The Book of Memory

The story that you have asked me to tell you does not begin with the pitiful ugliness of Lloyd’s death. It begins on a long-ago day in August when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man.

Yemisi Aribisala

“Nsala soup is cooked with chicken, with love, or something akin to love, with lovemaking masquerading as contention. The soup has national character; an established personality. It’s cooked with palm oil and black fermented locust beans. Its base is silky stock coaxed diligently from fish-head bones melded with piquant, sweet and fragrant spices.”

Ellah Wakatama Allfrey

Elnathan John - The Keeper of Secrets

‘This is the market,’ Michael says as we drive slowly around potholes, past stalls made of wood and zinc, which lean against each other in ways that seem both steady and precarious.

People weave their way through the slush of mud made by rain and cars, defiantly wading through dirt roads, leaping from one more-solid patch of ground to another. Bodies touch in the now reduced space, seeking access to stalls selling vegetables or meat or huge piles of crayfish. Motorcycles groan through the thick meal of mud, sliding sometimes before

regaining balance. At the roadside, women invite customers to haggle over piles of large, muddy, freshly harvested yams.

Bongani Kona - A Murder in Clovelly

There are things that photographs of missing persons can’t tell you. The proportions of their bodies, for one, or how they walk, whether or not they have a limp – the details people remember. They belong to that genre of official photographs – the headshot used for an ID, say, or a driver’s licence – that privileges function over form. But the information they convey is almost always incomplete. 

Beatrice Lamwaka - The Mission at Verona

This is how the war starts for me. I am eight years old and in Primary Three at Lacor School. My father is a doctor – at least, that is what everyone calls him. Dakta. I find out much later that he is actually a medical assistant. He treats people from home, early in the mornings before he goes to work on his bicycle and when he returns in the evening. Our home smells like a hospital.

Chike Frankie Edozien - Forgetting Lamido

I open my eyes, but I’m not moving. This siesta has probably lasted twenty minutes, and now I’m staring at the lanky body awakening beside me. It’s mid-afternoon, and outside the streets are choked with crawling vehicles. The ubiquitous horn blaring over the past few days has been getting on my nerves. When did Ikoyi become so noisy? At least it’s serene here inside the Moorhouse. The air conditioner is humming softly, chilling the room. The severe brown wood-panelling décor evokes masculinity. Nothing’s soft about the furnishings. This small boutique hotel may be tailored for busy businesspeople, but it’s also an oasis from the chaos of Lagos. And it’s in this oasis that I’m cosy and reconnecting with my childhood love. I stretch and see our naked selves in the mirror, legs intertwined on the crisp white sheets. All afternoon we’ve been canoodling. Then having furtive, furious sex.

Kofi Akpabli - Made in Nima

I sense awurey, a marriage ceremony, in the making. There is that smell in the air of sheepskin being burnt off the carcass. Women dressed in white lace are fanning freshly lit fire; the blue smoke rises gently to kiss white balloons festooned along a streetlight. Squatting over logs, young men are chopping bloodied meat. Ta! Ta! Ta! In a couple of hours this rhythm will be replaced by the happy sounds of the dondo, celebrating another union to increase the population of this community.

Kevin Eze - Eating Bitter

I stand in a queue in front of the Hotel de la Ville in central Dakar. The Lions of Teranga, Senegal’s national football team, will be hosting their Ivoirian counterparts, the Elephants, and I am waiting, along with hundreds of fellow fans, for a ticket to the match on 13 October 2012. In front of me is a man with a head shaped like a football. I see the sweat on his neck, the 3.30pm July sunburn. I see the long-range Galaxy cellphone and the missed calls log on a dim red mark arcing towards the edge. My own cellphone rings, and I speak in English with a caller from Lagos. The moment the man hears me, he sees an opportunity to practise his English, turns to greet me and introduces himself as Yun.

Hawa Jande Golakai - Fugee

There’s a saying that goes, ‘You can’t go home again’. It offers no direction on where you’re supposed to go. It’s meant to be poignant: some manner of existential examination of how things once lost can’t be retrieved, re-lived – at least, not from the same perspective. I think. I’ve always been a little too literal for deep sayings.

Isaac Otidi Amuke - Safe House

That Saturday morning I wore faded blue jeans, a pair of wellworn but still in vogue brown suede loafers I’d bought from the flea market outside City Stadium on Jogoo Road, and a black long-sleeved shirt tucked into my pants. The thing about the City Stadium loafers was that as much as they were pre-owned by someone in either Europe or America, they were still in pristine condition, and whenever I wore this particular pair, which I had owned for over a year, I got the same feeling of comfort and self-assurance I’d felt the first time I’d put them on.

