Mary had a little child – a short story excerpt

Imagine you are looking down from the height of a skyscraper, onto the vivid sweep of light and dark rooftops, a dull colour scheme puzzle with patches of once bright green vegetation darkened by oil spillage and pollution, but green enough to give a sense of hope. This is a small fishing settlement camp in one of the creeks that curve around the Niger Delta, where the River Niger flows and flows, stretching into the distance to the Gulf of Guinea.

Look down further to see where Mary lived, in a small house at the corner but packed amongst a cluster of other small houses in the settlement camp, an arrangement of buildings that leads out past the cluster, past where the fishing lines and nets are spread to dry, to where the fishing boats and paddles are berthed along a wide shoreline that overlooks the river. Look, there’s a creek, flowing black and shiny between its narrow banks. If you listen, you can hear the creek trickling. It sounds like two friends sharing a secret in whispers, as they giggle to each other. The moon’s glow reflecting in the water eavesdropping on the secret sharing friends.

Look, it’s morning now and the glistening sun is out. There’s Mary who although it’s been three weeks still looks slightly pregnant as she steps out to spread her bedsheet and some of her baby’s clothes on the line to dry. She whistles loudly as she squeezes the sheets some more before spreading them on the line. This is her first baby and she really wants to be a good mother, you can tell by the amount of disinfectant she used to do her laundry that morning.

Look, it’s a still, clear night. A neighbour looks out her window and beholds a disturbing sight in the distance. It’s certainly an odd thing to see the calmness of the water break and a real life soaked and shivering creature rise from the water and stare straight at you. Is that Mary? What’s she doing in the water? What’s she doing in the water in the middle of the night? What is she hugging so tightly to her chest? It looks like it’s wet and dripping. Is it a living thing, did it just move in her arms right now? What is Mary doing? What if that’s not Mary? What if it’s a demon come to steal babies in the camp? What if that’s Mary’s baby in its arms?

She instinctively reached for her opal rosary, the one Father Great blessed for her many years ago when he visited the settlement camp, the one she always hung by her bedpost at night and pinned to the inside of her bra during the day. It always had to be with her. She kept it for divine protection from evil, like the demon that was staring at her now; and a means to say a quick decade of the rosary whenever the spirit moved her. She grabbed the rosary and with one finger raised it and pressed it against her lips, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” she began.

That was the night Mary’s baby died.

An excerpt from a short story titled “Mary had a little Child” by Iweka Kingsley, now available on OkadaBooks here:

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