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FATHER

 

Ayoola inherited the knife from him (and by “inherited” I mean she took it from his possessions before his body was cold in the ground). It made sense that she would take it—it was the thing he was most proud of.

He kept it sheathed and locked in a drawer, but he would bring it out whenever we had guests to show it off to. He would hold the nine-inch curved blade between his fingers, drawing the viewer’s attention to the black comma-like markings carved and printed in the pale bone hilt. The presentation usually came with a story.

Sometimes, the knife was a gift from a university colleague—Tom, given to him for saving Tom’s life during a boating accident. At other times, he had wrenched the knife from the hand of a soldier who had tried to kill him with it. Finally—and his personal favourite—the knife was in recognition of a deal he had made with a sheik. The deal was so successful that he was given the choice between the sheik’s daughter and the last knife made by a long-dead craftsman. The daughter had a lazy eye, so he took the knife.

These stories were the closest things to bedtime tales we had. And we enjoyed the moment when he would bring out the knife with a flourish, his guests instinctively shrinking back. He always laughed, encouraging them to examine the weapon. As they oohed and aahed, he nodded, revelling in their admiration. Inevitably, someone would ask the question he was waiting for—“Where did you get it?”—and he would look at the knife as though seeing it for the first time, rotating it until it caught the light, before he launched into whichever tale he thought best for his audience.

When the guests were gone he would polish the knife meticulously with a rag and a small bottle of rotor oil, cleaning away the memory of the hands that had touched it. I used to watch as he squeezed a few drops of oil out, gently rubbing it along the blade with his finger in soft circular motions. This was the only time I ever witnessed tenderness from him. He took his time, rarely taking note of my presence. When he got up to rinse the oil from the blade, I would take my leave. It was by no means the end of the cleaning regimen, but it seemed best to be gone before it was over, in case his mood shifted during the process.

Once, when she thought he had gone out for the day, Ayoola entered his study and found his desk drawer unlocked. She took the knife out to look, smearing it with the chocolate she had just been eating. She was still in the room when he returned. He dragged her out by her hair, screaming. I turned up just in time to witness him fling her across the hallway.

I am not surprised she took the knife. If I had thought of it first, I would have taken a hammer to it.

 

KNIFE

 

Maybe she keeps it under her queen-sized bed or in her chest of drawers? Perhaps it is hidden in the pile of clothes stuffed into her walk-in closet? Her eyes follow mine as they roam the bedroom.

“You’re not thinking of sneaking in here and taking it, are you?”

“I don’t understand why you need it. It’s dangerous to have it in the house. Give it to me, and I’ll take care of it.”

She sighs and shakes her head.

 

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**********

About the Author:

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo, a Lagos-based publishing house, and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the   Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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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.

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