The Striped Girl
There had never been a colder morning than that in Gembu.
The oxygen in the air was replaced with ululation and hissing from parched lips; red, immovable eyes peered through windows.
“This is what the gods vomited when they choked on an unpleasant food offering."
“The womb that bore her was rotten!"
“I’m sure her mother slept with a black and a white man at the same time; sacrilege!”
Spit flew from mouths to ground, shoulders shrugged, thumbs and middle fingers snapped. Bent heads shook.
The fusion of the wailing of the womb that had borne her, the incantation of the priest and the chants of the young bare-chested men dreamed up a dreadful symphony. It was her sixteenth birthday and she was still abnormal, thus she had to be returned to the ones who had given her to them.
She was stripped; arms and feet bound.
Vivid cinnamon-coloured eyes; the brown stripes on her yellowish-white skin were like the stripes of a tiger. Those stripes; a work of art mystifying a lost and perhaps beautiful soul, creating wonder in minds only as deep as water puddles.
She was drenched in kerosene, a match was lit and the flame that ensued licked every inch of under-appreciated art.
I began to choke; no, not from the flame’s fume but from guilt; guilt that I let these people bathe in their ocean of ignorance.
But, what was a white man going to tell them about vitiligo that they wanted to hear?
#WriterPrompt is a regular flash fiction event we run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories in response to a picture, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. The guest judge for this competition was author and illustrator Alex Latimer, he had the following to say about his choice of winner,
"I enjoyed every single one of the stories - they all have something quite compelling about them. Choosing a winner is never easy, but I have settled on Lydia Durunguma's story. In any piece this short, each word has to work hard and Lydia has done this very well. The tension starts right from the beginning, then on top of that she builds mystery and she ties it all together in the final sentence with a satisfying reveal which changes the way you understand the story as a whole. Woven through all of that is strong characterization and setting."
Hi Lydia! Congratulations on winning this #WriterPrompt! The competition was stiff, and we had a number of really imaginative interpretations of our tiger image. Tell us a little bit about yours. What inspired you to go into the direction of the vitiligo disease?
LYDIA: When I first saw the theme picture for this prompt, I was short of ideas on how to interpret it. I didn’t want to write a clichéd interpretation of a tiger which was, to me, writing about its strength and wildness, so I decided not to write and just read the other stories. The inspiration eventually hit me the next day when I saw a girl at the market with this disease; the intense heat in the eyes of onlookers figuratively set the girl ablaze. I thought she was beautiful but many didn’t. I remember the discoloration on her skin drove my thoughts to this prompt’s theme and there you have it.
This #WriterPrompt was judged by SSDA shortlister, Alex Latimer. Tell us a bit about your experience with our judge and hosts and what it’s like being critiqued by your peers so openly.
LYDIA: It feels really nice to have your piece appreciated by an amazing storyteller. I’m grateful for this platform, one where you can read other stories and have your story read and critiqued as well. Being critiqued by my own peers is also a reminder, lest I forget, that there are still so many things I’m yet to learn in the art of storytelling.
Some of our previous winners have said that a few ideas came to mind when participating in certain #WriterPrompts. Did you have a few back-up ideas or did you just go with the first idea which came to mind and made it work? Tell us about your process in crafting your stories.
LYDIA: I had no back-up ideas, but I also didn’t go with the first idea that came to mind. The process of crafting my stories; when my mind is sapped of inspiration, the first thing I do is eat. If that doesn’t work, which is a big ‘if,’ I take a stroll or I read a book or a short story. I used to think that reading what other writers have to say when I am stuck would inadvertently lead to subtle plagiarising but it doesn’t. What it does is take me to a place where my stunted creativity has room to thrive.
Lydia Durunguma is a creative writer; a native of Imo state, Nigeria. She is inspired by food and people. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel.
Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman