‘Eclipse’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —

In a matter of minutes day turned into night. Darkness covered Abakaliki, and most of the provinces in the southeast of Nigeria.

People all around went out of their houses to watch how the Moon covered the light coming from the Sun, with its spherical presence. Then, a funny feeling accompanied the whispers of the observers who lower their voices, more and more, as the light disappeared from the sky.

“Nothing bad should happen”, many said. Some others prayed.

Slowly, the effect was completed. Then, nothing could be seen, neither on earth nor in the skies. The power company had agreed on a petition signed by the local people who wanted to go through the whole eclipse without any lights that could distract their attention from the Moon and the Sun’s encounter. Only the critical areas were working, such as the police stations and the airport.

Looking up, Leye started thinking about his wife. Were they really fighting over the colour of the wall? That sounded really foolish, he accepted, but he also knew that their fight wasn’t just about that.

He resented that Yewande had stopped paying attention to him and all what he wanted and needed since she had taken over the work needed to fix and mantain the building. Or at least he felt it that way. Was he jealous of a building? He wondered. Then, he noticed that Yewande wasn’t around.

They weren’t in speaking terms, but may be it could be a good idea if they shared this moment. Should he look for her? After all, they didn’t even need to talk. They could just hold their hands.

But he didn’t dare to break the silence that surrounded the neighborhood. All around was darkness and calling her was not an option. He didn’t even have a flashlight. They would make it up when the Sun started shining again, he decided.

Almost an hour later things in the city came back to normal. As soon as the sky recovered its blue colour and the Moon let the Sun shine again, people returned to their regular activities.

Noises seemed to explode after such a prolonged silence. That brought Leye back to reality. Why should he apologise if she had been the one who painted the building without consulting with him first?

“She doesn’t even know that I don’t like cream or white colours!” He said aloud while getting up from the chair that had served him as a base during the eclipse.

If she doesn’t care enough, what’s the point of this marriage? He thought.

Life had come back to normal, he realised that now. But the sounds coming from the back of his building weren’t usual.

He forgot about his disappointment and went to investigate.

One minute later he was shocked. The cream-white wall that had been the cause of their fight, the same that he had painted over with a blue coat, was now painted in green and cream stripes! He couldn’ believe his eyes!

“Cousin!” A young man said from a scaffolding.

“Manolo?” Leye asked, calling his friend’s name.

Although they hadn’t seen each other for some years, their friendship remained as strong as the day when their suitcases were mixed up in Beijing. At that time, five years ago, Manolo and Leye were attending an international conference sponsored by the Chinese engineering company they both worked for.

The incident made them laugh, as they had to wear each other clothes for a complete week until they were able to coincide at a lecture to exchange suitcases.

The following day, each one started to wear their own clothes, but by then, people noticed the exchange and they kept on asking the new friends why they shared their wardrobe, so Manolo and Leye came up with the idea of telling people that they were cousins.

After that, they visited each other frequently, either in Mexico and Nigeria, but some time later they were promoted and time wasn’t enough for long trips, so they stopped the visits and took the best advantage of technology, chatting over the internet and emailing e-cards for the important days.

That’s why Leye’s surprise was so immense when he saw his cousin there …and painting his building!

Manolo gave some instructions to the men who were working with him, and then he went down of the scaffolding to give his friend a big hug. “Cousin!” He said, with a warm tone.

Leye still couldn’t believe what was happening. “How is it that you’re here? Why are you painting my building?” He asked in a serious way.

“Oh! That? It was Yewande’s idea. She called me last week and told me all about your quarrel. She knew I was visiting our offices in Africa and I offered her to come here to see if I could do something to help you both to solve your differences. Then she said that the only thing that would make you happy it’d be if the building was painted in green and cream stripes, so I told her I’d do it, and here I am!”

Leye hated the way the wall looked. In fact, he hated all what had happened these pass weeks. Offended, he asked Manolo: “And where’s my wife?”

“Aw, she told me she would be traveling this weekend. I met her this morning at the airport. She gave me the keys to the apartment. Then, she left, right before the eclipse. You didn’t know?” Manolo asked, feeling worried and confused.

Of course Leye didn’t know. As much as he hated cream or white colours, he hated more not knowing where his wife was. As for the green and cream stripes, what it could be worse than a green and cream building! He wondered

Oh, yes… A cream-white one, he answered himself.

“All this is a complete mess,” he told Manolo. “I have no idea where Yewande is and I don’t understand why she told you everything would be okay if you painted the building in green and cream stripes.”

“Aw, man! You really have a terrible memory!” Manolo said, padding his friend on the back. “Don’t you remember? Those were the colours you both wore on your wedding day! Your traditional gown had more green than cream and hers was the opposite!”

Leye was speechless. How could he have forgotten that! He had agreed to wear a green wedding gown with some cream colour on it because he knew how much Yewande liked those colours, and she had consented to a traditional Nigerian wedding because she knew how important it was for Leye’s family. That had been a sign of their commitment to each other.

Now, everything was clear! It had been a way for her to commemorate their anniversary, and he had been so stupid thinking she had done it just to bother him! How could she possible forgive him? He had to look for her, right away!

“Manolo, please, forget about the painting. Help me find her! Please!” Leye said checking the time on his watch. If Yewande was where he thought she would be, there wasn’t a lot of time left.

The two friends hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take them to the airport. Once there, Leye asked a clerk where he could get a charter flight that could take him to Obudu Mountain Ranch, it was the resort where they had spent their honeymoon, and the place where she wanted to travel before they started fighting over the colours of the building.

As soon as he made all the arrangements, Leye boarded the small jet and Manolo promised him to take care of everything at home. Wishing him good luck, he waved his friend goodbye.

