“Glimpse” by Rebecca Onyango

Glimpse


Tibijuka and Kyalo

“You have to agree with me on this one Kyalo, African men are not any stronger than either Asian men or Caucasian men! This is all the proof we need!” she says, gesturing emphatically at the elaborate tables and calculations projected on the wall with a gloved hand.

She beams her face, lighting up with her easy smile. “They are all dying like fleas, all the sample holding houses where the Stay’s water supply was spiked are reporting the same mortality rates!” She pauses then says, “Once again, I have proved that our ancestors were unintelligent foolish theories with no bases!

Kyalo mutters, “What did you expect from a world run by men?”

A second passes before Tibijuka quips, “They must have come up with all this claptrap in an attempt to forever hold us underfoot.”

“Yeah, like that would ever happen,” Kyalo says as she takes off lab coat and tosses it in the dispenser close to the lab exit.

“I’ll see you tonight love, try and not spend half of it here,” Kyalo says as she leaves the room.

Kora

She is a ball of nerves. She paces up and down her spacious office while deep in thought. The sound of her steps are muffled by the plush white carpet that she, just recently, had installed to match the walls and ceiling that had been painted white years before, the same year she had been promoted to Ward General. She stops by one of the large five floor to ceiling glass windows that dotes her office. From the 75th floor of Tilili towers, her office gives her an unobstructed view of Konza City’s Angelou Park, The Keepers Monuments (consisting of 4 hulking statues of women guards standing as tribute to the Keepers) and the sprawling mansions owned by the powerful women of HOS. The view that almost always takes her breath away, even near 10 years after occupying her office, is, today, lost to her. Her gaze goes past the monuments, past the impressive mansions to the thousands of holding houses, where almost all males born in her Ward are kept after they turned 14.

All this while her thoughts are in turmoil.

They know! How did they find out! The Mistress is going to have my head for this.

She turns her back on the view. The crafted bangles on her left wrist make a clinking sound as she moves. She runs her left hand from her forehead through her thick, kinky hair, which is now almost all grey. She is usually careful not to touch her hair, but she is too overwrought to care.

I haven’t done anything wrong! I…I…I just wanted to know which holding house they kept him…if he was alive! Mistress wouldn’t get rid of me. No, she won’t! Not for… for something so small after all the years I have worked for her, No. She wouldn’t. Without my control, the Horn of Africa Ward would be in shambles! Men who have passed the separation age would be running around everywhere! Utter chaos!

Kora walks back to her desk and slowly sits down. Making a more conscious effort to calm herself, she mentally starts to count from ten to one, while taking deep breaths in between each number.

She is probably watching me. I will not give Mistress any other reason to doubt my allegiance and that of the HOF ward.

Kora is terrified of how vicious the Mistress acts towards Generals proven to be male sympathizers. Six years before the Mistress had dealt ruthlessly with ward leaders she believed were male sympathizers. Two ward captains, both former leaders in the North African region, where the society before the shift had been strongly patriarchal. Their society had been the last to be fully converted and, almost a hundred years later, they still didn’t have all their men in holding houses. To add on, the women they selected to be Keepers were not the biggest and strongest of the stalk as should have been. The two Ward leaders were found to be corrupt and Kora had secretly been glad when Mistress sentenced both of them to death by acid bath.

Acid bath… but I will die knowing that he is alive…living in a holding house, in my own ward.

The thought made her smile.
That is exactly the spirit that made her make me a General.
Her smile widens, she is finally calm.

098011

From his position on the floor, it was impossible to see who was lying lifeless on the wide wooden stretcher the Keepers carried on their shoulders. Had they been less gargantuan, maybe the odds would have been better. Still, 098011 strained until the corpse carrying amazons were out of his vision.

The alarm was put off 30 seconds later, a sign that they could go about their evening rituals within the confines of their circles. 098011 stayed on the ground. His brows furrowed in concentration. He couldn’t get the image of the Stay’s carefully enshrouded corpse off his mind.

What did he do to deserve death? Who is going to be next? Why do they make us and throw us all in here? Why are the women more important than us? Why do they insist on covering the dead yet every man in here knows what they are carrying?

He then glanced at the sheets lying on his bed.
When they kill me, they will cover me up in these sheets, just like they do with other Stays.
He sighed, his heart heavy with sadness mingled with resignation.

He remembered the day, years back when he along with other males reached the separation age. The Mistress and her administration had claimed that it was their destiny, and just like their fathers and uncles before them, they were to help support the Empire with their hands. They threw about words like obligation and responsibility. He liked the idea of being a glorified hero, so he joined. Months after, he along with the rest of the men his age were permanently moved into a holding house in the Nile Delta. All men who resisted were killed; collateral damage, indeed.

His thoughts shifted to his twin sister, Kora.
We came from the same womb yet she is an angel and I am the devil.

27 years had passed since the last day they let him use it. “Nkem,” he whispered to himself. 098011 whispered his name to himself every day, lest he forget.


Rebecca Onyango is a 21 year old Kenyan student at Mount Holyoke College. She is an Economics and Politics major with an overactive imagination.

“Salvation Avenue” by Jude Dibia

Salvtion Avenue


There was a part of Abazu’s life he kept away from everyone, including his closest friends, Dilibe and Dakota. Every three months, as part of his health check routine, he had to have his blood tested to check his CD4 count, viral load and to ensure he had not picked up any infection. He kept to these appointments religiously, invisibly. It was not that he feared his CD4 count would have dropped or that his viral load would have increased. For the last couple of years all his tests had come back quite good; his CD4 count was always above 600 and, his viral load was always undetectable. Yet, he kept these visits private and secret. As much as he loved his friends, those of them who knew of his HIV status, and felt grateful to them for their unwavering support, he was much happier that they did not display any form of pity for him. Pity was what he was afraid of the most. He suspected that this emotion would be what could ultimately unravel him, break down all the defensive walls he had built around himself to deal with his condition and finally knock down whatever internal defences he had, which had kept him relatively healthy all this time.

In this way he felt that adults were not much different from babies or little children. Years ago, while he was still living with his parents, an uncle of his and his wife had come to visit with their toddler. While the adults socialized like they usually do, drinking their beverages while watching television and discussing everything from whom among their friends just bought a new car to the dire effects of the structural adjustment program recently introduced by the government, Abazu was fascinated by the toddler who seemed to want to touch everything and put everything into her mouth. And then, with her still wobbly legs the child raised herself up using the coffee table as some kind of balance, and slowly made her way toward the television’s remote control that was sitting idly on the table. With each unsteady step Dilibe rooted quietly for this determined baby. Just when the girl child was near enough to the remote control gadget and was about to grab it, she stumbled, lost her balance and fell, slamming her bum forcefully on the carpeted floor. Dilibe watched as the baby’s face crinkled up with uncertainty; the adults were silent and their eyes were now fixed on the child and he sprang up to calm the child who seemed about to burst out in tears.

“Don’t,” his mother said, waving her hands at him to remain where he was.

The baby had looked from her parents to him and then his mother. After a few seconds with no one doing anything about the baby’s fall, the baby looked around, propped herself up again and grabbed the remote control. She smiled to herself, stuck the edge of gadget into her small mouth and began chewing on it.

“Next time ignore a child that falls like that, Abazu. As long as the child is not injured or in harm’s way,” his mother had said afterward, when the toddler and her parents had left. “The minute you begin to fawn over the child or show pity because it fell, the child will start crying.”

This was very much how he felt about his infection and visits to the clinic. More importantly though, he felt that this deliberate concealing had much more to do with the very first time he had to visit a clinic in Nigeria after he had been diagnosed as HIV positive. Newly back from the United Kingdom, and still in some shock and denial at the result of the blood test, Abazu had slowly decided not to be a victim. He simply would not let himself go like that. This fighting urge was precipitated by what he had christened the “Andrew Beckett” complex, a fictional character from the movie Philadelphia. For Abazu and many people of his generation in Nigeria and, when he thought about it, probably the entire Africa, Andrew Beckett and Philadelphia was their first true encounter with the phenomenon, AIDS. And for Abazu, watching Tom Hanks’ transformation as the movie progressed until the character’s ultimate demise—from the frail man to the even frailer patient in the hospital bed—more than made the point that HIV/AIDS was not a thing anyone wanted to have. For many weeks after watching the movie, Abazu remained in a state of melancholy and emotional distress, a distress he could not as yet explain to anyone who knew him then, other than this haunting, vague fear that somehow that movie had shown him his death. So, this thought and recalling of Andrew Beckett gave him the much needed impetus to want to do something, to not become an Andrew Beckett himself, lying deflated in a hospital bed, thin as bones and dying while everyone he knew watched and pitied him.

And what was it that transpired that first time he visited a clinic in Lagos? What was it that had scarred him so, made him too protective and reticent about further visits? A month after his return, he had gone to see his doctor, clutching in his hands the printed test result he had obtained from the clinic in London. It was an unscheduled visit, but he waited patiently until his doctor was free to see him. When Abazu got into the cold, sterilized consulting room, he sat down and after waiting for his doctor to ask him if he was sick and what brought him there that day, Abazu simply gave him the test results. He watched quietly, but with keen intent as his doctor’s eyes scanned through the sheet of paper that, more or less, summed up his life. Every squint, every slight flaring of the nostril as he inhaled; the delicate throbbing of the vein at the side of his head—Abazu observed it all.

