“The Playlist” by Laila Le Guen


The boy’s hand didn’t respond to his mother’s touch. She stared at his resting body, trying to imprint the contour of his face, his hands, his chest into her mind.

Dr. Mbugua’s verdict had stayed with her since the previous Friday. Four days of rehashing the cruel words in her head, writing them down again and again on the notebook she kept in her handbag.

It would take miracle.

She remembered the uninspiring painting on the wall behind him, a picture of a mud house in the middle of a field. She had fixed her gaze there to avoid looking at the pity that showed on the doctor’s face. She didn’t believe in miracles and she felt that she might lose it if she saw this expression again that day.

All the eight doctors they had seen had looked up from their files with a variation of that despondent look. Bilal was five years old and without a doubt he was dying.

She couldn’t resign herself to it. Though her father was a practicing Muslim, she leaned more towards her mother’s secular views and had never been a particularly religious person. But she was badly in need of comfort and hope so over the weekend she had reached out to the imam at Adams Arcade Mosque.

A sheikh had come to recite verses of the Qur’an for her son’s remission. Her husband disapproved; he called it superstitious nonsense, but she couldn’t just sit in Bilal’s hospital room day after day gripping the armrest just to have something to hold on to.

She left Bilal to go grab a sandwich and a coffee at the cafeteria, though she already knew she wouldn’t enjoy either. But she had to stay warm, so hospital food had to do.

Waiting in line for her order, she stood staring at the back of the room where two lone posters advertised free breast cancer checkups. One more ailment that could assail the unsuspecting body. She pried her eyes away, eager for any kind of relief from the rising anxiety, when she spotted a man sitting alone, a thick book open in front of him.

He seemed absorbed in his reading, enjoying a moment of peace in this hectic place. She wanted to rest her eyes him, on his face, on the hand that lightly flipped the pages, going back and forth to read a passage again. He looked up and she felt her face flush but she couldn’t look away.

He nodded and smiled. It’s alright, his eyes seemed to say. Eventually it was her turn to be served and she ended up ordering just a black coffee. She went over to the man’s table to apologise.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare at you like that. It’s just…I have a lot on my mind.” He smiled again and invited her to sit across from him. She hesitated a little, then she put down the paper cup that was starting to burn her fingers.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

Until this point, she hadn’t realised how much the accumulated pain of the past year weighed on her. She had been working on autopilot, taking trips to the hospital to visit Bilal, going home to get a change of clothes and cook food none of them would eat. Abdi was at work most of the time and he was never one to talk things out anyway.

So she held her coffee with both hands without drinking it and she told this stranger about Bilal’s curtailed childhood, his leukemia, the child’s suffering, and the doctor’s prognosis that left them with no hope of seeing him grow into an adult.

He put the book away and looked at her intensely, as if her words were all that mattered in that moment. From time to time he would nod. Then he asked, “Are you a Christian?”

The question unsettled her. Was he one of those preachers who preyed on desperation to rein you in?

She said a tentative no, bracing herself for the coming tide of reassurance that God was watching out for her and Jesus loved her. She wished this elusive God were here right now to make her disappear from this awkward conversation she had inadvertently walked into.

“Whatever you believe in, you can still pray. It helps me find peace in this place, you know.”

She finally took a sip of her coffee. It had gone cold and it left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Thanks for the advice. I have to go now.”

“My name is Henry.” He extended his hand to offer a handshake. “I’ll see you around.”

“Sarah. Pleasure.”

She shook his hand and left, envying his faith in God’s grace.

Abdi was home when she got back from the hospital. He had left oily wrappers lying on the kitchen counter, probably remnants of a chicken and chips take-away. She threw her handbag on the coffee table and sat on the sofa. She didn’t bother turning on the light.

She could hear Abdi preparing for the night. The sound of the hangers sliding in the wardrobe, then a pause. He was placing his shirt or trousers on the chair, ready for the next day of work. The scraping of the wardrobe drawer: he was selecting his underwear. Back in Stockholm where they both grew up, he already had this routine going.

She was so exhausted. She dreaded the prospect of talking to him about her day. What would she have to say? Our son is still dying, thanks for asking. His hand was limp when I touched him. I met a man called Henry in the cafeteria. That was my day.

