From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

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Fiction

The Failing Name

The oval fruit, uneven on all sides even when it’s ripe, is not just for eating.

Spaces in the dust roads filled with reddish-brown wind are what she sees in her lost childhood. Jolainne wants to tell you, to tell anyone who’ll listen, of hiding in the leaves of a mango tree, witnessing what could have been the onset of an assault.

The tree shook with the young boy’s shudder, the earth hard on his face, crumbs claying his hair. As the tree sighed with the boy’s cry, Jolainne yelled out, “Arrêtez!” Stop! And hurled a mango at the man.

The mango hit—smash!—into the head at which it was aimed. The man zipped back his combat pants, all camouflage, his malintent towards the boy extinguished. He was a scruffy white man with a mop of sun-bleached hair.

As the man scuttled away, Jolainne threw another green mango that missed. She had little time to wonder if he was a delinquent, one of the UN soldiers strutting around Kinshasa in that year of 2002, only this one gone rogue. She poised and leapt down to the trembling boy.

Head tucked into his arms, his coffee-coloured body curled into itself, he whimpered back her words: “Arrêtez. S’il vous plait.” His whole body said please.

She touched his shoulder. “Viens. Je suis une amie.”

“Laisse-moi,” he cried. Leave me. Leave.

“Je suis une amie,” she said again softly.

He took forever to uncurl, but finally looked up to confirm she was a friend. He blinked at her as if with new sight and, slowly, her words sank into his mind. Come . . . friend . . . friend. He was more shook than hurt.

The sky was so clear when she left with the boy. He gave her his hand, moist and clingy. The cry dragged in his mouth as they took to the banks of the river. There, she watched for years and years, decades, the leap of tilapia and a pile of forgotten things, until he calmed himself. She touched him, just so, fingers on his nape, and felt the buzz or tingle. She didn’t know whether it was the blood moon or something about the boy, or was it an inherent power inside her soul? She saw the pale blue light of a silent sorcery—perhaps a gift from the boy? His eyes, liquid tar, lit and mirrored each fish’s dance. His snuffling nestled into a ditty of flame lilies in the roof of his mouth. A crimson bloom of amaryllis bulbs pulled his feet to a waltz. And they wrapped fingers and became children again.

Dusk fell and it started raining, nothing serious or intense, just a light tease that washed the wind, dripped a few leaves and opened the smell of the soil. “Mon Dieu,” she said. Was that when he gave her a lock of his curls? She can’t remember. What she remembers is kneading a gingerbread boy from the wet soil and willing it to breathe, but it didn’t.

“Mon Dieu,” he said, and ran off, his words cartwheeling in the wind: “Je m’appelle . . .”

What was his name? Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan? At the time he told her, it was an unfailing name. She listened to its echo in the night breeze—such was her joy, she wanted to thunder with laughter. She raced to the river the next day and the next, but he never showed. Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan was gone.

And then Jolainne’s mother gave her away.

• • • •

She heard the fighting when it happened.

“To do what?” snapped her father.

“You have no room for wisdom,” her mother’s quiet voice across thin walls.

“But you have room for foolishness?”

“Marie-Toure will give Jolainne a life.”

“But why?”

“Learning the world will expand her soul.”

“In Paris?”

Inside the darkness of her room, Jolainne saw a flash of pale blue light. She thought of the boy with eyes of liquid tar. She fingered the pouch with his curls, hemmed into her pillow.

When the door slammed with her father’s rage, Jolainne knew her mother had got her way. Years and years later she would, now and then, wonder how a mother could refuse her child, abandon her to an aunt a whole continent away.

Sometimes Jolainne understood. Sometimes she didn’t. At the time, in the naivety of her childhood, she revelled in her instant celebrity. News travelled across extended family, friends and neighbours, that she was going to Paris.