“This test was done recently,” the doctor said as though it were a question that needed affirmation.

“A few weeks ago,” Abazu said.

“It was done in London,” the doctor continued, his tone implying that since it was done in London, the result could not be refuted. “And you are here because you want another test done?”

“I’m here because I want—I want to know what to do.”

“Mr. Igwenatu,” the doctor said, referring to Abazu by his surname. “We don’t handle that kind of treatment in this clinic. I’m sorry. I suggest you go to the General Hospital or the Military Hospital.”

Abazu took his test result and left. That weekend, very early in the morning, he got dressed, tucked the test result in the back pocket of his jeans and drove to the General Hospital. It was his first time there. It would be his last time as well. Sickness and death hovered in the air there, like laundry drying out on a clothesline in a backyard—something that was normal and at home there. With that came the nonchalance, rudeness and aggression by the staff; they treated everyone with disdain, noses scrunched up as they barked their orders “MOVE THERE,” “SIT DOWN,” “WAIT THERE.” It was all so pathetic, so impersonal and so well practiced, their unpleasant behaviour and commands, as though the staff had gotten so used to people coming there just to die or wait for death, not for treatment, not to get better. Abazu was horrified by what he saw: people with broken bones waiting to be treated; women and men crying and bleeding; old people sleeping on the cement floor from the night before because either the wards were too full or hoping that they would be attended to that day. It was all so depressing. He did not see himself being treated here. If anything, he felt that the little spark of hope he had for surviving and not becoming an Andrew Beckett in the final scenes of Philadelphia would be quenched here, in this gloomy hopeless place, faster than a fire in a rainstorm. He imagined coming here month after month for drugs and treatment, enduring the shame, swallowing the abuse like a bitter pill each time. This he could not do. He was so much better than this place. He got up from where he had been waiting, his test result still in his pocket and walked away, not looking back even when one of the orderlies kept shouting at him to go back to his seat.

He did not know why, but he found himself back at his clinic. He could not say how he got there; everything seemed to be in a haze of floating scenery, memories inverted and played out before his eyes as though he was watching a passé Sunday matinée on NTA. Yet, somehow in his blindness he drove there as though he had been programmed to do so.

His doctor was surprised when he was led in.

“Mr. Igwenatu,” he said. “Were you able to visit any of the hospitals I recommended for you?”

Abazu stared at him. Moments passed.

“The one I went to was terrible. They don’t treat people well there. I can’t go back.”

“Treatment for HIV patients is highly subsidised in those hospitals by the Government. You have to be patient if—”

Abazu stopped him. “I didn’t ask for subsidy. I can afford to pay for better healthcare. That is why I came to you.”

And then Abazu saw it in his eyes, the look of pity. He recognised it for its unconscious, smug superiority despite what it tried to convey, a feeling of empathy, a show of concern. Just when Abazu thought he was going to get up and leave yet again from a place where he had sought aid, he noticed the quick change in the doctor’s countenance. There was a sudden spark in his eyes, and a jolt to his movement.

“What was I thinking?” the doctor said, smacking his forehead with an open palm. He tore out a sheet of paper and began writing on it. “There’s a hospital not too far from here. It’s a private clinic. They are very good there. They do treat HIV positive patients. Go there,” the doctor said, handing him the paper. “Ask for Dr. Ola. Tell him I referred you to him.”

A ray of hope!

After Abazu left his old clinic, he never returned there again. The new clinic was what he had been looking for.


“You are very lucky they detected this early,” Dr. Ola was saying as he examined Abazu that very first time. “We would still have to do another test to know if you should be on antiretroviral medication.”

There was something very reassuring about Dr.Ola. He was a small sized man with very delicate hands and an amiable smile. To Abazu, he resembled a gerbil with his big glasses and protruding front teeth. What Abazu found most agreeable about him was his straight-forwardness and direct approach to things. Abazu liked that he looked him in the eyes when he shook his hand. He was direct with his answers and encouraged Abazu to probe deeper for clarity if he needed to. He discussed the advancement medical researchers had made regarding finding a cure for the HIV virus, and was quick to add, “We are still a long way from finding a cure for HIV or AIDS. The best medical science can do for now is to help patients manage the disease. It’s almost like having diabetes. People are living longer and healthier lives with good treatment.”

Abazu liked him from the very first day. He knew with Dr. Ola, he would not get pity. And Dr. Ola was not a friend, not in the way Dilibe and Dakota were, thus Abazu knew he could be open to the point of vulnerable with him knowing that as soon as he was done with his health checks and had gone home, he would cease to exist as an individual, a being, and would become simply just a patient. Nameless. Faceless. Without form, but simply a file tucked away in a steel cabinet and locked up to protect his and others’ identities. At least this was what Abazu hoped. He did not find the notion of this degrading, but rather redemptive in its own way. Here, in this hospital he was treated with dignity by the staff. They were polite to everyone and this politeness did not smack of condescension.

At the Government hospital, he had felt violated in a way he did not think was possible until he experienced it. Being at the mercy of people who believed they were better off than other people simply because they were ill, who displayed a shocking level of arrogance and contempt, was something that would stay with Abazu for a long time. For him it crystallised what his new life would be like with this HIV status: he had joined the ranks of the damned. If people knew, he would be treated differently no matter what. And so Abazu knew he had to choose carefully who got to know about his status.

It was after his first consultation with Dr. Ola that Abazu decided he would tell Dilibe about being HIV positive. There was a relief that came with letting someone else know. Not that Abazu expected Dilibe to do anything about it, but just the fact that he knew and was not outwardly affected by it or judgemental was on its own quite calming. After Dilibe, Abazu told four other people including Dakota, and none of them was a member of his family. They all had listened. They all had said all the right things like “It’s OK!”, “Are you seeing a doctor?”, “It’s not a death sentence, you know”, “I’m here for you if you need anything”. And they meant it all, he knew. But that was the limit of his sharing. He could not bear to give them more access to his disease; he could not let them see him take his drugs or know when he went for his check-ups at the clinic. He feared that if he did, with time their show of courage and support might become tainted as they watched him go through this, and soon pity would surely creep in, lodging itself like an unwelcome squatter one could simply not wish away.

Abazu looked forward to these quarterly consultations. It was the closest he came to therapy sessions. Often he would talk to Dr. Ola about his bouts of depression; he asked if it were possible for him to father a healthy child; he would talk about subtle side effects from his drugs like the infrequent diarrhoea. Sometimes he would talk about his friends with Dr. Ola, who never seemed to mind or hurried him but almost always had something insightful to say in return.

Abazu had an appointment with Dr. Ola that morning.


“My friend, Dakota, wants to get pregnant. She’s determined about it, from what she says. Her man has no idea that she is trying.”

Abazu was sitting on a chair in Dr. Ola’s office while the latter checked his blood pressure and other vital signs. Earlier he had jumped on the scale and noted he had added some weight.

“Dakota is the multiracial one, isn’t she?” Dr. Ola asked, smiling his usual indulgent smile.

“Yes,” said Abazu, then he frowned a little. “I guess I should be happy for her, as her friend, and I am in a way, but—”

“But what?”

“It just seems so rushed, almost so reactionary! I’ve always felt that she blames herself for not fighting hard enough for the child she had for her ex-husband. She gave in too easily, almost as if she felt the child they shared together was a burden. It’s just a feeling I have and I may be wrong.”

“Hmmm! So now, this feels to you like she is overcompensating for not loving her other child enough.”

“Yes. You understand me.”

“What about the fact that the person she is seeing has no idea of this?”

“It’s about control,” Abazu said. “She wants to be in control this time. The last time she wasn’t in control. This may explain why she fell for a much younger man, don’t you think?”

“Hmmm!” Dr. Ola said. “What I think is, is there a reason why you are adding so much weight?”

Abazu was quiet.

“I am worried about this weight increase and your cholesterol level. We have to do a test for that. Is there a reason why you are adding so much weight?”

Just like that, Abazu forgot all about Dakota and her issues. He had his own issues to contend with. This, after all, was the one place he had to face all his demons.

“I thought it was the only way I could look normal.”

“Normal as against what?” Dr. Ola asked. He was seated across from Abazu now, his elbows resting on his sparsely littered desk. “Normal is a very relative term, you know!”

Abazu closed his eyes for a moment. He took in several deep breaths, trying to give a proper structure to his answer. Saying that he had never consciously thought of it would have been editing the truth, what was more accurate was that he never allowed himself to consciously think of it, his weight!

“It is funny that these days when a young person, man or woman, falls sick and dies, the unspeakable thing on everyone’s lips is the suspicion that the person must have died of AIDS. It doesn’t matter if it is true or not, you see it in their eyes; a young healthy person is not supposed to die.”

Abazu fell silent again. His head was hurting so he placed the fingers of his right hand on his forehead, massaging it in a circular motion. As he did this, he recalled a documentary he had watched some years ago about people living with HIV in Uganda. The images were still fresh in his head as if it were only yesterday he had seen the documentary.

