|Photo courtesy of Jay Peasley
A Hero, a Thief and the Tale in Between
By Crispin Oduobuk-MfonAbasi
other side of the matter is championed by those who say kindly, “Ada-Udo misremembers things,” or not so kindly,
“That Methuselah is lying.”
For those who endure the earth floor with untoughened bums and listen through gaping gums, the naysayers ought
to be knocked off their dissenting perches.
As a rule, Ada-Udo himself chuckles the negativity away. Once
in a reminiscing mood, he merrily recalls how, on the day in contest, he stood by the edge of a freshly cleared yam plot watching
his brother Paul bless the earth with his sweat. Although his heart thumped a fearful beat as if it had become a festival
drum, he couldn’t help admiring his brother’s strength.
He caught himself doing what their mother derided as washing hands without water, so he took his strong twine
and practiced a special knot. Paul kept on tilling, showing no awareness of his younger brother’s presence, even as
the morning sun scaled the nearby trees looking for a higher spot in the sky.
“Bro Paul,” Ada-Udo’s voice shook. He quickly swallowed two lumps of fear as Paul looked
up, his tired eyes still managing to convey the mild irritation of a busy father disturbed by an overly inquisitive child.
“I want to ride your bicycle to town.” Ada-Udo tried to smile not quite believing he’d finally
Paul stretched up, matted a muddy hand across his brow, and leaned on his spade. He focused and identified
Ada-Udo. Then, very slowly, “What did you say?”
Ada-Udo, who never failed to be impressed whenever Paul stood to his full height, recalled his brother didn’t
hear well sometimes. So he repeated his plan louder and added “Please.”
Paul frowned as he considered the request. He pursed his lips and sighed. “You’re still too young
to go to town by yourself.”
“I’m eighteen!” Ada-Udo spoke louder than he’d meant to. “I’ve finished
junior secondary. Why can’t I ride to town by myself?”
Paul sighed again. “It’s a long, hard ride. Twelve kilometers. Lots of hills on the way. You don’t
have enough flesh on you. And aren’t your legs still a little too short for the pedals?”
“I can do it!” Ada-Udo’s fist hammered the air.
“Maybe you can,” Paul gave him a sad half-smile. “But the town is a rough place. They don’t
like us villagers much there. And they’ve got really bad people in town. People who might even try to steal you.”
“Nobody can steal me!”
“Aye, but what do you want in town, anyway?”
Ada-Udo just wanted to go. “Mother needs a new sieve.”
Paul smeared more earth on his forehead. “Tomorrow is a market day here. She can get it then.”
“Please, Bro Paul,” Ada-Udo begged with his hands as well. “Let me go. I promise I’ll
come back early.”
Paul squinted at Ada-Udo. An unusually thick cloud passed overhead while a cool breeze chased the heat away
for a short spell. Birds chirped in the trees and sounds of children playing on their way to fetch water from the stream filled
“No,” Paul said at last and Ada-Udo’s face seemed to drop off his body.
“No, no,” Paul waved with both hands, unwittingly letting his spade fall. “I mean you can’t
go in what you’re wearing.”
Ada-Udo looked at his old school three-quarter trousers and the army green T-shirt he had on. They seemed
okay to him. He looked up at Paul. “You just don’t want me to go.”
Paul shook his head. “If you must go to town, make the effort to fit in there. I suggest your Sunday
trousers and, though it will be a little big for you, my honey-comb pattern shirt. Take water with you but don’t drink
too much at a time. Don’t ride too fast. Don’t talk to city girls,” — here Paul wagged a finger —
“they’re way too smart for you. Don’t stay late. And never let the bicycle out of your sight.”
Ada-Udo jumped with happiness. He thanked his brother over and over. Then he ran back home, changed, got out
the prestigious white bicycle, and hit the road.
The whirring sound of the wheels filled his heart with joy and his legs with strength. He felt God had given
him wings. He pedaled hard and flew.
Before long he became short of breath. His heart pounded so loud he had to stop and lie on the ground as he
felt faint. His throat burned and he realized in his hurry he’d forgotten to bring water.
Eventually he regained his strength and continued, careful not to ride too fast again. He got to town and
bought the sieve. He rode around and took in the sights. Then he felt hungry and he took out his rope and tied the bicycle
to a tree with his special knot before he went into a Food-Is-Ready house.
When Ada-Udo came out of the FIR, the still intact but solitary knot stared up at him from the base of the
tree. He spun round and caught sight of a shiny white bicycle speeding into a corner.
“Hey! That’s Bro Paul’s bicycle!” Ada-Udo gave chase.
Now, according to the naysayers, what Ada-Udo remembers from this point forward are fanciful, romanticized
inventions that have become more colorful with each planting season that passes. They might be right. But what if they’re
just jealous? Who says a hero has to be liked by all?
In any case, at seventy-four, the nearly toothless Ada-Udo enjoys retelling his grandchildren how, with nothing
but his feet, he saved the day.
“I knocked the clever city thief off the bicycle, and then brought that thief back to the village as
Since the said thief, who recently marked seventy-two years on this earth — all teeth still intact but
now a little bent — never contradicts our hero’s recollections, “Wow!” is the typical reaction of
Oduobuk-MfonAbasi is the 2008 recipient of the IRN-Africa Outstanding Award in Creative Writing. His work appears in Outliers,
The Best of Gowanus II, and (online) Gowanus, East of the Web, Eclectica and 42Opus.
