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Kalamu ya Salaam's information blog

 

photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear

 

 

THE ROSES ARE BEAUTIFUL,

BUT THE THORNS ARE SO SHARP 

 

1.

 

         Blood didn’t know why he wanted to kiss her private lips. Didn’t know why the sharp energy of her smell made the large muscles on the inside of his thigh twitch.  Didn’t smell like sex. Didn’t even smell human.  Undomesticated, wild, maybe a pine-needle bed where a deer had rested.  A fragrance born by the wind from whence only the wind knows where.  Didn’t know why, but he liked the memory of his slow kiss-rub-lick-suck of the cleaved dark of her.  And he liked that she liked it.

         Theodore sucked the caramel colored coke through a straw, drawing out gurgling sounds as the last of the liquid, mixed with air, cascaded upward through the crushed ice.  He shook the cup once, tore the plastic top off with the straw still in it and threw it into the litter receptacle; swirled the cup, tilted it upward shaking shards of ice into his mouth, sucked on the ice and thought of her moan as he nodded hello to a co-worker on his way back to his desk from his ten minute break.

 

***

 

         I close my eyes.  I am crazy.  I open my eyes.  I am crazy.  I do my work and when I finish working, every time, I am crazy. Obsession.  The need for every day to be night.  I tape the evening news using the timer on my VCR and later look at her over and over.  Her eyes.  I know looks that the tv camera never sees.  Sometimes I watch with the sound turned down.  Read her body language.  The motion of her jaw as she talks.  Count how many times I see her tongue on screen.  How often they show her hands.  The feel of her nails on my neck.  The rhythm of her voice reciting my three syllables: “The-o-dore” except she enunciates “Thee-I-ADORE.”  ”That’s the news.  This is Ann Turner.  See you tomorrow.”  SEE YOU TONIGHT.  BABY. TONIGHT!

 

***

 

         The bronze point of her breast cutting a curvature in his consciousness.  Why continue, he thought as he continued.  A man shouldn’t be consumed by desire.  His imagination saw the inside of her thigh flash quick as the picture of the contents of a darkened room momentarily lit by five milliseconds of lightening flashing during a summer night storm when you are standing near the window sipping something mildly intoxicating and a “Quiet Storm” format radio station unfurls aural ribbons.

         He drank her features even when only his computer was in front of his eyes.  Drank and drank, and was never quenched.

         One day he refused to call her.  The whole day. Concentrated on not calling her.

***

 

         She doesn’t own my fingers.  My feet are my feet.  I have business.  I wear a suit and tie.  I drive a car — red, sleek. Here is my off-ramp. I like the feel of taking it at 40mph, leaning into the curve. It’s like when I ease into her. I’m gripping the wheel firmly but lightly like I do her breasts, and I brake a little, back off the clutch, let the engine slow us down, and hit the accelerator slightly at the top of the curve, pushing through faster now. Through the steering wheel I can feel the car’s power surging and responsive to my every expert move, like Ann.

         I smoke cigarettes.  I urinate at break time and wish, in the middle of the men’s room, Joey to the right of me, Harold on my left, Amos at the sink talking shit about what he made his bitches do, I urinate and as I shake myself, wish it were her fingers shaking me.  I will not call.  The boys see me zipping my pants.  They don’t sense her.  I look into the mirror at my reflection, scratch my jaw, dry my hands, and, leaning forward, balancing my weight between the sink ledge and the balls of my feet, careful to pretend I am examining my razor bumps, I search deep into my eyes: her profile.

         ”The roses are very nice.”

         Thirty-eight dollars is more than very nice.  Forty-one dollars, forty-two cents.

         ”But, I can’t accept them.”

         I’ve bought corsages for proms.  I’ve bought flowers on mother’s day.  I’ve even given my aunt a plant for her anniversary.  This is the first time, the first time I’ve ever bought roses.  And they are only “very nice.”     

         What about when you kissed me?  What about that great dinner we cooked together in your kitchen trading culinary tips, and ate in the after glow; I fed you desert.  A fruit salad first from my fork, then the grapes from my hand, and that last strawberry we shared lip to lip as I kissed you with the succulent deep red meat poised between my teeth and letting it fall into your mouth as you sucked my lips and you slipped your fingers into the bowl and one by one inserted your fingers into my mouth and l sucked the juice off, cleaned each finger with the sweep of my tongue.  And the night we spent the night drinking coffee in the French Quarter, walking around waiting on the sun, delirious, delicious and crazy in each other’s eyes?  The first time.  The second time.  That Saturday evening in the thunder storm with all the lights out and a very good bottle of moderately expensive wine.  My comforter on the carpeted floor, the sound of rain on the pane accompanied our rhythms.  The third, fourth.  Damn it, last Monday, two days ago.  ”My legs are wide open,” you said.  I almost cried in your arms I felt so happy.  I pick you up just about every day from work — every day you allow me to.  We even sometimes make groceries together.  That linen jacket, the pink one.  The surprise manicure and facial treatment certificate.  The health spa six month membership.  ”My legs are wide open.”  That’s more than nice.

 

***

 

         ”I said, I can’t accept them. I… No, don’t come in.  Please.”

 

***

 

         Then I forced myself past the three-quarters-opened door. I didn’t mean to knock her down when I pushed my way inside. But she fell. And then something happened. Looking down at her I saw the shock on her face. “You see it doesn’t feel good getting pushed around, does it?” is what I thought to myself. “Now you know how I feel sometimes the way you treat me,” I continued thinking while silently observing her. The beginnings of a smirk unconsciously edging itself onto my face. It was as if I rose up above myself and was outside of my body watching myself stand there.  I could see everything.  I knew everything.  I knew she was surprised by how hard I shoved the door. Even so, I could see she wasn’t hurt sprawled there on the floor. Embarrassed but not hurt. And afterwards when I left I knew when I slammed the door shut hard behind me, I knew the sound cut the silence.  She didn’t know I had it in me. I knew.  The way she looked up at me.

 

***

 

         As she fell backward, slammed into the way and fell, he closed the door quickly. And then, as though she had misunderstood him the first time, he held out the roses to her again.  She had one knee slightly up. Her straight, woolen, beige skirt with the deep split in the front had ridden up high on her legs, falling away from above her knees.

         Anger and the beginnings of fear overpowered her perfume. She didn’t smell pleasant anymore.

         The red, red roses swinging before her face.

         Nothing.

         ”I am more than nice,” he thought to himself.

         The phone rang.

         She covered her face with both hands. Then lowered one hand to the floor. Began pushing up, to stand.  Theodore stepped forward and planted himself, blocking what would have been her path of ascendancy.  She stopped.  He saw that she knew she would never make the phone.  Let her machine answer the intruding call. Four rings and the noisy interruption stopped.

         After the chirp of the phone stopped, he bent slightly and pushed the roses at her again.

         She batted them away. She does not want to be distracted. He pushed them forward again.

         Her hand moved slowly.  She pushed gently, tried to move the flowers out of her face.  Why was he insisting?  Why were the flowers thrust at her like a gun?

         What?

         He had unbuttoned his trousers. They slid down at his feet.  He stepped out of them. “My legs are wide open,” she had said just two days ago. The goodness of his dick hadn’t changed any in the time between the last time and now.  She wanted it then.  She gave it up then.  Now was then.  In his mind.  He eased his jockey briefs off.  Now, he still had his shirt and tie on. And his jacket.  And the roses in his hand.

         What?

         That was her only real reaction.  What?

         Sometimes shit be happening to you and it be so far out the box you can’t believe it be happening. 

         Theodore was standing there with his penis erect.  His jacket on the floor now behind his trousers.  He knelt slowly. Placed the flowers down beside him.  Pushed her skirt up.  She closed her eyes.  Her flesh was cool beneath the nylon of the panty hose.  Then she moved, slightly.  Her head shook slowly from side to side.  She covered his hand with her left hand.  A momentary halt.

         She tried reasoning with an unreasonable man, “Are you going to use something?  I’m ovulating now.”

         Theodore ignored her.  She saw him ignore her.  Theodore began pulling at her panty hose.

         ”I’m not going to let you do this.” 

         She started to struggle silently.  She surprised him with her strength as she tussled with him. The thrust of her arms rocked him backward. He admired that she didn’t hit like a girl. Now she was on one knee. He pushed her again.  Harder.  She sprawled backward. Her shoe slipped and her legs flew from beneath her. As she lay disheveled on the floor trying to decide whether to kick him or to try and run from him, he pushed the roses aside and knelt resolutely in front of her. He looked between her legs which were awkwardly gapped open.  What was it “there” that had him crazed on the floor.  The reddest rose.  The petals of her vagina flower.  The thorns of her refusal to receive him. 

         Then suddenly she pushed him harder than he had pushed her.  He fell back on the flowers.  The thorns bit deeply into the palm of his left hand.

         He picked the flowers up and threw them at her.  Hurled them into her face.  Hard.  A thorn cut her cheek.  She felt a faint sting.  When her hand came down from her jaw, a long bloody smear had creased the light hand side like a crimson life line burnt into her palm.

