ….and well…he mixed up his tenses too. ―Alara, where did you go?‖ became ―Alara, where did you went?‖ ―I saw them‖ was ―Hi see them.‖ She knew their relationship was destined for the rocks the night they went out on a double date with her friend Janet and her fiancé.

Janet had been unable to hide her shock when Tade had detonated those verbal shells at the Marquee that night. It was all she could do not to crawl under the table. Besides, she wasn‘t sure she was ready to marry someone who had kids already. She had ended it. Then she met Ruyi. It seemed like providence had brought them together. He was the antidote to all the flaws she saw in other men. He wasn‘t bad looking too. In fact, he exuded blatant masculinity. Holding a good job as a brand consultant didn‘t hurt his chances with her either, even though their relationship was yet to be properly defined. Ruyi understood where she was going before she completed her sentences. She laughed at his jokes. He understood her wit too. Even when they quarreled it couldn‘t last for long because they had become so used to each other. She found herself looking forward to his call every night. She panicked when a day was coming to an end and she hadn‘t heard from him yet. Ruyi was two years older than her, but far more mature. He was a great lover too and the love making was not something she had been able to find words for. Perhaps that was a huge part of what made him different. She didn‘t see their intimate moments together as just sex, but the coming together of two people whose ties transcended a mere wham bam thank you ma‘am roll in the sack. She was a good girl, but sex was important to good girls too. Alara had put Ruyi off for some time for only one reason. The reason which should have made her turn down his request for a date in the first place. The reason which should have made her consider her Christian faith and take to her heels when he had broached the marriage talk. The reason which should have made her refuse to make love to him in ways that even the authors of the Kama Sutra would have marveled at. The reason which should have made her block his number on her phone, and banish thoughts of him from her mind completely. Omoruyi was married. He had read vows out loud to his wife in a big church with family and friends in attendance. He had performed all the rites of marriage. And even though, four years down the line, he and his wife were yet to hear the cries of a baby in their home, it didn‘t change the fact that he was a legally married man. 7 That Saturday as she made her bed and began the process of getting ready for her decisive date with Ruyi. She shut out the thought of what her parents would have to say about what she was contemplating. She dispelled thoughts of the disapproval of friends who would wonder if that was the best she could really do and probably sneer behind her back. She obliterated images of the repercussions of what her action might bring. She checked herself out in the mirror one last time before hopping into her Toyota SUV. As she put on her sunglasses and swung the car out of the driveway, she knew she had made her decision. ***

Beauty's Curse By Ololade Ajekigbe Ololade Ajekigbe is a Nigerian essayist, fiction, non-fiction and copywriter who blogs weekly at her online home www.lolosthoughts.com. Her articles have been published on several platforms, including Punch Newspapers, City People, YNaija.com, and Inflyt Magazine. Ololade describes herself as introspective, resilient and a rebel at heart. When she’s not reading or writing, you can catch her at the movies or enjoying a good dance. She is a huge fan of Manchester United Football Club, and lives with her family in Lagos.

12. MY SCARS, YOUR SCARS Melanie could feel her excitement rise up to her throat as her father‘s car drove through the University of Ghana gates. A ‗fresh out of the oven‘ secondary school graduate who had just been introduced to hair extensions and acrylic nails, Melanie was on top of the world, just as she was on the day she received her admission letter to study a course she‘d loved for days- computer engineering. She‘d heard all about ‗Leg‘ from her cousins and mother- about how green the school looked, how far the resident halls were from the lecture rooms and above all, the exciting things that went on during the Pentagon hostel week. Melanie itched to go to school and today, as she settled into her room, she felt a huge sense of pride and fulfilment. Melanie loved sports, especially basketball. She knew how hectic uni might turn out to be but she resolved to include it into her daily plans. The Accra sun hit the ground from all angles as Melanie made her way to the courts the first weekend after she‘d arrived. She was thrilled to see so many girls just about or over her age play basketball so well. It seemed to come to them effortlessly. She felt instantly at home. This was going to be exciting! In under an hour Melanie was shown around the court, given her schedule and jersey, before being shown her locker. Their coach, a stubby man of about 40 whistled for a time out; the newbie had to be introduced. ‗This is Melanie, a first-year student who‘s joining the team.‘ Hi‘s and Hello‘s flooded the air. Some girls smiled, others were indifferent and others seemed rather annoyed. Melanie knew not to be perturbed - intimidating the newbie was a regular thing in every institution. The murmurs continued until one voice was brave enough to speak out saying, ‗How can she play when she‘s this fat?‘ Their laughter was deafening. Melanie was too stunned to speak; too hurt to retort. She hadn‘t even started playing! She looked at them again, studying each and every one of them at length. They were smaller than she was in actual fact, but she could spot one or two who looked just like her, and even they laughed. Melanie had never seen herself as fat. She was 65 kg and as fit as a fiddle. She worked out, ate right and did everything healthy people did. These girls before her looked lighter than cement bags. They had flat tummies and smooth thighs, absent traits that had probably caused their name calling. Melanie felt her eyes tear up but she held it in; they were just trying to intimidate her. She smiled instead, inwardly praying that the days of intimidation would be over soon. They never ended.

The taunts were subtle in the beginning; ‗Ei Melanie, look at your love handles!‘ was tossed as casually as a Saturday breeze. Initially, Melanie found it amusing initially, a simple case of harmless comments. Practice days got longer and so did the name calling. Everyday brought something new, most often worse than before. They started to call her fat, pot-bellied, a poly-tank and the conventional ‗obolo‘. Self-discomfort set in and Melanie couldn‘t stand to look at her body anymore. She stopped changing in the dressing room altogether because of the constant comments on what they termed her water belly. She was good at basketball, better than most even, but none of that was visible simply because she was ‗fat‘. It was slow and invisible but they got to her - their words. It wasn‘t long before every piece of clothing she owned reminded her of just how unsightly and insufficient she was. Melanie cried daily; she felt depression seep into her soul through her tears. She stopped eating and exercised more, but all her mirrors at the gym told her the same thing. She felt her self-worth diminish, then vanish in totality, leaving her a shell; a hollow and cracked shell. She started to binge. She knew how wrong it was but she did it anyway. She was tired of being laughed at. After countless breakdowns, she resolved to quit altogether, all 60kg of her and a terrible version of who she used to be. Melanie believed they would accept her now; that they will not call her fat, but she was wrong. The taunting and teasing increased by the day and in time, she had had enough. Too depressed to realise how pained she was, she tried the only thing she could. The rope looked taut enough as Melanie examined it from a lower angle. She hoped it held her long enough. Or short enough. This was to be as painless as possible. With her eyes fixed on the knot that hung above her head Melanie cried, bringing out all the pain from the injuries of verbal abuse she had kept within her. She feared telling anyone. She couldn‘t risk being called a snitch in addition. Right here, right now, all she needed was that one kick, the kick that‘ll bring everything to a peaceful end. Instinctively she held her breath, then closed her swollen, teary eyes- she was ready. Just. One. Kick. Purgatory. Melanie could swear that she was in purgatory. Her eyes burned, her throat was dry. She felt worms creep through her veins like water; she was being tortured! She couldn‘t bring herself to open her eyes; it was enough that she could still feel pain even after death. In her oblivion, she could hear her name, or what could pass as a distant whisper of it. She knew that voice; that was a voice that wasn‘t meant for purgatory. It was her mother‘s. Unimaginable fear gripped her in entirety. She couldn‘t be alive! Slowly she opened her eyes. Her mother had been crying, her eyes red and sunken. She looked lean, as though she had been here for days. Melanie held back her tears. Seeing her mother like this had struck a tender chord. She looked around and realised they were not alone. A stranger - a lady, sat across her bed, right opposite her mother.

She introduced herself as the sports team counsellor, and the one who had prevented her from hanging. Too weak to fight and ask why, Melanie conceded with a feeble ‗Thank you very much‘. She knew it won‘t be long before she was asked the conventional ‗Why?‘ question. Counsellor Elorm was understanding. She listened in silence, neither judging nor interrupting as Melanie recounted what she‘d been through. Melanie recalled all the hurtful comments thrown at her and she sobbed, her mother along with her. Melanie had reached the point of no return - the point where anything could damage her permanently. The gym was silent, with not a ball in sight; every girl was attentive, listening to the team counsellor as she stood within their midst, looking each of them in the eye. ‗How many of you have made fun of other girls because of how their body looked?‘ Everyone was startled. They were expecting news on basketball and in return were faced with a strict counselling session. Girls whispered and spoke in groups, discussing how absurd all this was. Counsellor Elorm was patient. When the crowd died down she asked again. ‗How many of you have made fun of people‘s bodies? I have‘ and with that, she raised her hand. In a matter of time lots of hands went up, accompanied by endless whispers and sneers. ‗Now, how many of you have been laughed at because of your bodies?‘ Sile nce. No movement. It was one thing admitting to doing something, but another thing to admit to being a victim. Again, Counsellor Elorm raised her hand. Melanie did too and before she could conclude that they were going to be the only ones, another hand went up - the girl who called her fat! The murmurs began, girls started sobbing as they recalled the hurtful names they‘d been called as they also raised their hands. Some sobbed as they realised what they‘d done to others. The stories each girl had was different but equally bitter. They had all had their fair share of shaming. One girl cut herself daily because she was teased about how huge her breasts were; another girl always wore skirts because apparently, bow-legged girls weren‘t seen as attractive. Most girls confessed, much to Melanie‘s surprise, that they only teased others to feel good about themselves. They had been scarred so much by words from family and friends, so much so that they felt the need to inflict their pain on others in order to feel ‗beautiful‘ enough. Counsellor Elorm spoke to the team. She made them understand that body shaming was just as criminal as murder. ―You killed a person‘s self-esteem and image, making them shadowless imitations of themselves.

Body shaming inflicted injuries on people; injuries invisible to the naked eye but fatal to a person‘s existence and it just has to stop.‖

Melanie‘s thoughts ran all over the place. She realised that she‘d been so affected by their comments that she‘d forgotten how she‘d been a villain herself back in secondary school. She‘d called people names, teased them endlessly and made them feel overly insecure. She could sense what most of the girls did now, the feeling of unadulterated guilty, her eyes reflecting her level of regret. She‘d never known real pain until it had been inflicted on her, and she never wanted to feel that way again. Never again. ***

My Scars, your scars By Maame Akua Tsetsewa Yawson Maame Akua Tsetsewa Yawson is a 21 year old Ghanaianbased final year undergraduate student offering Architecture and a blogger (www.notesofakukieblog.wordpress.com). An avid reader herself, she loves to explore all forms of creative writing, especially poetry and story writing. Oh and yes! she loves chocolate and interactions on social media too

13. FIRST LIGHT She didn‘t belong. In a room filled with girls standing on the sidelines, nursing half-full bottles of Smirnoff, and trying to look sexy, she danced alone in the centre with her arms above her head and her eyes closed. Jonah watched her over the perspiring curve of his Guinness bottle, and lowered it with a grimace. Someone bumped into his side, and his attention was torn away from the mysterious dancing girl. His friend, Kevo, slung an arm around his shoulders and slurred, ―Shit, Jonah, look at all these birds.‖ Jonah grinned and pointed his bottle at the dancing girl. ―Who‘s she?‖ Flashes from the strobe light spinning from the ceiling bathed the chocolate skin of her thighs in blue and red light. Kevo squinted at her and said, ―I don‘t know her name. She‘s one of Vanessa‘s ratchet friends.‖ His hand squeezed Jonah‘s shoulder, and he leaned in to add, ―Don‘t waste your time with her, though. The bitch never puts out at parties. She just dances all night like a virgin.‖ ―Go away, man. You‘re drunk,‖ Jonah said with a laugh and a light push. Kevo pushed back and shouted, ―Fuck off, man!‖ When he staggered away, bumping into a girl‘s chest and staying there, Jonah returned his attention to his dancing girl. She‘d been joined by two other girls, and they were doing a wedding shuffle to the heavy hip hop music that pounded through the room. Her hair flew when she twirled; it was done in those dual-toned braids every twenty something-year-old chick was wearing these days, black flowing down the back of her head and ending in a jagged line where the white began. She tumbled to the floor with one of the girls and Jonah saw a flash of white between her legs while she laughed with her companion and tried to get up. He hadn‘t come to this party with expectations of a fuck, but now, his pants tightened against the push of his cock and he watched the girl with dark intent in his eyes. She caught him staring, and a smile bloomed on her face, slow and ending in a grin that showed teeth and a hint of tongue.

Cheeky, he thought, even as his own smile blossomed in response.

A slow song played and her companions wandered away. Her movements slowed to a side-to-side sway and she held his gaze, her smile fading from her lips and staying in her eyes. He watched her until the song ended, tipping his bottle to his lips until it was empty, and when she walked away, he followed her. He found her behind the house, sitting on the pristine lawn and holding a glowing cigarette in her hand. The black sequins on her dress glinted in the moonlight, and her braids sat atop her head in a messy bun. Jonah sat down next to her with his legs stretched out before him. A breeze blew his way from her direction, and he smelled freshly cut grass, burning marijuana, and the Argan oil his sister doused her hair with. ―Smoke?‖ she asked. Her voice was raspy and deep. He glanced at the rolled up blunt she held out to him and shook his head. ―I don‘t do weed.‖ She shrugged and placed the blunt between thick lips which were painted purple. Jonah looked away and forced thoughts of her mouth on him from his mind. ―Great view,‖ he murmured. Smoke wafted around his head and a dog barked in the distance. ―And they built the house with its back to it so the visitors couldn‘t see it,‖ the girl said with derision in her voice. ―Stupid Naguru rich people, right?‖ Jonah smiled and kept his gaze on the view before him. It was a great view; the city lights blazed in defiance against the night, clustered together like fluorescent grapes. Next to him, the girl laughed. ―Are you scared you‘ll offend someone if you agree with me?‖ she asked. He turned to her and replied, ―Nah. I don‘t see anything wrong with wanting to keep something beautiful to yourself.‖

Her eyes, set too far apart to be cute in the conventional sense, widened and she said, ―Touché. I‘m surprised you could say something like that. You look like a bro.‖ Jonah raised an eyebrow at her. ―A bro?‖ She shrugged again. ―You know those guys. They speak stupid slang no one else understands, shorten their names to something that ends with –o, call girls ratchet bitches, and drink Guinness,‖ she glanced at the bottle in his hand, ―even though it‘s bitter as shit.‖ Her wide-set eyes narrowed and she asked, ―What‘s your name?‖ Jonah laughed and, after placing the offending bottle on the short grass beside him, rubbed his hands up and down his arms. ―Jonah.‖

She looked at his hands and said, ―Jonah is a nice church boy name. You‘re cold? I have a jacket inside. It‘s two sizes too small but it would be better than nothing.‖

He chuckled and tucked his hands between his thighs. ―You talk a lot.‖ Her chin tipped up a little. ―Does it bother you?‖ One of his hands rose to scratch at the scruffy beard on his cheek. ―Nah. My sister talks a lot too.‖ ―You say nah a lot,‖ she said. ―You‘re grasping at straws here,‖ he said. ―What‘s your name?‖ She smiled her cheeky smile again, her pink tongue teasing him. ―Talent.‖ He choked on his saliva, and she laughed, saying, ―I‘m not joking. My dad named me Talent. Nabasumba Talent. He hoped I would have many talents.‖ Jonah shook his head and looked into the cloudy sky. What was he doing next to this girl who talked a lot and had eyes too wide-set to be cute in the conventional sense? ―I‘m hungry,‖ Talent announced, her voice coming from above. Jonah turned and looked at her long legs. Her blunt glowed bright orange in the dark, then she dropped it on the pristine lawn and snuffed it out under her ballet pump.

