Fiction, poetry, writing
A House with No Angels
I am precisely where I should be; half way round the lake at Chorlton Water Park. It’s what I do on Monday afternoons. I finish work at two-thirty; have a late lunch in my car and then walk. I look at the trees, even when they’re bare like today. I listen to the birds, sit on this bench and watch the ducks. Sometimes there’s a heron. It stands on the left side of the lake. It isn’t here today. I can hear a magpie behind me, but if I don’t turn around I won’t see it and it won’t be bad luck.
Dad used to take me to the park when I was small. If he was around that was.
We would always end up sitting next to the lake. In Alex Park. It wasn’t a wild lake like
this one, though. A few orderly ducks and swans. Pigeons picking around the benches. Sometimes dad pretended there was a ship for us to get on. Sometimes he sat quietly.
And then my phone is ringing. It isn’t supposed to. Well, obviously, that’s what phones do, but Monday afternoons? No. That’s my time. It’s Kutes, and she isn’t saying very much, just that Tola’s crying and I’d better go home and see what’s wrong with him. As usual, she doesn’t say his name. She says ‘your brother’.
I don’t want to go home. I have things to think about. Kutes is one of them. I need a strategy, apparently. To negotiate the teenage hormones and create balance. Bollocks. I need to get away from her. It’s too bloody stressful. How am I supposed to control a seventeen year old who happens to be stunning and knows it and has worked out that guys will do anything she asks? I didn’t bring her up like that. Maybe Dia’s right and she’s searching for her father figure. Maybe that’s why she’s seeing that old man, who is twice her age and looks it and is controlling and old, did I list old? For fuck’s sake. Breathe. She’ll grow out of it. As long as she doesn’t get knocked up.
jeez me mum never stops moan moan moan she needs to get a grip at least I rang her whats her problem anyways bout hope im gonna get changed whats wrong wiv these jeans an I have to wear me vest top cos ive gotta put me work tshirt on over it an there aint no way that skanky tops touchin me skin its gross an anyways she looks a right mess them jeans were in fashion mebbe 60 years ago an that hippy top all floaty an loose like yeah man an it aint like shes fat or summat so theres no need to wear baggy shit an I don’t know why she scrapes her hair back like shes some kind of chav why dunt she put the friggin straightners on it an make herself look nice an she stands there with them goggle eyes like I just sicked up on the floor she needs to deal wiv her random brother innit instead of goin on at me for nothing she gets on me tits least I was doin me homework so what if I was watchin tele I swear down I cant wait to move to me nans house so I dont have to see her everyday
So, my husband has gone. Before I lifted the telephone to my ear and before Funmi greeted me I sensed that something had happened. I do not know how many hours I have been sitting in this chair but my body is stiff. My room looks strange to me as though I have just entered somewhere I do not know. Peter is dead. He is gone. If it had not been for that man, Sha! But what am I saying? Did he force me to come to this place?
The journey-o! How I survived it I do not know. When we arrived in Lagos port I thought I would pass out. The smell-o! Aiy-aiy-aiy! The ship was so large. I had never seen anything so big in my life. But of course I was young and excited. I was more concerned with looking over my shoulder to make sure that I had not been followed. I do not think I shed one tear at the thought of leaving my home.
It was not as difficult as we thought it would be for me to slip into Peter’s car at the edge of the village. When Funmi and I reach the Iroko tree, the women’s tree, I look up. It is as though the moon is impaled on its highest branch. Earlier the children were playing, as they do at full moon, drawing around each other with chalk to create moon-babies that litter the floor. I grip Funmi’s hand, suddenly frightened.
‘What if he does not turn up-o? What will I do? I will die.’
‘Sistah, I beg-o, you do not need to do this. It will be well. Mama will understand.’
‘But Funmi, I love him. Can you not be happy for me?’
I try to let go of her hand, but she grips me tight. The air is still, thick. The scent of evening rides on top of it. Saturating my senses. Pepper soup is mixed with charcoal and the village latrines. The river is glinting as the moon whispers its secrets in a thousand voices to its ebb and flow.
Funmi begins to cry, quietly. We hear the thrum-thrum of the car’s engine as it loops around the village. My heart leaps and my insides tighten and I know I am doing the right thing. The headlights create shadows of us that reach up into the branches. Stretching for the moon. We hide behind the tree. Just in case. Just in case it is somebody else. Just in case it is my papa returning. Peter pulls up right beside us, drives over the thick, knobbled roots.
