On Loving Contemporary Horror Movies

On Loving Contemporary Horror Movies

And so what’s the final temple? What’s our last defense from horrible death? After we have left our homes, all that we’ve got are our bodies. Which is why, so often, possession films are the most terrifying of all: The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Shining (sort of), The Conjuring. The reason we’ve seen such an oversaturation of these stories in recent years is because the horror industry has exhausted all its precedent anxieties. We’ve reached the end of a cycle in which the horror movies have systematically broken our sanctuaries down, violated them, reminded us we aren’t ever safe.

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Beyond the Pale

by John Vercher

Laurie broke my heart. She didn’t mean to. I know that now. I’m sure I knew it then. But still.

My parents transferred me to the public high school after four years in two separate parochial schools. This is to say I knew no one. The first day seemed interminable. Class after class, I extended my hand to introduce myself and met with hard stares and warnings to not get caught in the parking lot alone when the bell rang at the end of the day. That all happened before lunch. Noon came, and I exited the food line, tray in hand and looked out across throngs of unfamiliar faces. They glared back. I weaved my way through the tables in the hopes that someone would slide a chair out for me instead of pushing the empty ones in. I ate alone and wished the day away.

Alphabetical seating arrangements left Laurie and me in the last seats of our respective rows of Algebra I. Blonde bangs hovered above her forehead, a waterfall that flowed out from the sawtoothed strands of her crimped hair. Before class began, she laughed with her friends and her braces glinted in the glow of the fluorescents overhead. Her laugh lines almost, but not quite concealed a mole next to her nose, a beauty mark, perfect in its imperfection. The second bell rang and as the students finished their murmurs and turned forward, she glanced back at me.

I opened to a random page in my book and hoped she hadn’t seen me. I felt her look away. Certain I was in the clear, I went to resume my stare.

She’d been watching me. This day was looking up.

The curtains pulled back and the movie trailer of our relationship played on the screen of my mind’s eye. Berlin sang “Take My Breath Away” over footage of me as I scrawled my first note to her. Will you go with me? Check yes or no. Sorry So Short. Cut to our own table at lunch. Cut to holding hands in the hallway. Cut to prom. As I stared off into space, I caught movement in my periphery. She looked at me again. This time neither of us looked away. My glasses, thick enough to see the future, had slid down my oil-slicked nose, and I pushed them back up. I finger combed at the duckling soft hair on my upper lip, smiled my gap-toothed smile (my braces wouldn’t come for another year) and just when I thought I the day couldn’t end any better, she went ahead and said it.

“You have a really nice tan,” she whispered.

The movie reel sputtered. The celluloid melted. The film broke.

* * *

In the countless times I’ve thought about that day, I haven’t figured out what I honestly expected Laurie to say. The truth is, I never expected her to say anything, at least not to someone like me; someone who collected comic books, played with action figures a little longer than he should have, and spent lost weekends with Sonic the Hedgehog and King Hippo. Someone whose clothes were less cool than his glasses, and with a complexion that resembled the terrain of a topographical map. I never thought about the fact that I had brown skin, a wide nose, and straight hair. I was a biracial geek before it was hip to be either. No wonder Laurie stared. To be fair, I shared her confusion, about what I was and about who I was. And though my struggles with identity had begun long before that day, Laurie still ended up my first.

With one statement, Laurie became the first person to make me realize that there was something else about me that people, particularly girls, would see before they noticed the barely-there moustache or my questionable fashion sense. That afternoon was my big bang, the event from which all other questions of my identity sprung forth. It was the beginning of a high wire act, on which I walked with a constant teeter, only able to take a step before I re-assessed my footing, before I found a balance between what I liked and what I was supposed to like. How I talked and how I was supposed to talk. Who I loved and whom I was supposed to love. As if being thirteen weren’t hard enough.

* * *

“I kind of have it all the time,” I said.

“Are you Italian?”

“Nope.”

“Spanish?”

I shook my head. She cocked hers with tight-lipped confusion. Her bangs didn’t move.

“So…what are you?”

“I’m black,” I said.