People gawped at her like she was carrying an angel. Most kept a good distance, but others neared and touched her, trusting that her good fortune, unable to contain itself, would rub onto them. She could see their thinking: it was a journey of a lifetime, where she would see perhaps from a distance the landmarks of a nineteenth-century tower, an iconic cathédrale, an arc de triomphe that was a national monument, châteaux and galeries, crystalline fountains pissing water high up into the sky. And weren’t there parfumeries on rue Scribe, rue Bachaumont, or des Champs-Élysées? A thousand notes of Grasse rose, jasmine grandiflorum, mandarine and patchouli floating miles and miles out into the street? No one would trouble her in the city of light that flowed with crémant and its creamy, nutty taste, rosés all pink and sparkling with noses of rhubarb and rose petal. Her unique origins from Kinshasa would attract easy sous that passers-by on the streets would drop on her lap, and she wouldn’t even have to say her name.

Her mother put her on a five-hour bus trip and accompanied her from Barumbu in Lukunga District to Ndjili in Tshangu District. At the airport, her mother helped Jolainne check in her plastic tub, tied with cowhide rope, which carried all her belongings: a handful of batiks, rubber shoes, a lot of second-hand clothes and underwear.

“Have a good time,” her mother said like a stranger, before pushing her through the security barrier. But as a beefy guard rifled through Jolainne’s carry bag—finding a toothbrush, some cassava and fried chicken, and a change of clothes—her mother had time to yell, “Make sure my grandchildren have a brown daddy.”

• • • •

Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan . . . She tries to remember his name as she fashions him under a full moon in her living room. She kneads him from clay with the curls of his hair. She has the right black buttons for his eyes. Is it the lonesomeness of twenty years in a country she still finds foreign? Or is it her mother’s urging for a “brown daddy” that has summoned the pale blue light? The light that’s always been inside, the one that brings a buzz or a tingle, and makes sorcery happen.

With the plague outside and the nationwide lockdown, all is silent. The whole world is a tomb, streets haunted as a graveyard. She spits on the dough, squeezes drops of her menstrual blood from a tampon. But like before, nothing happens.

• • • •

It was a midnight plane that flew two days from Ndjili to Charles de Gaulle, with two stopovers. At first, when the plane taxied at speed a long time on the runway in Kinshasa, all the passengers went quiet. So quiet Jolainne could hear the watching, heartbeats listening to the soundtrack of nothing. She worried for a moment that the wheels would not lift. But they did. She felt the vessel nose towards the moon, and the lights of the world below fell away like shimmering ants, until dark clouds buried them.

Her tongue dissolved, but featureless words found shape inside her fingertips. She drummed on the hand rest, keenly aware of the passenger to her left, an elderly man fully shaved and pink, his voice like concrete; and the one next to him, a green-eyed girl with headphones. Later, a hostess came around with a tray of water. She was a lush redhead, with curls that fell untamed from her cap. With a hand she swung the hair to one shoulder, and the flame in it bounced rather than crackled.

The clock slowed and a siren in her head gathered speed, and she couldn’t help but wonder what was at stake. Her feet were the first to go. She lost the feel of the floor underneath, no pins or needles pushing inside her skin. And then it was her stomach, which often blurted out endorsements, affirming fear, hunger, or love—this time there was no lightness or weight, not even the flutter of wings. Her enthusiasm over Paris was a faraway thing, and the chicken and cassava were long gone.

She clutched to her chest the soft pouch bearing what was left of Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan. Her little boy . . .

Passengers settled into the long flight, murmurs slipped and trailed to the front, middle, and rear, cartwheeled along aisles, rows and galleys in a new kind of anarchy. A trolley balancing cans of soft drink, piccolos of wines, and cafetières to the brim claimed the space between no space, but Jolainne shook her head—who would pay for it? She faced out the window.