         He expected her to cry. But she made no sound. Did not even whimper. But stared at him with an undisguised hatred. The force of her stare stunned him. He stood up. She bolted up without hesitation. Balled her fist and stood rigidly upright, silently daring him to touch her again. He backed off slowly. Retrieved his clothing. Dressed. Every time he glanced at her she was still glaring unblinking at him. Her blouse rose and fell as she took deep, soundless breathes. He turned and walked briskly out of the door, slamming it behind him. She stepped over the flowers and quickly locked the door behind him.

 

2.

 

         They were in a movie and he cheered when the hero smacked the actress portraying the wife.  Ann froze, intuitively knew for sure that Theodore Roosevelt Stevens, III was wrong for her.  All the little signs she had ignored because she was tired of searching for someone with whom to share her life and had settled for someone with whom to have a little fun.  After applauding the hero’s response to his wife’s cinematic betrayal with a short clap — actually Theodore was celebrating the hero’s refusal to be suckered more than applauding the guy for hitting the woman, it’s much harder to see through how a woman is using you than it is to smack her once you figure out that you’ve been used, and Theodore admired anyone with insight into the feminine species — his right hand had pawed the air seeking Ann’s hand to hold again, but her arms were folded.

         ”What’s wrong?”

         ”What’s right?”

         ”What you mean?”

         He caught the tone, the cut, the coldness.  The sharp point contained within all her soft curves.  Theodore knew this was fire he could not walk through with his bare feet.

         ”What?”

         She bit her bottom lip but not to keep from talking, the biting was just a habit of preparation when she had to fight a battle which she did not choose, but which she would wage without quarter.

         Walking up the aisle after the movie’s over, “Let’s go for a drink; we need to talk.”

         ”Sure.  Where?”

         ”Anywhere.”  Clipped tone.  The claws were still showing.

         Anywhere was near by, but the silence riding over was long.  ”What’s up?”

         ”This is the last, I mean I don’t think…”  She swung her head quickly.  They were at a stop light.  Right before the turn onto Causeway Blvd.  He looked over during the pause for the light.  Her unblinking eyes focused directly on him.  She read him the news — that’s how it felt, all the emotion was calculated although unforced and rendered in well modulated tones, “I thought about your question about us living together, and the answer is no.  And I think we ought to break this off.”

         The light was green.  Theodore pulled through the moment.  Said nothing.  While moving through the traffic.  He said nothing.  Circled onto the expressway.  She hates games. He heard her.  Into the expressway traffic.  Then he pulled over to the side.  Slowed.  Emergency lights flashing.  He looked over at her as the car coasted to an easy stop.  He turned the tape deck off.  He turned the key.  The engine stopped.  The stick shift loose in neutral, rocked back and forth beneath the easy side to side push of his hand.  Then he pulled the emergency brake handle.  She has not stopped looking at him.  This was Tuesday.

         Wednesday morning into the third mile her breathing is even and her stride is smooth.  She will kick the fourth mile.  She is ready.  Suddenly she stops.  A crow caws, breaking the silence of the morning cool.  Two cars pass along the generally deserted stretch of road.  The light is soft.  Her face is soft.  Her eyes are hard.  She begins walking and in a few seconds builds up to a trot and then is running again. 

         Thursday he will bring roses and apologize.

 

***

 

         Everybody thinks it’s easy to be me.  To be the model of charm and poise on the weekday evening news.  A face recognized.  Gwendolyn Ann Turner.  Actually, Gwendolyn Ann Turner is me, and most of the world — I shouldn’t exaggerate, most of the city — knows: “This is Ann Turner, your evening anchor, sharing the news of New Orleans with you.”  Most of the world knows so small a part of my real persona and yet people think because they see a small part of me so frequently, they think they know “me.”

         I was so fat as a child, so “Gwenie.”  Overweight, intelligent, gifted with a lean, hard mind — too hard.  Up to the middle of college I was always the “brain,” never the beauty and even when my birthright beauty began to exert itself in college — it’s like it’s hard to judge just how beautiful the flower will be when all you see is the beginning bud.  I had to run in P.E. and found myself liking the loneliness and the challenge of the long runs, figuring out how to run without wearing myself out, how to swing my arms, how to set my pace, how to breath, how to use my body, yes, how to use “my body” and I pushed it and enjoyed pushing it. The more I ran, the more the physical side of me came out, but it was all because I enjoyed the meditation part of running. At the same time I was trying to figure out how to meet the physical challenges rather than because I wanted to become “fine” or “thin” or something, but the more I ran and enjoyed running, the more I found beauty came within my reach and required just a little work to enhance it.  But the thorn on the flower was that becoming attractive just made being me more difficult, more demanding.  I split in two.  It became so easy to be pretty, to be wined and dined because my body shape was what it had become, or more accurately was what I had made it become, my skin color was what it was, my voice, my hair, my eyes, my slender fingers, my beige bottom firm, round and protruding.

 

***

 

         The thought stopped her: “I hated being fat and I’ll never be fat again.”  She stopped at the road side, put her hands atop her head, fingers interlaced, breathed deeply, looked up into the dawning sky and summoned strength — she was beginning to resent the deference given to her for all the wrong reasons.  Well not so much “wrong reasons,” for all the “Ann Turner reasons” and none of the Gwendolyn Ann Turner reasons.

 

***

 

         Here I am 28 years old, sexually active, so far away from any kind of serious relationship that it doesn’t even hurt anymore. I’m never alone unless I want to be and I’ve never met anyone with whom I always want to be. Being so popular as a media personality just makes being alone as a private person inevitable.

 

***

 

         Ann took a deep breath.  She had volunteered the decision to drop “Gwendolyn” because Ann is so much easier to articulate cleanly into a lapel microphone or an overhead boom, no consonant blend obstacles to negotiate.

 

***

 

         If I hate being beautiful, why do I run everyday, stick to my diet, groom myself immaculately?  Wear complementary colors. Procures pedicures.  Manicures.  Facials.  Ann runs everyday and Gwen waits. Waits for what?

         Huh.

 

***

 

         Gwen waits in a desk drawer, in a diary, in five completed stories, 79 completed poems, and 34 incomplete sketches, outlines and ideas for stories.  And in the drawing pad.  The monthly self portraits drawn with soft lead pencil while looking into the dressing table mirror.  That had started in college. During the first week of every month Gwen sketched Ann, and afterwards Ann would stare at the drawing, looking for Gwen. Gwendolyn had gone to college certain that writing was her destiny but the motion of circumstances had sidetracked her. The path from Gwen to Ann had started not from her own volition but rather began because of her physical presence and personality; the transfiguration wasn’t the result of will, but rather it was physiological and sociological chance. 

         As the new Gwen started to blossom, Gwen “hated” the attention even though some small part of her loved it, fed off it and grew more confident, stronger week after week.  That’s how she had eased into broadcasting.  In college journalism even those who only wanted to write were “counseled” into taking at least two broadcast courses “in order to be well rounded,” and, of course, even though she never sought the behind the mike position, of course once she was there, once people saw how effective she was (even if she was a little overweight), then her instructors steered her that way: “the camera loves you / your voice soothes and exudes sincerity / I know you want to write but I think it’s apparent your future is in announcing.” Meanwhile, Gwen the writer patiently waited for release.  Now, years later, a professional broadcasting career confidently established, writing as a career option is not possible, not to mention being economically unfeasible.  Gwen rarely spoke but when she did…

         ”Ann you do television because it’s easy for you.  There’s no challenge staying in shape.  Reading news copy is so easy. We always liked to read.  Ann, you like to read, and I have to read; that’s one of the only ways I can even exist.  All other times I’m shoved deep into the background.”

 

***

 

         These two people in me.  Gwen wants to be a writer, a deep thinker, and Ann, well, Ann pays all the bills and acquires all the frills.  Or something.  What does Ann want?  Ann is not a want, Ann is a thing, a procurer.  Ann’s ultimate job really ought to be to create a space for Gwen.

         Huh.

 

***

 

         She begins walking and in a few seconds builds up to a trot and then is running again.

 

3.

 

         I was already in the shower.  Theodore was behind me at the toilet, urinating and the “morning deep yellow” of his streaming urine refracting early daylight made it easy for me to see the splashes flying out of the bowl.  I hate it.  I hate the sloppiness of the way men piss.  I hate it.  I step out of the shower.

         ”Theodore.”

         ”What?”

