Home Page Homepage
HomeAbout UsNewsinterviewsProfiles of Emergent African WritersFictionPoetryDramaArtReviews

  Jack Mapanje
Niyi Osundare
  Lauri Kubuitsile
  Peter Addo
  Kola Boof
  Nii Kwei Parkes

  Anietie Isong

  Chinelo Achebe-

  Akin Adesokan
  Tolu Ogunlesi

  Adaobi Tricia
  Eghosa Imasuen
  Mpalive Msiska
  Roi Kwabena

  Nnedi Okoroafor-

  George E. Clarke
  Kimyia Varzi
  Uche Nduka
  Amatoritsero Ede
  Obododimma Oha
  Leila Aboulela
  James Whyle
  Koye Oyedeji
  Becky Clarke
  Nike Adesuyi
  Derek Petersen
  Afam Akeh
  Olutola Ositelu
  V. Ehikhamenor
  Molara Wood
  Chime Hilary
  Wumi Raji
  Chuma Nwokolo



Kola Boof

Kola Boof

Kola Boof’s short story The Swallowers, published exclusively for the first time by African-Writing Magazine, is being turned into a novel called The Sexy Part of the Bible to be published in America in 2008. Born in Omdurman, Sudan in 1969, Ms. Boof now lives in the United States and is the author of the acclaimed short story collection Long Train To the Redeeming Sin and the novel Flesh and the Devil. She has two sons.

 The Swallowers

You may as well know everything. That there are white men in Africa now who no longer come to bring us the word of Jesus Christ, but come instead—to bring back the dead. In fact, the man who brought me back to life, the only man I’ve ever trusted, the man who undid my virginity and now lies here dying, his head sweating profusely in my lap, is one of them—the tall Ron Howard as Ritchie Cunningham from “Happy Days”-looking one in our clinic whose name given to him by his white people is Stevedore — the one who makes me read books and teaches me how to convince people better that I’m the character I’m playing, and along with all that, I don’t have to tell you how terribly young and liberal these foreign scientists are. How they bathe naked in the river with the Oluchi tribesmen, play American hip hop music and hang pictures of white dog-haired women in strips of cloth on their walls while they drip the DNA of dead people into flat, red-bottomed cups they call a “culture”…and cook food in this thing, the microwave. But what I do have to tell you—and perhaps eventually the whole world about—is how I have worshipped him so magnetically for all the nineteen years that I’ve been alive again, and yet just this late afternoon, even as he is dying and my vision is blinded by sheets and sheets of tears, there is nothing but the most silent betrayal and fascinating disbelief between us now…because I know at last, that it is true what we blacks have been whispering about all over West Cassavaland since back when King Reagan was in the White House—that our dead are being cloned…cloned by the foreign AIDS scientists…and as I hold Stevedore’s last seconds of life, his convulsing head to the burnished heat of my bare black breasts and try to keep his blue eyes from turning to glass, I know it now…without a doubt…that I, who never even had AIDS, am one of his clones...and that it’s my fault that he never believed in God and that this is why he named me the very last word to part his dying lips…”Eternity”

Dear God and Dear Satan, I address the both of you to say: “Ife Kwulu ife akwudebe ya” (if one thing stands, another thing stands by it). For I am truly a descendent of the laboratory now, and I cry that you might take pity, because he has made of me an actual goddess—as pathetic as either of you—an experimental daughter raised on weekends and playtime by the Oluchi river women, yet privately educated by what the Africans call “the Caucasoids”, and just as when you created me—there’s more poetry than sense to it.

It’s my name that Stevedore calls right before his heart stops. He exhales it, passionately, “…Eternity!” And though my tears prevent me from seeing the moment when his eyes become glass, I certainly feel it, and especially right now, as hallucinogenic memories come to me like some miracle story that the topless Oluchi women would expect tourists to believe, I can see…everything…that the American filmmakers have come here to make a motion picture about in my lover’s glass pane eyes:

The skeletal dog with the human arm in its mouth, barely nourished enough to wag its tail as it runs away from the screaming mob, and him, Stevedore…coming into the town square, only he’s twenty years younger and looks even more like Ritchie Cunningham back then than he does now, and he steps aside as the mutt he mistook for a Dalmatian runs past with my arm in its mouth, and he’s not surprised at all as he comes upon the sight of a frail, middle aged Ajowan woman being kicked to death in the streets of DakCrete by the swallowers. To him, it is West Cassavaland desperation—that the young people are kicking me to death and stomping me and shouting belligerently, “Kill the racist…kill the racist’!”, their bony fists shaking in the air and their black faces twisted with an urgent ejaculation as they, the swallowers, obliterate me—“The Racist”. And you see he’s lifting me now. Lifting me from my puddle of blood as my brains balloon out of my head like comic book clouds and my faint heart retires ever slowly, every gently…just as Stevedore’s own heart dies in his chest now…and my bowels release, splattering the front of his shirt, belt buckle and zipper with warm, runny shit. And when I glance at the middle aged Ajowan woman’s face, bloody wet and asleep as though she’s just been born, I can see clearly that she was me. Me, exactly.

I can’t think for a moment. Only it’s now again, the moment of your death, 2002, and I can’t breathe without you, Stevedore—oh my love, the only love I’ve known, I can’t breathe without you! I look up…and there shouting in the doorway is Dr. Quicken, our scientist from Great Britain, his wrinkly pale throat rooster red with excitement as he keeps insisting, “Eternity’s killed him!...Eternity’s killed the American!” And people are coming—I hear them running towards the lab as Dr. Quicken cries out, “His shiny black bitch has killed him!”

And as though peering into a puddle of elephant’s piss, I can see myself in Dr. Quicken’s cold, hateful gray stare—my wicked flesh, shiny black as melted coal newly sprung from the earth’s volcanic core. I can see my childlike saucer-shaped eyes and angular cheekbones fashioning my mouth into a blatant 0 and my bare skinny limbs bending towards the floor with your white as a moon face in my lap. And for the first time, I can see clearly that it’s true what you used to say about me, Stevedore.

