When Yinka, an eight-year-old girl, goes missing from her home in Lagos, Nigeria, after a robbery, the lives of those around her are thrown into chaos. The narrative is told from the point of view of three characters: Yinka Wole, Yusuf (The Wole’s houseboy) and Maryam (The Wole’s babysitter and cook). This particular piece is an extract from the first chapter.
Yinka slept; eyelids flickering, her body draped over the edge of the bed. Blankets and pillow thrown to the floor in the frenzy of her restless sleep, yet she would have no memory of sliding to the floor, clutching her pillow; no memory of standing up and walking blindly out of her bedroom; no memory of the pulsing beat of the distant music that permeated her sleep, drip, drip, dripping into her dreams. She padded through the living room, through the kitchen, and out through open door, closing it gentlybehind her as she had been taught.
Yinka followed the yearning cry of the saxophone, the ripple of beating drums, the guitar’s repetitive bass line fragmented by space, but still whole enough to crawl into her sleep. She danced, raising her arms and stamping her feet, wiggling her body. In her mind, she saw Mummy and Daddy clapping their hands and laughing. Her grandparents were there, too, Papa tapping his foot but Mama waving, as though she were saying goodbye. Yinka held her arms out to her side and spun around and around and around, until she collapsed in a heap on the ground.
As she fell onto the wet grass, she woke. Looking up, the sky spinning around her, Yinka felt the wetness of the dew against her bare skin, the sticky leaves of the mango trees against her thighs as she lay in the pitch black of the night. This had happened before. She’d woken up in an unfamiliar place and not known how she got there. But she had not woken up outside since the morning Daddy told their houseboy, Yusuf, to fit a bolt high up on the door after she’d been found sleeping in their car, with the keys in the ignition.
‘That child will be the death of me,’ Mummy had said. Yinka, eavesdropping on her parents, heard her take one of her endless drags from her cigarette. They had threatened to cancel her eighth birthday party but Yinka knew that they would not follow through; the invitations had already been sent out to all of Daddy’s family and friends.
Yinka waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness and for her dizziness to subside. A few streets away, she could hear the familiar rhythm of Fela Kuti’s Afro-beat rumbling towards her. The dogs in the neighbourhood howled and barked every time someone hollered or cried out. Usually, if the dogs barked and growled like this, all the neighbors rushed out onto their balconies or driveways holding bush knives, spears or shotguns. Daddy said that Mr. Hedgebrook had a bow and arrow. "The man is over sixty and has cataracts. He waves his bow from the balcony, shouting at us to catch the thief and bring the boy to him for a good beating." He laughs at this point, sometimes unable to finish the sentence that always follows: "It’s true, eh? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
Tonight, though, the neighbours have grown tired of the dogs barking at the young women and men shuttling between the compounds to join the revelry of the party a few streets away. Now they remain in their beds, cooled by churning fans and the first of the breezes that signal the start of the rainy season, burying their heads under pillows to shut out the noise.
Yinka looked back up at her house, built on concrete stilts. It was the only home on their street to be built like this. One of Papa’s old Grammar School friends had built the house. He was an architect who lived in England. He planned to retire in Nigeria but it was always ‘next year’ or ‘when we get the running water' - then the man died. Daddy also laughs when he tells this story, but not for long because he loves their bungalow and when they have new people visit, Mummy always says to them, "Thomas only bought the house because it makes him feel like Noah." This always makes everyone but Yinka laugh. Yinka had been delighted when she had first heard her mother say this but then she'd realized they wouldn’t have any animals and the chickens they’d bought had not been replaced since they’d been stolen.
The house looked grey against the black sky, a bright moon casting light against the edges of the building. In the light of the full moon, she could see the outline of the balcony that wrapped itself halfway around the house like a wooden ring. (A ring suggests a full circle.)The kitchen, which was also the entrance to the house, had exactly twenty steps leading up to a small deck which Yinka would stand on, her back to the concrete stairs, pretending that she was a princess looking out from a treetop house that she had drawn, over the miles of bushland outside of their town.
Daddy had asked, “What kind of tree is this? Where are the leaves?”
“There aren’t any leaves,” Yinka had said but she had drawn flowers, tiny white flowers dangling from the branches like bloated rats.
When she showed her picture to Yusuf, he plumped out his lips and, pressing his eyebrows together, said, “Ah, a Baobab. We have these trees in my homeland in the North. These flowers only come out at the end of the dry season and only at night.” He inspected the picture, putting the white sheet closer to his face. "You know the trunk of this tree is so wide that you could build your house inside the tree.”
Yinka had pulled the piece of paper away from Yusuf: “Tree houses are on top of trees, not inside them.”
Yinka stood to go back up to the bungalow when she noticed a lamp was burning inside Maryam’s house. Maryam was their cook; she lived with her uncle in a house at the back of their compound. The house was made of patted down mud and had a corrugated iron roof. She could see in through the window. Maryam always had her curtain rolled up to let in the light, as it was dark inside. Her Mother said it was funny to have curtains but not to draw them at night: "It’d be like living in a goldfish bowl."
