Short Fiction Appreciation by Chikodili Emelumadu

by on Nov 4, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Asking me to pick a favourite anything is a recipe for disaster, much less a favourite story. I am liable to be found many years later, a desiccated corpse, frozen in a cross between The Thinker’s contemplative pose and the agonised countenance of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. So. Many. Choices!

However, because I’d already promised the editor that I would, I had to pull a finger out, light burning sensation notwithstanding. Without further ado, here are some stories that I love.

‘Who Will Greet You at Home’ by Lesley Nneka Arimah (New Yorker, October 2015). In its lyrical, enchanting delivery, this story imagines a magical world in which mothers have to create offspring from materials of their own choosing, according to their status and class. The protagonist, Ogechi, a salon assistant, has fallen out with her mother, whose job it is to sing her descendants into life. In desperation, she turns to her boss, Mama, to bless her creations into existence, in exchange for the older woman siphoning off bits of Ogechi’s happiness:

The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unravelled as she continued walking, mistaking its little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone. By the time she noticed, it was too late, the leg a tangle of fibre, and she pulled the string the rest of the way to end it, rather than have the infant grow up maimed. If she was to mother a child, to mute and subdue and fold away parts of herself, the child had to be perfect.

This story resonated with me because it felt both Nigerian and universal. It speaks to the pressure a lot of women feel to become (and remain, ideal) mothers and icons of ideal womanhood. I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building in this story and Ogechi’s much-needed journey to becoming her own woman. It’s difficult for me to hold back on this one – trying hard not to vomit the entire story onto this page – but I shan’t spoil it for you lot. Read it and thank me later.

‘You in America’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Zoetrope, 2001) caused me to turn an alarming shade of Elphaba-green with envy when it was newly published because it was the first time I’d seen the second person point of view used – and so flawlessly, too. I couldn’t imagine that I hadn’t thought of employing it myself. I’d just moved from my home continent and although my journey had taken me to England in the UK and not Maine in the USA, I experienced very much the same feelings of alienation and loss. As it was North-East England, my ‘other’ was apparent to all even before I opened my mouth, in much the same manner as our unnamed protagonist:

 He showed you how to apply for a cashier job in the gas station on Main Street, and he enrolled you in a community college, where the girls were curious about your hair. Does it stand up or fall down when you take the braids out? All of it stands up? How? Why? Do you use a comb?

You smiled tightly when they asked those questions. Your uncle told you to expect it; a mixture of ignorance and arrogance, he called it. Then he told you how the neighbors said, a few months after he moved into his house, that the squirrels had started to disappear. They had heard Africans ate all kinds of wild animals.

Burp. Pardon me, where was I? Oh yes.

‘The Husband Stitch’ by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta, 2014) packs such a wallop with its badass, terse narrator whose unapologetic sexuality I’ve taken as a lesson both as a writer and as a person. Our narrator is a self-assured seventeen when we meet her and over the course of the 8,000 word story, gets simultaneously gutsier and more mysterious, especially about the black ribbon around her throat which she refuses to take off through her courtship and subsequent marriage.

On the deck, I kiss him. He kisses me back, gently at first, but then harder, and even pushes open my mouth a little with his tongue. When he pulls away, he seems startled. His eyes dart around for a moment, and then settles on my throat.

– What’s that? he asks.

– Oh, this? I touch my ribbon at the back of my neck. It’s just my ribbon. I run my fingers halfway around its green and glossy length, and bring them to rest on the tight bow that sits in the front. He reaches out his hand, and I seize it and push it away.

The end will make your jaw will hit the floor.

Last, but by no means least, is ‘The Mussel Eater’ by OJ Cade. Dark and creepy with foreboding from the very first word, this piece tells the story of a fisherman who falls in love with a sea creature, a Pania. At first we interpret him cooking for the Pania dishes as an act of love, until we realise the fisherman, it seems, is more interested in possessing than loving:

Karitoki is fascinated by the Pania, who beckons him with her plump, scaled flesh, her razor-sharp nails, her fish-oil scent.

His Pania, Karitoki thinks, as the two spend more time together by the rock pool. His Pania, he believes, loyal to him just as she is loyal to the lives of the dolphins and whales she guards. His Pania, if only she would eat the delicate mussels he cooks for her, every day, by the sea.

But a Pania never eats cooked food.

Suffice to say, Romeo and Juliet, it ain’t.

And here they are, some stories I love. I’m prepared to eat my Nigerian headscarf if … Ahem! I mean, I know you will enjoy them too.

What are your faves? Let me know in the comments.


Apex Magazine had the pleasure of publishing Chikodili Emelumadu’s Shirley Jackson Award nominated story “Candy Girl” in issue 66.

Check out our subscription drive going on until Novemeber 13th. If we reach $1,000 in new subscriptions, we will be publishing a brand new story by Chikodili Emelumadu in the January, 2016 issue. At $2,000, we will also include an interview with her.

Learn more about Chikodili Emelumadu at her website.

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