“It’s the same if you are young and suddenly start to lose weight for no reason,” Abazu continued. “People will think you are sick and behind all that inquisitiveness and curiosity they begin to whisper among themselves ‘Why has he lost so much weight? Maybe he is sick! Maybe he has AIDS.’ You just know that they are thinking it even if they do not say it out loud.”

“Your weight gain is deliberate!” Dr. Ola said.

“Yes.”

“Because you don’t want people to know or think that you are HIV positive!”

“Yes.”

“You are aware that gaining the wrong kind of weight can be harmful to your health!”

“Yes. It is better to look a little overweight than scrawny and sickly. If I had a penny for every time I had overheard people talking about skinny people or describing them as suffering from AIDS, I would be a very rich man now.”

“Do your friends share this same view that thin looking adults are suffering from AIDS?”

“Not my good friends,” Abazu said. “But I do know people who think like that and make flippant statements in that vein!”

“Interesting!”

“I kid you not,” Abazu said. “There was this young fellow I used to know. He is dead now. Died about ten years ago. I remember I was shocked when I heard of his death. I didn’t know he had been ill. What shocked me the most was what some of our friends were saying about his mysterious death; that he had grown so lean, that they were sure he must have had AIDS. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, I will never know. But it was a little strange that shortly after his death his family were quick to let the news spread that he had cancer. Cancer! The rumour of AIDS was quickly quelled and the same friends who were whispering all those horrible stuff were the first to show compassion. Can’t you see? You are better off if people think you have cancer than HIV!”

“Your world view seems to be coloured by your HIV status,” Dr. Ola said. “Everything you do, everything you think and even how you interact with people, it all seems to lead to and end up with this disease. I don’t think this is healthy. Neither is adding unnecessary weight. You may be doing yourself more harm than good.”

Abazu closed his eyes. He was thinking of coloured lenses. Sepia. Gray scales. Lucozade foil-orange. He wondered what colour lenses his eyes now saw the world through. What colour did HIV shade his world with? Red? Perhaps sepia! His life felt fractured; split into two—of past and present. There was the life before HIV and the life after HIV. It was that simple really. Before he was diagnosed as positive, everything seemed infinite; the future, growing old—there was a substance to time. Now, time felt immediate, intangible, almost completely spent.

“Have you told your family about your status?”

“No,” Abazu answered. He shivered inwardly just thinking about his family and how disappointed they would feel with him if they knew.

“Why?”

“They will not understand.”

“Your friends understand. Why can’t you make your family understand?”

“They will not understand.” Abazu repeated.

“Is this because you are different— gay?”

“Yes,” said Abazu, feeling a heavy weight lift from his shoulders. “And because to them, this is what happens to gay people. It’s God’s curse to our kind. We deserve it. I deserve it!”

Abazu looked up and his eyes held those of Dr. Ola. His eyes, behind his glasses, were gentle. So gentle that Abazu thought of ferrets’ eyes. It occurred to him that this was the first time he had admitted to being gay to the doctor or anyone outside his circle of trust. The question had never been asked, but in the ways that people knew things without asking or being told, Abazu had always suspected Dr. Ola knew about his sexuality. His suspicion had now been confirmed. He wondered if it was right to ask him how he knew. Was it something Abazu had said during one of their consultations? Or was it something about the way he carried himself? Was it because he was a man living with HIV?

It did not matter how he knew or that he knew, Abazu resolved within himself, he would not ask.

“No one deserves to be sick,” Dr. Ola said. “No one deserves HIV.”

Abazu exhaled. It seemed as if he had been holding his breath for the longest time. And then he smiled. This was the reason he came here; not so much for the drugs, but for how it made him feel whole again.


He left the clinic feeling uplifted, like he always felt after every consultation. But today was different. He had a lot to reflect about, like the fact that Dr. Ola now knew he was a gay man. Strangely he did not feel threatened by this, as he would have thought. There were only a few of his heterosexual friends that he had come out to and the decision to do so had not been easy for him. For every person he had come out to, he always had to wonder—even though he was sure they shared liberal views and couldn’t care less that he was gay, he wondered if underneath all those layers of tolerance a minuscule part of them still judged him. When they interacted and socialized with him, did they make an extra effort to be politically correct at all times, avoiding the use of certain words and subjects that might be construed as offensive to him, and did they consciously condition themselves not to think about how it was for him to be intimate with someone of the same sex? These were some of the things he had to consider every time he came out to someone he trusted.

Trust. It was such a small word, five letters in all, but with big significance. Was that what it was he felt for Dr. Ola? It had been so easy to not deny that he was gay with him. It might have been easier and less complicated if he had simply said nothing, acknowledged nothing. But he did. And yet he still left the clinic feeling quite good with himself. He had expanded his circle of trust.

Sitting in the back seat of the taxi that drove him to his restaurant, he thought of his friends, Dilibe and Dakota, and the things happening in their lives. Dilibe seemed to have a lot on his plate: parents pushing him to get married and co-habiting with a younger sibling. He suspected that behind the calm Dilibe displayed hid all sorts of frustration and pent up resentments. And then, there was Dakota! She had woken up one morning and decided that she wanted to be a mother again.

In a way he envied his friends and the lives they lived, the challenges they faced; the choices they had! Their lives were not perfect. And yet whatever it was they both had to overcome, it never seemed insurmountable. Dilibe could choose to get married tomorrow and start a family, or not. He could choose to put up with the living arrangement with his brother, or not. Dakota could choose to have a child and tell the man she was seeing, or not. They both had clear definite choices. On the other hand, Abazu knew it was different for him. He could not choose not to be HIV positive. Some people still had that choice. Not him.

Abazu had his restaurant and he had his friends. He had for too long used these to distract himself from his condition, from also moving on. But somehow, he felt something changed within him. It wasn’t just the visit to the clinic that triggered this; it was everything else that had been happening with him and his friends in the last few months. He no longer wanted to be just an observer.

His phone rang. He looked at the caller ID; it was the bistro.

“Yes, Bunmi! I’m on my way back. The client can wait for me in my office. Thank you!”

He hung up the phone and stared at the screen for a while. He punched at the directory and began going over the contact details of the over three hundred names stored within, one after the other. He realised that apart from the few clients, he had not called or spoken with a majority of the contacts, friends and family, stored on the phone. A lot of them represented for him a life before HIV. He had severed the link to so many of them almost five years ago now, since he became aware of his status. It just happened. He let depression take hold of him; ignoring calls, not bothering to call back, until there was no point calling back and the people stopped calling; emails and text messages stopped flittering in. When he emerged from the cocoon he had created for himself, his old life seemed so distant, like it belonged to someone else.

He stopped scrolling when he got to the name Godwin. He stared at the name for a long time. He wondered if the number was still in use. For a moment he was tempted to call, but at the last minute he sent off a hurried text message that simply said: Hi. This is Abazu.


Immediately after Abazu had sent off that text message, regret settled on him like a heavy blanket. He had stared at the tiny screen of his mobile phone willing the message not to deliver. He wondered at what he was thinking! In a moment of hopelessness he had cursed the failed state of the federal telecommunications infrastructure; this was one time he wished for a functional telephone booth where he could call the number and if it rang, he would hang up before anyone answered the phone. It would not be traced back to him, not like these mobile phones that delivered not only the intended message, but also the phone number of the sender.

Every ring of the phone or alert of a text message that came afterward, Abazu expected it to be Godwin, but it was either a client or some other friend and the text messages were mostly bank deposit alerts. After an hour of tormenting suspense, Abazu turned off his phone. He could not bear it any longer, the waiting and the fact that every ring of the phone felt very much like Taser jolts. He tossed the phone into the desk drawer in his office and forgot about it until he was about to depart for home.

He did not switch on the phone until he was home and almost immediately the phone rang. The name flashing on the luminous screen gave Abazu pause; Godwin. He felt an excitement tinged with fear. His heart beat faster and he stood still like a salt statue. The phone rang out and after a brief pause started again.

“Hello—”

“Abazu, it is really you!”

The voice was as he remembered it, thick like timber and flavoured with the essence of expensive education. His voice was mesmerising, it was assured and held faint promises of something indescribable but real, very real.

“I tried calling you as soon as I read your text message, but your phone wasn’t going through. I have been trying your number almost every half hour until now. How are you?”

Abazu was simply lost for words. He did not know what to say or how to be with him any longer. It had been so long. The voice felt like that of a stranger, a familiar stranger.

The voice stopped speaking and instead joined him in the silence. This silence that felt comforting in its own way like a picture book filled with water colour drawings of a past that could have been. Their breathing became synced with the silence.

“I wasn’t sure you still used that number,” Abazu said, cutting through the quietness.

He had not expected a reaction or response and Godwin did not offer any. Abazu understood. He recognised that it was Godwin’s turn to be quiet.

“I should have called you sooner than this,” Abazu continued. “I am sorry.”

Silence. A sharp intake of breath from the other end of the phone, but nothing else.

“The last couple of years have not been the easiest for me. I needed time for myself and could not handle a lot of people and—you. I felt like I had lost myself somewhere and I needed to reassess everything.”

