“Setting Babu on Fire” by Neema Komba

F19 settingbabuonfire


Why did you burn yourself, Ana? Sister Clara, the nurse at St. Mary’s girls’ secondary school asked me, as two matrons tightly restrained me to a bed in the school infirmary.

“Babu told me to set him on fire,” I whispered with a shaking voice.

“He said he wanted to feel the flames lick the folds of his wrinkled skin like orange tongues. This morning, when I looked at myself in the mirror I saw him again, the elderly neighbor with wrinkled skin and no front teeth, wrapped in a blue quilt.”

Sister Clara, with a big cross hanging on her chest, peered at me from above her wire rimmed glasses as if her gaze would burn Babu’s soul inside me.

I told her that Babu hated the cold, but I could tell that she didn’t believe me. She thinks I am crazy.

My mind drifted to a time when he found me in the outside kitchen house stoking the fire. I was ten years old. The house was a round brick hut with a single window, a door and a thatched grass roof. The inside was mostly empty, with a single wooden hearth made of three bricks and firewood that was sloppily arranged between the bricks. The walls were covered with black soot, and the smell of smoke stung my eyes. Babu said he was cold, and forced me to lick the folds of his wrinkled skin until he was warm. He said to touch him until his skin was on fire. When he touched me, I burned.

A sharp needle startled me as it pierced through my scorched skin.” Noooo! “I cried frantically as Sister Clara injected more liquid inside my veins. “ Relaaax!” She cooed, and my eyes slowly dropped as I drifted off to a blazing oblivion.

Previously submitted to the Etisalat Prize for Literature flash fiction category 2014.
Read “Kumwasha Babu moto” the Kiswahili translation by Neema Komba


Neema Komba is a poet and writer from Tanzania. She is the 2014 winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature in the flash fiction category. She is the author of See Through the complicated, a poetry book published in 2011.She is the co-founder and coordinator of La Poetista, a platform for poets and other artists to showcase their art and create a positive impact in the community. She is also the coordinator of the Woman Scream Festival in Tanzania, which is part of a worldwide movement to fight against gender based violence using poetry.