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.
Tope Folarin (Nigeria)
For ‘Genesis’ published in Callaloo (Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 2014). Tope Folarin won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013, and in 2014 he was named in theAfrica39 list of the most promising African writers under 39. In addition, his work has been published in various anthologies and journals. He lives in Washington DC.
She told me I could serve her in heaven.
She accompanied me to school each day. School was about a mile away, and a few hundred feet into my trek, just as my family’s apartment building drifted out of view behind me, she would appear at my side.
I don’t remember how she looked. Memory often summons a generic figure in her place: an elderly white woman with frizzled grey hair, slightly bent over, a smile featuring an assortment of gaps and silver linings. I do remember her touch however – it felt cool and papery, disarmingly comfortable on the hottest days of fall. She would often pat my head as we walked together, and a penetrating silence would cancel the morning sounds around us. I felt comfortable, protected somehow, in her presence. She never walked all the way to school with me, but her parting words were always the same:
‘Remember, if you are a good boy here on earth, you can serve me in heaven.’
I was five years old. Her words sounded magical to me. Vast and alluring. I didn’t know her, I barely knew her name, but the offer she held out to me each morning seemed far too generous to dismiss lightly. In class I would think about what servitude in heaven would be like. I imagined myself carrying buckets of water for her on streets of gold, rubbing her feet as angels sang praises in the background. I imagined that I’d have my own heavenly shack. I’d have time to do my own personal heavenly things as well.
How else would I get to heaven?
One day I told my father about her offer. We were talking about heaven, a favourite subject of his, and I mentioned that I already had a place there. ‘I’ve already found someone to serve,’ I said.
‘What do you mean?’
Dad smiled warmly at me. I felt his love. I repeated myself: ‘Daddy, I’m going to heaven.’
‘And how are you going to get there?’
I told him about the old lady, my heavenly shack, the streets of gold. My father stared at me a moment, grief and sadness surging briefly to the surface of his face. And then anger. He leaned forward, stared into my eyes.
‘Listen to me now. The only person you will serve in heaven is God. You will serve no one else.’
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