This is an extract from a short story that was published in Migration Stories (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Migration-Stories/dp/0946745234)
Issy stood with her head bowed and waited. She could sense the shift in the audience as the tension stretched its way across the seats. There was a rustling at the side of the stage. The last drummer took his place. But she could only think about one thing as she stood in the thick stage air.
The first beat of the drum vibrated through the floor and up her slim legs to fill her chest, she turned her head to the left and the right and saw the pity in the other dancer’s eyes. They were all thinking the same thing. She knew it. She knew that even as they pitied her, they were relieved it wasn’t happening to them. They belonged.
Each time she lifted her head she had to close her eyes as the lights glared deep into them. She wasn’t standing in a good place. She wondered if this is how the sun would be when she got off the plane. Would she stand there blinded before hands pulled her away and maybe even handcuffed her? Thumping the rhythm on the boards, she circled with the others. Today she was free. But tomorrow.
They’d been practicing this dance for nearly a year. An international dance-off that was being done by some uplink video thing, Issy couldn’t remember the technical stuff. If they won, it would mean that they could turn professional. She could turn professional. They wouldn’t be able to send her back then. She was dancing in a British dance group, British. Issy would have preferred to do street dance, but someone had come up with the idea that the different countries should swap dances with each other. It was dumb. They’d been emailing each other to create a sense of cohesion. Whatever.
As she shimmied around the stage with the others, Issy thought about the story behind their dance. It was to do with poor villagers and no food or something like that. And how they’d sent their virgins out to plead with the gods. Like there’d be many of them hanging around waiting to do a dance. Issy’s heart beat faster as she thought about the two solos she had to do. What if she messed up? What if the gods weren’t pleased? She had to do it right. They all had to do it right, they had to win. Issy had to win.
This is a short story written for reading out at Whitworth Art Gallery
A Love Story
Yetunde was a mountain girl. She knew this even though she had never been to the mountains. She knew this because in her magazine there was a picture of lush green mountains that stretched up from a river that ran white and frothy, and met a sky that was as sharp blue as her mama’s favourite wrapper. And in the slanting square pieces of land clouds with legs and faces sat in the grass.
‘Yetunde, where are you now?’
Pushing her precious magazine into the folds of her clothes that were neatly stacked on the chair she hurried outside. Grandmother was sat on her stool under the mango tree, legs splayed wide and her wrapper bunched in between them. She was fanning herself with an old plastic fan that had parts missing so that as it wafted it in front of her face, Yetunde saw her in slices.
‘Go to the river child, the men are returning. Take this few kobble and see what you can find.’
Yetunde’s heart jumped around in her chest like a cricket in the long grass. Running through the compound gates she stopped behind the high walls and smoothed down her crumpled skirt and blouse. Feeling around her head she made sure all her plaits were neat and tucked under the hair behind her left ear that she always twisted out of place. Loosening her skirt, she tightened it around her small waist and made sure it hugged her frame, pulling her shirt tight across her chest she tucked it in and thought about opening a button but decided against it.
The sun had not yet started its quick descent as she neared the river and slowed to a casual pace. She scanned the bank that was dotted with boats and women and children shouting and chattering. Bending down she wiped the red dust from between her toes and ran her hands down her body once more before sashaying towards a small boat that was apart from the others.
Beyond, the river was so wide it looked like an ocean and Yetunde thought about the large cruise ships, for people who didn’t do cruises, that she had seen in her magazine. She imagined that there was one just off shore with lights blazing and music blaring and passengers dancing the night away.
‘Ah, little sister, is it you?’
Steven stood beside his boat with his hands on his hips, his body bare except for the raggedy trousers held up by a piece of rope. Yetunde became suddenly shy and forgot to do her best pose, the model one with high heels and a low cut top.
‘Did the lizard take your tongue-o?’
Flicking up her head Yetunde gave him her best camera smile before sticking her tongue out and giggling. This Steven!
‘Grandmother sent me to see if you have anything.’
‘For big mother I always have something. See this cloth, it is very fine. Made for weddings.’
Stepping closer Yetunde touched the gold lace. The sun was bouncing off the material and reflecting its pattern onto Steven’s bare chest. As he pushed it into her arms he took hold of her fingers and looked into her face. Yetunde stood still and could hardly breathe.
‘So are you ready to marry me yet?’
Yetunde threw her head back and laughed. ‘ But Steven, how can that be so. Don’t you know I am a mountain girl and you are a river boy.’
Turning she flung her hips from side to side as she walked away. Holding the material close she was wrapped in it and her high-heeled shoes tapped out a rhythm as she walked into the high ceilinged ballroom in her country manor. The man waiting for her was tall and handsome and wearing a tuxedo. He looked just like Steven.