 

***

 

         He swung his head, tremendously pleased with himself. Happy about his manliness.  His sexiness and skill as a lover.  His good fortune: he was fucking Ann Turner and she was liking it. Everything was in order.  At the office his commissions were bounding upward.  When a client saw him, they were impressed by the smooth, articulate, fastidiously groomed, intelligent, business savvy, young Black man fashionably attired in tastefully muted burgundy suspenders over ice blue crisply starched dress shirt with a white collar — these days Theodore was always impressive, so impressive that clients flocked to him the way those chickens used to do at his grandmother’s farm in the summertimes when he was sent to spend a few weeks and would wake early, jump out of bed, get dress quickly and run into the back yard with a cap full of feed, throwing the kernels on the ground and calling out in his young baritone (he remembered that even as a teen-ager he had a heavy voice): “cluck-cluck cluckity-cluck, come here chickens, yall in luck, cluck-cluck cluckity cluck.”  Because he was looking at himself, his external eyes focused on the stream of piss, the splash of water, the diffuse light from the skylight as well as the rainbow shimmering in the toilet bowl cast there by the prismed light of the cut glass mobile hanging from the skylight latch, in his head the beauty of her big round booty moved beneath the knead of his firm hands, because of all of that he neither saw the seriousness in her eyes nor heard the coldness in her voice as he perfunctorily answered, “What?”

         ”I realize this might sound a bit strange to you but I’ve got a thing about hygiene.  When you use the toilet, please sit.”

         ”What?”

         ”Put the seat down and sit.  Urinate sitting down.  When you stand, your urine splashes, and it’s unhygenic.”

 

***

 

         Much head as she gives, she’s worried about a little urine on the toilet seat.  She swallows.  She loves it.  She licks me clean.  And she’s worried about me standing up pissing.

 

***

 

         Theodore stood there, naked, his member held nimbly in his left hand.  He was just about to shake the drops off the tip with a vigorous motion.  How would he shake it if he were sitting on the toilet seat?  This was a trip.

 

***

 

         I knew he wouldn’t understand.

 

***

 

         Theodore didn’t understand what was going on.

         Ann turned back into the shower, almost regretting that she had brought it up.  Almost.  Gwen had decided long ago that Theodore was just a momentary thing, even before he overestimated himself and made the major faux pas of popping the question about living together.

         Ann was slower to decide.  There was a lot she liked about Theodore.  The lovemaking for one.  And, well, the lovemaking for two.  His humor, he was sort of witty.  No, really he was convenient.  Although right for a fling, he definitely was not living together material.  And unhygenic and far too possessive.

         ”Theodore, I don’t need you to pick me up after work. Yes, I know it’s late when I get off, and I know I could save the cab fare, but it’s easier.  I have two cab drivers who are regulars.  I call when I’m close to ready and they’re outside the door waiting for me.  I get in, we come straight here, they wait until I’m inside and everything is safe.  Theo, I know you don’t mind but you don’t have to wait around for me.

         ”I’m staying late.  …  No.  I’m not sure exactly what time I’ll be finished.  …  I’ll just catch a cab.  No, Theo, I won’t call you.  I’ll catch a cab, and I’ll talk to you in the morning.  … You’ll be sleeping when I get in.  I’ll call you in the morning.   … Theodore don’t call me at one a.m.  …  What do you mean where will I be?  …  What do you mean what do I mean?  I mean I can take care of myself.  …  Obviously, you don’t know it.

         Gwen had peeped all of that weeks ago.  The shower door opened.  Theodore stepped in.

         ”You mean when I urinate, you want me to sit down like when I uh, defecate?”

 

4.

 

         ”When I saw you bleeding, I knew I had messed up real bad.  I don’t know what got into me.  I mean you know me, I’m not really like that.  I mean, I was crazy or something.  Ann?  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  You want me to beg?  You want me to crawl? What?  I’ve sent you letters, I’ve called every day.  This hurts me too.  I don’t know what else to say.  I mean I know I did something really, really wrong.  And I know it will be hard for you to ever trust me again, but I love you.  I really love you.  I mean I’m serious.  You make me feel like a man…”

 

5.

 

         Ann didn’t even listen to the whole tape.  He talked to her machine for twenty, sometimes thirty minutes or more, sometimes.  Sometimes he just said, “I’m gon keep calling until you talk to me.”  This went on for over two weeks.

         Fortunately, the erase mechanism was fast.

 

6.

 

         This is about a year and a half later.  Theodore is married (yes, he sent Ann an invitation—she didn’t go; he wasn’t surprised).

         When Ann got the invitation she felt sad for Theodore’s intended. He had wanted a wife but he wasn’t prepared to deal with a woman.  She left the invitation in the hallway, on the table, the table that held the telephone / answering machine, beneath the mirror.  The invitation pushed half way back into the envelope.  Ann did not even wonder why it had been sent.  Gwen didn’t care.  A casual toss and the invitation landed with a slight rustle atop a small stack of junk mail.  Ann didn’t mean Theodore’s invitation was junk mail, but she knew she wasn’t going.

         Later that day she sat sketching herself. Clarity.  In the mirror was Gwendolyn Ann Turner, a thirty-year old, unmarried Black woman.  Ann didn’t frown.  Ann didn’t cry.  She knew, she knew she would never marry.  And she could live with that, was content to live with that. But Gwen smiled, she smiled because she appreciated that Ann Turner was becoming increasingly less interested in Ann Turner and more interested in developing Gwendolyn Ann Turner.

         Never marry.  God, what a thought.  But not really.  Even though she had been raised to marry. Even though it seemed like the whole world was wondering when she would marry. And have children. In a flash both Ann and Gwen realized — neither one of them had every really wanted to be married–not once they were mature enough to honestly face themselves.  Ann just didn’t want to be alone.  Although sharing board was just about out of the question, Ann could and would always find someone with whom to share bed.  Ann accepted the cost.  She could pay the bills.  No problem.  An inconvenience sometimes, but no problem.  And Gwen.  Gwen was happy, she gave thanks to be alive and thriving. And writing — her new novel was almost finished.

         A spray of roses sat elangantly arranged in a bright black vase. “Our vase” — Gwen had found it while wondering through the French Quarter. She was drawn to the pear-shaped container without even knowing why or how she would use it. As she walked along with the trendy shopping bag which held the vase swaddled in newspaper, she passed a florist. Roses were on sale: $9.99 a dozen, and thus began the floral addition to the sketching ritual. The fragrance of the flowers would radiate through the room while the young woman deftly drew her monthly self portrait. And as was usually the case within the last few months, Gwen would be smiling a generous smile. To her beautiful self. Clearer than she had ever been and glad that she understood the necessity of thorns on roses–everything beautiful must protect itself.

 

—kalamu ya salaam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearst Poetry Prize

James Hearst Contest Ad

 

All winners and finalists will be published in the Spring 2015 issue.

 

  • First Prize $1000
  • Second Prize $100
  • Third Prize $50

2015 Hearst Judge:
D. A. Powell

Entry Guidelines for the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize
Deadline: October 31st, 2014

Entry fee: $20.00

All entry fees include a one-year subscription. This year, all submissions to the James Hearst Poetry Prize will be handled through our online submission system. (Click here to access the submission system.)

If you have problems with the online submission system or are unable to upload your submission, please call us at 319-273-3026 for other entry options.

Rules: You may enter up to five poems in one file. No names on manuscripts, please. Your poems will be “read blind.” Simultaneous submission to other journals or competitions is not allowed.

If you wish to receive the list of winners, please state this in your cover letter and be sure to supply an email address. Winners will also be announced in writers’ trade magazines and on this website.

Tips: We have noticed that long poems rarely do well—too much can go wrong in a large space. Poems that have reached the finalist stage in our competition in the past are typically one to two pages (often much shorter). Winning poems always balance interesting subject matter and consummate poetic craft. We value both free verse and formal poems in rhyme and meter—both open and closed forms.

Questions? EMAIL nar@uni.edu • PHONE 319-273-6455 • FAX 319-273-4326

 

>via: http://northamericanreview.wordpress.com/james-hearst-poetry-prize/

 

 

 

 

 

society of authors

The Somerset Maugham Awards

W. Somerset Maugham set up a fund in 1947 to enable young writers to enrich their work by gaining experience of foreign countries.

  • Awarded to British authors under the age of 35 for a published work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry
  • The prize money must be used for foreign travel
  • Click here for details on how to apply

The 2014 Awards

Winners: Nadifa Mohamed for The Orchard of Lost Souls (Simon & Schuster) received £4,000, Daisy Hildyard for Hunters in the Snow (Cape) received £4,000, and Amy Sackville for Orkney (Granta) received £2,000.

Judges: Naomi Alderman, Bidisha, and Adam O’Riordan.

 

Pictured: Nadifa Mohamed.

 

>via: http://www.societyofauthors.org/somerset-maugham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jar4

Cover design and authors subject to change.

Two And A Half Miles is pleased to announce a request for story submissions from the general public for its upcoming paperback “Off The Shelf”.

This is your opportunity to have your story told. We are looking for stories from survivors, heroes, cause driven individuals who have overcome horrific circumstances or have made a difference in people’s lives in the sex trafficking trade.

NOTES ABOUT YOUR STORY

◾Your story must be true!

◾Only staff from 2 ½ Miles will select story submissions

◾Your story should be submitted by email as text and not handwritten

◾Your story should be at least 500 words and no longer than 1,500 words

◾We want you to tell you story in your own words, in the first person.

