He read "that girl" Mitford's book, or so the story goes, and learned
about the ways the funeral directors profit from death
under the guise of compassion. Under concerned expressions
in rooms full of carefully-arranged caskets.
Not coffins--that sounds too morbid and in the business of dealing with death
morbidity must be avoided. For the sake of the customers and their fragile emotions.
A few years later he died, the final hope of a decade extinguished
in a hotel kitchen. Sprawled on the floor in that grainy photograph
as the boy in a white apron holds him. Assassins bullets had already
found his brother in Dallas and Dr. King in Memphis and they found
him in Los Angeles. The city of angels. He followed
the others into that early grave where the nation's dreams or
best-laid plans were buried with the bones of would-be saviors.
And the proud Kennedy family, lost in all their grief,
paid too much for Bobby's funeral.
Patrick Fogarty The Cast
Father, in our living room, I remember reading "The Lady or The Tiger" to my siblings. In our kitchen, mother inhales a deep breath and wipes her brow with a worn dish towel. Then, like magic she prepares a meal fit for your majesty. It’s payday and you’re late again. The wall clock ticks away the minutes. And panic, like a spreading virus, soaks the air. A door slams and I keep reading. You stagger towards the trail of my voice. Your shoes pound like war drums. Your little girls behave like frightened kittens. They squiggle and squirm with no place to hide. Your angry eyes stare and your daughters scatter. Then, for no reason at all, you charge at me. I tremble and wriggle as far away as I am able. My arms rise over my head. My legs pull up towards my small chest. And, as your fist strikes my young knee, I feel the punch and I hear your scream. But, your broken hand and the agony in your face delivers a strange comfort to my young mind. And today, a half century later, I still wonder —What did you tell your friends?
Rudolph Dunn A Mother’s Kept Promise
Roaring hot flames devoured his mother’s flesh, and the small
boy smiled. Achebe noticed the soft brown skin was now black and charred,
the delicate nose, full lips, and piercing eyes had disappeared. The beautiful,
elegant, form of Ashanti, the envy and pride of her village, was no more than
a roasting dark mass of skin, muscle, and bone.
The pounding heat pushed Achebe back a few feet closer to
his younger brother and sister. Tears stained the small faces of Carmara and
Kanesha, as they witnessed their mother disappear before them.
Achebe strained as he picked up two heavy pieces of wood
and threw them on the engulfing fire. “Step back,” he said with all the
authority his nine-year-old voice could muster. He then picked up a kerosene
can a few feet away and with all of his might launched it into the middle of the
inferno. The flames flew high in the air and caused the children to turn away
and cover their faces from the vicious, unforgiving, heat.
“I’m scared,” said Kanesha, in a soft, trembling voice, “Why are you
burning up mama?” Camara was silent as he watched his six year old
sister say what he thought, but was too frightened, shocked, and confused
to utter. His voice seemed trapped, with no escape, deep in the tunnel of
Her pleading question could not reach Achebe as he stared at
Ashanti’s form dismembering into smoky black pieces.
The memory of his mother’s bright sparkling eyes filled his thoughts,
eyes so full of love and affection that greeted him each morning when he was
awakened to do his chores and help care for Carmara and Kanesha. But those
eyes were gone now, along with the beautiful mouth that lit up the village with
its smile and laughter, that poured out so many joyous and soothing songs for
all to hear, that said they were loved and wanted even when scolding them.
Achebe watched as all of her disappeared into a pile of fiery
nothingness. But as he listened to the crackling of the fire and tried his best to
ignore its horrible smell, he knew that his mother had really begun to disappear,
bit by bit, long ago.
He knew the small cough that grew worse over time, the once
strong arms and legs that weakened, the attractive figure that transformed
into only a slight shadow of itself, had all been signs to him that the sickness
which had taken away his father only three years before, had now returned
to steal his mother.
Achebe couldn’t recall a time before the sickness. It had invaded
his village to take away aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and friends. It caused
villagers to flee and abandon loved ones and homes, to pretend they weren’t
ill, until they could no longer rise up from their mats and death claimed them
in their sleep.
So as the strong arms that pounded meal, hoed rows of okra,
and carried clothes to wash by the river became weaker and weaker, the small
arms of Achebe grew stronger and stronger.
For several weeks he awakened his mother at dawn as she once
awakened him. He wiped her eyes and mouth with a damp cloth, fed her the
daily meal and put the tin cup of cool water to her lips when she was thirsty.
When they became restless, he sent his siblings out of the hut to play so that
Ashanti could rest, and he fanned her face and tried to make her laugh when
the mid-day African sun became unbearable.
But this morning when he bent down to kiss his mother he
discovered she couldn’t be awakened. The warm brown skin he loved to
touch felt cold, the arms that once lovingly embraced him were
stiff and hard, and the piercing eyes that looked upon him with such love and
affection were frozen open with only a blank, lifeless stare.
Warm tears filled the corners of Achebe’s eyes. He placed his
small head on the breast of his mother and embraced her fiercely. The early
morning dawn was the sole, silent witness to his sorrow as Kanesha and Camara
slept comfortably on the straw mat in the corner of the hut.
He thought of how his mother had wiped away his tears after
his father’s death. She gently held his face in her hands, promising him she
would never abandon them and would always be there to guide and protect
them and remain by their side forever. And now, he felt she’d taken her
promise with her on her journey to the ancestors.
