This week's Fiction Friday prompt is: "Shhh… did you hear that?” See what I've made of it below. And if you want, you can even cast your vote in the comments. Who knows it may appear in a subsequent Fiction Friday or in the African Whisperings Anthology.

"The radio's still dead. I've no idea if our message got through."

Djembé looked into Zara’s eyes trying to read what they were saying.

"How ironic!" he sighed.

He didn't need to say more. She understood perfectly. Together they made their way through the copse where their hut stood and looked up out over the river. The sun was already beginning to lean towards the horizon. Just another hour or so and its rays would transform the water into a river of blood. By then it would be too late. They didn’t call for the plane often. Just three times in the seven months they had served this small, backwoods community. But each time, a life had been saved.

They embraced as they looked up into nowhere, willing the small black speck into being, praying for the miracle that would give new life to their own daughter.

Zara began her lament. Her hope had gone.

Djembé turned his back. It was more than he could stand. Then…

“Shhh… did you hear that?”

* * *

Ben placed the phone back on its hook and turned to Seymour.

“I’m afraid they don’t know what will happen. The plane didn’t land this morning because of the fighting to the north. The pilot was afraid the rebels might launch an attack on the plane. It should be back some time this evening. But whether they will risk landing…”

Ben placed an arm round Seymour. He understood. And yet, he couldn’t understand. Seymour had given up the whole of his holiday for that year to come and help the clinic. He’d first cajoled then bullied his bosses into giving him the four weeks at a stretch. His wife had spent the first week helping organise the pharmacy. Then malaria got her and she’d had to return to the capital. And now this. If the plane didn’t land today, Seymour would not be back in time for work Monday morning. Then he’d be out of a job. Why was the world so unfair?

The dinner party was meant to be a joyous occasion; a chance to thank Seymour for what he’d done for them all. They got together anyway, trying to make a go of it. They were well into a new round of Blitz when Ben’s wife yelled:

“Shhh… did you hear that?”

* * *

Passah counted the weeks on the calendar again. 13! Far too long for a man to be without wife and child. He didn’t even know if he’d recognise his child; they change so quickly. But his precious Becca, how could he ever fail to recognise her. Her smile was enough to guide even a blind man. He glanced up at the clock. It could be hours yet. He closed the photo album and got up to go into the store room. There was work to be done. He wanted to have everything ready when they arrived.

Outside, a few of the villagers were already gathering, drums at the ready. No other woman had ever commanded such respect that the whole village ensemble turned out; proof that he didn’t need that she was one special woman. One or two of them had already started woman up. Others called out “Bema” as he appeared. He went into the store room and unpacked the child’s seat from its box, recalling the tears he had shed that evening when they had had to leave. He’d taken quite well until arriving home. But seeing that empty chair set the fountains in motion and he couldn’t stop. As he screwed the chair to the table the tears started again; this time they were tears of joy, or they soon would be.

Picking up his calabash he went out to buy the beignets he had ordered especially. It took him a lot longer than he had planned. Neither of the women sitting on the corner of the street would take his money. It was their contribution to the little ceremony. He argued and bargained to no avail. Everyone wanted to share in his joy. Was that making him just a little jealous?

Back at his concession the drummers were getting into full swing. Some of the women had even started dancing. The village enchantress waddled her way towards him in that typical style of hers and pulled him over to the others. That’s when he thought he heard…

“Shhh… did you hear that?”

* * *

Athous laid down his pen, still not completely satisfied with his effort. Badda came and wrapped herself round him. Her gentle fingers closed his eyelids.

“Are you still not finished?”

“I suppose so. But it could be so much better. I want it to be so much better. This could be my big break.”

“Emergent Publishing African Writer’s Prize. African’s greatest writer!”

“Well, it’s not quite that, you know. It’s just a prize for new writers. But it’ll give people a chance to read me, get me known. If only…”

“Well, there’ll be no if onlys, if you don’t get your act together quick. What is it you’re supposed to be writing anyway. Well, they want to me write a number of different story openings. And then, if I’m chosen I get to develop one of those into a full blown story which they promise to publish. They did the same a few years ago for Chinese writers. And now it’s the turn of us Africans.”

“Well, you’ll better get your manuscript packed and ready. The plane’s coming early this week.”

“What! Athous looked devastated. But it can’t. I’m not ready yet. I mean, there’s still so much to revise. I can’t possibly send it off now.”

“Well, you can go and complain to the President tomorrow. It’s his fault their sending the post plane today. He’s off to visit another one of his African cronies tomorrow. But first, make sure you get that package ready.”

““Shhh, you two… did you hear that?”

