In my spare time I write short stories and am working on a novel. Please enjoy the following excerpts from unpublished works.
Big Heart Little
Jack finds the turtle shell on his grandparents’ farm outside of Harare. It is empty, sunbaked and dried out and sad in a way Jack doesn’t understand yet. He picks it up, tiny hands clasping the grooved surface, dirty white against dirty green, determined. His mind ticks over, cartoon-bright images flashing before his eyes. He does what every other six-year-old boy from Zimbabwe would do. His cousin helps strap it to his back, circling him with masking tape. Jack cuts his mother’s Christmas tablecloth into strips, ties those strips around his forehead, ankles and wrists, and tells everyone he knows (and some he doesn’t) that he is a teenage mutant ninja turtle.
Now all he needs is a knife.
Jack makes knives in his dad’s factory; long jagged pieces of steel torn from discarded sheet metal. He takes them to the workers who lay them on the bench, too high for him to see over. He drags a stool over and clambers up, tongue poking out in concentration. He watches the orange sparks skitter with the dust motes in the factory air; watches his knives against the grinder, sharpened by the workers who only sometimes let him use the machine himself.
Jack eats with the workers, small white hands mingling with large black ones in the bowl of sadza ne muriwo, rolling gloops between his fingers, slipping them into his mouth. His parents laugh at him, say he eats just like a moont, but Jack doesn’t care. He has never tasted anything more delicious.
Jack’s parents worry about their boy. They worry for his safety, because a friend of theirs has just been shot trying to pick her kids up from school. They worry because one of Jack’s friends found her dad’s gun, put it to her belly and pulled the trigger. They worry because blacks and whites are dying and there’s no food or petrol left and Jack won’t be a boy much longer and pretty soon he might have to use his toy knives for survival and his parents don’t think it will be enough against all this history and hate and corruption.
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‘Is that, um, appropriate? Or, you know, normal? I mean, what is usual?’
‘The, uh, normal order is spouse and any children, then siblings.’
‘But she was a sibling before she was a wife, and I think you need to put her sisters in first.’
Confused nodding all around the table. The funeral director nods as well. We are all nodding, even Rachel and I, huddled on our living room couch. We’re not speaking, trying to deal with the fact that Mum has died, and Aunt Sylvia, Mum’s unmarried sister, keeps calling to make sure she isn’t left out of the funeral announcement, and Aunty Pam has already taken her favourite teacup and wrapped it in a towel, ready to take home with her tonight.
Dad comes over to us, raising his eyebrows. ‘It is, quite literally, a storm in a teacup.’
I roll my eyes at Rach but she cracks a smile. I guess it’s nice to know that some things, like our dad’s corny jokes, can still make Rach laugh, even when everything around us is shifted and strange. Pam’s voice cuts through my thoughts.
‘What do you think, Chris?’
They all turn to look at Dad. In the silence I look at the table. Spread out on the polished wood are several pictures of flower arrangements. Pam’s voice softens. ‘You should have the final say.’
Dad is exhausted, having stayed up all night at the hospital, holding Mum’s hand till the last breath. He looks how we all feel: like a wet towel tossed on the bathroom floor. His knuckles crack as he balls his hands into fists. Pam hurriedly continues.
‘I like the white. It’s elegant, and that was your Jen.’
Dad nods, agreeing. Uncle Pete seems relieved a decision has been made. The funeral director looks around the table. ‘So we’ll go with the white? A beautiful choice; it will look lovely on the teak.’
Rach makes a funny noise and exits the room, heading down the tiny hallway into the sunlit back room. I feel cold without her next to me and I follow her. I find her sitting on the comfy couch in the sun room, where we’ve taken countless naps on Sundays and after school before Mum and Dad got home from work. Her face is red and she’s scrunching up her eyes the way she always does when she doesn’t want to cry. She looks so little.
‘Cara, I can’t.’ Her words dissolve as she really starts to cry, unable to hold it in anymore. I fold my arms around her, big sister instincts kicking in.
‘I know, I know.’ I don’t know what I’m saying really; my mind is full of static. I close my eyes, wondering why I’m not crying, and if it’s a bad sign, and maybe I really am emotionally stunted like Mum says...Said. I just want to shut out the world but all I can hear are Rach’s gasping sobs and I realise my shoulder is damp from her tears. What would Mum do?
‘Come on,’ I tell Rach. ‘Let’s make them some tea.’
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We ride bikes over bridges. There are hundreds here, spread all over Osaka like some gigantic game of pick-up-sticks. We ride bikes because Alex isn’t allowed to drive or even get in a car for the next year. They ride bikes to work, riding straight on to the ferry then off again, then onto the train and off again, and I can't keep up. Alex and her friends laugh between themselves, calling out to one another, “The artist will not risk any harm, accidental or otherwise, to his or her body, while contracted to the company.” I don’t get the joke, the awkward younger sister playing catch-up tag-along with Alex and her friends. She explains over her shoulder.
“We’re not allowed, but when we’re drunk we take taxis, and one night Chantelle wouldn’t stop repeating our contract, over and over, and I guess-” she sees my face falling. It’s not that funny.
“You had to be there,” Alex finishes lamely and I nod, uncertain.
I’ve come here to help Alex, but she doesn’t want help. She wants to ignore it and I’m on ice around her, trying not to slip. So I nod and we ride, and there’s nothing between us but the wind in our hair and the whistling hum of bike wheels over bridges.
“Suit work is hard,” Alex tells me.
“Suit work?” I’m distracted by the night parade spinning past, screaming at me that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Normally, for my family, it would be, but since that phone call, the one that changed everything, Alex has been ignoring us. So now I’m here, watching the night parade and Alex is beside me because she has the day off and wants to talk about suit work which she's never done but her friends have. Suit work, when you have to dress up as Shrek or Bugs Bunny and spend hours standing around, every movement bigger than life, your face melting under the heat and the claustrophobic giant head over yours. Real important stuff.
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