“It’s been five years, Abazu! You went for a simple holiday in England and that was it. You returned and refused to take my calls and from what our mutual friends tell me, you also cut them off. You moved house and changed your mobile number. At least, I knew your restaurant business was flourishing. I decided not to go to you. Your message was clear.”

Another wave of silence passed.

“For a while I believed you had met someone and that was why you stayed away. I thought I read you wrong and there was really nothing to the chemistry I thought we had. I was glad to receive your text today but I kept asking myself, why now?”

“I don’t have the answers you are looking for,” Abazu said.

“Fair enough,” Godwin said. “I will take whatever you give me. I’m just happy you called.”

“I thought it would be nice to maybe have a drink or something, if that’s OK!”

“Abazu,” he said. “I don’t live in Lagos anymore. I moved to Abuja. I run the family business from there.”

Abazu felt like someone had punched the air out of him hearing those words. Five years was a long time to wait for someone to call you. It felt crushing that for a moment he had clung to a flimsy hope that perhaps there was something there for the both of them. Hearing Godwin’s voice, its closeness, made him forget distance and the years, like a solid wall that had separated them. He had not expected this news of moving to another city.

“—but I still come to Lagos once in a while,” Godwin said, his voice reassuring in its measured calmness. “I will like to have that drink with you.”

“Oh, if that is fine with your partner!”

Abazu was startled by Godwin’s teasing laughter, it held a mocking note, but he found himself smiling to the sound of it.

“Abazu, I know you too well. Stop fishing. I’m not in a relationship and it’s not because I was waiting for you.”

Abazu’s smile deepened. In that space and time he did not think of or remember his health status. He simply existed in a bubble that blocked out anything negative, illuminating instead all that was possible. Later when he would reflect on this moment, he would wonder where his ever-present fear had fled to, the fear he bore like a tattoo, a permanent reminder that he was no longer pure but forever stained! He would remember that moment for its liberating magic.


Houses were always too close together and they were all built differently, with no semblance of harmony—conflicting colours, uneven heights, some with exaggerated opulence that tried too hard to stand out, others content with being just simple. Streets were narrow and usually littered with debris, people and vehicles, both stationary and in motion. The sun was always too hot when it was out, the air was never fresh but dense with smog and the nights were always too dark and noisy with the mixed sounds of generators, hooting cars and impatient, screaming sirens. Lagos city life was not what it was hyped to be, so Abazu was not that surprised that Godwin had packed up and moved to Abuja.

Abazu was at home now, a three bedroom bungalow in the outskirts of Lekki peninsula, an area almost removed from the bedlam that was Lagos city but was catching up slowly, like a distant cousin keen on flaunting his nouveau riche status. Abazu was still on a high from Godwin’s visit and kept thinking of how unchanged he looked. He hadn’t aged at all in the five years.

He uncorked a bottle of red wine and filled three glasses. Dilibe and Dakota had come to visit. He knew they would come. He knew Dakota would not keep away, especially as he had not been able to tell her anything more about Godwin. Shortly after her arrival at the bistro, he had left with Godwin who wanted his opinion on some art works he was planning to purchase for his office. By the time he got back, Dakota was gone.

“How come you’ve never mentioned this Godwin fella before?” Dakota asked. She grabbed one of the glasses of wine and took a sip. “Did you meet him online?”

“Secrets, secrets, secrets,” Dilibe said. “Someone has been keeping secrets!”

“Godwin is not a secret,” Abazu snapped. He could not keep his irritation away from his tone. “He is someone I haven’t seen in a very long time. We used to be friends.”

“Friends or lovers?” Dakota asked.

“Friends,” Abazu insisted. “We did not have a chance to go any further before I discovered I was positive.”

“Did you tell him and then he abandoned you?” Dilibe asked. “If that’s the case, he does not deserve you now.”

“Oh God, no!” Abazu laughed; a forced laugh. “I didn’t tell him. I was the one who cut off links to him and many of my old friends. You have to understand I was going through a lot of stuff after I discovered I was positive. You know; depression and all. The idea of going into any kind of relationship was not in my bucket list of things to do. I knew he liked me a lot, but I couldn’t see myself telling him I was positive.”

“But you told me!” Dilibe said.

“That was different. You are not gay. It was easier to tell you.”

“So you cut him off and now he is back,” Dakota said. “What are your plans?”

Plans. Abazu had tried not to think too much about this. He still feared the thought of dreaming of normalcy and stability when he knew his health was anything but normal or perfect. He had long stopped having long term plans or goals because of his status; because he was aware that he could fall terribly sick at any moment and become useless to himself and to anyone else—and what then, what good would plans be to him when that happened? He was being very practical with himself. He had learned and accepted to live in the moment, take whatever life had to offer him while he still could move about and look ordinary. Did this constitute a plan?

“I don’t know,” Abazu said in answer to Dakota’s question.

“You two looked quite cosy together.” Dakota’s smile was wide.

“God, I hope not! I wouldn’t want my staff and patrons taking an interest in my private affairs. And like I told you, Godwin is not out. Hell, I am not out either. It’s not like we can celebrate any form of relationship in this country.”

A thought crossed Abazu’s mind and he smiled.

“Why are you smiling?” Dilibe asked.

“Just something Godwin said to me. He said he will gladly do fourteen years behind bars if that was what it took to love me!”

Of course when Godwin had said it, Abazu knew how ludicrous it sounded—how utterly idealistic and impractical it was, but he had been grateful for the words, finding some gratification in the knowledge that someone could still feel that way about him.

“Ah! So your stint with celibacy has finally come to an end!” Dakota said.

“I don’t know about that! He lives in Abuja and I live here.”

“I’m sure you will find a way,” Dakota said. “But a very important question; will you tell him about your condition?”

Abazu felt his irritation creeping back.

“Have you told Akeem that you are trying to get pregnant and have stopped taking your birth control pills?” he asked.

“But you must tell him,” Dilibe said. “I mean, if you are considering having a relationship with him, he has a right to know.”

“I think both of you are getting carried away! I met with an old friend I used to like a lot. We had lunch and caught up on good old times. That was all it was.”

Abazu knew from the sudden silence that they did not believe him. But what would they know of how he felt! None of them knew what it was to be HIV positive or to fear that no one would truly love you in an intimate way again if they discovered. So what if he was reluctant to disclose his status to a person who truly liked him for fear of rejection and losing what they could have!

“I’m entitled to my privacy as you are, Dakota,” Abazu said. “And Dilibe, it’s so easy for you to look on in judgement whereas you are incapable of falling in love. You can’t even live with your sibling who grew up with you let alone make the necessary adjustments to accommodate him, how do you expect to live with a spouse or significant other?”

It was as if it were someone else speaking. Abazu saw the look of shock on his friends’ faces but he looked away. There was just this need to inflict pain, to erect a fence between himself and them so that for once he would not feel the need to justify his actions to anyone. He also felt an anger rising from the sole of his feet to the top of his head like burning flames; he was angry that he felt he was being judged, and angry because he knew that his friends were right.

The minutes ticked away and they all said nothing. Abazu wished they would both go away and leave him alone. He got up and walked to the television stand; he retrieved the remote control and switched on the TV just so that he could break the silence.

“You won’t believe what I’ve gotten myself into!” Dilibe said. Abazu could tell that the smile on his friend’s face was strained.

“What have you gotten yourself into, Dilly?” Dakota asked.

Abazu noticed that neither Dilibe nor Dakota looked in his direction as they spoke. It felt as if he were transparent or not there and they spoke as if they had not heard a thing of what he had said earlier.

“My mum called the other day to tell me that she had arranged a date for me.”

“Oh my God! You are kidding, right!” Dakota exclaimed. “Do parents still do that, fix up their grown kids?”

“Apparently, mine still do. A desperate attempt to get their wayward son settled!”

“Will you meet the girl?” Abazu’s voice sounded reluctant and distant.

“What do you intend to do?” Dakota asked.

Dilibe smiled. “I know the lady. We grew up together. I will invite her to lunch. No harm in that.”

“Uh-la-la! I guess we are all changing. Look at us; there was a time all of us would have balked at the thought of being in any form of relationship with a significant other, and now—”

“Easy sister,” Dilibe laughed. “I said I would consider lunch with this woman, not marry her. She’s almost the same age as I am.”

“So, does that make her any less desirable?” Dakota said.

“Come on, you know what I meant!”

“No, educate me—”

They carried on with their banter but Abazu felt very much cut off from it and from them. He tried to smile when it was appropriate but said little or nothing.

Something significant had happened to their friendship that night and Abazu knew he was mostly responsible for it. There was a fracturing and the cracks were clearly visible. The remorse he harboured was much. He felt like a circus act juggling guilt, like balls, at the same time. Part of his guilt was the jealously and anger he had kept hidden for so long at their good health, the fact that he was still resentful that he was the one saddled with this HIV thing; what he would give to exchange his HIV positive life for either of theirs and be encumbered instead with their seemingly mundane challenges! And then there was the more immediate guilt that nagged at him; to tell or not to tell!


Jude Dibia (@JudeDibia ) is the author of three well received novels; Walking with Shadows (2005), Unbridled (2007) and Blackbird (2011). Dibia is a recipient of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose prize and has been shortlisted twice for the Nigeria Literature Prize. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies and also online.