―It‘s the weed,‖ she explained around the smoke curling from her mouth. ―Makes you hungry as fuck.‖ It was the perfect opening for him to make an excuse and go back inside. Instead, he said, ―Get your stuff. I‘m sure the Chicken Tonight in Ntinda is open.‖ The Chicken Tonight in Ntinda was open. Talent wore a jacket two sizes too big for her and swayed to the music from the server‘s phone while Jonah waited for their food. ―I‘m not going to stop trying to give you my jacket,‖ she said when they sat down, and dug into her food with a fervour that amused him. She bobbed her head to the server‘s music as she ate, and drank from a Fanta bottle like a woman starved. She looked up, caught him staring, and said, ―What?‖ Jonah smiled. ―Nothing. Eat your food.‖ ―I like food,‖ she said, pointing a chip at him. ―The fact that they call it a delicacy doesn‘t mean it should be eaten with delicacy.‖

Under the bright lights of the restaurant, Jonah could see that her eyes were an intriguing light brown, and that the make-up around them was smeared, giving her the appearance of a wide-eyed raccoon. Three pins winked at him in each ear, and he had to keep his hands on the table by force of will to keep them from reaching out and touching her earlobe. Her chin was an extension of her will – pointed and stubborn – and it dimpled in two places when she pursed her lips. They ate in silence for the duration of two more songs. An old Radio-head song played, and Talent closed her eyes and leaned her head back. ―Man,‖ she breathed. ―The music from before we were born was so good.‖ Jonah rolled his eyes. ―You‘re one of those people.‖ ―No. Don‘t get me wrong,‖ she said, dipping a chip in tomato sauce. She was a dipper, he mused. He wasn‘t. He liked to leave the coverage of the tomato sauce to Fate. The chips that got it got it, and the ones that didn‘t… didn‘t. She swallowed and continued, ―There is a lot of great music these days. But it doesn‘t sell. Music has become so commercial it has lost its soul.‖ ―I can agree with that,‖ Jonah said. He was surprised that his words were the truth. The music these days sounded like a chore; like something that had to be done to get on to the next level. Talent smiled at him, her thick lips shiny with oil and no longer purple, and she murmured, ―Not such a bro after all.‖ A couple walked in, wrapped up in each other, their raucous laughter enveloping the words on the tip of Jonah‘s tongue and shoving them back down his throat. They made their order, and the girl, a short curvaceous knock-out wearing jeans and a vest, looked at Talent, giggled, and turned to say something to her companion. He turned and looked at Talent without bothering to mask his curiosity. His laugh was louder than the girl‘s, and it had Jonah fisting his hands and glancing at Talent. ―It‘s fine,‖ she said, continuing to eat. ―I‘m fine.‖

She wasn‘t. Jonah saw it in the stiffness of her shoulders under her jacket; in the tightness around her mouth when she wasn‘t chewing. ―We don‘t have to stay here if they‘re making you uncomfortable,‖ he said. She smiled. ―No. I learned not to care about people‘s opinions of how I look a long time ago. It only leads to one of two things – vanity or insecurity. And the thing about vanity and insecurity is…‖ She reached for the silver coin on the receipt before him and held it up. ―They‘re just different sides of the same coin. One will always lead to the other.‖ Her fingers, long and tinted red by the tomato sauce, spun the coin on the table, and he watched the silvery blur speed up and then slow down.

―And the coin will keep spinning,‖ she said, ―flipping you from side to side until you‘re strong enough to throw away the coin.‖ Her hand slammed down on the spinning coin. ―And find a new currency by which to value yourself.‖

The laughing couple walked out of the restaurant, a black kavera swinging in the girl‘s hand, and Jonah was glad that the strange girl in front of him hadn‘t cared enough about their opinion to walk out of Chicken Tonight. The server at the counter seemed to have heard Talent‘s comment about the music from before they were born. His phone played a constant stream of oldies; a little LL Cool J here, a little pre-surgery Lil Kim there, a Brenda Fassie song that had Talent wiggling in her seat as she ate, her eyes beaming with childish excitement, and even a Papa Wemba song. The restaurant was empty, and that seemed to allow Talent‘s wild spirit free reign. She waved her arms above her head and tried to force-feed Jonah some of her chips, snorting with inelegant laughter when he slapped her hand away. ―How many times have you been in a relationship?‖ she asked. Her empty Chicken Tonight box sat before her, the decimated remains of a chicken wing glaring at Jonah and his half-full box. He scratched the back of his neck and glanced to the left. ―Two.‖ She leaned forward and spoke with her mouth around the straw in her soda. ―What happened?‖ Jonah blinked away the image of her mouth on him and wiped his hand over his mouth. ―The first time, we were kids. The second time, I wasn‘t ready for a serious relationship.‖ ―I‘ve been in five relationships,‖ she said, holding up her fingers. Her fingernails were short and painted purple. He laughed. ―Five? You‘re a baby.‖ ―Made twenty-two last month. And,‖ she shrugged and reached across the table for one of his chips, ―YOLO, you know?‖ Another laugh forced its way past his lips. ―What?‖ She pointed a chip at him and blew at a braid that had come loose from the bun on her head. ―You live only once. People shouldn‘t love so tentatively when we‘ve got only one chance to explore it.‖ The chip vanished into her mouth, and she spoke as she chewed. ―I say fall in love as many times as you want and with whomever you want. Love wildly. Love madly. Love extravagantly. And when you run out of love, go to Cupid and demand a refill,‖ her left hand curled into a small fist and banged on the smooth table top. ―He owes you that much; he has forever, and we have only this lifetime.‖

With a deep sigh and a triumphant smile, she leaned back in her seat and said, ―I feel like I deserve applause after that round of quotables. Did Oscar Wilde‘s spirit just possess me, or what?‖ He half-smiled, distracted by the push of her sizeable breasts against the shiny material of her dress, and asked, ―Who‘s Oscar Wilde?‖ Talent leaned forward so fast her jacket slipped from her shoulders and pooled around her waist. Her peculiar eyes widened, and she breathed, ―You don‘t know who Oscar Wilde is?‖

Jonah had the feeling she‘d boxed him back into the bro category when he shook his head. She mimicked his action, except where his was an expression of ignorance, hers was a preparation for a performance. Her braids fell free from the restrictive bun atop her head and gathered at her shoulders, and a sharp sound which smacked of derision emanated from between her parted thick lips. ―The Picture of Dorian Gray,‖ she said. Jonah rubbed his chin and said, ―The guy in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?‖ ―Ah, God,‖ Talent hissed, her face crumpled in agony. She looked into his box and said, ―Are you done?‖ He raised an eyebrow at her. ―You want to leave?‖ Her lips curved upward, and he wanted to kiss the hint of tongue that showed between her lips. ―Have you ever sat on the elephant at Oasis Mall?‖ The grey elephant at the entrance to Oasis Mall looked enormous in the vacant parking lot. Moonlight glinted against it stone wrinkles and the sequins on Talent‘s dress as she scrabbled against the elephant‘s side. ―Help me up!‖ she hissed, her voice tremulous with laughter. Jonah shook his head, digging his hands into his pockets and chuckling. ―Nah. I need my hands free for when the police show up, and I have to fight them off.‖ ―Come on,‖ Talent wheedled, trying to hook her leg over the elephant‘s back. ―You‘ll even get to touch my butt.‖ ―Nah. I‘m not one for the minuscule booties.‖ ―Then maybe you should start running away from your own butt,‖ she retorted, and he laughed out loud before striding over to her. He put his hands on her waist and lifted her, with little effort, onto the elephant‘s back. His hands lingered, and she leaned down so that her face was level with his.

―Score,‖ she murmured, a soft smile playing on her lips. Jonah found himself smiling back. ―What?‖ She touched her finger to the depression in his cheek and whispered, ―I made you laugh-laugh. Like out loud. You chuckle, but you never really laugh. And you have a dimple here. What a waste.‖

His hands fell away from her, and he stepped back, the smile still on his face. He sought the refuge of his pockets again and looked up at the girl seated astride on a small stone elephant. ―Well, what are you waiting for?‖ the girl said, and he thought he saw pixie dust trailing behind her braids when the wind tossed them up and stars twinkling in her laughing eyes. ―Take a picture, Jonah,‖ she said, mirth in her voice. ―This is a historical event!‖ The smile was still on his face when he pulled his hands and phone from his pockets and snapped a picture of her laughing, arms spread out as if to catch the wind. He wasn‘t the maudlin kind, but the picture he‘d taken would make a great wallpaper for his phone. ―Come on,‖ she said when he‘d brought her down from the elephant, tugging him toward the exit. ―Let‘s go to Cent Park.‖ ―We won‘t find any parking space there at this time,‖ he said, and she shrugged. ―Then leave your car behind.‖ At night, Centenary Park was a wonderland for an Alice who‘d just discovered hedonism and chosen to revel in it. Lights winked from Waikiki Lounge and flittered through the trees all the way to Kyoto. The air smelled like a sultan‘s harem; shisha and a mixture of perfumes made for a heady combination. Talent breathed in deeply and sighed. ―Smells like life here.‖ ―Smells like high school kids here,‖ Jonah countered. She linked her fingers with his, and he let her, returning her smile when she leaned into his side and beamed up at him. They walked for a while, she chattering about everything, and he listening with nothing but indulgent smiles and quiet laughter which made her squeal in delight. ―I like walking in the park,‖ she said when they reached the little bridge going toward the other side of the park. ―It‘s so peaceful.‖

She pulled him to a stop in the middle of the bridge. Around them, the smell of evening glory was pungent in the air, and crickets chirped over the muted music from the bars. The moon‘s reflection danced in the filthy water rushing under the bridge, but in the darkness, Jonah could pretend it was an unpolluted river of the purest water. In front of him, a girl with strange eyes and thick lips smiled up at him with mischievous suggestion in her gaze and weaved a web of beautiful sorcery around him. ―Let‘s do that Titanic scene!‖ she said, turning her back to him. He moved like a man possessed by Venus herself, stepping forward and putting his arms around her small waist. She chortled, spread her arms, and started to hum a Celine Dion song in her raspy voice. A group of rambunctious teens bustled past them, screaming and laughing at the tops of their lungs. They bumped into Jonah‘s back as they passed, pressing his body up against Talent. She squealed and brought her hands down to latch onto his forearms, laughing breathlessly after the last of the teenagers vanished into the darkness. ―These high schoolers!‖ she muttered. Jonah tucked his chin in the curve where her neck met her shoulder and muttered back, ―I told you.‖ She laughed again. ―You told me nothing!‖ Her laughter tapered off into silence, replaced by the gentle murmur of a drizzle. Tiny droplets of rain peppered Jonah‘s shaven head with wet kisses, seeped into the light material of his tee-shirt, and caught on the sequins on Talent‘s dress. She didn‘t move, and neither did he. They stood there in silence until she murmured, ―I‘ve always wanted to dance in the rain.‖ He chuckled. ―Why do I get the feeling you‘re just testing to see how much ridicule I can stand?‖

She turned in his arms and looked up at him with wide earnest eyes. ―I‘m serious. Come on.‖ Long-fingered cold hands tugged him to the centre of the bridge and urged him to move with their owner. His right arm wrapped around her waist, and his left hand clasped her right hand. With the pitter patter of the faster-falling rain and Talent‘s soft humming for music, they swayed in the cool wet night, racing hearts so close to each other their beats were indistinguishable. She tipped her head back, and raindrops gathered on her long lashes, shrouding her gaze in wet dreams and fantasies. Jonah blinked. What was he doing? This wasn‘t him. He‘d followed her with expectations of a fuck, not to get his legs caught in the exquisite intricacies of her person, to stumble and fall. He wasn‘t the mushy kind who bought flowers and wrote poetry about shrouded gazes. What was he doing?

Her tongue darted out to swipe at the rain on her lush lips, and she whispered, ―I‘ve always wanted to kiss in the rain.‖ He had no snappy comeback for her words, no sarcastic comment to turn down her request. She met him halfway, rising on tiptoe to press lips as soft as clouds to his and moaning into his mouth when his arms tightened around her. She tasted like Fanta and a million decadent possibilities and felt like she‘d been moulded for his arms to hold. He‘d never believed in witchcraft before, but now, with the touch of her lips and tongue lighting a flame in the pit of his stomach, he knew that he‘d been put inside a bottle that rested in this strange girl‘s hands. When the bars began to empty, and the earliest of the early birds started to sing, they walked back to the car, fingers linked. As he drove, she half-lay on her side in the reclined passenger seat, her hands tucked under her cheek and her eyes on him. Her voice was husky with sleep when she gave him the directions to her place. By the time the car pulled up at a blue gate so high it would keep giants out, her eyes were closed, and gentle snores spilled from her parted lips. She awoke when he brushed the back of his hand against her rounded cheek, a small smile on her mouth. They got out of the car and stood in front of the gate, staring at each other with foolish smiles on their faces. ―I had a good time,‖ she said first. He shrugged. ―It was okay.‖ She frowned up at him, lips pursed, chin dimpled, and nose crinkled up. ―You‘re not my usual type,‖ she said. ―You‘re weird. You don‘t read much – oh my God, how can you not know who Oscar Wilde is – and you think mainstream music is good stuff… but then you say words like minuscule and ridicule, and I wonder if you‘re a fraud, or just playing dumb.‖ Her expression was so earnest, the confusion in her smile so honest, it made him smile and say, ―I‘m a pseudo-intellectual.‖ A laugh burst from her lips, and she slipped her jacket from her shoulders. ―I told you I wouldn‘t stop trying to give this to you,‖ she said. She pressed the jacket into his chest, her hands staying on him until he raised his to cover them. They slipped from beneath his palms, leaving him with faux leather that smelled of marijuana and the Argan oil his sister doused her hair with, and she backed away, lips curving. ―I‘m going to want that back,‖ she said, her tongue peeking at him. ―Goodnight, Jonah.‖ She raised her hand in a wave and ducked into the smaller gate on the side. Jonah turned back to his car, and squinted against the first of the sun‘s rays appearing over the horizon.