He wouldn’t even ask about her day. He would just look at her and talk about things that didn’t matter just to avoid thinking about Bilal lying in the hospital because it hurt too much. When Abdi came back from “there”–the words hospital and leukemia rarely passed his lips–he lay in bed pretending to read.

Finally, she found the energy to join him in the bedroom. He gave her a faint smile and then looked away when she started undressing.  She brushed her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, tied it back in a bun.

The light was too bright, too clinical. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, thinking about Henry’s advice. Try prayer. But it couldn’t work if she didn’t believe that anyone was there on the other end to receive it.

When she went back to the room, Abdi had turned off the light but she knew he wasn’t sleeping. They both lay awake in bed letting time slowly rub its rugged hands against their thoughts, hoping the grimness would erode.

Outside, the gate screeched and the deep bass of a powerful engine filled the bedroom. She remembered when Bilal would play at guessing who had come home by listening to the sound of the cars.

Sometimes he would let his imagination run wild, thinking it was the President or Grandma Gunilla who still lived in Stockholm. He would squeal in anticipation, lifting the curtain of the kitchen window to see who it was.

There was a time when Bilal’s cries would wake them up at night. He had terrifying nightmares sometimes. Nowadays, they mostly lay awake haunted by the dread of a phone call from the hospital.

Friends still offered to visit them but solicitude had fizzled out over time. They had their own lives to take care of. Now, they texted from time to time to ask how she was holding up and if there was any progress with Bilal’s health. Some didn’t dare mention the illness in their messages, leaving the beast undisturbed in case she wanted to talk about something else. As if there was anything else.

In the morning, she went back to the hospital. She had gotten distracted and forgotten her scarf at home so now the July wind was extending its icy fingers around her neck. For once, stepping through the door of the Aga Khan University Hospital was a relief, though the familiar smell of detergent assaulted her nostrils right away.

Sarah passed by the empty bed where a sick child used to be and didn’t need a word from the team to know what had happened. She rushed to her son’s room, nervously fidgeting with the buckle of her handbag.

Bilal was awake, playing with a fluffy teddybear Grandma Gunilla got him for his fifth birthday.

“Good morning Mum!” he said with a brave smile.

“Morning baby! How is Andrea?”

The boy examined the teddy bear, pulling one of its arms up and pressing the wrist with a concerned look on his face, then touching various parts of its body, before pronouncing his opinion:

“Andrea is fine today. Don’t worry Mum,” he finally replied.

She sat on the chair she knew too well, under the large window that let in the timid morning light. She had brought “Big Bad Bun” to read him, a story she knew he enjoyed hearing time and time again.

So she read to him, showing him the pictures on each page. He loved making witty comments about the characters, especially Big Bad Bun who was so facetious and got away with it. They laughed together, and held their breath in unison when he was in trouble with his parents.

It felt like normal life again, were it not for the mask on her face and the sound of steps and wheels moving up and down the corridor. Bilal picked up the book from her lap and started turning the pages, looking at each of them attentively. His lips were moving to the words of the story.

“Mum, you know I can read!” he exclaimed.

“Ok, read something to me then.”

“Big Bad Bun had a good friend called Mister…Bro…Brodway.” He knew the book almost off head and sped through the first three pages.

Sarah saw Nurse Anyango’s face appear through the stained glass rectangle on the door. She was doing her morning rounds.

“How’s my champion today?” she said, and then to Sarah, “I’ll just be a minute.”

Over time, Sarah had come to know most of the nurses in the paediatric ward. Some were impersonal in their dealings with patients and relatives but Anyango tried to be reassuring. She always said a little something to make Bilal feel more comfortable.

She looked young, maybe she hadn’t had time to become jaded by the daily routine of suffering and death that was the lot of nurses treating cancer patients. Nurse Anyango wrote some notes in a scratchpad.

“Everything looks good. See you later, Bilal.”

After the nurse left, they sat in silence until Sarah’s phone rang from the depths of her handbag; an unwieldy thing with a patchwork design. She fumbled for a few seconds before locating it underneath all the junk that always seemed so important when she left in the morning and that just burdened her the whole day.

It was work.

“I have to pick this up, baby. I’ll be right back. I love you!” She sent him an air kiss.

Out in the corridor, she faced the plain white wall to keep her mind focused.

“Hi Catherine. How are you?”

“Good, thanks. Listen, there’s an urgent project I need to send you. Are you available this afternoon? It’s for the Turkish Airlines account.”

“Alright, I’ll take it on. Can you email me the details? I’ll get to it as soon as I’m home from the hospital.”

When the call was over, she stood there scratching a tiny spot on the wall where the paint was cracked. She didn’t have the strength to care but she needed the money. She was so exhausted all the time.

From the corner of her eye, she saw a man approaching. She turned around to face him and saw it was Henry, the man who had been kind enough to listen to her story at the hospital cafeteria the previous day.

They shook hands but skipped the pleasantries, the way people joined in pain tend to do. She felt strangely close to him.

“Do you want to meet my son?” she asked, “He’s in this room.” They went in together. Bilal was still reading Big Bad Bun and he waved hello, barely registering Henry’s presence.

“Hi Bilal. I’m Henry.”

“Nice to meet you, Henry. I’m reading.”

“Oh, I’ll leave you to it then,” he said with an amused smile.

The room had only one chair which she insisted Henry sit in while she perched on the edge of the bed reading over Bilal’s shoulder.

“I’ve brought you a gift,” Henry said. “It’s a collection of gospel songs that I personally find uplifting.” She thanked him but her tone betrayed reluctance.

“Listen, I know you’re not a person of faith. I just thought you would enjoy this music.”

He came over to her side of the bed and handed her a flash disk. She noticed that his nails were neatly manicured, with a fresh coat of transparent polish.

When he left, she stared at the flash disk, wondering what this chance encounter was turning into.

On her way home, she listened to the playlist on the car stereo. The high-pitched voice of the singer and the energizing rhythm pried a smile out of her and she started humming along to “Nibebee“.

Maybe Bilal would like this music after all. If it could melt down his sorrow like it did hers for the few minutes the compilation was playing, it was worth a try.

She was about to put her handbag away in the closet when she stopped in her tracks. Suddenly, she couldn’t stand the idea of carrying this load around every day.

She went back to the living room, lay a kanga over the coffee table and swiftly emptied the contents of her bag, down to the last folded parking ticket. She made a little pile of items to throw away: a movie ticket, an empty tube of face cream, a Lunch Bar wrapper. Her wallet, keys, Kindle, phone, earphones and notebook would stay. The remaining items were wrapped in the kanga and placed in the wardrobe drawer.

Bilal was reeling from his latest chemotherapy cycle.

He looked so pale and fragile, a painful reminder of how tenuous his life was. She didn’t have the energy to disguise her despair. In any case, the boy was probably too weak to notice that behind the surgical mask, her expression was downcast.

“It’s Saturday, Baba is coming today, sweety.” She attempted a note of hope, though it fell flat. “I have a little something for you, since you’ve been so brave.”

He said a faint “OK, Mum” but when he saw the earphones, his eyes sparkled with excitement. She plugged the earphones to the phone, connected them to his ears and pressed play.

They laughed because the earphones kept falling off and Bilal had to hold them to listen to the music. But when he finally found a suitable position, he started bobbing his head to the beat and mouthing mangled lyrics, taking the song into his stride with delightful abandon.

She felt Abdi’s warm hand on hers. She had been too absorbed in their son’s delight to notice his arrival. He stood behind her at the foot of the bed in his usual beige cardigan that made him look like a dashing yuppie on vacation.

“Hi there!” he said, “I’ve brought some drawings from your classmates. Your teacher wrote a letter too.”

He smiled as he took a bulging manila envelope out of his attaché case and placed them on Bilal’s lap. She couldn’t tell if he was really in a good mood or if he was faking cheerfulness.

Bilal beamed, forgetting the song he has been enjoying so deeply just a few seconds ago. He released the earphones to open the envelope. Suddenly, the bed was a riot of colours, Bilal’s friends get-well-soon notes scattered across the cover. Sarah kissed his soft cheek.

“I love you baby. I have to go do some work now.”

