Featured Young Mind of the Week

Fatima Mohammed is an exceptional young one. She never backs down from a challenge and truly tests the limits of her writing. She’s versatile, expressive, candid, and doesn’t publish with us often, but when she does–it’s always something to look forward to. This quarter’s Young Minds of Medium Challenge was: “Tell Me About Your Neighborhood/City/Country” and Fatima not only tackled the challenge brilliantly as I knew she would–she did so uniquely. She is our Young Mind of the Week. And now, her featured work . . .


Simulation

Young Minds of Medium My Home

The sound of her friends from the next compound playing a game of ten-ten, stamping their feet in drawn up chalk squares on the dusty ground, drifted up to Ebi’s ears like the aroma of the spicy Suya from across the street often drifted up to her nose and made her mouth water. The urge to defy her mother’s rules and run out to play with them spread slowly to every inch of her body like spilled water meandering into the cracks of the kitchen tiles.

But Ebi knew she couldn’t give in, so she watched from her room. The criss-cross of the mosquito netting depicting tiny cage bars and obstructing the full view of the fast-paced movements of her friends’ hands and feet.

She imagined she was there. She was the one playing a game of tinko with Blessing, her hands moving swiftly, and every slap of their hands together caused a resounding clap that put a smile on both their faces.

Next, she saw herself playing “African bend down” as the other children, after finishing their extra lessons, joined in and the group got larger. They chanted, “sugar!” “pepper!” and clapped their hands over one another’s heads as each person ducked at their turn.

Ebi saw herself roaring in laughter as her hands collided with Amaka’s head when she failed to bend. She saw herself vehemently disagreeing when Amaka begged for another chance and explained to her that the whole point of the game was bending and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be called African “bend down.”

Ebi felt the pain in her legs from running around after a long game of fire on the mountain. She also saw herself sitting breathlessly with the others as they each sipped a bottle of fifty Naira zobo from the vendor under the pawpaw tree. She saw herself, cheeks bulging with the red, almost blood-like colour of the sweet drink, threatening to ruin both Blessing and Amaka’s white school uniform shirts with a single drop from her mouth just because she had worn her sweater over her own shirt that day.

She saw the three of them roam the streets, stealing mangoes from Mr. Chubi’s tree, which seemed to produce long after its season. Then she saw them walking all the way to Blessing’s house just to sneak into the cinema close by and watch R-rated movies.

She saw them as they would sing “I’m not okay,” by My Chemical Romance on their way back, louder than their voices allowed them, every note cracked by their unpleasant singing as they affirmed themselves that they weren’t going through a phase like their mothers had said but they really loved everything about classic rock, metal music and screamo.

She was about to see herself under the pawpaw tree after the vendor had left; the stars illuminating the very spot she was sharing a late-night kiss with Dele, the senior boy who had taken an interest in her. But her mother shouting about the spike in Coronavirus cases in Nigeria aggressively flung her from her daydream and back into reality.

It reminded her that no one was outside. Not her friends in the next compound playing, nor the mallam selling Suya across the street orthe vendor under the pawpaw tree with chilled bottles of zobo, and the cinema hadn’t been open in months.

The sounds she thought she heard were a simulation her brain had created to survive the isolation from everything she loved. It had been happening a lot lately, but Ebi couldn’t deny that it made it all easier.

So she lay back down, ignoring her mother’s rant, and continued her conversation with Dele, standing in the spotlight from the stars, under the pawpaw tree.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #3

Subodhini Vignesh (Subo)  is a young one I am happy to have in A Cornered Gurl. She is encouraging, strong-willed, open-minded, and takes on a challenge like it’s second nature to her. She recently turned sixteen years old and the second way she decided to respond to the Young Minds of Medium What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic call was to write about how she experienced her birthday this year. Her first submission was just as detailed and definitely a gut-punch, but this piece truly touched my heart as I read it. I give you, “My Sweet Sixteenth Birthday . . .”