Sometime later, right after the sun had set, Leye found Yewande enjoying the view from the pool. “If I was going to spend time here by myself I thought I’d better make the best of it,” she said when her husband approached her.

“I’ve been a complete fool,” he told her, touching her head softly. “My judgment was as blocked as the Sun during the eclipse. I was so focused on myself that I didn’t even take the time to see through you and understand your reasons. I don’t know how you’ll ever be able to forgive me…”

Yewande didn’t say a word. She continued with her eyes fixed on the horizon. Had she listened to Leye’s explanation? He wasn’t sure, and he didn’t know what to do or what to say.

Some minutes passed, and the first starts appeared in the sky. It was only then, when the night had covered their faces, that Yewande took her husband’s hand. “I can’t believe we actually had our worst fight ever due to the colours of the house! Let’s forget all about it.” She said, bringing him closer to her.

[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna’s Blog]

*This is the final story installment for the Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project.

* * *

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Read all other Crossover Mexico-Nigeria stories in this blog or visit Obinna’s blog

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‘Who is taking the books?’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

Mary couldn’t decide if she was going to continue reading her book or if she’d just spend her time listening to the rhythmic jazzy tunes that filled the club’s atmosphere  …along with the smog coming from the cigarettes, and the spicy notes of Cajun food coming from the kitchen, located just a few meters away.

Being there was a little bit like being in New Orleans, she thought. But in fact, she was right there, in the same city that had driven her crazy minutes ago, when she had had to fight with the other drivers just to get the right exit, before getting into the high-speed lane.

That’s why Mary liked to relax in places like this any time she had the chance, and Mexico City gave her plenty of choices to do that. That also suited her perfectly as she was a lifestyle reporter for a local magazine.

That evening, it was the opening of the jazz club and the ambience turned lively when the band started playing all those classic songs that became popular during the Louis Armstrong era.

Mary soon got into a cheerful mood and started to enjoy the evening, while typing some ideas on her smartphone, for her to remember the highlights of the event and to complete her article later on.

The time passed fast, and while she was enjoying a tasty plate of jambalaya, a young man approached her.

“Are you alone?” He asked.

“Yes, I’m covering the opening for a magazine, so I’m actually working.” She answered with a friendly tone.

“Oh! So, would it bother you if I sit here, with you?” The man said.

“Not at all.” She replied, showing him the seat next to her.

After typing a few more words, Mary put her phone back into her handbag and asked him where he was from.

“I’m from Nigeria, miss. I arrived to the city this morning. I’m on a business trip and I was supposed to have a meeting this afternoon, but my colleagues’ flight was cancelled due to the bad weather, so I’m alone here. I’m staying at a hotel close by and they recommended me this place, when I asked them where I could have dinner.’

“Aw!” Mary said. “So, you haven’t actually had the chance to visit the city, have you?”

“No,” he replied, feeling a bit ashamed. “I don’t really know if I’ll have the time to do some sightseeing, as I’m on a tight schedule. May be after I finish all the meetings I’ll have some time to go around. Any place in particular that you recommend?”

“Well, if you don’t have much free time, I definitely recommend you one of the bus tours that are offered in the city, they’re quite good, and the price is right.” She answered.

“Great! Thanks!” He said, smiling at her. “By the way, my name is Adewale.”

“I’m Mary. Quite nice to meet you, Adewale.” She said.

“So, you’re a reporter?” He asked.

“Yes, I write reviews about new restaurants, clubs and any other place where food and entertainment combine. It’s really interesting and I have the chance to enjoy myself while working.”

“That sounds fantastic!” He said, smiling back at her. “My job requires endless hours in the office. In fact, this is the first time I’ve been assigned on a business trip. I’m really thrill about it. I’m sure you never get bored.”

“Almost never. Sometimes we have to wait for a long time before the events start. That’s why I’m always carrying a book. Besides…” She leaned towards him, getting closer to his left ear. “Can I tell you something…”

Adewale also leaned towards her and nodded.

“For some weeks now, I’ve been working on a story of my own. If everything goes as I plan, I’ll have a cover story and I’ll get a much better position.” She said to him.

“And, what’s the story about?” He asked.

“Well, I first heard of it from a friend of mine. Then, I started to do some research and I discovered that books are actually disappearing!”

“Indeed?” He said, sounding surprised.

“Yes! In the magazine we have a huge collection of books. It’s so big that it seems infinite. This is because the family of the owner has been collecting books for many generations. But when I started asking questions, their inventories didn’t match. Someone has been stealing the books!”

A waiter bringing some beignets interrupted their conversation.

After two plates of the sweet pastries were placed on the table, Mary continued.

“But it’s not only that. My friend, who first gave me the tip, told me that his personal library was stolen the other day. The strangest thing is that nothing else was taken from his house. The same has happened to some other friends of mine, and if you may know, I’m missing a book right now!”

“Seriously?” Adewale said.

“Seriously! What I have been able to confirmed so far is that books are been stolen, but I haven’t found any reason for that. Any theories?” She asked.

The young man placed his right hand on his head, and scratched it softly. “Who would like to steal all those books?” He said aloud, not really asking her.

“May be they want to used them as construction materials…” He offered. “You know, if they’re recycled, they might be of some used. Or may be, someone doesn’t want people to read any more.”

“I’ve also thought of that, I mean the second option. But I can’t imagine who.” Mary answered, while checking on her phone, which had just rang.

Seconds later she left the table, whispering Adewale that she’d be back.

It didn’t take long for her silhouette to disappeared among the people that were occupying all the tables in the place.

While waiting for her, he also received a phone call.

Covering his left ear with his hand, as a way to listen better, he nodded a couple of times, and then smiled. “Yes, I’ve spoken to her…” He said, just before Mary came back to the table.