“Mum, I want more Yesu songs,” Bilal said as she was about to leave.

Abdi’s face scrunched up and he gave Sarah a meaningful look but he didn’t say anything until they were alone in the corridor, out of Bilal’s earshot.

“What was this about?”

“It’s just a playlist a friend gave me. I thought the music would cheer him up,” she answered.

“Since when are you into gospel?” She rolled her eyes in exasperation.

“Come on! It’s just a bunch of songs. I haven’t found the Lord or anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”

The call came at 9:00pm. Sarah’s forehead creased with worry. She glanced at the phone which was lying next to her plate and then across the table at Abdi. It was the hospital.

She gestured for him to pick up. She felt too brittle to talk to any medical staff right then. He understood and turned away from her so she wouldn’t read the emotions playing on his face. He said very few words, a couple of quick “hmm” and finally, “I understand, we’re on our way”.

She knew Bilal was dying or already gone but all she could think of was how he had wanted more “Yesu songs” and she had promised she would bring him some more and she hadn’t had time to download any.

They both trained their eyes on the road, driving fast through the drizzle that streaked the front lights halo. Abdi kept repeating “we’re going to be OK” like a mantra, speaking straight ahead into the night. They made the last turn into 3rd Avenue Parklands and passed the security gate at the paediatric ward.

The door to Bilal’s room was closed and a nurse Sarah didn’t know greeted them with careful words. Sarah tried to move past her to get to her son but Abdi restrained her by placing his arms around her as she started calling her son’s name again and again.

Finally, the nurse took her hand and said, “I’m so sorry”, her voice tender like a whisper of love.

“Where is he?” Sarah asked.

The nurse gestured towards the room where they had spent so many hours as a family, storing up memories that would never be enough. She held Abdi’s hand and they went in together in silent tears. The tension of the treatment and the endless doctor’s appointments had been released but in its place an inscrutable pit of darkness had opened up that threatened to swallow everything.

Bilal was pale, though it looked like he would rise up any minute and let out his cascading laughter, happy to have played a good prank on all the adults.

So she talked to him gently, begging for a last hug. Abdi was standing very straight, his eyes trained on their lifeless little boy. He squatted beside her, holding her at the waist and cradling his head in her neck.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. The sobs seemed to be wrought out of him. They came from a secret recess where all the pain had piled up like an old suitcase at the back of a closet, the one you might only ever open when you’re moving house. She caressed his knee, digging deep to pour out all the tenderness she had to give.

They stayed in this embrace until the nurse knocked on the door, signalling that it was only their world that had come crashing down.

After the funeral, the walls of the apartment seemed to be closing in. Sarah rarely picked up the phone. She wouldn’t have known what to say. Abdi had taken care of most of the arrangements, calling friends and family to announce the bad news, putting away Bilal’s clothes and toys until they were ready to sort them out, notifying the health insurance provider, obtaining a death certificate.

Even though he had taken a week off work, he didn’t sit down for a minute. She observed his frenzy with an unusual detachment. She was in daze, incapable of fully forming a thought. People they knew would come in and offer condolences, and she would say all the right words and they would respond with appropriate expressions of sadness and pity.

In truth, she barely registered their presence. Then they left and she would prepare her tenth coffee of the day. She would drink it while pretending to be reading an old UP Magazine, sometimes stopping to look at the reflection of her nose in the dark liquid, until the coffee got cold and she threw it away.

She thought about Henry a lot, wondering what he had been in the hospital for on those two days she had met him by chance. She regretted being too preoccupied with her own worries to ask him any questions. Maybe he could have been the kind of friend who would understand that everything was changed.

She imagined his life: a job at as a bank manager, gym twice a week, church on most Sundays. Maybe he was even in the choir. It made her smile to imagine him dressed in one of those corny choir uniforms, singing his heart out. Singing “Yesu songs”.

She connected her phone to the speakers to listen to Henry’s gospel playlist, sitting on the Turkish carpet with her eyes closed, her lips moving to the words of the chorus she had memorised. A rush of electric excitement went through her body and she increased the volume until she felt the vibrations in her chest. And she spun around, her arms outstretched to push back the walls that were still closing in.