She fell asleep and there was Miriam Makeba. It was a brasserie awash with cocktail lights. Swollen with legendary patrons encircled by neat-clad waiters, a chime of cutlery and the soft buzz of chitchat. Look: Ladysmith Black Mambazo seated at the table over there in their ebony and cobalt costumes. And there! The Désira Queens in ochre-red blouses, sunflower skirts, and head gear, bopping to the sounds of a song called “Umuntu.” Makeba forked a mouthful of her medium-rare ribeye bathed in natural jus. The room quietened as she slipped a morsel of steak into her mouth, then sipped Bordeaux, a glass of rich red wine that was no mistake, just a neat pay-off, the draft of a poem. Now Jolainne was standing in a park, carrying her fantasies but unable to walk, sending out yearnings to a paddling of ducks waddling out of a pond.

She woke up to a head swirling with so much hunger, she almost collapsed. White circles sprayed into her eyes, grew bigger and unpacked more circles that deformed into jackfruit, starfruit, papayas along garden steps with tracks to a metropolis. She looked at the menu tucked in the front seat. It promised confit fish in charred onions, caramel glaze beef in coconut curry, lemongrass coriander spring chicken, green pasta with braised beans and sprinkled with pancetta, taro cake. Jolainne nearly wept. The dryness in her head was filled with a bouquet of sweetness and musk, a final unresolved miasma that refused to restore her, to reconcile her with something big she didn’t understand.

When the lush redhead pushed a neat tray full of hot crepes in her face, Jolainne started to shake her head.

“You need to eat, it’s a long flight,” said the hostess.

“But I don’t have money!” Jolainne blurted or growled.

“It’s free.”

• • • •

She lies in bed but is not asleep—she senses the weight in her pillow. He’s an invisible weight only she knows, but the shape of the gingerbread boy is still in her living room where he refused to connect to her, to unhook the language she breathed into him, and come to life. She climbs from the bed, still unable to sleep, steps into the night and scoops him with her fingers from where she left him on the windowsill. He’s soft and wet. She lays him onto her palm, takes him to her bedroom where—after years of trusting and mistrusting men—she trusts his proximity, rests him in a corner of the night-eyed room. Finally, she can sleep.

• • • •

After all that flying—two stopovers in Brussels and Munich, and nearly nine hours wait time in total—Jolainne finally landed the second day at 4 p.m. in Charles de Gaulle. Waiting at the baggage carousel, she panicked for a moment that her plastic tub was stolen. But there it was—who would steal it? She unroped it for a female customs officer to rifle through with gloves.

Jolainne fell out of the gates and into the fleshy arms of her Auntie Marie-Toure, who was a child’s height but all bosom, stomach, and bum.

“Dear one,” Marie-Toure poked at her ribs, “isn’t your mother feeding you?”

Before Jolainne could answer, Marie-Toure swept her outside the airport, and Jolainne was finally in a car. It was a Peugeot with peeling paint, and it was unclear if it was a dirty lime or teal. Sitting in the battered thing, so grey and stale inside, she thought of old cigarettes and stale butts. The man driving it was full of hair and a beard—he called himself Mamadou. He was Auntie Marie-Toure’s boyfriend.

“Travelling is learning,” he said, glanced at Jolainne in the back seat. His intense eyes X-rayed her ribs. “I’ll introduce you to many things.”

“Advice is a stranger, Mamadou,” said Marie-Toure. “Keep your eyes on the road.”

He laughed, something belly-deep and rolling. “That’s dope,” he said, and turned on the radio.

It occurred to Jolainne that it was raining. The sound of car wipers was a giant heartbeat. Droplets hammered the roof, but the radio boomed full blast on a symphony. The baritone’s eloquence was lost on the bad signal, and Jolainne thought of a dog’s howl, a concert full of wretchedness, beauty stifled inside a deep, dark well.

“The music is killing us, Mamadou.”

He touched the volume control, and Jolainne could have sworn he turned up the noise. But she had nothing left. Her whole body gave in to fatigue as the car burped and farted like a sick goat. It jumped down the road, blasted its horn with purpose. Finally the radio was off—Marie-Toure had taken matters into her own hands—and the Peugeot oozed a rumble from its hooded throat.