“Both parents?” she asked.

Laurie had exclaimed it with such surprise that a few students ahead of us turned. My face went hot, embarrassed at their watching, humiliated by her disbelief. My throat felt dry and I managed a nod.

“Huh,” she said, and turned back around.

* * *

My sons are three and one. My wife is white. Beyond the pale of her skin, my oldest boy looks little like her. He shares my wide nose, my gapped teeth, and my straight hair. My one year old has my wife’s features and her complexion. The frequency with which I’ve thought about that afternoon increased exponentially since I first found out we were pregnant.

My three year old might meet his own Laurie. She won’t stare at his skin color. She won’t list all the possible races and ethnicities she thinks he could be (because that’s a thing to do), and she won’t bark in disbelief when he names the only one she didn’t guess. They’ll pass notes, hold hands and maybe he’ll even bring her home to meet his folks. That’s when the questions will start, both his and hers. She won’t understand why I look so different. He won’t understand why it matters.

I know what to teach my sons about who they are, but not about who the world expects them to be. I want to infect them with mine and their mother’s rampant idealism, with the notion that we all crawled from the same soup, that we are all human beings but I know that doing so leaves them vulnerable to pain. I know that as much as we don’t want it to matter, despite the declarations that we live in a post-racial America, it does matter. I want my sons to understand the struggle, but I don’t want them to experience it. And I don’t know if that’s right.

I know that Laurie didn’t mean anything by what she said. I do know that even at our young ages, the fact that she thought it was okay to ask those questions isn’t okay, that it’s representative of a problem ever present almost thirty years later. I also know that while I want my boys to know why Daddy is nervous when he gets pulled over, they won’t ever have to be. I know that while I’ll be concerned when they’re out late with their friends, I won’t be worried because their pants are a little baggy or they wore a hoodie that night. I won’t be worried about these things, because while they look like me, they don’t look enough like me. For that I am glad.

And because I am glad, I am ashamed.


John Vercher is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University's MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. His piece, "Homewood," won the 2014 Assignment Student Contest, and can be seen in Issue #1.

Chill, Baby

by Nadia Owusu

There was, as is often the case, no warning that the G train would not be running past midnight. No flyers or posters. No announcements on the A train telling passengers not to bother getting off to transfer. Nothing. The woman on the microphone at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street station sounded thrilled about this inconvenience even as she apologized for it.  

I was pissed off because nobody came into the restaurant for dinner that night so I didn’t make any money. I only had two thirds of my rent that was due in a week. I was going to have to pick up shifts during finals. I stood around all night polishing wine glasses and folding napkins instead of studying for my statistics exam. Tonight would be another sleepless one. There would probably be crying. I usually cried when I studied for math tests because I’m very bad at math. Doing things that I’m very bad at makes me sad about all the things in the world that I will probably never really understand, like electricity and Einstein's general theory of relativity.

During my shift, the bartender I was in the process of breaking up with had gotten drunk and annoying. He flirted all night with that blonde woman from across the street, and not just in the compulsory bartender way. She came to see him every night, even in this snowstorm. Usually he was polite to her, but disinterested. She had thick, square, acrylic French-manicured nails. She wore sticky pink lip gloss. She always started out her evening with a Sex on the Beach. Her voice sounded like her acrylic nails on a chalkboard. But, he leaned over the bar and looked into her eyes. He probably talked to her about his art, how he’d dropped out of law school for it. I did not like the thought of him sharing that part of himself, the part I liked, with her. So what if I had ignored his phone calls for three days? I was supposed to be the one ending it, not him. And now the stupid G train wasn’t running.

I kicked an empty forty bottle that someone had discarded on the platform. It was still wrapped tightly in a brown paper bag. It rolled unsatisfyingly for a few seconds then stopped at a middle-aged Rasta’s feet. He had his head tipped up as though waiting for further instruction from the MTA. I was not holding my breath for any such thing. We were, I knew, on our own.

“Chill, baby,” he said.

