Million-dollar novelist Imbolo Mbue has a new short story out in Bakwa. Titled “A Reversal,” the story is 596 words of loss and belonging and fear. The work, Bakwa states, was first read by Mbue at the 29th Annual PEN/Faulkner Ceremony in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 2017, where her novel Behold the Dreamers was honoured with the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction—she is the first African to win the prize.
Bakwa is edited by Dzekashu MacViban, and it is fitting that Mbue, whose first short story appeared in The Threepenny Review in 2015, will have her second appear in a magazine in her home country of Cameroon, where she is a native of the seaside town of Limbe. In August, she was interviewed by our editor Ainehi Edoro for our inaugural “The Ask Series.” Her novel, Behold the Dreamers, was most recently longlisted for the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award.
Here is an excerpt of “A Reversal.”
-When I die, do not take me back home, Papa said. Bury me right here.
I sat up on my bed and rubbed my eyes, briefly looking at my phone.
-Papa, I whispered. What’s going on? It’s two o’clock in the morning.
-I needed you to know this right now, he said. I can’t sleep. Whatever you do, do not take my body back to Cameroon.
I looked through the darkness of my bedroom, the light of a passing ambulance briefly illuminating it. I reached for the lamp but dropped my hand, deciding the darkness would be best for a conversation such as this.
-What did the doctor say at your check up yesterday? I asked. Your blood pressure medicine stopped working again?
-No, nothing like that. I’m fine. He says the way I’m going I may live to see the day when people go over to Mars just to have dinner.
I did not laugh. Neither did he, though he’d clearly made the joke for his own benefit.
-Papa, I have to be at work at 6am, so please tell me right now why you’re calling me in the middle of the night to give me this strange instruction.
He didn’t immediately respond.
-Are you going to tell me now, or do you want me to drive to Brooklyn tomorrow…
I continued waiting.
-I want to remain here with you and your sister. I have nothing left for me in Cameroon.
-There’s nothing left for any of us in Cameroon, Papa. Except Mama’s grave. And the graves of Mammi and Big Papa. Are you telling me you do not want to be buried next to them?
– Please do not try to shame me. I do not need any of that.
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