The same waiter that had brought the beignets came back to the table, offering them some coffee this time.

They both accepted the coffee and tasted the beignets, laughing at each other when they saw the confectioner´s sugar covering their mouths.

“So, how do you like Cajun food so far, Adewale?” Mary asked.

“Oh! I find it very tasty. Is it common here in Mexico?” He said, placing his phone back in his pocket.

“I wouldn’t say it’s so common, but we do like spicy and tasty food, we use many similar ingredients. And here in La Condesa people are used to having many different restaurants that offer international food. This neighbourhood is an attraction for tourists and locals.”

“Very interesting.” He answered. “But I have to say that now I’m really intrigued about your research. Do you have any other leads?”

“No really”. Mary said, taking another sip of her coffee. “As I only work on this during my free time, I’m advancing at a slow pace. On the other hand, I’m just doing it to satisfy my own curiosity, so I’m not really in a hurry. I have no deadlines on this, so it’s okay. However, I am in a hurry with this story…”

“Aw!” Adewale said, sounding a bit disappointed.

“It was my editor, the one on the phone.” She explained. “He wants me to email him the review of the club right away, as they’ve just closed a deal with the owner to have some adds in the next edition, so they want the story to be published right away.”

“That means you have to go?” He asked.

“Yes! I’m really sorry we have to cut our chat short, but you know what it’s like when duty calls.” Mary said, while picking her things up.

She took one last sip of her coffee, and kissed Adewale goodbye on his right cheek.

“Nice meeting you!” She shouted from the door, right before she left the place.

The young man continued staring at the door for some time, then one of the waiters talked to him.

“Excuse me sir.” The waiter said. “Has the young lady left? I ask you this because I think this book belongs to her. Someone left it outside the kitchen, where we collect the garbage. It has no name, but I remember seeing her carrying a book like this when she arrived. When we went through it, we also noticed that is has some sort of chip on it. It might be something important. If you happen to see her again, could you let her know that we have it, please?”

Adewale reached for the book, but the waiter left before he could take it.

What would he do now? He wondered.

(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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‘Rats’ invation of Lagos’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna’s Blog]

The ones who were lucky, skipped town. But they were the less. The rest of the people were still stuck in the city, ruled by the giant rats.

On April 13th, two days after the rats showed everyone what they were capable of, the local authorities made a deal with them. They would have everything they wanted: food, wealth, property and the management of the Port, which would give them the total control of the economy of the city. All of it in exchange for them to stop threatening the people of Lagos.

The conquest had succeeded before their deadline, which had been set for January 1st, 2016.

For about a month, there were no major incidents. People started to heal and the rats focused on taking over the strategic places and positions in the city.

Jeher, the leader of all the giant rats settled in a huge mansion facing the lagoon. Every day, with his enormous teeth he bit the fresh meals that were brought by ten servants, all of them people who weren’t allowed to look at him, so they had to walk with their heads down.

The rat enjoyed insulting them, showing up his power, feeling always sure that now that his kind had controlled the city, no human would ever be able to remove them from their comfortable life.

Holding his food with one hand, Jeher liked to play, holding his big tail with his other hand. This seemed to scare his servants more than any other gesture, apart from showing them his big teeth.

He liked power, power that he had got not because he was the most intelligent or hardworking one, but because he had bullied everyone all his life, even when he was a regular tiny rat running across the sewer lines across the city.

Not only humans feared him, but also the other rats. Since he had become this colossal rat that found the way to grow thousands of times his normal size, everybody around had lost part of their bodies due to the attacks made by this rat that found pleasure hurting other beings, just for the sake of it.

His second in command, Leax, had bought all her way to power, paying Jeher so he wouldn’t hurt her, on the contrary he would take her all the way up. Together they bullied everyone, and if someone dared to complain they would get rid of them, either sending them to faraway dirty manholes, where food was scarce and weather conditions would punish them badly, or making them work unspeakable tasks. Rats feared them the same as the humans did.

By August 15th, all the cargo shipments that arrived to the port were controlled by the rats. All the incoming merchandise was processed and storaged, so they kept the most valuable goods and the most exquisite food. The left overs were sold to the people in the city who had to line up for long hours before getting a putrid piece of meat and some moldy bread.

For the rest of the world, the horror that caused the story covered by the international media had passed. What became breaking news and took over the TV shows at some point, turned into an old story filed in the archive. Rats ruling a city was just another tragedy the world had got used to.

At least it seemed so to the people of Lagos who had lost all hope. They had seen all the international media leave months ago and no one else had come ever since. All the promises of help from foreign powers and friendly nations had remained as good-will acts, sometimes only performed to get a bigger space on the news.

And the rats felt happy about that.

What nobody knew was that somewhere faraway, a young man in Mexico had been working really hard to find a solution, or at least some sort of relief.

Concerned for the faith of the people of Lagos and horrified by the power that the rats had gained so easily, he spent all his spare time working in his little apartment on a series of experiments that could diminish the strength of the rodents.

Pedro was aware that poison hadn’t worked, so he designed different plans. Some of them sounded simple, some impossible, but he didn’t discard any idea. At least in the planning stage.

As the days passed by, more walls in his house were covered with notebook pages full of diagrams, equations, drawings and paragraphs. Paper cups with left overs of dry coffee were all around the place, and maps of Nigeria could be seen over the tables around the apartment with small notes and arrows drawn in different colours.

But desperation caught up with him. None of his ideas would solve the problem. After all these months, Pedro was finally giving up. Exhaustion caught up with him, and he fell asleep right where he was, covered by a pile of dirty clothes and newspapers.

Suddenly, something unexpected happened, the solution came to him in his sleep, as clear as if he were awake. But, could it be done? He wondered, still half asleep. 

Afraid he would lose this idea, Pedro forced himself to wake up. It was time to implement his plan.

