All posts by sofiacapel

Something Upon a Chance, fiction by Olalekan Lalude

That love died and resurrected from an inevitable forgetfulness. That he was a man given to the violence of good things gone bad was the sin; the sin that needed the rightful penance. He had found himself sinking into the quicksand of an affection considered improper; one that could be spat out in the denigratory description of societal improbability.  For how could an adolescent boy of fifteen, think of a young girl in the way he did? Derin should know better.

He had sat in the living room of the house in the staff quarters of the state university. It was three hours to sunset. He could have heard the ticking movement of the seconds hand of the clock were it not for the lurid squealing of two young girls running after each other. Both were half years away from ten. His sister and her friend who saw him as the brother they could use as a human doll, that they could climb and sit on his lap, and make sure he was distracted for the moment that the electric power was off and as a consequence couldn’t watch TV, and they were bored, and their parents­­, both professors, were away at work.  But he sat and watched them run around, and Seyi, his sister’s friend, held him and wrapped her arms around his legs, and she climbed to sit on his lap. He found that there was a feeling, a stirring in his body that he fought hard to suppress. To know that the girl in her beautiful, charming innocence made him rise didn’t shock him, but pleased him in an acceptance of the body’s indiscriminate prurience. 

Derin wasn’t what he thought he was. He couldn’t do any of the things he had heard some people did to young girls; he only responded to a creeping affection that bloomed from his curiosity of Seyi, right from the day her parents brought her to stay at their house whenever she came back from school. Her beauty had struck him, and the tartan skirt that had ended at mid-thigh of shapely legs, the fascinating ebullience that characterized her responses, and her voice that had a special mellifluence to it. All these had made her, in his mind, a picture of perfect feminity. Life in the staff quarters had some sort of permanence, for the people who lived in it and worked at the state university did so for the major part of their adult lives, and it was from there they retired to whatever life they dreamed. And so, these made for lasting friendships for their children since they more or less grew up and left for university together and maybe married each other. So Derin thought of this girl as a girl he could marry, weighing on the difference of their years and thinking of the sacrifice of waiting till he was thirty something. It was an imprudent thought, for one never thought of love as something to fit into a private scheme.

There are times when our lives converge in accordance with a common destiny. Such times are rare, as most times our lives intersect and then diverge in ways so unimaginably peculiar and in ways we can hardly help. And Derin’s life and that of the young girl fell unremarkably into the most times of diverging lives, where one party has to travel far, to some far country or to another part of the country, to exist in a livelihood or another life contrived by artificial necessities. And so it was for the young girl and her family who had to leave the state university for the United States where her father found employment as a tenured professor at the University of Chicago. Derin stayed at the state university where he studied for a degree in Biology. There were times when he thought of her and how she climbed him when she played with his sister, but he could only imagine her as that beautiful young girl with a charming innocence and an animated spirit, but he thought of her only as one would think wistfully about something one had treasured but was now lost. He had loves, loves that started in a fantastic efflorescence and ended bitterly. Take for instance the girl, Feranmi, an English studies sophomore who had tried to charm him with her curvaceous form and practiced allure. They had ended in a sweltering session in his room one heady night. From then on, everything between them was nothing more than a love that was jammed in a state of burning and flaming outs. These loves ended bitterly since an occupied heart will throw out other prospecting occupations. It went well for him in his studies and he made grades that made other students rub their heads in stunned awe. However, he felt he couldn’t convince himself that he wasn’t hoping he could make a scholarship to study in the United Sates, for which naturally, he would think of the University of Chicago.

Most of his many friends observed the pattern of his love life and the attendant illogical expectations. How could you send her away because she doesn’t like people going through her phone? Shouldn’t you know that you have to pay more attention to her? Well … the man was like a traveler lost in the desert, he thinks he knows where he is going, but he is only just wandering aimlessly in the vastness. That he probably might love her in his mind unrequitedly didn’t bother him. Derin just wasn’t the type to be bothered about reality; reality was much too subjective. The years rolled into each other with Derin making replicas of his dysfunctional love circles. At the end of his academic sojourn in the state university, he saw himself with a distinction on convocation day, and he shook the vice chancellor, and got prizes and claps from a thousand graduating students, his mother and sister smiling beside him, as he, dressed in the academic gown and mortarboard, struck a pose for his father who held the camera. Life couldn’t be better with better prospects in a country where youths jostled for nonexistent jobs. To have a distinction from school, to get a scholarship long wished for, especially to go to the United States, to have the hope of meeting one’s love after so many years even if the love hardly knew one loved her was the height of elation.