A few minutes passed before Achebe raised his head
and found the courage to stare into his mother’s eyes. It seemed the
deeper he looked, the more he realized his mother would never lie to him.
She would always keep her promise. It was then the answer of what to do
came to him.
Later that morning, while Camara and Kanesha wept over the body
of their mother, Achebe was outside gathering brush and wood and anything he
could find that would burn well. He then came inside the hut and brought out a
can of kerosene they kept by the door and carried it over to the pile of objects
and thoroughly soaked them.
He returned to instruct his brother and sister to grab Ashanti’s feet
as he strained to lift up her shoulders. Despite the struggle, they were able to drag
her to the pile and place her upon it. His siblings looked at him strangely after
seeing the pile of brush, rags, and wood. He ignored them. He was the eldest, and
there were simply some things they couldn’t yet understand.
He kissed his mother on the cheek for the last time and carefully poured
kerosene over her body. After covering her with rags and brush, he struck a match
and lit a piece of paper and tossed it onto the piling. He watched as the fire grew
hotter and completely engulfed Ashanti’s twenty-four year old corpse.
For several hours he stoked the fire, smiling, feeling pleased
at his accomplishment, ignoring the loud sobs of his brother and sister a few
The approaching evening had spread its shadow fingers across the
darkening sky , and the red ball of the sun dropped below the tip of a group of
distant trees by the time the charred black mass that had once been Ashanti had
cooled, and Achebe’s thoughts had returned to the present.
“Carmara, go in the hut and get father’s axe, and Kanesha, go with
him and bring me mother’s special basket.” Without saying a word, the children
obeyed their older brother and walked slowly to the hut.
Achebe grabbed the axe and recalled how his father had taught
him to always take long even strokes when cutting wood. Now, using the same
technique, he cut his mother’s burnt remains into pieces being sure to thoroughly
smash Ashanti’s skull and remaining bones.
He then took the beautiful green and black woven basket in his hands,
recalling how his mother loved to trace her long, slim fingers along its triangular
designs. Not since receiving it as a wedding present had she ever allowed anything
to be put inside it, always believing it to be too special for keeping meal or corn.
“Do what I do,” he instructed his siblings. He kneeled down and
placed his small fingers into the cooled ashes, slowly and reverently, putting scoop
after scoop into the basket, until he and the children had filled it to the brim. He
used his palm to smooth out the ashes on the top and then carefully placed on
the lid, sealing the basket securely.
“We must go now.” His voice was gentle, yet firm, the way he imagined
his father’s voice would be in this circumstance. “No one else is left in the village;
the sickness has taken them all away.”
Neither the darkening sky, nor the screeching sound of the animals
resting in the bush, or the thought of the evil illness that had come so swiftly to
destroy his village and family bothered him now.
The soothing touch of the warm dirt below his small feet felt good
as he walked along the road to Nkoli, a large village several kilometers away,
where he once remembered hearing several villagers had fled.
He sensed the fear in the eyes of Camara and Kanesha as they
walked closely behind him. He knew they were still very young, and he was
almost ten, so there were simply some things they couldn’t understand.
Achebe smiled, hugging the basket tightly to him. He could now,
once again, feel the same love , warmth, and safety from Ashanti that he’d always
known. He had found a way for his mother to keep her promise to always be by
their side and never leave them.
“A mother always keeps her promise,” he said softly, before singing
one of Ashanti’s favorite songs.
Prerna Bakshi is a sociolinguist, research scholar and writer of Indian origin, currently based in Macao. She has contributed essays and articles to a variety of publications including The Hindu, CounterCurrents, Amar Ujala, and Desh Bandhu to name a few. Her poetry has been published in Indiana Voice Journal and peer reviewed journals such as Muse India and is forthcoming in several publications. For more information, please visit: https://sydney.academia.edu/PrernaBakshi . She could be reached at: email@example.com or found on Twitter: @bprerna
Nathaniel Lotze is a writer, musician, and photographer living in the sometimes-beautiful city of Columbus, Ohio. This spring he graduated from sometimes-heard of Kenyon College, where he studied English. His poetry has previously been featured in Persimmons, and he is currently seeking publication for his first novel.
Patrick Fogarty is an author and poet. He writes creative nonfiction, historical nonfiction, memoir and poetry. Born and raised in the south Bronx, his works are infused with personal experiences from his childhood. He is a recent graduate of Yavapai College's Creative Writing Program. His stories have been published in the last two issues of Threshold—the literary magazine of Yavapai College. Patrick and his bride Susan live in the mountains of Central Arizona with their two dogs—Lady, a beautiful German Shepherd and Mia, a lovely Irish Terrier.
Rudolph Dunn is a native of Richmond and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and has worked as a journalist and educator over the years. He is also a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Dominican Republic for over two years, where he helped impoverished villagers with educational, economic, and health related development projects. Due to his fluency in Spanish, he’s volunteered to work in ESL programs in Richmond to help recently arrived immigrants adapt to a new culture and life in the United States. One of his most rewarding experiences was working as a Title 1 Writing and Reading Tutor in the Richmond Public School system, where he helped young people with special educational challenges to reach their full academic potential.
His passion is writing, and he is presently working on a book of short stories about children and women who face incredible challenges in the developing world. He loves traveling abroad, learning about different cultures, and also expressing himself through sketching and painting. He is single and lives in Richmond, where he is presently a Spanish teacher at a private school. "A Mother's Kept Promise" is his first published short story.