I hate it when random men call me ‘baby,’ especially when they’re telling me what to do. I might have told him as much. I thought about it. I was in the mood for it. But I had kicked a bottle at him so I didn’t exactly hold the moral high ground. I scowled at him instead.

“I hear ya,” he said, even though I hadn’t said anything. “How we supposed to get home?”

“Yeah,” I said.

There was a bus that would get me close enough to walk to my apartment. Not as close as the G train, but closer than the A train. I had never taken that bus but I knew it existed because my friend Sarah who lived down the street was always going on and on about how she took it everywhere. She talked about taking the bus the way people talk about juice detoxes and meditation which is weird because there’s nothing about the bus that is healthier than the train. At least nothing I can think of.

Outside, the snow was still coming down in heavy, sharp white pellets. It was the kind of snow that made opening an umbrella look pitiful. I buttoned the coat button that pinches the skin under my chin. I had to do that so my hood would not blow off in the whooshing wind. Google on my cellphone told me that the bus stop was six blocks away. The bus, I thought, better be running as usual. My brain said this in threatening tones. I needed the universe to know that I meant business.

What’s nice about walking in a snowstorm when you’re somewhat unreasonably miserable is that it makes your misery more reasonable. I don’t mind snowstorms when I don’t have to go anywhere except down the street to my favorite hole-in-the-wall for a hot toddy, or when I can stay indoors reading books and making soup. I do mind them under most other circumstances.

There were very few cars out that night; very few pedestrians. Downtown Brooklyn didn’t feel peaceful though. It felt abandoned. It felt like everyone was safe and sound at home except for me. I blamed a lot of people for this. I didn’t care if my reasoning was irrational. I was not interested in considering association versus causality. Perhaps this tendency is why I was having such a hard time with Statistics II.

It was my landlord’s fault for raising the rent by $150 when I was already struggling to pay it. I knew that this would happen when the hipsters moved in. I blamed those hipsters and their rich parents. I blamed my parents for not being rich. I blamed the university I attended for being so expensive. I blamed financial aid for not covering my whole tuition. It was the bartender’s fault for flirting with that blonde woman and making me jealous enough to stay at the restaurant for an hour after closing time to drink whiskey with him. The MTA was the worst institution that ever existed. Never mind that it ran trains and buses twenty-four hours a day so that I didn’t have to own a car. The G train wasn’t running right now. I also had a bone to pick with the mathematicians who developed theoretical and applied statistics.

I was walking with my head down so that the snow didn’t attack my eyeballs. They’re very sensitive. Walking in that way made it difficult to see where I was going. I had to stop every block to check whether or not I had arrived at the corner where I was supposed to turn left. My sense of direction is very poor. I was standing on Atlantic and Nevins when something large and brown leapt past me and into the street. A bus, perhaps my bus, rolled over it. The bus kept going, leaving the street empty and white again, except for a mangy mutt that was now bleeding red into the snow.

The mutt was silent. I rushed over to where it was lying. Its belly had been crushed and split open. The sight of its exposed flesh and guts filled my lungs with freezing oxygen. It—he—was dead.  As far as I could see, there hadn’t been anything or anyone chasing him, nothing to spook him. I wanted to touch his nose but as I bent down and reached out my hand, I started to shake.

“Hey sweetheart,” called out a man wearing a backpack with a hard hat tied to it, “you okay?”

I don’t like it when off-duty construction workers I don’t know call me ‘sweetheart,’ but it didn’t seem important in that moment.

“There’s a dead dog in the road,” I yelled at him.

“Why?” he asked.

That the mutt had been hit by a bus was not the answer to that question. It was only a consequence.

“I don’t know,” I yelled. I didn’t need to yell. He wasn’t very far away. Maybe I wasn’t yelling at him.

I felt ridiculous standing in the street now, so I joined the construction worker on the sidewalk. The two of us stood in silence, looking at the mutt.

“That’s the way it is sometimes,” he said after a while. “It was probably the snow.”

