The Caine Prize for African Writing is a registered charity whose aim is to bring African writing to a wider audience using it’s annual literary award. In addition to administering the Prize, it works to connect readers with African writers through a series of public events, as well as helping emerging writers in Africa to enter the world of mainstream publishing through the annual Caine Prize writers’ workshop which takes place in a different African country each year.
Ahead of the upcoming events surrounding the Caine Prize and those shortlisted for the event, WOA have featured excerpts from the five shortlisted authors of 2016, showcasing their talent and literary flair.
Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe)
For ‘At your Requiem’ published in Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You(Burnet Media, South Africa, 2015). Bongani Kona is a freelance writer and contributing editor ofChimurenga. His writing has appeared in Mail & Guardian, Rolling Stone (South Africa), Sunday Timesand other publications and websites. He is also enrolled as a Masters student in the Creative Writing department at the University of Cape Town.
From ‘At your requiem’
Where does it begin, the story of how you came to lie here in your dark blue suit?
Everyone thought we were twins. Your mother dressed us in matching clothes. The only difference is mine were red and yours were blue. We had the same broad shoulders and we looked alike; down to our jaw lines and dark brown eyes. ‘No, we’re just cousins,’ you’d have to explain. Once, you said to Miss Saunders, the Sunday school teacher at Heathfield Christian Church, ‘He’s not my twin. Christopher’s mother is dead. Aunt Julia is my mother.’
I’m at your requiem, and your rebuttal – ‘Aunt Julia is my mother’ – burns through my mind. The story of what happened between us – you, Aunt Julia and me – at the house on St Patrick’s Road, stuck to everything in our lives like shattered glass. Now that you’re dead, I’m the only one left with all these unspeakable things. Broken bits of the past, jagged pieces biting into me.
I rewind time to conjure you back to life.
The paramedics open the doors of the ambulance and wheel you out on a stretcher, your body covered in a white sheet. They walk you back to the jacaranda tree where we found you; your feet a metre off the ground. They leave your body dangling in the restless wind and drive out of New Haven Drug & Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre. Tears dry from our eyes as we file back to our beds and our sobs and screams suck back into our bodies.
Your vertebra snaps back into position and life returns, flooding back into your arteries. You open your eyes and reach for the knot around your neck and untie it. You climb down and make your way to the blue house. You enter through the kitchen and place the nylon rope where you found it in the first place, in the garage, next to the pile of old magazines.
The hours pass and the purple, ochre and orange hues of daybreak darken into night. I loosen the grip of my arm around your neck. And the sound of my careless words – ‘You’ve always been a weak son-of-a- bitch, a mommy’s boy, Abraham! I don’t fucking care if you go and kill yourself’ – fade, like a fog scorched by the heat of the sun.
And there you stand, whole, restored.
I’m sitting at the Methodist Church in Green Market Square with your sponsor, Dirk, and the rest of the folks from New Haven. You’d been clean for thirteen months in the picture they have of you up there.
It’s the one of you standing at the pier in Kalk Bay. The sky is clear and blue and seagulls fly overhead. That was four years ago.
Our faces still looked similar except for the scar above my left eye. Do you remember how that happened? We were seven that year and Miss Saunders had given me a prize, a set of watercolours and crayons, for reciting the beatitudes correctly. I still remember saying the words. ‘Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.’
At the end of the service Aunt Julia walked around with me, my hand nestled in hers, like a small bird. ‘Look at what this clever son of mine did! Show them you prize, Christopher,’ she said as we threaded through the congregation. You followed behind us, silent, a mistreated dog being yanked on a leash.
We drove back to the house on St Patrick’s with me riding shotgun in the front of Aunt Julia’s Mercedes. ‘Abraham,’ she said looking back, ‘you should be more like Christopher instead of watching those silly cartoons the whole day.’ You said nothing. Aunt Julia rubbed her hand on my thigh and let it linger, until its warmth started to burn. When we got home she kissed me on the lips before we went out back to play.
You picked up a sharp jagged stone from the ground and turned to me and said, ‘I have an idea. Let’s play a game we’ve never played before.’
‘What kind of game?’ I asked.
‘You go stand over there.’ You pointed to the mango tree overlooking the vegetable garden. It was early summer and the garden shone a bright green. ‘I’ll throw the stone like they do in American football. You catch it and then throw it back?’
There was something in the tone of your voice that I couldn’t quite register.
‘Stupid game,’ I said, but you threw the stone anyway.
I remember vignettes of what happened after you give me the instructions. The jagged stone zigzagging towards me at a terrifying speed. Blood everywhere: on my face, on my hands, on my clothes. I let out a scream and Aunt Julia comes running like a rhinoceros, her heavy feet pounding the dry grass. I hear shouting, sobs, before everything goes blank.
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