That I…Eternity…am breathtaking.

The Women’s Dungeon, Abeni Ibo Prison
“I testified on your behalf”, whispers Stevedore’s wife, Juliet.

She’s carrying blankets and food, God bless her, because when you go to jail in West Cassavaland, they don’t give you anything but a wire cot on a dirt floor with a hole in the middle to squat over, and worse than the fat green flies congregating around your shit hole are the big brown rats, quickly shooting from corner to corner with tails longer than teek braids, their toothy pointed noses sniffing to detect the smell of sand crystals on your toes or perspiration salt in the corners of your eyes and mouth. There are no bars or electricity down here. Just stone walls, torches and stinking, unwashed women strewn about like skinny worm infested dogs, and one of them is cuddling the one thing that I fear even more than rats—a doll—and no matter how far away the woman is, the thing keeps staring at me. This is why I forget all about being mad at Juliet and break into tears and grab her and hug her, holding on for dear life when I see her.

“I told the authorities everything”, she exhales, and then just as our embrace is beginning to feel comforting, she pulls away saying, “As a formality, they’re sending an investigator to the compound to ask some questions, but you’re getting out of here tomorrow.”


Horrified of the coming hours and yet speechless, I stare into Juliet Frankenheimer’s frozen blue eyes as she seems to speak her sentences in categories: “I told them about you and my husband being in love—and how you worshipped him. I told them about Stevedore’s hobby of writing plays and having you star in the 16 millimeter short comedies that he made to entertain the Oluchi and Ajowan people. I told them, Eternity…about how we found you abandoned on our doorstep and practically raised you from birth, and about the fact that Stevedore and I were just about to send you off to be educated in England. I told them about your high I.Q. and your gentle soul. I made them understand that there’s no way in hell that you would ever harm a hair on Stevedore’s body, you loved him so unselfishly. And being that I’m Stevedore’s wife and have no reason to defend you…the Gon-ghossa (Protectorate) has decided to release you tomorrow.”

It was all true, of course. I would rather take my own life than take Stevedore’s—but still, of all the scientists at the Africa Farms Aids Clinic, why would Dr. Juliet be the one to come rushing to rescue me from the dungeon for criminals, witches and people with AIDS? She hated my heart, the fact that it continued beating each day, and she loathed Stevedore’s penis to the point where she’d commissioned a nude portrait of him without one.

I look into her tired blue eyes for as deeply as her soul will allow the searchlight of my stare to wade in, and I watch her hand, its trembling fingers whiter than usual as she runs them through her limp blond hair, and then suddenly, I realize that the redness in her eyes might not be from crying. She seems high to me. Higher than a giraffe’s pussy, as Stevedore would say.

I blurt out two words: “Why, Juliet?”

“You think”, she answers back, “that just because you’ve hurt me so completely…and…for such a long time, that I wouldn’t still bring you justice? You should know me better than that, Eternity. You’re my daughter after all. And no matter what went on between you and Stevedore, there’s no way that I could ever harm either one of you. Hate comes from love. As your parents, we taught you that all your life. That when someone hates you, it’s because, really, they love you so intensely. I couldn’t leave you in this dump.”

“No, I meant…why do perfectly normal people clone other humans?”

Juliet touches my face with just the tips of her fingers and says, “I should have never told you…that you’re a clone.”

“But you weren’t lying.” And my throat tightens and quivers as images from my screen test at the movie studio flicker in my mind like an evil slide show. And on the end, I call her, “Mother.”

“Listen”, she whispers…and then as if by magic, I can see myself in Dr. Juliet’s sea blue eyes. Only I am thirteen again, standing in the shade along the River Niger, my bloody hands held up to my face and my voice screaming out for help as Stevedore rushes out of the foliage and into the riverbank, his bare white chest, robin-red and peeling in the middle, between the nipples, because he was one of those ones that burns in the sun, and he calms me and washes my girl-cave and waves my hands in the water and explains to me that it is only my monthly bleeding starting, and that this means that I am officially a woman and have the power now, as we Ajowan women say, to bring back the dead. And then later, I can see my bedroom in Juliet’s blue eyes--Stevedore and I strewn across my bed as he holds my naked body, and like a father, tries to soothe me into taking a nap, his strong gentle hand caressing the gorgeous bloom of knotted African hair that I had back when I was a child—and Juliet enters the room, to bring us cold sweet tea and cheese sandwiches. And Stevedore cups my breasts with a single warm palm while the other rests in the curve of my hip and he says, “It was when you were born that I began to believe in myself. That I could bend the universe.”

“But you don’t believe in anything”, Juliet reminds him, sweetly.

And then later, after we have eaten the sandwiches and drank our tea, Juliet lies down with us, her sigh on my forehead and one of her arms caressing my skin as she whisper-sings a lullaby, the sincerity of her voice carrying me at last into a baby-like comfort zone, and in that moment of heavenly drowsiness, I look up at the porcelain white skin on Juliet’s throat and notice, for the first time, the thin, thin slash of pink scar tissue that goes across it like a vague pencil mark. This is where Stevedore had made an incision and taken the “adam’s apple” out, before they got married, I will learn years later.

And even though she talks on and on here now in the dungeon, I can still hear her softly singing the lullaby…”and if that Robin bird don’t sing, mother’s gonna buy you a diamond ring…”

“Who do you think killed, Stevedore?” Dr. Juliet is asking me, but in her blue eyes, he’s not dead. I see the three of us on my childhood bed, fast asleep.

And then it must be moments later, because she’s talking about…”I had nothing to do with the operation he performed on Lucky.”