◾If your story is selected by 2 ½ Miles, you may be interviewed by telephone to check on its authenticity.

◾You will be required to sign a release form for your story. However, all the names in your story (including your own name) will be changed, if you wish to remain anonymous.

◾After the interview, 2 ½ Miles will send you a copy of an edited version of the story. It will be reviewed by a professional writer and may emphasize some aspects of your story more and some aspects less, so the collection of stories will illustrate a wide range of experiences without being repetitive.

◾You will have the opportunity to review this final version and to confirm the story is factually accurate.

◾Your story will explain, extol and inspire the reader to understand, appreciate your heroism.

The Benefit to You? Each selected story submitted by the general public will receive $500.00.

90%* of the proceeds from the book will go toward funding:

  1. - Employment of your survivors
  2. - Employment capacity building for sustainable employment
  3. - Purchasing of your existing inventory
  4. - Development costs of your facilities, care, staff and curriculum
  5. - Educational scholarships for your survivors
  6. - Legal action fund
  7. - On campus abolitionists

 

To submit your story by email, click here.

 

*Where sales commissions offered, 80% of all proceeds go directly to organizations that meet our criteria. MNP & KPMG have been engaged to establish the necessary policies, business processes and financial controls to ensure that funds received by Two and a Half Miles are directed appropriately.

 

>via: http://twoandahalfmiles.org/stories/

 

 

 

NPR

June 20, 2013

 

 

LISTEN TO REPORT

WHO Finds Violence Against Women

Is ‘Shockingly’ Common 

 

by MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF and RHITU CHATTERJEE

 

Young women listen to a talk on domestic violence and HIV prevention near Lome, Togo, in April. Abused women in sub-Saharan Africa and India are at higher risk for HIV than women who haven't experienced violence. / Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters/Landov

Young women listen to a talk on domestic violence and HIV prevention near Lome, Togo, in April. Abused women in sub-Saharan Africa and India are at higher risk for HIV than women who haven’t experienced violence. / Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters/Landov

Thirty-five percent of women around the world have been raped or physically abused, according to statistics the World Health Organization released Thursday. About 80 percent of the time this violence occurs in the home, at the hands of a partner or spouse.

“For me personally, this is a shockingly high figure,” says Karen Devries, an epidemologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “The levels of violence are very high everywhere.”

Devries and a team at the WHO analyzed data from 141 studies in 81 countries. Their findings offer the first comprehensive look at domestic violence globally and give insights into how abuse hurts women’s overall health.

“The main message is that this problem affects women everywhere,” Devries says. Because of the stigma associated with rape and abuse, “some of our findings may underestimate the prevalence.”

When women are murdered, a partner or spouse is the killer 38 percent of the time, the study finds. By comparison, men die at the hands of a wife or partner only 6 percent of the time.

Prevalence of rape and domestic violence in each region of the world.

Courtesy of the World Health Organization

Domestic violence not only kills some women; it also leaves others with long-standing mental and physical health problems.

Abused women are twice as likely to report being depressed and having their own problems with alcohol. They are also 1.5 times more likely than women who haven’t been abused to have a sexually transmitted disease including, sometimes, an HIV infection.

The health impacts can even spill over into the next generation, says Claudia Garcia-Moreno, a physician from the WHO. A woman who has experienced violence has a greater chance of having a low-birth-weight baby. And children who were abused, or who witnessed abuse, are more likely to end up in violent relationships themselves, research shows. “Preventing child abuse is an important strategy for reducing these forms of violence,” Garcia-Moreno says.

What else can be done to stop this global trend? Educate women and give them a chance economically, Garcia-Moreno says.

A few years ago, researchers in South Africa gave women small loans to start vegetable stands, tailoring services or other retail businesses. They also educated the women about domestic violence and gender equality. After two years, abuse among the women decreasedby more than half.

But Garcia-Moreno thinks the onus is on health professionals worldwide to turn the tide of domestic violence. “We want to see this issue integrated into the curriculum in the basic training for doctors and nurses,” she says.

“There is no magic bullet, no vaccine or pill” for rape and abuse, Garcia-Moreno says. “But what we hear from women is that oftentimes, just having an empathetic listener who can provide some practical support and help her get access to some other services — that in itself is an important intervention.”

 

>via: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/06/20/193475321/who-finds-violence-against-women-is-shockingly-common

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

daily kos

FRI OCT 17, 2014

 

 

 

 

5 More Women Accuse

Marissa Alexander’s Husband

Of Brutal Abusive 

 

by Leslie Salzillo

According to First Coast News, last week, in Jacksonville, Florida, five new witness may turn out to be the best news for Marissa Alexander, and the worst news for her abusive husband, Rico Gray.In 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a shot into the air, to keep her husband from attacking her. Alexander had just given birth only ten days prior, and testified that Gray was in a jealous fury and threatened her life. In 2012, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison, for firing that warning shot and harming no one.

In a sworn deposition, the husband, Rico Gray, said:

I was in a rage. “I called her a whore and bitch and . . . I told her, you know, I used to always tell her that, if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you. It was not the first time of ever saying it to her.”

Ironically, according to Florida’s ‘Stand You Ground,’ Law if Alexander had killed Gray, she would have most likely gone free. (In states like South Carolina, Think Progress reports, Stand Your Ground doesn’t apply to victims of domestic violence.)

First Coast News has extensively covered the Marissa Alexander case, and on October 10th they reported that five new witnesses came forth in a pretrial hearing, and testified against Rico Gray and his violent past:

Witnesses Thursday included three women with whom Gray has had children, as well as two sisters-in-law. All accused Gray of physically intimidating or brutalizing them.One girlfriend, Shartrecia Anderson, testified that Gray was prone to violence. “I know what he’s capable of. He will attack if he’s brought to that point,” she told the court.

She also asserted that on at least one occasion, Gray stabbed himself with a fork in order to feign injury to police, and instructed his son to lie to officers in order to back up his version of events.

The prosecution is calling Shartrecia Anderson a liar. Anderson denied Gray abused her in a previous testimony. *Keep in mind, many women are afraid of legally accusing their abusers; fearing their abusers will kill them. And that is often the case. According to Gloria Steinem, and verified by PolitiFact:

*More women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends since Sept. 11 than “all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq.” (Approximately 10,000)

Rico Gray did not take the stand on Thursday, and is due to give his side of the story(s) soon. It’s uncertain whether Judge James Daniels will take the testimonies of these new witness into consideration when ruling on Marissa Alexander’s new trial in December.
Florida DA Angela Corey, the prosecuting attorney (and failed attorney in the Zimmerman/Martin trial) offered Alexander a 3-years guilty plea. Alexander felt she was innocent, and after having only three hours to decide, turned down the plea. Angela Cory then slapped Alexander with a 20-year sentence. Twenty years, for hurting no one,  yet George Zimmerman walks free after what many call the ‘murder’ of Trayvon Martin.After Alexander spent many months in jail, including time away from her newborn infant, her trial was overturned in September of 2013, reportedly due to jury misinformation. It should be mentioned, the overturn occurred after a very big national protest. Once the original trial was overturned, rather than Angela Corey dropping the case, the District Attorney stated she will seek a 60-year sentence in the new trial. Hard to even type that. It’s disgusting, merciless, unjust, and utterly ridiculous.

Another witness, former Gray wife Dashanna McGriff, alleged a raft of abuses, including being hit with a gun, having her nose broken, and being locked in a closet for hours.

After first seeing a Marissa Alexander headline via Katie Halper/Alternet, I have sworn to continue covering this case until Marissa Alexander is free. I also hope to see a renewed national discourse, not only about victims of domestic violence, but also about those who survive the abuse defending themselves, and are then prosecuted. Many victims of domestic abuse are taken from their children, incarcerated, and left to rot in prison. It’s no wonder so many victims do not report domestic violence. Instead, they often stay in fear, and die horrific deaths.Here are the previous Marissa Alexander Daily Kos diaries I’ve written over the last 16 months. There are many more by other diarists, and you can search those diaries by typing in the name, ‘Marissa Alexander,’ in the upper right search box. The diaries below are listed from first, to the most recent.

Stand Your Ground? Black Woman Fires Shot Gets 20 Years – White Man Kills And Goes Free – WTF

A Letter From Marissa Alexander – The Battered Woman Serving 20 Years For Firing A Warning Shot

Excerpts From Alexander’s Abusive Husband’s Deposition… And She’s The One That Goes To Prison

Anderson Cooper & Chris Hayes Cover Marissa Alexander. First Release Her – Then Argue

Prosecuting Attorney Angela Corey Refuses To Drop Marissa Alexander’s Case – New Trial Scheduled

MSNBC Host Melissa Harris-Perry Schools State Attorney Angela Corey On Domestic Violence

DA Angela Corey Now Seeks 60 Years Against Marissa Alexander In 2nd Trial

Special thanks to Karen Teegarden, the founder and president of UniteWomen.org - an organization that has continuously published news about this case, and supported Alexander, as well as many victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Many of the above diaries were also cross-posted in Liberals Unite.

