This year's reading objective did not include short (single) stories; this excludes short story anthologies. However, when I clicked on the link to this short story, I knew I would read and talk about it.
The Lump in Her Throat (Guernica, 2013) by Aba Amissah Asibon is the story of an unnamed but young girl dealing with the effects of her father's death as she goes through her day as any other child with childish tendencies. She, and her suddenly-taciturn standoffish sister, play with their friends in the neighbourhood, as usual, as they share stories (and sometimes the lies) about their lives. Preparations towards the burial of her father is underway; their hair have been shaved, the coffin has been purchased, except that it is of such low quality - unpolished plywood nailed together into the required rectangular box - that she wished she could have purchased the fancy type - polished with golden handles.
What makes this story interesting and reminiscent is Aba's detailed portrayal of early 1990s Ghana and the kind of games the children play; very much unlike today where everybody hides away in his room doing his or her own thing. She plays the spinning top (or alikoto - Twi) with her friends and later go tree-climbing, perhaps in search of mangoes or oranges. A true remembrance of things past; only a few Ghanaians - those who grew up living behind gated communities, isolated residential areas with tall walls and strict fathers - could not imagine this. Her similes are also derived from this period. She says
Lately, the paths look emptier, with the city drawing people away like a magnet draws sewing needles to itself.
There was an epoch in Ghanaian family life where the Singer sewing machine was a feature in every home, either as a usable object or a decorative piece, indicative that the man (husband, mostly) did actually pay the full (or complete) bride price. It was a requirement.
With one swoop of her pen (or better still, her keyboard) Aba takes the reader through several issues of both personal and national consequences. At the national level, the deterioration of infrastructure and factories that followed the overthrow of the first president could be felt. It is still a wonder that the country used to produce its canned tomatoes and beef, produced its jute sacks, textiles, shoes and the rest. Aba's father used to work in one of these factories until he lost his job when the factory collapsed. Today, it is an graveyard of metals where children, the narrator and her friends, go to play. Aba writes:
The tomato factory is closed down, ... We sometimes sneak in through the broken windows of the abandoned factory to play with rusty, cobwebbed machines...
Certain peculiar funeral traditions was also covered. This include the beautification of the dead person's house, the mandatory crying (whether one knows the dead person, or not; or whether the dead was a nuisance when he was alive and therefore his death is a blessing, or not), the almost compulsory viewing of the dead by close relatives, shaving the children's hair as a sign of respect towards the dead, burying the dead in expensive clothes, and the sharing of the deceased's properties (if he left any and if they are worth sharing). The beauty of the write is that Aba does this without digression or saying more than it was necessary. Most often these are just what our narrator had seen and she herself might not even interpret it as this. And this makes it natural and the reading smooth.
Again, with just one compelling image (the image of a gray baggy shorts), Aba showed the poverty status of the deceased (who took to drinking after he lost his job).
Father Joseph's incense makes my eyes sting, and all the wailing makes my head pound, so I walk off to Maame and Papa's room and sit on the hard bed, sniffing around, hoping to still smell Papa's tobacco. The tobacco smell is gone but the gray shorts he always wore are still hanging on a plastic hanger suspended on a rusty nail in the wall.
This image also depicts man's mortality and the ultimate uselessness of wealth aggrandisement. Papa could not even take his only gray shorts with him in death. This shows how true the statement that 'we came with nothing and shall go with nothing' (a paraphrase, of course) is. This religious extension of the gray baggy shorts and the man's quickness to hit his wives, perhaps after infusing his nerves with the local gin, show the importance of Religious leaders in funerals (this being a world wide event). Regardless of all the things he did, a pastor was called to pray for him.
However, there is a lot that Aba is not saying (or more importantly that her narrator is not revealing) and this created the necessary solemnity required during such periods. Though she talked to her friends, the reader would believe she is not saying enough. This might be the result of writing from the narrator's head directly, so that she deals more with thoughts than words. There was also a gradual build up of tension and sorrow in the narrator until it burst into cries even though Ato, her friend who had suffered her fate before, told her that strong people do not cry when their father dies; but, as the narrator found in the end,
[N]o matter what kind of person your Papa is, when he dies, your face becomes a waterfall.
This is an interesting short story and Aba Amissah Asibon, who is working on her debut novel is one to watch out for.
About the Author: Aba Amissah Asibon is a young Ghanaian writer constantly inspired by the uniqueness of her African upbringing and currently lives in New York. She has had short stories published or forthcoming in Guernica, The University of Chester's Flash Magazine, The Sentinel Literary Quarterly and African Roar. She enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, and is currently working on her debut novel.