My Sweet Sixteenth Birthday

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

My Birthday Cake ❤|Photo credit: Author’s Dad

A few days ago, I found myself sobbing under my covers at night, with the rest of my family in a deep slumber. Until that moment, I hadn’t felt dejected for not being able to celebrate my 16th birthday with all my close friends and family. I felt a little lonely, but this wasn’t only because of the future physical absence of my friends on my special day; this would be the last birthday I’d be celebrating in India before shifting to another country, and my friends wouldn’t be there. They would forget me soon anyway, might as well celebrate what had once been- the celebration of the end of years of friendship and memories.

When I woke up the next morning, 15th May, I no longer felt the sadness that had fueled my tears; instead, I felt stupid and a bit embarrassed to take responsibility for the thoughts that had clouded my more rational reasoning. My friends would never forget me, even if I’m 1000s of kilometres away. So what if they are absent for a little cake cutting? There are still so many memories of them I can hang on to. It isn’t really their fault they can’t come — it’s beyond any of our control. It’s okay to feel bad for their absence — it’s human.

Out of sight, but not out of mind.


As of 15th May, I had zero expectations for my birthday — that is what my parents and my brother had fooled me into believing. I’m generally good at putting pieces together, so hiding something from me isn’t a piece of cake; it turns out, they hid an entire cake. That night, my parents, my brother, and I were watching a 1980s Rajinikanth movie — it being a reason to keep me up till 12 o’clock.

May 16, 2020- The Birthday

When the clock struck twelve, all my friends and family stood at my doorstep ready to wish me a happy birthday, and the beautiful blue dress my fairy godmother had gifted me turned into my rags, leaving me with only one glass slipper. Nah, not really.

My brother and my parents gave me the gifts they had secretly brought home, and all of them sang the happy birthday song at the top of their lungs. I was awestruck, to add to this, several of my relatives and buddies had swarmed my landline and Whatsapp with their wishes and love.

I had expected them to forget my birthday, yet they had won my heart with all their love.

I woke up to a video my friends had curated; it began with a picture of me in a ridiculous pose and sunglasses and then a series of pictures where each of them held an alphabet to spell “Happy Bday”. I was delighted and a bit surprised because, to be honest, for the last three months I hadn’t had a proper conversation with many of the girls — except maybe some Whatsapp “Gm’s” and “Bye’s.”

One of the most significant moments of the day was by one of my best friends. She had created an entire card and left me a long beautiful message which got me to smile so much that my jaw hurt. She and I were going to take completely different paths in our lives, and our personalities don’t really coincide, yet we are thick as thieves. I have always known that even if we end up in different parts of the planet we’d never lose touch. The gift of sweet words she had given me a pleasant reminder of our togetherness and friendship which will last forever.

She’d be amongst the ones I will miss the most, but never forget.

In the evening, I cut a delicious cake my parents had smuggled home. I was courted by my grandparents, cousins, and best friends singing the birthday song through video conference.

Throughout the entire day, I felt special and a little spoiled — a break from my scheduled day.

For me, my birthday was a refreshing reminder that everything will be fine soon, and until then, we are in this together.


I am not forgotten, I am loved — this is all I needed to know.


Stay Home. Stay Safe.
Have Hope.


Author’s Note: I would like to apologise to those who believe that, in this period where several are losing lives, I shouldn’t babble about something as childish as a birthday. This is a tough time for all of us, even me, and I wish to share the little insignificant moments that make my life more joyous. Through this pandemic, we all have different problems with varying magnitudes; each a story unique to the individual. This is part of my story.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #2

Our second challenge of the year for the Young Minds of Medium was themed: What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic? The young ones came through as they always do and I wish to feature a few from that challenge. This post focuses on the second featured piece which is from one of our most recent contributors added to A Cornered Gurl.

Bebongchu Atemkeng is a twenty-year-old young man unafraid to share his thoughts, feelings, and heart’s work with us. He is a regular in our A Cornered Gurl Six-Word Story Challenge hosted every Sunday and he encourages others by reading their work and responding. He is a joy to have in the publication and I am happy he’s around. His piece, Two Sides of Silence hits straight to the heart of the matter and leaves the reader feeling connected and (un)alone. Everyone, encourage his heart. I am hoping I’ll have him in YMOM for the next five years. He brings such a bright light to our community and I am sure you will feel it as you read his piece.