Mark Gevisser - Walking Girly in Nairobi 

After my meeting with Peter,1 I dropped him on the Ngong Road to get a matatu (minibus) back to where he lived, outside of the city, in a communal house with twenty other refugees. I watched him tuck his long braids back into his red beanie and martial his slight frame, rendered even skinnier by his tight green jeans, into the step of the street. He arranged his eloquent features into a blank rictus of masculinity and disappeared into the rush hour throng.

Dream Chasers: Msingi Sasis’s Nairobi Nights with an introduction by Otieno Owino

In daylight hours, downtown Nairobi bustles. The streets are filled with pedestrians, traders display goods in shop windows, hawkers sell merchandise, and matatus jam the roads, with music blaring from built-in speakers and crew loudly beckoning passengers. There is urgency in the movement, as if everybody is chasing something that they must get in order for life to continue. It is not possible to live in this city and not be caught up in, or moved by, this rhythm. But the urgency sometimes only reinforces the fleeting nature of urban existence. Nairobians chase dreams: mostly opportunities for a better life. If the city, then, is a collection of individual dreams, then every individual’s dream must remain important for the city to stay important.

Sarita Ranchod - Border Crossings

In my first year of formal schooling, at an Indian primary school, Janet and John was our prescribed text. I was five years old and already reading by then, thanks to my mother, Ba, sourcing early-learning reading and writing materials via the school where she worked. I was intimately familiar with Hansel and GretelGoldilocksSnow WhiteCinderellaRupert the Bear, and Noddy – all of the characters in these books coming from bedtime reading or storytelling by one of my aunts, or from library books. Gollywog from Noddy was the only black character I encountered in these stories from my early childhood.

Simone Haysom - The Life and Death of Rowan du Preez

Cape Town and its suburbs sprawl across a peninsula that juts out into cold and fierce seas, flanked by dozens of beaches – tiny crooked shores, long windswept banks, and bays festooned with boulders. On the Indian Ocean side, which the poor can reach by train, there are fishermen, tidal pools and discarded plastic bottles; the models and their mansions are found beside the Atlantic. October ushers in the summer with fits and starts of warm weather, and legions of tourists and locals visit these beaches, sunbathing, swimming, kite flying and surfing. The beach sand of the Cape is soft, fine and pale, thanks to the beating it receives, day after day, century after century, from two relentless oceans.

Neema Komba - The Search for Magical Mbuji

When I first heard about Mbuji – a mystical treasure hidden deep in the middle of Mbinga – I was skeptical. ‘The rock has secrets,’ my uncle Alexander, who lives just a few hours’ walk from the Mbuji rock, told me. ‘I have passed the rock many times, but I do not pay close attention to it. I figure if I mind my own business, the rock will leave me alone.’

Barbara Wanjala - A Woman’s Smile

The first time I saw Ndeye Kebe, she was standing on her balcony with her eyeglasses tinted in the sun and her mobile phone held close to her ear as she waved at Babacar and me on the street below. Babacar, not to be confused with my regular taximan, Boubacar, spoke very little French and was not familiar with the northern outskirts of Dakar. Noticing that we had driven past the Léopold Sédar Senghor Stadium three times, I called Ndeye, who patiently guided him through the streets of the sprawling Parcelles Assainies commune in Wolof. Babacar had agreed to CFA2,500 prior to setting off, but because the trip had been more circuitous than anticipated, he wanted 500 more francs. Ndeye was waiting; there was no time to quibble. I paid and thanked him cheerily, ‘Jerejef!’, then quickly exited the yellow Renault.

Hawa Jande Golakai

The Lazarus Effect Extract (Taken from Chapter 1)

The waiting room was an airless sinkhole of Monday-morning blues, its crisp décor struggling to lift the mood. Vee, an unrepentant fan of a brisk breeze, would’ve gotten up to crack a window, were her godson not sprawled across her lap. After twenty minutes of butt-hopping into any available seat to avoid the sun’s glare, she didn’t feel like bothering. To top it off, she was starving. Why did everything in this bloody city take so long?

The sit-in of glum faces around her didn’t seem to know either, or care. A paediatric appointment in this joint was a gem not readily discarded, though Vee was considering it. Every few minutes, the man beside her fired a round of coughs too rich for Vee’s liking, making her question whether it was the child he had in tow who needed to see a doctor. She kept her godson to her chest and leaned away, smiling politely. This was Cape Town and tuberculosis was real. You could never be too sure.

‘Waiting still?’ Soft brown eyes in a tiny face looked a question up at her.

Vee nuzzled Ikenna. ‘Aay sugar, I know. But we got to wait like everybody else, okay? Just small more. ’ A new fit of coughing erupted at her shoulder; the man was bringing up hacked-up pieces of lung. She hopped to her feet.

