Second Prize: Understory; This
He wakes me before 6
—a few taps on the shoulder
followed by a man cannot afford to be
a deep sleeper. In semi-darkness, his
silhouette stands over me. Foggy,
I stagger through doorways.
the warmth of our boots.
Close, but not too close, a water chevrotain takes
notes from between two rubber trees. Smooth
reddish-brown coat. Eyes this
large. Were we on holy ground & didn’t know?
Did she bow to something bigger than our lives?
Dorsal sunlight. What did she leave behind
in that rainforest of ubiquitous
mosquitoes? Three days ago he had
placed the palm-frond
traps woven by his calloused hands,
ripe palm kernel lures inside, at every mouth
of the sweeping pond. Now as he bends
to lift the first trap, I watch him as a boy watches
his last love, as one who will one day be called upon.
He unties the thread that binds
the end. Ready, I open
the bag for our harvest
of flathead catfish, poppy crabs & raucous tilapias.
Here. There. Ọsẹ, under
a palette of fresh faith you made me
a bamboo flute. I still sing.
Facing each other, nearly
full after a hot meal
of eba & Banga soup, my mother
& I talk about everything. Climbing
price of beef. The former village
drunk who now throws parties
for stray dogs. The bird building a nest
on the orange tree by my father’s grave.
Pale-almond beak, but I have never seen
its kind around here she says.
To bring the subject of marriage closer
again, she goes do you know so & so
from your age group is expecting
another baby. & so & so parents
are meeting next week
to discuss the items on the bridal list.
I throw a smile. Outside
night stands against the window
like an armourbearer. My mother heads
for the kitchen. You wouldn’t
like me as a child. I used to steal things
& swiftly discard the urge
to return them. Mangoes.
The neighbour’s coins. Banana-flavoured
chewing gum. So juicy. What
has changed in this room? That
crispy scent still rises to greet.
Someone has taken the TV. Do
they know it requires a few slaps
on its sides to work?
From a brioche-coloured bottle, I pour kerosene
into the lantern & wait for the wick to drink.
She comes back with a tray of roasted
groundnut. Between cracked
hulls, laughter. That quiet
dawn, before I left for the airport, my mother
assembled three lucent songs across
my right shoulder. You are planted
she said. Flourish.