The Folded Leaf: Segun Afolabi

 And we’re off, Bola with an arm around me, half-running to keep up with Tunde and Mrs Kekere. Is Tunde carrying her? Perhaps someone from the congregation is helping. I miss my step and stumble. I cannot find my balance at this speed. Bola props me up, holds me tighter. ‘Sorry, Bunmi.’

Bola is so lean against me, perhaps I should be offering the support. I hadn’t realised how thin he has become. It makes me wonder if he is eating properly, whether the hours of football are taking their toll.

‘Follow those people!’ a woman says behind me and I’m aware we are part of a mass headed for the same place. It gives me hope, this communion, this flock of kindred souls. I no longer care that I’m sweating, that I’m stumbling like a drunk. I am only in love with love, with the thought that love is on the stage and, when I reach it, when I touch it, I will be made whole.

‘An old woman is dancing on stage!’ Bola cries. ‘She just threw her cane down! Bunmi, she’s really dancing!’

‘Bola, hurry.’ I have never heard him so engaged. ‘Let Sam and Mrs Kekere dance too. And Tunde, let his heart be healed. And that boy with no legs, we will pray for him.’

‘We will all see healing tonight,’ Bola says, half -dragging, half-carrying me now.

‘Are we there, Papa?’

‘Not far, Bunmi. You will see each of us tonight, He has ordained it. He is watching over us today today. You will see the green leaves and the white clouds and your Mama’s face.’ His voice begins to break, from the strain of the day, from pushing Sam, from pushing all of us to flourish.

‘Mr Man!’ That can only be Mrs Kekere. ‘Mr Man, move away! Cannot you see you are standing in the road?’

‘Wait, Bunmi,’ Bola says. ‘Slow down.’

‘Let us pass!’ This is Papa.

‘Commot for road!’ Tunde says.

‘Who and who is going where with this wheelchair?’ It’s a man’s voice. Calm, but firm.

‘What are you talking?’ Mrs Kekere says. ‘I beg, let us pass, joh.’

‘Have you received healing?’ another man says.

‘Who are those people?’ I ask.

‘They’re wearing suits,’ Bola says.

Have we received healing? Are we not all waiting to be healed? Have we not driven all this way to be renewed, touched, reborn?

‘Brother, what do you mean?’ Papa has a smile in his voice, as if he understands that the men have made an error which they will no doubt soon correct. ‘We are going up there, for the healing, don’t you know?’

‘Better sit down,’ one of the men says. ‘No obstruction or wheelchair. Pastor Fayemi can reach you wherever you are. Please, move back so these people can pass.’

‘Move, joh,’ someone says behind me.

‘No, no — you don’t understand,’ Papa says. ‘We have been travelling all day, you see. Here is my daughter, Bunmi. She must meet Pastor Fayemi. My son Bola, Mrs Kekere, Sam — ’

‘What is this?’ A new voice. Movement, a brisk kerfuffle, som eone drawing close to Papa.

‘Reinforcements,’ Bola says.

‘Move from the road, my friend,’ the new voice says. ‘Who asked you to move from your seat?’

‘But — ’ Papa says.

‘You sit down now. All of you.’ The man speaks so quietly, his words can only be meant for Papa, but I hear them too. It does not sound like a request. His voice has the timbre of someone who could knock Tunde to the other side of the arena.

‘Oh, okay.’ Papa gives a half -hearted chuckle, but I hear anxiety and capitulation in his voice, as if an invisible hand has reached down and folded him in half, and half again, like a leaf or a scrap of paper.

‘Bola, you go,’ Papa says. ‘You run and don’t look back.’

‘But Bunmi — ’

‘Just go, I said. You pray for your sister. You pray for all of us. Go now.’

Download and read the full story here. The 2015 Caine Prize winner will be announced in July, and all the shortlisted  stories will be published along with other 2015 Workshop stories by New Internationalist in July – the collection will be called “Lusaka Punk and Other Stories”.

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