He‘d never believed in love at first sight, but right there, as his heartbeat changed frequency to sync with that of a strange girl with eyes too far apart to be cute in the conventional sense, he thought he just might believe in love at first light. ***

First Light By Acan Innocent Immaculate Acan Innocent Immaculate is a Ugandan writer currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Medicine and Surgery. She won the 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize and has been published by Omenana, Brittle Paper and AFREDIA.

14. Hiding Under the Cloak of Indifference At a small gathering several years ago, I was carrying a friend‘s five-month-old baby when another friend walked up to me and asked to hold him. Minutes after I handed her the baby, tears welled up in her eyes and she began to shake. She had two children. Her second child was, 3 years old maybe. She wanted, no, yearned, to have a third. It was intense, puzzling and somewhat uncomfortable to watch, especially for me who had been married for several years and was still searching for a first baby with a torch light. When she handed back the baby, I held him close trying to feel just a wee bit of what she had been feeling, and although the usual longing welled up in my heart, it was nothing as intense as what she had felt. In the second year of our marriage, when it became clear that the babies may not come, I ran a whole range of emotions and did a lot of crazy things. From magnifying a feeling and turning it into a definite pregnancy symptom; to having a drawer full of home pregnancy test kits for when my period delayed for just one day; to walking into a hospital for a proper test because my home test kit may just be wrong; to getting on the doctor‘s couch for a scan because, well, the blood test may have also been wrong; to locking myself up in my room and crying a tanker full of tears because I came home and realized that the ‗nausea and other symptoms‘ I was experiencing may have been desire induced. My computer‘s browser history and bookshelf reflected my mindset. I was obsessed. Pregnancy and baby books and magazines peeked out of every corner of the house and bottles of supplements and herbal medicine filled the medicine basket. It was very hard on my husband because I kind of had a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on. He would say goodbye to a cheerful and loving woman and come home to an angry and moody one. What happened? The well-known ache in my belly announcing the arrival of my period.

By the third year, I had turned into a watcher. I would covertly watch the tummies of women who got married after me and for every pregnancy confirmed, my heart and self esteem fell lower and lower. Outside, with friends and family, I was carefree, the one always ready with jokes. There was no crack in my I-could-not-be-bothered mask but I was dying inside, period by monthly period. In church, I would sing and dance and clap and shout but the feeling that I may never have a proper life without children of my own was too strong to ignore.

And then, two things happened that caused me to rethink my attitude. For the first time, I looked at and learned to appreciate the amazing support I had in my husband, family and friends and I realized that they were the only reason I had remained sane. When one day, I got a call from a woman who was going through a phase and needed some comfort, I was glad that I could speak to her from a place of healing and not pain. It‘s been seven years and in that time, I have met people who think I am not praying enough, not fasting enough, not trying hard enough. I have also met people who always have one solution or the other that they think I should try; then there are those who try not to mention babies around me. It used to be hard and it sometimes still is, but these days, when people ask, ―How many children do you have?‖ instead of asking, ―Do you have any children?‖ I smile and reply, ―None.‖ And I am fine. ***

Hiding under the cloak of Indifference By Beti Baiye Beti is a writer, an editor and a Child Rights Advocate. In her free time, she indulges in fiction writing and spoken word that explores human complexities. You can find her on Instagram betibaiye and twitter @betihez; on Child Advocacy matters, you can email her on beti@childprotectionhub.org.

15. THROUGH THE EYES OF REGRET This balcony is a window to the world. From here, I see men and women and children and beasts, and secrets that can only be told in whispers. There is an apartment downstairs that houses a young newly-married couple. The husband is out of work. The wife works in a bank and returns late at night when I am already dozing. She has never said hello, but her angry screams of insults lull me to sleep every night. There is a line of shops opposite my house. A barbing saloon that plays Fuji music in the afternoons and worship songs in the mornings and houses loud men who joke about breasts and butt sizes and the body count of girls that have graced their beds. The shop beside it is hardly ever open, and belongs to a quiet middleaged woman who sells brocade laces. She seems wealthy, especially because she drives a Buick and wears colourful patterned trousers with plain blouses. But she is hardly ever around, business, I suppose. Nobody notices me, but I see and hear and know things. And name people. For instance, I named the girl with the blue school uniform who walks down the street every morning Iris. That‘s the name that came to mind when I sighted her big glasses that rested on the neck of her nose. She looks smart, about fourteen, and boisterous. Some days, she dons a beret that is tilted to a side –the left, usually– and hurries briskly to a place I suspect is her school. She is habitually late, because she usually has a button undone, or a shoe lace untied, and she is always in a hurry. She used to be one of the many random faces that I forget, but once, when she looked up towards the balcony, at me or something close to me, as she hurried off her face got sculpted into my head, impossible to shake off. I have willed her to look again after that, but she hasn‘t. Maybe, like others, she didn‘t like what she saw. Iris is a breeze. Her lean lanky body is on the brink of filling up in some places, like my daughter‘s Isioma, at thirteen. In Isioma‘s case though, she had hated the process of transitioning, and would tell me:

―Mother, make it go away. Make this blood go away‖ and cry hot tears into her soiled pant. She would press down her breasts as they sprouted, massaging them with hot water and a towel. I would tell her she is growing into a woman, but that would make her wail some more. ―I don‘t want to be a woman. I want to be a girl.‖

Womanhood chooses you, I would say. It makes a crown the shape of your braid and forces it upon your head without warning. Then the world looks at you and what they see is a perfect cook, a nurturer, a superwoman that works magic. This is when you realize that you have been chosen, and you must deliver. The short boy with the big hair who hangs around the barbing salon begins to wait for Iris as she walks slowly back in the afternoons. She is angry, at first, and shows it in the shoving of his restless arm that wants to touch her. Her eyes blaze through her glasses, and her gesticulations are more frequent. But the boy with the hair does not stop. He seems amused by her theatrics, amused so much that he keeps coming back. On the day she warms up to him, I am trying to wheel myself to the bathroom. I have just finished listening to the four o‘clock news and my head hurts from too much thinking. I make to turn when I spot her, Iris, walking to the place I think might be home, with the boy with the big hair, from the place I believe is school. She begins to smile at him. His restless arm rests on her shoulder, and she lets it. She is still guarded, but her smile is his. Isioma used to smile that way to her father. He was bald, nothing like the boy with the big hair, but he had a restless arm as well. It was selective in its workings however, throwing slaps my way and caresses my daughter‘s. I see her again with him, and this time his hand is lower, and there is intent in his eyes. Every day, for a week, he walks her back. She talks and laughs, he looks at her. A week passes, and then I see her, without the boy with the big hair. Her face is donned in a frown, and she is not in a hurry. She walks slowly, contemplative, as though she carries a mountain in her heart. Her eyes do not sparkle with excitement that reminds me of my daughter in her innocence. Her smile is gone, disappeared, like the moon in the morning. Her feet are dusty from dragging, and so are her socks, the ones that have a label on them. I have always wondered what the label stands for. Her name? The name of the knitter of the socks, or is it designer? My daughter says there‘s a difference between the person who makes a piece of clothing and the one who designs it. I don‘t know about that, but then the world is now different from how I used to see it. Two days after Iris loses her glow, Isioma comes around to visit. As usual, she doesn‘t say much. She calls on my caregiver, Meimuna, and lists out instructions for her to follow in the coming weeks. She gives me money, tells me to stop taking too much carbohydrates, as she cannot stand me having diabetes with my paralysis. She says I should stop asking Meimuna to buy me odeku, that odeku is not good for my health and I will not die without alcohol. Then she leaves, as she has always done. I am glad that she is okay, and her husband is taking care of her and my grandchild. Or is he not? There is no way to find out, Isioma doesn‘t tell me anything, not that I expect her to.

I see Iris again, and she looks worse. Her beret barely hangs over her thoroughly unkempt hair. Her body is frail, she looks like one who has cried a lot and is

beginning to lose water. I want to call out to her to know what is wrong, but I can‘t; I am just an old woman stuck in a wheel chair, looking at the world through the railings of my balcony, and taking my regrets in, one day at a time.

The last time I see Iris is when she collapses. A man and a girl rush to her. The man carries her, tells the girl something, and runs off. I am pained, and hurt, and worried. Is she sick? Is she depressed? Is she failing at school? Whatever happened to the boy with the big hair? Why did he stop coming? He didn‘t come off as her brother, is he a ‗toaster‘? Wait, did he rape her? The thought suddenly gives me chills. My hair strands stand at attention, and I feel hot in my ears. No. Let it not be. Not another Isioma. Not another one, please heavens. I still hear Isioma‘s voice in my head, when she was nine. ―Mother, why do you not have another child?‖

―Children are from God, Isi. I am not the maker of children,‖ I said. I could not tell her that I had in fact, had three others who came out as blood. I could not tell her I was grateful I didn‘t have any more children, for fear of what they would face. I still hear Isioma‘s voice when she was fourteen. ―Mother, tell father to stop touching me.‖ I had stopped in my tracks in disbelief. It‘s not like anything her father did surprised me, but I just didn‘t think he would stoop as low as to touch his own daughter. I panicked. ―He is your father.‖ That was all I could say. She stared at me, waiting for the continuation, but there came none. I didn‘t know whether what I meant was ―Since he is your father, he has a right to touch you‖, or ―Dear Lord, he is your father; he should have some shame‖ or ―Well, he is your father, tell him yourself‖. Eventually, she stopped expecting. I think she may have selected her own interpretation, for she never mentioned it after that night, not even when I could sense she was struggling, when she began to sleep longer, shiver at the call of her name, when she began to have scars on her face. I knew she was struggling, but why would she not speak to me? At seventeen, she left the house. For school, we thought, but she never came back. Her father and I were worried. We visited the school, tried to contact anyone who would contact her, but got nothing. Eventually, we came to the realization that she had gone for good. I wept, and her father was sad, but that didn‘t stop the beatings from coming. Nine years later, I tried to do what my daughter did, set myself free from the monster. My husband got wind of it and beat me to a pulp, then left me in the house to die. Kind neighbours came to my rescue, and I was hospitalized for three weeks before Isioma came looking for me.

She was married to a man from Ghana, Ansah, and they both lived in Abuja, with their son, Jacob. I have neither met her husband nor her son. Isioma has shut the door to her heart to me, like I am a virus that would infect everyone I meet. We do not talk, except of random things like the difference between a tailor and a designer, the price of milk in the market, or the rigours of her flight to see me. She moved me from the hospital after I was discharged and had completely lost the use of my legs. She brought me to this neighbourhood in Lagos, far away from anything that is hers, hired me a caregiver who resumes daily at six and leaves at eight, and comes once a month to check up on me. And this is why I sit at this balcony, because my life is empty, and I am looking for something to fill it. Or maybe it‘s because I am looking for a second chance. At sixty, I cannot truly say I have lived. And this is why I am hurt for Iris, for Isioma, for anyone like me, whose life may have been interrupted by events they could not control because the other side of womanhood chose us. I still sit at this balcony, and I have never seen Iris since then. Whether she died or lives, I do not know. ***

How to grab a Furnace By Ife Olujuyigbe Ife Olujuyigbe is a writer and chemical engineer. Her literary works have appeared on Brittle Paper, The Naked Convos, Storried Nigeria, Akoma, WordsAreWork, Paragraph Planet, ShortSharpShort magazine to mention a few. She has also won literary competitions The Blackout (2016) and the SGNT Media Short Story Prize (2016). She is passionate about children, art, scrabble, potato chips and chicken.

16. FORTITUDE Night. ―The irony of perfection is that, it‘s not based on reality, you can always discredit it‖. As the wind blew the leaves and trash on the street, she stood watching from her office window, her silhouette nicely framed by the wide windows. So much happens when no one is watching and she had taken an oath to keep the streets of Jwaneng safe. Captain Rosy Mogo had been with the Botswana Police Service for more than 15 years, moving from one police precinct to another, closing cases and rising in ranks even in times when female leadership was largely frowned upon. She was well known for her cut-throat interrogation, scared even the hard-scorned criminal minds to beg for jail. On this particular Saturday, she had opted to report for work rather than attend yet another social gathering. It wasn‘t that she didn‘t enjoy the company of her family and friends; it was just that at most they seemed to live in a parallel universe she couldn‘t tap into. She couldn‘t relate and worse, He instead of dancing like everyone else she would find herself reading people. Years of training had taught her how to read people‘s non-verbal cues. She could easily tap into people‘s johari window without breaking a sweat. For example, she knew that Maikutlo who was the life of the party was pretty reserved and only bowed to social pressures of a glass of bubbly to loosen her. She knew that Kgopolo who was a big shoot lawyer secretly longed-for kids, but because he wasn‘t able to have any he threw himself in his job, working unceremonious long hours. In hindsight to avoid the awkward social pleasantries she decided her time would be well spent revisiting cold cases and trying to close them, or catch a new case. Turning back to her desk, she noted how the department was almost bare, with the exception of athe janitor and few officers hunched over their desks doing paperwork. Realising that she didn‘t know this janitor her curiosity was perked. She walked over to the coffee station where she could have an undisturbed view of him to study him. She wished that her department still had one of those fancy coffee machines, but since the men she worked with broke the last two acquired, all they had was a kettle that took forever to boil. ―What is the obsession of men and breaking new toys, can‘t they just trust that the manufacturer knew what they were doing?‖ Ninety-seven kilograms, 1.8m, give or take, well built, mixed-race, dressed in olive green overalls tucked in white boots; he seemed to be humming along to whatever was playing on his headset. She wished he could turn and face her direction so, she could study his face.