Jotting down all his thoughts along with formulas and lists of items that he would need, Pedro showed then no signs of fatigue. He had to act fast, before the rats could cause more damage.

One week later, Pedro was in Lagos. A backpack hanging on his left shoulder, a metal briefcase in his right hand.

As soon as he settled down at an abandoned hangar, he set all his equipment, but he still had some doubts. Was this a real solution? He questioned himself, over and over.

That same day, Jeher was particularly bored. Since the rats had domesticated the humans, so they would do all the work for them, the fun had severely diminished. May be it was time to move ahead with their plans to conquer other cities. After all, it had been quite easy, and his richness and power would be then infinite. He didn’t have to conquer the entire world, just some critical places. Then, he’d ruled everyone on this planet!

But all this thinking had made him hungry, so he ordered some snacks from his special reserve. A few minutes later, a human servant brought a backpack full of little kittens.

It had been brought by some Mexican guy who dared to come to the city, taking advantage of the almost non-existing fares charged by the few airlines that had kept flying to Lagos.

The present –the young man had said– was in exchange for the rats to let him do some scientific work in one of the abandoned areas of the airport, because his experiments were so unusual that he had already been rejected in other countries. As Jeher had no interest in science, he allowed Pedro to do whatever he wished.

Relaxing in the garden, the rat picked up one of the little kittens with his big claws, and as he was taking it to his mouth, something happened…

In a matter of seconds the little kitten changed its size, and it kept increasing it until it became impossible for Jeher to hold it anymore. The kitten, bigger than an elephant, landed all its weight over the rat …The last thing the evil rodent saw was the huge interior of the cat’s pink mouth.

Minutes later, the rest of the kittens started to pop up, growing as big as the first one, then they began to chase the rats all around the city. It took them no more than two hours to end the rats empire.

The few ones that weren’t eaten by the felines, Leax among them, ran away toward the bay, so scare of the cats that they forgot that the waters of the lagoon had been polluted with their own garbage. They died even before they drowned.

The humans couldn’t believe it! This horrifying episode had ended, but they were so traumatised by the whole experience that they weren’t sure how they would go on with their lives. May be they didn’t have the strength anymore, but they thanked Pedro anyway.

How did you do it? An old man managed to ask.

I found the way to alter the genes of these cats, so they would become huge just with the tiniest contact with the giant rats, then I left the rest to their natural instincts. Pedro answered, happy because his idea had work.

But, what are we going to do with the big cats now? The same old man asked.

That, my good friend, is something I still have to figure out… Pedro said, looking at the horizon were the enormous felines were taking a nap, after their big feast.

* * *

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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‘An unexpected journey’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

It was six months since Tom, Sam and Charlie had designed a plan that would take them to fly over the main archaeological zones that were well preserved in the Yucatan Peninsula.

The idea had started as a school project when their literature teacher asked them to write an essay describing the most fantastic journey they could ever imagine.

Working in small groups, some of the boys and girls wrote stories about traveling to India, others described detailed trips to South America, and there were some groups that even imagined time travels to the past or the future as well as space journeys to faraway galaxies.

For the three friends their ideal trip was one that would take them to see part of their own country from above. Spending time flying in a balloon seemed to them a much exciting idea than just taking a plane.

Their essay was cheered up by their teachers and classmates, and it was then when a what if? came to their minds, after all How difficult could it be? …Apart from learning how to fly a balloon, borrowing one, getting all the provisions and designing a viable route…

With some help from their schoolmates and the support of their parents, Tom, Sam and Charlie found the way to transform their wish into a plan. Friends and family helped them make some ‘noise’ on Social Media and not so long after the project had started a balloon company that offered touristic services throughout Mexico said that they would sponsor them. The trip was scheduled for the school break, that would give them some time to prepare everything.

Learning how to control the balloon was the most difficult part. None of them had ever been in one before and as thrilled as they were, they had to admit that the very first time when the guide handed them the control, they felt butterflies in their stomachs. But they trained hard, weekend after weekend until every one of them got the gist of it.

Today, this plan was about to become a reality. The official launching day, set for July 15, started at 5:00am when they all gathered at a private runway that was small for commercial planes but big enough for small jets and of course, aerostats.

The travellers, who had arrived to the hangars at 4am, spent the minutes before their departure placing all the supplies inside the huge basket. Packages containing food and water were side by side with all sort of gear, clothes and several small fuel tanks. A map and a sophisticated GPS equipment would accompany them in their hot air balloon trip as well.

The brilliant tones of the balloon shinned as the sunrays went through its fabric. Shadows coloured in red and yellow framed the figures of the three explorers who were concentrated in finalizing all the preparations before getting into the basket.

Teachers, classmates, reporters and even some local politicians gathered around little by little.

At 5:55am, they hugged goodbye their parents, siblings and friends, and smiled, one more time, for the press. Five minutes later, the big balloon, all filled with hot air, started to separate from the pavement, meter by meter until the distance between them and the world below made everything look very small.

A blue sky and a soft breeze coming from the sea delivered the promise of a gentle flight all the way from Campeche city to the archeological zone of Uxmal.

The three friends had decided to fly alone, and not because they wanted to prove anything, they sure would have appreciated having the company of a balloon expert, but taking into consideration the length of their trip, it was wiser to take advantage of the extra storage space to get more supplies and some additional safety equipment.

The winds favoured them once they reached the desirable altitude, then they headed for Uxmal, enjoying a view they had only imagined before. The intense green of the forest was only interrupted by some small villages built in the middle of nowhere. Everything looked so tiny from where they were!

Their cell phone had not signal at that point but they kept on taking photos that they would upload on their Social media accounts as soon as they were able to get some bars.

