For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 43: August 19, 2013

Spotlight: Luís Bernardo Honwana

Even a poor man has to have something. Even if it is only a hope! Even if it's a false hope!

From the story ‘Papa, snake & I’

A sampling of the only story collection, of seven, by one of Mozambique's greats.

Eduardo Halfon on the importance of distance in one's writing at Guernica:

Fiction needs time. It needs to settle. It needs to be ready. It’s not an immediate genre. You can’t rush a story. It took me years to write my grandfather’s story, years to write those ten pages about my grandfather and a Polish boxer. And not because I wasn’t trying. I kept making attempts to put his story on paper. But I couldn’t figure out how, couldn’t find the angle, couldn’t find the voice or the tone. The story wouldn’t let me in—it wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t ready. Until I realized that it wasn’t really a grandfather’s story that I wanted to tell: it was the story of a grandson as he receives his grandfather’s legacy, his family story.

Our recommendations this week

My Mother and the Stranger

Shortly after the abrupt and unceremonious departure of my father, who also happened to be her husband of ten years, my mother abandoned the name Sayrafiezadeh and returned to her maiden name of Harris. “He gave me twenty-four hours notice,” my mother has told me dramatically more than once. And I imagine the scene unfolding in the perfunctory way it does when one is laid off, effective immediately, and escorted from the building. My mother’s return to Harris was a way to be away from Sayrafiezadeh, it was a way to divorce herself from my father who would not legally divorce himself from my mother for twenty more years, that is until he was ready to remarry again, and his legal status in the United States was no longer in jeopardy. But my mother’s return to Harris not only succeeded in divorcing herself from her ex-husband but also of divorcing herself from her present-son. Written on the mailbox in the lobby of our apartment building was “Harris/Sayrafiezadeh,” as if roommates resided there, or an unmarried couple, or a progressive married couple, a progressive married interracial couple at that.

“Supper is almost ready,” my mother calls to me twenty-nine years ago when this story begins. Together we are alone in our apartment. I am playing on the floor in the living room, while my mother is busying herself in the kitchen. I place this colored wooden block on top of that colored wooden block. Silence surrounds me, interrupted only by the faint clink-clank of my mother’s dishes in the sink. It is that time of night in New York City when everything seems to fall silent and still. And on the sixteenth floor of the apartment building we live in, everything is even more silent and more still, the sounds from the street falling short of us. And it is also at this time of night, for reasons unbeknownst to the scientists, that strangers choose to enter people’s homes unannounced and do evil things. It is during this pre-supper séance then that the stranger, who has decided against being detected in the elevator and has climbed sixteen flights, enters our apartment and silently, stealthily, creeps, quietly, whisperly behind my mother and waits. His presence my mother and I are unaware of.

We read it in Open City: 17.

Modern Girls

‘Is Atinuke Oyewole here?’ Mrs Allardyce hadn’t been back to Scotland for thirty years, but she was no better at pronouncing Yoruba names than when she’d first arrived in Africa. Tinu raised her hand. She was one of the richest girls in school: her father was a magistrate who had been posted to the North. She often told us that he would be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria one day, and when she said it, it wasn’t anything like a boast. It was a simple fact. Mrs Allardyce spoke from the front of the class. ‘I’m so sorry, Atinuke, but a telegram has just come in. Your brother Alade was killed in action near Benin City. So sorry about it.’ Tinu, as gentle a soul as existed among us, got up from her seat silently, walked to the front of the class. She drove her head with tremendous force straight at Mrs Allardyce’s chest. The old lady let out a cry as she crumpled to the ground. Mr Abosede, our Geography teacher, at first sprang back in astonishment, before coming to his senses and grabbing hold of the now enraged Tinu. He held her arms back, with some difficulty, as she hovered over Mrs Allardyce. Tinu screamed, ‘What did you say to me? What did you say to me?’ We watched, struck dumb, intoxicated at this sudden excitement. Mrs Allardyce staggered to her feet, gathering her pleats about her, and fled the room, calling back at us, ‘Remain calm, girls, remain calm.’ Tinu, struggling against Mr Abosede’s grip, had every intention of giving chase.

We read it in Island: 133.

Full story online.