―When did the department get a new janitor?‘ she wondered. She was familiar with Mmago-Lesedi, they had shared a few tea moments together. She loved Mmago-Lesedi because even at 65 years she was so carefree about life, always had a twinkle in her eye and a laugh in her throat. She wasn‘t aware that Mmago –Lesedi had retired. She didn‘t care much for retirement. It was like playing hide and seek with death and hoping death doesn‘t find you. Three cubes of sugars, milk and coffee later, the janitor was nowhere to be seen. All that left was a pine fresh smell of cleaning detergent. Where did he vanish to? He was just in the hallway a second ago? Did she imagine him? She couldn‘t have imagined him because the pine smell lingered on. Through the night Captain Rosy Mogo dug through files, looking for clues to help solve yet another cold case. She had always believed in giving the chances a good fighting chance, squeezing through till she could get the juices of justice flowing, however belated that may be. To her, the cases had victims and those victims were someone‘s brother, son, mother, friend or a lover and it was important to give them closure. One of the files she kept returning to was case BLUE COTTON. She gave it a good scheme through, finding it hard to believe how even after decades, it still went unsolved. Yet, she could piece together memories of where she was when it happened. Knobby knees, a highly sheened afro, the prospects of a new future lingering and intoxicating her freshly marked high school graduate status. She remembers how that evening as they gathered as a family for dinner and to listen to the news on Radio Botswana, she heard the pleas of a mother seeking her son. How does a baby go missing without a trace? All that was left was the blue cotton blanket where he last lay. It implored her that from that moment onwards she was determined to seek justice.

• Morning Having left the office as dawn drew in, Rosy headed home driving at a steady space. It‘s amazing how Jwaneng‘s landscape is so surreal on Sunday. All the madness of the world seems to be put at halt; no traffic congestion, no pedestrians rushing somewhere. It was all so peaceful. Home - an apropos analogy that seemed to stretch out between what it was and what she desired it to be. Changing into her pyjamas, she made porridge and got ready to take a nap. Her eyes doused with sleep, and her limbs aching from sitting up all night, but still her brain was still roused. She lay on the bed willing her mind to slumber. Rosy looked at her uniform casually draped over the armchair, all the badges of merit twinkled in the morning sun rays. Below the armchair her eyes caught sight of a rolled-up paper. She got up and retrieved it. It was the no-smoking patch she had thrown at Modise the night he left. She couldn‘t figure out how it ended up there, and why she hadn‘t seen it over the days. Modise, her now ex-fiancé had been frequenting a new therapy session that was meant to eliminate the craving of smoking by introducing new habits in his life. The no-smoking patch was meant as a physical reminder to sting his arm each time he was in proximity of cigarettes. It was a cruel sting but it worked as he kept checking off many days of sobriety.

Holding the patch in her hands, Rosy realized that sometimes detaching people from ones lives did not mean that we didn‘t care for them, and that gnawed at her heart. He was gone. They were finished. She felt an overwhelming sense of heartbreak that she had managed to suppress since the break up. Tears filled her eyes; her body shook from the remorse. Her mind cluttered with questions, and no answers which frustrated her even so more. ‗Why her?‘ ‗Was it all a ruse?‘ ‗How come for someone with training in people reading, she could not read Modise?‘ ‗How come she does good yet all she gets are the sour grapes of life?‘ ‗When will the suffering end?‘ ‗How could she have been so stupid to fall in love?‘ ‗Why did she even believe him the second time when he said he would change, never hurting her again?‘ Modise was different from the guys she had met. He was a sculptor by profession and vaguely amused by her profession which was a relief, as most guys she met were quite intimidated. It was tea break. She had walked to Dintle‘s tuckshop for fatcakes and tripe when she bumped and literally spilled all the contents of her breakfast on Modise. Profusely apologizing for the mess, she offered to help him clean up at the office. Modise smirked and said his clothes had been missing the combination of tripe to complete his aesthetics appeal. To say Modise was a hot mess that allured her would be an understatement. He had that aura about him that said ‗I just smoked.‘ He kept his hair unruly and his clothes looked like they were part of a Plaster of Paris and clay mob. The only features that separated him from a drifter were his clean sparkling teeth and his expensive cologne that lingered around. Peculiar as he came across, they soon enthralled themselves in a whirlwind romance. Frankly, the more she thought about it, the more sickened she became. This guy who she had dubbed the love of her life had found a way of breaking her down. Beyond the courtyard she was a strong phenomenal woman, an icon to the society yet inside the walls she was addicted to him. The fairytale romance burned out fast. Still she was delusional to think that perhaps, if she dressed prettier at home, if she laughed at his jokes, if she gave him money, if she cooked better then he wouldn‘t be such monster. Every time she dressed for work, she felt like a hypocrite. She fought for justice for the world meanwhile she was a caged animal, digressed to emotional abuse. She advocated for lost souls even when no one saw hers sinking. The paradox of a human mould.

Rosy woke up with a tear-stained face and a muscle cramp for she had passed out from the turmoil of what she had been through. Looking at the watch she saw that she could still make it for the second service at the Baptist church. Quirk of fate had led her to it, and she was indeed finding her solace there. It was roughly two months ago. Modise was having yet another episode of dissociative disorder, and moreover he was hurling insults at Rosy and each time he hit below the belt. She couldn‘t understand what triggered his episodes. She was tired of fighting him, so she grabbed her jacket and stormed out with no particular destination. ‗Is this love? ‗Is she worthy of any better?‘ ‗How can she change the situation?‘ ‗Would their marriage be like this?‘ ‗If she didn‘t marry him, when else would she get married? She wasn‘t getting any younger.‘ ‗Does she do anything that provokes the switch of behavior?‘ ‗How long can she endure?‘ ‗Would her endurance mean her death or his life?‘ Her thoughts were disturbed by hymns from the church around the corner. For the first time in her life, she was drawn to church. She looked at her clothes and realized she wasn‘t dressed for social interaction. Perhaps she could go home and change but Modise would still be there. Maybe she could sit at the back of the church so that as soon as service was out she could duck and escape meeting anyone. The hymns left her awestruck. She couldn‘t say for sure if she had ever heard them before, but they spoke to her, calmed her distress. *Noon Pastor Matlhoke was an elderly man who could have passed off as her grandfather but on the pew, he seemed to be full of life like men in their twenties. He shared his life story, sang with his croaky voice and preached like he had been there when the Bible was written. He brought so much light to word, made the congregation acknowledge ‗Amen‘ with the revelation of the message. John 16:33, ―In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.

Matthew 5:44, ―But I tell you; Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you‖ Matthew 11:28-29, ―Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find the rest of your souls.‖ Sitting there, she remembered how her mother used to tell her about the parable of the lost son, that no matter what someone did, if they were willing to seek God then God, like a father, would embrace them. It felt like the pastor knew her worries and was speaking to only her through the sermon. The choir got up to sing another hymn and Pastor asked if there was anyone who needed to feel the presence of God in their lives, and if so, they should come forward to be prayed for. She knew this was it, this was her wake up call, but she had doubts.

‗She wasn‘t dressed for social interaction, just a jacket over her pyjamas.‘ ‗There are far too many people in this church who would see her and judge her.‘ ‗Someone might actually recognize her.‘ ‗Maybe she could come back another time.‘ ‗Maybe she isn‘t worthy of the embrace.‘ She had resorted to the debates of her mind, when the young girl beside her stood up to go upfront. Just as someone reaching out when they are falling, she grabbed the young girl‘s hand, afraid that if she didn‘t, she might never get the courage or even the opportunity to be prayed for. Luckily for her, her grip on the girl did not scare her, instead she smiled back reassuringly and together they walked to the front of the pew. *Afternoon ―Maintaining sanity is like counting bubbles in a boiling pot, who is to say if it‘s actually getting measurable results or its time passing exercise‖ A week had gone by; life had continued with no regard of who had fallen off or gotten on the wagon. Back at the Jwaneng Police Precinct the staff had its community day, where they had numerous activities of community outreach. They had painted a library, planted trees for the park and given blankets to the less fortunate to keep the winter chill at bay. The community was filled with gladness, the media raved on good reviews, and the police precinct was abuzz with cheery energy. Back at her desk, Captain Rosy Mogo continued to receive congratulatory calls from different stakeholders. When the excitement tuned down, she was able to focus on the paper load on her desk. Going through the cases, she finally came back to the BLUE COTTON CASE.

Something compelling yet haunting engaged her in the file. The file was pretty bare even after so many years, all it said was baby boy abducted from Morula Hospital in the wee hours of 28 July 1990. All that was left in the baby‘s crib was the blue cotton receiving blanket that he had slept in. What probably broke so many hearts about this case was that the ink on the birth certificate hadn‘t even dried when the baby was taken. There was a sketch of the mother looking very distraught, a few statements from people who were interviewed in connection with the case, but that was it. Twenty-seven years later and still no word on the boy. No answers, just questions that were never answered. Captain Rosy filed a warrant of investigation and headed to Morula Hospital to subpoena their files for that day. She needed to know all the events that had occurred from the day before when the mother was admitted in hospital. When did she come in? Who did she come in with? What else did her personal file contain? Did she have any visitors while she was in hospital? Who was on duty that day? She needed to collect as much data as possible, and isolate it to create a suspect list. She also needed to come back and review experts who were on the case? What did they have to say about it and when was the docket shelved? At Morula Hospital, she triggered people‘s curiosity when she requested for the file, BLUE COTTON was now used as an entry level security for any new staff members, and the hospital needed them to understand that not being vigilant within the premises could have major impact. The baby mother‘s Miss Lesego Neewa had turned down the pro- bono legal team who had suggested that they could sue the hospital for a whale sized amount. In her words, ―She would rather be poor with her baby than be rich without her son.‖ Going through the list of Morula Hospital human resources department she was overwhelmed with despair; this case was going to prove very challenging. 1990 was a year with no technology advancements, so records from then meant mountains of paper to go through. After loading what she might need in her car, she met up with the hospital manager for a verbatim on the case. Mr. Higgins was a scrawny looking man with a head of grey mop. He had just joined the hospital when the scandal hit Morula Hospital. He recalls receiving the call at 2am and hurriedly driving to the hospital to help. Arriving at the hospital, to sirens, a squad of police, sniffer dogs, in addition to general helplessness written on the staff faces was hard. Nothing could have prepared him to meeting Miss Lesego Neewa. Her face was ashen. Furthermore, she looked very fragile in the gown she was wearing. She had apparently stopped wailing and was now clinging to the blue cotton receiving blanket she had wrapped her son in hours before after nursing him. The hospital offered a reward for anyone who could have any information onthe case but nobody came forth. It was like the baby had vaporized. The hospital had reached out to the Miss Lesego Neewa arranging for her to see a psychiatrist to help her cope through the ordeal, but sadly she overdosed on prescription drugs three months later. A sad mother‘s tale indeed.

*Night Four cups of coffee later, she was so engrossed with reading the files she had collected from the hospital that she was unaware of her phone ringing, till someone spoke behind her and asked if she was going to answer it. This gave her a fright as she had been detached from all stimulus in her environment. Spinning around in fight mode, she realized it was the janitor. She turned to answer the frantically ringing phone and when she completed the call the man in olive green overalls and white boots was nowhere to be found nor heard. It had been a day of anomalous events, mysterious presence of the janitor plus the BLUE COTTON case. Miss Lesego Neewa‘s file made no mention of baby‘s father, only listed her next of kin as Miss Malebogo Neewa. Tracing the family lineage was a futile effort, as there was no electronic footprint of Miss Malebogo Neewa, assuming she had married and changed surnames. More so, running a search for the name Malebogo revealed over a thousand citizens on the database named Malebogo. The staff members search was also coming to a dead end. None of the staff members on duty that night had been picked as a suspect. By midnight she had drawn a timeline of the crime, made notes to look into autopsy report for that year, reviewed the police report file, looked at sketch plans depicting crimescene, people interviewed and read the medical report of the baby. He was born on the 27 July 1990 at approximately 21:00 hours weighing 2.5kg, healthy, blood group O-, as well as a small birthmark crowning his right shoulder blade. *Morning Leaving church, she found she was lighter in spirit, and that truly she had given her battles away. Something in her had been awakened. She had a sense of peace and courage. She realized that it was time to let go of the toxic relationship. She had forgiven Modise of all the turmoil he put her through. She didn‘t care if at the next family gathering people would gossip about how she was a powerhungry woman who could not keep a man. They did not know what happened behind closed doors and she was done pretending that this madness with Modice would lead to happiness; happiness is not a destination, but that it‘s a journey. Rosy had also had the chance to speak to Mrs. Matlhoke after the prayer. She was warm, encouraging that better days lay ahead. They swapped promising to keep in touch, but most importantly Rosy was invited back to church. Modise was not home when she arrived, which gave her a chance to collect her thoughts. She needed to end this relationship. She didn‘t know what she would say to him. Panic soon crept in. This could end badly on her part. She wondered which personality of Modise she would have to deal with when he finally came home.

‗Was she strong enough to end the relationship?‘ ‗When was the best time to do it?‘

‗Should she do it at home or in public?‘ ‗How would he react to the news?‘ ‗Is she really ready to start all over again?‘ ‗Should she call Mrs. Matlhoke for support?‘ ‗Would that make her meek and needy?‘ As if Mrs. Matlhoke could read her predicament, she called Rosy who broke down over the phone. Reassuringly, Mrs. Matlhoke informed Rosy that the greatest character of a woman is knowing when to need help and when someone needs help. She got directions and drove over to Rosy‘s house to offer moral support. They had tea and cookies and the pastor‘s wife prayed with Rosy, after prayer Rosy put everything that was Modise‘s into three cardboard boxes and put them at the base of the staircase. The end or beginning had come to climax. Unfortunately, Modise never returned that night, so the ladies sat on the couch and talked about all issues affecting women of this era. In the morning Mrs. Matlhoke left, and Rosy went to the bedroom to sleep, as her next shift was on Tuesday afternoon. Whilst she was in deep slumber, she heard Modise tripping and cursing over the boxes, not fully aware that they contained all his belonging. Rosy woke up and steadied herself against the chest of drawers. She was glad she was wearing her flannel pyjamas instead of the satin camisole, which would have rendered her vulnerable in front of him. She counted his steps as he ascended the stairs, praying for courage and God‘s protection. Modise walked into the bedroom and resembled every bit of the man she had fallen for. Sweet, mischievous, and speaking calmly. He approached to kiss, her but she stepped back. Modise laughed and sat on the bed quite relaxed. He started to take off his t-shirt, talking about how his latest sculpture and where he got inspiration. It would give birth to his next display sometime in June. Rosy stopped him mid-sentence, saying she has something to say instead. Before she could change her mind, she spat the truth still leaning against the chest of drawers. He looked like a child denied a treat in a shop. Her body was craving to run to him and comfort him, but she was rooted by the chest of drawers by a much greater force. He apologized with tears streaming his eyes, he begged for another chance. Made such a compelling speech it broke her heart. She told him how she had forgiven him, but needed him to leave her house and never return. She gave him back the platinum engagement band. Shock, dismay registered on his face. He headed for the wardrobe to retrieve his belongs, but she rightfully pointed that the pre-packed boxes contained everything he had brought in the house, including his choice of cereal, she wouldn‘t need it when he was gone.

