Size / / /

Content warning:

We, guests in the family’s mouseholes, may not know what we are now but we know loss. Fatou used to tell her children stories from their homeland, The G. In them we were daafeng, formless entities given temporary shape—beasts, monsters, even singing rice once—for the sake of whatever tale was being recounted. We were educators, in a way.

We had free roam of the house.

But our displaced hosts have all but forgotten us. No longer do we take form. Shapeless, we diminish in mouseholes that grow ever smaller and dimmer.

Some among us cannot even remember our folkloric associates, the Talking Animals. So different were our methods that we were rarely in the same stories. They preferred education through tricky words and acts while we favored the threat of violence. Still, we loved and respected them as fellow educators.

To our despair, not one of our colleagues was able to traverse seas, skies, deserts, or alien roads.

So, when the Mouse appeared in our mouseholes, most of us embraced him as something akin to the Animals. He brought a brief brightness to the tail end of our existence. Time being amorphous to us, his exeunt is as fresh and raw a memory as his entrance into our lives and those of the family.

As the drywall closes around our apertures, let us remember Jerry. Let us become storytellers. Come, to fill the hole his absence has nibbled in us, let us recount his tales.

In our dwindling habitats, we have been blessed with a partial view of the family’s refrigerator.

For herself and Isa, the visiting cousin, Fatou packed it with ingredients for dishes they ate in The G: okra, spinach, catfish, bonga fish, and various meats and peppers. Her sons, Baby Bouba, Mamadou, and Jabril, preferred what she called white people food and rarely ate the meals she prepared.

Jerry first came to the youngest son, Baby Bouba. His oversized Tom and Jerry light-up shoes brightened the kitchen’s checkered linoleum floor as he walked to the fridge.

The boy opened the refrigerator door and his hands extended past our view. He placed his acquisitions on the counter: microwaveable chicken nuggets and tater tots. Green drips of Kool-Aid rained to the floor as he bit into a plastic tube, changed his mind, and threw it in the trash.

When Jerry emerged from underneath the fridge, Baby Bouba yelped for his mother. He had forgotten that she would not be home for some time.

His hunger vanished. He was eager to tell his mother of the tailed peculiarity that terrorised their refrigerator. When his mother came home and called them all to dinner, Baby Bouba did not touch the burgers she had brought for them. He only trembled with excitement as he awaited the perfect chance to bring up the Mouse. He even sat through his mother’s phone call with her sister back in The G.

The sister told her the exact number of votes by which the new president of The G had beaten the dictator. They went over every word of his concession speech. He who had been responsible—through massacres, disappearances, and imprisonments—for the family’s propulsion into the diaspora. He’s to blame for our wretched loss of self and purpose as well, we suppose.

Fatou had tried her best to instill a hatred of the dictator in her children. She read the shoddy blogs to them (forwarding articles to the eldest son) and repeatedly played all the revolutionary music being produced against him. It had little to no effect on them. They had grown up disconnected from their motherland. They didn’t scan the news for mention of their oft-ignored country. Each day, Fatou expected to see a dreaded image on her second-hand TV screen: the River G running a murky crimson as battered and bloated bodies sailed down it.

As Bouba didn’t understand the significance of the dictator’s ousting, he didn’t share in his mother’s joy. We didn’t rejoice with Fatou as we knew that he would soon retract his concession and send the tiny world of The G into pandemonium.

Baby Bouba’s perfect moment came right after his mother told her sister goodbye and, in almost the same breath, asked him, “Why aren’t you eating?”

“I’m not hungry, Ma.”

“Did you already eat dinner? If you won’t eat the food I make, at least eat with me. Could you please wait for me next time?”

“I didn’t eat. I was gonna, but then a Jerry came and stole all my food.”

“A what?”

“A Jerry, Ma. There is a Jerry in the house. I was getting snacks from the fridge when he popped out under there. He jumped on my shoe and then he jumped into the fridge and used things his friends inside the mousehole kept passing him to make a Pull-Eeee, like you told me about the other day.