This was her prayer.


Laila Le Guen is a writer, translator and serial language learner who enjoys challenging herself to move cities and continents every few years. Born in France, she has fallen under the charm of artsy, bustling Nairobi. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brainstorm, Saraba Magazine and Afrolivresque.

“Purple” by Olubunmi Familoni


My husband is a fist. It is in his voice when he talks to me. His words punching the air in front of me in big, bold wild letters chased by multiple exclamation marks—words pounding my face and heart to pulp.

He looks blows at me in public when I have said a stupid thing like how pretty another woman’s dress is or said something intelligent about politics without his permission to spread my dirty opinions out in the open.

His look pummels me to the ground and my spirit shrinks into a corner of the earth until I’m just a dot and nobody notices me. Even his lovemaking is a fight. I can feel his blows inside the pit of my stomach; the jabs, beating tender flesh until I’m bleeding beneath him, and dying.

He was shouting his uppercuts at me one night. The landlord came downstairs and banged on our door.

“What is going on in there?”

“Nothing!”

“Open the door.”

“Nothing is happening. We’re just having a conversation.”

“That is no way to talk to a woman, young man.”

“She is my wife.”

“And this is my house. You won’t kill your wife in it.”

When the man left, he turned on me, narrowed eyes and voice. “You’re fucking that old rag, aren’t you? While I’m away your legs are up in the air for him, abi?”

I have been reduced to a speck, to a place where silence is the only shield I have against this fist of a man, against the blows that jump at me out of his throat.

I remained silent. That’s what usually tips him over the edge. I tightened my face, and waited, waited for him to throw the rocks of his fist in my face, for his blows to eat my face up. I felt the air in the room shrink, tighten; my lungs closed up, like a fist, holding the little shred of breath I had left inside. Sometimes it feels as if it is my last.

Nothing happened.

No, something did, was happening; but it was not to me.

He was on the floor, clutching his chest, the left side, as if he was trying to hold his heart in his hands. As if the holding of the heart would stop it from stopping. I could see it in his face that his heart was ceasing, see it in the twist of his mouth that he was slipping, dying. But that’s all I could do…look.

You do not expect some people to die. It’s like how we had not expected Abacha to die. Yes, we had wanted something to happen, but I don’t think many people expected it to be death. I remember when I heard he was dead–my neighbours shouting it!–I didn’t feel anything, just like now, because I hadn’t been expecting it.

I didn’t understand the people that filled the streets and shouted and laughed and cried and drank and danced. I did nothing, just sat there, and continued living; continued feeling nothing.

“I have killed him,” I thought, even though I knew I couldn’t. Not because of love, but because I do not have the capacity for murder. But watching him die like this just left me numb. I had never seen anyone die before, die this real, so real I could reach out and touch his dying.

To see someone die this tight, this roughly, holding their heart, opening their mouth to catch a little air, white helplessness in their eyes. I had never seen it before.

The fist in his throat had opened into feeble fingers clutching at empty air, not making any sound, fingers begging to hold on to life a little longer; fingers trying to touch your name, to say please, or help, or something else, anything but nothing comes out.

If you have held a fist in your throat for too long, when you open it, there’s nothing in it, nothing comes out of it, because it has never been opened to receive anything. I just watched. A tailless gecko on the wall distracted me for a second, it stopped. When I returned my eyes to my husband he had stopped; fallen asleep.

I joined him. I lay beside him, in the same position, facing the ceiling. There was a sound on the ceiling. A chair was being scraped across the floor above us, as if somebody was leaving a table, perhaps the landlord, or his wife. They don’t talk. They have not spoken to each other for years. Only sounds; scraping of chairs, shutting of doors, creaking of beds, clinking of cutlery.

It is better than speaking with fists in your voice. This not speaking at all, a silence like death, or sleep or just going away inside yourself; somewhere far away where there are no voices.

The landlord came downstairs in the morning to check if we were okay. He does that every morning, after a night of fighting. He would knock, and ask if we were okay. My husband would answer through the closed door, “Yes, we are”. The old man would go back upstairs unsatisfied.