True to his colours, his mood changed, his face wearing a mask of disgust. He told her how all this time he was doing her a favour, how she would never find anyone to love her, and how she will regret this decision. Rosy‘s fierce feminine instincts kicked in. She wanted to throw something at him to shut him up. Her hand reached for the decorative enamel bowl. Instead she took the last nosmoking patch rolled it in a ball and hauled it at him. He started to reach for something to throw also, but Rosy said in the softest voice, ―Stop testing me Modise! Remember I am a Captain of a precinct, just as I have the capabilities to find people, I am pretty sure I can make you disappear if you did something stupid today‖. For a fraction of time that felt like forever, they stood looking at each other, then he grabbed his top and left. *Noon Post the breakup, Rosy kept her head either in work or found salvation at church. She drew great comfort in God‘s word. She had turned over so many stones, spent sleepless night exploring every detail of BLUE COTTON but she still hadn‘t solved it. Then exactly a year later, she was in church listening to the sermon. The baby in the row in front her, got agitated so the young mother crooned and tried to nurse her baby, but the baby was crying and refusede to be fed. The young mom picked her baby, proceeded to cradle him on her right shoulder. She hummed a hymn which seemed to ease the baby into sleep. This caught Rosy attention, the more she looked at the baby, and the more she saw her cold case. This baby was also wearing a blue blanket. Something about how the baby was cradled reminded her of Modise. Then it hit her, what if Modise was BLUE COTTON? Without thinking twice, she dashed out of church and sped to Jwaneng Police precinct. Going through her notes she came across the pediatrician report. He had mentioned that the baby had an odd birthmark on his right shoulder, so did Modise! Even though he had over the years added a string of tattoo around his marking. What are the chances that it was a coincidence? All she needed was Modise‘s blood sample to verify, and for further investigation she could match his DNA to Miss Lesego Neewa coronary report. She called Modise to chat about his birth place and parents. According to him, he was born to a single mother in Lesotho and his mother was still very much alive. Yet they agreed that just to rule him out as BLUE COTTON he should come in for tests. He came in the very next day. They ran tests and sent the specimen to be analyzed by two independent laboratories. They needed to make sure that whatever the outcome, it was verified beyond reasonable doubt. It was the longest week of the unknown. Tests came back, Rosy called Modise to her office, and they revealed that indeed Modise was BLUE COTTON. He was Miss Lesego Neewa long lost son, whom she had named Hope Neewa. Sometimes people search for the truth and are not really ready to receive it. Modise and Rosy parted with so much now weighing heavily on their heads. How would they then proceed with the case?

Captain Rosy was staring yet again outside her office window. Wondering how a baby born in Jwaneng would end up in Lesotho. Should she then file in an Interpol report requesting Modise‘s current mother to be investigated? What would this mean for Modise‘s life from now onwards? With her peripheral view, she caught sight of the janitor and before she could stop herself, she shouted, ―Excuse me sir, what is your name?‖ He replied, ―To paraphrase Shakespeare what is in a name indeed.‖ The name is Moses as in the guy from the Bible. With that he stated to walk away. She had an urge to stop him, but decided that he is another case for another. ***

Fortitude By Pearl Mokgatlhane Pearl Mokgatlhane is an avid reader and an upcoming writer born in Botswana . She has no professional training as a writer , but aspires to be a well published writer. She is currently editing her first anthology. She worked in the publishing and distributing industry for 5 years. Her favourite misqouted qoute reads “ never trust anyone with no books in their home nor coffee”.

17. MIRAGE ―People who do not sleep in a house admire it from its rooftop‖ Bemba Proverb Gladys struts down the tall glass corridors of the banking hall which she loves so much. She has a strong gait and an unwavering confidence. Her heels make a coordinated, harmonious sound with the floor, announcing her exit. Her perfume trails behind her, leaving behind the sweet scent of success. The men in the building take the time to lift their heads above their laptops to admire her beauty - even under the pressure of last minute daily reports. Cleaners trip over their mops in their bid to move out of the way and greet her at the same time. The guard opens the door for her. His short but voluptuous body morphs into a most exaggerated salute. It stretches quickly like rubber band, adding a few inches to his height as his tip toes take on his entire weight. Holding the door firmly, he brings his left hand to his forehead at a 30-degree angle, solemnly fixing his eyes to the ceiling. He waits for her to walk out. She wonders if his return to ease is just as dramatic.

The wall of hot humid air outside the bank takes her by surprise. She has been in air-conditioned rooms since morning. She looks down at her watch and tries to pick up pace. She has to get home before her in-laws get there. Her husband only just told her about an emergency family meeting, and with annoyance she has had to drop everything at the office. She walks toward her white SUV and notices that it has a flat tyre. ―No, no, no!‖ she thinks. Her driver is out of town and asking someone in the office for a lift is going to set her back. She decides to catch a taxi instead – she will call someone from the Bank‘s maintenance team to fix her vehicle this evening. Her walk to the taxi rank is incredibly painful. Why should it take so much for a woman to ‗have it all?‘ Sometimes she asks herself if she wants it at all. Everything is so tight. In fact, what is not tight? Her $400 elasticated lace front wig gnaws at her hairline. It grips her head like the crown of death, oblivious to the veins which are now pumping more blood at the new pace of its owner‘s pulse. She feels a headache emerging from the left side of her temple, and wishes she could pull it off in full view of the public. Instead, she flicks her fringe and runs her fingers through her silky exotic hair.

Her corset, which so beautifully conceals her post-birth body, is now a python threatening to suffocate her. It coils upward from her torso to her belly, tightening with each step she takes. The underwire in her push-up bra takes itself too seriously as it digs into her ribs in an effort to showcase her God-given assets. The bunions on her feet burn, and the balls of her feet throb. The highlight of her day is when she gets to take everything off and loosen up everything on her body including the desire to fight her corporate battles. Head high, she walks. And still, men stare. Women admire her. She flags down a cab and jumps in hastily. ―Ibex Hill please – and quickly.‖ ―Yes Madam.‖ She cannot help but notice that this taxi man has pulled his chair all the way back, probably so that he can look cool while he drives. His feet are bare, and the car is automatic. His toes are not in touch with each other – literally. To her they look like fingers, so wide apart and so terrifyingly ugly. His left foot remains stationary on the foot rest, while the other one strains to reach the acceleration and brake pedals with only his first two toes making it. ―Why don‘t you push your chair forward? It seems so far,‖ she tries with some tact. ―Yes, Madam it is true, the chair is very far from the steering wheel,‖ he laughs, as though about to narrate a wise anecdote, ―but the chair cannot move – it has been stuck just like this for a very long time. We shall not complain, you know why? Because Mulungu azati tandiza (God will help us). One day I will have a car which can adjust the seat. To God be the glory!‖ His right big toe just barely reaches the pedal. It presses accelerate, and they are on their way. The drive home is stressful. She wonders if Milika has cooked enough food for everyone. Will her mother-in law approve the meal? She never will, because anything from the maid is never going to be good enough for her son. But what is she to do? Ever since they got married, he simply refuses to work. She met Henry when she had just returned home from London after attaining her MBA. He was a Master of Science in Geology from UNZA and was going to be a big shot director at one of the mines. He was so ambitious that stars sparkled in his eyes. He was tall, very dark and athletic. Wide-jawed and brown eyed, he was in awe of her stories from London and the opulent lifestyle her late father had given her.

Theirs was a courtship much like the traditional Tonga dance which she enjoyed as a child. ―Two by two!‖ And the crowd would respond, ―Caterpillar by two!‖ everyone stood in a circle clapping and singing. A girl would go into the circle and begin to gyrate her waist and dance. She would go forward then backward, shaking her buttocks at the same time. An admirer would jump in and follow this beautiful woman, making actions as though he is about to mount her. She would move a few steps forward, and then backward for him. Other ladies could jump in – and when he decides which one, he dances to her rhythm and follows her. They go away two by two in perfect rhythm and unison. He liked her, yes, but sometimes, she would have to work really hard to keep him. For every step she would take forward, she would have to dance back to him while shaking her behind in order to keep his attention. Other ladies would occasionally join the circle and distract him for a while. But in the end, he chose to follow her, and they got married on a Friday afternoon at a beautiful mass in the lofty hall of Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The taxi takes her down Alick Nkhata Road. Double decker buses and vans full of people in green and blue PF regalia fist the party sign as JK‘s tuneful voice fills the air. Children do Kopala dances in the street, singing along to Dununa Reverse. This takes her mind away from the anxiety which she is feeling, and she secretly pumps her fist with excitement, eager for the elections to come. Her husband supports the opposition, because he feels that the government is to blame for his economic failure. When she first met him, Gladys had her ambitions written down like a to-do list - Henry was one of them. The first time he took her to his mother‘s, it was different. He was different. He behaved cowardly and shy, constantly trying to appease his mother. She sat on the red polished floor of the verandah as she could not go inside the house. The smell of icifu (offals) came offensively to her from the kitchen. Children from the neighbours‘ came to look at her. They called her the beautiful rich girl, ‗bwelani muwone chimpopo chamu ma yardi!‖ She played with the welcome mat that was made of different pieces of cloth punctured into an old mealie meal sack. She turned the colourful mat upside down, and saw, written in navy blue, bold letters cut out from what once read NATIONAL MILLING. There were circles on the floor drawn with charcoal. In the middle of the circles sat neat piles of stones ready for Chiato. Chiato was a game where one had to throw a stone into the air, and pull out all the stones from the circle before the air borne stone descended back into your hand. One had to repeat the exercise, but this time pushing back the undesired ones into their intended boundary. It took a great deal of hand-eye coordination and the little girls here could do it like pros.

His mother refused to greet her and she could only hear agitated voices on the other side of the door which had a beaded curtain. The curtain of separation was still alive in their in-law relationship. All Gladys knew that day was that she never wanted to have a red floor or a National Milling welcome mat. She was going to do whatever it took to give her children what her father had given her. The sound of steel works and stones being crushed by quarry amuses Gladys and brings her back to present time. She has not opened her heart or mind to see the street for what it has become in a long time. In the comfort of her luxury vehicle, she does not get the chance to hear the sounds from outside nor feel the hot air blowing against her face. Besides, she normally prefers to use the more scenic Los Angeles Boulevard route to get home. Large containers of cement bags stand open while builders load their trucks. Some are Dangote blue and red, and others are Lafarge green and white. Lebanese with kebab shops carve their meat feeding lines of people with shawarmas. Kalingalinga is not the same, and in ten years this road will be very different – a hive of developed business activity. The taxi driver stops at the traffic lights ready to take a right turn to Friday‘s corner. His middle toe now holds the brake down, while his other foot flexes and stretches – curling his toes in and then flashing them in all five directions. It is in tune with the tick tock sound of the indicator. Gladys is thinking now. Deep and hard. What is this meeting about? They haven‘t had a fight since the last incident with Milika when she wanted to send her back to Kabwe, and that was six months ago. Perhaps his siblings need another loan.

Milika used to be her most trusted maid. Life‘s circumstances had caused their relationship to transcend into one that was more than a worker-master relationship. She had moved to Lusaka from Kabwe to work for Gladys many years ago. Milika had a fiancé in Kabwe with whom she was saving up for her wedding. In the beginning, she would spend every Kwacha she earned on her dress, her shoes, and send money for down payments on the community hall which they had booked. The wedding date began to move forward each time she visited him, and eventually one day, Gladys found her maid sobbing on the kitchen floor like there was a funeral. Her head scarf was on sideways, her legs spread ajar, and her back red with dust from the ground outside where she had obviously been rolling on the ground. Milika became hysterical kicking and screaming on the floor. Gladys and her wrestled in the kitchen. She pinned her down to the floor, straddled her and forcefully tied her tambala back into place. She slapped her into reality, because she had lost her mind in sorrow. ―You‘ve given him everything! But you are still here! Look – you have a good job, you have a wonderful spirit! Let him go! Your man will come!‖

When Gladys had her miscarriage, it was Milika who helped her through it. She nursed her back to health and took care of the home while Gladys slipped quietly into a dark abyss. Her womb felt bare and raw. The Facebook pictures of her friends and their perfect new babies taunted her. But Milika kept her strong and prayed with her every day. Over time, Gladys came to rely on her, even more so as her job became increasingly demanding. The higher the promotion, the less time she had to tend to domestic chores. When Gladys finally gave birth to her son Henry Junior, Milika delivered her own three months later. The father was a barber who lived on the other side of town, in John Laing compound. So, the children were raised together. Henry, her husband, seemed to have either lost all hope in ever finding a job, or was now just comfortable being provided for. The weight of carrying the burden on her own was heavy on Gladys. Some nights she was completely disengaged from him. Other nights she wanted to love him, because she did. But the more she tried, the harder it became. Staring at the back of his head some nights, she wondered why he didn‘t want her. And yet it was her sweat which paid for the very bed he was lying in. Each morning she was affronted by the sight of the pink of his feet while he snored away. When they first got married, he would spend the whole day dressed in a suit, with intentions to deliver his resume to different companies and to people who had promised they would ‗look into his situation‘. He would crunch away at a calculator seemingly worried about bills and how they would get paid. Lately, however, he would open the door for her at lunch time wearing her pink nightgown, complaining about how the DSTV Catch Up was not working. The sleep in his eyes would be so fresh that it would sicken, then enrage her. At what point had she left this man so far behind? As though that was not enough, about half a year ago, things changed in her marriage when she decided to swing by the house after a meeting which had finished earlier than expected. It was also near home, so she wanted to check on Henry Junior. She drove into their gated community, and placed her car outside, in the communal parking so that she wouldn‘t have to hoot for a long time. She opened the small pedestrian gate and walked into the beautiful suburban house. It was quiet. She went into the baby‘s room and found him sleeping peacefully next to Milika‘s baby. She checked his breathing and took a deep breath just to retain his scent in her mind. The baby looked sated and content. She heard laughter coming from the backyard. ―Who would Milika be laughing with?‖ she thought. She gently put the baby down and walked toward the kitchen. ―I hope she‘s not bringing the barber to my house.‖

Then, from the window she saw them. Milika was kneeling over a large steamy oval shaped shomeka while Henry was lathered up to his neck in soap. She could see the waxy red bar of soap sitting in its wrapper on the grass. This man would never let her buy anything less than designer toiletries!