“And then I heard the Jerry eating all the food so I tried to open the fridge but every time I tried, he’d pull on one of the strings, and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t open it, and then Jerry let go and bam I was on the floor, and then Jerry took his strings and his Pull-Eeee and ran back to his hole with his friends and left all this food behind, and he didn’t even finish, Ma. So I threw everything away.”

Mamadou, the second oldest, got up from the table, opened the stained trashcan, and said, “Don’t be stupid. That’s impossible.” He was emulating his father, of whom their mother never spoke. He had decided on a somber tone, for he imagined fathers spoke that way. “Mom, he just did all this himself,” he said, looking at the chicken nuggets and tater tots in the trash.

“Did not. I was just trying to clean up.”

“Did too, liar. You’re just repeating Tom and Jerry, too.”

“You’re the liar. I saw the Jerry.”

“Boys, please,” Fatou said. “My dear, you don’t need to make up stories. You can just tell me you didn’t like the food. Maybe you’ll finally try our food.”

“Ma, it’s not a story. The Jerry did this.”

“The word is mouse, stupid.”

“It was a Jerry.”

Not one in the family touched their plates again that night.

A week or so passed. The rest of the family still did not believe Baby Bouba’s story. Yet every now and then, they would find mouse droppings on the floor, so they contacted a mouse catcher. From underneath the sink, we saw him lay out mousetraps while recounting the tale of the Piper of Hamelin.

“I’ve tried singing to mice now and then, but I just don’t have the Piper’s musical skills, I suppose,” he joked. “And drowning ’em was a bit cruel, don’t you think? I mean, he could’ve just taken ’em away, like the kids. Wherever it was, the kids were having a blast so you know home wasn’t too great.”

“Back home, in The G, we put glue on cardboard and stick food for the mouse on it,” the mother said with pride.

“The G, gee,” the mouse catcher said. “Didn’t your president just contest the election? Wasn’t he the one who said he could cure AIDS?”

The mother had been too tired from work that day to properly scour the news feeds for any mention of The G or to call her sister.

“What? No, that’s impossible. No, no, no, how could he do that?” Fatou said, lamenting the cautious, miniscule hope she’d allowed herself, believing that the dictator would abdicate willingly. “Excuse me, and thank you for your help, but I have to make a call.” With that, she let the mouse catcher out without even offering him a glass of water.

We shall excuse the mother’s bad-mannered treatment of her guest, given that a madman would not wrest his hands from our tiny nation’s throat. The mouse catcher would return soon anyway, so the mother got her chance at redemption. The family, especially Mamadou, would soon learn that Jerry was more devious than any mouse catcher. In retrospect, we did not learn enough from our colleagues. Violence is our only tool. Yet, try as we might, our unshaped claws scratch at our narrowing holes, they do not grow in size. Would Hare not have convinced the family to widen the holes through some trickery or other? Would he not, perhaps, even have tricked them into the mouseholes?

Some time after the traps had been set, we heard Mamadou flip through a newspaper. Though he used to watch Tom and Jerry with Baby Bouba, seeing his mother stress over the particulars of their electricity bill had changed the boy. He now read the newspaper, or rather, skimmed it. Recently, he had seen The G mentioned in the papers and understood enough to know that inevitable change was on the way in a home he had never known.

Mamadou had also decided to become a businessman. He thought his father was a businessman since he was wearing a suit in the only picture his mother had kept. The father had visited the family intermittently, aiding in the creation of the younger children. He had never stayed long enough for them to form a concrete memory. He remained absent and formless in the minds of his children.

He made his way to the pantry in his father’s old clothes. We heard his leather shoes slide across the floor. The sleeves of his suit jacket trailed across the linoleum. Seeing the boy fill his father’s oversized clothes with his imagination, we longed for the space that was rightfully ours. In the space between our exterior, pedagogic forms and our ever-changing, formless innards, the very breath of story danced. But even mice find mouseholes too tiny for dancing.

Mamadou got the Nescafe that he had recently started drinking. He couldn’t stand the taste so he drowned a thimble-full of coffee in a mug of milk. While he shifted around in his father’s shoes, Jerry crawled out of our hole. After meeting Jerry, the boy was silent until his mother returned from work.

