Month: January 2018

What’s Your Biggest Writing Fear?

As a kid, who wrote a lot in her free time, my biggest writing fear was anybody reading what I wrote but it seems I wasn’t too good at hiding. I have an elder sister, 9 years older, which meant that when I was in lower primary, she was already in high school and had exercise books she had finished using, which still had some extra pages inside to write on.

These books of hers happened to be my preferred writing material. I used to think I was very clever then and she would probably never find what I wrote if I stashed it amongst other books. To my horror, when I eventually left for boarding school and she was now home awaiting to join college, she kept stumbling on what I had been writing at 7, 8,9, 10. I began writing really young. Come to think of it, I wonder what really was that scary about your sister reading something you had written. Nonetheless, back then, it happened to be my greatest fear.

As I have began putting my writing out there, getting into writing competitions and the likes, my biggest fear is for a beta reader to give bad feedback or for a publisher to reject my manuscript. I remember sending a collection of 10 short stories early last year to a certain African publisher and slightly over 3 months later, I received rejection mail. It wasn’t exactly my first rejection mail.

Back in 2014, a Kenyan publisher had equally rejected a manuscript I had sent. But you see, that time, I feared sharing my written work with beta readers. I figured that it was better for a publishing editor to be the first to read anything I had labored on. How wrong I was. Without sharing, I had no idea where my writing weaknesses were and if I had any for that matter.

When those short stories were rejected last year, I later sent them to a friend who is in the Journalism field and had previously interned/worked as an Editor in a media house not very sure which of the two positions. He took his time to read the manuscript and all that time I worried myself sick with what the final feedback would be. After he eventually finished, he sure did have feedback and it was not positive. It was constructive.

As he broke down to me what he had found problematic with the stories, it suddenly dawned on me why the manuscript had been rejected at the publishers. I know many times as upcoming writers, we tend to come to the conclusion that editors have something against us, being still relatively unknown and it ends up discouraging us greatly. Far from it!

They simply have no time to break down to you exactly, why they rejected whatever you had sent given the high number of manuscripts they might be receiving. So most probably, you get a polite rejection mail with maybe a sentence long reason why; it did not meet what we are looking for/our standards. At a point in time, I was one such upcoming writer who felt so discouraged and you can just tell from the length of time it took me from 2014 to 2017, to gather enough courage again to send something to a publisher.

Image courtesy of christopherfowler.co.uk

In as much as many writers may have a fear of sharing their work with friends/acquaintances once completed, we have to realize that their feedback matters a lot. Imagine them as readers who do not know you personally, but will one day purchase a book you have written, read it and most definitely form opinions over what they have just read. Their opinions in this case vary. Some may like the book, others not so much.

The best thing about sharing something with others, before it ends up at the publisher’s is that they can point out anything you need to change and you actually, have an opportunity to rectify it. Consider them more like a second eye. As a writer, I have had some trouble trusting people with my completed manuscripts so when choosing beta readers, make sure that they are people you can trust with your work, will actually read it in good time and are known to give unbiased feedback. Also be willing to listen and learn.

There’s usually that temptation to argue and defend something you have spent hours, days or months working on, especially when you feel like someone is attacking it. Try as much as possible to be reasonable and open minded when recieving feedback. Afterall, just because someone said something you disagree with, doesn’t mean that the manuscript now ceases to be yours. It’s still largely your effort and they are simply giving their honest, hopefully, opinion about it.

Of course your closest friends and family might always give you positive feedback, but you need someone who is never afraid to point out the negatives too. Sometimes, I count myself lucky that I have close friends who easily say what is wrong with my writing should I share it with them. I equally count myself lucky that so far, all those beta readers are people I can trust. And while in the past my biggest fear was giving people my work to read and critic, once you do it a couple of times, the fear kind of fades. Not completely, but to a large extent.

It may surprise you to learn that after I got feedback on the collection of short stories from my friend, the next short story I did and submitted to a writing competition, got shortlisted! My fear in this case, was conquered to a large extent. To be a writer, is to be courageous enough to face anything and everything this writing journey will throw at you. It is to be determined enough to keep writing in the face of frequent/once in a while rejections. To succeed, we need to start conquering our writing fears one by one.

