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Children of My Heart

Children of My Heart

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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A little later, with thirty-five children registered and more or less settled down, I began to breathe again, hoping for an end to the nightmare and thinking: The worst is over now. I saw little faces, to which I still was unable to put a name, sending me a first, furtive smile or, in passing, a caressing look. I said to myself: We’re going to be friends.

And then, from the corridor, came a fresh cry of anguish. My class, which I thought I had won over to confidence, was overtaken by a shudder. With trembling lips they stared toward the doorway. Then there appeared a young father and clinging to him a little boy, the living image of him, with the same dark, grieving eyes and such a stricken look that one might have been tempted to smile if those two had not expressed in equal degrees the very pain of separation.

The little boy, glued to his father’s side, turned up at him a face flooded by tears. In their Italian tongue he was begging him, it seemed to me, for the love of heaven not to leave him!

Almost as upset himself, the father tried to reassure his son. He ran his hand through the boy’s hair, dried his eyes, fondled him, soothed him with tender words repeated over and over, seeming to say: “It’ll be all right. . . . You’ll see. . . . It’s a nice school. . . . Benito, Benito. . . .” he insisted. But the child kept up his desperate appeal: “La casa! La casa!”

Now I recognized him: an immigrant from the Abruzzi who had recently come to our town. As yet unable to find work in his own trade of upholsterer, he was doing odd jobs here and there. This was why I had seen him one day in our neighbourhood, digging up a patch of ground. I remembered that his little son has been with him, trying to help, that the two never stopped talking as they worked, no doubt spurring each other on, and that this murmur in a foreign tongue, at our fields’ edge, had seemed to have a special charm.

I went over to them with the very best smile I could muster. As I came near, the child cried out in terror and clung even more desperately to his father, who trembled on contact. I could see that he wouldn’t be much help. On the contrary, with his caresses and soft words he did nothing but keep alive the hope that he might weaken. And in fact the father began to plead with me. Since the boy was so unhappy, wouldn’t it be better to take him home just this once, and try again this afternoon or tomorrow morning, when he’d have time to explain what a school was.

I saw them hanging on my decision, and took my courage in my two hands: “No, when you have to make the break, it doesn’t help to wait.”

The father lowered his eyes, obliged to admit I was right. Even between the two of us we had trouble detaching the child; as soon as we loosened the grip of one hand it slipped away to grasp another handful of the father’s clothing. The odd thing was that while he continued to cling to his father he was furious with him for taking my side, and through his tears and hiccups was calling him a heartless wretch, or words to that effect.

Finally the father was free for a moment, while I was holding on to the boy for dear life. I made a sign to the father to disappear as quickly as he could. He went out the door. I closed it behind him. He opened it again a crack to tell me, glancing at the child:

“That’s Vincento!”

I let him know the details could wait, for Vincento had almost escaped. I grabbed him in the nick of time and closed the door again. He rushed at it, straining to reach the knob. He wasn’t screaming or crying now: all his energy was bent to getting out of that place. The father was still there, trying to see through the glass top panel how Vincento was making out and whether I was able to cope. From his anxious face you’d have said he was unsure how he wanted these events to turn out. And again the child was on the point of making his getaway under my very eyes, having succeeded in grasping the doorknob. I turned the key in the lock and put it in my pocket.

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The Tomorrow-Tamer

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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The dust rose like clouds of red locusts around the small stampeding hooves of taggle-furred goats and the frantic wings of chickens with all their feathers awry. Behind them the children darted, their bodies velvety with dust, like a flash and tumble of brown butterflies in the sun.

The young man laughed aloud to see them, and began to lope after them. Past the palms where the tapsters got wine, and the sacred grove that belonged to Owura, god of the river. Past the shrine where Nana Ayensu poured libation to the dead and guardian grandsires. Past the thicket of ghosts, where the graves were, where every leaf and flower had fed on someone’s kin, and the wind was the thin whisper-speech of ancestral spirits. Past the deserted huts, clay walls runnelled by rain, where rats and demons dwelt in unholy brotherhood. Past the old men drowsing in doorways, dreaming of women, perhaps, or death. Past the good huts with their brown baked walls strong against any threatening night-thing, the slithering snake carrying in its secret sac the end of life, or red-eyed Sasabonsam, huge and hairy, older than time and always hungry.