What he meant by that last part, I did not know. But, I nodded and started walking towards the bus stop again. This time, I let it snow into my eyeballs. The snowflakes didn’t feel as sharp as I imagined. They just felt like cold water. I blinked and let them drip onto my cheeks. I had to accept that the storm would keep storming until it was over. And when I got to the bus stop, the bus would come or it wouldn’t. There would be reasons for whatever happened just as there must have been reasons for the mutt in the road. But, I might never know them. And they wouldn’t necessarily mean that any of it made sense.

Leikmót, 2015

by Eric Beebe

Photo Courtesy of Hurstwic.

Photo Courtesy of Hurstwic.

When Matt invited me to Bill’s house for leikmót, I decided I’d bring a pie. I felt like I owed some offering in exchange for the welcome Matt had extended to me from Hurstwic, a group of modern-day warrior-scholars of ancient Scandinavian tradition. I had attended and participated in a few of their combat training sessions before, but I paled in comparison to Matt. I liked Viking history and the culture of the Norseman. He practically lived it. He’d refused to shave his beard for about a decade, and his skin was decorated with tattoos of runes and symbols linked to Odin. When we first became friends I could see myself striving for the same, but then years passed, and I accepted my place in this century while he held the link between the periods tighter than I could even hold a sword.

I made the pie with wild boar and apple and acorn, striving for whatever historical relevance I could muster. The day of the event, Matt drove us to Bill’s house. Bill was head of Hurstwic, and he hosted the leikmót and annual Winternights Feast in his backyard. I remember thinking his home bore surprising Colonial influence for what I half-expected to be a Nordic longhouse. His driveway wound through a thicket of trees like some hidden path to a wise man from a fantasy series.

The other visitors hailed us from the back porch. I recognized few faces and introduced myself to the rest with trepidation. After only making training on a couple occasions, it was hard to feel worthy among the more dedicated at this yearly ritual. Even their conversation was alien to me. Talk with friends and family always seemed such a contest of who spoke first and loudest. But these men and women around me took time with their words, letting spans of silence pass between them in peace, enjoying the October air.

Within the hour, Bill called all to order with an opening speech. He gave the history of the leikmót as a contest of might, speed, and cunning held with annual feasts before days grew short and larders keenly measured. Bill announced there would be prizes for the most impressive competitors.

We played knattleikur first. Like much known of the Norse, many fine details were lost outside of the sagas, but what resulted was some distant relative of rugby and hockey. The Swift Wings of the Valkyrie faced off against The Old Berserkers, blocking runs, stealing balls, and trying to trip each other with their staves. The Swift Wings won a bag of Icelandic candy. Everyone broke after the contest to cast a silent vote on an MVP.

There were then shield- and spear-throwing competitions. I watched Matt throw a shield every conceivable way for optimum yardage. Reynir, our resident Icelander, hit truer with each consecutive spear he threw. I couldn’t hit anything with a shield, and my spear-throws were far from any of our target’s imaginary vitals.

After archery and barrel-fighting drills, we prepared to feast. I helped two other guests bake flat disks of bread beneath the pot over Bill’s fire pit, where he had been cooking stew over the open flame. We just warmed my pie in the kitchen stove. Wooden bowls were brought out for us to serve ourselves, and we gathered in a circle to eat. Plenty complimented my pie, but I found it too bitter after parboiling the meat in an IPA and wondered how they could enjoy it. Bill’s stew was much more appealing to me, but I waited and waited for someone else to lead the charge before daring to grab seconds. We washed our dinner down with beer and Brennivín, Icelandic schnapps traditionally imbibed with rotted shark meat.

As we finished the meal, two attendees brought out a wooden chest and a hula-hoop wrapped in decorative tape. Bill explained Nordic reverence for rings and oaths taken on them and held the hoop out between us to grasp in unison. With our hands locked in place he convened Hurstwic’s bi-yearly meeting of associates. We talked as much about the blessings native Icelanders sent us from their ancestors as we did the groups P.R. and marketing.

With talk of business done, Bill conveyed the day’s prizes: Icelandic licorice candies, certificates, and stones. In Iceland, Matt had told me, the locals protected even their smallest stones. They were a part of cultural history, the spirit of the land.

“Rocks don’t grow back,” he had told me.