Lucky was our pet orangutan at Africa Farms Aids Clinic when I was around ten or eleven. She’d been there for years, a friendly, trustworthy animal, dragging her arms on the floors as she wobbled down the hallways, her body tilting side to side, carrying faxed documents for the scientists or bringing them a syringe or a thermos of broth for an Aids patient. But one day—she just snapped. Grabbed a baseball bat and began wrecking the lab and beating Stevedore with it. In fact, Stevedore would’ve been killed if Dr. Gobi Kadir, our scientist from India, hadn’t unloaded a shotgun into Lucky’s backside.

“It was because of a growth on her brain”, Dr. Quicken informed us all days later.

“Chronic painful brain spasms caused poor Lucky to become delusional and violent.”

But the Ajowan and Oluchi people out in the forest and down by the river—they had shook their heads when I told them that.

“Lucky was a boy orangutan when they first got him”, insisted the tar black and deep chocolate faces at the river. “But your father is like God. For his amusement, he switches the animals around—down there!” And then, just as one of the blackest faces was about to tell me something, something that she looked as though she’d been dying to tell me since back when I was just a baby and “my parents”, Stevedore and Juliet, had first put me in the arms of the river people and asked them to teach me how to be African—her husband stepped up and commanded her, “Sifu-siffo!” And she not only shut up, but from there on, whenever in my presence, was shut up for good.

Sifu-siffo (She’s lived with whites for more than two days).

And because of that, there were several times when the Ajowans and Oluchi would wait until I was skipping back to the clinic before indulging in their ritual of sitting around telling stuff.

Right now, I long to ask them, “Who do you think killed Stevedore?”

But Dr. Juliet is busy in the dungeon, telling me stuff. Insisting, “When he cloned you, Eternity…it was the beginning, back when Stevedore and I were newly married and so deep in love. Making you was like bringing a child into the world for us. It was our passion, and although some of the other scientists like Dr. Quicken had already cloned Africans successfully, you were Stevedore’s first. And you’re well aware…that it isn’t possible for me to make a baby. When you were Orisha, the dead Ajowan woman lying on the observation table, I knew that you would make a beautiful daughter, and I wanted you even more than Stevedore…I wanted you to exist.”


Juliet touches my face so lovingly, and yet the butterflies in my stomach seem to suffocate and thicken my urine until it’s heavy in my bowels like syrup and straw, because I don’t feel like a human being anymore.

“When you were…Orisha”.

I struggle to say it, my human name…Orisha…but for some reason, I can’t get it to form in my lungs, let alone rise in my throat or fall from my lips. Fresh tears fill my eyes and I can’t stop blinking, because Juliet is crying now. Telling me that I must let go of the rage, disbelief and bitterness that has consumed my entire being since a few days ago when she first told me what I am.

She is saying, “You shouldn’t hate your father, Eternity. He was a good man. He created us. With his bare hands, his mind, his heart and his imagination, he created us. We are a family, because he loved us.”

And as sick as it is, I realize that Dr. Juliet, my mother, is right. This is who we are and this is our truth. Because of Stevedore and his brilliant, lavish way of loving. And I am numb because I fear that no man will ever possess me that way again—first as my father, then as my lover. Love me, literally, into being.

“Your visiting time is up!” shouts a uniformed policeman walking through the dungeon with a torch raised above his black as coal arm.

“Accept it!” Juliet urges, squeezing me passionately. “Accept life.”

“I’m starting to”, I promise.

“Good”, she says, letting me go. “I’ll be back to fetch you in the morning. I’ll have Fergie draw you a hot bath and fix us a hearty breakfast. And remember, there’ll be some questions by an investigator.”

When it looks as though Juliet is about to turn and walk away, I throw my head back like a child in a fit of silent, voiceless wailing, and the gurgling in my throat along with my arms reaching out for her and the contortions of my crying face temporarily stop her in her tracks.

There’s nothing she can do until morning, but because she knows that my falling to pieces has little to do with being in jail, she tells me the truth, “This is life, Eternity. None of us anywhere…are free.”

Africa Farms Aids Clinic
None of us anywhere.

Our maid, Fergie, gently awakens me and I notice that I’m in my bed at the clinic and that it’s very dark outside. I remember earlier that morning, seeing my name written on the prison clipboard—Eternity Frankenheimer—and then my jet black fingers jotting my signature next to it.

“You’re free to go”, the guard had said while staring in astonishment that I could actually write my name. He certainly couldn’t write his.

I remember that an investigator had come by to see me but that I simply hadn’t been able to stay awake after bathing and having breakfast, because I couldn’t go to sleep at the prison and that Dr. Juliet promised him that he could come and see me in the evening if he absolutely had to question me about the death.

So now he is downstairs.

“Detective Bekki Diallo”, Fergie whispers as I sit up in bed and receive her hand covering my face with a warm wash cloth to wipe my eyes and mouth. Coming out of the dream world, my eyes search the room for the beings that frightened me most as a child—dolls, but then I reassure myself that there are no dolls in my room, or perhaps even in the clinic, because Fergie has locked them all away where they can’t stare at me. I yawn powerfully, because I’m well rested, and then it seems…there I am…standing bare breasted before the detective in Dr. Quicken’s office and wearing my very finest Oluchi floor length cotton skirt. Predictably, it’s my bald scalp that causes him to do a double take, because although he himself is an Ajowan and occasionally sees topless women walking in the city, he is not used to black girls who still uphold our ancestor’s ritual of femininity—the shaving and painting of the female head. I bow gracefully and say to him, “Koto beddi Papa” (welcome, sir), but he does not respond in kind. In fact, he grimaces, slightly embarrassed, which alarms my instincts and causes me to study him closely.