About and hour and a half later, their hearts skipped a beat when they saw not so far away the top of the Uxmal pyramid. All their dreams were finally coming true and even when they were seeing it with their own eyes, it was hard for them to believe it was true.

As the balloon moved along the area, they couldn’t decide if this ancient site was more impressive from the land or from the skies. What they were certain of was that the view was truly beautiful.

Taking as many pictures as they could, they barely spoke for some time after they had passed the historical zone. Their smiles were doing all the talking then.

Their first stop would be close to the town of Kabah, where they could rest for a while and after that they would try to start sharing their experiences with the rest of the world. A few hours later, they would fly all the way up to Chichen Itza, a little east from where they were now.

Descending into the meadow was easy, and there their sleeping bags allowed them to get some sleep as the excitement and tiredness of the day had started to catch up on them. Smiles again, where all over their faces.

At different times, Tom, Sam and Charlie worked on their digital updates taking advantage of the good signal that their phones were getting from the town close by. Although, they didn’t spend much time doing that as they wanted to be well rested for the next leg of their trip.

The following morning, the same as the previous day, the balloon went up to the air at 6am. The clouds blocking the sunshine gave them some sort of relief as the heat started to increase once they had reached the forest again.

Throughout the jungle some small pyramids could be seen, the same as small towns and villages. The wind, a bit stronger than the day before was helping them get a faster rhythm, which allowed them to arrive to Chichen Itza a little earlier than expected.

Once again, the view from the top was magnificent, the Mayan pyramid and the observatory offered a spectacular view. And it remained spectacular until they landed nearby for the second time. Their hearts seemed to grow out of the excitement. After that, if everything continued according to plan, the next day they would reach Tulum, in the Quitana Roo coast.

Would a bit of rain be a bad sign? Should they wait to continue their journey? They considered that this kind of situations were normal because the weather was supposed to change unexpectedly since it was hurricane season, so, once again, at 6am their colourful balloon headed up to the sky for which it’d be the longest flight of their trip.

As they were traveling south-east, almost an hour after they had departed, they got the bad feeling that the weather would get worst. Now they were sure that they should land, but everything below was a dense forest that would damage the structure of the balloon, so they had no choice but to continue. Lucky for them, the winds, quite strong now, were in their favor.

A little later, they felt relieved when they started to catch glances of the unique sky-blue sea that characterised the beaches that went all the way from Cancun to Tulum. They were getting really close now to their destination and they were very happy about it.

But the storm made the balloon take an unwanted turn! Now they weren’t heading for Tulum anymore, they were going to the opposite direction, away from the shore. Soon they saw from above a big island which should be Cozumel, not only because of its size but because some cruise ships were docked near its pristine beaches.

The balloon continue flying away from the shores and the clear waters became darker, then a sudden storm caused the balloon to deflate and in a matter of seconds, they faced a free fall all the way down to where uneasy waves seemed eager to take them into the deep ocean.

As the basket pulled them inside the high tide, their life jackets lifted them towards the sea surface. With their eyes filled with salt water, they still were able to see that they were far far away from the shore. What could they do?

“Look!” Tom managed to yell.

Then his two friends saw what he was pointing at…

Was it real or just a hallucination?

A cargo ship with a big green and white flag painted on one side and a Nigeria logo written with big lettering on the other side appeared on the horizon.

Would they be rescued before they drowned? They wondered.

(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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‘The spirit man’ – Short story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna Udenwe’s blog]

…Father and the neighbours couldn’t believe it!

Everybody in our street had felt relieved when the spirit man had died. Things were supposed to go back to normal. Why was this happening to us? We all wondered.

As soon as the news went around, people gathered outside the building were the spirit man used to live. Nobody really knew why we were there. The spirit man was dead, so why we should expect to get any sort of explanation by standing in front of his apartment.

May be we wanted to be sure that he was really dead. After all, he was the spirit man, and his feet never touched the pavement, or so the kids said.

Would it be our collective guilt that had brought us here? I thought.

What if the spirit man didn’t have anything to do with our misfortunes and he’d been killed for no reason at all..? No! That couldn’t be. Everybody in the neighbourhood said that he was guilty because people had died just because they had looked at him…

All these ideas tormented me over and over while I was standing there. Then something happened… Something nobody expected.

As a big gray cloud covered the sky, we saw how some light was coming from the spirit man’s apartment.

How was that possible? We wondered, asking each other if we had actually seen what we thought we had seen.

Silence invaded us. Then we watched more attentively. A chill was felt around our paralysed bodies. There was not only light coming from his apartment, but also noise…

‘Someone is there!’ A woman screamed.

‘That can’t be true!’ A young man said. ‘We got rid of the body at the lagoon… Even more, we saw it disappear as it sank in the muddy waters.’

It couldn’t be the owner of the building as he was away this week, visiting his family in the countryside.

So, who was there?

The uncertainty was terrible. But nobody dared to get closer to look inside the place. A young boy had passed away even after the spirit man had died, so, it was for sure that whoever looked through those windows would share the same faith…

‘Spirits don’t died, that’s why!’ A young boy said, hiding among the crowd.

Was that true? Had the spirit man come back from the land of the death…?

‘I’ll go and see!’ An old man said. ‘Cancer has already taken the best of my years, pain’s unbearable and one less day on this earth won’t really matter.’

We all looked at him when he started to approach the place.

As he was getting really close to one of the windows, the lights in the apartment went out.

Anyway, the old man had the chance to get a glance. ‘It’s empty!’ He yelled, just before he fell onto the floor and died.

Screams filled the air… Then everybody ran away, leaving the body of the poor man lying there.

When we got home, father said he had to come back. ‘It is not right to leave him there,’ he told us. But little time passed before he came back.

‘He wasn’t there anymore!’ He said. His face pale and his hands shaking.