But now Bill awarded stones from famous sites of the sagas to a number of the games’ participants, and somehow even I’d made the cut. He handed me one the shape of a rounded triangle he said came from the site of knattleikur in the saga of Gísli Súrsson. I told him it was going on my mantle.

We concluded the meeting, and Bill insisted we leave our dishes and take any leftover beer and skyr, yogurt still made from Nordic bacterial cultures and once used to extinguish fires. He gave out books that he and a colleague were ready to pass on. Matt and I were keen on his offers and last to leave. As we toted paper bags of our spoils back to his SUV, I carried my stone in my shirt pocket. We set course for home with a vessel full of weapons, bodies pleased by the ache of exhaustion, and a piece of Iceland’s soul resting over my chest.


Table for Four

by Sarah Eisner

We don’t always eat together—a necessary downside to our dual entrepreneur, Silicon Valley household—but we try to often, and tonight we do. We eat in the faded drape of winter evening light, all of us returned to each other from our busy days, at the dinner table. We eat in the same seats as always: ten-year-old Wilson across from me, eight-year-old Ben across from my husband, Noah.

Wilson is eating oiled broccoli with his fingers. Noah wipes his hands on a paper towel and says, “Hey buddy, use your fork please.”

Wilson is mid-chew, and Ben giggles and says to his dad, “You didn’t.” Ben is jolly, and right—we all love to eat with our hands. We take an irrational pride in not being formal, and we don’t dine so much as heartily consume.

Noah picks up his fork and spears a floret. “You got me,” he smiles at Ben.

“Hey,” Wilson says. “Let’s play thumbs up, thumbs down.”

We nod and Wilson starts. “Soccer,” he says. Our thumbs go up. We’re all on teams. Noah and I play in the co-ed adult league, our version of church, on Sundays.

“Donuts,” Ben says. He often dreams about chocolate glazed. I like apple fritters and the other two just eat plain.

Technically, it’s Noah’s turn next, but Wilson interjects.

“Divorce,” he says.

I look at Wilson across the table, surprised, though maybe I shouldn’t be, while getting my thumb in a low down position.

***

Until I was twelve, my family ate dinner together. I don’t mean usually, or on most weeknights. I mean every night. In our suburban family room in Concord, California, we sat in the same seats—Rick across from Mom, and Dad across from me.

With a classical music record on low and the TV off, we ate slowly, with our utensils, and we discussed our days as we listened to each other, just like studies—not yet conducted—now recommend.

Dad got home from San Francisco every night at five-thirty. At six o’clock, give or take five minutes, Mom would call Rick and me to the table by clanging her oversized, festive wall-mounted dinner bell, though our little house hardly called for such fanfare. We were usually just a few feet away doing homework or playing Chinese Checkers. Once seated we were not, under any circumstances—aside from the threat of death, destruction, or bladder emergencies—to get up, especially not to answer the telephone. That was fine with me, until boys started calling in junior high. I loved dinnertime and moved toward it like a sanctuary throughout my days.

The only part I didn’t like was saying grace. At six-o-five-ish, we held hands around the table, four voices together, and said thank you God for our food, Amen. I had no use for the flimsy promises of church or God and Jesus. I had faith in dinnertime, and the reliable calm of Rick, Mom, and especially Dad.

Every night we sat at the monumental oak table Dad had restored from a cast-off Boeing office desk, once used for blueprints of warplanes, jets, and cruise missiles. The surface was smooth enough to bowl on. Its deep drawers now held decks of cards. In California, earthquakes came, and the table sheltered us, Dad leading us with controlled urgency to duck, cover and hold on beneath our breaded veal cutlets and his single nightly Anchor Steam beer.

Then one September evening in 1986 after a dinner I don’t remember, the earth didn’t move, but Mom told us Dad was going to.

“We love you both very much,” she said, somber but composed, “but your dad and I have decided to get a divorce.”

Dad didn’t say a word. I suspect he couldn’t. He bowed his head and brought his white cotton handkerchief to his eyes. We’d given it to him, Rick and I, for Christmas.

