|Art by Setor Fiadzigbey|
“Baby Bones” by Eugene Odogwu (4026 words)
This is a story of regrets and fear, hauntings and revenge. The story follows an unnamed narrator as he seeks shelter from a sudden storm in an old abandoned building and finds much more than he bargained for. The story wraps itself around (for me, at least) the ways that men treat women, and the conflict that the main character feels for how he’s contributed to that in his own life, how he’s failed women in his own life, and how he sees himself reflected in the injustice and violence that he stumbles upon. The story is disturbing and intense, a piece of horror that brings in magic in the form of a spirit very much not at rest, trapped thanks to a wrong committed that has never been righted. The main character never means to become someone involved in this matter, but once he knows the full extent of it, once he’s made to feel what it’s like to happen, it’s something that comes to dominate and guide his life. I like the way the story doesn’t really make itself about him above what has happened, either above the harm he’s done or above the harm that he becomes aware of. He’s the main character of the story, but really for me the story is about him coming to not put himself first, to not center himself in these women’s stories. His mission is not exactly to avenge what has happens so much as to be a tool to help the wronged find justice with those who have wronged them. It’s not so much as him getting revenge for anyone else as helping someone who wants that help. It reflects the change he’s had within, to not run from harm or his own mistakes. He cannot fix everything on his own, but he can try to make amends for his past and seek to be an ally and a person with a cleaner conscience. It’s a story that captures a stunning horror and reveals the ugly wound that violence and injustice inflicts on the very fabric of reality. It’s a great read!
“Blood Ties” by Ronke Adeleke (2187 words)
This is a rather touching story about love and about life, about children and parents. The story builds up a setting where people’s lifespans are determined in large part by how many people bind themselves to the person when they are an infant. For the main character, the mother of a new daughter, it’s a system that she never really questioned or worried about until this birth, when her daughter, Nyanga, faces a short lifespan indeed when no one appears on the day of the ritual that will determine Nyanga’s life. The story is mostly about family and about expectations, about how women are expected to marry for bloodlines, for families, always thinking of the community that their children will be born into. The main character, however, has chosen love over more traditional prospects, and faces the early death of her child as a result. The story does a great job for me of showing the pressures of bringing up a child with all benefits, of trying to use a system that is obviously not based on regard but on an inequality of opportunity, where those with larger families can consolidate power based on their connections and can leverage those into yet more power. It’s a system that keeps those without many connection at a constant disadvantage, pushed to conform and reinforce the system that keeps some at the top and others with the fate of dying young. And the main character, for all she wants to be beyond such concerned, does feel the pressure through wanting the best of her child, being told that if her child dies it’s her fault instead of the fault of a corrupt system. And I like how the story addresses that, showing that there isn’t just one way to live or love. Family can mean more than bloodline, and support and help can come from love just as well as obligation, and it’s just a triumphant story that shows a fierce optimism in the face of possible tragedy. A fantastic read!
“My Brother’s Keeper” by Mico Pisanti (4925 words)
This is a story that deals with idea of difference and violence, religion and community and revenge. It features Godfrey, a young man and immigrant to South Africa dealing with anti-foreigner violence and the willful ignorance and avoidance of the police in addressing quickly escalating mob action. For Godfrey, the story begins as something more philosophical, the different between his mother and father religiously, as his mother’s Catholic congregation seems at the heart of a movement focusing a lot of the hatred at foreigners. When they’re targeted by a violent mob, the story turns to starkly personal, though, and Godfrey is brought into a conflict he wished to avoid, and has to begin to walk the lines of religion, faith, and magic. The side of the immigrants is made up of many different beliefs, but it’s the older ways that leap back to the front, one that seems to bring together all the traditions of these displaced people, hoping to make a home in a place where many don’t want them. The story uses strong Christian theme of brotherhood and I like how that is complicated and twisted. Because the immigrants all find a fraternity with each other, bound by the shared threat they face. But the story seeks to harmonize them with the very people whose violence has made these sides of us and them. In the threatened group, faith and beliefs blur and combine, but in the threatening group they are invisible and as such impossible to either embrace or assimilate. Instead it’s nationalism that seems to drive the mob, the desire to force out or destroy this perceived intrusion into their space. And I like how the story resolves this, facing the mob not solely with understanding, but with a reflection of their own hearts, the violence and danger and fear that has plagued this community of immigrants. And I like how Godfrey decides to embrace this reflection, not because it’s a happy turn of events, but because it shows the conflict and tension within this situation, that it is not compassion or understanding that stops the violence, but direct confrontation. And Godfrey, because of his position between idealogy and raw hurt, chooses to be a tool of that confrontation, leaving it to others to come up with the philosophical questions, but knowing that in order to save who he can, and avenge who he can, his path is not a peaceful one. And it makes for a fine read!
“Old Photograph” by Hannah Onoguwe (4569 words)
Here’s a rather fun story about parentage and curiosity, magic and danger. It finds Wakama, a young woman who wants to know more about her father. Who wants to know anything about her father. It’s something that her mother has always been quiet about, and Wakama always balks at pressing the matter because of how good her mother is at pushing aside such thoughts with guilt and power. And yet Wakama is motivated, knowing that there is a picture somewhere that has the image of her father. Having seen it once, she knows she has to find it, and one day while her mother is absent she does just that. And what follows is a strange but rather thrilling series of events that sees some of Wakama’s questions answered, while also creating a whole lot of new ones. The magic of the story is interesting and rather strange, and Wakama’s introduction to them is shocking if not completely unexpected. It’s a fantasy story, after all, and something has to be going on with that picture. The true nature of it, though, and the nature of her father, are much more surprising, and from there it’s an action-oriented struggle as Wakama is mostly a spectator in a battle over her very soul. The piece flows easily and moves powerfully. The confrontation between [SPOILERS] Wakama and her parents is the past returning, not so much for Wakama as her mother. This was a reckoning that came about by not answering questions, by not giving Wakama something to hold onto. The story might seem almost to lean toward condemning Wakama for pushing to know what happened, but I feel like it doesn’t ultimately condemn her for wanting to know and for prying into her mother’s past. There’s something else going on here, something magical and strange, and it’s something Wakama is going to have to face. It’s a story of unpleasant meetings and I like how it all plays out, the past only being able to be laid to rest once its been properly dredged up, allowing for a deeper understanding and connection between mother and daughter. An fine story!
