The JRB presents an excerpt from Victor Forna’s short story ‘They Will Fly with Blooded Wings’, excerpted from A Mind to Silence and Other Stories, the AKO Caine Prize anthology.
This story is from the 2022 AKO Caine Prize workshop.
A Mind to Silence and Other Stories
Edited by Anwuli Ojogwu
Cassava Republic Press, 2022
They Will Fly with Blooded Wings
We begin with a fable
There is an old story of a devil who walks out of his forest home and lures a girl away with his beauty. His height. His skin. His smell of loam and flowers. His chest. His jokes. His stories. His touch. His gifts. The girl, against the words of friends, against the questions in her heart, follows the man, and marries him by the old River Sewa that meanders behind the town. Her parents support their love, gifting the couple with fruits and rice and clothes. But, after their marriage, their unity, with every step the man takes towards his forest home, he starts losing pieces of himself, a falling of the mask. The girl’s heart crashes into her toes. She wants to go back but can’t find her way through the towering palm kernel trees. The man’s feet, which she loved to kiss, become brown spiders that dance into the night. The man’s legs, which she caressed as if searching for miracles, become flies—a dark constellation buzzing around the girl. The man’s chest and neck become silent white maggots that puncture the earth. Only his head remains when they reach his forest home the next evening. His skin melts and falls away, his banana yellow skin. The girl holds a bleached skull in her hands, in the end, stuck forever in the devil’s forest home. In some versions of the story, the girl still roams amongst the red trees, searching. In others, a boy, a child, swoops in, fearless and tender, and saves the girl with nothing but a cutlass in his hand. There is also a version where the girl learns how to fly and saves herself.
He hit her for the first time on the last day of Harmattan, January 2013, a few months before the fangs appeared, before the scales started growing on his forearms, dandruff-like.
She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, at her blackened eyes, at her swollen lips, at the history of violence he had written on her body, and she wanted to leave. But she also glimpsed on her body the ghosts of his love for her, the ghosts of his kisses at 3am. on mornings she couldn’t sleep.
(And sometimes the ghosts of all we were, the memories, were the reasons we stayed with these monster-things.)
And that was why she stayed.
And that was why when he came back from the office, from his work as a geologist, at 9pm, with their son dreaming on her back about flight, she spilled herself at his feet.
She begged for his forgiveness. Because it had to have been her fault that he hit her; something in the way she said a word, a phrase, something in the way she moved her eyes, something in the way she added salt to his cassava leaves.
Wordless, he walked away.
Every tap-tap of his shoes against the earth, against the universe, was a dagger to her heart. He left her on the floor, on that maroon carpet he bought so long ago from a marketplace in Morocco.
But she stayed, and she stayed, and she stayed.
The house does not dare breathe when he returns from the night.
He parks his red jeep in the middle of the compound.
The doors of the house do not dare creak as he opens them, nor the table he props a bottle of beer on, nor the chair he sits in for awhile before lumbering off to bed.
In this pinching silence, she hears a sound: her son plucking the strings of his new guitar. One by one by one. She rushesdown the stairs, heading for his room. He should know better. But it’s already too late. She lets out a thin and weary sigh. She watches from the corridor.
Her husband crawls into their son’s room. He crawls on all fours. There are scales on his wrinkled forehead. He has vertical slits for eyes, blinking, blinking, blinking. He snarls. His fangs glint at the touch of the weak light overhead.
Her heart crashes into her toes.
Her son’s smile fades, suddenly, on seeing his father; a smile a god has just remembered to erase from the world.
—Papa, please, I am sorry I woke you.
The monster-thing slaps at the boy with his jagged tail.
A scar on the boy’s cheek reopens. The boy scurries to a corner. His fingers fumble over his bleeding face. Please. Please. Please.
The monster-thing crawls closer to the boy.
He lifts his tail and strikes again, and again.
She hesitates, then inches forward. She enters her son’s room. She dares. That’s enough! Let him go. She reaches to touch the back of the monster-thing. That’s enough. Does this make you feel strong? Go and do this with men your size.
He turns and faces her, all she hoped for, head tilted and twitching. His movement is graceful through the air. In a flash, he nails her on the floor. She doesn’t fight, numb. His mouth latches to that space where the neck meets with the clavicle, like sky and sea.
He sucks her blood.
The house breathes, exhales.
A small moment of calm.
She doesn’t see her son go into the kitchen.
But she sees him return.
So much rage in his nine-year-old eyes, the downward curve of his brow.
He sprints towards them.
In the boy’s hand, there is a knife.
- Victor Forna is a Sierra Leonean writer based in his country’s capital Freetown. His short fiction and poetry have been published in Fantasy Magazine, Lolwe, Short Story Day Africa Anthology: Disruption, Bad Form, the Nami Podcast, Brittle Paper, and elsewhere.
Includes the 2021 and 2022 shortlisted AKO Caine Prize stories as well as stories from the Caine Prize workshop
A woman who carries her fate and that of her community in her hair is beguiled by the deceptive designs of Europeans out to colonise her most prized possession. A man finds happiness in the reincarnation of a lost love. A young woman risks her life for freedom through the cultural practice of a human loan scheme.
Tales of sacrifice, love, freedom, self-discovery and loss fill the pages of this larger-than-life tapestry of stories from across Africa and its diaspora. Forged in a diversity of tempers and forms, these stories range from the epistolary to the experimental, from mysteries, noirs and political thrillers to speculative fiction and futurism, and much more. In prose that moves from visual and lyrical to gritty and visceral, these writers explore fate, memory, the fragility of love and the duplicitous nature of human interactions.