Hold Me

When there is no one else
That cares,

I look into your eyes and
Find bliss,

When friends are far and
Foes abound,

You remain my shelter from
Life’s harm,

Though I am not always
What I should be,

Your love still reaches
And captures me,

From now till forever
All I ask,

Is that you hold me
To your bosom,

Till all tempests pass

Out Of Reach

Isn’t it amazing

The way we crave things,

Only to get them

And wonder what all the

Bother was about?

To mortgage soul and spirit,

In a quest

For bigger, brighter, faster,

Then discover they are

Still not enough?

Wouldn’t life be so much

Richer, if we stopped

And truly listened,

Let ourselves enjoy

The things we already have?

Or must we continue

Chasing shadows

Buying bubbles,

Always hoping for that

Thing that is just

Slightly out of reach?

Hero

Everyday you keep

Watch over us,

Work night and day

To take care of us,

Selflessly sacrifice

So we dress like royalty,

Forgo trends, forget luxury

To ensure we are happy,

You are our hero

That is what you are,

No one can compare

No one can dare,

With the little you have

You have made us

So proud,

And we just had to say,

We love you more,

Every single day.

Happy Father’s Day

Dark Ages

The world wields nuclear power

We light our puny candles

Skyscrapers kiss the sky,

We crave a thatch roof

Nkere and I,

Supersonic aeroplanes whizz past

We trudge on pushing the wheelbarrow,

Microwaved chips are tossed aside

We scavenge for a little rice,

Waterbeds welcome wealthy heads

We lay tossing on a mat of threads,

Where does the inequality end

In Sleep, in Peace, or perhaps in Death.

Cannibals

As a mother that devours

Her children,

So our leaders

Swallow us,

They don’t stop

To see our faces,

They don’t bother

Listening to us,

We lie starving in slums

They are gaming in sport clubs,

We wash our hands with spit

They make fountains and Water

Arcades,

We seek sustenance

A livelihood,

They crush us,

And use our bones to

Build edifices,

Birth Mega cities,

Borrow pennies,

Yet remain pound foolish,

Demolish kiosks

Without providing jobs,

Ban head coverings

Ignore the head’s contents,

Jail adolescent parents,

For selling their babies,

Absent yourselves from

Decent adoption laws,

Buy newer bigger Awards

But you remain

A government of Cannibals.

Silver Linings

Utel Ukpane , Northern Cross River  June, 2011

My father was a thief. By day, he did odd jobs for rich villagers but at night he  stole. Mom begged him to stop but he wouldn’t listen. He stole crops first. Being a paid hand meant he got to know a lot about the village farm lands.  He could predict which cassava farms were ready for harvest and beat the owners to it. Later he began to steal bicycles. He would tie the bike up in the small farm at the back of the house and cover it with palm fronds. On the market day , he would be up before the first cock crowed. In the evening he would return without the bike but with stockfish and money. He would give mom some money and the stockfish. She would snatch them from him and stomp into their room.
The day he was caught, he had been stealing plantain behind Ndupo’s  plot. They doused him with petrol and set him alight after a thourough beating. We were terrified but that was just the beginning. The village elders came to us the next day and told us, we had been banished. Their faces were set like masks of iron. They smelled of snuff, local gin and hatred. Their leader said what my father did was an abomination, so, the land  needed to be cleansed of it. Mom knelt and pleaded, tears fell down her face like rain.

“Biko Bino, we have nowhere to go. Have mercy, I told Jacky not to steal, I have never taken anyone’s salt or pepper. Please…”

“Nne, there is nothing we can do. It has already been decided. Get up and pack. You must be gone before evening.” With that, they left.

Ejimma my younger sister cried too, I was trying hard to be strong. I was the man now, so i bit back my tears and tried to be useful. We picked our meagre belongings and left. Mom fastened Eno unto her back while I walked beside her. We trudged down the mountains stopping only to drink by the ocassional stream. In the distance I could see the village lake dancing under the sun. We wandered that way for many days until we got to a church. They let us in. Mom was allowed to keep the place clean in exchange for board, food and a stipend. The name of the new place was Utel Ukpane–New Land. We began rebuilding our lives.

At twelve ,I was bigger than boys my age, but it was my excellent grades that distinguished me. Teachers used me as an example of intelligence and good behaviour.  My classmates envied me. They didn’t know I had to read for hours each night with a candle and I didn’t educate them. At the end of year prize giving ceremony my name was like a chorus – Efem Atuaka -best in maths, Efem Atuaka- best in English, Efem Atuaka…. It should have been Efem Jacky  Atuaka but I had dropped that name. If pressured I called myself Efem George Atuaka. I didn’t want any reminders of  my father or the Mpale people.
We heard the news of the mysterious death of th e entire Mpale village by radio. Some scientists believed it was a poisonous gas that leaked into the air from the mountain lake. Others thought it was a chemical weapon that might have fallen off a cargo plane. The theories were unending.
Mom listened for a while then she continued cooking.

“Well, she said “I guess being chased out of Mpale wasn’t such a bad thing after all. ”

Rooted to my stool, by the candle, I could only nod in agreement.

