I applied for the Ake Festival Grant, but I didn’t get in. Figured I would publish the story here, though.
‘The central theme of the competition is travel, which references geographical or physical movement or in the broader sense which encapsulates migration or mind travel. Submitted work must be original and unpublished. Africa must be the focus of all submitted work.’
The maximum was 400 words. Take a look.
The conductor wordlessly hands me change as I breathe in thick exhaust. The older man sitting next to me falls asleep leaning gently on the window, dreaming about something he’s running away from; his phone keeps startling him awake.
He shouldn’t be in a matatu. Is it strange that I always think old people should have children who know better – children who buy them cars and take them to places with beaches and help them forget a harder past? That’s what old age is, no? A gradual release of care.
I’m running away from my thoughts too, so I open up a book about idle women somewhere remote. They sound too happy so I take out my phone and go to my Instagram. The first thing I see is pictures of a dark sepia-washed shoreline, some place I would like to go so that I wouldn’t have to think about everything that I’m mulling over now; whether it’s the right thing to do. Whether he even wants to. What my mother is going to say, and how, really, I don’t have the money for a big white dress, and how a white dress would be a lie, anyway. The anxiety starts to rise in my throat; a guilt-ridden sour taste. It tastes like unripe grapefruit, which on the best of days, tastes unripe anyway.
Suddenly the quiet conductor’s mouth is open in a rictus of shock and in that split second I know that the journey I was worrying about has now completely changed. Then the grinding of metal like giant nails on a macabre chalkboard; then nothing.