Milika wore a chitenge low and loose around her waist just below her colourful beads. Her full cleavage glistened in the sunshine and she heaved with desire – for her husband. His arm was around her waist, playing with her beads and rubbing her ass. He was purring like a cat while she skillfully shaved his pubic hair with a tiny razor blade. One of his legs hung outside the steel bath as he showed off his manhood. The steel bowl from their bedroom was unwrapped, sitting in its shards of white cloth. She had not seen it since the night before her wedding when her na chimbusa gave it to her. Gladys did not know what to do, and at that moment, her phone flashed. They did not hear her – so she walked back out to her car. She chose to go back to what she could deal with, and that was structuring a $23 million infrastructure development deal for one of her best clients. That week she gave instruction for Milika to go back to Kabwe. Henry threw a tantrum and gave her the silent treatment for weeks. She told him that she knew, but he made her swear that she would never tell anyone because he could not afford the public humiliation. He made an ultimatum to leave if Milika was fired. The taxi man turns into her complex and she leads him to her home. She pays him K100, and she gives him another K100 telling him jokingly to go and buy some shoes. She walks into the house, and finds two of his uncles and his mother seated and waiting for her. She kneels down to greet each one of them and discerns the tension in the room. Henry is not making any eye contact with her. She excuses herself to get a chitenge from the bedroom. When she comes back, she sits on the floor and thanks them for coming. His uncle used to be an anchor on Chintobentobe – the local Bemba language television show. He sounds like he is still in the studio. He is not sure whether he wants to be Kenneth Maduma or Frank Mutubila. His suit matches the brown and burgundy sofa, as though it was made in an upholstery workshop. He leads the discussion, stretching his syllables in attempt to sound somewhat like his heroes. It sounds like he is making a public announcement on television. ―Our son feels that you have failed miserably in this marriage,‖ he says. ―You are not here to meet his needs, neither are you a full-time mother – you know what I‘m saying? Tell us why he should stay married to you. He says that you never cook, you never clean, you want to have sex but you do not want any children in the near future – you know what I‘m saying? So, then, tell us why should he stay married to you?‖ Gladys is at a loss for words. ―But Tata, please excuse me here. I have to work in order for us to keep this home. Henry won‘t get a job.‖

―Ah! Ah!‖ his mother chides, making an X with her forefingers, ―A woman‘s success is not in the office. It is in the home! This is not London – it is Zambia. When you get divorced, you will still want a friend, and when one friend becomes, two, then three, you become known as a what?‖ she holds her hand to her ear, ―A PROSTITUTE - HULE!‖ ―We are taking our children!‖ ―Mum, what do you mean children?‖ She claps her hands and smirks. ―That is exactly what I mean. You are not a member of your own household eh? You don‘t even know that we have another child in this house? If my son dies today, and he has got full ma vuzi konse mu ma arm pits na mu ma privates, I will know that it is because of your inability to keep a home. But, we thank God that there has been someone managing these things for you – you lazy woman!‖ As if on cue, Milika comes out with the children. There is a small suitcase she brings along. Her face is powdered and she has eyeliner badly drawn along her lids. Her short afro is combed out and she is wearing a ring. ―Tiyeni amake bana, it is time we stopped pretending,‖ says the anchorman. Henry stands up with his family. He walks toward Milika and takes the younger child into his arms. Gladys still on the floor purses her lips in anger and tries to control herself from dissolving into tears. She seethes like a provoked adder, and quivers with venom. After a moment, she remembers who she is, and stands up. Tall and beautiful. Without missing her words, she articulates in her impeccable English accent. She holds her audience as though she is in the boardroom. ―Since we are not pretending anymore, give me my son, and leave with yours. Did you really think he was Henry Junior?‖ ***

Mirage By Natasha Omokhodion Kalulu Banda I am a 33-year-old woman from Zambia with a career in marketing and event management. I feel as though my generation was found at the tail end of the pre-World Wide Web age. What was referred to as modern history when we were teenagers, was only ninety years since Africa was being carved up and shared, fifty since the last World War and thirty years since most African countries gained independence. Hence, I feel that we have a unique perspective, which, like a confluence, brings together the old and the new. My prayer is that we share this with the world through our story-telling. I love Africa - its history, its present and mostly, its future.

18. The Devil Made Me Do It Nkem walked down the left side of Nyanya road. She was going to the gwanjo seller who sold baby shawls. It won‘t cost her more than N300 to buy the shawl. She had never bought anything for the other baby. She felt sweat soak the armpits of her blue cotton gown and she wondered why she hadn‘t bought the shawl earlier. She was waiting for the due date. Pregnancy doesn‘t make her beautiful; her face had gotten rough with a hundred pimples and her nose had grown bigger. It was two more weeks before the baby came in to the world, and Gloria the agent was checking in every two days. She felt water gushing down and soaking her blue maternity gown. ―This can‘t be happening now,‖ she exclaimed. She held her hand to her red forehead, she was average height with skin the colour of red paw-paw and had two thick bold black lines scrawled above her eyes like one sloppy letter ‗S‘ broken in the middle. ―I can‘t go to the hospital,‖ she exclaimed. She tried to shift her leg forward but she felt her waist clamp together. She fell down to the ground. Women carrying Bagco bags walking from the market surrounded her. ―I live close by,‖ she pointed to the north. ―It seems her water has broken lets us take her to the hospital,‖ said one woman in blue Ankara covered with yellow stars. She adjusted her wrapper and handed her Bagco bag to a slim girl in blue jeans and a black body top. Some good Samaritans stopped a taxi and bundled her to Nyanya general hospital. She was talking in between breaths, ―My house is close by. I don‘t want to go to the hospital.‖ The taxi driver and the Good Samaritan woman ignored her. She fainted when the pain radiating from her waist became unbearable. She woke up in the hospital bed. She saw mama close to her and she felt like a small hill was placed on her thin body.

―Mama, what happened to me?‖ she said. ―Hope it‘s not C.S?‖ Mama looked at her hands. ―When I got to the hospital, the woman that called me said they had already rushed you to the theatre.‖

―Mama but I don‘t want to pay the hospital bills, and where is the agent?‖ ―She said she can‘t come to the hospital; that you agreed to have the baby at home.‖ The nurse entered, ―This is the room for patient recovery for C.S and you are disturbing the patient.‖ ―Have you brought clothes for the baby? The child has only one pair of clothes that was donated by the Good Samaritan woman that brought you here.‖ Mama said nothing. Mrs. Olatunji wore her blue lace Buba and Iro. It matched with her dark brown skin tone. She was tall and had one dimple on the left side of her face. She had an arresting face with big eyes, two small buttons for a nose and a small mouth. When she smiled the dimple lit her face up. She tried to tie her Iro over the big mound of her stomach but the wrapper kept sliding down. The mound refused to stay in the middle of her stomach. She untied the pouch on her stomach and adjusted the scraps of Ankara inside it. She removed the blouse and wrapper and threw on a Bubu over it. She threw a wig over the two steps on her head and picked Lara from the bed. Lara dragged an old strand of bead necklace she was playing with. She entered her Lexus jeep and drove to her bridal shop in Surulere. Mrs. Olatunji moved from her small cubicle at the end of her bridal shop, and she stopped in front of the two sales girls. ―How‘s the baby doing? You look a little pale?‖ Mrs. Olatunji‘s face broke into a soft smile. ―He‘s fine. He was kicking me throughout the morning so I‘m going home to rest,‖ she said. Bisi really liked children a lot, unlike Funmi who never asks about the baby. She walked out of the shop to her car parked outside her shop in Ikeja. ―Our madam is something else,‖ said Funmi. ―She tells lies so flawlessly.‖ ―If I haven‘t seen her adjusting her fake pregnancy in her cubicle one morning, I will have believed it was true,‖ Bisi said. ―Bisi, why do you keep asking her about the baby all the time? She might suspect you.‖

―If she‘s not careful she will get caught out in a lie, imagine buying a baby boy for N1.3 million?‖

―I still can‘t believe you overheard her talking with one Gloria that she‘s willing to pay more than 1 million for a boy and she will double the price she paid for Lara,‖ Funmi remarked. ―Do you think her hubby knows about it?‖ Bisi said as she arranged the shoes on a shoe rack. ―I‘m sure he does. If not, how will she hide a pregnancy for nine months?‖ Nkem was annoyed. This wasn‘t how she planned everything. She got up from her bed and went to visit the pediatric ward. She heard some people talking about the woman that lost her baby yesterday. She quickly went to the ward to see if the woman had been discharged. She said to her please I‘m sorry for your loss I heard that you lost your baby. ―I have a baby boy but I can‘t even look after him, so I can give you my own for a price,‖ she said. ―What do you mean? Nurse come and listen to this woman. She said I can have her baby.‖ The nurses decided to call the police and she was taken to the Human Rights Commission. Mrs. Olatunji paced up and down the living room. Her phone rang. ―Gloria please, where is my baby? I don‘t understand what is going on.‖ ―She has been caught. She tried to sell the baby in the hospital,‖ Gloria said. ―Gloria please do something. It‘s not that easy to get a new baby.‖ ―I‘m trying. The police have handed her case to the Human Rights Commission. I‘ll see what I can do.‖ The lawyer asked her what happened and who the father of her baby is. She said it was Ifeanyi. He worked as a taxi driver in Lugbe. ―Tell us what the problem is,‖ the lawyer continued. ―The nurse said you were depressed because of poverty.‖ Nkem stared at them with a blank space. She was thinking about N1 million. She didn‘t understand why she had to listen to them talk. A lawyer visited Ifeanyi at his home in Lugbe. He looked at them with hope. ‗‗Nkem, where is she I haven‘t seen her in a year. She moved from Lugbe, and disappeared with my daughter. Where is she living now? I‘ll like to see her 1 day.‖

―She lives in Nyanya. She said you were her boyfriend and you broke up and abandoned her. She had no baby girl, only a boy that is three weeks old. Anyway, please don‘t look for her or tell her about our talk,‖ the lawyer said as he adjusted the tie on his neck. ―What will happen to Nkem?‖ ―We are still investigating so I can‘t say anything for sure.‖ He tried Nkem‘s phone number and it rang. Two years of trying her number randomly, and he hoped she could pick so he could curse her. ‗‗Hello, Ifeanyi long time.‖ ―What happened to our daughter?‖ So, I was right, the busybody lawyer went to see him. What should I tell Ifeanyi? ―I didn‘t know how to tell you, our b-baby died, she had malaria and typhoid and there was nothing I could do to save her.‖ She broke into sobs. ―I heard you were having a new baby.‖ Nkem kept quiet and switched off the phone. She told mama they had to move away from the house. ―But what about the baby?‖

―I think we‘ve to run and leave the baby.‖ Mrs. Olatunji sat down in her living room, the tears were still spilling. ―Sorry,‖ said Bisi. ―God will surely do it again.‖ Funmi just looked at her and said nothing. ―You are wicked,‖ Mrs. Olatunji screamed. ―Even after I lost my baby, you can‘t greet me. You are sacked.‖ ―You can‘t sack me, or else I‘ll tell the world that you were going to buy a baby boy for N1.3 million. You were carrying a pouch on your stomach and pretending to be pregnant. I‘m sure your mother–in-law will like to hear this story.‖ Mrs. Olatunji stared at her with her mouth open. ―Funmi you can kill someone!‖ ―No you can kill someone. Is it okay to buy babies - N700,000 for a girl and 1.3 million for a boy?‖

―How can you be eavesdropping on my conversations? I mean I trusted you and Bisi a lot.‖ ―Bisi what is eavesdrop....‖ Funmi asked. ―She meant you were spying on her,‖ said Bisi. ―I wasn‘t spying on you. The words simply flew to my ear and I heard them.‖ ―Who knows where Gloria gets babies from? Bisi asked. ―What if she stole Lara from a hospital?‖ ―Gloria got the child from her mother. She didn‘t want the child and she gave us so her baby can have a better life,‘‘ Mrs. Olatunji replied. Bisi got up from her seat. ―Madam it seems you have convinced yourself but you could have adopted a child. If the police should get to Gloria you‘ll be in trouble and one day the mother might come to collect her children‘‘ ―No, it can‘t happen. No one can collect my daughter from me,‘‘ said Mrs. Olatunji and she started panting heavily. ―I can‘t breathe, it can‘t happen.‖ She fainted. ―What‘s this one again,‖ said Funmi. ―Is she pretending to faint?‖ ―Funmi open the door and window so she can get fresh air,‖ said Bisi. Nkem sat in front of the room they rented in Mpape. She held her hand to her head. ―All that hard work for nothing.‖ ―I would have gotten a million naira. Mama!‖ Mama came rushing out of the room. ―Nkem what is the problem? Why are you shouting my name?‖ ―Mama we don‘t have anything left. I have only N1000 in my account.‖ ―When we made that money, I told you to start a business but you refused to listen and now you‘re complaining.‖ ―I thought I‘ll make another money and I got a baby boy but the police interferred. Mama I‘m going to get my baby from the hospital. I want my baby back.‖ ―Leave that baby. If the police catch you, they will take you to prison.‖ ―I must go back before they move the baby from the hospital. He has jaundice.‖

Nkem passed the nurse at the reception. The nurse told her ‗salaam‘ and she answered and with ‗salaam.‘ She hurried on with her black hijab sweeping the corridor and she adjusted the niqab that was covering her fake eyebrows. She ran towards the pediatric ward. She went to the crib where her baby was. He looked better. She checked and carried him from his crib. The policeman came out from behind the door and held her hand. She was arrested. She started crying, ―I just wanted to see my baby. I missed him so much.‖ She was taken to the police station. ―I was missing my baby. I came back for him.‖ Someone has filed a complaint against you. We called him and he‘s coming. She stood up when he entered. ―Ifeanyi what are you doing here?‖ ―I want my daughter back; I want to know the truth of what happened?‖ I told you I had a miscarriage and she died. There is nothing more to know. The police inspector called the corporal. He entered the office with Madam Gloria. Nkem looked at the inspector calmly. ―Who is this woman?‖ ―She says she knows you and you sold your first daughter to her. We caught her when she was trying to steal your baby boy at the hospital.‖ Nkem turned to look at her. ―I don‘t what she‘s talking about. I have never seen her in my life.‖

―She‘s lying. She sold her daughter to me for N500, 000 and her daughter is with a couple in Lagos, Mr and Mr‘s Olatunji.‖ They named her Lara, and I have pictures. Nkem started crying. ―I‘m sorry, the devil made me, do it?‖ ―Sir, can I get my daughter from the Olatunjis?‖ Ifeanyi asked. ―The court will decide,‖ said the policeman. ―Nkem how could you have done such a thing?‖

―Ifeanyi I‘m sorry. Please forgive me and withdraw your statement,‖ Nkem said with tears pooling from her eyes. ―I just want my daughter.‖ ***

The Devil Made Me Do it By Hadiza Mohammed Hadiza Mohammed is a Nigerian. She lives and writes from Abuja. She is the author of the Children's book My Life as an Almajiri. She has been published in Brittle Paper, Saraba Magazine, Praxismagonline and Kalahari Review.