 

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On Reading And Why I Intend To Read More In 2018

My mum once worked in the Civil Service and many times in my childhood, I ended up at the office with her when she lacked someone to look after me back home. Now a child of around 4, 5 in an office environment with adults is not necessarily a fun thing for that child. So my mum, in a bid to keep me preoccupied and probably entertained, would take me to the National Library, a short distance away, help me look for books to read and request the Librarian to keep an eye on me.

Those library visits would introduce me to the interesting world of writing and while mum always ensured I read age appropriate books, what she seemed not to have an idea of, was the fact that I was a pretty fast reader. Sometimes, I would finish reading all those books she had picked for me from the shelves before she came back, then proceed to get adult ones for myself.

One time, mum walked in on me reading the Princess Diana autobiography, where they gladly discussed her troubled marriage to Prince Charles and the men she had dated. I could just tell from the horrified look on her face, which she tried unsuccessfully to conceal, that she had not expected to find her child reading such a grown up book. I’m not sure whether the Librarian who was supposed to keep an eye on me that day, got an earful or not. Thankfully, that did not mark the end of my Library trips.

As I grew older, I graduated to reading newspapers. Whenever my dad sat with his paper, I was there peering at some of the pages until he pulled them out for me. I would then proceed to read even stuff that barely made sense to a lower Primary School kid then. Some of the things I read, would make sense much later in adulthood. So if there is one thing I always thank my parents for, it definately has to be allowing me to read. They never had any qualms about it.

Me and mum in the library as a child. She had this habit of writing the date and where the photo was taken and so this was March 1994 at the Kenya National Library in Eldoret town. I was 4.

Well, reading has taken an entirely different meaning to me in adulthood. As a child, I read for leisure. As an adult, I have to read as someone who identifies herself as a Writer. So yes, there’s the leisure aspect to reading now and equally, the learning  and appreciating aspect. I must confess that I haven’t been reading as much as I ought to in recent times. I’ve had so many excuses as to why I wasn’t reading until I started encountering the crucial question “What are you reading?” more often.

I plan for this to change in 2018. While back then in ’94, our Library shelves were laden with books from European and American Writers, nowadays, there is a lot from African Writers in the Market. I’m not completely closed off to reading works from the West, but I can’t help but notice the vibrancy and diversity in the African Literary World to be specific. One I really desire to be a part of.

Currently, I’m reading A Certain Smile by the husband and wife writing team Judith Michael. Judith is the wife and Michael the husband, something I found very interesting. To be able to write a book with your spouse. The story is set in Beijing, China where designer, Miranda Graham, travels to on work assignment and finds love in Yuan Li, a Chinese man but with an American father he never met. I like this book so much because you get to experience China in the process.

So I just thought it wise, to include a cover image of the specific edition I’m reading, since I’m not really doing a book review as such.

Cover Image sourced from Goodreads.

To my readers, what is your earliest memory of reading and what are you currently reading? I could do with some extra suggestions 🙂

 

Sunday At 11 O’ Clock

Sunday service in church. Artwork of Winfred Rembert. Pinterest

Our neighborhood was laden with interesting characters. It was not a particularly posh neighborhood. Simply, a typical Kenyan neighborhood made up of individuals who could afford to get by, with an open, dusty space separating the houses on each side and a common gate. Nobody needed the gate anyway, since all the houses were further secured with stone or hedge fences and a personal gate of one’s choice. The children played in the open space.

Anyway, as I was saying, there were interesting characters in our neighborhood. Jonny from Mama Kibet’s house at the furthest end across our row of houses, was one such character. He must have been in his 20s or 30s, I’m not sure which because other people’s ages hardly concerned me, save for mine but he was one of her sons whom I don’t remember, ever playing with.

Jonny was the neighborhood drunk. On days when he had some money on him, we all knew. He would drink himself silly and hang around the shopping center, hurling expletives at passers-by. When he got tired of making a spectacle of himself, he would stagger home muttering to himself or simply blackout right there at the shopping center, sprawled on the pavement.

Jonny was also a thief. Nobody else in our neighborhood knew this, but I say this because I know what happened to the pastor’s new flat screen television. They locked up the cobbler for a week. He was known to possess a habit of taking things that did not belong to him, but I know he was innocent. The cobbler, after his cell stint, never returned to his usual spot outside the common gate, for fear of further victimization.