‘What happened?’ Mother asked. ‘Please don’t tell me that you saw the spirit man?’ She begged.

‘I cannot say it was him, his features were different, his face was different and yet, there was something familiarly odd…’ Father said. Then he remained silent for a while, his eyes fixed on the wall, his body leaning on the door.

‘I can’t stay here with all of you! Not now that I’ve been haunted. I have to go somewhere far away from you. I can’t allow my family to get what I might have…’

And in a second, father was gone.

Mother ran to the door, but when she got close to it, she stopped, afraid of touching it.

What if ‘it’ was contagious even through the objects…? We all dreaded.

Then we cried all the evening until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we felt asleep. Only mother remained awake. A candle on the window, a chair blocking the door…

The next morning our doorbell rang. Mother didn’t dare to answer.

The bell didn’t ring again. Only the sound of someone going away was heard.

I shouldn’t have done it. But I did it anyway. While mother was still trying to make sure that whoever had been there was really gone, I looked through the window. A man with a limp was leaving our place …His feet barely touched the street.

I didn’t recognize him. But when I was about to go back to the room, I saw his face as he was turning his head toward our door. His nose was twisted, the same as one of his eyes and one of his ears… His eyes were as brown as the light that appears right after the sun has set and just before the night comes to rule its realm.

An hour passed before mother gathered the courage to open the door. And when she did it we noticed that our house number had disappeared. What did that mean? Were we condemned as well…? Were we going to be the next…?

‘The man with the limp had taken it for sure. But why?’ I said.

‘Let’s go kids!’ Mother ordered, gathering a few clothes in a hurry. ‘We can’t stay here!’

A friend of the family had a small apartment on the corner of our street because it was convenient for him to stay there any time he visited his grandparents who lived two blocks from here.

Mother and father took care of the apartment when he was away, making sure that it remained functional. Now, it would be our hideaway house. Nor the spirit man nor the man with the limp would ever know that we were there. Or so we thought…

The following morning everything was silent. Not even the wind blew around.

When we were getting ready to have our breakfast a bang on the door made us jump from our chairs. Nobody was supposed to know we were there!

Trying to be quiet, mother got near the door and looked through the peephole. ‘Nobody’s there,’ she said. So, she opened the door.

The house number had disappeared again!

Mother went out, hoping a mischievous kid had taken it, but we all knew that it had been the man with the limp.

Then we went out and walked along the street. There were no people outside and all the numbers of all the houses had disappeared. The same as it had happened to us!

Faraway… almost on the opposite corner, we managed to see the man with the limp entering the building where the spirit man used to live.  Were they one and the same?

At least no more people had died during the night. Or none that we were aware of. We still didn’t know what had happened to father. It’d be better if we went back to our new place. After all, it had been him who had suggested that we moved there in case things turned more complicated, so he should know where to find us when he felt it was safe.

A few hours later, a note was left under our door. We all thought it’d be from father, so we rushed to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The note wasn’t sign, it only said: Meet me at the apartment in an hour.

We all knew what apartment was that.

At 2pm all the neighbours got together at the spirit man’s place. Even father was there. Then we were certain that nobody else had died in the last hours, so we felt it should be safe for us to be there. Even so, no one dare to get too close to the apartment.

The man with the limp opened the door and looked at us. His expression was a puzzling one. Who was this man?

‘You all have been part of a terrible crime here,’ he said with a severe voice. ‘You’ve killed a man who never said anything . If he was a spirit or no, you’ll never know.’ The man paused and studied our faces.

‘I’ve come all the way from Gabon, where a cholera epidemic destroyed our hometown. People blamed the spirit man, but there was no way to probe it was his fault even when death became his constant companion…”

‘Oh’s!’ Were heard from the people around us.

‘By taking off the numbers of your homes I’ve prevented the disease from knowing where you live, so it won’t be able to kill anyone else. I’ve also cleaned this apartment with all the herbs and chants I know, so no one will get sick anymore. But remember, what you have done here it will remain for the spirits to be judged, so you might as well never be safe again…”

* * *

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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‘Second Chances’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

It had been 10 years since I had been here the last time.

The city looked cleaner and bigger. Somehow, more modern, even when all the colonial buildings that mixed the best of the old Spanish and Mexican architecture were still standing around the small central park.

Certainly the main buildings had been cleaned up, and I should say, they looked majestic. New plant stands had been set along the City Hall and some floor to ceiling windows had been added to the office destined to greet tourists.

In the park, things remained the same as I remembered them. A big fountain in the middle of the square, splashing water to all people who walked close by. The tall trees seemed to play with the soft breeze, their branches moving from one side to the other, causing ghostly shadows to reflect on the pavement, giving the whole place an interesting contrast that made dark and sunny areas mix in a unique combination.

My walk across the park took less than ten minutes until I reached one of the galleries that were formed between the space left by the inside buildings and the arches that ran all along the main square, those that people in Puebla called Los Arcos.

Fearing the place wouldn’t be there any more, I walked faster the last steps before reaching it. Lucky for me, it was still open for business.

La cazuela –the cooking pot– was one of the many little restaurants that served locals and tourists some of the best typical dishes for which Puebla was well known around Mexico and in several countries around the world.

The feature dish mole poblano, was often known by foreigners as chicken in chocolate sauce, which I always found a bit funny because, being a Mexican to me chocolate sauce sounded more like a liquid preparation you add to your dessert and not something you have for your main course. And that was the funniest thing, the dish in fact had chicken, or turkey, in it, but the sauce was a thick mixture of several dry chilies and spices with just a small portion of chocolate to make the hot preparation a mild one, quite tasty and not that hot after the concoction was finished.