‘Or maybe,’ she muttered, hoisting the toddler onto her hip, ‘we ask some questions. ’

The receptionist was serving the cocktail proffered by all gatekeepers: apathy and bullshit, garnished with feigned sympathy. She barely lifted her gaze to acknowledge Vee’s questions. ‘I’m really sorry ma’am, but the doctor can’t see you yet. As you can see, it’s gonna be a long wait for everyone. You just have to be patient. ’

‘Patience covers an extra twenty minutes. It’s been over an hour,’ Vee said. ‘Come on, the patients here are this big. ’ She gave Ikenna a playful swing towards the desk and he giggled,

waving his arms. ‘How much time can it take to look one over and prescribe a cough syrup?’

The girl pursed her lips. ‘Obviously, you’re not his mother. ’

Vee bristled. ‘Not his m– excuse me? Whatchu tryin’ to say, that I–’ The receptionist crossed her arms and popped a hip, prepared for showdown. Vee took one look around the crowded room and sucked in the storm. One stupid move and she’d be back on the butt of the line. TB Hero would be the least of her worries; the kid on the end was covered in a rash and throwing up orange chunks.

‘Pardon me,’ she sugared, starting again. ‘Please, okay, I really have to get to work. Can you check how much longer it’ll be?

I’d really appreciate it. ’ The receptionist sighed. ‘What name is it under?’ she asked, flipping through the appointment book.

Vee supplied Ikenna’s name and appointment time. ‘I’m his godmother. It’s under his mother’s name, Connie Ade–’

‘I see it, but there’s nothing I can do. ’ The girl met her eyes and softened. ‘Look, it usually isn’t this crazy, but one of our paediatricians doesn’t seem to be coming in today. Ten,

fifteen more minutes, max. I’ll make sure you’re in the next batch called. ’

Vee thanked her and turned away, then remembered her prescription. ‘Where can I find a pharmacy in the building?’

The receptionist grimaced. ‘Sorry man, there’s no pharmacy on this floor. Used to be, but everything’s been shuffled because of the renovations. Ground floor, west wing, oncology. Bit of a walk. ’

Cursing under her breath, Vee left her cell number and set off. There was trying too hard, and there was just right. The Wellness Institute was clearly aiming for a healthy mixture of both. It was clinically chic, if there was such a thing, but not so self-important as to have ditched the conventional hospital feel, which, gory or not, lent a weird kind of comfort. It was however, New Age-y enough to have opted for old parlance like ‘institution’, which did no harm when paired with taglines like ‘a beacon of hope in health care’ and all its other cutting edge frills. Even under renovation, the place looked and felt good. The tastefully carpeted corridors and pastel waiting lounges were comfortable distractions from the construction work underway. Unsightly scaffolding and noise from an active building site were unwelcome additions to the muted plushness of the interior, but the WI had collared brisk business and was handling it well.

Vee didn’t ask for much from hospitals. They were like jails and children’s birthday parties – if you got out alive, count yourself lucky. Having spent most of her life in places where access to a proper doctor was a raffle win for most, hanging on to high expectations didn’t feel right. Clean bed, capable staff, clear diagnosis; that would do her. But here … here you got that and a gushing fountain of more. She felt ashamed for surreptitiously eyeing the fresh paint and smiling staff, comparing them to the poky clinic in Kenilworth that would certainly never see her face or debit card ever again. Her last GP had been pleasant enough. Well, until her problems overwhelmed them both and threatened to reveal his ignorance in more specialised matters, which had resulted in a hurried referral. She was glad of it. The WI was hot property – if they didn’t have someone who could fix her, nowhere would. Their bill was bound to be piping hot, too. The key was remembering that her health was important and worth paying for to preserve. She would keep singing that refrain and watch in mute dismay as the invoices filled up her postbox. Her cell phone tinkled.

‘Where the hell are you?’ Chari hissed in her ear. Vee held the Nokia away to check the number. Of course: Charisma Mapondera, office busybody, using an office landline snoop. The woman would rather risk being overheard by half the staff than spend a cent of her own airtime calling in a more private spot. ‘It’s almost eleven. She’s been stalking you all morning. ’

‘Uh. I’m running a little late,’ Vee said. Portia Kruger, editor-in-chief and omnipotent ‘She’ could grind her bones to dust later – a task she always took on with rabid glee. ‘You’re supposed to be covering for me. I didn’t know there’d be all this rigmarole. This place is more like a new nightclub than a hospital. Aaaay Lawd. ’ Ikenna’s body clock was chiming his next nap session and from the lolling of his head, he wouldn’t hold out for much longer. She relaxed her grip on him, forcing him to stay awake by clinging on to her.


Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Season of Crimson Blossoms Extract: Taken from Chapter 1

Hajiya Binta Zubairu was finally born at fifty-five when a dark-lipped rogue with short, spiky hair, Like a field of minuscule anthills, scaled her fence and landed, boots and all, in the puddle that was her heart. She had woken up that morning assailed by the pungent smell of roaches and sensed that something inauspicious was about to happen. It was the same feeling she had had that day, long ago, when her father had stormed in to announce that she was going to be married off to a stranger. Or the day that stranger, Zubairu, her husband for many years, had been so brazenly consumed by communal ire when he was set upon by a mob of intoxicated zealots. Or the day her first son, Yaro, who had the docile face and demure disposition of her mother, was shot dead by the police. Or even the day Hureira, her intemperate daughter, had returned, crying that she had been divorced by her good-for-nothing husband.

So Binta woke up and, provoked by the obnoxious smell, engaged in the task of sweeping and scrubbing. She fetched a torch from the nightstand and flashed the light into every corner and crevice. But deep down she knew the hunt, as all others before it, would end in futility.

It must have been the noise of her shifting the wardrobe that drew her niece Fa’iza, who, dressed in her white and purple school uniform, lips coated in grey lipstick, came and leaned on the doorjamb of Binta’s bedroom with the distracted air typical of teenagers. ‘Hajiya, what are you looking for?’ Binta, now busy rifling through the contents of her bedside drawer, straightened with difficulty. She pressed her hands into the base of her aching back and shrugged. ‘Cockroaches. I can smell them.’ Fa’iza made a face. ‘You won’t find any.’ Binta looked at the girl’s face and her eyes widened. ‘What kind of school allows girls to wear make-up as if they are going to a disco?’ Fa’iza had turned and started walking away when Binta called her back. ‘Come, wipe off that silly lipstick. It makes you look ill. And your uniform is too tight around the hips. You should be ashamed wearing it so tight.’ ‘Ashamed? But Hajiya, this is the fashion now. You are so old school, wallahi, you don’t know anything about fashion anymore.’ Fa’iza pouted and wiped her lips with a handkerchief. ‘You better put on the bigger hijab to cover yourself up or else you aren’t leaving this house.’ Fa’iza grumbled and, as if standing in a pool of fire ants, stamped her feet in turns. ‘The way you girls go strutting about all over the place these days, the angels up in heaven will have a busy day cursing. Looking at you, who would think you are just fifteen, going about tempting people like that. Fear Allah, you insolent child!’ Fa’iza went off to her room and Binta, determined to ensure compliance, came out to the living room to await her. Little Ummi was sitting on the couch stuffing herself with bread and tea. ‘Ina kwana, Hajiya?’ She smiled up at Binta. Binta moved to her and brushed away the crumbs that had collected on the girl’s uniform. ‘And how is my favourite grandchild this morning?’

‘Fine, Hajiya. Do you know what Fa’iza did when she woke up this morning?’ Ummi smacked her lips in a way that always made her grandmother think she was too smart for an eight-year-old.

‘No, what did she do?’

Ummi sidled up to Binta and whispered into her ear. Binta missed most of it but smiled nonetheless. Ummi sat back down and beamed.

Fa’iza emerged from her room pouting, her slender frame covered in the hijab whose fringes danced about her knees, her books swept into the crook of her arm. She pulled Ummi by the arm, barely leaving the child time to pick up her bag.

‘Won’t you have breakfast first?’ Binta put her hands on her hips and regarded the girls.

‘Later.’ Fa’iza was already stamping out with Ummi in tow. Binta shouted her goodbyes. And because the stench of roaches had faded from her mind, she wondered what she had been up to before the interruption.

She went back to her room and sat on the lush blue tasseled prayer rug. And just as she had been doing since she received the news two weeks ago that her childhood friend and namesake Bintalo had keeled over and died of heart failure, she spent time counting her prayer beads and sending off solemn petitions for friends and kin lost. She prayed for a full life and asked God to receive her with open arms when her time came. However, in the midst of this communion with divinity, the meddlesome Shaytan prodded her with reminders about Kandiya’s unfinished dress lying on her sewing machine. Binta had promised to complete it later in the day. She also had to go to the madrasa, where women were taught matters of faith.

After a quick shower, Binta rushed down her breakfast. Then she retrieved her reading glasses from the nightstand where she had placed them the night before, atop the English translation of Az Zahabi’s The Major Sins.

She oiled and cleaned the sewing machine stationed in the alcove where the dining table, if she had had one, would have been. Picking up Kandiya’s wax print blotched with nondescript floral designs, Binta pedalled away. The task strained her muscles. And her backache grew worse as she was fixing one of the sleeves.

It was almost time for the madrasa anyway, so Binta put on her hijab, hoisted her shoulder bag, locked up the house and left.


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