Two Sides of Silence

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

Feeding goat|Photo by author

I miss the solace within these walls; the peace and quietude that used to reign here was one of quintessence. Those nights with just me, my book and pen, and a warm cup of tea at my study table were truly special. The sight of my bed neatly made up after a long and tiring day at work was enough reason to still find happiness and courage to carry on in a world that drains you of more than it gives; the bed didn’t complicate life—it only demanded that you lay down and rest in its embrace, satisfied to have satisfied you. I miss that comforting silence.

Within this space, I was free to be me. It was just me but I didn’t feel alone—I felt at home. I was free to dream and to explore my being. I discovered the things that made me happy, that sparked that zealous fire in my bones. Writing is one of them. The words always seemed to come easy then. Writing out my truth, I wasn’t scared of the prejudices of the world. It was just me and mini-me writing our souls out hoping that it inspired someone, somewhere, somehow to break the chains holding them down and to live out this passing existence free as the blowing wind—at peace with self and with the world. The tranquility was my source of healing.

That was a different time, a different world; that was six months ago when the world was still sane. The confinement within these walls doesn’t feel all that blissful anymore. Now, a different silence seems to beckon from beyond, from the most unexpected of places, telling of a peace I had but failed to see. The solitude is poisoning; the silence, deafening.

With all the time I have to myself now, I seem to be doing nothing. The bed has grown weary from carrying my weight; she doesn’t say so, but I know. Mini-me keeps reminding me of all that I said I’d achieve during this quarantine but haven’t started. He reminds me of the books I wanted to read—Chimamanda Ngozi’s Purple Hibiscus; Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God; Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas. He reminds me of a zeal grown cold. The stories I have not written haunt me—I want to tell them but the words don’t come easy anymore. WhatsApp has had its fair share of uninstalling and reinstalling. As I fall deeper into this lonely void, I wonder if this place ever really made me happy. Where is that harmony I once shared with life?

Now I realize that there was order in the chaos, poetry in the pain, music in the noise, comfort on another shoulder, and lessons to learn from the mishaps of life. Isolated from the rest of humanity, I am nothing more than walking flesh and bones; my room was never enough of a world. Within the walls of honking cars, boring lectures, singing birds, dancing children, open skies, swaying leaves, humming bees, feeding ruminants, and busy humans is a serenity of its own, a silence more profound. Now I know it was from all these that I found the inspiration to write and the courage to live.

I miss my friends. I miss the long, warm hugs and brotherly handshakes, the heartwarming smiles we shared over a plate of hot fufu and eru, the toasts we raised our glasses to, and the wishes we made over fine wine that our good God would bless us with happier days. I hope that he’s still listening.

What is left of me is emptiness and restlessness. There was an existential equilibrium I failed to appreciate: that between my world and the world. One cannot be beautiful without the other. The interweaving of the two strings produced the sweet symphony of life. I believe that better days lie ahead; I believe that after this pandemic, we would be more grateful for the opportunity to still be alive.

I miss the balance between the two sides of silence.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Young Minds of Medium Featured Piece #1

My young ones, our young ones, the Young Minds of Medium never disappoint. They rise to the occasion, responding to challenges and calls for submissions in such a way that leaves me in awe. I have been doing this for four years now and I can tell you that it does not get old. I love this type of work. Over the next three weeks, I will feature three young ones from Medium who responded to this month’s challenge, “What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic?”

First up, is Mr. Anto Rin. Anto is the first member of YMOM and was seventeen, almost eighteen years old when we first collaborated on Medium together. I have watched this young man soar to higher heights and with each piece he releases to the world, he is growing and revealing more of what he can do with words. His work, The Last Homecoming is our feature for this week.


The Last Homecoming

Young Minds of Medium Missed Things Call

Credit

Sushil turned towards the window and looked outside at a city whose squeals of hustle had eventually died down, inconspicuously somehow, until what could be heard were only the echoes of his own thoughts. It was weird at first — for his ears to not be able to distinguish from the air the sounds that had always been there. What he soon came to realize, however, was that the silence was as deafening as the clamor.