And then he was on the plane bound for Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To start again, to reflect upon whether the state of fortune was a dream. To think again with a fast-beating heart about what the consciousness was about to experience in another world: the world of long, intersected, paved streets, and of some edifices reaching far up, seeking space against blue skies, and a great lake that floated little white boats in the distance––as he had seen in pictures. Maybe not the city, nor the country, but the girl, to know how well she has become as a young woman speaking with the foreignness of her protracted stay, and of a new hope surging in the discovery of an integrated possibility. The plane had touched down and his heart had touched down with it.

America.  Wisconsin. Chicago. He had arrived as a student, a graduate student that had built his hopes with the sod of his earlier experiences, seeking a point where he could join his career aspirations with the fantastic love life he had sacrificed so much for.  But one must see that life is a rebel phenomenon, a constant with things that just wouldn’t be. He took a flight to Chicago, to the university campus where there must be some registered names of employees. Debunmi Oyenusi. Physics Department. Associate Professor or Full Professor. But he was tenured, and to be tenured is to be a registered employee. Yes, he was once there; the girl’s father and the family, but they had moved again, moved to California. He thought he had reached the point to give up on the search and move on with his life. He couldn’t even imagine how she looked like anyway. And the days rolled, rolling away a hundred and thirty days. Good researcher. Good at grasping the underlying dynamics of environmental protection. He had been singled to follow his professor to the University of California in Berkeley to present a paper at a science conference.

The conference was as it should be; the proper American academic snobbishness dispensed as parameters for world practice. He had hardly been distracted, in actual fact, he had been bored, but a face had struck him with such violence, his heart almost stopped. The fine features of big dark eyes and sensual mouth had become well-suited to a young adult body. She was still the one. Seyi. She sat not far from him, clad in a dark suit and pants, her dark brooding eyes looking distracted. ‘Do you remember Fikemi back in Nigeria?’ she had tried remembering. One tends to forget so many things once one leaves Nigeria. Such amnesia, even if it seemed selective, was understandable. But if she remembered, it was because she chose to and to think of it, the familiar looking stranger knew her name and even mentioned some things he knew of her father. He must know family.

He made arrangements to visit her during the summer, to see if anything could be expressed during his stay. Did she want him? He couldn’t tell, for there wasn’t any sign to tell from that sophisticated Americanness that she felt jumpy about him the way he did for her. She just responded to him the way one would to an old family friend: ‘Dad, Professor Ogunola’s son. He is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. Environmental Protection.’  The old man, his hair all gray, had squinted at him through the glasses.

‘Young man. It’s been a long time. How are your parents?’

‘They are fine.’

It had all been that. Nothing attached to taking a young man to your parents in America, especially if they had known him before. He was beginning to get anxious in the way she postured indifference, much like she couldn’t be bothered about feeling anything for him. He started to think that there could be a way around initial attraction, like telling her how he had carried the memories of her childhood to his adulthood, and America, in the hope that he could be with her, and relive experiences.

She almost thought it was ridiculous, since he was a friend and nothing more. Nothing more? He felt her words sink into him, tearing him up like a tumbling bullet. But he could not get her out of his head because he had lost himself in trying to find her. And now? He was simply lost, finding her and losing hope. The hope of finding himself. He had visions of the young woman in a flowing wedding gown and his tuxedoed self. He had to marry her, he had to or…

Had he been talking to himself? She didn’t respond to messages and she didn’t pick calls. One windy, autumn morning, he had left Milwaukee for California. Ryan, his friend and roommate had been worried. Derin had stopped talking to him and had suddenly become, as a psychotic, talking to himself and generally expressing fits of temper. He hadn’t talked about anything, anything that might be bothering him.  Ryan had kept from probing him; he had tried to keep a safe distance so as not to further vex him. Had it worked? Ryan wouldn’t know, as Derin had left for god-knows-where that morning, forgetting the seminar, forgetting he had some research work he had to attend to.    

The sounds coming from the apartment, what was it? Voices? Low at first and then loud the next. Could it be her boyfriend having a row with her? Neighbors have to keep away until it became violent, then they had the right to call the police. Soon, crashing sounds; the sound of china being flung against a hard surface, someone talking angrily, shouting in a voice that wasn’t American, and then a voice that was American trying to placate, trying to douse apoplectic rage with reason. Suddenly, there was quiet, but the silence was suspect with a lot of ills.  The thing is, one could shoot up the streets and generally tear up the projects in spectacular mayhem, but America never takes chances with petty violence, not when a husband is at it with his wife or a boyfriend who thinks himself a husband. Then a sound made the air still. The sound of a gun, a handgun it had been. It had sounded once, but that once should have been, maybe unintended, or done with the realization of the gravity of the violence wreaked, for there seemed to be the sound of a hurried activity, like a confused getaway. But one doesn’t get way that easy in America, not when one has no idea about the carefully planned––giving attention to details––crime. 