Athous and Badda looked up into the blue sky as the silver bird descended. Hovering somewhere between yearning and despair they watched their destiny fly in.

Memory Lane

Your character doesn’t make impulse purchases, but one day at the market they felt compelled to buy… what?
I'm using this to try and get under the skin of a character I'm working on. Any feedback appreciated

The jazz shops being closed for another half hour or so yet, I decided to wander through the market. Most of the stalls were just beginning to set up. One or two of the traders were standing looking up at the sky, undecided as to whether they should open or not. Of course, to leave now, would invite not a little irritation from the other traders. Much like sailors on a sinking ship, traders who leave a market hardly inspire confidence among the buying public. Solidarity. It had been Dad's A - Z. I saw myself once again, sitting on that high stool just about making it up to Dad's shoulder while he gave me a running commentary on all the goings on. That, of course, was long before that stroke of good fortune which enabled him to progress from a flea marketeer to antique dealer; almost overnight.

I squeeze my way through the narrow alleys trying to distinguish the various smells which begin to lay assault on my nose. I used to play at guessing with Dad. And there's the cheese vendor. Now he is one for the nose. Same old sign in front of his stand: touch, smell, taste. And the young guy's Dad always used to slip me a couple of extra pieces with a great big wink.

"Mister, over here." I turn and meet the brightest smile. A large lady vaunting her wares, holding out an alphabet full of colours; finest cloth for the best of ladies. I'm no longer sure if it's me talking or her. Nothing much changes on the market. The whistling of the loudspeakers and a voice announces the last chance to win a bottle of Baron Dumarrier... Suze's favourite.

How lucky I am to have found in him a second father. I was sixteen when Dad went. I'd have probably got by alone. But it was good to have someone give me a guiding hand. And when Suze invited me to be part of his set-up, I sprang at the chance. To be honest, I think he only asked me because he was a bit disappointed in his son, a somewhat profligate young man who did his best to squander his father's trust. But even after their reconciliation Suze continued to treat me like one of his most trusted friends.

The church clock strikes ten. One of the two shops is bound to be open by now. I push my way through the crowds and try to overhear the trader's banter. At the end of the alley, a small wood-crafter is busy at his wheel; a variety of his creations on the table in front of him. But my eye immediately falls on the three monkeys on the table: Dad's three monkey. I can see them still besides the old shop till. Dad always had them there. He called them his motto. In reality, they were his life.

Three monkeys: the first his hands over his eyes; Dad's voice exhorting me never to close mine to any injustice for the sake of convenience. The second, his hands over his mouth... Dad's favourite: "Never let an ugly word frequent your lips." And if ever I had done, I'm quite sure he really would have taken some Marseille soap to wash my mouth out. And then, the one I could never understand. Hands clasped over his ears, he could never hear no evil. How I used to protest. It's not my fault if people say bad things when I'm there. Am I wiser now? I'm aware of the temptation. But do I flee?

The three monkeys look far nicer than the old chipped ones Dad had in the shop. The craftsmanship is beautiful and the deep rosewood adds a touch of fright to their looks. I cannot resist. Money changes hands. The monkey's are mine. I go off in search of my partitions. And only when I gaze into the shop window do I realise I'll have to put off my purchase until I'm paid next month. Not that I care.

Bedd Gellert

The book that changed everything is this week's Sunday Scribblings challenge. This may be slightly enigmatic, especially to those unfamiliar to Welsh culture. It's a tribute to those books that set me off on reading, and to one hidden jewel locked inside the multitude of its volumes.

Thick and blue;
In how many volumes?
Memory playing tricks
Never lets me forget
The treasures stored
In Grandmother's bookshelf.

And what's in a name.
The spell is what counts.
A magnetic spell,
Drawing in six year olds,
Captivating sevens,
While never letting off the hook
Those turned even older.

One above all,
My eager eyes caressed,
A lover sought out
Among the crowd
Till hunger satisfied.

A poem, a dog, a death,
In lilting Welsh verse
Despite English words
Bedd Gellert's acts distorted
But himself never disloyal.

For years neglected.
The tricks that age has played.
Forgotten and languishing,
Till one fateful day,
When father and son,
With mother and daughter,
Leaving Snowdon upon
The immortalised village chancèd,
And memory did the rest.

All four the road
to Grandma's bookshelf sought.
That spell now guiding
New strangers to its light.


Taking things into their own hands Kalito and Ramona went through every room in the house. Kalito had the large bunch of keys, the lawyer had given him. But only a few of the rooms were locked. The ones that weren’t, he left to Ramona. Together they turned the house upside, being very careful to leave everything as it was. They didn’t want to alert the authorities to the treasure.