19. SKIN DEEP I was nine years old and in the fifth grade. My mother had just said a prayer at my bedside as she did every night after putting me and my brother Debo to bed. My bedroom door was left wide open, as it always was, because I was afraid of the dark and could not sleep without the comfort of the light from the hall spilling through my doorway. I was not particularly tired despite the late hour, and I laid awake for some time lost in my thoughts. It had been a little over two years since my family had moved from our small house in the relatively diverse suburbs outside of Denver to a larger and brand new house in the wealthier and noticeably whiter Centennial area. While I had managed to exist on vaguely friendly terms with a few students at my new school, the other kids were much crueller than those I‘d left behind, and so I spent a lot of time alone. All the same, even though I‘d always been exceedingly willful and headstrong, I was essentially a well-behaved, optimistic, and happy child. Yet that night, alone in the semi-darkness, I began to compare myself to the other girls in the class and found myself lacking.

―Anna is the smartest girl in class.‖ a voice whispered in my head, referencing the petite Ukrainian girl who lived up the street and who had indeed been one of the few students to consistently earn higher marks than me. ―And Shontice is the prettiest girl in class.‖ the voice continued, and again the voice was right. Shontice had transferred into my 5th grade class a few weeks after the start of the year, and all the boys were obsessed with her. She was, in my estimation, probably the prettiest girl in the entire school. She had huge green eyes, soft brunette hair that fell long and wavy down her back, and the cutest, littlest, whitest button nose. Any debate on the matter had been settled when Matthew Erenhaur, who I‘d loved with the surprising amount of passion available to nineyear-old girls, admitted through the school yard grapevine that he had a crush on Shontice and wanted her to be his girlfriend. ―So,‖ the voice resumed, ―You‘re not smart, and you‘re not pretty, and Matt will never like you because you‘re too dark.‖ I‘m too dark. It had taken a full nine years for my mind to finally reach that conclusion, having been nudged and prodded in that direction all my life by the stares and jeers and back handed compliments from fellow children and adults alike.

―Stay out of the sun, you don‘t need to go getting any darker‖ came the whisper of a well- meaning family friend. ―She‘s not black, she‘s blue!‖ jeered a stranger, also black, at the store, and it was the approving laughter this drew from his friends that tore through my memory like so many knives. Most convincing of all however, was the absence, the abject void that greeted me as my young mind cast about frantically for any proof to the contrary, searching in vain for a single positive representation of myself in any movie, any TV show or any song I‘d ever seen or heard. I am not smart, I am not pretty, and I am too dark. I repeated this to myself, tentatively exploring the gulf of self-rejection and hatred that had opened at my feet with seismic abruptness. I could study harder and probably get better grades than Anna I reasoned, and I was still too young to place a huge premium on beauty for its own sake, but I could think of nothing to be done about my skin. I am too dark and I will always be too dark. With this realization, I began to cry. How long I spent curled under my sheets weeping in the darkness about my darkness is impossible for me to say. Eventually, after soaking through both sides of my pillow, I left my room to grab tissues from the bathroom and happened upon my mother reading in the loft. ―Olayemi, you‘re still awake?‖ She asked, referring to me by my Yoruba name and without looking up from her book. ―Just going to the bathroom.‖ I replied, my voice still heavy and halting from the tears. She glanced up and took in my puffy eyes and running nose. ―Have you been crying? What happened? What‘s wrong?‖ I distinctly remember the acute embarrassment that washed over me in that moment. After all, nothing had happened and technically nothing was wrong. I‘d gone to bed perfectly alright, and now here I was, shaking and crying. ―Nothing Mommy. I just need a tissue.‖ ―Nothing?‖ My mother stared evenly at me for several seconds. ―Ok. Go wipe your face then tell me why you‘ve been crying.‖

I headed to the bathroom to do as I was told. Unrolling a handful of toilet paper, I used some to blow my nose and tore off the remainder to wipe the tear-stains from my face. As I turned towards the trash can, intending to take a deep breath and assure my mother that I‘d simply remembered something sad from a movie; I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror and saw that the toilet paper had left tiny white flecks all over my face. Balancing on my tip toes, I leaned over the counter and began to quickly brush off the offending fuzz. Peering intently into the mirror with my fingers held up to my cheek, I looked at myself. Covered in toilet paper dust with swollen red eyes, I looked terrible. I smiled and gently giggled at the thought of my mother‘s understandable bewilderment at seeing her only daughter in such a state so late in the night and with no explanation. But as I continued to stare into the mirror, the laughter caught in my throat and my smile began to fade. I had been attempting to dislodge the dust by gently rubbing at my face, but now I began to slowly scratch, raking dull fingernails across my skin as though possessed. The girl in the mirror couldn‘t have been more different from Shontice if she‘d tried. I really am too dark, I thought again as the tears that had been welling in my eyes broke free and darted unbidden down my face. ―Olayemi?‖ My mother‘s voice broke my reverie, I quickly wiped the tears away with the back of my hand and rushed out of the bathroom. ―Sorry, I had to pee,‖ I lied. ―You‘re still crying?‖ My mother asked with mounting concern. ―Come here and tell me what‘s wrong.‖ I took a deep uneven breath and joined her on the couch, but said nothing. ―Oya,‖ my mother prodded, shaking me gently by the shoulder. I buried my face in her arm. ―Anna is smarter than me, Shontice is prettier than me, and I‘m too dark.‖ The confession came tumbling out of my mouth in a barely comprehensible jumble.

Understanding enough to be sure her child was neither ill nor gravely injured, my mother relaxed. ―You‘re crying because you think Anna is smarter than you?‖ I nodded gravely with my face still pressed against her arm, smearing her with new tears and the remainder of my runny nose. She gently shook herself free and looked down at me.

―Olayemi, why are you thinking this way when we just finished praying?‖ I had no answer for that. ―How do you know Anna is smarter than you? I didn‘t know she even went to your school, and isn‘t she a grade behind you?‖ I frowned, she was missing the point. ―No Mommy, that‘s Alexandria who lives next door. I‘m talking about Anna who lives up the street. She‘s in my class and always gets better grades than me.‖ ―Well then, next time just make sure to take more time to study instead tell yourself nonsense.‖ I said nothing, unable to articulate why my mother‘s reasonable response left me feeling so unheard. ―Olayemi, are you listening?‖ ―Yes Mommy.‖ ―Ok then. You should sleep, you have school tomorrow.‖ Instead, I rested my head against her arm and stared at the floor until my mother returned to her reading. ―Mommy?‖ I began quietly, ―Yes?‖ ―I was also sad because...because I think I‘m too dark.‖ This time the confession was slower but barely above a whisper. ―You‘re too what?‖ ―Dark. My-my skin is too dark.‖ I stammered, even less audibly than before. ―Olayemi, I can‘t understand what you‘re saying.‖ Her indulgent patience was waning. ―And look at the time! It will be hard for me to wake you up tomorrow.‖ I opened my mouth to try again, but snapped it shut when I heard my father coming up the stairs. Home from a long day at the church he and my mother had founded, he was making his way sleepily to bed. He frowned at the sight of me.

―Olayemi, do you know what time it is? Did I not tell you to be in bed by nine on school nights? Where is Debo?‖ ―He‘s sleeping, I just got up to go to the bathroom,‖ I tried to explain. ―No oh!‖ My mother interjected, ―I put her to bed and prayed for her hours ago. Then she came out crying, saying a girl in her class is smarter than her.‖ I bristled at my mother ratting me out, and considered telling him the whole story. I looked up at my dad. He was standing by his bedroom door looking very tired and more annoyed than properly angry. . I realized suddenly that my dad‘s skin was even darker than my own, and that both of us were noticeably darker than my mother, who was not by any stretch of the imagination a light-skinned woman, but instead a relatively uncontroversial shade of pecan relative to our deep umber. I tried to imagine telling him that my skin, and therefore his skin, was too dark, that kids teased me about it, that the boy I liked would never so much as look at me because of it, that I hated it. But it felt impossible. Something told me that saying such things would only wound him deeply. ―I‘m sorry. I‘m going back to sleep now. I was just worried about a quiz tomorrow.‖ I offered instead. Satisfied, my father pushed open his bedroom door, signaling the end of the conversation.

―All the more reason for you to be asleep. Go back to bed, we will pray about your quiz in the morning.‖ He disappeared into his room. With a placid smile glued to my face, I kissed my mother on the cheek and hugged her goodnight. The smile stayed put as I made my way past Debo‘s open door and through my own. Alone again in the grey black of the night punctured by the golden shards of light flung from the hallway, the smile fell. I resigned myself to the fact that neither prayers nor my parents would be rescuing me from the pit my darkness had torn open within me. I would either find a way to survive, dangling from the precipice, or be consumed. Whatever I did, I would be doing it on my own.


Skin Deep By Holly Ajala Holly Ajala is a writer and storyteller with a fierce belief in the power of effective narrative to inspire empathy in the face of difference, to propel the reach of social justice and above all to challenge humans beings to be more human. To these ends, Holly has worked with the NYU Leadership Initiative, the ACLU Racial Justice Project , and the NYC Collaborative Writing Project to amplify the reach of marginalized voices, narratives, stories and communities. Holly currently writes for AYO Magazine, an online publication dedicated to honest and multifaceted portrayals of black women in search of joy. She is a recent NYU graduate with a B.A. in Politics and Africana Studies.

20. OPERATION: MOTHER’S BRUISES I set up camp in my favourite corner. It was just outside my room and my mother‘s room. It was the perfect hideout. The bushes had grown tall enough to hide my small frame from anyone approaching from the gate and I had a clear view of the front doorstep, my bedroom window and my mother‘s bedroom window. All I needed to do now was wait. My box laptop was transferring files to my custom-made Lego brick phone. It sat perfectly under my mother‘s window as it recorded sounds and decoded messages from the inside. My recent ninth birthday present, a spy agent briefcase, was on my right, under my bedroom window. In it, I had all the necessary tools to commence operations: a magnifying glass, invisible ink pen, a green card, a note book, my ID, the greatest spyglasses that allowed me to look backwards and forwards at the same time, and finally, a card reader. I opened my notebook then reached over to the briefcase to put on my black spyglasses. The air smelled like rice; mother was cooking. I looked at my invisible watch and was confused. It was only 6pm. Why was mother cooking so early again? We used to eat at 9pm but now she cooked early, told me to serve the food when I got hungry, and then she would host her guests. She called them appointments but I don‘t know what that meant. ‗Appointments‘ was usually a word people used in offices and mother already had a job. People who came home were guests but people who went to offices were appointments. Does that mean that our house was now an office? I wrote that down. House appointments. Check. The leaves started to rustle and Fluffy, my little white dog, poked his head through the bushes and sat on my Cinderella sweater. Mother had brought Fluffy to keep me company since I had no siblings. She hated dogs, but excused Fluffy. He was too cute to ignore. ―Fluffy no. That‘s my spy jacket,‖ I whispered as I got up and pulled my jacket from under his dirty white paws. He was excited now and licked my legs with his soft, pink tongue. ―Fluuuffffyyy, not now. Can‘t you see I‘m busy?‖ When I stood he knocked over my little pink plastic chair that I had got when I was three and danced around my legs. ―Shoo! Shoo! I don‘t want to play now.‖ I felt bad clapping him away like my mother would do when she was mad at him, but I just didn‘t have time. I picked up the chair, sat and wrote in my glittery notebook. Remember to feed fluffy. I loved my spyglasses. I could even see my neighbour‘s white car drive up and hoot at their gate without turning around. It was the most awesome birthday present I had received. Last year, I got a doll that was super flexible and could say ‗Mama‘ and I had really liked that, but soon the boys at school were teasing me and the other girls had gotten Barbie nail polish and rubber bands for their hair

I only had a doll. They made fun of me all the time. But with this spy briefcase, I was bound to be the coolest girl in my class. I could know anything about anyone and people would have to share their snack with me if they wanted answers. Therefore, this was the best present ever. ―Thindiwe! Dinner‘s ready!‖ called mother. She used to come and tickle me before dinner and tell me how I needed to grow up and be strong like Daddy. But Daddy left the country some time ago. Mother said it was a business trip. My friends‘ parents go for business trips and come back in one month, but my dad has been gone two years. I think my Daddy has died. My Mum shouted so loud at him before he left that I immediately knew that he would die from the sound. Her voice growled like Fluffy would do when an unknown person entered the gate. ―You think you‘re so holy. You despise me. I hate you and your smile and your contagious laugh. Why don‘t you leave! You never loved me. You never know what I go through. I struggle! You think I want to be like this? I hate you and your good life.‖ At least, that‘s close to what she said. She was not being articulate like she always told me to. She waved a bottle at him. She was shaking uncontrollably and Daddy just watched. Finally, he spoke with one hand on the door and the other round his bag. ―I have tried to love you Babirye, but how do you repay me? By continuing your wretched life of sleeping with other men and drinking yourself silly? Look at you! You‘ve ruined everything.‖ Mother screamed at him, tripped, and fell. The bottle burst into many toffee-looking shiny pieces. They landed on the carpet and over my mother as urine-colour liquid soaked into her clothes. I ran to my bed, hid my face under my pillow, and counted till the numbers transported me into my dreams. I just don‘t know why she won‘t admit it to me that Daddy died. I am nine years old now. I can handle death. Why do grown-ups always whisper about death around children? I don‘t like it. Death doesn‘t make me cry like it makes mother cry. When aunt Nakato died after Daddy left, mother cried till I thought her tears would flood the house. But why didn‘t she cry for Daddy like she cried for aunt Nakato? Maybe it was because she didn‘t get to shout at aunt Nakato like she did for Daddy. Maybe she still had things to say to aunt Nakato that she didn‘t get to say, and so she cried. But even after Daddy left, the ‗uncles‘ still came, only now they didn‘t need to sneak their way in. Mother stepped out onto the front porch and spotted me to the far right at my corner. ―Thindiwe darling, what are you doing? You‘re seated in the mud.‖ ―I‘m investigating Mama.‖ I responded as I removed my glasses. ―You silly little girl. You know how to get dinner for yourself don‘t you?‖ ―Yes, Mama‖ ―Good girl. I‘ll be having some appointments shortly. Remember not to disturb.‖