One quiet afternoon, after I had just been sent home for fee arrears by the headmaster, I caught Jonny jumping over the Pastor’s fence. He had a sack with him that had something with distinct edges inside. He gave me a menacing look and since we had never spoken before, I chose not to tell anyone about the incident.

Not even Njambi, the Pastor’s daughter who had the most sweetest, dimpled smile and the perkiest boobs I had ever seen in my 16 years of existence. That evening, I saw Jonny lying on the pavement at the shopping center in an obvious drunken stupor. The TV must have fetched him quite some good amount. I will tell you about Njambi after I have finished telling you about the other characters in our neighborhood.

Mama Kibet who is Jonny’s mother was one of those things my mother called Prayer Warriors. I am not very sure what that entailed but I know mum loved to pray a lot with Mama Kibet and other neighborhood women like Mama Odhis. Odhis was a short form for Odhiambo, who was still in lower primary with his sister, Atieno. I once heard mum tell the nurse who lived in the house across ours, that Baba Odhis was a womanizer and slept with the mboch. Then they had laughed and high fived as if they had just won a bet on SportPesa.

That online betting game that dad had threatened to chop off all of my fingers, if he ever caught me playing at Muli’s cyber. I am scared of dad and that is why I have never placed a bet on SportPesa. All of my friends at school regularly play these betting games but I never get near any computer. My father is not one to joke with. A retired civil servant, he is of the school of thought that sparing the rod spoils the child. Come to think of it, which African parent is not of the same school of thought?

Anyway, as I was saying, mum and the nurse were laughing at Baba Odhis for sleeping with the house help or was it Mama Odhis, for having a philandering husband. I was thoroughly confused because Mama Odhis, Mama Kibet, mum and the nurse all called themselves Prayer Warriors and prayed together most Sunday afternoons. I know they also prayed fervently for Jonny to stop drinking but it never seemed to have any positive effect on him. As a matter of fact, it was as if he was sinking deeper into alcoholism with each passing day.

Sometimes, I wondered if dad was also like Baba Odhis. Soon after his retirement, he had gone back to the village to his first wife. He only came once every month to see us in town and hardly told us about our half brothers and sisters, only mentioning to mum when they had just joined campus or secured employment. I wouldn’t dare ask mum about dad’s other wife lest she slapped me the way she had slapped my sister Sandra the other day, for losing money meant to buy gas for the gas cooker.

Like dad, mum could be strict. She was a secretary at a government office so we had to be disciplined and not embarrass her to her peers. Mum’s strictness however, could not stop me from pursuing Njambi, the Pastor’s daughter. The one whose father’s TV had been stolen by Jonny, the drunk.

Njambi was the last born in a family of 4 daughters and the only one left at home with her parents. Her father ran the tented church at the shopping center. The one with a huge sign bearing a picture of him and his wife, Njambi’s mother. Mum once muttered that she found Njambi’s mother self-righteous. She was not even a member of their prayer warrior group. As for me, I was more interested in Njambi than what my mum and her mum thought of each other.

I knew Njambi liked me as much as I liked her but she was scared of her father. He forbade them from talking to boys and wearing trousers. But even in those long dresses that Njambi sometimes wore to church, I could see her boobs. The ones I dreamed of touching one day if Njambi allowed me to get that close to her.

At school, it was difficult to talk much for she was always surrounded by those pesky friends of hers. I tried successfully though, on most days, to walk home with her just to marvel at how her voice sounded and her beauty. We would split up when we neared home, to avoid raising suspicion or someone seeing us together.

Her father was rumored to have whacked the living daylights out of a neighborhood boy he had accused of preying on one of his daughters. They had just been talking innocently, but that did not stop the pastor from drawing a stick he kept for disciplinarian purposes. The poor chap had been left with painful limbs as a reminder to keep off the pastor’s daughters.

I did not want to end up like that boy but sometimes, when the temptation got too much, I would peep through a carefully hidden hole I had created at the back part of our stone fence. I was lucky most of the time to find Njambi hanging clothes outside to dry. Other times when I was sure her parents were not around, I would hiss her name through the peep hole. It had since become our secret communication zone.

Pato my best friend at school, had just experienced his first sexual encounter. I know this because he was dating one of those big bodied girls in our class and he had told me himself. I must admit that I was very envious of Pato’s encounter. Njambi would not let me hold her hand. Not even kiss her. She shyly shooed me away when we neared home, on those days we walked together. But I could not let Pato beat me to the game.