“What did your brother say about Jerry today?”

“He’s not a Jerry, Ma. He’s a Mr. Mouse,” Mamadou said.

“A what?”

“A Mr. Mouse. I saw him. I was making coffee when he popped out from below the sink. He was in a suit and tie. He had a briefcase and a tiny hat. He grabbed a small mug from his briefcase which said ‘World’s Greatest Businessmouse’ and got milk from the fridge. He made himself a cup of coffee and started taking papers out of his briefcase and told me to stop staring because it distracted him from doing his taxes.

“I told him to get into the mousetrap. He told me to shut up because he had some work to do for his Business Office, and he couldn’t do the work inside the trap because it was dark and that he didn’t have time to talk to boys playing dress-up. When I told him I’m a businessman, he asked me what I did for my job. Before I could answer him, he said he was going to join his assistants in the mousehole because I was being annoying.”

“But I thought Jerry didn’t do that kinda stuff,” Baby Bouba said.

“No, idiot, Mr. Mouse doesn’t set pulley traps in the fridge. He’s a Businessmouse. He does business things.”

“No, he’s not. He’s a Jerry. You just copied from the stories Ma used to tell us.”

“How would you even know? You were a baby, stupid.”

“No, you’re stupid.”

“Boys,” said the mother. “Please don’t fight. Especially over this mouse. He’s not even real. He’s like the ifangbondi.”

“The what?” said the two boys.

“Ifangbondi? Like a bogeyman. Don’t you remember?” Fatou said, recollecting the baobab-fibre-shrouded, machete-wielding ritual dancer the Mandinka unleashed to dispose of witches. She thought of the ifangbondi paying a visit to the dictator, who claimed to be a witch doctor with powerful djinns at his disposal.

Having once been the ones who introduced all Mandinka children to violence, we must clarify that our distant colleague, the ifangbondi, would never harm a soul. He is primarily a nimble dancer whose feet could patter over the River G, from bank to bank. He would stamp them so quickly, it looked as if they were not in motion at all. In fact, some of us have forgotten that his feet moved. In the minds of our wayward confrères, the ifangbondi glided over the ground and water the way his terrifying, but ultimately peaceful, machetes glided through the air.

That said, we expect he wouldn’t mind taking his rusted machetes to the dictator’s neck.

“Mom? Hello?” Mamadou said, bringing his mother back to reality from her bloody daydream.

“Oh, sorry,” Fatou said. “I just get so tired from work, you know.”

“What should we do about Mr. Mouse?” Mamadou said.

“Do? Nothing. Just leave the traps out. I’m sure we’ll catch this Alhaji Jerry. I do like your stories, though. My sister and I used to tell our mother these kinds of stories all the time, back home.”

“They’re not stories,” Baby Bouba said.

“He really is a Businessmouse,” Mamadou said.

“Businessmouse,” Fatou laughed. “That’s a good one. Now, what would you boys like for dinner? I’m not really hungry, but I can make something quickly.”

None of the children were hungry either.

“Ma, what’s an Alhaji?”

“It’s what you call someone who’s done the Hajj.”

“What’s that?” Mamadou said.

“You don’t even remember doing that? I guess only Jabril would remember. You two were just babies then,” she said.

For those among us who cannot recall, the Hajj is the most important pilgrimage in Islam. As the family had lived in Riyadh, the mother had done it with all of them. Only the eldest son could remember it, but they had all been to Mecca.

The mother dismissed the existence of Jerry then, but we wonder if she did not know something of his nature. As we all know, for the sins of their ancestors, all mice strive to go on Hajj and kiss the Black Stone.

Isa, the cousin, was the only child who had understood the mother’s usage of “Alhaji.”

For those among us no longer familiar with the culture, the Mandinka do not believe in cousins like the toubabo—Mandinka for white people—do. A woman’s sister’s child is her child. It is that simple. We use the term “cousin” to avoid confusing the more forgetful among us.