“Found: an Error in the System” by Serubiri Moses

Found: Error in the system_ Serubiri Moses


Go to the depot to fix
the following idealism,

Detected and named:
‘Error 42 – Re-emergence of memory.’

Environment forces are on alert.
STAY CALM. If acting like a bugged android,
we will dismember you.

Be warned of terrorist meetings,
and memory contamination.

We repeat: KEEP CALM.

As your contract stipulates, we own your memory.


Serubiri Moses (@serubirim) is an Independent writer and curator working in Kampala. His current research project ‘Life mu City’ is a critical intervention on urban language focussing on how an image of Kampala is formed through words. His writing can be found in Chimurenga Chronic, Kwani?, Saraba, Bakwa, Africa is a Country, C& – Contemporary And, Kulturausch, among others.

“A Railway Map” by Maxamed Sharmarke

A Railway Map

A Railway Map


This map is an attempt; a lame attempt at appropriating a technology associated with the opulence of old Europe and putting it in the periphery, in this case Somali inhabited regions of Africa. In a country that symbolizes to the world most dramatically the depths of which the post colonial dream of unity turned into a nightmare of discord.

There are no railways in Somalia or rather they used to exist during the colonial period for short sections and not for very long afterwards. Colonialism and especially the African experience of it can be also told through railways (and also their plans); the British wanted their Cairo to Cape railway and the French, the equally serious Dakar to Djibouti, each of which started an interrelated series of land grabs aimed at securing the huge amounts of mineral wealth in the interior.

Since the experience currently in Africa of railways and their plans LAPSSET etc. is one not that different to that first brutal colonial experience – people have been displaced of their land violently in some cases, arcane methods of finance have been used that only impoverish the poor and further the corruptions of the already rich. This map like the Sapeurs of Kinshasa or Nollywood, appropriates and then imagines what a popular local alternative to the dictatorships of development by IMF might look like, where towns never given second thought by planners are still considered important.


Maxamed Sharmarke is a designer, urbanist, writer, Majin Buu Lover. Visit his Website [Project].

“Last Wave” by Ivor W. Hartmann

Last Wave


Archaeologist Trom Thunbuld lightly tapped the pause button on the viewscreen, freezing playback of the audio file. He sat back, feeling wearily shocked, and looked out the window to the dark rocky beach far below. It was lit only by white thrashing surf as waves crashed into the shore in an endless barrage. High tide tonight, he thought, looking at the relentless waves. The moon dropped from behind a cloud bank as if on cue, its bright green blue hue shining across the sea. The panorama that usually calmed him had no such effect today; what he had just heard ricocheted around his mind:

My name is Hamadziripi, the last human. As I speak, the Delphini are coming. They have my trail, and it won’t be long now. Perhaps, while postponing the inevitable, I should broadcast this record of the final days of humankind.

Whoever hears this, I congratulate you. You have succeeded in life where we failed. Perhaps you understand that the whole survives because of each part. Life has long-term plans. Too late did we learn the lessons that lay all around and within us. Too late did we realise how complex and fragile the conditions were that enabled our existence…

Trom, thought about the receivers, roughly just over 47317 light years away, each one a nearly nebula-wide net of fine nano-wires suspended in open space, like some unimaginably huge fishnet that trawled for planet-sized fish. Except each of the five thousand nets was cast in just the right place, to painstakingly collect very old, very faint, very specific radio waves. The receivers took fifty years of meticulous construction and another thirty-two gruelling years of impatient silence. Finally, they arrived, and were superbly netted, the first radio wave transmissions with enough energy to break through the Earth’s atmosphere. And in the vacuum of space, forever to travel at the speed of light, away from planet Earth.

How they had celebrated as the data began to flow. What started as a trickle in over just a decade turned into an exponential flood. For two hundred years, Trom and his team had sifted, strained, and pieced the data into individual streams. It had been his life’s work, and now it seemed he had just heard the beginning of the end. Trom sighed and, still looking out the window, tapped the viewscreen to continue.

“Before our somewhat brisk downfall, we were foolish and arrogant. We squandered our resources and raped our lands, oceans, and ourselves. We were born whore children, enslaved by an economic system that was controlled by a sociopathic one percent of our global population. By the time the first consequences of our human actions emerged, the fine green line of ecological balance was already well frayed and past any possible human repair–”

Here, the smooth toneless voice of Trom’s automata interjected. “Data flow break in stream approximately 10, 25, 08, 0951. Next section main stream cued.”

The moon and the ocean conspired to cast him and his dark office into green, aged sculptures of oxidised copper. Trom pushed his chair back whilst eyeing the next jagged line of audio, cued on the viewscreen. He turned his chair to face the window, and gazed out.

He could see, below the swirling clouds that peppered the moon’s atmosphere, broad swathes of green and blue, cut only by high, snow-covered mountain ranges. Trom had been to those massive lush green fields and tall forests. He had dug his hands deep into its rich black soils. He had swum just off the shores of its deep and immense fresh-water lakes. The moon slowly turned as he watched, revealing a steadily moving topographical face. Trom recognised the jagged slash, white and round, piercing above the dark green. The high rim-range of Artobus, created in a pre-ancient meteor strike, was just coming into view.

From its conception to those first bizarre and exciting radio broadcast streams, this project had been his sole focus for over four hundred years now. Trom was bone-tired, and felt poisoned by all he knew about humans and their strange, short existence. It seemed as if they had evolved only to release trapped hydrocarbon energy from beneath the ground! For once this was achieved their age had quickly drawn to a close. He was overcome by a deep, melancholic sadness and empathy for these humans. They had come so close, and yet had remained so far, an evolutionary dead end.

He was gripped by an urgent need to see the face of this last human. Trom turned toward the viewscreen and intoned, “Initiate facial approximation image of the speaker from all available transmission data, please.”

“Approximation calculations commenced. Should I notify you when the image is attained?”

“Yes,” Trom whispered, resigned to waiting for the image but not yet ready to continue listening.

It was still hard to believe that the initial project was coming to an end. The receivers, now silent, slowly dissolved into atomic dust, their purpose spent. Like humans and their oil reserves, he had mined the wealth of those broadcasts from the ancient earth, and this was the very last drop.

That wealth of archaeological information would ensure that Trom’s name lived on forever, in the annals of his species history. Undoubtedly, there were still mountains of information to be deeply analysed, but that first wondrous walk on virgin snow would soon be over. He sat back in his chair and gazed outward, probing the ever-changing landscape of waves, wind, and wet, black rocks, as though they were the source of work his eyes needed to be doing.

“Approximation calculations completed.”

Trom turned and focused intently on the viewscreen. He touched open the image file. A three-dimensional facial construct, unmistakably human in appearance, stared out from the viewscreen. There he was, Hamadziripi, with large, dark brown eyes topped by heavy eyelids. Thick, black, bushy eyebrows and hawkish nose. A wild mane of dreadlocks bordered his wide, angular, weathered, and honey-brown face.

“What is the percentage degree accuracy for this reconstruction, please?” Trom asked.

“Ninety four point five percent.”

Trom gazed at the simulacrum of Hamadziripi looking blankly back.

“Sync image to audio, please.”

Hamadziripi’s face shifted as the computations were rendered. He was caught in the beginnings of a slight, tired smile whose edges deeply creased diagonally across each rugged cheek, towards his nose. His eyelids were lowered to cap a wary expression, tempered by a deeper glint of hard-won wisdom. Trom tapped the viewscreen.

Hamadziripi scratched his chin with a well-calloused hand. His eyes creased with fine laugh lines as he looked down in amusement. A moment later, he looked up again.

“Someone once told me that the meek shall inherit the earth. I agreed with them, all six feet of it if they were lucky enough to be buried. I have heard the tales of the meek, the sheep, and the coastal city flocks. They were the human canaries in the coal mine, and they died in their millions. But perhaps it was because the environmental meltdown was just so damn fast, everything went sideways exponentially.”

Hamadziripi took on a glazed look that stared one thousand yards down time’s barrel. But he shook it off continued.

“Non-human life on Earth is anything but meek. It is a ruthless organism of efficient opportunity. It stretches boldly from the volcanic heat of underwater fumaroles, to below freezing at the polar cap, and brushes the very limits of the upper atmosphere. In terms of life, that ancient and yet always adaptable organic machine, I see now that humans were merely a temporary dust mote in god’s eye, and we were just blinked away like the vaguely irritating mote we really were.”

Hamadziripi was suddenly overcome with emotion. His face flushed darkly and moisture welled in the corners of his eyes. A distinct click was heard.

“Data flow break in stream approximately 20, 45, 15, 0951. Next section main stream cued, should I sync the image?”

Hamadziripi was frozen on screen leaning forward, caught in that expression of raw emotion.

“Yes,” Trom said, eager to clear away the haunted look.

Hamadziripi’s face assumed a default blank lifelessness. A moment later it sprang back into life with a faint smile and hooded wary eyes. Trom flicked play.