If you are being abused, or know someone who is, there is help. Please contact:National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE

For more information on the organizations fighting for Marissa Alexander’s release, visit: Free Marisssa Now, and Free Marissa Now on Tumblr. (Note: There have been a few stories circulating over the past few days saying Alexander’s case was overturned. That story is from last September (2013) and has caused confusion among Alexander supporters.)

 

>via: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/10/17/1337149/-5-More-Women-Accuse-Marissa-Alexander-s-Abusive-Husband-Of-Extreme-Brutality?detail=facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medium

Everyone’s stories and ideas

Oct 14, 2014

 

 

“IF THEY KILL US, SO BE IT.

BUT WE HAVE TO RUN NOW.” 

 

Chibok school uniforms.

Chibok school uniforms.

Six months ago, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. The handful who escaped that night have never told the full story of their ordeal — until now.

 

By Sarah A. Topol
Photographs by Glenna Gordon


 

Near the classrooms in the dusty schoolyard of the Chibok Government Secondary School, the Whuntaku girls hold court beneath the green lele mazza tree. There is no sign on the tree, no discernible markings; everyone just knows it’s their spot — where they gathered in the mornings, between classes, and after school to hang out, talk about boys, whatever.

A girl can’t just join the Whuntaku clique; she has to be from Whuntaku, a neighborhood in Chibok, a town in northeastern Nigeria that most people had never heard of before the “incident.” There’s an unspoken code among them: You could be friends with other girls, but you always watch out for your own. Earlier in the year, for example, a senior decided to haze a Whuntaku junior. She had told the junior to fetch her a bucket of water from the pumps outside, where the boarding school students collect water once a day for bathing. But when the Whuntaku girl said she was already on an errand for another senior and would have do it later, the senior yelled at the junior, said she was being “disrespectful.” She made her kneel on the floor of the bathroom for five minutes. The toilet that day was filthy; it’s where roughly one thousand girls in the school bathe, and no one had cleaned it. As the junior balanced her weight on her knees, she started to cry.

When the junior returned to the room the Whuntaku girls shared, the others told her to forget it. “Forgive,” they said. But the senior kept at it, always catching the junior on errands for other Whuntaku girls. She would make her kneel. The third time, the junior had just had an operation on her ribs. This is nonsense, the Whuntaku girls agreedThey stormed out of the dorm, found the senior, and, without discussion, started to beat her. They struck her with their hands, their legs. They chased her around the dorm: “We will kill you!” they said. They had no idea the senior had epilepsy, “second death” in the local tribal language. “She did like she died,” the girls later recalled. But when the shaking passed, they started again.

Chibok has a strict no-violence policy, and everyone knew suspensions were coming. That night, the Whuntaku girls ripped out a piece of notebook paper and passed it around, each one writing her name on a line. At the school assembly the next day, they simply handed the principal the paper, lined up in the order of their names, and then turned and walked out as they were called, heads held high:

“Promise!”

“Doris!”

“Blessed!”

Everyone at Chibok Secondary School got the message: When you touch the Whuntaku girls, you play with fire.

 

Hauwa draws pictures of the solar system, writes the dates of the solstice and equinox, and copies the word “eclipse” again and again.
 

Noon


 

That mid-April Monday at the Chibok school was hot and languid, and by the afternoon the temperature crept up to 105 degrees — it was the hottest time of year, when the Saharan harmattan winds that crash through the arid countryside settle, but before the rainy season ruptures the heat.

The school, a few miles from Chibok proper, is a vast compound of freestanding buildings, classrooms, teachers’ quarters, and a dormitory, ringed by a low wall with a single gate. On one side, flat brushland stretches to the horizon; on the other, craggy mountains extend skyward. A few years ago, the all-girl school was integrated, and now a few hundred boys from town attended classes during the day, while girls from dozens of nearby villages boarded on the grounds. School had been cancelled for a month due to security threats from an extremist Islamic group called Boko Haram, whose nickname translates as “Western education is sinful.” That night, some 300 girls were on campus.

There wasn’t a girl at Chibok who hadn’t heard of Boko Haram, and none who didn’t fear them. The stories of what the group did circulated widely. They would kidnap girls and force them to marry, to cook and maintain their bases and safe houses. They would order them to kill prisoners they’d captured and brought back to camp and, if a girl refused, Boko Haram’s “real wives” would volunteer to slit the prisoner’s throat out of loyalty. If a captured girl had a child with Boko Haram — as all too often happened — they would force her to cook her own baby and then watch as the fighters devoured it.

The students of Chibok were terrified. False alarms were common. One night, a girl thought she spotted someone outside and led a screaming stampede toward the front gate — a pileup of sprained ankles and scrapes and bruises all because a girl had snuck out of the dorm to talk on her cell phone. After that, the principal told the students never, ever to run. The administration even called the town’s contingent of soldiers, who came to school and told the girls the same thing: If there was an attack — they should stay put. The army would protect them.

The summer before school started, Boko Haram had been pushed out of their stronghold in Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital, by a joint military and civilian operation. The group, which was started by students in the late 1990s arguing that only an Islamic state could fix Nigeria’s rampant corruption, initially got a foothold in the impoverished, Muslim north. But after a military crackdown they’d become radicalized and now they targeted politicians, traditional community leaders, and — increasingly — schools. At least fifty schools were burned over the past two years, and another 60 had been forced to close. In February, the group attacked a boy’s dormitory in neighboring Yobe state, locking the doors and setting the building on fire, burning 59 students alive. It got bad enough that in March the government closed all public secondary schools in Borno State—they admitted it couldn’t keep students safe. Chibok had only re-opened for seniors to complete their college-entrance exams. Everyone else stayed home.

When a student saw the vice principal pick up a piece of paper on the floor warning that Boko Haram was coming, the girls started gossiping. Would the principal cancel school? Postpone exams? The administration called the students together. It was a prank, they said — and it wasn’t funny. Boko Haram wasn’t coming, exams were. Everyone calm down and keep studying.

 

Kidnapped Chibok girls. Photos courtesy of their families.
 

2 p.m.


 

Endurance lay studying in her bunk in Moda House. She was a transfer student that year and had met Boko Haram before. The men had stormed her old school last year in the night, rounding up the female students. “What is the point of education?” they shouted. The girls were silent.

“Why are you being quiet? Don’t you know what to say?” the men demanded. “What’s the point of being here then?”

The fighters made the girls lie flat and press their faces down into the ground. Endurance didn’t notice how long she kept her eyes closed; she heard only their parting words: “We are going to leave you today, but if we come back and see another girl here, we’re going to kill her.”

After that, her parents enrolled her in Chibok — they thought it would be safer.

Endurance’s family lived in Askira-Ube, a town 15 miles from Chibok, where her father farms. Their house didn’t have electricity or a television — which made it hard for Endurance to study or learn English, the language of the college-entrance exams. Still, her parents had high aspirations for their daughter, the youngest of seven siblings and the first girl, they hoped, to finish school and go to college.

Endurance had come to Chibok early enough to claim the best bed in the dorm room—the one in the corner, with the biggest personal nook, where she arranged and rearranged her prized possession: biology books. Endurance hoped to become a microbiologist — a rare goal in Borno State, where most girls dream of family and only 28 percent of children are enrolled in school. Practicing BiologyKey Points in BiologyModern BiologyComprehensive Biology, and Intensive Biology. She kept them in her bed with her. At night, she liked to stack them under her head like a pillow.

The bed next to her belonged to her best friend, Mary. Endurance saw her on the first day, reading a book while everyone else was playing, foolishly. It turned out, Mary was third in the class. Her father was a pastor. Endurance was prim and wiry, with close-cropped hair — people joked that she dressed like a “preacher’s daughter.”

Together, they decided that this year was the most important of their lives. They weren’t like the popular girls at school, including the Whuntaku clan, who always seemed to be everywhere, walking around, heads high, talking to boys, laughing at inside jokes. They spent hours reading and talking about the Bible and how to live their lives in a good way. Endurance wasn’t sure how Mary knew all the good advice she gave — it was a gift God gave her.

“We should be careful with the life we live on earth. We should be careful because some people are going to come and say, ‘We are God.’ We have to love one another, because everyone is going to start hating and killing each other,” Mary told Endurance, and Endurance knew it was true.

 

Margaret “Maggie” Pogu, 16, loves playing with her friends. Her father is a teacher in Chibok.
 

5 p.m.


 

The Whuntaku girls filed out of the Ghana room which they had christened “The Golden Room,” with a sign above the door. Evening prayer was the only time of day when Blessed and Hadiza were apart. As a Christian, Blessed stayed in the prayer area at the center of the hostel, while Hadiza, a petite girl with full lips and an intense stare, went to an empty classroom with the other Muslim girls. At the beginning of last year, when Hadiza had arrived at Chibok, there had been no beds in dorm room, so Blessed offered hers. From that moment on they shared everything—including a mattress.