Fatou had been sending Isa’s parents money for as long as any of the children could remember. Ever since the dictator had contested the election results, Fatou had tried to convince her sister to send Isa to America. Naturally, the sister refused. She knew that Fatou’s children, who didn’t even know to call her mother on the phone, had lost their culture. She hadn’t wanted Isa to be without his.

But upon hearing rumors of the war that other West African powers were willing to wage to oust the dictator, she acquiesced. To Fatou’s horror and relief, her sister’s son—her son—became one of 25,000 refugees flung into the diaspora by the dictator. A man clinging, with blood-soaked nails, to Africa’s tiniest throne.

Even if we could have spoken to our host, we would not have had the heart to tell her that, before she could blink, that number would rise to 45,000.

Fatou’s sons, when they’d first heard Isa was coming, thought he would be homesick. He had not been. He had called Fatou younger mother, Nanding, the moment they had brought him into the apartment. To the three children, he met their mother’s desire for a perfect Mandinka child.

When the family found a tiny coffee stain by the empty electronic mouse trap, the three children suggested they leave cheese out to lure Jerry.

Isa said, “Why would the mouse want cheese? He wants netotuwoo, like all mice.” Netotuwoo is a condiment made from African locust beans. “Isn’t that right, Nanding?”

Upon receiving dirty looks from his cousins, he corrected himself, “I mean, Aunty.”

“They’re all toubabos. You can’t really blame them for not knowing,” Fatou whispered to him.

Isa tried his best to hide his accent, fearing his cousins would mock him. He could not fathom why they detested him, though we can.

Consider his constant requests to Fatou, when she returned from the hospital, for one of the musical folktales he was so familiar with. It was usually the tale of the boy Siyayemba, tasked by his mother to guard the rice farm, and the Hare who sung trickery into his ears. No matter the stress lines under her eyes, Fatou regaled him with the requested story.

The other children could not help but be jealous, even though their mother had only stopped telling them stories at their own request. Not that they missed the stories. They simply wanted to make their mother happy, as Isa did whenever he asked his Nanding for a tale.

We, who overheard these stories, pity the sons for their foolishness. Biased we may be, we have always loved stories of trickster Animals and creatures. Those among us who were still hopeful even expected our mouseholes to enlarge. With bated breath, if we can be described as possessing breath, we hoped the paint might peel, wood splinter, and plaster crack as our apertures expanded. But they only shrunk at a slower pace.

Though their choice led to our slow annihilation, we cannot condemn our young hosts for abandoning the stories. In their original context, the stories taught a wide variety of lessons. Outside The G, the stories can only teach loss. And who desires to learn loss?

Some days after Mamadou’s encounter with Mr. Mouse, the mother made tchebou ganaarr, a rice and chicken dish served with cabbage, carrots, and cassava. It hails from The G’s sole neighbor, Senegal.

Her sons refused to eat it. Isa loved the dish that the mothers of his Senegalese friends would prepare and thought his cousins fools.

He did not wholly doubt the stories of his younger cousins. Familiar with the tales of the Animals, he had a different theory regarding Jerry’s nature. He was hesitant to discuss it with the family.

But, after his own experience with Jerry, he knew he could present the evidence to his American mother without fearing retribution from his cousins. When Fatou returned home, he did not even wait for her to remove her shoes before recounting his story of Alhaji Jerry.

“Nanding, Nanding, I saw him too. I saw Alhaji Jerry. I was heating up the tcheb when he crawled out from below the microwave. He looked me in the eye and started singing.”

“Eh, boy, what are these marks on you?” the mother asked, noticing some bruises on the cousin.

“Wait, Nanding,” Isa said. “I’m trying to explain that too. It was all Alhaji Jerry’s fault.”

“OK, fine, then,” said the mother, eyeing her other sons. “What was Jerry’s song?”

“He put his hands together and sang:

‘Boy-O, oh Boy-O, why is there this look in your eye?

Boy-O, oh Boy-O, as if you’re to eat what is mine?

Boy-O, oh Boy-O, it’s the special tcheb of the house.

Boy-O, oh Boy-O, this tcheb that’s meant for this here mouse.