So after much thinking, I suggested that I had just got a nice movie which my ample research told me Njambi might secretly love to watch. We all knew the pastor was a tyrant who never allowed Njambi to watch anything other than Christian themed shows. But here was the catch to my plan, we could only watch the movie, when neither of our parents were around.

I must have done my research and convincing well because for the first time, Njambi shyly agreed to do something at my bidding.

“Sunday at 11 o’ clock.” She surprised me further by setting the timing.

“What about church service?” I was slightly uncertain, knowing that Njambi never missed church with her parents.

“Don’t worry, I will come up with something.” She assured coyly.

At that moment, I swear my heart could have leaped out of my chest. For the first time, I would have some private time with Njambi. I could have as well searched on tutorials of what to do with a girl when the two of you were alone. I couldn’t wait for Sunday.

By Sunday morning, I had crafted a clever plan to remain behind when mum and Sandra attended service. It was very evident that mum preferred Sandra’s company to mine. So when I feigned a stomach ache, mum did not press me much with questions. She only reminded me to wash the breakfast utensils when I felt a bit better. I could see the twinkle of glee in Sandra’s eyes. My 14 year old sister could be so selfish. And now she had all the time to talk about “woman things” with mum on their way to church.

A few months back, I had discovered in Biology class that the “woman things” Sandra claimed to talk about with mum, was actually the monthly period. But who cared what mum talked with Sandra? I had the house for a few hours to myself and Njambi was coming over. So I quickly washed the utensils, tidied the house, took a shower and counted the minutes to Njambi’s knock on the gate.

At 11 o’ clock, just as Njambi had promised, there was a knock on the gate. I quickly went out to welcome her. She was wearing one of those long, brightly colored, flowy dresses that she liked to wear on Sundays. And her boobs, oh, they were so near I could touch them. I was eager to get things started, so I plugged in the movie CD on the DVD player and we waited for the movie to start. In that short space of time, before the CD began playing, I found out that Njambi had feigned a headache to skip church. Perhaps she wasn’t entirely innocent as I had thought her to be, I concluded inwardly.

I decided to keep some distance from Njambi so that I did not make her uncomfortable. My plan was to move closer as the movie progressed and she got more comfortable in our house. Then I would equally have some juicy story to brag to Pato with, the next day at school. That is if my plan went extremely well.

It was a nice teenage themed movie which Njambi seemed to really enjoy. She even got comfortable and placed her feet on the sofa. The plan was working well. So I equally made myself comfortable and laid on my back at an angle where I could pretend to be watching the movie, when in reality, I was looking at Njambi’s boobs. The ones I was so crazy about. Were these the “raging hormones” that our Biology teacher Mr. Musonye mentioned and got the girls giggling in class, which made me literally lose my mind at the sight of Njambi’s boobs?

I must have drifted off to sleep because I later woke up with a start, a stinging pain in my arm. As I quickly recollected myself and made sense of the surroundings, there before me stood the pastor fuming, with his stick. Njambi was not in the room. She must have ran out on seeing her father leaving me to face the full wrath of the pastor.

“You are the neighborhood boys who want to spoil my daughter!!!” He raged, bringing down the stick on me several times. Each time, delivering stings of pain on my arms and legs. He lifted me up from the sofa and gave me a whack on my bottom which landed with such force, it felt like I had just sat on hot charcoal. I couldn’t help yelling in pain.

“Who knows what could have happened to my daughter, had I not forgotten my church robes in the house and came back for them?!” He shouted. “I will teach you a lesson!”

In my excited state, I had forgotten to lock the gate when ushering in Njambi. And as if God had decided to punish me for lying to mum and Sandra on a Sunday, I had fallen asleep on the sofa. Only for the suspicious pastor to walk in wielding a stick, when he found his “sick” daughter missing at his house.

Mboch-Kenyan slang for househelp

The Drumsticks

Image courtesy of bettycrocker.com

Whenever Juliet’s father got his end month salary, chicken would be cooked in the house. Daddy’s salary always came on the 30th and the children automatically knew the accompanying delicacy. It was the only time of the month when they could afford such a luxury dinner.

