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In all the dreams I have had of my brother, Nur, he is dressed the same way as the last time I saw him in real life— twenty years ago.

I summon that day every day of my life since he left home. And though it has been two decades, the only thing time has taught me is that while it heals some wounds, it lacks the ability to blunt some memories. Such memories sting with every visit.

Many times I wonder if it was my fault, if none of it would have happened if I had simply taken the knife to Mother myself and had not sent Nur.

He had just returned home from the football field that evening. The trees at the backyard were swinging leisurely. The roosters had returned from wandering, and the sky was an ash colored furry sweater. I would wonder later why everything had gone on normally so close to a tragedy. No forewarning. No chinaware repeatedly falling from my hold while I cooked, to tell me something was not right with me or with the day. Nothing.

His trousers, the one he took from me despite the fact that it was shaped for girls, were rolled up. A tailor had, on Nur’s request, turned it to what he and his peers called “pencil trouser.” He looked like he had just stepped out of a shower. He always complained that he sweated too much, that his skin was not meant for the caresses of the Nigerian weather. His red and white striped face towel was over his neck, looking tired of wiping sweat.

I remember everything. He bounced into the kitchen where I was finishing up my cooking.

“Food isn’t ready yet?  Chai! Hunger drove me away from field”, he complained, not looking hungry at all. He looked lively, as always. He reminded me all the time of the smoke that spiraled round the house whenever Mother lit incense stones or sticks; reaching everywhere, unrestrained, pleasing everyone.

He heard the cackle of a child from the room next to the kitchen and looked at me, his eyes asking, “Who is it, this time?”

I laughed a laugh that told him it wasn’t any of the many visitors we dreaded, those who came with their entire families and stayed so long we had to become hostile towards them—to trim their comfort. I told him this was our paternal Aunt, Anty Murjah and her baby, Khalil. Nur’s eyes filled up immediately with excitement, and his face lit up. He loved the one year old Khalil in a way that dwarfed my love for Nur himself. And Mother once swore that my affection for Nur could be sufficiently shared within every single person on earth, and there would still be some left.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked and almost ran out to meet him, shouting “Khaleeleeleel!”

“Please, wait. Mother asked me to bring this knife to her. She wants to slice a water melon. Give it to her”, I said, handing him the knife. He took it and dashed out. On his way to her room, he met Khalil crawling out of the guest room.

“My Khaleeleeleel!” Nur hailed and was already stooping to lift him up when I came out and reminded him that Mother was waiting for the knife. He didn’t lift Khalil again. Khalil was laughing and looking up at Nur expectantly. Nur laughed too and made funny faces. And then, he threw the knife up and caught it expertly to amuse Khalil. I swear by Allah that I was going to warn Nur against throwing that knife a second time, but Khalil was laughing so joyously at the spectacle before him that I began to watch and laugh too. And then,

Nur threw the knife one more time and failed to catch it. The knife flew from him but did not crash to the floor. My breath was hanging as I watched, bewildered, unable to move. The knife buried itself inside Khalil’s right eye.

We all began to scream. And scream. And scream. And as everyone—mother holding the water melon, her head, bare; my sister adjusting her wrapper; Father holding his iPad in one hand; and Anty Murjah sleepy eyed—trooped out of their rooms and began to utter “Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un!” from Allah we come and to Him we shall return, I was not oblivious of Nur walking backwards, a stricken lost look in his eyes, his lips trembling. Perhaps he was saying something. He continued to move backwards until he had left the house.

Anty Murjah never understood how anyone would throw a knife up to amuse a baby, and in between her loud painful cries, she let everyone know that she didn’t understand.

They buried Khalil the next day for it was already time for Maghrib prayer at the time of the tragedy.

Incense smoke, no matter how original or expensive, how sweetly it smelled or how far its smell traveled, will disappear. It disappears. It fades. We never saw Nur again since that day he walked backwards out of the house, the stricken lost look in his eyes.



Post image by Alexander Mueller via Flickr

About the Author:

Portrait - HauwaHauwa is a young Nigerian writer who writes poetry and prose. She’s inspired by any pair of lovely eyes. She has a couple of poems in an online chapbook, ‘Reshaping Obliterated Faces: Ten Female Nigerian Poets’. She is a student of Bayero University Kano.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

15 Responses to “Incense | by Hauwa | An African Story” Subscribe

  1. ABDUL BAFFAH March 18, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    The narrative is thought provoking, and full of suspense. Hauwa it is a fiction or non-fiction, I want to know.

  2. Hannah March 18, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    Nicely narrated, but this: “Anty Murjah never understood how anyone would throw a knife up to amuse a baby…”, my thoughts, exactly. Chilling.

  3. God's will Elisha March 18, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    It’s not only unwanted memories that sting when they come visiting, tragic narratives, such as this, sting.
    May the ill incense of misfortune permeate not our enclave.

  4. Swoosh March 18, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    Are you writing from the future? An Ipad twenty years ago?

    In all the dreams I have had of my brother, Nur, he is dressed the same way as the last time I saw him in real life— twenty years ago.

    And as everyone—mother holding the water melon, her head, bare; my sister adjusting her wrapper; Father holding his iPad in one hand; and Anty Murjah sleepy eyed—trooped out of their rooms and began to utter

  5. stevie March 19, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

    Nicely done. Packed with the right amount of suspense. Believable scenarios. Sweetly captured.

  6. Lexi March 19, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

    Oh, beautifully done, Hauwa. 🙂

  7. Buubuu March 19, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    Hau, This is Amazing biko. Up you 🙂

  8. Henry March 19, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    There’s always something about tragedy…It’s the best form of anything. It cleanses. And this writes captures the kernel of tragedy.

  9. Obinna Udenwe March 19, 2016 at 6:12 pm #

    This is crisp, poignant and full of energy. This story caught me and held me spellbound especially with the way the author introduced and hinted the tragedy from the beginning and left us eager to find out how it happened – yet pulled it off perfectly. This is beautiful!

  10. Hauwa March 20, 2016 at 3:02 am #

    Thanks for dropping your thoughts, all.

  11. amrah_alee March 20, 2016 at 3:53 am #

    Oh oh this is so touching

  12. Adejumo March 20, 2016 at 6:15 am #

    Smooth, and soothingly riveting.

  13. Hauwa March 20, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    Hi, Swoosh. This is a work of fiction. And that means it is entirely from my imagination. The timing and sequence of events are made-up. So then answering your question would be in contrast with the assumption that the writer dies soon as the story ends. It is up to the reader to choose whether I write from the future or not. Thanks for reading.

  14. Joe Aito March 28, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    This is an amazing piece of good writing.

  15. Victor Adewale May 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    Hauwa!!! You are amazing. The way you paint every image, your delivery and every single technique you employed is terrific. Ink on dear.

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