Friday, 13 January 2012
Years ago I wrote a story. It was the first time I tried to write anything after our return from Ghana. We had moved into a frigid old house in the middle of fields, the fog low upon us, rudimentary heating and the occasional country mouse. It was hard. If I thought living in the tropics was hard - malaria, thieves, power cuts, no water - I had no idea.
Eventually I pulled myself together and started to write. I was inspired by a postcard I had for some reason attached above my bed. It showed the Princes Town Fort along the Western Region coast, originally built by a Brandenburg Prince with stones imported from Prussia. It would have been the last construction seen by many a terrified slave sent across the Atlantic.
Along the sea there are several of these forts, evil bastions set among the coconut palms. Though they are frilled with fishing boats and market mammies and gleeful children, they are cruel to the core, chilly inside, burdened with enraged and frightened souls.
I don't know why I kept the postcard. We only visited that area a few times, and there were other more extensive structures at Cape Coast and Elmina where we took visitors to see the museums. This was a smaller, quieter place. But mouldy and dark; cruel. Deep down I suspect that is why I put that postcard on the wall in those early days. I had just been through a long period of cruelty, a grave injustice, a situation I never thought I would escape.
My story was originally long. Too long, too loaded. A failed son of the old regime comes back to Ghana to his hometown near the fort to witness his half-sister's last days. Her body is devoured by AIDS. His cranky mother wants the young woman's shame banished from the house. Eugene, my character, does not know how to act in this contemporary African society whose traditions he has not absorbed from birth. He is British-educated, a visitor here, only able to see so far.
Now, 'Infection' is up for publication with a prestigious magazine next year, and is part of my collection Pelt and Other Stories, the contract for which I excitedly signed this week.
Somehow, that story is my escape.
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