Blessed was the kind of girl other girls followed without really knowing why. Tall and confident with almond-shaped eyes, maybe her only social downfall was her choice in boys — specifically one called Cool Boy. It started when he passed her a note, saying he wanted to be her friend. Cool Boy was one of the most popular guys at school; she couldn’t help writing back “OK.” It took her longer for her to let him be her boyfriend. He gave her his phone number on a piece of paper, but she threw it away. Then one day she came to class and saw he had carved his phone number into her desk. “Now you can’t throw it away,” he proclaimed with a loafing grin. Blessed couldn’t help it: That was cool.

The problem was that Cool Boy was Muslim. “You’re just not supposed to be together,” said Salama, a Whuntaku girl and one of Blessed’s closest friends. Blessed knew Salama was probably right. Her parents, even if they agreed to the match, would never truly approve; Blessed would have to convert to Islam if they were to marry. She was the only girl in the family, and church is important in Chibok — a Christian outpost from the area’s missionary past. She thought her father, a police officer, would be crushed.

All of her friends, except Hadiza, were against it. Sometimes Blessed wondered if maybe Cool Boy hadn’t cast some kind of juju on her to make her forsake most of her friends in favor of him. If he had, it had definitely worked on her friendship with Salama, one of the most proper girls in the Whantaku circle, and that sucked.

Salama settled herself on the floor alongside Blessed in the front of the room and tried to concentrate on the prayer. It was quiet as the girls took turns. “May God keep Nigeria safe,” one girl began. “May the testing commission be kind to us and show us answers in advance,” another prayed. The girls were solemn. “As we sit and chill in the hostel and jest with our friends, and we say things about other people, may God forgive us,” someone else intoned. “May God keep us safe tonight,” another said.

 

Rhoda writes a note to her in-laws, thanking them for a composition book. The top right says, “no need of address.”
 

7:30 p.m.


 

The Golden Room was lit by torchlight. There was no electricity at Chibok, and after the sun set over the beige bush land the rooms grew dark and streaked with flashlight beams. Girls were draped across their beds, enjoying the slight drop in temperature, scattering their textbooks and notes.

Exam stress was like a blanket. Every sound was muffled. The room’s prefect, a Whuntaku girl, picked up a bucket. She started to drum. Salama, shy and pretty, always dressed immaculately, was sitting on her bed; she watched as Hadiza and another girl started dancing in the middle of the room. Blessed got up next to join them. Others rose, and suddenly the entire Golden Room was dancing — the girls twirling, slapping the balls of their feet, clapping, kicking their legs.

As the beat got faster, the girls moved faster. Salama could feel herself melting into the rhythm — all the stress of the exams, of school, of the future shed with each stomp. Blessed danced alongside her. Blessed was always so confident, so at ease in her own skin. Salama noticed that she was matching Blessed step for step. That made her proud.

The girls danced for hours — they didn’t remember ever having danced like this before. Exhausted and sweaty, Blessed and Hadiza pulled their mattress outside and fell asleep under the stars.

 

Hauwa Mutah wants to be a biochemist. She is the sixth born of nine children, and her favorite subjects are geography and English.
 

11:45 p.m.


 

It started with a few pops in the distance that became a torrent. Endurance heard the noise from her bed and jerked up.

At Chibok there was one guard for the gate and one for the whole dorm. The dorm guard slept across from Endurance and Mary; they called him Kaka, the respectful way to address an elder male in Nigeria. Kaka was ancient — wrinkled and walked with a limp. It was impossible to know just how old he was. He rustled in bed. “I’m going out to look,” he told them, then shuffled away.

Outside, Hadiza was shaking Blessed awake and the two girls ran back into the Golden Room. Inside, there was only commotion and confusion.

Salama’s friend was shouting at her: “You idiot! Wake up! Can’t you hear what’s happening?”

Salama, still half-asleep, pulled on her blue-checkered uniform and ran to the Golden Room’s doorway. The sharp sounds of assault, like a thundering roar, were everywhere at once — she felt the earth shaking. Shadows of girls scrambled past and gathered in the darkness of the prayer area.

Endurance couldn’t wait for Kaka. Dressed in a T-shirt and wrapper skirt, she ran into the prayer room with Mary. They stood against the wall; Endurance took Mary’s hand and listened to the whispers. Mary’s breathing was heavy.

“Should we run?” the girls asked one another.

“We should not run. We should keep quiet. The principal said we should not go anywhere.”

“What is happening?” someone shouted.

Girls were crying.

“Is it them?” another asked. “Is it them?”

“Are they here?”

“What about our parents?”

“Okay, everyone just sit down,” someone said. “Everybody just be quiet, maybe they will think there is no one in school!”

Kaka came back and found Endurance and Mary. “What are we going to do?” he asked. The girls looked up at him; there was little to be done. “We’ll just leave the rest for God,” Endurance said.

Kaka knew what Boko Haram did to men in situations like this — girls they might leave; men they kidnapped or killed. “They may have more mercy on you. They won’t have mercy on me. Let me go and hide,” he said and vanished into the shadows.

Endurance heard the sound of motorbikes. Two men in military uniforms walked into the dorm. “Don’t worry. Don’t run. We are with you,” one of them shouted. “Gather together! Gather in one place!”

In the prayer area, Blessed’s heart steadied. They were here to protect the school, just like the principal had promised.

The girls muffled their sobs and sat down.

In an instant, everything changed. More men charged into the hostel. “Allah Akbar!” the men shouted. “Allah Akbar!” The soldiers poured in, more and more of them, holding huge guns. It was dark and the girls couldn’t see them clearly, but the smell of sweat and adrenaline filled the hall. “Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!”

These men are not soldiers, Blessed thought.

 

Dourcas Yakubu is 16 years old. Her parents describe her as shy girl who loved eating tuwo (a local dish).
 

 

After the last time, they had haunted Endurance. The dreams always started the same: white-clad angels singing beautifully, then her view shifted. Suddenly, there were dark shapes, people, monsters; she couldn’t make them out. They were screaming and shouting, and coming fast. She used to wake up before the monsters got too close. But now they were here.

“Everyone quiet!” one man yelled above the chaos, his face hidden by shadows. He must be the leader, Endurance thought. “Where are the boys and the men of the school?”

“They do day school,” someone answered.

The men weren’t there to intimidate. They wanted supplies. They wanted machinery — things that were impossible to get in the bush, where they made their home.

“Where is the machine for making bricks?”

“There’s no engine,” the girls whispered. “There’s no machine for making blocks.”

“You are lying! If you don’t tell us where it is — you know what we did to other towns, what you heard happened there will happen here.”

A group of men took two of the girls to lead them to the food stores. The other girls were commanded outside, past the lele mazza tree, and over to the gated entrance.

 

Hauwa Mutah slept on the bottom bunk in her dorm.

Endurance watched as the men divided themselves into three groups. One group guarded the girls; another loaded cars with sacks of rice, beans, pasta, and maize. The third started torching the buildings. It was all so practiced and efficient. Within minutes, the classrooms, the teachers’ quarters, and the storeroom were all bathed in orange flames.

Again the leader spoke up. “Go get your hijabs!” he shouted. A few of the girls riffled through book-bags for head scarves; others stood up, moving toward the hostel, which was so far untouched. Most of the girls remained seated.

“What about you Christians, don’t you have scarves?” the leader asked. “Are you all Christians?” The girls nodded.

“So does that mean we should just kill these — take them and burn them, too?” Endurance heard a man ask.

“No. Just mix them together,” the leader said. “Let’s go!”

Finally, the men set fire to the hostel: Everything the girls had known was now gone.

The leader wasn’t satisfied. “Where is the brick-making machine?” he shouted again. “I’m going to shoot this gun. If I shoot it four times, you are all going to die!”

The man shot. Once, twice, a third time.

A girl stood up: “It’s on the road!” she said. They dispatched her to show them. Salama felt her legs shaking.

Endurance started to pray, her eyes open as she sat in the dusty courtyard. She could feel Mary trembling next to her. She could hear screams and gunshots from the town, then a big explosion in the distance. Maybe one of the petrol drums in the market, she thought. The girls next to her were sobbing: “I’m the only child of my mom and I’m never going to see her again!”

A lone voice asked: “If I die, what am I going to tell God?”

Endurance’s left hand gripped her friend Christina’s, one of her other close friends from Moda House; her right hand held Mary’s. Christina held onto someone else, Mary did the same, and those girls held onto other girls, who held others. Endurance could feel their hearts beating as one.

The Holy Spirit told Endurance to pray. “If I have longer days on Earth, the Lord lead me out of this. If this is my last day on earth, let me see God,” she mouthed silently.

Christina’s body was still, taut like a spring; Mary was shaking. Endurance was calm. It will be like last time. They are going to tell us to go home now, she thought. Endurance willed herself to project calm on Mary, on all of them. She saw more men coming to the gate. “Get up!” they shouted, “Get up and follow this road!”

They are not going to let us go. Endurance stood up and said a prayer: “God give me direction of how to get back home. I am not scared.”