Mamadou drove, blind to signs for slow down, wet road, or mile post. Nothing could wheedle the car’s tired wheels from lurching around corners as if in a broken camber. But destiny shook it down a final road north-east of the city. It turned into a quiet street, and then another, ran down two blocks and powered off outside the Lego apartments of a housing estate in an urban wasteland.

Mamadou carried the tub up sixteen flights of stairs to the tiny apartment at Porte de la Chapelle, where Jolainne quickly understood her place in the household.

“Dear one,” said Auntie Marie-Toure, collapsing into a sofa. “This floor is a village. Take a broom in that cupboard.”

“Let the girl rest,” said Mamadou.

“There are no short cuts to the top of a palm tree. Tomorrow belongs to the people who are ready for it. Go home, Mamadou. Today you have served your purpose.”

• • • •

Mamadou lived in La Goutte d’Or, far away enough for Jolainne.

“Auntie, why Mamadou?” Jolainne once asked.

“Dear one. We mesh.”

But mesh or not, Jolainne’s stomach dropped each time she heard his key in the lock. She knew the turn of his key into the apartment: push, fumble and he entered. Same way he took her, and Auntie never noticed.

The French housing estate was a colourless block of windowed cubes, blue, red, and green balconies. Each home on any level was toy-sized but pregnant with roar: families, dogs, television. Blond and mauve bicycles dressed in funny bells lined the hallway that was also a garage. Tiny balconies grew potted plants in suburban lawns. Doors like soldiers—you respected their posture, no matter the noise coming from inside.

• • • •

When Jolainne wakes, the sky is a diamond shimmering with a scatter of white light. In the depth of the room’s silence is the rise and fall of his breathing. He’s curled tight against a corner, cheeks down on the floor. His eyes are closed; he can’t reach her. But their history does. She wonders at his unpolished beauty, the symmetry of his face. She listens to his aroma tucked inside the room: nutty, musty, hints of mud.

He’s foetal in a bundle: closed fists, twined hips, knees and elbows. His arms and legs hug his chest. She creeps closer to peer at the grown being, coiled naked. Her own chest tugs at his helplessness as he sleeps through her curiosity.

It comes as a surprise, and then shock, when his eyes snap open. Black velvet eyes from a place full of darkness, hurled into a world too bright.

• • • •

Jolainne went to a school of dirt-poor Parisians who, like her, thrived on mackerel, potatoes, and bread. Sometimes they called her Lubumbashi—it didn’t matter that she explained she was from Kinshasa. Sometimes they called her Pro Bono, Kunta, or Coalface. Back from their taunts, or Mamadou’s groping, she was wrapped in chores. She moved from living room to kitchenette and into the communal launderette. Back out again clutching a crumpled load to iron and fold. She pressed the steamer and sprayed a hot sizzle over naked cotton on the bench. She grabbed the corners and squared each sheet neat in the hot silence of the empty room.

It came and went, the pale light of a silent sorcery, the blood moon in her head, blond crystal that dappled crimson along the edge of her vision. She saw the shape of a legend, blue magic that wasn’t destiny. But in those moments of inherent bloom, she metamorphosed into flames. Burning that grew from a buzz or tingle, an aura or radiance whose curlicues a god of mist in the dead of a night aching with want might know. So she made paper boats from tea leaves, watched them sail at an altitude that improvised a prayer of love, sublimity and freedom growing bigger than distance yet lazing by her side at dusk.

Her desire for more filled the space between each chore. She shook off the imprint of her dreams, limericks that sailed her into clouds where she prowled the horizon and watched the world below take shape or fall apart. She waited for letters or the ring of a telephone, but her mother never wrote, let alone rang.