Boy-O, oh Boy-O, your mom has told all this to me.

Boy-O, oh Boy-O, leave it for me. Don’t be naughty.’

“A choir inside the mousehole was singing with him. But I knew better, Nanding. I knew you’d never tell him that. I told him my Nanding would never ask an animal, especially a mouse, to tell me that. His choir started singing again, but I cut them off and told him that it wouldn’t work. I’m not Siyayemba, and he isn’t the Hare that sang so convincingly. I didn’t let him trick me. So then he got angry and beat me up, and then ran back below the microwave. And that’s the truth, Nanding—I mean, Aunty. And that’s how I got these bruises.”

“Ah, if my sister saw those, she’d kill me,” Fatou said. “Boys, is there anything you want to tell me? About Isa’s bruises? You haven’t been fighting with him, have you?”

Isa looked at the other boys and said, “No, they haven’t, Aunty.”

“Boys, you must never hurt Isa. He’s family.”

“But it wasn’t us, Mom,” Mamadou said. “It’s Jerry.”

“Not everything is Jerry’s fault, boys,” she said. “You can’t keep making up stories about this mouse.”

Days after Isa’s interaction with Jerry, the mouse catcher returned. He was welcomed by the children’s stories. He even spat out the water the mother had left out for him in a fit of laughter. When it was time to complete his work and catch Jerry, he became somber. Returning to the basics of his training, he put out mousetraps like those that were still in use by his colleagues in The G. They consisted of a rather delectable combination of cheese and netotuwoo on a thick layer of glue on cardboard. All the children decided on the food for the traps. None of the traps were successful, but the children learned to keep putting them out.

Jerry’s avoidance of the eldest son, Jabril, irritated the young man as he was convinced that if he saw Jerry, he would have been capable of killing him. By the way his legs quaked whenever one of the younger children mentioned Jerry, we deduced that Jabril was terrified of mice.

Jerry’s existence additionally irked Jabril because it distracted him from his work. In addition to being an amateur rapper, he was one of the top Geniuses on Rap Genius. He’d written entire commentaries to albums that were favorably received by the online community.

Jabril had explained the significance of this to his mother, but she had cast it aside as another example of the boy wanting to be African-American instead of Mandinka. Ever since he had first heard Tupac’s “Changes” back in Saudi Arabia, he had, indeed, wanted to be African-American. Fatou had once told her sister, on the phone, that he had been mocked for slipping into Mandinka at his American school in Riyadh, even by the other students of African descent. He had desired to shed his Mandinka skin ever since.

Since Jabril had first heard of Jerry, he had been having trouble finishing an exegesis. His Air Jordans were drumming along with his keystrokes to the beat pulsing through his headphones. The more rap knowledgeable among us have inferred that he was working on Kendrick Lamar’s “You Ain’t Gotta Lie.”

We saw Jabril reach down and wipe dust from his Jordans. Then he rose and treaded gingerly across the linoleum towards the refrigerator. There were some leftovers from KFC.

The moment the fridge door brushed Jabril’s leg, Jerry scampered out of our hole and climbed onto his Jordans.

Jabril did not wait for Fatou’s return to narrate his tale to the other members of his family. He wanted to practice it so it would be perfect for his mother. Or so we suppose from the way he paced across the kitchen floor, not caring that he was wearing out the soles of his Jordans as he went over his lines. The other children were eating as he performed his tale, and, after he was done, not one lifted their forks again. As soon as the mother returned, Jabril burst out into his performance.

“Listen, Ma. I’ma set you straight on this whole mouse situation. So, I was just about to pull out some food out the fridge when this lil’ mouse mo’fucker popped right outta the dishwasher, Ma. We locked eyes.

“Lil’ mousey knew I was fittin’ to murder his ass. So, he runs back underneath the dishwasher, and I thought he wussed out. But he comes straight back outta there, and on ya fuckin’ grave, Ma, this mousey’s decked out in a baggy-ass tee and jeans. He’s got a fitted on his dome and like a thousand gold chains ’round his neck. He even had a wireless mic in his left paw. One of ’em nice ones too—like I been trying to get.