He is a tall handsome well educated Cassavan, light brown in color on his neck and hands—but discolored in the face. Especially in the center of his face where it’s peeling. His complexion looks unnatural, and within seconds—I realize that he’s a bleacher. One of those modern city dwellers in our country who uses fade creams to bleach their skin lighter, and what’s even more pitiful is that with his pecan colored flesh, he’s already very light complexioned in comparison to most West Africans, and yet even light brown obviously isn’t good enough, not light enough, and now the more that he talks, I realize from the faint blue film across his gums that he’s also a “swallower”—one of those city blacks who swallows daily what our young people have nicknamed The Michael Jackson Pill—a pill that’s supposed to make you turn white, provided you take it long enough, which since no one’s turned white yet, we don’t know how long that is.

I grin, trying not to laugh as I notice his hair. Jungle-kinky at the base but the bulk of it slick and straight, lying down on his head like a shiny tar cap. It looks so very bizarre on a black man, and yet he talks and behaves as though he really does have the been-to hair of a mixed race or half-caste person, and because I am so exceedingly jet black in color, there is this elitism in his speech and mannerisms that indicates he regards me as inferior.

“So you like sleeping with white men?” he asks.

“Not as much as you wish to be one.”

His mouth falls open like a monkey’s and the skin on his wide, flat nose cracks and peels all the more. An instant mutual disgust flares between us as though both our feet are being approached by the giant water bugs that crawl out of the jungle after it rains.

“The science lady claims that you’re not a patient, you don’t have Aids.”

“No, I don’t have Aids”, I answer.

“Did you murder Dr. Stevedore Frankenheimer?”

“No I didn’t.”

“No I didn’t…sir. Call…ME…sir.”

And there in his eyes, I can see the words sparkling like sickle fire: “You topless, backwards black as night jungle bitch!” I can see his desire to brutally strike me about the face—for being midnight black and for not being in awe of him.

“No…I didn’t…sir.

“The Gon-ghossa has already assigned an Englishman, Detective Lance Hightower to investigate the murder of your father, but as a formality and as Detective Hightower’s assistant, I am to question you for the next few days as a matter of record”, he says and begins checking off notes on his clipboard. At the same time that he’s writing on his clipboard, he manages to fish out his wallet, remove a paper photograph and hand it over to me. Bemused, I take it and notice that it’s a picture of a pale, fatigued, resolute-looking white woman with a half-caste child sitting on her lap. Without even looking at me, the detective assumes that I’m impressed and announces, “My wife Zelda and my son Simon.”

Something about the pale woman and beige brown child enchants me, but I don’t want him to have the satisfaction of knowing. I hand back the photograph, and then to my utter shock, Detective Bekki Diallo addresses me as though he’s some loving older brother delivering valuable advice: “It’s dangerous for a girl as black and ugly as you are, little sister, to be walking around thinking so much of herself. These Caucasoids raised you like a princess, but look at your skin, you’re blacker than satan. You need to find a husband and have some boy children and stay out of the sun.”

My eyes (“black magic eyes”, Stevedore used to call them) stare up at him, acknowledging that he’s stupid, and all I want, seriously, is to spit on him. Ratchet up a hunk of snot and just spit it on him, because although my greatest curiosity in life is any African man that actually lives in a city—I hate this one.

“It says here that you’ve recently auditioned for the starring role in a film”, he says.

I blink and nod “yes”, my stomach filling with dread at both the mention and the remembrance of just what it was that triggered Juliet to reveal to me that I’m a clone--the auditions that Stevedore had me undergoing for the lead role in the film biography that the Americans had come to our nation to make—“The Racist”. It was Stevedore’s dream that I be cast as the true life lead character, Orisha, an Ajowan mother who is kicked to death in the streets of DakCrete for trying to get the young people to stop swallowing skin lightening pills and bleaching their skin, and in fact as the script explains, this is the reason that the young Africans have nicknamed Mother Orisha “The Racist”—because how dare she question their reasons for wanting to be brighter and how dare she hand out pamphlets from health officials decreeing the epidemic of kidney failure, skin cancer and liver disease that was so obviously a result of the skin lightening agents. It is Mother Orisha’s black womb and preaching black gums that stand between them and their dream of achieving a better life, a more successful existence. One in which their color in this white man’s world would no longer matter—because they wouldn’t have any.

“Keeeel dat racist witch!
” the African children chant as Fanta bottles and rocks fly against Orisha’s head. I can almost remember feeling it, and even more clear is Stevedore’s voice, his gaze entering my head mysteriously as he assures me, “You were…born…to play this part.”

And then his tongue and what I think of as his hard beautiful Ritchie Cunningham penis, enter me at the same time, and there in the darkness, it’s as if my girl-cave is a lavish cathedral, like the kind Juliet used to make him go to on Sundays in the city to give confession in, only it’s me now that he’s inside of—confessing to. My pussy is his church.

“This is what I’m talking about”, the detective warns me, suddenly. “Why on earth would some negroid-faced girl from Oluchi village be trying to humiliate herself with silly dreams of becoming the star of a major Hollywood film? It’s affected you, negatively—being raised by Caucasoids. You think too much of yourself.”

Stung deeply, but not the least bit irrational, I inform him that I’ve appeared in dozens of films. Stevedore made countless movies using his own equipment, and in every single film—I, Eternity Frankenheimer, am the star. If he likes, he can go out to Storage Room A-11 and view the cans of celluloid and even get one of the scientists to screen them on the wall in the clinic cafeteria.

He ignores this information, but at last, he gets to the point. “I could help you, you know.”

I hadn’t expected it, but he jumps right in, his clouded eyes casting me as a stain. “The Michael Jackson Pill is difficult to purchase since they made the new anti-bleaching laws in West Cassavaland and Senegal, and not everyone can afford it. Unless you know someone with connections, you get over-charged and your usage gets interrupted. But I’ve got unlimited access to a regular supply straight from Europe. That’s where they make it you know. Kindis-Europa (magnificent Europe). I can get you Nadinola skin bleaching cream from Canada and Mexico and wigs and human hair from Korea, too. I could keep you supplied with all that.”

In his eyes I see young black schoolgirls and desperate housewives of DakCrete giving him sex in exchange for these products, but of course, I have no proof that what I see in his eyes is true. Still, you’d better believe it.

