‘Adeptly crafted and beautifully observed’ Ian St James Awards
I’m working on a growing collection of pieces exploring the time my family spent in Nigeria when I was a child – and how that time influenced us. Here’s one:
Extract from Seed.
Nana’s house had a pimpled grey front and a fat green lawn. She always had the door open before you could knock.
But today Sarah’s mother opened it herself. Inside, leaflets and newspapers swam on the doormat.
‘Where’s Nana?’ asked Sarah.
Her father steered her mother upstairs. Sarah stayed in the hall, the suitcases flanking her like obedient dogs.
They’d left home in the dark. On the way to the airport the aloe bushes had made white fires in the car headlights. Sarah had worried about the suddenness of their departure.
‘Sometimes I think those servants are the only thing you care about,’ her mother had said.
The stairs squeaked as her father came down and sat on the bottom step.
‘Where’s Nana?’ asked Sarah again.
‘Asleep.’ There was a red curtain in his left eye.
‘Not here. She’s gone away.’
‘But why? Didn’t she want to see us first?’
‘Of course she did.’ He sounded annoyed. ‘But she’d come to the end of her time.’
‘Has she gone to the waters under the earth?’
He shook his head and stood up. His eye was a demon’s eye.
Sarah ran to Nana’s back room. The table was still there, where Nana shelled peas, read the paper and wrote her letters about trips to Woolworth’s. Sarah crawled under the fringe of the green tablecloth. She hugged a leg, pressed herself to its curves.
When she woke, it was dark and no-one had ordered her out and said only babies sat under tables. Her father was in Nana’s chair, his head on a green wing. The fire ticked. On the mantelpiece the clock balls revolved, oilily.
‘Are you allowed to sit in that chair?’ said Sarah.
‘Uh?’ said her father, opening his eyes.
‘Don’t you even know where she is?’ asked Sarah.
‘ Christ. Look, you won’t be seeing Nana again. That’s all you need to know.’
He ran his hand over his head. ‘Though when I say you won’t, you will. She’s coming home tomorrow. So your mother can say goodbye and the neighbours pay their respects.’
‘But it won’t be her,’ he added. ‘I mean, it will but it won’t. You do understand, don’t you?’
Sarah nodded. But it was obvious he was the one who didn’t understand.
‘Is she having a procession?’ Perhaps he at least knew that.
She sighed. In Africa, even monkeys had processions.
The servants’ monkey had lived on a long chain. When it died, it was laid quickly in a Dunlop shoebox before more insects came. The cook put twigs on top. They were from the sesame tree and full of seeds. ‘When willi-willi look for monkey spirit, him find only seed,’ he said. ‘Him sit all night for to count. Monkey spirit is save for Papa God.’ The cook held Sarah’s hand and they walked up and down the compound three times, another decoy, before burying the box…
Read the full piece in Ambit Magazine, Issue 222.
And now for something completely different. The Therapist was inspired by my visits to an Alexander Technique teacher who practiced from someone else’s house.
Once, when she was running late, the couple who owned the house kindly let me sit in their front room for ten minutes. Naturally, it was full of their personal things. The situation was poignant and made me wonder what it was like to have a steady stream of strangers going up and down your stairs every Wednesday.
I added a couple of what-ifs. What if the owner of the house was someone living on her own after a bereavement? What if the person renting the room was a male psychotherapist? What would seep down from the spare room and how would it affect her?
Find out by clicking the ‘play’ button below…
Buy the book on Amazon and read other stories by me, Polly Wright, Sidura Ludwig and Myra Connell.