Jolainne scoured pots and pans, scrubbed sheets and floors. She flipped omelettes and mackerel with butter on a tiny stove, plated them on gawky bread sold cheap for shape—the yeast’s malice in uneven rise. The market’s malevolence too: blue potatoes fresh all seasons, no small act of beauty, blessed anyhow. Finally, a note from Kinshasa, so brief it was just a telegram, but it wore her mother’s childlike scrawl: Your father is sick. Send money.

Marie-Toure laughed it off. “Welfare isn’t loaves and fishes. I live on government keep—where do I get sous for your mother?”

It was Mamadou who peeled out sous, pushed them into Jolainne’s hand. “You’re my favourite. Think of me as a honey father.”

His deep belly laughter, as she blinked. She trusted a father’s face. Unlike a mother’s sharp one, full of edges. A father’s face was warm, soft-eyed, and gave courage; Mamadou’s was none of that. He wasn’t the brown daddy she wanted near her babies, near anyone’s babies.

She looked at his money.

“And me,” said Auntie. “Give me some.” The flesh in her arms swung.

Jolainne counted a few notes.

“No.” Mamadou pushed back her hand. “Generosity will be the death of you.”

Marie-Toure clicked her tongue. “What about my generosity?” She wagged a finger at Mamadou and his beard. “See how she’s clever—the grades she gets in that école. Soon she’ll go to collège and be a professeur. Already the girl is feeding a village.”

“Do a good deed and throw it into the sea. Must you announce it?”

“A good deed is something one returns. Are you giving me money or what, Mamadou?”

“Easy,” he said, and pulled a wad from his back pocket. He pinched out a third, rolled it, and slipped it in Marie-Toure’s bosom, right there between her plump breasts.

But his intense eyes shimmered on Jolainne’s face, as she wondered about the generosity her auntie spoke of—perhaps the clothes, loads of them, from the second-hand shop.

“See? I told you,” guffawed Marie-Toure. “We mesh.”

Jolainne had no idea what Mamadou did for work. He was available all the time, like her, running eternal errands for her aunt. He closed her fist to make sure she kept her money, and the linger of his fingers told her he’d come to collect. He did. He had feelers for precisely when Marie-Toure heaved and waddled her way out of the shoebox flat, down all those flights of stairs.

Jolainne began sending money home often. Mamadou collected often. She ran between chores, hurrying north then south, laundrying, cooking, sweeping, but outwardly she smiled. She played Auntie in the big man’s arms when Auntie was off again, yet inside was the howl of grief drowning seedlings of hope, hopscotching for weeks and then months, years moving away. She sent money home but her father still died. His virus was one of poverty and a broken heart for his far-gone child donated as a migrant to distant lands.

She never got to see, even from a distance, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Notre-Dame, the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, or any château or galerie for that matter. Sometimes she saw fountains in a park. Though they had ruby-throated hummingbirds that reminded her of the motherland, none of those fountains was crystalline or pissing water high up into the sky. The perfumes Mamadou sometimes gifted her were cheap shit from some pharmacy nowhere near rue Scribe, rue Bachaumont or des Champs-Élysées. Sure, once or thrice Mamadou cracked open a bottle of bubbles, but Jolainne was lucky to get half a cup between chores, and only at Mamadou’s insistence. Auntie gobbled the rest, it didn’t matter how many notes of Grasse rose, jasmine grandiflorum, mandarine or patchouli floated from the fizz.

And Mamadou finally moved on—it broke Auntie. There was nothing for Jolainne but misery in the city of light. And Lubumbashi! Pro Bono! They couldn’t even get her name.

Poetry shimmered into the vastness of Jolainne’s lonesomeness. She ran and ran with her chores, verse in her head in bright patches until she lost count and collapsed in sleep.

• • • •

He stares at her with those black velvet eyes. But they are half-sighted, fuzzy, waiting for her form to shape. There’s turbulence in his blankness, confusion. The room and its tiny bed and cold, hard floor expand between them. The reality is firm: he’s here. His crossed eyes wander to track her. She stands waiting. He focuses on her face. As his blurriness falls, his hand reaches out, or begs for a drink. But there’s no herbed soup or soft red wine.