Daddy worked for a rich Indian man who owned a school uniform shop and factory. He had worked for the Indian for many years. Each time any of the children misbehaved, Mummy would bark, “You ungrateful child! Do you think your father would spend all day folding school uniforms for nothing?!”

The children had since interpreted that to mean their father was making such a huge sacrifice for them by working for the Indian. Mummy was a house wife. With 4 active children to raise, it would have been impossible for her to go to work.

There was Hannah, the first born who was 12 and in class 7. In recent times, Hannah had started to act all grown up so she was not such good company nowadays to the younger children. Peter was the second born at 10 and in class 5. He was the cheekiest of the lot and the one who would always get into trouble with Mummy. And there was Juliet, the 7 year old in class 2.

Peter was basically her role model. The one who taught her many of the things like tying her shoe laces being one of them. He also looked out for her in school. Nobody could bully Juliet if Peter was around.

And finally, Michael. The baby of the family who was just 3. He had recently joined pre-school and sang all those silly nursery school rhymes at home. Whenever any of the children asked him to stop, he would only raise his shrill toddler voice and sing louder much to their chagrin. Only when Mummy barked at him, did he fall silent.

Come to think of it, Mummy was always barking at the children for one thing or another. She was a small woman for her age. Short, slim and very active. She did most of the housework by herself. Washing the children’s clothes, daddy’s clothes which comprised mainly of pale colored shirts with worn out collars and black and grey trousers, cleaning the house and cooking. On Saturdays, Hannah had started helping out with the laundry but sometimes, reluctantly. Yet another reason for Mummy to bark orders at her.

Theirs was a modest lifestyle. Daddy rented a cheap one bedroom house in a habitable environment and the children attended public school. It was what he thought best and could afford since the Indian did not pay him much. Asking for a raise at work was akin to asking for trouble which daddy detested at least for his own sanity. Besides, getting sacked was out of the question for him. Jobs were hard to come by nowadays and with 5 extra mouths to feed and take care of, he would rather make do with the salary he got.

At the Indian’s shop, he worked long hours but he was the most trusted of all the employees. Daddy was mostly a quiet man. Tall and equally slim like mummy. He towered above everyone else in the family. In the late evenings when he came home from work, he would always be tired. But he would switch on the TV, the one the children were forbidden to watch, had seen better days and had been a gift from the Indian one Christmas season some years ago. Then he would watch the 7 o’ clock news in Kiswahili as he had his dinner which mummy diligently served him.

Whenever daddy got really angry, it was because of something very bad that the children or mummy had done, so little Juliet had come to learn. One time, Peter had thrown a stone over the fence to the neighbor’s house and had accidentally broken a window. When daddy came home later in the evening, the neighbor, a big man with a huge stomach, had come to complain.

That was one of the few times Juliet had seen daddy get really angry at Peter. He had whipped her brother’s bottom with a belt. Finally, daddy had paid the neighbor for the damaged window. By then the children knew better not to play with flying objects. When daddy got that angry at the children, mummy did not say a word. She would silently listen as he quarrelled.

Another time when daddy got really angry, was when mummy had stolen money from his trouser pocket, while he was in the shower. This Juliet learned when their sister Hannah, who had been eavesdropping came to tell them. She was a sneaky one, that one. Always hanging outside closed doors or in the corridor listening in on other people’s conversations. It was a shame neither of their parents had ever caught her in the act. Mummy would have whacked all that sneakiness from her. Daddy would probably have quarreled her for her bad manners. He was rather soft with his daughters and the toddler as compared to Peter.

It was money meant for daddy’s work Sacco, Hannah had disclosed, that mummy had stolen. Their father was furious because he had realized this, when he was about to pay at the Sacco. Hannah had gone on to say that daddy had admonished mummy for getting him into such an embarrassing situation. In the morning, daddy had left without breakfast and mummy, as expected, was in a foul mood.

She had barked at the children for making a racket in the morning. “Don’t you know that your father left this morning without taking the tea I had prepared for him?! Do you want me to send you to school without tea?! Shut up and drink your tea!” She shouted.

The thought of going to school without breakfast scared the children and more so Juliet and Peter, who had appetites the size of a mountain. It always seemed like they were ever hungry and the daily ugali and sukuma they ate at home, was hardly enough. No wonder the joy and anticipation on the 30th when chicken would accompany the usual dish.