The young man stopped where the children stopped, outside Danquah’s. The shop was mud and wattle, like the huts, but it bore a painted sign, green and orange. Only Danquah could read it, but he was always telling people what it said. Hail Mary Chop-Bar & General Merchant. Danquah had gone to a mission school once, long ago. He was not really of the village, but he had lived here for many years.

Danquah was unloading a case of beer, delivered yesterday by a lorry named God Helps Those, which journeyed fortnightly over the bush trail into Owurasu. He placed each bottle in precisely the right place on the shelf, and stood off to admire the effect. He was the only one who could afford to drink bottled beer, except for funerals, maybe, when people made a show, but he liked to see the bright labels in a row and the bottle-tops winking a gilt promise of forgetfulness. Danquah regarded Owurasu as a mudhole. But he had inherited the shop, and as no one in the village had the money to buy it and no one outside had the inclination, he was fixed here for ever.

He turned when the children flocked in. He was annoyed at them, because he happened to have taken his shirt off and was also without the old newspaper which he habitually carried.

The children chuckled surreptitiously, hands over mouths, for the fat on Danquah’s chest made him look as though the breasts of a young girl had been stuck incongruously on his scarred and ageing body.

“A man cannot even go about his work,” Danquah grumbled, “without a whole pack of forest monkeys gibbering in his doorway. Well, what is it?”

The children bubbled their news, like a pot of soup boiling over, fragments cast here and there, a froth of confusion.

Attah the ferryman — away, away downriver (half a mile) — had told them, and he got the word from a clerk who got it from the mouth of a government man. A bridge was going to be built, and it was not to be at Atware, where the ferry was, but — where do you think? At Owurasu! This very place. And it was to be the biggest bridge any man had ever seen — big, really big, and high — look, like this (as high as a five-year-old’s arms).

“A bridge, eh?” Danquah looked reflectively at his shelves, stacked with jars of mauve and yellow sweets, bottles of jaundice bitters, a perfume called Bint el Sudan, the newly-arranged beer, two small battery torches which the village boys eyed with envy but could not afford. What would the strangers’ needs be? From the past, isolated images floated slowly to the surface of his mind, like weed shreds in the sluggish river. Highland
Queen whisky. De Reszke cigarettes. Chivers marmalade. . . .

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This Side Jordan

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
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Excerpt

One  The six boys were playing the Fire Highlife, playing it with a beat urgent as love. And Johnnie Kestoe, who didn't like Africans, was dancing the highlife with an African girl. Charity's scarlet smile mocked his attempts to rotate his shoulders and wriggle his European hips to the music. Her own fleshy hips and buttocks swayed easily, and her big young breasts, unspoiled by children and only lightly held by her pink blouse, rose and fell as though the music were her breath. Johnnie grinned awkwardly at her, then he jerked his head away. 'Fiyah, fiyah, fiyah, fiyah- ma,Fiyah deah come – baby!Fiyah, fiyah, fiyah, fiyah- ma,Fiyah deah come – ah ah!I went to see my lovely boy,Lovely boy I love so well –' At one of the tables around the outdoor dance floor, a young European woman watched thoughtfully. At another table an African man watched, then turned away and spat. Both were angry, and with the same person.  Music was the clothing of West African highlife, but rhythm its blood and bone. This music was sophisticated. It was modern. It was new. To hell with the ritual tribal dance, the drums with voices ancient as the forest. The torn leaves of the palm trees shivered in the wind and the strings of fairy lights glittered like glass beads in the musty courtyard. The dancers themselves did not analyse the highlife any more than they analysed the force that had brought them all together here, to a nightclub called 'Weekend In Wyoming', the wealthy and the struggling, the owners of chauffeur-driven Jaguars and the riders of bicycles. They were bound together, nevertheless, by the music and their need of it. Africa has danced pain and love since the first man was born from its red soil. But the ancient drums could no longer summon the people who danced here. The highlife was their music. For they, too, were modern. They, too, were new. And yet the old rhythms still beat strongly in this highlife in the centre of Accra, amid the taxi horns, just as a few miles away, in Jamestown or Labadi, they pulsed through the drums while the fetish priestess with ash- smeared cheeks whirled to express the unutterable, and the drummer's eyes grew glassy and still, his soul drugged more powerfully than the body could be. Into the brash contemporary patterns of this Africa's fabric were woven symbols old as the sun- king, old as the oldest continent.

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Rockbound

Rockbound

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook (CD)
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Funny Boy

Funny Boy

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
edition:Paperback
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