The police had gotten him. On his face was the expression of calm, a fatalistic calm. God bless America; she didn’t die. The bullet had broken her collarbone but had left her no worse, for the paramedics were there, and all the drama of an emergency left him scandalized; flashing lights and all. The university would only accept glory for an invention or a student’s legendary performance, but not shooting. The   parents back home had heard of it all. Their denial was in faith; that a son who smiled a lot and respected his elders would point a weapon and fire it at a human was beyond acceptance. But the newspapers had been glib: NIGERIAN STUDENT SHOOTS GIRLFRIEND IN AN AMOROUS MISCHANCE.  The holding cell was a small room with flaky white paint, bunk beds bolted into the floor, and hateful eyes and tattooed bodies that were clad in branded blue uniforms. They were blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos. The men’s strong fingers prehensile on the white iron bars with stained, peeling white paint. And darkness fell.

Olalekan Moyosore Lalude, PhD, is a Nigerian lawyer, essayist and short story writer. He has been published under the name Mark Lekan Lalude in the African Writer, Kalahari Review, WTBP Anthology and Face2Face Africa.

The Swimmer, poetry by Sharon Bolton

I go down to the lake with my friend, the swimmer,

We sink; no, slink, into the cool, clear shimmer,

Of sky-bright water, dancing like diamonds,

And we long to be slimmer.

We talk and laugh, breathless with the fun and the effort and the silliness of it all,

As the cormorants dive around us like fierce-eyed witches,

And the skin swimmers scoff at our wetsuits – such bitches!

And I know that I’m blessed, three times over,

In the strength of my body, in the peace of my soul,

and in the care of my friend, the swimmer. 

xxx

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With fourteen books to her name, Sharon is a Sunday Times bestselling author and has been described by that newspaper as being ‘unable to write a sentence not suffused with menace.’ Her latest book, The Dark, (Orion) was published in May 2022. 

Non-fiction, by Onyeka Nwelue

If I had money, I will donate all of it to the University of Oxford, to fund research about Africa and for Africans and by Africans—beginning at the African Studies Centre, where I am an Academic Visitor. However, I do not have the kind of money that they need to develop projects. Those who have that money, are doing what they love with it. 

I hail from a lineage that, on both the paternal and maternal branches, is steeped in the knowledge and traditions of the Igbo people, a lineage of griots that is prodigiously talented in the enterprise of storytelling, a lineage that is characterized by academic and professional distinction in various spheres, and members of whom have consistently ventured into, and distinguished themselves in public service.

My story extends a legacy about which my family is rightfully proud. I have written and published over 16 books—including novels, a play, poetry collections, a narrative in verse, works of non-fiction, a children’s book, and anthologies of essays. I have also produced feature films comprising documentaries—one about my dear aunt, Flora Nwapa—and a biopic about the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

There is one in progress on James Currey, called Rediscovering James Currey. 

At the African Studies Centre, I have offered myself for service to my people under the auspices of the James Currey Society, where I bring a unique fusion of knowledge of the grassroots, cemented in my rich awareness of our culture and history, and the rich insights derived from my travels across cultures, through my pen and in film. This is not to mention a vast network of influential associates, within and beyond Nigeria.

We are living through a critical period in the Nigerian story. More so, we are living through defining times for Ndigbo and for the South-East of Nigeria. Given the spate of insecurity and a case of snail-speed development that is now being made even slower, fresh thinking is required to chart the course forward for the region. My venture into culture promotion, beginning from the grassroots, is intended to position my culture for what it has always been known for: excellence of art, ideas, and even beliefs and philosophy.

I also believe that, for our continent, the future lies in assembling and nurturing young talent that will carry forward the legacy of the founding generation. On my part, this process begins with revisiting the past to make projections for the future. 

I traced something tangible to Africa in Oxford, where I discovered Christian Cole, the first African to graduate from the University of Oxford. Originally from Sierra Leone, Mr. Cole became a lawyer. Why can’t he be celebrated? So, I commissioned an artist to recreate his image and have it exhibited at Weston Library during the James Currey Literary Festival from 1-3 September, 2022. 

The journey of Christian Cole will be displayed visually. This is how we are bringing the narrative to the West. 

And this is why I am in Oxford.

Onyeka Nwelue is a multiple award winning writer of over 14 books, a filmmaker, documentarist, and publisher. He has been a research associate in the University of Johannesburg, held a fellowship in Harvard University, and he is currently an academic visitor in Oxford University.