As the girls walked out of the gate, they were still linked. Endurance put one foot in front of the other, her eyes open, her mind clear. She focused on walking, one foot, then the other. They were careful to stay together in their web of hands — girls linked to girls linked to girls linked to God.

 

Hauwa Ntaki wants to be a nurse or maybe an economist. She was third in her class. She loves volleyball. Her school notebook includes a letter to her brother and notes on the solar system.
 

 

The main dirt road was wide, but hundreds of girls were walking together, placing one foot in front of the other as they had been ordered to. Endurance could see girls spilling over onto the side and into the bush. Boko Haram gunmen had them corralled like a frightened, stumbling herd.

Maybe 15 minutes went by; almost every girl in Endurance’s group was holding someone’s hand. “Why are you walking like that?” one gunman shouted at Endurance. She jumped. Everyone dropped hands. Endurance fumbled in the darkness. She found one hand near to her; it was Christina’s. Mary had disappeared, gone in the sea of girls and murmurs.

Endurance started planning. She whispered to Christina: “If we go where they are taking us, do you think we will be able to escape?”

“What do you think we should do?” Christina asked in Kibaku, the local Chibok tribal language; counting on the fact that Boko Haram — a group dominated by Fulani and Kanuri men from the northern part of the state — would not understand them.

“Well, even if we try to escape, and we get killed, at least our parents will be able to see our bodies,” Endurance told her. “That’s better than to go there and then have our lives spoiled.”

“How will we know when to run?” Christina asked her.

“The Lord will tell us the right time.”

 

Rhoda Peters loves going to church and her favorite food is rice and beans. Her dad is a civil servant in Chibok, and she’s the kind of girl who writes thank you notes to her in-laws when they bought her a notebook.

By Endurance’s count, they had been walking about half an hour when Boko Haram shouted for them to sit down again. There was a big tree on the side of the road, and three trucks and a car parked beneath it. The fighters started re-packing food.

Blessed gripped Hadiza’s hand tightly. She watched as the men drove a lorry toward the group.

“Everyone who wants to live, get in the truck,” the leader shouted, “Everyone who wants to die, step over there!” He fired his gun in the air: pop, pop, pop.

Blessed pulled Hadiza’s hand, but Hadiza wouldn’t budge.

“Let’s go,” Blessed whispered.

“No,” Hadiza said.

“Do you want these people to kill you? Let’s enter!” She pulled her friend.

“I will not enter. Let them kill me here.”

There was a crush to move. Girls were pushing, jostling forward.

“Let’s enter!” Blessed pleaded. She could feel Hadiza’s resistance; her best friend’s hand was slipping away.

We are sleeping in one place, always. We are fetching water together; we are studying together; we are together, always. When we hear this thing, she’s the one who wake me up; she held my hand inside the hostel. Then, from the time that we came outside, we hold our hands together, and then we are moving. We are together, since the beginning our hands are together. Now, she left my hand.

Blessed was pushed to the front of the lorry. She sat down. The girls kept coming, crawling over each other to fit in the truck. A girl sat on Blessed’s leg, others gripped her shoulders. She was surrounded, suffocated by bodies.

The truck began to move. Inside the open-air container, it was quiet. The girls fell into each other, their bodies colliding and falling apart — their weight the only solid part of their existence. It was quiet, so quiet.

An hour passed — maybe more, maybe less — when Blessed heard Hadiza’s voice:

“Blessed! Come! Let’s jump down!”

“Hadiza, I am in the front! There are people on top of me! I don’t have a way to jump down.”

“Okay, Blessed. Please, if you have a place to stand up — stand up,” Blessed heard her best friend plead. “Please, let’s go!”

“Okay, Hadiza, I’m coming,” Blessed said. She tried to move, she pushed up, but she couldn’t. The girls had formed a cage of limbs.

“Hadiza! I can’t stand!” Blessed called. “Hadiza!”

“Okay, Blessed, until you return…”

After that, silence. When Blessed looked up, she saw only stars.

 

Hauwa lists the names of her friends who are “good” girls, “stupit” (i.e. stupid), and “on top table” — the very best.
 

 

There were girls who jumped and girls who fell. Some grabbed tree branches that whipped across the open truck and swung out into the darkness. They leapt as if they knew what was coming, like synchronized swimmers vaulting calmly into a practiced routine they’d done countless times before. Endurance counted them go: One. Two. Three…

Salama saw them, too. They didn’t say goodbye — they just fell away, melting into the darkness. Salama struggled to move. She wanted to get to the edge and vanish as well. As she tried to stand, a girl pulled on her arm. “If you jump, I’ll report you to them,” she said. Salama stayed still.

From her spot in the truck, Endurance could see the next vehicle behind them in the convoy. It was a motorcycle; Endurance saw its lone beam, bouncing in the darkness. She measured the space between.

Endurance had promised Christina that God would let them know when it was time. Where was God now? The motorcycle beam got fainter. Was the truck was speeding up? Suddenly, Endurance realized she wasn’t holding anyone’s hand. Christina was gone — she had jumped.

Was this God’s sign? Endurance wasn’t thinking; she hunched down and sprung into the abyss.

 

Monica Enoch’s skirt from her sports uniform, from Chibok Government School. Monica, 18, loves singing.
 

 

The sun crept over the horizon, slowly rendering the dark shifting limbs into whole bodies and recognizable faces. But light did little to lessen the dull fear that had settled over the group. There was no expectation of the unknown, just blankness.

Blessed had watched the truck pass three villages. She had lost track of time when there came a clunking shudder — the truck had broken down. They were on a dirt road, with unfamiliar bushland in all directions, just flat and yellow, with a smattering of deep green Dogonyaro, acacia, and baobab trees. “Get down!” the men shouted, and everyone scrambled out. “Sit there!” they commanded, pointing to the sandy ground under a large tree. Now the girls got their first real look at their kidnappers.

They were more than a dozen men, wearing mismatching uniforms — police unit pants, military camouflage shirts — some with turbans covering their faces, others with nothing more than ordinary clothes and a gun. A few of them took out machetes and started cutting bramble and putting the thorny branches in a circle around the seated girls. It seemed like they had done this before.

The girls knew now that they were in a race against time. The longer Boko Haram held them, the harder it would be to return to their old lives. If anyone found out what had happened to them, they would be considered spoiled. There were stories about girls who returned home. Their families would try to hide the truth from their neighbors, from outsiders — No, this didn’t happen to us, they would say, our girls have been here all along. If found out, their daughters would never be able to marry. Their lives would be ruined forever.

“I want five girls, now,” said a man in a uniform. “Five girls, for cooking!” he demanded. Blessed watched as five girls stood up. She fidgeted on the ground. I need to find a way to run.

The men finished building the bramble barrier and went to fix the truck. The few that remained were stationed around the perimeter. They had left a small opening in the makeshift fence, a small corridor, patrolled by one man with a gun.

Blessed looked around and saw a few other Whuntaku girls sitting on the ground. She made up her mind, stood up, and walked to the corridor.

“Please, I want to ease myself,” she told the man in Hausa, the dominant language of northern Nigeria.

 

“Welcome to Third Term / SS One May God Bless / Me and my other people / My Name is Hauwa Nkaki”

“Go back and sit down, you’re not going anywhere,” he said.

The man was young, tall, and fair-skinned; he had long hair.

“Please,” she said. “I need to ease myself.”

“Do it here,” he said coldly.

Blessed bent down and peed in the sand. She walked back and sat under the tree.

The men had gathered in a group by the truck. Blessed looked around; there were only a few men left watching the girls. She could hear faint crying.

“Give me your scarf?” she asked a girl sitting near her. It was a small, black-and-white checkered fabric, and she wrapped it around her tiny waist. Maybe they won’t recognize me, she thought. She stood up.

Her Whuntaku sister Salama was watching from the ground. What is Blessed doing? she thought. Salama was tired and hungry. She could hear nothing and everything. Then she heard only the voice of God: Stand up. Follow Blessed. Then, Satan: Sit down. Sit down. Wait.

The voices’ whirled around her head like a tornado: Follow Blessed; Sit down; Follow Blessed; Sit down. Salama wrenched herself up. She followed Blessed.

“Please, I need to ease myself,” Blessed asked the man again. Salama moved right behind her. Two more girls trailed after.

“Didn’t you just go?” he asked Blessed.

“No, that wasn’t me,” she replied. The girls stood silently by.

“Okay, come back immediately,” he said.

The girls didn’t speak. They walked out of the corridor and around the makeshift fence, past some bushes where they bent down.

“Okay, guys,” Blessed said, drawing them closer. “This is what’s going to happen now. We have to run. If we run and they kill us, so be it. But we have to run now.”

The girls nodded. Blessed peered out of the bush, the men had their backs to the girls; they seemed distracted by the food.

“Now,” Blessed hissed.

The girls ran.

 

Monica Enoch’s father is a pastor. Her friend Saratu escaped an attack from Gambaru, another village nearby, but lost her family and came to live with the Pastor Enoch and Monica. Both girls were among those kidnapped.
 