I looked at Rick. Rick looked at Mom. “Can I go to Craig’s now?” Rick asked.

Mom told him to be home in an hour. She understood the disorientation, his nine-year-old desperation to escape. I sat there a bit longer, watching Dad try to lower the handkerchief, breathe, and raise it again, but Rick’s anxious exit marked the last time we all four sat at that table together. It’s the last thing I remember until I watched Dad labor to heft the table—that amber altar of my childhood—into a U-Haul six days later.

My dad’s wedding gift to us was the worn, oatmeal-crusted table we sit at now. I plan to keep it always.

***

“So,” Wilson says. “You and Dad won’t divorce, right?”

I don’t think Wilson is overly worried about Noah and me. But, with Noah’s divorced and remarried side too, Wilson has eight grandparents. He has three close friends that split their weeks even-steven, and not always amicably, between Mom and Dad. Over the years he has asked me questions: “Did Grandma ever love Grandpa?” and, “Does Ethan’s mom hate his dad, now that they’re divorced?” And I wonder how often he imagines what he could lose.

I’m not overly worried. My relationship with Noah is good. We are devoted to each other, our kids, and also to our soul-crushing business affairs. Our love and care for our startups, our employees, and to some extent our investors, is intense and heady. What makes us solid is that we have our own lives while loving one another without omission.

We’ll be mulling around making peanut butter and jelly for school lunches—I assemble, Noah cleans up—and he’ll say to me in front of the kids, “It’s amazing how many cities you’ve launched,” or to the kids in front of me, “Boys, Mom’s in the news again.” And I will pull him into my chest and promise myself to make more than five minutes to lay with him that night.

But lately, in what has seemed like a series of small misfortunes I couldn’t control, it’s become clear that I will lose my company. Now that it’s in jeopardy, I’m surprised to find myself wondering about the permanence of everything else. When my business fails—when I lose one of the routine mirrors I rely on to see myself—what else might I lose?

“Right Mom?” Ben says. He smiles at me, raises his eyebrows.

I reach across my near-empty dinner plate to rearrange the decaying nectarines in the bowl at the center of the table and look at Noah. He crosses his eyes at me and sticks out his tongue.

“Nope,” he says. “No divorce for us.”

“No,” I say. And I mean it.

While I don’t say it, I also mean “probably not,” and “I will work hard to prevent it.” Because a parent cannot say to a child: “We are a family. Husband, wife, brother, sister. This is our home. We live together, love each other, and we are forever. Thank you God for our food Amen.” Then say: “Actually, no. We are not a family. Ex-husband, ex-wife, part-time son and part-time daughter. Together, we have no home, Mom and Dad don’t love each other, and we will take turns with you. Let’s eat at the counter.” Or, a parent can say these things. Mine had. When they did, they taught me things about permanence and faith.

They taught me that the spoil of a marriage can be a gradual mellowing, a plum that goes soft inside before the bruise appears on the surface. It can sit protected in the silver coiled fruit basket for days before the small flies circle and one or the other of you finally reaches over, feels the rot, and says oh! And in this knowledge I am lucky, even thankful for what I gained, by the breaking of my home.


On the Porch

by Nadia Owusu

Five years ago, all members of my extended family who could arrange time away from work and school flew to Ghana in order to attend my grandmother’s seventy-fifth birthday. I was the last to arrive because I was defending my graduate school thesis in New York three days before the party. This meant that I would journey from the capital, Accra, to Kumasi on my own.

I chose the leather-seated bus with a very large Lamborghini logo spray painted on the back of it, along with the inscription, “Dolce Vita”. My other choices were “King of Krunk” and “Let Jesus Return Magnified”, both with Ferrari logos. I was much too tired from my day-long flight to reckon with Lil John or the Second Coming.

The man taking tickets eyed me and my yoga mat.

“Where are you going?”

“Kumasi.”

“What are you going to Kumasi for?”

 “I’m going to visit my Grandparents.”

“Are you a Ghanaian?” he asked, squinting at me.