God’s Take, poetry by Kalpna Singh-Chitnis

God was a genius. He had the reckoning.

That’s why when he created the universe

he made himself a man.

But then he defied himself and became everything

to run the entire show. You may not recognize —

but those protesting before the house of justice

are also him. But he can’t be detained.

All our prisons together cannot confine God. 

He can’t be forced to live in a woman’s womb

if she isn’t ready to bear god or his sons.

God refuses to be an intruder. 

You can’t show him your calendar and tell him 

it’s too late. He carries his own calendar. 

You can’t try him in your courts. 

He is manifold. He has laws of his own. 

You can’t come after him. He will escape from one state to another.

He has many places to go. He will defy your verdict

and take away your gavel all the way to heaven. 

xx

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Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is a Pushcart-nominated, award-winning Indian-American poet, writer, filmmaker, and author of four poetry collections. Her poetry, essays, and translations have appeared in journals like World Literature Today, Columbia Journal, Cold Mountain Review, California Quarterly, and elsewhere. A former lecturer of Political Science, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis is an Advocacy Member at the United Nations Association of the USA, the Editor-in-Chief of “Life and Legends,” and the Translation Editor of IHRAF WRITES, a journal of International Human Rights Art Festival, in New York. Websitewww.kalpnasinghchitnis.com 

Two poems, by Heather Bourbeau

Items Found on Angel Island

black-tailed deer bones, sea lion whiskers, bat ray caudal spines,

bird bone tubes, bone needles, flat pins from large mammal long bone shafts,

polished bones, butchered bones,

isolated human bone fragments, presumed grave goods,

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shell beads, shell ornaments, shell fishhooks,

net and fishing weights, milling slabs, mortars, pestles,

handstones, hammerstones, stone beads, pendants, charmstones,

awls, arrowheads, baked clay,

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ceramic doll parts, a mother-of-pearl brooch,

buttons, belt buckles,

hardware from clocks, miniature teacups,

milk bottles, beer bottles from the 1890s, liquor bottles from World War II,

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Indian head penny stamped with “Liberty”,

military cartridge from when the island was training ground for US soldiers serving in campaigns against the Apache, Sioux, Modoc, and other Native American tribes,

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220 Chinese poems, 96 Chinese inscriptions, 89 English inscriptions, 62 Japanese inscriptions,

33 Chinese graphic images by immigrants prevented from entering the United States.

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If I Could Weave My Family’s Migrations

I would separate strands of fear and wanting and hope,

the warp of wool to mark long buried clans,

barley and heather, sea kelp and oak,

the weft of baptismal lace bloodied and torn.

xxx

I would honor the ghosts of forests, familiar and forgotten,

wood from boats that crossed the Atlantic,

wood of wheels that claimed Algonquin and Nez Perce land,

wood from trees we felled until there were no more.

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I would dip worn cotton into maple sap,

braid desiccated stalks of rice and wheat,

dye them green again with juniper berries,

string the bones and beads of those left behind.

xxx

I would layer gold and pewter, pine and white sage,

scatter the dust of deserts, the powder of guns.

I would christen with the salt of seas and tears,

gratitude and grief.

xxx

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Heather Bourbeau’s work has appeared in 100 Word Story, Alaska Quarterly ReviewThe Kenyon Review, MeridianThe Stockholm Review of Literature, and SWWIM. She has worked with various UN agencies, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia and UNICEF Somalia. Her collection “Monarch,” a poetic memoir of overlooked histories from the American West she was raised in, comes out in Spring 2023 (Cornerstone Press). 

Two poems, by John Reed

Party Tricks

You really had all the best party tricks.

Like that time you pulled me into a hat.

Nevermind the delight when I climbed out.

And what a fantabulous cabinet

of curiosities. That one display.

Not only the prince pauper, rag and bone,

but a perfect twin in the pauper prince,

shoes and watch and a better bicyclette,

and just as broken and shining a trophy.

You, with your baton and ringmaster tails,

standing at the top of the stairs, Pinot

Noir and another walk-up sublet,

and candy bowls filled with wooden matches. 

xxx

xxx

V & V

We’ll cloak our bones for la mascarada—

you in a crepe gown and me in black muslin,

and all our v’s and v’s will pass through us:

ingress to egress, prayed-for sweet breezes;

torsos cleaned hollow by real mojitos;

echoes enchambered by años caprices;

vacant to capacity de nada.

Sí mi amor, and should we disrobe we’ll

clack clavicles, interlace in thoraces,

bonk bonk mandibles, orbit to orbit,

and serpent our vertebrae in one den.

White stripes multiplied, distant Adidas.

Marathon 20s and O Superstars. 

xxx

xxx

John Reed who has an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University is the author of A Still Small Voice (Delacorte), The Whole (Simon & Schuster / MTV Books) among others. He’s had works featured in ElectricLit, the Brooklyn Rail, Tin House, Paper Magazine, Artforum, Hyperallergic, the Los Angeles Times, the Believer, the Rumpus, Observer, the PEN Poetry Series,  Slate, the Paris Review, The New York Times, and elsewhere.

A Letter from Oxford

Earlier in the year I left the cosy comfort and familiarity of a world and culture I understood to reach out for something higher. As a creative, it does not take the wave of a wand for one to know that the West is where it all happens; that the West is the world’s capital of most things creative. It is home to the best institutions, the funds, the patrons, and largely the consumers. Owing to this, politics and bias aside, it is only natural for a voice that wishes to be heard to gravitate towards there.

So, in February of this year, under the auspices of the James Currey Society, I accepted an invitation to Oxford University, under the African Studies Department, from the founder of the society, Dr Onyeka Nwelue, to participate in a literary writing workshop and residency. It was four weeks of learning, re-learning, and the exchanging of ideas and views on literature, publishing, and the business of writing.

By March we were done.

Now, I had through books, read and understood the dynamics of race relations, so being the minority in a horde of Caucasians did not require a huge mental adjustment. I was however not prepared for two things.

  1. The cold in Oxford.
  2. The expensiveness of the city.

In preparing for my journey, I had bulked up my savings. Called all my debtors and kindly told them the time was now. Got every short-term writing and editing gig possible. And when what I felt I had enough, or so I thought, I set out for Oxford, England.

As soon as I arrived, immigration at Heathrow started in about how this was my first time outside my country. Fresh passport, first visa, and on account of that they wouldn’t let me in. The official said he knew I was a brilliant man and that all this was just a ploy to enter the UK and never leave. This was news to me as it was frightening.

In my panic, I reached out to Dr Onyeka Nwelue to explain things to him. The immigration officer was not yielding, and then as if a light bulb came on in his head, he asked to see my letter of invitation. Once I had handed it to him, he called the African Studies Department to verify if truly, I was a participant of the residency. They not only answered in the affirmative, but put the call through to Dr Nwelue who explained the arrangement to him: other writers and creatives were already on ground, I was the only person left.

The officer still did not budge.

It was when Dr Nwelue said he would have to speak with his superiors that the immigration officer stamped me in. Once in, my friend Jide was at the other side waiting for me. After brief moments together where he handed me a sim and showed me where to get a bus to Oxford, we parted ways. He to his home in Fulham and me to Oxford. I was shocked to find that the trip would cost me twenty three pounds. It was the most I had ever paid for a bus fare. It felt serious, as if money had been stolen from me in some kind of legitimate way. This was the dawning of my understanding that the UK was a truly expensive country. I grudgingly paid and got seated and the bus moved. After about an hour I was in Gloucester Green in Oxford, and then I took a red cab to Cowley where I was to stay.

In the meantime, Jide had already acquainted me with how affordable Primark was. It was the best place to shop as a new comer in the UK, he said. And that I took to heart. So, when I began frequenting Primark at the city centre and eating out, it did not take long for what I thought was a fat purse to start looking seriously deficient. The exchange rate between my home currency and the British pounds was another factor.

So, after my humbling realization that if I do not step on the breaks of my visit to Primark and eating out, then I might just find myself without extra money to spend save the one I was provided with by the James Currey Society.

Nothing humbles a person like not having enough.

In the end, after barely three months, I left the UK. My sojourn to other parts the world will follow in the next issues.

I have to also extend heartfelt apologies for the hiatus. Travelling, and demanding familial responsibilities had me quite time-constrained. I love reading wonderful stories, I love editing; making wonderful stories even more wonderful. But sometimes a call to duty prevails over matters of our heart.

But I am back now and better.

In this issue, we have poetry from Sharon Bolton, Sydney Mallard, John Reed, Heather Bourbeau, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis; a brilliant piece of fiction from Olalekan Lalude, and a narrative non-fiction piece in praise of Oxford University by Onyeka Nwelue.

Again, I apologize for the abrupt hiatus, and all I can kindly ask of you is that you do not give up on us. We hope to continue to deliver amazing pieces of literature that will perhaps help us extend the frontiers of thought and possibilities in the dealing with the human condition.

Dearest readers, issue thirty-four.

Yours,

Kelvin Kellman.