“Anyway this mo’fucker screams at me, ‘Yo gimme a beat.’ And I was like, ‘What? You can actually speak? Like some Stuart Little shit or something, lil’ mousey?’

And he’s like, ‘Stuart Who? The name’s Alha-OG, AKA Tom-Just-Got-His-Ass-Beat-by-Me, AKA the Realest Mouse on the Street. Now gimme me a beat.’

“And I was like, ‘Nah, man. This shit is fucking ridiculous. A talking mouse and shit.’

“And he was like, ‘OK. Then, I challenge you to a rap battle.’ You didn’t raise no punk, Ma. I wasn’t about to get called out like that and not accept this mo’fucker’s challenge. So I start giving him a beat and he just ripped into me. I mean, just destroyed me. I couldn’t even respond, Ma. Hold up. Yo, Mamadou, gimme a beat, I’ma spit what he spat because y’all need to hear this:

‘Listen up boy, I am the voice of God.

Sounding like Optimus Prime fighting Megatron.

And this don’t come from hate, cuz that’s not how OGs do;

really, I’m Mr T, cuz I pity ya, fool.

Yeah, you, ya Judas-lookin’ mo’fucker.

Betraying ya own culture.

Best understand, you a Mandinka.

You got the blood o’ kings beating through your veins.

If only you’d a brain, you’d understand there ain’t no shame

hailing from scholars, warriors, and artists whose names

were pelted along with arrows, spears, and sugar cane

upon the Brits in that rain.

But, man, you ain’t even know where you come from.

A history like ours, you can’t run from.

So when you hear the beat go tum tum,

know that it’s only the peal of the drum-drums.

And harden your heart against all the dumb-dumbs.

Be like that harmattan heat that’ll make anyone done, son.’

“Then, he dropped the mic, Ma. The hoops and the hollers came out from underneath the dishwasher again. Sounded like he had some hype men in there and shit.”

“What is wrong with my children?” Fatou said, stifling a giggle. Their stories were welcome distractions from the blood she soon imagined would engulf her home. “And you especially, Jabril, you’re the oldest. You should set a better example for the younger boys.”

“Ma, listen, this Jerry shit is for real.”

“Do you boys want to set up a family story time or something? Is that what this Jerry nonsense is about?” Some of us wished we could voice our approval of this idea to her. But as we all knew then and still know now, even that would have been futile.

“It’s not about that, Ma.”

Present, darkening circumstances being what they are, the whimsy of these tales falls flat on us. Still, we must speak the words and sing the songs. We know not how long we will continue to exist, nebulous as we are.

A few days passed after Jabril’s encounter with Jerry. Upon returning home from the hospital, Fatou passed by our mousehole. She was on her way to the refrigerator while in a phone conversation with her sister. She was recounting the stories her children had been telling her.

Fatou suggested that they all convene for a video conference and share folktales, like the ones that their own mother had told them. We did not need to hear the sister’s response to know what she said. She could only have said that this was not the time for stories. Not now when citizens of The G stood upon soil that might as well have been air. Not to mention that these stories held no meaning to Fatou’s Americanized children. The mother cut the call after that.

Out of the fridge, Fatou grabbed what the cousin had left of the tchebou gannarr and a Sriracha bottle. Jerry waited by her heels so she could witness him—brown fur combed and tail wrapped around him out of politeness—in full, mousey glory.

When the mother looked down, she saw the ever-patient Jerry at her feet. She dropped her food. Then, after Jerry left her, she screamed “Ding-ding, come here. Now!” calling all the children.

“I saw him too. I saw Alhaji Jerry. He had a kora with him. That’s kind of like a harp, kids. A real kora made from real calabash. It was small but I could tell. He then started singing a praise song, like he was a true jalo. A jalo is a praise singer. I could hear his backup musicians. I heard a djemba—that’s a drum—and a guitar and a bass guitar. He sang for me. He sang in the most beautiful Mandinka too. The kind that royalty speaks:

‘Let us sing the praises of the woman who has dug up

the matriarchal roots of the Mandinka.