His stories were named Notable in the 2005 and 2006 Million Writers Awards, and one of the ten finalists in the 2006 Best
of the Net. He lives in Abuja, Nigeria.
Something of Inexplicable
By Eric Bennett
Ella doesn’t matter. All she is is dried flowers pressed in War and Peace,
pages 422 and 423.
Her mother forgot to give her a middle name, so it’s Ella
Leedy. Just Ella Leedy. Ms. Leedy was always forgetting: Ella after school, Ella’s social security number, Ella’s
tooth fairy money, Ella’s college graduation and finally, Ella herself.
Ms. Leedy is in a nursing home in Scottsdale Arizona with Alzheimer’s.
She doesn’t remember her own name let alone the fact she has a thirty-six-year-old daughter in Brooklyn named Ella Leedy.
Also, she doesn’t remember she never gave her daughter a middle name.
Thin lipped and hipped, Ella is plain. She bites her nails.
She lives alone, eats alone, watches the news alone, sleeps alone, and whispers to a withering ficus.
Ella has never really looked at her naked body. She sidles out
of the shower each morning averting the wet nickel-shimmer of her image in the mirror. Her fishy flesh disgusts her and the
smallish mounds of her breasts are an embarrassment. Ella has never had sex and she doesn’t masturbate, though she thinks
about it from time to time, masturbation that is. She never thinks about sex.
The truth is, Ella is thin and delicate and somewhat insignificant
from the front and totally so from the back. Her face is sweet, most men would say, “pretty.” Yet, her mother
forgot to mention it.
The highlight of Ella’s morning is tea and toast. The
simplicity of her breakfast ritual is for her, salvific. Fill the kettle. Burner to medium high. Cupboard opening. Cup and
saucer neatly fitting. Setting silver spoon to the right, just. Sugar to the left and lemon sliced. Pearl boba loose leaf
tea. Kettle whistling. Straining leaves under scalding water. Buttering bread. Napkin here, no here, that’s right.
The warming aroma is the only invitation to happiness Ella accepts.
Ella knows how to survive New York winters ─ layering.
She is slipping into tights, into shirts, pulling over pullovers. She is wrapping wraps and cinching scarves, buckling belts
and buttoning buttons. Wrapping sweaters, wrapping wraps, she is tugging gloves and tucking till she is braced against the
wind, against the world.
Every morning, so far, I’m
alive, Ella thinks just before
locking the apartment door behind her. Then she takes that great breath that divers do before they plunge and she readies
herself to enter the world for a moment of drowning.
Sidewalk lines pass beneath her feet and Ella catches her head-down
image in the elephant eye of a deli window and thinks, You certainly aren’t much,
are you Ella? She quickens her pace like a gust of wind, trying to outrun the way she thinks of herself.
The subway entrance gulps her down, spitting her out on the
platform like every other morning for the past seven years. Here are Manhattan morning commuters, quick, slick, and caffeinated.
Ella finds a place on the platform close to the edge and stands.
A Latina woman with a limping stroller comes noisily near and
stops. She’s spitting a thousand raging verbs into her cell phone, gesticulating like an angry politician.
Ella steals a look at the copper-coin face of the stroller baby
and her face softens. Not expecting to see eyes so full of grins, she smiles just beneath her frown. The child natters soft
as feathers, singing mouthfuls of little songs.
The subway train keeps its appointment rumbling round the corner.
The mom turns talking, her dark hair becoming a veil. As she
turns, the plush of her purse pushes the stroller; gently it spools towards the edge of the platform. Carrying the child,
the stroller’s rolling towards the edge.
Ella stares down the train, distance closing, stroller rolling,
child humming, mother ignoring, Ella frozen.
Ella thinks, Look! Look! Look! Your stroller’s rolling.
But the mother doesn’t hear Ella’s thoughts. A perfect panic slips down Ella’s spine, she cannot move ─
cannot will herself to move.
Vivid images of a crushed carriage and cracked bones pervade
as the subway train devours the distance to calamity. Finally, Ella’s brain sends a command down the spine, down the
hip, down the leg, down the ankle and to the foot. She lifts her toes and shifting her foot ever so slightly to the left ─
stops the stroller.
The smallish act of moving her foot takes all of Ella’s
heart, mind, and strength. For a moment, she isn’t thinking of herself, not till the thing is done. But it is done,
and the stroller is stopped.
The subway doors open and the mother turns, pushing the stroller
over Ella’s foot. She scoffs not knowing the act of redemption that just took place, her son saved. The doors shut. The train departs.
Remaining on the platform, Ella Leedy listens to the spirited
motor of her heart singing Gershwin. She closes her eyes and feels herself turning into something of inexplicable value.
Eric Bennett lives in New York with his wife and four children. He loves fierce wounded things and beginning sentences with the word “and.” His work appears or is forthcoming in Why Vandalism?,
Gloom Cupboard, Bartleby Snopes, Smokebox, Apt, decomP magazinE, The Battered Suitcase, Dogmatika, Up the Staircase, Dogzplot
blogspot, Foliate Oak, and LITnIMAGE.