Extract: “The Sack”: Namwali Serpell

I did not think I would walk again. These dreams give me strength. Not enough. I only got halfway to the kitchen, to the knives in the drawer. They wait like a flat bouquet: their thick wooden stems, their large silver petals. I will gather them up in my tired hands and I will hold them out to you. Naila. Look at you. There is a crack over your face because that bastard boy dropped the picture. But you are lovely in your green salwar kameez. Why do you look down? I never noticed before. Your eyelids are like smooth stones in this picture. I am a fool beside you. We reek of arrogance, all of us, J. with his Nehru shirt. How far he has fallen, sweeping and cooking for me like I’m a musungu. This picture must have been taken before the Kalingalinga rally, the one that led to the riot. Do you remember? We were so hopeful. So very young.

J. stood above the sleeping man. He watched him for a moment then slapped his hand against the wall to wake him. A gecko in the corner shimmied upwards, its eyes a black colon punched in its face. The man’s head fell forwards and he began coughing himself awake. When the phlegm had settled, he blinked.

Supper, J. said, placing a hand under the man’s armpit to help him up. The man swept his weight against J. like a curtain falling from its rails. J. guided him back towards the bedroom but the man raised his hand.

No. I’ll eat in there, he nodded his head at the kitchen door. J. shrugged and they proceeded slowly in the other direction. J. kicked the door to the kitchen open and as the isabi boy watched warily, he lowered the man into a chair by a small table.

Fish again? the man smiled at the boy.

J. placed a plate of food before the man and a bowl for the boy on the floor. The man stared at his plate. The fish was in pieces, its skin a crimped silver, its eye a button. When J. went to sit on the stoop, the man complained: Join me, he said.

Download and read the full story from the Caine Prize website. 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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