How To Write A Caine Prize Story (Whatever That Is) Part 2

As promised, you are about to receive the second part of your instructions on this treatise. Heed them well and very soon, your name shall join those being celebrated in print,on air and online. It has been noted that some of you have already begun applying these nuggets in earnest . This is most commendable, the shortlist seeker must be a person with their wits about them. Time is of the essence. Now to business.

7. Avoid Technology .

When crafting such an important story, you might be tempted to mention some of the latest communication gadgets: mobile phones, laptops, Ipads,Tablets and the like . This temptation you must resist. However the mistake you must never make is to mention the internet! You are also not permitted any hint of the Social Media world, space may not permit to list them all but surely you understand. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are not allowed. This is an absolute. So when you feel the need to have characters sending email,pinging on blackberries, and skyping remember–you have been warned. Telephones are allowed though, provided their connections crackle with static. Also no guns, you can use sticks, stones and occasionally a machete for your violent scenes. Don’t mention any of the anti-aircraft guns possessed by insurgents. Be silent on the sophisticated assault riffles used for election violence. Don’t even let a character wish for them. Care less about how this might hinder the plausibility of your story, or render your narrative unauthentic. Ignore this at your peril.

8. Never Write A Heterosexual Romance

The quick learner you are , you must have read through the shortlists of as many years as are on the internet. You must have found that any kind of love is well received except the old fashioned type that exists between a man and a woman. (i mentioned this in a in 5 above but it bears repeating)
So let ladies touch jambullas or get caught by their mothers or men face trials for love. Just make sure it is not a man-woman thing. You will be on prize story ground.
If you must include any heterosexual romantic liaisons it must be in the context of a Fable or an affair. Forbidden love like forbidden fruit always sells.
You would better off without it though. This is to assist, if you insist.

9. Use Your Story To Highlight Political Issues

Here corruption is an instant winner. Crude oil spillage, bad governance, inefficient civil servants will come handy, arm yourself with a lot of them.. You must be quite expansive here, ensure no one is innocent. Everyone must have a trace of corrupt even the expatriate embassy staff. It is a guaranteed winner. Political issues create a resonance in your readers. It reminds them vividly of the Africa they see on television. Don’t you dare enlighten them. Take a clue from the stories shortlisted in the past. Never mind the “new” African focus. The new is silent.

10. Get Your Story Published Overseas

Of course there is a 20% chance of making it on the shortlist by getting published by a home based outfit. This you can in no way guarantee. The easier matter is to be in the 80%. That should be quite self explanatory. Besides it would be quite the task to convince a local publisher that children’s bodies are black with crude oil in Port Harcourt or that you need 3000 words to describe a fictitious healing. Western publishers however would be delighted. Besides where exactly would you find a publisher to accept just a short story from you ? Not in Nigeria definitely and not in Serria Leone. Simple statistics, get the story published overseas.

11. Be Blind To Other Races.

You might have observed first-hand some fascinating yarn that involves Indians, Chinese and Lebanese living on the continent. You might even have gotten a fast moving authentic story written and under the word count too. Unfortunately this you would have to discard. A shortlist story must not feature any of these, ever. There is a picture of Africa in your reader’s mind, your duty is just to highlight it. Zoom on it if you will. Any attempts at radical,rebellious,experimental, what-if thinking will meet the fate of the 92. And like them your story will languish in the endless literary cosmos, unread and un-appreciated, soon to be forgotten…. A most unbearable thought.

12. Limit Infrastructure.

This point you know already so it will be brief. Write only of the kind of infrastructure all the other writers have written of. Again this is reminiscent of
7 above but a slightly different matter. Transport for instance. Your story must never feature aeroplanes. Private jets are anathema as are any air conditioned vehicle. Bicycles,canoes, leg breaking motorcycles and rickety buses with smelling women are allowed though, so make good use of them. Note that the roads must always be bumpy, “sandy and brown ” and bumpy.
Also any mention of the following in your stories will be deeply frowned upon : fast food outlets, universities, cinema theatres,shopping malls, picnics, carnivals and parties. Forget your ambitious entertainment industry and their like. You must stay within the boundaries set from old. As in E.C.Osondu’s Waiting, Monica Arac De Nyeko’s Jambulla Tree, Noviolet Bulawayo’s Hitting Budapest, you must paint a bleak picture and do that deftly.

At this point you are ready to produce a shortlist story. Of course you would not attempt to set your story in a futuristic context. What? This is not genre fiction! There are other concerns like the liberal use of mosquitoes, nauseating smells and the ubiquitous eye disorders and the absence of banks. These you will discover in time and be all the more shortlist worthy when you do. There are other matters of course, punctuation, continuation, omissions ( now known as typos). These are minor matters that the help of a first rate editor can easily solve, another reason to examine with care where you send your story. It feels bad to let you go now, but all good things must end. Go, put your name on the Caine Prize shortlist roll call, 2014 is just months away. Best wishes. Adieu.

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Sweetest Taboo

Any day might be my last,

So the doctors say,

That you should be in my past,

But really how could they?

You are my comfort

And my joy,

My addiction

And my demon,

My everything.

When your white sweetness

Slips into me,

I lose glimpse

Of my mortality,

A prisoner,

I ascend new heights

Buoyed by your love,

And when you leave

I plunge into depths

Of dark despair,

So, I have made up my mind

To have you as often as I can

And if Death claims me

In your arms

I will go smiling.

Anything but living

Without my sweet seductive

Cane Sugar.