Let us sing the praises of the woman whose licentious

husband abandoned her.

Sound, my beloved harp of the calabash;

do not falter, ring of her greatness.

Tell of that holy desert she braved so she could

support her family in her true home.

Who else among the great Mandinka warriors

has met exile in the eye with such valor?

Sing, and never let your strings stop ringing,

of she who sweats and shakes but plows on.’

“Then, he wrapped his tail around his kora and put his hand out for money. I even got a penny from the counter and paid him, like you’re supposed to pay all jalo."

Though only Isa fully understood Fatou’s song, since it was in Mandinka, all the children let out a resounding chorus of: “Told you so.”

Fatou was elated. Even with her country favoring invasion over continued dictatorial rule. Even with more and more children being cast into the diaspora.

She knew her elation was as fleeting as the invigorating stories themselves. But is this not true of all things? Are we formless things who have become even less not proof of this?

Some among us longed for voices with which to tell Fatou that soon he would be ousted without blood but aid from other West African leaders. That the 45,000 refugees would be able to return safely. Perhaps she, herself, could visit and properly introduce her children to their motherland. She wouldn’t have been able to afford returning perpetually, but she could visit. Some of her pain would be alleviated as the madman who had cast her and so many others out would finally be banished. But the wounds Fatou’s expulsion into the diaspora had left her with sewed our amorphous mouths shut. How could the dictator’s expulsion heal those?

After repeating her story to the children a few more times, Fatou told them to prepare for bed. Dinner was skipped as none of them were hungry. She asked Jabril to take out the trash.

When he looked down at the trashcan, he shrieked.

Jerry, Mr. Mouse, Alhaji Jerry, Alha-OG, had finally allowed himself to be captured. A frightened Jabril carried him out of the house on the cardboard trap.

Perhaps Jerry had grown bored of the family. Or, perhaps, he had realised that his goal of burying himself within the family’s stories was a worthless pursuit. Stories didn’t mean anything to them anymore. Not in this strange land.

Some among us have darker thoughts concerning Jerry. They say that, without our old stories, we succumbed to delusion. In fear of the coming gloom within the apartment’s walls, we took a page from our old trickster colleagues and deceived ourselves. But others among us note that the family did tell the stories. Stories that have been changed but there is a hint of familiarity to them. And yet, our mouseholes dwindle along with our existence. These voices tell us even our miniscule hope was foolish. That our final lesson is not one to be taught but to be learnt, that we must accept our end. We wish we could repudiate these doubters, but in these hollow walls, our conclusions are as nebulous as our forms.

Our contracting apertures afford us narrower and narrower glimpses into the family’s lives. Memory fades. We forget our hosts.

Before it all darkens, we hear a woman tuck children into bed. She wishes another child luck on tomorrow’s exam. She asks if any of them want to be told stories from their home, some distant land, the name of which we fail to remember. They all say no.

ML Kejera is a Gambian writer based in Chicago. He is a Caine Prize nominee and Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlistee. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Nation, PanelxPanel, and adda. He reviews comics for The A.V. Club. Please send him pictures of your favorite pizza @kejeraL.
Current Issue
4 Jul 2022

Strange Horizons
Strange Horizons is on the hunt for new volunteer first readers to join our fiction team.
you ask Mother. She wraps you in teeth, tendrils,
in full day you’re hillock and divot, camouflaged in plain sight
“Did you regret what you said before Carl passed?”
Friday: Boys, Beasts, and Men by Sam J. Miller 
Issue 27 Jun 2022
Issue 20 Jun 2022
Issue 13 Jun 2022
Issue 9 Jun 2022
Saturday: Everything Everywhere All At Once 
Issue 6 Jun 2022
Podcast: 6 June Poetry 
Issue 30 May 2022
Issue 23 May 2022
Issue 16 May 2022
Issue 9 May 2022
Podcast: 9 May Poetry 
Issue 2 May 2022
By: Eric Wang
By: Sara S. Messenger
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Sara S. Messenger
Load More
%d bloggers like this: