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.
Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria)
For ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’ published in Catapult (Catapult, USA, 2015). Lesley Nneka Arimah is a Nigerian writer living in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s and other publications. When she isn’t spreading peace and joy on Twitter, Arimah is at work on a collection of short stories (What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky) forthcoming in 2017 from Riverhead Books. There are rumours about a novel.
From “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky”
She checked the stalls to make sure she was alone and bent forward to take deep breaths. She rarely worked with refugees, true refugees, for this reason. The complexity of their suffering always took something from her. The only time she’d felt anything as strongly was after her mother had passed and her father was in full lament, listing to the side of ruin. How could Nneoma tell him that she couldn’t even look at him without being broken by it? He would never understand. The day she’d tried to work on him, to eat her father’s grief, she finally understood why it was forbidden to work on close family members. Their grief was your own and you could never get out of your head long enough to calculate it. The attempt had ended with them both sobbing, holding each other in comfort and worry, till her father had gotten so angry at the futility of it, the uselessness of her talents this one particular moment and had said words he could not take back.
The bathroom door creaked open. Nneoma knew who it was. The girl couldn’t help but to seek her out. They stared at each other a while, the girl uncertain, till Nneoma held out her arms and the girl walked into them. Nneoma saw the sadness in her eyes and began to plot the results of it on an axis. At one point the girl’s mother shredded by gunfire. Her brother taken in the night by a gang of thugs. Her father falling to the synthesized virus that attacked all the melanin in his skin till his body was an open sore. And other smaller hurts, hunger so deep she’d swallowed fistfuls of mud. Hiding from the men who’d turned on her after her father died.
Sneaking into her old neighbourhood to see the crisp new houses filled with the more fortunate of the French evacuees, those who hadn’t been left behind to drown, and their children chased her away with rocks like she was a dog. Nneoma looked at every last suffering, traced the edges, weighed the mass. And then she took it.
No one had really been able to explain what happened then, why one person could take another person’s grief. Mathematical theories abounded based on how humans were, in the plainest sense, a bulk of atoms held together by positives and negatives, an equation all their own, a type of cellular math. A theologian might call it a miracle, a kiss of grace from God’s own mouth. Philosophers opined that it was actually the patient who gave up their sadness. But in that room it simply meant that a girl had an unbearable burden and then she did not.
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