There is a woman who lives in House 86 on Lugard Street, where I once lived. You will find her sitting at the window. The woman lives alone, though we know that she used to have a partner, whom no one has seen of late. Now, for some reason, she never steps outside her home.
Passersby stop and stare at her. Some shake their heads, others wave at her, but she never responds. She is content sitting at the window overlooking the street. If you peer closely at her, you can see that her cheeks are damp.
You can tell that she is seeing something farther than anyone can see.
When I was six, my uncle told me about Odum, the hunter who killed any animal he came across. Great and little animals buried their heads whenever they heard someone whisper his name. Odum had been hunting for over twenty years, but he was so poor that you could count the holes in his singlet.
One moonless night, Odum heard a sound in the obeche tree. He had never heard such a sound before—at least in all the years he had hunted. It sounded like a baby learning how to sing. But Odum knew that the thing perched on the branch was not human. He flattened himself on the ground and aimed his gun up. With one clean shot, he brought the thing down.
The thing lay groaning on the ground while Odum stood over it, gun in hand.
“Do you know who I am?” Odum asked.
The thing managed to sit up, bleeding. “Ask the right question.” It was a small creature with little, shiny eyes.
Odum cocked his gun and levelled it at the creature. “I could sell you and make a lot of money.”
“Let me show you something. It’s beyond your imagination.” The thing held out its palm, and an object glittered in the dimness.
“What is that?” Odum gasped.
“It’s an egg. A powerful egg.”
Picture a boy and his grandmother sitting on the veranda. Stars shimmering in the sky.
“Do people live on the other side of the sea?” the boy asks.
And the grandmother tells him, “That’s left for you to find out, son.”
“But grandma,” the boy says, “how do I find out when I can’t even swim?”
She takes his hand and stares at it long enough for him to ask, “Grandma, are you all right?” to which she replies, “You’ve got a head. And you’ve got a heart. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
And that night, the boy goes to bed, sulking. Then it happens that, in his dream, he sees his grandmother turn into a bird flying over the sea. And the boy jumps out of bed, realising what he must do the next day.
In the summer of 2000, I went to look for a job in Ndoni—a quiet, coastal village in the south of Nigeria. I’d been shortlisted for a high school teaching position and was hopeful that I would land the job. To pass away the time, I followed the footpath down to the river. Once I got to the bank, I sat down and gazed out at the tranquil waters.
One evening, I came upon a mighty iguana crossing the footpath on my way back to my friend’s house. He carried himself like a king. Then he paused, and so did I. We stared at each other, and in the stillness that followed, I imagined the iguana could see into my soul.
Then the iguana lifted his spiky head. I bowed and waved him on. He nodded at me and crept along.
A month later, our paths would cross.
And my grandfather, who believed in reincarnation, would die the next day.
Not too long ago, a young fellow came up to me and said, “I want to be a writer.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that,” I replied.
“Why is that?” he asked, frustrated. “At least, just tell me what I can do to be a writer.”
“I don’t know that one can be a writer,” I explained. “I’m trying to become one myself.”
He looked at me, lost for words.
“But I can show you what words can do,” I said and picked up a stone. “Show me your palm.”
The fellow held out his palm, and I put the stone on it. “What do you feel?”
The fellow looked at the stone in his palm, then at me. “W-what do I feel? What’s that supposed to mean?” he said.
“A stone can mean anything,” I said. “Depends on how you describe it. But that is not the point. I only want to know what you feel.”
He squinched his forehead. “You mean what I feel about the stone or what I’m feeling right now?”
“Feel the stone. With your heart.”
This story was reprinted with permission in the first edition of the James Currey Anthology, launched on September 3rd, 2022 at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike
is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Alberta, Canada. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is the author of Wish Maker (Masobe Books, 2021) and Double Wahala, Double Trouble (Griots Lounge Publishing, 2021), and a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems (Daraja Press, 2020). His poems and short fiction have been widely anthologized online and in print magazines, and he has interviewed over forty writers for Brittle Paper, Africa in Words, Read Alberta, and Prism International.