This morning, I answered, not through the door; I opened it. I showed him the new light on my face and answered his heavy “are you okay?” with a bright, warm, “Yes sir, I am. Thank you, sir.”

He must have smiled for a second before asking, “And your husband too?”

“Yes, he is fine. Sleeping late.”

“Fine,” he said, finally satisfied.

“Have a fine day.”

“You too, sir.”

I shut the door.

He reminded me of my father. Quiet old men reminded me of my father. My father never talked to me, or my mother. He carried his silence around like a burden of wisdom on his shoulders with the dignity of a sage or an elder statesman.

This, his silence, was so sacred that you never wanted to breach it with any silly question, request or warm conversation. My mother and I only exchanged whispers between us whenever he was around. We maintained the sanctity of my father’s grave, patriarchal silence. There was nothing strange about it.

But, like my landlord, my father would come to the door of my room and ask if I was okay. He did it when I stayed locked in there for days, enjoying my own silence, and darkness.

I had married my husband because of his silence, because he reminded me of my father; because he was the only young person I knew who possessed the laden silence of an old man, and who reminded me of my father. It was attractive.

But his own pus-filled silence was different. Soon after the wedding, this silence began to erupt in small flashes of wrath that scorched. It exploded into bigger things as the marriage progressed; the fists in his voice growing in size every day until they had reduced me to that speck that couldn’t feel anything, not even when someone was dying in front of me.

“I think something has happened down there. It is strange. Too quiet,” I heard the landlord say to his wife, on their balcony. She does not answer. I know why. Not because she does not want to answer. She does not know what to answer.

When someone has not spoken to you for years you don’t know what to say to them when they finally do speak to you. Do you say all what you have always wanted to all those years? All the accumulated grouse. Do you just respond to what they have said? Do you just say nothing, as if nothing has been said to you, as you have grown used to?

She said nothing. She continued reading her book. I heard a page turn. He continued, “She has never come to the door herself in the morning like this. It is strange.”

I was in our verandah, just below them, listening. The sun was shining a yellow smile down and the sky was beautiful, even though it was a vast empty thing, it was beautiful. It was white, blue, white, grey, blue. My feeling used to be a colour too…purple.

 

 

 


Olubunmi Familoni writes short fiction, plays and screenplays. His debut collection of stories, “Smithereens of Death”, won the ANA Prize for short stories in 2015 and his play “Every Single Day” was selected by the British Council as part of the Lagos Theatre Festival (2016).

“The Enlightenment II” by Uchenna Franklin Ekweremadu

JAFearB-P4-Babel


the UFOs shock our radios
with weird signals
swelling the fear of incursion
till we dispatch an envoy to Jupiter’s Lounge
to dialogue with the ‘Others’
and sign the Intergalactic Treaty
partitioning the universe into territories

we patrol the borders of our Universe
as empowered in the accord
yet frightened that any moment
a pair of giant eyelids
might flicker in the distance
lighting up the frowning face
of an incensed God


Uchenna-Franklin Ekweremadu writes from Kaduna, Nigeria. His work has appeared in Transition Magazine, Grub Street Journal, Saraba Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review,Coe Review, A&U American AIDS Magazine and elsewhere.

“Social Anxiety” by Lydia Kasese

JAFearB-P9-Unimpressed


When you call out the state of my knees in a school bus aisle,
Many, many years ago,
I spend the rest of my life diluting my self-worth
In crowds and open spaces.
I disappear into walls that I build.
I become oddly shaped knees.
I become hiding.

My esteem loses weight and fits oddly around my collar bones.
My body ceases to belong to me.
I come to belong to the non-existent,
Hard pressed, etch-o-sketch gazes
And side glances of strangers.


Lydia Nyachiro Kasese is a Tanzanian writer, poet, columnist and media director. In 2016, her first poetry chapbook, Paper Dolls, was published by the African Poetry Book Fund as part of their Tatu collection. In 2017, her short story, My Mother’s Project, appeared in the Caine Prize’s Anthology, The Goddess of Mtwara.

“From the Insects under Your Skin” by Megan-Leigh Heilig

JAFearB-P10-Insects


I promised you would be scattered at home.
We’ll have a party in the sun and you’ll float,
in the warm Indian Ocean.
You told me that I can’t change people,
that people don’t change.
But I didn’t know what you meant.