“To give you an idea of how rapid our ruination was, let me lay it down for you. By 2015 the Arctic was clear of ice all summer long, and the sea level had risen by another thirty centimetres since 2008. Just ten years later, not only was the Arctic ice-free all year, but so was most of Greenland. The continental ice shelf of Greenland was composed of nearly three million cubic kilometres of ice in 2008. In only ten years, seven-eighths of its entire mass was melted. By the end of the European summer of 2018, sea levels had risen by twenty meters. Global storm systems of unprecedented fury and longevity soon developed from the new ocean currents and temperatures. They wreaked utter havoc when raging over land masses.

“In 2018, it was empirically proven that four point one degrees above pre-industrial Earth temperatures was all it took for a catastrophic global climate tipping point. By 2025, the entire Western Antarctic Ice Sheet slid and calved into the Ross and Amundsen seas, and melted. Combined with the full Arctic and Greenland melts, this created an approximate ninety-meter rise in global sea levels. Now as tragic as that sounds—and it was—rising sea levels were only part of the problem that the surviving humans were faced with.

“The severely stressed ecological systems collapsed, leaving behind only the roughest, toughest, and mainly primeval. These were then bombarded with unfettered solar radiation that slipped through the thin whisper left of the protective ozone layer due to vast quantities of methane released from warm tundra and ocean beds.

“In this crucible maelstrom, among many new genetic horrors, the Delphini were born. Or should I say that they mutated, or perhaps, really, that they just evolved? It took them just seven generations to flee in desperation from the poisoned, dying oceans. They mutated, evolved and adapted into nature’s new champions–”

“Pause,” snapped Trom. He thought furiously. Could it be? Delphini, Delphinidae, Dolphins? The answers would have immense repercussions for Dolphins, or specifically the Tursiops truncatus. Were they to his kind what Kenyanthropus platyops had been to humans? Had his ancient ancestors dispatched what had been left of the human species? Up until then, Trom had presumed that Hamadziripi’s Delphini was some obscure nickname for one of the many mutated species that had desperately been trying to survive at that time.

Trom gazed at his reflection in the window, perplexed. His dolphin heritage was clear to the eye. He scrutinised his smooth double bulge skull, wide black round eyes with their horseshoe irises, and slender snout that relaxed into a smile above a thick lower jawbone. Trom raised a muscular arm. With his three fingers and thumb, he lightly touched the hairy, pulsing blowhole at the back of his skull. He looked distantly similar to a humanoid: basic bipedal body, legs and feet with four digits apiece, and a thick, slick grey skin.

A realisation came upon him like sheet lightning. If it weren’t for humans, his kind might never have evolved at all. Without being pushed by catastrophe and survival instincts, they would never have crawled onto land five million years ago. No matter how one looked at it, these humans birthed them. His ancestors had then hunted them into extinction!

However, he was sure that humans would have done exactly the same thing had they survived the environment they created. In their brief evolutionary history, they had done similar things to other offshoots of the evolving Hominid family. There was no evidence to suggest that they would have allowed the emergence of any intelligent species rival to their own—they barely managed living together with different genetic varieties within their own species.

Theirs had been a short history that faded away, compressed under the weight of eons to barely a lean seam of sediment amongst so many others. For Trom and his species, this had only been the beginning. A start towards what would seem to them a fat golden seam of time. Here he was, some five million years later, looking back at those brutal beginnings where two species collided, and only one survived.

Trom looked past his reflection. The moon was high in a clear, star-wreathed sky. In a vertiginous moment there again crept into view Artobus, or Montes Caucasus as they had called it. The humans had been remarkable in so many ways. It had taken them just under eight thousand years to go from their first major civilisation to a landing on the moon. For his own species, this feat had taken forty thousand years. However, the humans had been blind to what mattered most: survival was always based on some kind of symbiosis.

“Play,” he intoned softly, still gazing seaward.

“It’s hard to think that this broadcast might possibly be the last proof that humans existed at all. But then again, I never imagined that I would be the last human alive—and believe me, I’ve scoured the Earth for another. Such a tenuous call into the vastness of space this is. Well, at least it’s out there, going somewhere to be heard by who knows… this tail end of a glorious era. Forgive me, I am becoming rather melancholic tonight, spurred on by my last bottle of vintage single malt whiskey…

“You see this will be the last broadcast. This is humankind’s—and my—final farewell. At the only working satellite station that I know of, the power levels have been dropping for days now. I have been relaying and boosting this broadcast from a solar powered portable HAM Radio. The satellite station is powered by a small emergency nuclear reactor built in the pre-apocalypse. It was never intended to endure this long, and I am amazed that it actually has…

“I am also tired, so tired. Soul-worn, if there is such a thing. Every day since my birth, I have fought with no respite to stay alive. Since my birth, I have watched my species slide into extinction, watched all those I loved die around me. My parents named me too aptly. In Shona, my mother tongue, Hamadziripi means, ‘Where is everyone?’ Perhaps they knew that the end was nigh, that we had to pay for the sins of our corpulent forefathers.

“The final reckoning is upon me. The Delphini have my scent. I saw scout tracks today. They never stop, not once they have your scent, not until they are crunching on your bones.

“So, the burden of humankind’s last words rests, with me… What can I tell you? That you should look for the beauty in all things? That you should live in harmony with your ecosphere? No, how about, above all, that you should remember that–.”

“Data flow end. Attached file ATT034, partial reconstruction. Should I access the attached file?”

“Yes” Trom said.

There was a mash of digital screeching and fragmented signals that dwindled into what seemed like silence. Trom turned away from the window, cocked his head and leaned closer. There was low, barely audible breathing. Loud explosions cracked out, and Trom recoiled in surprise. Even though his ears were ringing from the blast, he still clearly heard the next shout.

“COME ON YOU BASTARDS!”

“File ATT034 end. End of Transmission, no more data.”

Trom slowly unlocked from a position of motionless fright. He sat back in his chair, facing the window, heart still racing to the beat of that terrible drumming. Trom saw Hamadziripi’s reflection, caught like a fly in amber for all eternity, forever roaring humanity’s final defiance.


Ivor W. Hartmann is a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, visual artist, and author of Mr. Goop (Vivlia, 2010). He was nominated for the UMA Award (‘Earth Rise’, 2009), awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (‘Mr. Goop’, 2009), finalist for the Yvonne Vera Award (‘A Mouse Amongst Men’, 2011), and selected for The 20 in Twenty: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s Democracy (A Mouse Amongst Men, July 2014). His writing has appeared in African Writing Magazine, Wordsetc, Munyori Literary Journal, Something Wicked, The Apex Book of World SF V2, Litro, and other publications. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publisher of the African Roar annual anthologies and AfroSF, and is on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.

“Daughters of Resurrection” by Melissa Kiguwa

Daughters of resurrection


none of us wanted to leave
our bones
on the way to salvation
three planets to the left
a century of light years ago
Audre Lorde

Her mouth sulks sideways like a Blobfish dying on a dock or in a museum somewhere. Time dribbles down the fat of her lips like brown sugared molasses and I can smell the rancid syrup from where I’m sitting. They were all like this, I think to myself as I walk over to wipe the minute laden spit sliding down her mouth.

“Please close the mouth. Time is getting all over the room.”

She grunts and I continue talking to distract myself from the scaly flakes dropping from her skin, “This oxygen. It just completely floods the peoples’ digestive system and wreaks damage as it comes out from every pore in the body. But our Amazientists…” I pause– she does not know Amazientists– “…our researchers found that oxygen is not actually good for the species.”

She looks at me with those sunken eyes as her mouth moves around like a flapping open hole, “What are you talking about?”

Even though she smells like decay, I like this about her. She asks and tries to listen, even if she does not understand. I reply, “Oxygen. It is not actually good for humans. Human scientists thought it was needed to survive but it was killing the people.”

“But how can something kill us if we cannot live without it?”

“If oxygen will not kill the person, that type of thinking will! We suppose it cannot be helped. It is the way the creature is wired to think. But let us ask, isn’t it funny that human myths speak of people-like creatures that human archeologists could not find? Ghost-men and giants? Even the peoples’ most recent myth, Christianity, spoke of men living until 600. But we Nilotes have learned that oxygen let the people live to about 50 years old at most. Of course, the people mixed chemicals to prolong the process but we wonder if it did the people any good. The peoples’ bones began to shrink and atrophy, the brain started short-wiring, the organs shut down. The body wanted to go, but the people refused.”

She sighs and I remember the question she asked, “Anyway—oxygen was killing the people.” I look at her skin, the mammalian mucous secretions encrusted in her eyes, her nose, her mouth. She looks at her skin too, and says, “Still is I guess.”

Nilotes’ skin is so black it looks wet. Our black is the color of a darkness that sighs like creaky shoes and smells like dusky resurrection. Her skin is reptilian thin and hard. I say, “Probably when the people left the previous planet the people didn’t need oxygen. But when the people landed on earth the people needed new myths to make sense of everything. It is understandable. Even the peoples’ science myth is quite funny. So interesting!”

Her Blobfish mouth sulks downward and I think her lips may turn grey like her skin does when she stops eating. I wonder if the edges of her lips can touch the bed because they seem to just keep falling more and more downwards.

“I suppose that’s what we get,” she says, “for thinking Earth was ours anyway.” Her words come out like jagged glass and I do not know if she is trying to cut me.