―Yes, Mama‖ ―Good girl.‖ I put on my glasses again and used the back-view mirrors to watch her enter the house. She was shooing Fluffy away in her typical manner. I‘m sure she had not eaten. Most mornings, I would find the food just as I had left it; a little scoop in the rice and a full saucepan of meat. My dishes were the only ones in the drying rack too: One Pocahontas plate, a Star Wars fork and one Despicable Me cup. I wrote. Operation #2: Why doesn‘t mother eat dinner? Check. The gate creaked open and a short man with a big round stomach squeezed through. I used to think that our little green gate was so tall and so wide but when he came in, suddenly the gate appeared tiny. Fluffy barked and growled and danced circles around the stranger but the man just unbuttoned his top shirt button and grinned. I don‘t think he could see me in the bushes. If I kept my back towards him, simply used my glasses and covered my head with my perfect pink hoodie, he wouldn‘t suspect a thing. Under my breath, I spoke into a rock, my walkie-talkie. ―Operation: mother‘s bruises are a go. I repeat. Operation: Mother‘s bruises are a go. Suspect 1 identified.‖ I saw him clear his throat at the front door as if he had some bouquet of roses, but he didn‘t. He simply rolled up his sleeves and adjusted his footing. Why was he so excited? Clients are usually very serious. He seemed nervous. Mother welcomed him with hugs and exaggerated laughter. I knew it was exaggerated laughter because when I used to laugh like that she would tell me to stop it and stop it immediately. I guess it‘s because I could do it better than her. At least mine actually sounded like laughter. Hers sounded like those black birds with white rings around their necks. ―How may I help you today, Mr. Mburu?‖ I heard my mother ask him from her room. It was very clear because I sat right under her window. I knew it would be the perfect spot. ―My dear, I am here to help you. Why didn‘t you call me sooner?‖ He replied. Wait. My mother needs help? Is my mother sick? Check bathroom cabinets for mother‘s pills. He continued. ―My love you need a man who can treat you right. Look at this. What are these marks on your shoulders?‖ ―Honey, don‘t start. I called you here for money not as some pity party…‖ ―I‘m not the only one, am I?‖ ―Really Duncan! You want to do this now! Get out. Time is money and if I‘m not getting anything from you, then you should leave.‖ ―Babirye! I want you...I want to be with you forever, not just when you call me.‖ ―This is your last, so make it your best. Besides where did love ever get anyone?‖

―Can I try and change your mind?‖ ―You know I rarely change my mind. That girl needs a real father.‖

―I can be her father…‖ Weird sucking sounds coming from room. Check. Man‘s full names: Mr. Duncan Mburu. Check. Bruises on mum‘s shoulder confirmed. Check. Is mother replacing dad? I listened a little longer till my mother‘s crying sounds made me drop the walkietalkie and stand. I didn‘t know whether to save her or stand still. She wasn‘t calling for help. She was not giving me instructions. Please Mummy, just say something and I‘ll do it. Just stop crying like that. Her bed was rattling. I thought it would break. Fluffy could tell that something was wrong so he stood right at my feet and howled at the window. ―Shhh! Fluffy! You‘re making it worse. Shhh!!‖ My eyes became teary. Mother did not want help. Maybe she didn‘t want me either. She had stopped tickling me before dinner. She never ate. Now she had bruises on her back. The kind that looked like a cat had dug into her and pulled hard. Maybe mother wanted to die. What had I done? Maybe I should find daddy. If daddy came back he would most definitely make her smile again. Maybe she‘s trying to replace him because she can‘t find him. The shaking stopped. My mother was laughing. I had never heard laugh like that. ―You are a beast!‖ She said. ―You are delicious!‖ Why was she laughing like that? She had said it herself: he was a beast. He was eating her. Can humans turn into animals? ―Babirye my dear. Any man would die to be with a woman like you.‖ ―A woman like me…so silly…a woman like me has lost everything.‖ That was the moment that I stopped existing. I never knew what the word exists meant until that very moment. Mother said she had lost everything and right then, I no longer existed. I sat still. I was invisible to her. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. My glasses were misty and it was getting dark. The front door opened and Fluffy ran away from me. I knew that mother was hugging that beast. I knew that he was squeezing the life out of her. Was she bleeding? Would she hide her wounds from me again? I heard her tell him to visit often. Now he was a visitor. He was no longer an appointment. Soon she would make me call him ‗Uncle‘ and tell me to sit on his lap. I don‘t want to sit on his lap. His stomach was too big. It wasn‘t like Daddy‘s that was flat and I could make myself into a ball there. If I sat on Mr. Mburu‘s lap his stomach would push me off. Would she make me sit on the lap of a beast? I know now that mum didn‘t want me anymore. She had forgotten about me.

Duncan Mburu buttoned his shirt and grinned as he marched out of our compound. Fluffy growled and barked with no use.

―Thindiwe! Thindi, come inside darling. It‘s getting cold.‖ ―I‘m alright mum. Just a few more minutes.‖ ―Don‘t stay out too late and don‘t forget your dinner.‖ ―Yes Mum!‖ She couldn‘t see me. She couldn‘t see my eyes. I removed my glasses and rubbed my eyes dry with my jacket sleeves. I could hear our neighbors shutting their windows and a sweet smell came from their kitchen. I wished I could go over and see what it was, but mother had warned me never to leave the compound. The walkie-talkie beeped. My invisible co-spy was trying to communicate. ―I copy. Suspect is a beast. No visual evidence just yet. Over.‖ I listened again. ―I copy. Will confront victim later on beastly marks. Suspect two approaching in grey Mercedes. He‘s parking outside the gate. Oh, and I‘ve succeeded in being invisible. Staying in invisible mode. Over and out.‖ Suspect two was tall. Even in the fading evening light I could tell that he had muscles. His head almost knocked the top of the gate. He patted Fluffy and smiled so wide that I thought his teeth were like a white wall in his mouth. The smell of his deodorant reached me. Suspect two wears deodorant like Daddy‘s. Check. Mother ran out to meet him. She buried her face in his long neck. His hands rubbed her neck then her back then her butt. Mother giggled. She looked at him like she used to do with dad. Does mother love suspect 2? ―Hey Love‖ Mother said. ―You look exhausted. Why do you treat yourself like this?‖ He responded. His voice was so deep; it penetrated my body and made my tummy rumble. ―I had a rough day.‖ Mother lied. I knew it was Duncan Mburu with his fat stomach that had made her so. He sneaked his fingers under one of her sleeves. She shivered. She forced her sleeve back on. ―Kangye don‘t look… I don‘t want you to see that.‖ ―Did you do this to yourself again, Babi? I told you to stop. Why don‘t you listen to me?‖ ―Kangye, please. Let‘s go inside.‖ ―I told you to go see a psychiatrist. You‘re killing yourself. Look at your arms, what‘s all this?

Mother creates her own bruises. Check. Does Mother want to die? ―I don‘t need to, Kangye. Just hold me. Please. Let‘s go inside.‖ He swooped mother into his arms without wincing. She laughed and giggled so much that I wanted to run to them and join the fun. He was speaking. ―What if one day you slice a vein or an artery? What then?‖ ―Shhh. The girl will hear you. Don‘t talk like that‖ She looked much happier without me. She had not even introduced me to Kangye. She had called me ‗the girl‘. Maybe she would run away again, but this time with Kangye and leave me to take care of the house and myself. At least, last time, Daddy was there. I liked seeing mother smile. Right now, seeing mother smile made my tummy growl. I zipped up my jacket as I watched them enter. Silence was essential. I could hear my walkie-talkie buzzing. I picked it up and turned it off. If Kangye made mother happy, then I wanted him to stay so I needed to listen carefully. Mother was giggling. He must be tickling her. They were in her room now. Visitors hosted in living room. Appointments hosted in bedroom. The bed creaked and I heard mother sigh. ―What can I do for you?‖ She asked in her sleepy tone ―Forget about me. I came to see you. Check on you. I‘ve missed you.‖ ―Tell me a story‖ ―Not until you tell me how you get these bruises. Does it hurt when I do this?‖ ―Ow! Careful. ― ―Babirye, these are fresh bruises on your back. You‘re still bleeding. You‘re crying!‖ ―What did I do wrong, Kangye? Why didn‘t I marry you instead of that selfish rich prick? Look at me! I‘m pathetic.‖ Mother was crying. She was weeping. It sounded muffled. She was sneezing and sniffling. I hope she wasn‘t ruining Kangye‘s shirt. It was a nice navy-blue shirt. They started whispering and giggling a little more. I started to draw in my notebook. I started with dots that became circles, then random, straight lines.

I couldn‘t hear anything more after that. Their voices were hushed and the wind started to blow the bushes. I removed my glasses, and suddenly the world seemed a little brighter. The neighbourhood lights had come on. The ones in the distance resembled frozen distant fireflies. I could see the moving red lights of cars going home. I knew some of them were not going home. There were older people who would go home and there were others that started work in the evening. I fear growing up. I don‘t want to be like my mum. People say I look like her that I have her thick, Afro hair and long toe nails. My nose is flat like hers and skin tone is like hers too, light brown. At school, my friends would say that it‘s good to be light brown and with dark, thick hair. People like me would get jobs easier than those who were darker. I just thought it made me look nice in dresses especially the dark blue dresses that resembled my Daddy‘s shirt. Whenever mother would pull my Afro hair back into a big bun, all the boys in class would share their break with me. Maybe those boys would grow up to be beasts like Duncan or princes like Kangye. What if, one day, I would go to school and come back with bruises like mum just because of the way I looked. I do not want to grow up. I packed and closed my detective briefcase. Not wanting to make several trips, I held all my tools under arm: my stones in one palm with my notebook and my chair and briefcase in the other hand. I walked to the front door, constantly trying to avoid an excited Fluffy. ―Sorry Fluffy, no games today. Fluffy! Down!‖ I made it into the door, my small chair almost slipping out of my hands. Shutting the door, I heard giggling noises from Mother‘s room. I sighed. Adult happiness was strange. Playgrounds, movies or ice cream was way more exciting than just laughing together in a bedroom. I organized my tools by the door. Everything had to be in its proper place if I was to find it again tomorrow. I hated searching for my magnifying glass or notebook. I then heard mother and Kangye coming. I ran to the kitchen. That‘s when I noticed that the lights were off in the living room. I turned on the kitchen light. The steps were coming closer. My tummy rumbled. I opened a cupboard and chose a plain green plate. I was going to have to grow up so plates with cartoons on them would just have to stop. Mother was laughing. I went to the cooker and opened the rice dish. Fried rice. Carrots. Same thing. I stood on my tiptoes so that I could scoop the rice from a better angle. Some of it spilled on the floor when I transferred it to my plate on the counter. Got to clean that up. Mum wouldn‘t like that. I dumped the food on the plate. The rice was sticky. I did not like sticky rice. I turned to get a spoon to scrape it off and that‘s when I saw them. They were arm in arm watching me. I had thought that he would leave. Leave me alone. Leave us alone. I dropped the spoon back in the draw. ―You scared me. Is your appointment finished?‖ ―Appointment?‖ Kangye laughed and squatted in front of me. ―Is that what your mother called me, an appointment?‖ I nodded.

―I‘m not just any appointment. In fact, Mum can stop all her appointments now. I‘m her fiancé.‖ He was smiling wide like he‘d scored a goal. I was not going to celebrate with him. I looked up at mother for answers. ―I want Daddy back…‖ I said turning away from them to my food. I wasn‘t going to allow mother to forget him so quickly. How could she forget him so quickly? Why was she smiling? Mother came and knelt down beside me. She had that face that she would use when I was sick with malaria. She would rub my back and tell me it would be alright and the pain would leave. ―Honey, we‘re moving on. It‘s best. Daddy is not coming back…‖ ―You chased him away. It‘s your fault.‖ ―Thindi, don‘t say that!‖ ―You don‘t care about me! You‘ve never cared about me. Why did you send Daddy away? If you didn‘t want to be with him, why did you marry him in the first place? I want to die. I want to be with Daddy.‖ I cried. I felt stupid for crying. It was time for me to grow up and here I was crying. Kangye stood slowly. His knees kept straightening out and his chin rose above the refrigerator. Mother was speaking but I wanted to run and hide. ―Do you understand honey?‖ Mother asked. ―I want to wait for Daddy. When Daddy was here, you never had bruises on your back or your arms. Don‘t try and hide them, Mother, I can see them. I see them all the time. You‘re dying and I know it. Why are you trying to hide it from me?‖ Mother stood and faced Kangye. He kissed her on the lips and left. She changed her voice to the same one she used on Fluffy. ―How dare you say such a thing? Come here!‖ She pinched my ears and dragged me to the floor. I screamed louder to drown out the pain. All I could see were mother‘s skinny legs above. Her face was a blur as she yelled. ―You, ungrateful child! You have no idea what I‘ve been through. Everything I do is for you and what have you done but sit and cry and demand and demand and demand all day. I‘m sick and tired of your nonsense. Daddy had to leave. Okay? He had to leave. It was for our good. I did that for you. You think I like having these appointments? I don‘t. But it was my only way of making money. Now, Kangye is going to look after us. He‘s going to be your Daddy you hear? You hear?‖ ―Yes mama‖ I managed. I never spoke to mother about her bruises again. ++++++++++++

Operation : Mother’s bruises By Sanyu Kiyimba-Kisaka Sanyu Kiyimba-Kisaka is a professional actress, a poet, playwright and dancer. After winning the BN poetry award in 2011, she commenced her acting career and has so far staged her own play, “Black”, at the Kampala International Theatre Festival while also appearing in several other stage plays and films such as “Silent Voices”, “The Betrayal” and as lead actress in the film “Faithful”, to name a few. She hopes to continue on in her artistic journey and glorify God as she does so.


Profile for The Radioactive Blog

The Different Shades of a Feminine Mind  

‘This is an anthology of short stories which explores diverse feminine themes from a woman’s perspective. The purpose is to curate fresh, un...

The Different Shades of a Feminine Mind  

‘This is an anthology of short stories which explores diverse feminine themes from a woman’s perspective. The purpose is to curate fresh, un...