 

The girls ran without thinking. They ran without speaking. When they got tired, they rested briefly under the sparse trees, flattening themselves to the parched earth and making themselves very small. Then they ran some more. They thought they were deep in Boko Haram territory; militants could have been anywhere.

By the evening, Blessed and Salama and another girl (the fourth had run in a different direction from the broken down truck) took a break under a tree. They heard a cow mooing in the distance and saw a Fulani herdsman’s hut. The girls gathered. “These people are in the Boko Haram area. What if we go and they return us?” Salama asked. But Blessed was firm: They needed food.

When they entered the one-room straw hut, they found a couple there in the evening light. “Are you the girls Boko Haram kidnapped?” the Fulani man asked immediately.

The girls nodded.

“We heard you passing in the night. You’re safe here,” he told them. The girls weren’t sure they believed him, but they had no choice. The herdsman’s wife gave them new clothes, to disguise them, and plastic bags for their uniforms. They brought them water to bathe and fed them maize for dinner. That night, the girls cried and prayed and slept on the floor together.

The next day, the herdsman told them to follow the road and to ask people for directions home. In the afternoon, after walking all day, they rested beneath a tree. A man walked by. “You look really tired,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

 

Hajara Isa is among the girls who were kidnapped

“We are the girls who were kidnapped from Chibok,” they told him.

“Don’t say that!” he snapped, “Boko Haram comes to this village a lot.” He showed them the path they should take.

Later, a man on a motorcycle drove by and stopped. “What are you doing walking on the streets like this?” he asked.

“We want to go to Chibok,” they told him.

The man looked at their plastic bags. “What’s in there?” he asked.

“Uniforms.”

“Are you the girls who were kidnapped from the Chibok School?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, get on.” Less than an hour later, they were home.

 

 

Endurance couldn’t run. She had hurt her leg jumping off the truck, so she crawled. She saw the lone beam of the motorcycle headlight, but the machine didn’t see her. Christina found her in the darkness, but couldn’t lift her up. So Endurance pulled herself, with her arms, on her stomach, on her back, dragging herself through the brush. The ground was jagged and hard like stone, she could feel the rocks tearing at her clothes, at her skin. She thought she heard gunshots. Her elbow was bleeding.

A man with a bicycle, then a man on a motorbike, and finally a man with a car carried Endurance and Christina home. When Endurance got to the front door of her family’s small mud-brick house, near her father’s farmland, she saw her neighbors and her family gathered in the living room. Everyone was in tears, as if someone had died. When she saw her parents, she started crying, too. Her family told her how blessed she had been. “You should be serious, hold God closer to you, take care of yourself and live a good life,” one of her brothers said.

The next day, her brother Emmanuel took her to the market to buy new clothes and shoes — black, brown, and red . Everything she owned had been burned in the hostel, including her books. The family took her to the doctor to treat her legs. Endurance had never been to a doctor before. They had to make sure Boko Haram hadn’t done anything else to her. Afterward, she cut off all her hair. Just like that.

The dreams returned. But these dreams were different. There were no angels singing. She dreamed only of the girls. She dreamed about Boko Haram coming back and locking her into a room. Every blessed day, if she managed to sleep, she dreamed. Where is Mary now? Was it right to jump and leave her behind?

When Blessed arrived home, Hadiza came to her house right away. It was as if nothing had changed, they clung to each other and promised to do everything the way they always had. They would not go to the village market or get water without the other.

Blessed worried what Cool Boy would think. Was she ruined now? Would he still want her? Soon, he came, too. He greeted Blessed’s mother — she still didn’t know he was Muslim — and then found her. “I’m sorry this happened to you,” he told her. “I’m glad you are okay.” He told he loved her and promised to follow her anywhere.

 

Dorcas Yakubu is 16 years old. Her parents describe her as shy girl who loved eating tuwo (a local dish).
 

 

When the girls’ parents got to the school the morning after the attack, they found nothing but the burnt shells of classrooms, matchstick dormitories full of metal bed frames and unanswered questions: Where had the teachers been during the attack? What happened to the security guards? How could a school be re-opened during an emergency closure without a security plan? Where are our daughters?

In Nigeria, questions like that hardly ever get answered. After waiting for the government to do something, a group of 100 fathers rode their motorbikes to the edge of Sambisa forest, the swampy national park where Boko Haram had supposedly set up their new headquarters in the countryside. They didn’t have guns, only machetes and knives. The nearby villagers told them to go back: “They have armored tanks; they have everything. They will destroy you,” the villagers said. The fathers relented.

It took president Goodluck Jonathan, who is running for reelection in 2015, three weeks to publicly acknowledge the kidnapping even happened — and when he finally did, he admitted that he didn’t know where the girls were. He then blamed the parents for not providing a list of names and promised to find them. His wife, Patience Jonathan, bemoaned the kidnapping, vowing to join the #BringBackOurGirls protests that had mushroomed across the country. Then she reversed course and declared the protests were merely an opposition-led plot to embarrass her husband in an election year. The first lady said the protesters were most likely Boko Haram members themselves.

That very day, the leader of Boko Haram, Abubukar Shekau, released a video saying he was going to sell the girls. A few weeks later, he sent out another that showed 136 girls sitting in hijabs reciting the Koran.

International media outlets picked up the story, and #BringBackOurGirls trended briefly. Michelle Obama posted a Twitter selfie holding up a sign in solidarity with the protest movement. Western governments promised to support a rescue operation. Then, just as quickly, the world turned away.

 

 

 

I meet the girls in a city in central Nigeria a little over two months after the incident. Blessed and Salama had been to the governor’s house in Maiduguri to help identify their friends in the latest video released by Shekau. Endurance had been to Abuja to talk to some foreigners about that night. She stayed in a hotel for the first time.

At first, the girls are all limbs and awkward giggles. They play on their phones and trade Christian and Hausa pop songs over Bluetooth. They’ve been told interviews like this are the only way to help the girls who are lost, but they’ve never told their story in detail. It’s impossible to know what parts of their tales are true, and what parts they’ve heard from others and repeated as absolute fact, the way only children can. There are moments where they get frustrated. No one has asked them about their lives before: How is this relevant to Boko Haram? How is this relevant to finding our friends?

How they managed to make it home and their friends didn’t is a question they don’t know how to answer. Sometimes they say it was God’s will. Other times, it’s something else. “The other girls were so scared, they did not have the courage,” Endurance tells me. “I have always had courage.”

This is undeniably true. The courage these girls showed in the face of men with guns is almost beyond comprehension. And yet the friends they describe, the ones still in the forest, are just as dynamic and headstrong as they are. In high school, friendships are blood bonds, so intense that the guilt of being free while their friends are in captivity is everpresent.

The timing of their abduction stays with me: They are 17, soon to be 18 — the years that mark the metamorphosis between girl and woman. It’s evident in the way they move their newly acquired figures, jutting out their hips when they pose for photographs, self-conscious and self-aware all at once. What had been their biggest year was now something else entirely. They didn’t know when they would retake their exams. They aren’t sure if this was just a thing that happened to them, or something that will define them forever.

At dusk after one of our interviews, Endurance and I are sitting in the den. The power has cut — outages are frequent across Nigeria— and the light is fading from the horizon. Endurance is showing me pictures on her phone: her friends, her house. She’s taken a photo of us together and photo-shopped a large pink heart around us as a frame. She smiles when she shows it to me. “Beautiful!” she exclaims.

Suddenly, she isn’t beaming anymore; she shifts her weight on the pleather couch.

“How do you think we can bring back the girls?” she asks, looking up from her phone. It’s as if she just remembered that they are gone.

“Praying,” Salama interrupts.

“No,” Endurance decrees, shaking her head.

“There’s nothing stronger than prayer,” Salama lectures.

“I’m still praying, but… what kind of help do you think the government can do?”

“The government screwed them,” Salama snaps, her prim composure wavering. “What is the government doing?” She frowns.

“What do you think, Endurance?” I ask her. I watch her ponder silently. This is the girl who spent most of the time I was with her laughing and breaking out into tiny jigs. She thought seriously before answering my questions thoughtfully and at length. It’s the first time since our initial day together, when she broke down crying about Mary’s fate, that she looks small and fragile.

The international spotlight that had illuminated Chibok for a few weeks had faded, taking all those promises with it. Since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has only gotten stronger; they have taken over villages and towns, raised the black flag and declared their own caliphate. They have kidnapped more women. They have killed nearly three thousand people this year alone. The government has recently claimed a string of victories against the militants, and rumors of a possible prisoner exchange swirl, but negotiations have yet to yield results. Two hundred girls are still missing.

Finally, Endurance responds.

“Their lives have already been spoiled,” she tells me solemnly. “When they come back… Nothing, nothing can help them. They’ll never be the same.”

 

All of the girls’ names in this story have been changed. They chose their new names themselves.

This story was written by Sarah A. Topol. It was edited by Michael Benoist, fact-checked by Taylor Beck, and copy-edited by Lawrence Levi. Photographs by Glenna Gordon.