She reaches to touch him, falls back at his sudden movement, a snatching away as from a threat. His eyes begin to loll. His mouth forms and deforms, pulling words like bile from his gut. The yawn of his maw floats and shifts in a cloud, the skin on his face stretching and unstretching, black worms moving inside it. The spasm of his hands, reaching, and reaching. She presses against a wall—nowhere to go. His face pulls out, a second face, drifting towards her in its foggy form, grimaced in anger or anguish. His words are echoes vibrating the room, even as his double face folds back in and becomes one with itself.

His words get clearer with each try. Finally, she makes out what he’s saying, “Arrêtez.”

“Arrête de faire quoi?”

But he doesn’t explain why or what he wants her to stop. Instead he says, “Mon Dieu.” She looks at him in bafflement. “Je suis un ami,” he says.

“Je suis aussi ton amie.” She tries the important question: “Comment vous appelez-vous?”

He blinks. “Je m’appelle …” He blinks, as if the words are lost.

“Comment vous appelez-vous, s’il vous plait,” she begs for this name.

“S’il vous plait,” he copies her words.

“Es-tu Alain? Divin? Rivlin? Yavan?”

“Mon Dieu,” he says in his limited speech.

She notices his hair, long and slippery, not the tight curls he wore as a boy. And his skin—it’s milk white.

She offers a hand. “Viens.” Her words are a whisper, words from a novel she hasn’t read. He takes her clutch, climbs to his feet. His rise is wonky. She puts both hands to steel him. He towers above her. His first walk is a totter. Is that her heart’s whisper, or a sigh in her head? A rhythm in his form invites her to dance. But he’s yet to walk, her little man all grown. She tries not to see his manhood. It’s right there, taut as an oak. If he has thoughts at all, wonky after wonky step as he finds his feet, sex is the furthest thing.

He’s perfect, imperfect. She’s playing goddess. She has created a man in her own image, embossed in her memory. Now that she has him, she wonders, what will she do with him? How will he fit in her world? This locked-down world ridden with a plague. And right now, she has teaching to do, a virtual class of writing students waiting for her to log on. She did go to collège, but she’s not yet a professeur.

Now she has this one to teach. Her man. He’s her man. Her lonesomeness across the years has been a curse. But now . . . She looks at him.

• • • •

I look at her looking at me. Eyes into eyes. Hers, inquisitive. Mine? I don’t know. Waiting, probably, if eyes can wait. What do I know? At this moment, so much, so little. I know this woman made me, that I should probably call her “Mother” or “Mama” or “Maman.”

What I don’t know is why she made me. Perhaps it’s a mystery to her too. I hope not. I hope she has some idea of my role here, in her life. Behind her I see a wall, a door. There’s often a wall and a door in a beginning. It must be a beginning. I am born. Created. I exist in time now, but not her time—at least not completely. I am the unborn born.

I’ve seen it happen, but it’s my first time. I know much, I know nothing. The memories I have and carry from a past time: a continuous pulse, maybe a heart. A welcoming warmth. Shapes in the darkness of the friendly void, whispering, sometimes singing, always naming, some counting.

Counting what? I don’t know. I don’t remember. Same difference now. There are shapes, voices. Sometimes they send a smaller shape. They murmur, “You have been called,” and that’s it. She called me, this woman. I’ve no idea how. But I’m here, and that matters. Words come as natural as the wind, yet I’ve never experienced the wind. Or have I? I’m inside with the speech of outside.

So difficult now, to speak to the woman. Her world is complex.

She seems impatient, even as her fingers detail my body. I exist, she knows this. She’s not happy, not frightened. Expectant, maybe, but I am already here. My memories are impossible. I can’t define myself, except through “I,” knowing it is and it isn’t who I really am. The knowledge is too big. This place, this woman, her world.