Anyways, I wasn’t here for the famous mole, nor for the also famous chiles en nogada, the same recipe for poblano chilies stuffed with minced beef and fruits covered with walnut sauce that centuries ago was made for the first time by a group of nouns, a little after Mexico had gained its independence from Spain.

No, my purpose was not the food, although I asked for a table and checked on the menu before ordering today’s meal: arroz con pollo. Some fried rice with tomato sauce and chicken would be all what my stomach could take. My nerves were making me feel uneasy as time passed by inside the place.

Nothing had changed there. The same walls with the old paintings showing some of the passages of the history of Puebla still decorated the restaurant.

Crowded tables with colorful tablecloths in red, white and green were surrounded by hungry people who looked happy to dip their fingers along with their corn tortillas inside the thick mole preparation.

As I waited for my food, my heart started beating faster …Is he still here? I wondered. A decade had passed by since we had seen each other for the last time, and I still remembered him, the same as if it had been yesterday.

At that time, both of us were working at this same restaurant, I was a waitress, he a bartender, and as it often happens when people spend many hours together, we went from polite coworkers to best friends to couple of the year.

But us being engaged lasted less than a week. At that time, I was offered a job in California, working for a fancy food chain, and I took the chance. I knew the timing was terrible for us, but the money I’d earn would help my little brothers and sisters finish school and it’d give my folks a well-deserved rest. They had kept working for several years after their retirement age because their saving weren’t enough to feed five kids and pay for their education.

Besides, Dad’s raw materials store had to close down after a big supermarket had opened on the same street. Then all their dreams of a comfortable life at their old age disappeared. No more dreams for them to see with their own eyes the Mediterranean Sea, and no more dreams of me becoming a college girl soon to be married to a loving man.

California was the answer to all our problems. Or almost all, because secretly, I had been wishing for another gorgeous thing to happen. I knew I was ambitious, but I wished with all my heart that I could keep my new job and my beloved man. He hadn’t been offer a position, although he had applied for it at the same time I had done it.

He promised he’d found a solution but things happened too fast. One day he had looked at me as if I were the most beautiful girl in the world, the only girl in the world he wanted to marry, and the next week he was staring at me silently, with his mouth half open as if words were stuck in his throat, unable to move, unable to say good bye.

We simply stood there, right in front of each other. I had stopped by the restaurant to see him for the last time, wishing deep inside he’d change his mind, wishing he said he’d found a way to go with me, wishing he’d say he’d wait for me. But he didn’t say any of those things.

When I entered the place, carrying my suitcase, he looked at me with his deep hazel eyes and smiled at me as if the sunrise had just appeared on the horizon.

‘I’m leaving,’ I said softly, with all the strength I was able to gather.

We looked at each other for a long second that in our hearts was equal to the eternity. We didn’t speak a word and yet we said I love you to each other with our eyes, speaking in silence, all in that long lingering painful second…

‘Well, I’m leaving,’ I said, wanting so badly he reached for me. But that didn’t happened. He didn’t even say good-bye to me. He just stayed there, looking at me, intensely, as if the world were closing its curtain for the last time …and yet, he said nothing.

I walked away and as I got close to the bus stop I turned my face to see him, at least one more time. And there he was standing in the same position. He hadn’t move, he hadn’t even turned his head away, he was still there looking at me as I was leaving. And then, I left.

Ten years had passed since that day, and here I was again. Back at the same restaurant. Hoping he’d still be here.

The smells coming from the kitchen made me hungry. It was hard to resist all those aromas mixed in amusing combinations. My eyes then toured the place, looking for his familiar face. I knew I hadn’t seen him in so long but his features remained fresh on my mind, exactly the same as the last time we had seen each other.

I looked at the bar, and sighed disappointed when a bartender I didn’t recognized was serving drinks to a group of businessmen.

Probably he isn’t here any more, why should he? I though. My mood was turning as grey as the sky that was getting ready for an early rainfall.

What if he is still here and he doesn’t want to see me? May be he has a family now and he has forgotten all about me… Doubts and more doubts were all over my head. What is the point of me being here…? I wondered.

My arroz con pollo finally arrived, along with some warm tortillas, fresh guacamole made with local avocado and a sampler of different hot sauces.

I thanked the waiter, looked at my food and turned my face to the window.

The city looked truly magnificent. How much I had missed it. All those buildings made with stone blocks, the towers and domes that dominated the architecture of the place, the colours that brought to life old constructions that had been renovated. Everything reminded me of the good old times.

Are there any chances for us? I closed my eyes and sighed again. Deeper this time.

I took my fork and got it into my rice. Then I looked around one more time.

One of the small murals presented an old configuration of the city and a legend placed at the top of it that said: Puebla de los Angeles. Then I thought, if this city has always been so magical as to deserved being called in the old legends as the city that the angels built, would it be enough to make my dreams come true..?

(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons

The Hedge – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of the story at Obinna Udenwe’s blog]

Confused for what had just happened and ashamed for his own actions, he followed his mum back home.

Life in the neighbourhood would be very different from now on, he thought, while passing by the hedge. What could have caused his neighbour to get so angry? He wondered, feeling sorry for her.

‘And you my son,’ his mum said, ‘don’t ever dare to behave like that again!’

He was sure there would be more problems. His mum would be leaving once all her medical tests were completed and the doctor determined which was the best treatment for her, but in his case, he lived there, and by now, he was sure that all his neighbours had learned about the argument with the girl. It would be a nightmare!

Mum didn’t speak to him the rest of the day. He didn’t really know what to say, so he let her alone. Tomorrow it’d be another day and may be everything would feel different then.

What he didn’t know was that just a few meters away, right behind his house, a series of phone calls had been made at the same time that he was trying to silence his overwhelming guilt.