“What about Percy Commey?” I ask him, and as I say that name, it’s as if I’ve placed burning coals beneath his feet. Percy Obliteri Commey, of course, is the celebrated Ghanaian boxer who made international headlines in 2001 when the right side of his face literally fell apart during a boxing match because of his chronic use of skin bleaching agents. One small cut on Commey’s cheek, courtesy of his opponent, had progressed during the match into small skin-cracks around his nostrils and then another cut at his right ear until all the skin on his right side began peeling off before the whole world like a bleeding black mask. Not only did Commey lose his National Super Featherweight belt when it was discovered by the boxing league that he was a bleacher, but also the respect of the West African people, including those who were fellow bleachers and swallowers, because along with the shame of being a national figure caught bleaching, he had also brought his sexuality into question by entering the boxing ring wearing a Jheri-Curl (niggerlox).

“And don’t forget about our region’s own Wife of Tarzan. She died trying to become Fanta colored”, I remind him to rub it in, and as he puts his hands on his hips, the air in his lungs becomes like lava and a single vein in his forehead bulges out as though more blood might flow through it than through his scrotum and penis. At last, he is silenced, because not only have I raised the names of shame, but I’ve finally convinced him that the glint in my black magic eyes represent not black envy or exasperation over his white wife and half-caste child, but a judgmental rejection and contempt. To me, he’s just another well dressed, high up Pogo-nigger who wishes to someday wake up white, even if it’s through his grandchildren.

And for that—he slaps me! His whole big hand, hard and loud across my face like thunder!

“OUuuuuheeee!”, I scream at the painful sting of it, my hands holding the right side of my head and my eyes, immediately, flooding with so many tears that they look like stars.

“Eternity!?” shrieks Juliet from another room and then suddenly, she’s busting through the door. “Eternity!?”

I am bent over and crying profusely, and Detective Diallo turns on Dr. Juliet, shouting belligerently, “What kind of child hasn’t the manners to respect the positions of men?”

“Yes sir”, Juliet snaps back at him, angrily. Dr. Juliet’s hands, I think to myself, are as big as any man’s, but still they’re very gentle and I’ve never once seen her use them in a fight. She orders him, “Please leave us now.”

“You’re lucky you haven’t been assigned to be the killer”, he tells me. “Any dark one will do. And you, scientist. Teach this black jungle bitch some respect!” He yells as though we’re Oluchi tribal wives who’ve dropped his pan bread in the ashes on the way to bringing it to him, his stinging hand clutched suddenly into a fist with which he wishes to bash us both with. Then he storms out.

“What happened?” Juliet asks me.

“I didn’t want to be light skinned”, I tell her.

Wife of Tarzan
Seeing the moon outside my window makes me feel cursed now that I know how I was brought back into the world. I glimpse its full whiteness, the ghost-like glow of its pearly emulsion embracing my stricken stare like sadness absolute. I tell Fergie, “Close the curtains, please.”

And as she blocks out the moon and its whiteness, I take the damp cloth away from my still-stinging cheek where the detective slapped me, lay it on the night stand, and I turn up my palms to gaze in wonder at the slits on my wrists, barely mended, as it’s now been only four days since my initial suicide attempt.

I want only to open the earth (my wrists) and be held by Stevedore, but of course, he has already saved me from my suicide attempt. I am alive, and just yesterday, he died, yet like a grown man bound and gagged in a tiny wooden box, I feel the new life that he put inside me, kicking from within, the voice of its white father caroling bitterly: “Ife kwulu ife akwudebe ya” (If one thing stands, another thing stands by it). And in that painfully fertile calling, I find it absolutely crucial that I wonder about Detective Diallo and what it’s like to actually bleach one’s skin and swallow pills and hate one’s own flesh--not his being—but his flesh and his desire to erase his own people; to literally spit curses from the eye of his penis in the hope of erasing us.

I wonder in confusion about our nation’s Poem of Patriotism, words erected by proud African men on that day of our people’s independence: “For we are the Africans…the children of the earth’s first garden…that perfect, deliberate blackness that can only be described as the genesis of vision itself. Let freedom ring.”

“How can he just erase us?” I whisper as Fergie tucks me in.

My words stop her cold, her face hardening like a boarded up wall beneath a cracked mirror, and in shame’s fleeting shadows, the door of privacy within her eyes makes it obvious that she has more in common with Detective Diallo than with me. It startles me into a chill.


As though she’s about to pee on herself, she whispers into my gaze, conspiratorially, “Beautiful people owned us, and that’s how we found out that we were the damned.”

“Beautiful people?”

“Angel’s food cake is white…devil’s food cake is black. You never noticed that? I believe it’s because God loves his white children more than he loves his half-castes…and he loves his half-castes…more than he loves us black ones. Otherwise, why would he let them conquer us and enslave us and have nothing but good riches to show for it? The white man took us off the dirt roads and put us on buses. He put shoes on our feet and created airplanes so that we could fly. He invented cameras and showed us pictures that only prove how ugly and poor we are. That computer you love, because it puts the world at your fingertips—it’s from the white man’s genius. On all the stamps and money in Africa, you’ll notice the face of the white man’s mother printed right across it, because that’s how much he loves his mother—he wants to see her image everywhere he goes, and the whiter she is—the more he loves her. No such tragedy as a white woman being too white. But how many African women do you know that can boast that they’re not too black? I tell you, God loves the Caucasoid race. I’ve put ice cubes in the white man’s glass and I’ve put ice cubes in the black man’s glass, and it never fails—the white man’s ice is colder.”

The white man’s ice is colder?