Is this what the humans called anguish? I feel it deep inside and I want to peel my slicked skin and flake in desperation. Was this why Job tore his robe? This anguish, so reckless and human.

How else could these people sink an entire planet?

“The peoples’ science was bad mathematics. The idea that matter is neither created nor destroyed, and yet, the Earth is slowly sinking through Galaxy NX21. The weight of the unrisen is too heavy. The peoples’ tossed bodies aboard slavery ships, atomic bombs, mass graves….the bodies…all those bodies.” I look at her but she cannot hear. Her breathing is heavy and I sigh to push this cutting feeling out of me. “The bodies weigh something…”

She looks at me as though I know her name. If I could, I would have smiled back. I would have tugged my lips upwards like she does with her fat Blobfish lips.

I think, these humans are not so bad, as I look at her body, her skeleton an emaciated kiosk of bones. And she fell then. Her body tumbling to the floor like the weight of a sinking earth.


Melissa Kiguwa is a poet and a radical feminist. Her work is rooted in acknowledging and giving praise to diverse afro-experiences. Her work focuses on imperialism, migration, sexuality, spirituality, and trauma. In her work she re-imagines liberation, new horizons, and inter-generational legacy building. She is currently working on her postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her debut collection of poetry, Reveries of Longing, can be purchased at http://www.melissakiguwa.com

“Where pumpkin leaves dwell” by Lillian Akampurira Aujo

Where pumpkin leaves dwell


You watched as the road swallowed Mummy back into the city. You imagined how it wound in and out of the shaded hills, like it chose to rest from the sunshine before deciding to go on. Kaaka’s scaly palm scratched your soft one as she told you to turn around and head back to your new home. Eyes still fixed on the patches of the road, you half turned, wishing that sometimes roads would just stop so people wouldn’t have anywhere to go. If that happened your mother’s figure would reappear and she would tell you the road to Kampala, like her journey had ended.

The decision for you to stay in the village for more than the Christmas holiday had been arrived at like all the others in your life; a statement told to you by Mummy like she was trying to beg you for something when you actually knew she wanted you to know that you didn’t have a choice because you were the child and she was the adult.

“But Mummy, why can’t I come to your school?”

“It’s for adults and there are no children allowed.”

“Why?”

“Because there are no children there.”

“But children are everywhere.”

“Not there, they have no beds to sleep in and no one to look after them so they stay with their grandparents. Besides, I will have a lot of homework to do.”

“I’ll help you Mummy, you help me all the time.”

“Mine is complicated, you won’t understand it.”

“What does comp-li-cated mean?”

“Something very hard.”

“So who will help when my homework is complicated?”

“Your new teachers.”

“Is there another aunt Naiga?”

“I don’t know, we’ll see when we get there.”

You opened your mouth to ask more but changed your mind when Mummy pressed her lips together and stared down at you.

Complicated. Your mother is complicated. Why do adults make you do things? Why can’t you just do what you want? Why do they force you? You have to do it because you are the child and they are adults and they look after you.

Grandmother tugs harder at your hand,

“Let’s go Pati, do you want the big big snake to find you? It will swallow all of you.”

There’s no ‘i’ in your name but your grandparents add it anyway. Mummy says it’s because they don’t speak English, so they turn whatever they are saying into Runyakore. Still the way they say it spoils your name.

You pull your hand away from Kaaka and walk a pace in front of her. That way if the snake comes from the front you will see it first and turn and run through the mist while calling out for Mummy to wait for you and she will change her mind because she will know the village is not a safe place. If it comes from behind it will reach Kaaka first but won’t be able to swallow her because she is three times your size and you’ll have seen it and you will run round the bend and up the path that cuts through the coffee plantation and the smoky kitchen with a grass roof will be before you and Grandpa will be seated by its door on his low one-legged stool bent over a basin as he douses his face and grey chin with hot water from the black oblong tin that boils it’s water by the small fires that spill from the three cooking stones as Kaaka’s big saucepan of water for lemon grass tea boils. He will be there and you will be safe.

You look at Kaaka over your shoulder. How did the woman know you were thinking about snakes? You shake your head at her as she says,

“What?”

You’re already thinking about the last time you talked with Mummy and you know you will not hear her voice for a long time. But remembering makes it seem like she’s still there.

‘Mummy?’

‘Yes Pat?’

‘When will I become an adult?’

‘When you are eighteen, then you can do whatever you like!’

‘But I am only six years, that’s so far away!’

Mummy smiles and hugs you. She smells sweet like chocolate and you feel a mixture of sadness and happiness that makes your chest want to burst like a balloon. She will visit often, and fetch you once she’s done with her school. School is important. Something you have known since the day Mummy spanked your behind because you ‘forgot’ to wear panties to school (but remembered to stuff them in your mattress cover) so that Aunt Naiga would send you back home like she did all the bad girls who forgot to wear their panties. Mummy had dragged you back to school and told you even if you didn’t feel like it, you had to go to school.

So maybe Mummy doesn’t feel like going away to school but she has to all the same, even if it means leaving you in the village with Kaaka.

Her humming makes you turn to look at her. You want to ask her if the only songs she knows are church songs because that’s all you’ve heard her sing. You want to tell her church songs are for Sundays only, but you know she will only laugh, and tell the story to her old friends when they sit round a circle to weave baskets on Thursday afternoon.

Soon the weeds with dew at their tips flicking your ankles disappear and the path widens. Kaaka is still following closely behind you. The coffee trees thin and you’re in Shwenkuru’s compound. He is seated on his one-legged stool washing his face with steaming water from the oblong blackened tin. Every morning Kaaka fills this tin with cold water, then sits it in the ash between the cooking stones as the tea saucepan is boiling, so that the same fire can heat the water. You ask him why Kaaka doesn’t heat another tin of water for you as well. He tells you cold water keeps a young mind awake.

“So you mean your old mind is asleep?”

Shwenkuru shakes his head and turns to Kaaka. She laughs and heads to the kitchen.

“No, my mind is not old. Or asleep. And that’s because I always bathed with cold water when I was young.”

The next day you go with Shwenkuru to the pineapple garden. Before you turn onto a smaller path you’re on the one you took yesterday while seeing Mummy off. A long pumpkin vine has stretched across the path. You don’t remember seeing it yesterday. If it had been there you would have tripped over it.

“Shwenkuru, who put this thing here? It wasn’t here yesterday.”

“No one, my child. Pumpkins grow everywhere in this village.”

“Do they grow overnight?”

He breaks into one of his grins, the one that decides to stay on one side of his face.

“I suppose so, don’t you think that’s why the village is named Lyakanshunsha?”

“But that means where there are many pumpkin leaves, not so? I haven’t seen any pumpkin leaves on the coffee plants, the banana shoots, or any of them without the rest of their plant …”

“Oh my little wife, he pauses and ruffles your hair … the ideas in your head … but you’re right, except that sometimes words can’t explain everything.”

“So what explains things better than words?”

“Knowledge Pati, knowledge.”

“But we still need words to understand.”

“I didn’t say we don’t, but sometimes they aren’t enough. Like the name of the village means a place where pumpkins grow in plenty.”

“Hmm … if you hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have known and that’s not fair to all those who don’t know.”

“You’re still young Pati, there’s time for you to learn many things.”

“You mean when I am eighteen I will know everything?”

He laughs, “Even I with all these grey hairs on my head, I am still learning, I don’t know everything in the world, I learn something new every day.”

“Like I just learned what the village name means?”

“Yes Pati, tomorrow you’ll probably learn something else, and the next day, and the next one after the next day.”


For every day after that you learn something new about Lyakashunsha. At first it is the children crying in the night. When you open your eyes the bedroom is so dark that you widen them to be sure they are still not closed.

“Kaaka! Babies are crying outside. Who left them there? Why did they leave them out in the dark?”

You whisper, until she replies like she’s in a deep dream.

“Cats, Pati. Nothing but cats, go back to sleep.”

But you fail to sleep until the morning birds begin singing. Then you sleep for what seems like days and when they wake you up, it is time for lunch. Shwenkuru sits you on his lap,

“They were only cats, sometimes they are restless, and they cry through the night.

You shake your head, you heard babies, and you’re convinced they were babies. But you say no more to your grandparents and dig into the cassava and beans katogo on your red plastic plate.

The next night you hear the babies again. You’re about to call Kaaka when you see them. They are numerous, small and pink like the baby mice that fell from the grass thatch on the kitchen when the kite flew past. They lie on the jagged brown stones in the compound where the coffee and beans are spread on wicker mats to dry. But there’s no sun or light. There’s only cold and darkness and the babies shiver. You also know the unkind stones that knocked out the nail of your third toe will cut their smooth skins till they bleed. You look around for their mother but she’s nowhere in sight.

“Kaaka, Shwenkuru!”

You run to the kitchen but it’s empty and there’s no fire in the hearth. You go around it and ran past the mango trees and the latrine but only its odour welcomes you. You run back to carry the babies to the house but the place where you left them is empty and only their white sheet with brollies and teddy bears remains. You snatch it to your chest and for some reason look up.