The pandemic separated him from his family. His mother and sister were in his hometown alone. He knew he had to be with them — these troubled times were sure to have them terribly worried. After two weeks of being in quarantine, Sushil finally arrived at a decision.

He concluded that he couldn’t wait a second more.

He packed a bag full of biscuits and water, and he set off. He was going to his hometown, no matter what, even if it meant he had to walk around 400 km.

It took him half a day just to reach the limits of the city, where the highway rolled out like a glass ribbon that seemed to shift shapes under the blinding light of the April sun. For days he walked, eating nothing but biscuits, two at a time. He knew he wouldn’t be able to buy anything until he reached the next district, so he rationed carefully. The heat was stifling — he rested whenever he could in the shades of trees.

His legs began to feel heavy, the muscles lining his shins possibly torn beyond recognition. His ankles were locked as if tightly screwed, and whenever he sat down by the side of the highway, his knees made sounds that would have made a biology student uncomfortable.

The first two days had been the easiest since he was at least in complete possession of his senses during that period. It was a challenge, but nothing a man of his strength couldn’t do. During the third day, after he had grabbed a short nap, he woke up into a state of delirium, not knowing where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. He panicked reflexively and, fearing he might have a sunstroke, he emptied an entire canteen of water, which roused his body to a state of alert that helped him walk the farthest distance yet without stopping.

His sandals were almost burnt after miles and miles of rubbing against the road, and at times, his feet slipped forward from the loosening clasps of the straps, grazing against the simmering tar. It scalded his toes. He had to waste some of his water for treating them because walking with a burn felt to him like walking on molten metal.

His phone died the fourth day, although he couldn’t have known in the state he was in. It would have hardly made any difference to him. The heat had become intolerable, so he stopped moving so much during the day. At nights, he felt lost, the lights from the posts shifting the shape of everything around him for every step he took, the road studs deceiving him with their scintillating lights. But at least, he could walk at a pace and keep to it.

He lost a sense of days soon enough. He couldn’t keep track of when he slept, or when he woke up. At one point, he woke up again in delirium, so much so that he couldn’t even remember going to sleep, or that he had done so in the middle of the road. His body was burning and he was sure that he had a fever. He felt breathless, but couldn’t quite feel his heart. There was a slight pain in his chest, which spread in an outward manner until he could feel it in his ribs.

“What’s the matter?”

Sushil raised a blurry eye.

“Who — who are you? Where am I?”

Sushil could see the faint outline of a woman and kept his eyes riveted to her. Since there wasn’t any reply, he said, “Have I made it? Where am I? Who are you?”

“Why, it is me, son.”

“Mother, is it you? Where’s Shreya? Is she alright, mother?”

“She’s fine. You know I will take care of her.”

“I am not very well. But where are we?”

“You blacked out. You are home, son. Come, put your head to rest.”

Sushil managed to drag himself over to her. His feet were still scalded and felt like they were engulfed in flames. He went to his mother and laid his head on her lap. A surge of cold instantly came over him, and he felt relaxed like he hadn’t in days. An inexplicable tiredness washed over him. He knew he was delirious, but for a second he believed he had made it because there was no other explanation for it.

He closed his eyes deliberately with a sense of relief as if he was finally ready to let go.


*Inspired by real-life events: click here or here to read further.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

Young Minds of Medium

I am sharing this here too. If any young ones here are active users on Medium or want to be, this could be the challenge for you:


Young Minds of Medium

What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic?

Photo by Alec Favale via Unsplash

Your theme: “What Do You Miss Most During This Pandemic?

What am I asking?

I am certain we all miss being able to meet and greet our friends and family members — to hug them, kiss them, and simply lay hands on them. Maybe you miss going to the movies? The bookstore? Having a fun-filled day in the park complete with a picnic or a game of basketball. Or, suppose you’d like to write about the loss of a loved one due to the virus or during this pandemic & your struggles with grieving because of it. What do you miss most? How has this pandemic changed you?

I am looking for:

Poetry
Micropoetry
Fiction (no more than 850 words)
Non-fiction (no more than 850 words)
And, your heart. ❤




And now, music from Mr. Billy Joel: We Didn’t Start The Fire


ACG Guidelines


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.