Her words pierce my heart as though the syllables are cells from the AIDS virus, and though I’ve already died and left this earth in a past life for trying to glorify my people’s darkness, the truth confronts me now--that this is what the martyr gets—nothing--I have been erased and I am back and nothing has changed, and as her words literally suffocate my soul, it’s the knowing that nothing has changed that makes me long for an utterly endless sleep, a sweet suicide, but Fergie won’t shut up. I’ve set free her bitterness about suffering and her impassioned whisper splashes forth, “It’s the young insecure ones like you that think it’s a tragedy to be ugly, but you’re wrong. Women like me understand that we don’t need beauty—because Jesus loves us. In his blue eyes, we are better angels, and by his father’s mercy we will be saved.”

“The river blacks”, I venture, “say that Jesus was a black man. An African.”

“That’s because they’re ignorant. If Jesus was black, then why would black people be swallowing a pill to make them white and straightening their hair to be like his? For all and sundry, he wasn’t black. He was white—and someday, when I cross over, I shall be white, too. I’ve told all my children and all my grandchildren and all my great grandchildren that when Jesus comes back for us—we’re going to walk in the light.”

And when tears come to Fergie’s eyes, because she so pitifully longs for that colorless day of acceptance, unconditional love and inclusion—I feel compelled to spit in her round mud-colored face.

“Do you remember the Wife of Tarzan?” I ask her, pleadingly.

“She doesn’t count!” snaps Fergie, dismissively. “Why are you always bringing up dead people?

And not even good dead people!”

Patiently, I remind her that the Wife of Tarzan was not originally a human being, but a toxic poison invented by Stevedore to ward off the giant water bugs that used to rise up out of the jungle after heavy rains and swarm our clinic’s compound. I inform her, as Stevedore had informed me back when he was perfecting the recipe for the poison, that in ancient Rome and Greece, the upper middle class women had achieved the illusion of being extremely white skinned by wearing a heavy lead acetate foundation makeup, a makeup created by dissolving lead shavings into vinegar, and that the consequences of wearing the makeup was that after years of exposure, the women developed brain disorders such as dementia, chronic migraine headaches, severe memory loss and sometimes even blindness. Nevertheless, Stevedore had pointed out, the women would do anything to be as white as possible, because in those ancient Roman and Greek societies, whiteness was the sole marker of status, respectability and moral fortitude, and only the royal and governing classes had been really truly fully white.

I then explain to Fergie that in our own West Cassavaland hillside existed a similar ancient makeup, but a natural one--Tekur Mud being a bluish charcoal underground clay that West African Kings had routinely melted to darken their penis’s with and that West African Queens had worn to assert higher status by transforming their midnight black faces into even darker, smoother charcoal colored complexions, over which they would paint intricate patterns of white dots and drape their shaven heads with cowrie shells and other jewelry, all of it to achieve maximum “Nyama” (black as all black put together), a state of pre-colonial being that denoted in females, especially—African royalty, femininity and fertility. But alas, Tekur Mud also brought on madness, elephantitis of the scrotum, diabetes and blindness, and it had been out of boredom and curiosity that Stevedore had mixed the lead acetate Roman-Greek formula with the African Tekur Mud and melted it down with lye, brine of sericin (silk gum) and water to create what he called--“Wife of Tarzan”—the poison of the Gods. I remind Fergie that its main virtue for all of us living at the compound was that it was odorless, and therefore, the perfect bug repellent—especially since the jungle’s water bugs often grow as big as lobsters and can run as fast as the pregnant bush rats.

She remembers now--this lethal, odorless poison that we all appreciated so much—until, of course, its name became the epitaph of a young woman.

“Dr. Juliet killed her!” decrees Fergie with a grave, blunt whisper. “Just like she killed that white father of yours that you…marked…like a lioness. The girl was a prostitute!”

“Only because her parents forced her!”

“Do not speak…the unspeakable“, Fergie warns me. “There are certain things that decent Africans do not discuss, even amongst one another…ever.”

But spying the stitches in my wrists, I realize now that it’s time—time to have no more secrets, at least not the ones that are forced upon us, and just as I think it…both at last and all along…I see our lovely “Wife of Tarzan” come stumbling out of the bush as though she’s still alive.

Her name had been Aneela and she had come from a moderately well to do middle class family in the Tenuba valley, the Woluti-Zombas. Like neighboring Senegal, West Cassavaland had legalized prostitution in the late 1960’s, and as a consequence, there became a strange phenomenon among the families of the African upper class--the registering of their very darkest-skinned daughters as prostitutes in the African men’s sporting ranches that catered sexual booty along the resort coast line and in DakCrete. Aneela had been only sixteen when her lawyer father and schoolteacher mother awakened her from a deep sleep one night, the mother binding her hands and covering her mouth while the father gently and robotically, but lovingly, took her virginity, after which they had registered her with the State as a “Career Girl--Title C” (a prostitute) and posited her at the Air Force men’s club, explaining to the teenager that the sacrifice she was about to make was the most noble thing in the world—and that because of her earnings, the family would now be able to keep her two older brothers in college in England. They told Aneela that this was, in all discretion, a typical and honorable practice in several African countries, which it is, and that neither of her two slightly older sisters could go in her place, because like their mother, they had been born the color of peanut butter and would surely fetch fat marriage dowries for the family bank, and therefore, were already in training as Needed Wifery.

Right after losing her virginity, Aneela had tried to hug her mother, but the mother, the same mother who had held her down so that she could be raped by her father, only flinched away from her, uttering the rebuke, “Don’t touch me”. Her demeanor towards her own child being one of setting out the trash, and naturally, in that moment, Aneela had been transformed into a kind of monster more tragic than any prostitute. “You”, the African mother had whispered, “came out looking like your father and your brothers. Jet black—with hair that doesn’t grow.”