At first, right after he had left the apartment, following his mum, she had thought she’d call the police and report the incident so he’d be taken to the police station, the least. But later, she thought of something better. Something that would make her anger get some release.

It took her about three hours but she had finally done it. Tomorrow morning, her horrible neighbour and his mum would pay for what they had done to her.

The president of the company she worked for was in good terms with many politicians and businessmen, and all of them found the way to make her wishes come true. After all, she had lived there for a while and she knew that all those powerful people had a particular interest in this area of the city that was growing a lot and had become very profitable.

The new changes, of course, wouldn’t affect her place, which she had decorated with the most expensive things that could be found in the city.

Some other neighbours would be affected, but it was for the greater good, and she deserved some sort of reward after giving her life away due to a job that had demanded of her a 24/7 dedication for years.

With the image of her revenge coming through, she finally fell asleep.

The next morning a strong noise woke her up.

‘What was that?’ She wondered while getting off the bed.

Her headache was terrible and the light that filtered through the window hurt her eyes. The noise seemed stronger than it actually was, at least for a simple knock on the door.

Stumbling around the living room, she managed to get to the door and answered from inside. ‘Who’s it?’

‘It’s me, your neighbour, I’ve come to apologise for what I did to you yesterday…”

‘Go away!’ It was her answer, leaning on the door as if she feared he could force-open it.

‘Please, accept my apology. I know what I did it was terrible, but you must recognise that you insulting my mum was also terrible,’ he said showing real concern in his voice.

‘You’re in so much trouble now, mama’s boy! You won’t even see when reality hits you with what you deserve! And now, go away or I’ll call the police, as I should have done it yesterday. Oh! And say good-bye to your comfortable life, neighbuor!’

Confused …again, and angry …again, he went back to his house.

He could understand that she was angry for what had happened the day before, but what he was completely unable to comprehend was what had caused so much hatred in her. Before yesterday they hadn’t even spoken. Why did she hate him so much? And why did she want to hurt him so badly? He also wondered what she had meant with those threatening words. After all, she had been the one who had initiated the fight when she went to insult his mother over the clothes being dried on the hedge.

With all these thoughts going around his head, he barely noticed all the noise that was coming from his house.

It was only until he had to push some people to get though the side-walk when he realized that there were a couple of black Mercedes and a patrol car parked in front of his place. Those were the exact kind of vehicles that brought people who intended to take care of official business. And the patrol car… ‘Had she finally called the police?’ He said aloud.

‘Son! Son! Come here! Hurry up!’ His mum called him out with an anguished voice.

He had to push some more people away, but he got to his house.

Once there, a big white paper with red and black letters on his door caught his attention.

Paralyzed by the surprise, the whole world around him seemed to disappear, even his mum’s cries.

Eviction notice, he read. And it was all what he managed to absorb in that moment.

‘How did that happen?’ ‘Why?’ He asked not addressing anyone in particular.

While trying to figure it out, two men wearing dark suits gave him some documents still enclosed in several envelopes. ‘Your mother refused to accept them, but you must take them, as the former owner of this property, you have to abide the law. You must empty this property today.’

‘What?’ It was all what he managed to answer.

The construction of a big parking lot and a shopping center was set to start that exact day, right in the area were his house was located, the two men had informed him.

Workers of a moving company had already started taking all the furniture outside and placed everything, small and big, inside of a big truck.

‘You can pick up your stuff at this address, previous payment of the storage fee, of course,’ one of the men said before going back to one of the fancy cars.

His mum reached for him and held onto him, sure that if he didn’t hold her, she would faint.

He hugged his mum tightly. Then he started to look around, as if a magical answer to this mess could be found somewhere on the horizon. Instead, he managed to see the tall and refined silhouette of his neighbour staring among the crowd. ‘How she dare?!’ He said, still holding his mum.

From total confusion to complete control, it took him no more than ten minutes to elaborate a plan to make his situation less complicated.

Gently, he took his mum to an empty bench close by. All those trees and flowers that the new government had been planting around had come along with some urban furniture that proved to be handy in this moment.

‘Calm down, mum. Just wait for me here. I’m going to fix this.’ He reassured her.

She took a deep breath and seemed to believe her son, but tears were still running down her face.

About half an hour later, he returned, placing his cell phone back into his pocket. A strange smile illuminated his face.

‘What happened, my son?’ Did you fix it? Do we still have to move?’ She asked with a hint of hope in her voice.

‘Yes, mum, to both questions. I fixed it, but we still have to move,’ he said, ready to explain to her what was going to happen.

‘We do have to leave the house because all the papers for a new development on this block have been signed. But we won’t be moving so far away, in fact, it’s just a few steps away where we’re going. I’ve arranged for the same company that took our furniture to the storage facility to bring it back tomorrow to our new place. Meanwhile, we’ll stay with a friend of mine who lives close to the hospital, so you won’t miss your doctor’s appointment.’

‘But how? Where?’ she asked.

‘You’ll see mum. I’m sure you’ll like it very much. The new place has all the best things in town and the best part is that we get to keep the hedge. It will be considered part of our property from now on, so nobody will tell us what we can or can’t do with it.’

Still confused, his mum followed him into the taxi he had just hailed.

Back there, behind his former house, the woman who had put him through all this suffering didn’t see this come. All of a sudden two men, wearing dark suits, got out of two black Mercedes that had been followed by a police car. They presented her with official documentation that forced her to leave the house that she had been renting for over two years, as the owner of the property had recently allowed a friend of his to buy the building.

After all — they explained to her–, the owner thought that being in good terms with the man who imported all the thousands of tires he needed every year for his transportation company, the biggest in the country, was a much better business than listening to a handful of local politicians and businessmen with small aspirations focused only in a small part of the town.

(Read the first part of this story here:

* * *

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* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

Licencia Creative Commons