On those days, even mummy would be in exceptionally good moods. Smiling and laughing and looking bright. But there was a tradition in the house of how the chicken parts would be served.
Daddy would get one drumstick and a large piece of the chicken’s back. Mummy would get the other drumstick. The rest of the pieces were distributed among the children.

Since Hannah liked to help in the kitchen on those chicken days, mummy always rewarded her with the largest piece of chicken among the children. You can imagine the envy that would be written all over Peter and Juliet’s faces. Michael never seemed to care as long as he ate chicken.

He was too young to understand the importance of this occasion and always fell asleep before he had finished his supper. Mummy on the other hand, never trusted Peter to do a good job in the kitchen, even though he understood the magnitude of the offer and the accompanying rewards and many times offered to help. So much to Hannah’s glee, she was the most trusted of the children in the kitchen.

***

“Do you know what day it is?” Peter began brightly, one Friday evening, eyeing his younger sister, Juliet on their way home from school.

“Friday!” Juliet replied feeling all important that Peter preferred her company this evening, to that of the naughty boys from his class.

“Friday alright silly, But it’s the 30th!” Peter announced, puffing his chest. “The Indian pays daddy on the 30th!” He continued, reminding Juliet of this auspicious occasion in their home.

She could already feel her stomach start to rumble.

“Do you think we will eat chicken again?” She inquired hopefully, wide eyed.

“Of course we will!” Peter declared gleefully.

“I hope Mummy gives me a bigger piece than last time. She said I’m a big girl now.” Juliet murmured, wondering why she always felt hungry. “Hannah always gets the biggest.”

“That’s because she’s the only one who helps with the cooking. But I’ve got a plan this time round.” Peter remarked thoughtfully.

“What is it? Oh do tell me!” Juliet immediately grew excited.

“Wait till we get home then I will tell you.” Peter promised skipping ahead to join his friends who were kicking an empty can in turns as they walked.

All evening, Juliet wondered what plan Peter referred to. They had taken a shower and done their homework and still Peter had not told her what it was. Michael was wailing for mummy’s attention and she kept barking at him to keep quiet. Then daddy had finally walked in earlier than usual, with a telltale black paper bag. Peter knowingly nudged Juliet.

As Hannah and mummy began preparing dinner in the kitchen, Peter took his sister to the back of the house and told her of his plan. The plan was to sneak into the kitchen when Hannah and mummy were not there and steal some pieces of chicken from the sufuria.

“What if we get caught?!” Juliet immediately sounded horrified although her mouth was beginning to water at the thought of getting more chicken tonight.

“No we won’t silly! We’ll sneak in when the ugali is cooking. They would have left the kitchen by then.” Peter assured.

And so while pretending to be engrossed in a game of sorts, the two mischievous children lingered around the outdoor kitchen area, waiting with bated breath, for mummy and Hannah to leave the kitchen. Eventually, they could smell the steaming ugali and Peter tiptoed into the kitchen, careful not to make a sound as little Juliet followed closely on his heels.

Taking the wet cloth they used to wipe the table with, Peter opened the lid as quietly as possible. He was immediately accosted by the delicious aroma of the chicken stew and in his urgency, shot his hand into the sufuria aiming for a drumstick. The hot piece of chicken burnt his fingers in the process.

“Ouch!” Peter whispered fiercely, blowing vigorously at his fingers.

“Get me a serving spoon quick! And a newspaper. Don’t just stand there!” He hissed.

Juliet turned to do as she had been told. Her stomach growled with anticipation as she quickly handed her brother a serving spoon and crumpled newspaper. The only one that she could find which mummy used to light the jiko with. She could not wait to dig her teeth into the delicious chicken piece.

Quickly, Peter placed two drumsticks on the newspaper, quietly closed the lid and wiped the serving spoon clean with the underside of his t-shirt. As he hurried out of the kitchen through the back door, almost running, he collided with the last person he expected to see.

Their older sister, Hannah.

“What are you two doing in the kitchen? Mummy only left me in charge!” She began suspiciously.

Juliet could immediately feel her face growing hot.

“We wanted water to drink!” Peter retorted defiantly.

“Wait, what’s that you are hiding?” Hannah was not one to be easily fooled.

“Nothing!” Peter lied holding the newspaper with the chicken pieces behind his back, away from his nosy sister’s view.

Without warning, Hannah grabbed the newspaper from him and two chicken drumsticks fell to the floor just as mummy walked into the kitchen.

“What is going…” She began to speak only for her eyes to travel to the floor, where two exposed drumsticks and a crumpled newspaper lay.

The next look on her face was one that signaled, going to bed with sore limbs for the culprits.

A Calm Beneath Castles

By Gregg Savage

Treasure Chest buried in the sand. Shutterstock Images

“Digging! Let’s goooo digging!”

This was an adventure Claire knew she could do without. The dense, leathery aroma had all but vanished from the sofa, which had become her sanctuary over the past three months, yet she had come to associate what little smell there was, with almost meditative states of peace and warmth.

On the sixty-fourth day of cradling her writer’s-block, Claire completed the arduous task of shifting the three-seater chesterfield, so that the view of Winston Beach could be more easily ignored.

With the intimidating vista replaced by three abstract pieces of art portraying wavy,
white lines on red backgrounds, she had managed to create a space to curl up and let the dreams unfurl; where the only two things she had to struggle to control, were her thoughts or the muscles behind her eyes, as she engrossed herself into the world of her favourite dramatic novels, scratching for inspiration.

Today, however, her five-and-a-half-year-old son, Tommy, was demanding control. Claire gave in with a long, reluctant sigh.

“Why do you want to go digging, Honey?”

“Pirates have hidden the treasure and we got to find it!” He announced.

“Oh, have they now? Well, we can’t allow that treasure to go undiscovered, now can we?”

“Nuh uhhhh”, he conceded.

As she peeled the upper part of her body away from the sofa, she couldn’t help but draw a loving smile on her face, while watching him try to manoeuvre his body, despite the baggy board shorts, in an attempt to dig up piles of imaginary sand.

Tommy’s matted, black hair contrasted that of his father’s, showing all the signs of a boy who was not yet old enough to be fussing over his looks every day. If Tommy remained convinced of his illusion for long enough, maybe the two of them could stay here for as long she wanted.

He sang a song while he dug:

We’re going on a treasure hunt, X marks the spot, three lines down with a dot, dot, dot.

After repeating several verses, Tommy stopped singing but kept his arms swaying. He looked up at her with his hazelnut eyes and communicated without a word that he knew this was make- believe. They locked eyes just as they had always done and sat in silent conversation. Her legs like weights, Claire released the rest of her body from the grip of the couch and just out of reach of its comforting scent.

It was time to go.

The two of them stood contemplatively at the rear entrance to their modern home, surveying the building layer of clouds diminishing what chance they had of an enjoyable afternoon. Claire’s only swimsuit, exposed more of her skin than she felt comfortable with and as she unfolded her arms, to drape the hair blowing against her face behind her ear, she looked down at Tommy whose enthusiasm had altered into a more solemn reluctance.

This time taking after his father, he pressed his lips together, unsatisfied with the one option Claire presented him with and she followed him with her eyes, as he defiantly marched with his bucket and spade down the sandy track.

It had not escaped Claire that Tommy’s reluctance, was due to their beach trips never being able to live up to those he had experienced with his father. She also knew that conveying this understanding to Tommy, in his own language, was futile. Explaining to him that his father was never coming back was an impossibility.

The situation reminded Claire of the baby herring which had naively trapped itself in their house last summer. Unable to see the link between their actions and its freedom, the bird ferociously resisted the loving help persistently offered from its would-be saviours. In the same way, Claire thought, Tommy was unable to connect-the-dots between lowering that box in the ground and Daddy never taking him out in the dinghy again.

As far as she was concerned, Tommy might only show slightly more excitement than usual were his father to unexpectedly arrive home after-dark tonight, Chinese food in one hand, bottle of wine in the other, nothing short of love for his small family.

It was when the two of them went on their weekend father-son fishing trips that Claire got most of her writing done. It provided the perfect opportunity to sit at her desk and write her novels uninterrupted. And, when it pleased her, she could look out of the study window and watch the two of them fish, taking comfort in imagining them smiling and relaxing together.

Somehow, they always managed to make at least one impressive catch and it was unavoidable, that Tommy would eventually run dripping-wet through the house, ripping Claire out of her make-believe world by triumphantly proclaiming that he had caught their dinner.