“They really work. I’m lighter”, Aneela would tell me years later as we’re in the clinic’s den watching Stevedore’s videotapes of “Happy Days”. In her palm I see the enamel-pretty cream colored pills and the faint blue film that goes across her gums from years of toxic buildup—and then I cringe, wondering as I watch her swallow them if they taste anything like the creamy drops of semen that she enjoys swallowing right out of Stevedore’s penis, her willingness to do it being the reason that he hides her in our clinic, irregardless that she’s registered to the Air Force men’s club, a prostitute without AIDS living in and working out of an AIDS clinic—and, of course, most baffling of all is that she has such a stunningly beautiful dark chocolate complexion, considerably lighter than my charcoal coloring, and that even with her round negro princess face and gazelle-like eyes, she considers herself deformed and needful of erasure.

A few weeks later she dies, dies by accident, because Juliet jokingly tells her that the mysterious thermoses in our injections-and-syringes refrigerator that have “POISON—DO NOT DRINK” written across them in bold letters are in fact filled with the secret formula that caused America’s Michael Jackson to fade from black to white, and although I tell Aneela not to believe it, that Juliet’s just teasing her and that it’s actually a poison Stevedore calls “Wife of Tarzan”—she gets up in the middle of the night, a whole weft from her poorly sewn-in hair weave clinging to her pillow, and swallows down the grayish-white death milk anyway.

At the Wife of Tarzan’s clinic-sponsored funeral, I notice that so many of the city Africans that have
come to mourn her have their own faint blue gums and peeling Nadinola-covered faces, their skeletal hands draped habitually over the spot on their torsos where their kidneys ache, and it occurs to me that no matter how many thousands of Aids-infected black bodies I’ve seen piled up by the authorities and torch-burned out of this world…AIDS is not the only disease that’s killing off an entire race of people.


The Racist
It’s the casting of the film that brings me to the end.

This is right before I frightened Juliet into telling me that I’m a clone, it’s right before my monthlies stopped coming, it’s right before I discovered that the reason I felt so haunted by the passion of Orisha after studying her and screen testing to play her in the film was because I had actually been her in a previous life. It’s right before I slit my wrists.

It is the night in which I am having this dream, only days later I will realize that it wasn’t a dream, but rather a memory…and in the dream, I am a young Ajowan girl of around thirteen, my mother’s blue black arm is pulling me behind her and we are entering a movie projection house on a clay red dusty avenue in DakCrete. You must take note that in the dream it’s 1969, just one year after our nation’s independence from Great Britain, and for the first time, the seats inside are filled with black African people—Oluchiis, Ajowans, Mandingos, Ashanti, Wolofs, Hausa-mon, Yorubans, Igbo and the “pot liquor” (city-stock mixtures of blacks, chocolates and purples). We are, indeed, a theatre full of common people—and then, suddenly, up on the screen, out of total darkness comes the first images of this film that purports to tell the story of one of West Cassavaland’s greatest ancestors—our beloved Mother Iyanla—but instead of applause, an audible gasp of shock ripples through the audience.

The actress on the screen is the color of a yam’s yellow innards, her nose pepper-shaped rather than flat, wide and sexy like a West African’s and her lips are juicy, but not as everlasting as ours. She is not us, but rather an “echo” of us, a watered down Europeanized imitation of our mother’s “essence”—and sure enough, some skinny nappyheaded African in the front row jumps up immediately and shouts at the screen, “That’s not our mother!”

“Oh sit the hell down”, responds another group of men—slick chocolate ones from the upper ranks, and that of course stokes the hurt feelings and betrayal that the African women in the audience will come to almost always experience whenever they sit through movies made about them by either white men or black men. On screen, the insult against our mother seed continues issuing itself as the husband is shown to be a very dark skinned West Cassavan and the children, miraculously, even darker and more “us” looking than the father. Only the mother has been whitened and watered down, and as the audience bristles heatedly, one of the Mandingo sons at mid-row finally stands up and shouts at the screen, “Without our real mother—we cannot be born!”

“Silence, black boy!” shouts one of the slick chocolate men from the upper ranks, but then a Yoruban wife jumps up and demands, bitterly, “How can we sit and watch this colonialist donkey shit? They could have at least cast a woman who goes with the African landscape!”

“Without our real mother, we cannot be born!” shouts an Ashanti man from the back, and it turns into a riot. Bottles fly at the screen, people are up on their feet hissing and cursing at the yellow woman on the screen. “Without our real mother—we cannot be born!” the Africans of 1969 chant with rage.

And as my own mother hurriedly pulls my siblings and I out of the theatre’s pandemonium and into the hot sun, I notice immediately a skeletal dog coming up the street with a human arm in its mouth, a Dalmation I think at first, but then as it gets closer, I realize that it’s just a mutt, and it’s right then that a green bottle hits me upside the head—and I wake up from the dream—and there we are, Stevedore and I, entering the soundstage where they’ll soon begin shooting “The Racist”, and where as well, I’ve been astounding the production crew with my auditions for the role of Orisha for weeks now.

Strange and ominously, they applaud and whistle as I enter soundstage B-12. Some of the African members of the production crew shout out, “You are Orisha, Eternity—in the flesh!”, and just as they’re clapping and saying these things for only God knows why, I look over at the director’s chair and standing behind it is a tall, slender elegant biracial girl possessing a honey-pineapple colored version of my own fashion model good looks, her head hooded by a Fedora and her eyes fastening to mines with an apologetic nervousness. I know, instantly, that this woman is the mutt from my dreams that they’ve mistaken for a Dalmation, the one with my arm in its mouth, and that she, out of nowhere, has been brought all the way to Africa to play the role of Orisha—to erase any memory of the real me, but of course, later, after I’ve given birth to my own biracial baby, I will threaten to slit the throat of the first African to dare call my child a mutt.

“What the hell is going on?” demands Stevedore as one of the film’s Black American producers comes running up, obviously given the thankless task of informing us that, “the studio in California got a call from their financial backers in New York and London. They loved your screen tests, Eternity—they couldn’t get over how much you actually look like the real life Orisha, but they just don’t think mainstream movie goers are ready for your look.”