I look at her. The stare has changed its owner. My reflection is in the black of her eyes. I am there, black on black. I know colours—how? I must learn. Everything. I am an apprentice. I’m willing.

I carry the strength of the sun, the subtlety of the wind, the solidity of water, the comfort of earth. I am a story. A gargoyle sleeping in a corner. I encompass all limits, offer no borders. I am here, between her hands. She created me, I created me.

When lightning hits a tree, the tree burns. But what made the lightning? What made the clouds the bolt escaped from? The story has so many beginnings, it has none. There are no promises between the created and the creator. Only experiences. Pieces that compose something.

A start is as good as any—and yet . . . She began before me, and I before her. I remember, I forget. Each story has a price. It becomes your bones, your flesh, your laughter, your tears. We exchange vows through our held gaze. But is she ready? Is she really ready? For us.

She’s waiting for me to say something, right now.

“Laisse-moi,” I say, sink back to the floor, and close my eyes.

• • • •

“Laisse-moi,” he said, sat, and closed his eyes. Leave me? Leave?

Jolainne’s tears were not disappointment. For the first time in her life, she understood rage. In a heartbeat, he was her mother. He was Marie-Toure. He was Mamadou. He was every urchin that had called her Lubumbashi. Pro Bono. If she had a bucket and a spade she would dig and bury him beyond reason. He was everything she dreamt about, and nothing close to its script. He was the sun that was a coalmine. The autumn that was a fog so dark and dirty she couldn’t see her mind.

She looked at him: naked bum on her floor, knees up, head tucked in his elbows. She understood one thing more: he was unsure of his role. And she had nothing left to teach. Not for him, no. She had nothing. She spat on the floor. There’d be no standing ovation. Life had changed, things had moved on, and his story was a pestilent linger worse than the plague of her world. She hadn’t marked the spot, but he would go back to the clay—whether he understood the words or not.

Spaces in the dust roads filled with reddish-brown wind—she wept for lost childhoods. And when it was over, she hoped there’d be clearer skies.

• • • •

She sees her lost childhood, spaces filled with dust roads. She longs to see the shiny leaves of a tropical tree, wonders why no mango hit a head to save her.

A texture of shadows swirls with bifocals in the city library, blows its mist on new faux book spines blurred with mermaids and inky typeface. It will be gone by morning, changing minds about justice. Fe-fi-fo-fum: luring everything but text to clouds and oceans, photographing smudges and spreads. Natural history pollution to the moon and back, captured on phone. The sky might fall.

Her pen is poised to write a story that interrupts itself in lambent colours that don’t match as they flicker between moments. If she could hide in poems, she’d scribe no apology or complaint, just a dirge (not a fête) of words that keep going. That’s enough. Alain, Divin, Rivlin, Yavan is gone. She wants no compassion—half-smiled or whole. Just a corridor she can borrow for a reference to feel included for more than a minute and forty seconds more more, and not in a second-hand shop. STOP. More more.

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Eugen Bacon

Eugen Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Foreword Book of the Year Awards, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Her novella Ivory’s Story was shortlisted in the 2020 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. Recent works: Danged Black Thing, a short story collection by Transit Lounge Publishing (2021) and Mage of Fools, an Afrofuturistic dystopian novel by Meerkat Press (2022). Website: eugenbacon.com Twitter: @EugenBacon

Seb Doubinsky

Seb Doubinsky is a bilingual French dystopian writer and poet. He is the author, among others, of The Babylonian TrilogyThe Song Of SynthWhite CityAbsinth, Missing Signal and The InvisibleMissing Signal, published by Meerkat Press, won the Bronze Foreword Reviews Award in the Best Science-Fiction Novel category in 2018. He is also an established writer in France. He lives in Denmark with his family and teaches literature, history and culture in the French department of Aarhus University.