Never had they imagined things would take this long. Not that it would have changed much. They had fooled themselves into a false patience, by not phoning the lawyer once. They could wait until matters were cleared up and the house was theirs. To compensate, they visited the bank manager and arranged a series of consumer credits; modest, at first but growing in proportion to the hunger released by the first taste of fortune.

“Any luck?”

“No. I’ve searched the two double bedrooms and the study and I’ve found nothing.”

“Listen, maybe it’s in the outhouse.”

“What makes you think that?”

“These keys. I’ve checked them all out. The keys opened every door in the house, except the small wooden door at the end of the hall; the one that leads to the outhouse.”

“That was the studio wasn’t it? What on earth would uncle have hidden there?”

“We could find out, if we figure a way of getting in there.”

Never once, had it struck them, that what they were doing was illegal. After all, it would all belong to them one day, as soon as all the paper work was finished. But whereas one day was plodding along at a tortoise’s pace, their debts far outdid the speed of the fastest hare. Desperate measures were called for.

“I think I know how to get in. Remember, I used to spend most of my holidays here. Uncle never used this door. He used to get into the studio from outside. I’m sure he kept the key hidden away somewhere, so that Julio could get in too. That’s why this door was kept locked. Julio could get into the studio but not into the house.”

“So where did he hide it.”

They went outside and turned over every loose stone; a number of nails were hammered into a small board hidden away under the overhanging roof – but no sign of what they were looking for. Even the pot plants in the courtyard refused to yield up anything resembling a key.

“And if we went to see old Julio?”

Which all explains why some two hours later, key trembling in their fingers as they tried to find the lock, they were finally able to penetrate inside the one room in the house, where the treasure could be hidden. It was littered with outdated recording equipment, bookshelves full of partitions and saxophone methods; on the walls hung covers of some of uncle’s favourite recordings and the occasional poster for one of his concerts. And on the table under the window stood a rainbow-coloured saxophone case – their uncle’s trademark.

“We’ve been had,” stuttered Romana. There is no treasure.

Kalito looked at her aghast.

“Not a real one, anyway. Remember what uncle said… ‘To my niece and her fiancé I bequeath, in addition to a third share in the house, the greatest of my treasures.’ Well, there it is. The saxophone.”

A Soap Opera?

Things seemed perfectly normal until I walked through the door to our courtyard bracing myself for the expected avalanche. Nothing happened. Where were the kids? There, sitting in front of their houses talking, playing, doing the things they did all the time. But what mattered most, they were ignoring me. Until coming to Africa, I had looked upon the Pied Piper of Hamelin as a highly improbable fairy tale with some kind of moral twist. But the likelihood of hordes of children following after one man, however skilful his pipe-playing, had never impressed itself on me.

That changed overnight with my arrival in Africa. Being different draws children like a magnet. And I certainly was different. Every time I went out onto the street, a group of chanting kids started following. "

"Nassara, nassara."

I'd have thought that was evident enough without it having to be sung. But the kids, it seems, didn't. More often than not the group grew into a horde by the time I reached the limit of our quarter, upon which the kids turned and went home leaving me to the relative peace of having a few adults mumble something similar every few minutes.

Even time didn't temper their enthusiasm. I'd been living among them now for almost two years and still had to run this gauntlet, daily. But today? Why was today different. Had it been night, I dare say I would have counted my lucky stars. That's not easy by day, so I just made my way to the neighbour's half expecting a crowd to jump out at me chanting "April Fool... Nassara... April Fool." Nothing happened. Arriving at the table my neighbour had set up in front of his house, I started greeting him. It was only when I realised this greeting was taking far more than the - for a nassara - usual two minutes that a strange feeling came over me. Everyone was treating me like a black man that day. True, I was wearing my jalabah. But that didn't usually make such a difference. I bought a small jar of jam and a baguette and crossed to the other side. Assantah greeted me with a wide grin.

"That soap works very well, neighbour."

I looked straight back at him. The back of my mind began to stir. Yes, he'd offered a special soap just a few days ago. Soap for staying secret, he'd called it.

"I give it to you, and if you like it, you pay me later."

I'd merely smiled at the time, but what if... I stretched out my hand from under my jalabah to pay him. The palm still looked pretty white but when I turned it over... It was only a light black, of course, somewhat like my northern neighbours but nowhere near like the black of the southern tribes who occupied the neighbouring quarters. Still, it was enough for me. I returned Assantah's smile and wandered on. For the first time in my life I was going to discover Africa in-cognitio.

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