They hugged and held on as if their hands were ropes that tied their two bodies together.

rope

I believed that Mama might have been able to persuade her to stay

“You are welcome, Mama,” Maisha said.

Mama’s face lit up with surprise; she was so used to being ignored. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Finally, she sobbed the words, “Asante, Maisha, asante for everything!” and bowed repeatedly, her hands held before her, as if in prayer. The women looked into each other’s eyes in a way I had never seen before. They hugged and held on as if their hands were ropes that tied their two bodies together. In spite of the cold, beads of sweat broke out on Mama’s forehead, and her fingers trembled as she helped Maisha undo her earrings and necklace. Mama gently laid her down.

I believed that Mama might have been able to persuade her to stay, but then Baba signaled to Mama to keep quiet so that he could be the negotiator.

“Our daughter,” Baba said, “you need to rest and think carefully. As our people say, north ama south, east ama west, home is the best…”

“Maisha, no school for me!” I said. “I told Mama and Baba. They will return fee to you.”

“Jigana, please, please don’t argue,” Maisha said. Even you. You cannot even pity me this night? Just for a few hours?”


by Uwem Akpan (born 19 May 1971)
from Say You’re One of Them, 2009
An Ex-mas Feast
image – Môsieur J.

“Say You’re One of Them” is the newest Oprah’s Book Club selection

Maisha is twelve, helping to support her family through prostitution, about to leave home to be a full-time prostitute and live in a brothel. The rest of the family earns money by taking turns begging.

Maisha is Jigana’s oldest sister, his favorite sister. Jigana wants to go to school very, very much, but not as much as he wants his sister to stay out of the brothel.

Named the ”#1 Fiction Book of the Year” by Entertainment Weekly, “Say You’re One of Them,” is a collection of stories by newly discovered author Uwem Akpan. Two days ago it was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club Selection.

Though Uwem Akpan writes simply and beautifully, he is not easy reading. He writes about Africa, up close and uncomfortable, about terrible poverty, genocide and hunger, in ways that make me treasure feeling more than I did before I knew his stories. Oprah will have a good time with this one. It’s got legs.

You can find an audio recording of the story “An Ex-mas Feast,” at The Hachette Book Group site.

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