In the dark sky the kite is carrying away the babies. They hang in each foot, gripped by the kite’s large talons. The bleed and they wail. The bright drops of their blood and the tears from your eye pool in your palms. You brush them against your nightdress and when you look up, the kite and babies are gone.

You cry because you know if their mother had been with them she would have shooed the kite away and it would not have been able to snatch the babies. You cry because you know Mummy left you in this place where a big snake can come and swallow you any time it wishes and a kite can snatch you from your sleep any time it wishes. You cry for the babies and you cry for yourself.


Some evenings Shwenkuru takes you along on his walks. You like that as he passes by each home he introduces you to everyone and they all look at you as if they wished they could be you. One time you reach Bwengye’s household. There are more than ten children running around. The women touch your curly hair, move your head this and that way, and say,

“Bambe! This child is surely her mother’s! How lucky you are Mungyereza that you have started to see your grandchildren.”

Later you ask if Mungyereza is Grandpa’s other name but he says they call him that because before your mother was born he worked in Kampala building houses with bajungu. The men shake your hand, and ask you who your mother is, then add like they have just remembered,

“What about your father?”

You usually say nothing, until Grandpa comes to the rescue,

“He is in bulaaya minting money. He will come when he will come.”

Then there are the children. The first time they look at you with faces turned to one side, feet on top of each other, fingers probing their noses. Each person has two eyes, but having ten of theirs on you feels like they can see your koko so you look down to check that you’re still wearing your red and green skirt. You look up expecting them to laugh that your Mummy has left you in the village. But they only ask if they can touch your beautiful skirt and wear your sandals just for a minute. You say it’s fine, as long as they can chase and catch you. Most times you run faster than them and hide.

They look behind the houses and up the short mango trees and beneath the granaries but they never look far off in the banana plantation. There you find heaps of red soil scattered between the banana shoots. You crouch behind one. This is your favourite hiding place but you get tired of hiding without being found so you make your way back to the noisy compound. You let the children touch your dress and wear your sandals.

Then they teach you their game of catching stones; you throw a stone with one hand in the air and pick up another with the other hand. You keep playing until grandpa puts down the calabash of tonto and gets off the folding wooden chair. He says sleep well to the adults although the orange colour of the sun is still in the sky.

“It’s time to go home, Pati.”

“But it’s still early Grandpa! One more time, just one more time! Please?”

“This child of mine thinks this is the city where lights shine like the sun even in the night. Pati, this is Lyakanshunsha where we go to sleep when the sun goes to sleep.”


That night when you sleep, you find yourself in your favourite hiding place in Bwengye’s plantation. You hope this time your friends will find you because if they don’t, the red mound of soil will sink and gape and gape until it swallows you. You try to stand but a heavy weight like a huge bundle of firewood sits across your shoulders. You try to scream but the red soil fills your mouth and you see that you’re already inside its gaping mouth in the ground.

It’s dark like the night until you see small balls of light. You run towards them and as you get closer they widen into two solid human shapes. One has breasts and the other has a flat chest. They are beautiful and clean and you want to ask them how they remain clean and untouched by the red soil. You pull at the woman but she shakes a fleshless finger at you,

“You think I would leave my babies in this cold desolate place and go back with you? I wouldn’t! I’d rather die for the tenth time than leave them all alone.”

She points to a place at her feet and even before you look you know it will be the two babies that the kite carried away, “I tried to shoot the kite but it scratched me. Where were you when it was taking them? I looked for you! Everywhere! I looked for you!”

“I was dead! I was already dead,” her voice is quiet, like the rain falling on a dead morning.”

“What about him? Their father! He should have protected them”, you turn to where you last saw him standing but there’s only darkness.

“Do you see him there now? He came before me”, she adds like she is used to saying it. “You should leave our home now, your mother will not like it if she finds that you have left your Shwenkuru’s house.”

“Then why did she leave me all alone here? It’s not a good place for a child, is it?”

“It’s not so bad, but she left you now so that she could be with you longer, so go back to her parents.”

“But they are not my parents!” You move your shoulders up and down to show you are going nowhere.

But then you blink and find yourself in the banana plantation with its mounds of red soil. There is a cross made of sticks on each mound. You wonder why you never saw the crosses before, and why you’re sure you shouldn’t be there.

You break into a run. You’re about to reach the house when something holds both your legs and you crash into the wet soil and crushed weeds. Whatever is holding you has hairy fingers and they are moving up your legs. In moments you’re on your back, lifting your head to see what’s wrapped around your legs. There are just pumpkin vines so you relax, you must have stepped into their thick foliage.

But then when they wind up to your knees you realise they are determined to eat you up. You kick and thrash with all your might. As your hands work to disentangle you from their hold you feel the sting of the hairy vines burn your fingers. But you don’t stop until the last one is lying at your feet, broken and lifeless. You run again but soon your chest burns and your legs get heavier with each step. You’re about to fall when the houses come into view.

In the near dawn light you recognize Bwengye’s compound. You’re at one corner of the kitchen. There’s no one outside, you hurry to the main house but stop when the wooden door flies off its hinges and Bwengye rushes out dragging his wife Gaude by one arm. He is shouting at her,
“What sort of woman are you? Clearly not mine! No woman of mine spends the night out of my house. Karanzi meeting! Praying the whole night! What sort of god doesn’t know you have a husband? Meeting indeed! Do you people meet at the meeting of your thighs? Is that it? Is that why you go there every night? Since you spent there the whole night you might as well go back! Have you forgotten about the graves in our backyard? And all these orphans your children left behind? I should have known you and your children were cursed. Cursed to think about nothing but the fire in your groins!”

Then he is punching her face and she’s bleeding from her mouth and nose. You wonder why she doesn’t make a sound.

You shout but it’s like you’re yawning with so much energy. You know this is not something you should be seeing. Grandpa couldn’t have left you here. You took a walk with him and stopped at Bwengye’s and he sat on the folding chair and he drank from the calabash and you played hide-and-seek and then the game of stones with your friends. You let them touch your pretty skirt and wear your sandals. Where are your friends? Why are they not helping their grandmother? And what is Bwengye talking about? You know if someone doesn’t stop him he will kill her.

So you run to the direction of Grandpa’s house. Soon you’re on the path that cuts through the coffee plantation and you can see the white sand walls of the main house. You’re about to reach when a pumpkin vine begins growing across the path. It’s a strange sight because even if plants grow, no one ever sees them grow. Until then you had imagined that plants grow in the night and the next day they have added a leaf, a flower, or a fruit but it’s not something you had expected to see with your own eyes.

As you watch, the vine grows and grows and before long, its dark green, white-haired leaves are as wide as saucers and they have covered the entire place around you. You know when you lift your foot they will not let you and indeed, they hold on to you and grow up your legs, stomach, and chest. They tickle your racing heart and stop at your throat as if they are considering letting you go. The last thing you remember before passing out is the end of the vine growing into the forked tongue of a snake and you know they had a plan all along. The big big snake and the pumpkin vines in the place where pumpkin leaves dwell knew they would just come and swallow you anytime they wished, and they had decided that that time had come.


When you wake up Kaaka is looking at you. She smiles and shouts over her shoulder, “She’s awake!”

There’s a wet cloth on your forehead and you’re in her bedroom. When Grandpa reaches your bed you pull at his arm.

“The snake and the pumpkin vines want to swallow me, they want me. You have to stop them, cut them with the panga.”

“You’re sick Pati, it was just a bad dream, and you have malaria. The nurse said the medicine would do that.”

You sit up in the bed and look at your grandparents.

“Really? What about her?”

“Her who?”

“Gaude! Bwengye was going to kill her.”

“What!”

“I was coming to find you when the pumpkin vines and snake found me. I tried to stop him but he couldn’t hear me, and I was scared he would kill her, then beat me up as well.”

Kaaka and Grandpa say nothing, they just look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

“I saw him! And Grandpa, why didn’t you tell me those were graves in that banana plantation? I found their parents there.”

“Whaaat!”

“My friends at Bwengye’s house, their parents were in the grave with their twin brothers. They were the same heaps of red soil like the ones in their plantation, except they had crosses on them.”

“Child, you’ve been asleep for two days, it’s all the dreams confusing you. Maybe I can bring some food?” Kaaka asks as she gets up.

You nod even though you don’t want to eat. Grandpa follows her.

You follow them when you start thinking about all that you saw. You’re about to enter the kitchen but stop by its half open door. Kaaka’s voice is a loud shaky whisper, “How can she know about that? All those things happened before she was born! She never knew Gaude, and true, Bwengye hated her faith and used to beat her up! That family went to the dogs when all their children began dying and leaving them orphans to raise. But how can she know all that when she wasn’t even born yet?”

You turn and go back to the bedroom. When they bring the food you refuse to eat. You tell them you’ll eat when your Mummy comes to take you home.


Lillian Akampuria Aujo is a Ugandan writer. She’s is a lover of words, and she hopes to move the world with them. Her stories have appeared in Suubi, an online magazine by the African Writers’ Trust, and ‘A memory this Size’ The Caine Prize anthology 2013. Her poems have appeared online in ‘The Revelator’, and Bakwa Magazine. Her poem ‘Soft Tonight’ won The BN Poetry Award in 2009. She is a member of FEMRITE, and some of her work appears there as well.