My look, mind you, is not chocolate like Whoopi Goldberg, it’s Pitch black and shimmering--like the purple outer space of the universe. I am the charcoal that creates diamonds.

“You could at least cast a woman who goes with the landscape!” snaps Stevedore as he, too, notices the mixed race actress standing behind the director’s chair.

“The part of Orisha has been rewritten”, coughs the Black American Producer. “She’s now the biracial daughter of a British naval officer and an African princess.”

“But Orisha was a pure Ajowan!” protests Stevedore, emphatically. “A real life blue black Ajowan woman who died fighting against skin lightening—and now you go and lighten her skin for the movie!”

Talk about a skin lightening pill.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Frankenheimer, but our orders come from Hollywood.”


On the ride home, I am silent and sick to my stomach, because I’ve basically just been told that although I look just like Orisha, I’m too black to play her in a film—a beautiful African woman can’t be purely Ajowan—and even deeper than that is their message to me and my whole race—that my skin is a virus and my African features are deformed and my bald head a joke, and because of that message—I have to have sex immediately, as passionately as possible.

I make Stevedore pull over to the side of the road, because I need my skin touched and my features kissed and my smooth feminine skull massaged, and only by human touch can this denigration of my human form be healed back to wellness—but just as soon as Stevedore’s lovemaking reassures me of my human form’s normalness and desirability—Dr. Juliet snatches away my humanity altogether.

“I didn’t get the part”, I tell her when she walks into my bedroom at the clinic, but she could give a shit. She’s edgy and upset because I still haven’t had my monthly.

“If you’re pregnant by my husband, Eternity, then we need to begin thinking about an abortion right away.”

An abortion? I shake my head only because the Oluchi river women have raised me with the fear that such a thing is evil and wrong.

“Sleeping with your father is one thing”, Juliet says, “but I won’t have you giving him children, and besides, your first semester at university is coming up. You can’t attend an English school pregnant.”

When our bickering escalates to her revealing to me that I’m a clone, the shock of it causes me to vomit and take to my bed in disbelief, and because the Africans neighboring the clinic have always regarded me as an outsider and sometimes hidden their conversations from me and because I’ve always been dreadfully afraid of the dolls that other children seemed to dote on and be fascinated by, it suddenly all makes sense and I can’t help but question whether or not clones have souls, because I don’t believe that I do possess a soul, I really don’t, and then as I learn that it’s from Orisha, “The Racist” herself that I am cloned, I know instinctively that it’s true and I faint and all that is left to want is to be dead to the world.

“And you’d better not tell anyone”, Juliet hisses after I’ve come to. “The World CDC Federation has laws against cloning and Africa Farms could be shut down and Stevedore could be imprisoned for the rest of his life if this gets out.”

Come midnight I slit my wrists.


I Love Ritchie Cunningham
In America, the black people speak of possessing a “double consciousness” brought about by having to survive in a racist atmosphere, and with that bit of information, I suddenly consider that mines is worse—a double conscious schizophrenia. I am alive, but I constantly strain to remember when I was dead. I am beautiful, yet I believe that beauty is evil. I am black as all black put together and raised by lonely whites who wished me into being, and yet I believe that black people and white people both are satan’s pride.

“Our child”, predicts Stevedore as he holds my face in his hands after kissing me in the clinic hallway, “will be born with nice hair and a good color.”

And even with all that, I think to myself, it will still become a swallower. I look into Stevedore’s blue eyes and at last I have to admit it—he is not Ritchie Cunningham. He just isn’t!

“Eternity!? For heaven’s sakes, why are you crying like that? You’re behaving as though I’ve just said the world is coming to an end.” And of course he assumes that I’m crying because I’m not like everybody else and so he confides about me being a clone, “I never told you…because I wanted you to have a normal life.”

He lifts my chin, staring into my black magic eyes and says, “All my life, I’ve really wanted to love someone, Eternity. That’s why I did it. Creating you, put love inside me.”

“But you’re not God, Stevedore! You had no right!”

“But of course I’m God”, he jokes. “I’m a white man.”

And it’s because of this small joke, you see, this tiny joke that actually has enough truth in it to make it funny, that I decide that my only way now of owning myself is to drink the Wife of Tarzan, and just an hour later, even with my barely healed wrists stinging against the pull, I open the refrigerator where we keep the thermoses marked POISON—DO NOT DRINK.

I ignore Stevedore’s voice calling from outdoors. He is working in the hot African sun, his white flesh burning redder and redder, unaware that the baby and I are about to die.

In my mind, playing over and over again, is the melody from that movie that the scientists made me watch all my life—“The Wizard of Oz”—it’s the one that the Scarecrow sings that goes…”if I only had a brain”, and now opening the thermos, I think of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, and I think of my mother—Dr. Juliet—and how she’d always wanted to be a woman and through science became one. And yet I’ve died already and come back as the very thing that always scared me as a little girl—a doll. In fact, there’s no denying to myself any longer—that I’m a doll that somebody made, which must be why I fear them so insanely, and with that sitting on my lungs, I begin to hum the Scarecrow’s melody, only I change the words and sing, “…if I only...had a soul.”

Topless in a flowing kente skirt, I pour myself a glass of rice milk and mix the Wife of Tarzan in with it and then I drift out of the kitchen, sailing room to room as though sleepwalking, and I stand there, bracing my mind and body for that moment when I will drink the poison and leave this damnable earth and all its misery behind, but just as life would have it — the unexpected — Stevedore comes into the room, his ice creamy flesh dripping from the heat and his burnt red arm wiping away the sweat on his forehead.

“God it’s hot”, he says—and he takes my drink.

He comments that I look breathtaking with my breasts out like that and—he takes my drink.

And as I watch him lifting the glass to his lips, the seconds moving slower than a snail, I close my eyes to God…and to all eternity.

Copyright © Fonthouse Ltd & respective copyright owners. Enquiries to permissions@african-writing.com.