“On The Other Side of the Sea” by Nerine Dorman (4689 words)
This is a wrenching story about loss and about change and about a pair of sisters trying to carry out the last wish of their mother. Much of the issue has centered the relationship between parents and children, and here that relationship is complicated in that Annetjie and Lindi’s mother is dead and yet also a presence in their lives, a weight they carry literally in the bag of her ashes they have and figuratively as they are chasing her last hope for them, that they reach the sea and find a boat to some place beyond, some place better. It’s a hope that the sisters cling to. Lindi, the younger of the two, serves as the viewpoint, and it’s through her eyes, more confused and vulnerable in the world, that we find out about the setting, one where the world has suffered a decline, where the girls used to have a better standard of living but things have gotten...really bad. There’s a war on, but never one that makes sense to Lindi. The conflict is very effectively filtered through her perspective, so that it seems more like a dark storm that has come through and destroyed everything. It’s not explained, not present in the aftermath of everything, in the danger that the sisters face as they try to make it to the sea. Alone, hungry, thirsty, and alone but for each other, they are used to finding hatred where they go. And yet this world is not one without a bit of kindness or beauty. It is one of harsh realities, though, and the story isn’t by any means a happy one. It paints a vivid picture of the grief and loss and numb apprehension of the world as it has become. Lindi, as the younger, is perhaps expected to be the more naive, but I like what the story does with that, allowing her to see things that her sister does not, or refuses to. Lindi is the more adaptable, willing to go where life seems best, not quite so paralyzed by the fear of the future. It shows the adaptability that people and especially children have, the ability to survive almost anything, but also explores the sadness that everything has come to this, that the dreams Lindi should be allowed to keep have to give way to the new status quo. A moving and wonderful story!
“The Name Giver” by Lillian Akampurira Aujo (3744 words)
This is a story about souls and about grief, about trying to save something. It’s also a story that takes an interesting look at religion and what happens to those souls of those who are never really born. For the main character, one such soul who was killed in the womb, what comes next is rather strange, a quasi-life as a breeze that sustains itself by eating prayers and who goes around trying to help other souls who find themselves lost after being flung from their bodies before birth. It’s certainly a loaded story in that, because it’s not only dealing with miscarriages but also abortions, and the heavy religious imagery makes for a story that I’m not sure I have enough experience to evaluate. But it’s an interesting piece that sees this soul trying to figure out the world around it, trying to do some good in the face of much hurt and pain, and in that it's a rather deep and fascinating tale of fear and fragility in the face of the vast unknown. The idea of souls is one that can certainly complicate deaths, and the way the story imagines the souls reacting to death before birth is interesting and rather disturbing. I like the idea of these souls eating not only prayers but music as well, and how it builds up this world of breezes that works into the old saying of “letting the breeze in” to refer to abortion. And I like that the souls here are dealing with the same hypocrisies that many deal with in life, trying to survive and find some meaning while plagued with hurt. I’m not sure I’m wholly comfortable with the implications of how I read the story, with how angry and vengeful the aborted souls were and how we never really got the same compassion for their parent as was shown for the other parents who lost pregnancies. But coming from the perspective of the lost souls that's rather understandable. It's a difficult and complicated story and I definitely recommend people check it out and see what they think.
“Undying Love” by Ekari Mbvundula (4898 words)
Aww. This story looks at love and possession as Tawene and her boyfriend Kaliwe deal with a monster bent on tearing them apart. The story moves with a great energy and an initial mystery—what could have caused Kaliwe to warn Tawene away from him? The answer, it turns out, is certainly not mundane. Magic and monstrosity mix as it seems at first like this mysterious malady might be successful it driving them apart. But where the story shines is in the relationship between Tawene and Kaliwe and just how good they are for each other, how pure their love is and how much they are willing to risk for each other. And really that’s the aspect of the story that I like the most, that the story just embraces that this love is greater than any threat, than any monster. And it does a good job of building up what this monster might be, and how it thrives. The story twists and turns nicely, giving Kaliwe a momentary respite from the darkness assailing him only to give him a much more human danger to deal with. The story really seems to be looking at how the people in your life really end up determining how you handle adversity and challenge. For Kaliwe, who not only has people who care about him but does his best to care about others, this challenge is one that he can fight back against, at least in part because he’s not alone. For people like Marcus, a right asshole the story introduces, things are...well, not so rosy. Instead of building others up, he lives to tear people down, and in doing so he hurts not just the people in his life, but himself as well. And for all his calm superiority, he proves himself to be a hollow shell, angry and alone and rather pathetic. By comparison, Kaliwe makes himself a positive influence in people’s lives, and tries even to reach out to those who hate him. It’s a story with a great action to it and it’s just so fun! Especially after some of the heavier stories this issue it’s a more straightforward story (though still complex enough to be engaging and inspiring) that shows love overcoming hate, even if there’s a cost involved. It’s a fantastic story and a great way to close out the issue!