On the afternoon of her most recent birthday, Claire was on a roll (or, ‘in the zone’ as she described it) and had immersed herself so thoroughly in her writing; had become so absorbed by the characters unfolding before her, that she inevitably lost track of time. It was a noiseless lightning strike sharply filling the night sky that eventually alerted her to the dreadful realisation that there had been no distractions. No interrupting, triumphant proclamations of dinner being caught that night.

We’re going on a treasure hunt, X marks the spot, three lines down with a dot, dot, dot.

Claire lethargically carried herself around the remainder of the golden sand dunes, bordering the man-made track and finally exposed herself to the beach. The threatening clouds pervading the sky and the exposed mud-flats clogging the horizon, possessed their private section on Winston Beach with an unpleasant air of desolation. Tommy had ventured far enough, away for it to take a moment to decipher which way he was facing but there was no urgent need to summon him back; she could watch him well enough from the path’s end.

Claire hesitated to set herself up on the beach and instead stood silently watching her son. What caught her attention wasn’t so much what Tommy was doing, but rather what he wasn’t doing. She squinted enough to notice his dense hair was unable to get into full sway in the wind and confirmed that instead of digging like he ought to be, Tommy was looking back at her.

They watched each other long enough, for Claire’s lungs to begin begging for their denied breath and at once, she simultaneously gasped and began battling both wind and sand to make her way over to him, nearly collapsing when she discovered tears freely flowing from behind his eyes.

“My little baby what happened?” she asked in panic, kneeling to place her hands on his tiny shoulders for comfort.

“This storm’s going to bring rain, Mummy, and that means I have to go.”

“Well, where are you going precious?”, Claire forced down the familiar lump in her throat and stroked Tommy’s hair, “You’re scaring Mummy, Baby”.

“Got to find the pirate’s treasure – don’t want to, but got to.”

“What if we just head back inside, Honey? Would you like to play our pirate game in the
house?”

Tommy forced a chuckle through his tears as if to tell her she was being silly, “Treasure’s not in the house, Mummy. It’s buried in the dark.”

Sensing the imminence of the growing storm, Claire’s temperature and concern rose
considerably.

She pleaded with him as she wiped his face with her towel, “I know this isn’t the way you and Daddy used to play Sweetie, but I’m trying, Baby.”

Tommy suddenly dropped his bucket and spade and threw his arms around her. Shocked by the impulsive action, Claire delayed hugging him back. Eventually snatching him into her arms, she scrunched his small, blue shirt in her fists and let her own heartache free. The sounds of their grief gradually succumbed to the increasingly violent waves breaking in the distance.

Tommy spoke first.

“We caught you dinner, Mummy. It’s buried in the dark”.

Claire’s face immediately, lost all emotion and she slowly pushed herself out of their embrace, to examine him as if for the first time. Distant thunder tumbled towards them as Tommy used his hands to wipe his eyes. Claire saw him give an affectionate smile before bending down to pick up his bucket and spade.

Knowing that Tommy was now in control, she began following him along the shore, towards the Eastern cliffs of Winston Beach. Cool, light rain began to fall as they walked, the contrasting feeling on Claire’s skin causing her to close her eyes and breathe in deeply.

They reached the entrance to a small cave, where the overwhelming scent of salt-water mixed with seaweed and rotting fish forced Claire to swallow heavily. She protected herself from the foul intrusion with her towel and followed Tommy inside. Enough dull light crept into the cave, letting the layers of history forming its walls gradually become known to her.

Tommy set the bucket down beside himself and presented the spade to her in his outstretched palms. Outside, the rain drummed against the sand and rocks, forcing a bracing chill into the cave and Claire wrapped the towel around her thin frame, in a vain attempt to get warm.

Tommy failed to shiver.

The two of them looked into each other’s eyes and a dreadful emptiness replaced the eternity that had forever accompanied these moments. As the sadness travelled up her throat and into her eyes, she grudgingly picked up the spade from her son’s hands.

Claire sobbed through her tears, “I’m going on a treasure hunt”.

She dropped to her knees, drew the little, red spade back, drove it into the moist sand and struck something solid.

 

Gregg Savage is a Children Stories’ Writer and trained Teacher from Townsville, Australia. He currently posts a new tale everyday on his WordPress Website http://www.greggsavage.net. To read his full bio among those of other Writers, who have previously submitted their works to the blog, click on the “WRITERS FEATURED” page at the top.