It was only then that she made out the van parked to the side of Maryam’s house, hidden from the road by the overgrown bougainvillea shrub that shrouded the fence and spilled over into the yard.
Yinka walked up to the van, squeezing herself between the side of the van and the fence, taking care not to get caught in the thorns of the bougainvillea bush. She hadn’t seen this van before; Kehinde didn’t have a car and their green Datsun was already parked underneath the house. She touched the side of the van, feeling the dryness of the dust on her fingertips, then walked around to the back of the vehicle. The back doors were slightly open. Seeing a dim light flickering, she pulled one of the doors towards her and peered inside. Looking to her left, right, and over her shoulder, , she leaned into the van and saw the copper coffee table that was usually in the centre of her living room. Daddy’s stereo was also in the van, along with a stack of his records leaning up against it. The black, shiny records stuck out of their sleeves as though they hadn’t been stacked the right way up. "Daddy will be angry", she thought. It was then she saw the television and the blender that her mother displayed but never used. She knew her parents would be really mad if they saw so many of their things loaded into the van. She thought about climbing up into the back but even at eight she knew that she should run back up to the house and wake her parents. And then she realized where she was. Outside at night, again. She was going to get Jobojobo, and there would be more strokes this time. Anticipating the sting of the thin, smooth wood whipping up against the back of her legs and thighs she climbed into the van to investigate. Yinka had seen no one in the compound; if she could return what she could carry back to the house, Mummy and Daddy would be so chuffed - and maybe all the bad things that she had done would disappear.
Their white pile rug was rolled up in the corner; she wrapped her arms around it but it was too heavy and she got hairs in her mouth. She wiped her tongue on her tee-shirt and bent down to lift up the stereo, Daddy’s ‘pride and joy’. She lifted it up, then put it down again, and crept to the doors to check if ‘the coast was clear’, half squinting through the small, dirty windows at the back of the van.
Two men approached and Yinka, not having enough time to get out, crept back and hid as much of herself behind the rolled up rug as she could.She took a deep breath and pulled her knees into her chest. She squeezed her eyes shut and counted down from ten.
“Nine, eight, seven, six.” But when she got to one she was still in the van with her family’s belongings, the engine was not on but the van was moving, rolling over the gravelled driveway. Yinka felt the wheels dip down and over the ridge that bordered her home, where she was free to play and roam around on her own and the outside; where she was never allowed without an adult.
She was, as Mummy often said when there was no one around but the two of them, ‘in deep shit.’
About the author: Mickela
My name is Mickela Sonola. A British Expat, I live near Raleigh, North Carolina, with my two children, aged eight and ten, my husband, and our dog, Gracie May. We moved to North Carolina because of my husband’s work; before that we lived in Manchester, England, where I'd lived for eight years- the longest time I'd ever lived in one country in my life.
Growing up, I lived in England, Nigeria, Zambia and Papua New Guinea. Career-wise, I wanted to be an actor and a singer. I never wanted to be anything else until,in my early twenties, at the cusp of a career pursuing my dreams, I started to write. I didn't stop wanting to act or sing, writing just became my priority.
Being a writer has not come—does not come—easily to me; nonetheless, I love to write. When I am not physically at my keyboard, I am day dreaming narratives, dialogue, and scenarios. These are the main components of my thoughts.
At the present time I am editing and polishing my book, "Yinka", with a view to getting it out to agents and small presses this year. I have been working on thisnovel for almost eight years and it feels very strange getting it to a point where I have to 'put it out there!’ That's scary. I am learning how to write, whilst writing "Yinka" (call it on the job training), learning how to tell a story, and learning how to steer the crazy words on the page to a place I recognize.
My first draft simply involves getting the words from pen to paper. After that first gush, writing then centres around communication; the fine art of putting one word after another, for the sole purpose of sharing a story.
From my experience, I have found one of the more difficult aspects of writing to be the isolation, especially being an expatriate. After living in North Carolina for two years, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and it has been, and continues to be, a tough journey. One of the most significant factors to getting past my writer’s block was realizing that not only did I need a room of my own, I also needed to share my writing with others. I joined the North Carolina Writers' Network, a group that not only hosts two conferences a year but also introduces aspiring writers to professionals in the field. The Network put me in touch with the author, Nancy Peacock, who teaches creative writing and runs writing workshops. I have been working with Nancy for over two years now, and she has been an incredible inspiration to me.
I now facilitate a Creative Writing Prompt Class every Monday at noon at a local coffee shop in Cary. It is a way for me to bring writers together, not only to write but also to read and listen. I hope you enjoy this extract; your comments are very welcome. Thank you.
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Written by Mickela Sonola
North Carolina, USA
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org