By Opeyemi Rasak-Oyediran

In its fifth year of celebrating and rewarding young African writers, Wrtivism has shortlisted five new and engaging works, four of which have been published while the fifth one is to be translated from French to English. The shortlist includes two Nigerians, a South African, a Cameroonian and a Malawian.

I find the four entries quite interesting because of their distinctness of style and narrative. Two of the entries revolve around contemporary issues and stories but with a refreshing approach. It is as though the writers are holding our hands and saying there are infinite circles to these stories and this is one of them. The two other entries however take the high road with a grim and shocking journey of a condemned soul and an innocent one.

Saleeha Bhamjee’s ‘Fairies’ is a story of innocence, magic, a young girl’s glee over a new swimming pool and the heartbreaking incidents that follow. What makes this story my favourite is how the writer does not just make this story about the eventual abuse that happens but how she focuses more on how the reader connects with the child and her essence. You can see it in her skipping laughter when the renovations in her home begins, in how forgiving she is about her parents nuances, her belief in fairies etcetera. Saleeha’s narrative shows a subtle understanding of the translation of emotions, how they evolve and change a person. The symbolism of how a child’s innocence is chipped at in a place that is magical for her and into which she has invited another is too powerful to ignore. This is a piece that needs not focus heavily on the ugly aspect of the story to jar the reader’s emotions.

In ‘The (Un)lucky Ones’, Andrew C. Dalikara tells an uncanny story of the progression of souls to the point where they are to be judged whilst their minds are assaulted with memories of their past life. While lives after death stories are not so unusual, Andrew’s angle is unarguably interesting. The souls to be judged are not led directly to their place of judgment but on a journey where the relevant parts of how their lives have been spent are relived in their heads before they face their maker with a feeling of impending doom or otherwise. God here is not a pearly-robed white old man with a ‘Santa Clausy’ air to him. No, he is a black man in animal skins with the aura of an African chief while his henchman (Jesus?) wears a three-piece suit and looks over the proceedings with a sad smile. In this tale, the torment of hell is not the fire alone; it’s the suffering without knowing why.

Munachim Amah’s ‘Stolen Pieces’ is sad beautiful story revolving around a young man’s identity issues and serial heartbreaks as he grows. Munachim’s story is not just about our protagonist’s sexuality and the challenges and boundaries that come with queer love but the basic uncertainties that come with intimate relationships generally. The story is woven in a way that brings the characters’ gender and sexuality into focus but still makes the navigation of human relationships the central theme. The piece flows with a sad haunting melody that employs steady consistent beats and motion as opposed to a movement that arrives at climax and ends with a bang.

‘This Story Has no End’ by Blessing J. Christopher is reminiscent of our favourite moonlight stories listened to and cherished as children. The choosing of a young boy who is singled out to deliver his village from a drought that has plagued them is later revealed to be the dubious act of an usurper king who wishes to wipe out his brother’s lineage. The folklore rhythm is resonant throughout the story and serves as a medium to tell the story of a tragic love and how it continues to haunt its community and the child that was conceived by it. While in the bid to maintain the theme of the story, certain holes are left in the plot, this is however redeemed by the writer’s vivid and almost lyrical language.

Fingers are crossed and I look forward to the announcement of the winning story in August. Year after year since the first Writivism short story prize, new and ingenious styles and stories have been revealed to the African literary scene and with the above shortlisted stories, it looks like it can only get better.

Opeyemi Rasak-Oyadiran is a poet, essayist
and short story writer. She loves the colour
brown, books, great music and the stage.
She aspires one day to be a Jill of all trades
and share drinks with Zadie Smith and Ben
Okri but in the meantime is chasing a law
degree.

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