The woman behind me, baby tethered to her chest, sucked air through her teeth at this inessential exchange.

“Why are we standing here?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied, maneuvering past him and onto the bus.

I was weary of this constant questioning, in ways subtle and aggressive, of my claims on this country, this continent, this place where I was born and raised. In America, drunk guys in bars—made expert by tequila and entitlement—would vigorously argue with me that there was no way that I was really African. I didn’t look it. My English was too good. In Ghana, I was treated like a tourist by strangers and like an esteemed guest from another world by my family.

Yes, Armenia and Turkey are responsible for the shape of my eyes and the bump of my nose; and America has occupied my voice. But with my first breath, I pulled Africa into my lungs. Its spirit dissolved in my blood and sparked my heartbeat.

On the bus, I sat next to an elderly woman with kind eyes who was devouring a bag of kelewele. She offered me some and I accepted. Grandma always served kelewele to the steady stream of people who stopped by to say hello as she held court on her front porch.

This is my granddaughter,” she pronounced to her guests during my last visit to Ghana. “Charles’s daughter.”

Everyone nodded as though it had all been settled, then. My father had gone to America and the result was Grandma’s new house with marble floors and central air and this foreign looking daughter who couldn’t speak Twi.

I watched as the bustle of the capital was replaced by abundant green vegetation and red clay earth. I fell asleep and awoke in the hub bub of the market in Kumasi. Market women called out to potential customers, naming their wares.
Shoppers raised their voices in protest at prices that they deemed too high. Taxi drivers prowled for fares. A little boy rode through the market on his father’s shoulders, waving at everyone and laughing when they waved back. My father used to carry me through this market like that. As I hopped off the bus, it felt like coming home.

At the house, Grandma was on her porch arguing with the housegirl, Afua, who had forgotten to put a mosquito net in the room where I was to sleep. My Aunt Jane was sitting next to Grandma on a stool, pounding cassava to make the evening meal of fufu and groundnut soup.

“My granddaughter is not used to the mosquitos-oh,” Grandma said. “Do you want her to catch Malaria?”

I wanted to remind Grandma that I had already ‘caught’ Malaria twice. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t want a mosquito net. I didn’t want any special treatment. But my protests had never worked before, so I kept them to myself.

I kissed her on her cheek and squeezed her hand. I smiled in apology at poor, patient Afua.

“So, you have come to see your old grandmother. Your grandfather is asleep, but he will not remember you anyway.”

My grandfather had Alzheimer’s. Before he got sick, he would always call me by my Ghanaian name, Adjoa. Once, when we went to a hotel for lunch and the waiter wanted to know where I was from and what had brought me to Ghana, Grandpa looked at him as though that was the silliest question he had ever heard.

“She’s my granddaughter,” he said. “Can’t you see the resemblance?”

But, when I visited two years ago, Grandpa asked Grandma who this Ethiopian woman was who had moved into his house. My tawny colored skin and big-curled hair are common features of people from the Horn of Africa. I remembered the look on that waiter’s face. I forgave Grandpa the confusion.

“Are you thirsty?” Grandma asked, “I’m thirsty but Afua, useless girl, keeps forgetting to bring my drink.”

“Would you like some water, Ma?” asked Auntie Jane.

“Did I urinate in your bed? Why am I being punished?” Grandma bristled.

Auntie Jane looked confused.

“She wants a beer,” I explained. “When she says she’s thirsty, it means she wants a beer. I’ll get it. I could use one too.”

“Finally,” smiled Grandma, “a real Tuffour.”

Tuffour is her maiden name. It is also her highest compliment. She had never called me a Tuffour before—“American,” “sort of Arab,” her “precious half-caste granddaughter,” but never a Tuffour. Everyone chuckled at what was, to them, just typical Grandma. But I could barely contain my glee.

In the kitchen, I helped myself to a handful of kelewele. Then, two beers in hand, I went to claim my seat on the porch.


Nadia Owusu is a current student at Southern New Hampshire University's MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She is the winner of Assignment's 2016 Student Contest, and will have an essay featured in Assignment Issue #2: Warzone.