Your soul was damaged on your travels.
Somehow cut into little pieces
Of the human condition.
How did the moon look from your cardboard box?

You said you were afraid of dying
From the insects under your skin.
It’s been open for a while now.
Go to sleep, it will be okay in the morning.
I know you are lonely.

You said you hated liars, but you lied.
You said you hated thieves, but you stole.
Stole the futures of many lives.
You’ve been your own burden. You’ve made bad decisions.
But we all have.

I’m on the train,
Heading home today.
If this is the last time I see you,
Know that I love you,
That I will never understand you.


Born in 1993 in Nelspruit South Africa, Megan-Leigh Heilig grew up in Johannesburg. Megan’s work consists of a range of diverse mediums and collaborative practices; including text, installation, video and film. Her work often involves the sharing of a dream, memory, or a personal experience, story-telling is central to her practice.

“Next Time” and “This Time” by Sitawa Namwalie

JAFearB-P15-NextTime


Next Time

Next time. It will be worse. Oh much worse. Enraged inferno, guns and young men. Weapons for the destruction of the masses. Sent out amongst the virtuous. To set terror alive. Never seen in this land of strangers. Where just the other day 1300 died for a point of view. Hacked down by missiles of the naïve. Machetes, hammers, tumescent penises, rough-hewn stone. Everyday home tools.

Killing was an improvised game played for leisure.

Next time. Guns will take the place of useful implements turned into weapons for a quick kill of a neighbour’s son. I knew him. Watched him grow. A teasing kid. Now a new young man. He stands before me in his magnificence. A sliver of God. I felled him. I felled him with my axe. My choice weapon.

The blood of a son congeals. Contaminates time.

Next time? I remember. Slowly I sink into fear of retribution. From my neighbour and my God. Too late I remember. I am Born Again, a Christian. I do no evil.

I never intended to become a killer.

Next time? I will not come so close. To be forever stained. I will hide in distance, anonymous space, raise a gun from far away, let loose a pumping salvo. Ratatatat! After all I can kill many more this way.

After all I can kill many more this way.

Must I wait for next time?

 

This Time

This time I am vigilant.
I watch as it arrives,
Sneering in full swagger,
There is no surprise, no disbelief, no unworthy questions.
I won’t ask “Why?”, as if I had caught my lover compromising.
This time; I will welcome it; welcome its arrival on my door step,
Welcome it as it arrives armed with its machete; sneering in full swagger.

This time I am vigilant,
I watch it approach,
I step out in open-armed-welcome.
I won’t forget my manners.
Here, have some tea, have some bread; would you like blueband and jam?
I will be gracious, anxious to please this caller from so far; who deigns to visit my inconsequential home wielding a machete with such eloquence.

This time I am vigilant,
I watch it approach,
I don’t cower at the inevitable,
After all, I am known for my dignity,
Will it be a beheading?
I hold my head high, take what’s coming with fortitude.
This time.
Will we kill another worthless 1300?
Or; will the number go beyond compare?
This time?


Sitawa Namwalie is a Kenyan poet, playwright and the author of several dramatized poetry productions including; “Cut off My Tongue” (2008), “Homecoming” (2011), and “Silence is a Woman” (2014). She has written two plays “Black Maria on Koinange Street” (2014) and “Room of Lost Names”.

“The Lonely Chord” by Gloria D. Gonsalves

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I heard you pee and wondered
if weeping would be the same
when the boat harbouring our love
sunk deeper to the foreign waters
dwelled with bandits of breakup.

In your solo liquid performance
do you also mind-wandering to
me the audience of your orchestra
who knows each melodious chord
is a proof of a skilled pirate
who sends me back to loneliness?

You are the perfect conductor
of my miseries and worries
ebbed in the cracks of our theatre
while I wait to hear the door tunes
of leaving me for another, or
return to our boat of nothing.


Gloria D. Gonsalves is an author of children’s books and multi-published poet. Drawing inspiration from her love of poetry, she founded WoChiPoDa.com, an initiative aimed at instilling the love of writing poetry in children. You can find her online at http://www.gloria-gonsalves.com