In the city, even people who come from your own village don't know you or care about you.” – Edwidge Danticat, Between the Pool and the Gardenias (Krik? Krak!)
I believe that a move from country to city is more gut-wrenching than movement between countries. A woman from Lagos instinctively knows how to survive New York – city sensors kick in and she's soon alive to the music, the danger, the cons, the possibilities.
I wasn't born in a city, but I've always lived in cities. My first big city move was from darkness to light – London to Accra. I was 4 years old, too young to know what makes a city, but old enough to see the light. Within six months I had been duped out of ownership of my football by another kid, who was a year older. Luckily he needed to play with my brother and I so he came by with the ball every day and we got to enjoy it too – it wasn't a complete loss. That was my first city lesson; to survive the city, even when you give you can't lose.
Cities are kindred things. Cities love you by ignoring you, making you strive to be your best self – to borrow James Baldwin's thoughts on artists: because the city is so indifferent to us we feel compelled to make ourselves significant. Because we want to be important, because we don't want to disappear, cities make can make us behave in ways that can reveal the ridiculous or the great. Drama lives in the ridiculous and the great and that is what these stories explore, but with close focus on the personalities that the city ignores every day – the ones it really loves.
The stories in The City Will Love You can only happen in a bustling city environment. The collection opens with a piece of flash fiction that captures the realities of economic migration in West Africa in the late 1970s/early 1980s. In ‘Socks Ball’ a group of football-obsessed boys grapple with coming of age in Accra, robbed of the certainties of youth and imprisoned by an imposed language. A young Kenyan man takes very organic revenge on racist London neighbours in ‘Scotch Bonnets’. Tap dance, distilled via Nicholas Brothers videos on Betamax, becomes a means to escape hunger during the 1983 Sahel drought in ‘The First Shampoo Hair Show’. In ‘The Orange Story’ a filmmaker roots the beginnings of her craft in an affair of her part-Indian father's. A well-educated Ghanaian migrant in South London wrestles with the decision to tell his police girlfriend that his papers are false in ‘When We Were We’. ‘Whatever Song the Drum’ explores - through flashbacks - the dilemma of a young lawyer in Abidjan called upon to defend a gay classmate. In ‘Momentum’ a street porter plans to use her knowledge of physics to pre-emptively protect her younger sister from a rapist. ‘Wood’ recounts the unexpected return of an uncle presumed dead in Monrovia during the Liberian civil war. In ‘Karl's Gold’ a family secret haunts a young woman on the verge of sexual discovery; ‘Letters to the President’ traces an elaborate plot by a West African president to reset his country's economy and ‘La Bodega’ explores African students' experience of racism in 1990s Toulouse. With a cover designed by my old co-conspirator Inua Ellams (with whom I worked on the covers for the mouthmark series for flipped eye publishing and the cover for the US edition of my novel) and the wonderful bespoke production elements that Unbound is known for, I'm sure it will be a most lovable book.
He arrived in the middle of the rainy season in 1990, on one of those days when an intense sun had dried the previous day’s mud into cracked patterns and many-sided cookies in the ground. I was playing table tennis with my sister on a makeshift table of thin plywood propped up on four of our mother’s broken flower pots. In fact, I was about to beat her for the first time ever, and I was getting ready to call Da to come and watch, when I heard a car honking at our gate. I hesitated because I didn’t want to stop the game, but I was the youngest so I was expected to go. I sprinted to the gate, jumped to free the clasp that held it closed from the top, pushed the left gate open and swung out with the right gate, hanging onto it like a chameleon. By the time the silver nose of a Chrysler had appeared over the rise of the slope that led into our compound, catching the light of the setting sun, Ma and Da were standing at our front door. Da jumped, then yelled Harry and ran towards the car as though there was no one else in the world who could possibly drive to our house in a powder blue Chrysler Cordoba. The man in the car braked as soon as the car had cleared the closing arc of the gate, leaving the car at an odd angle as his shiny brown head emerged from the two-door saloon. He met Da with a bear hug and lifted him clean off the ground, even though Da was at least two inches taller. When Da was back on his feet and Ma was standing just behind him, Uncle Harry said, “Jimmyfio, is that a pot belly you’re growing?” That’s when I looked at my sister. It was, without doubt, Uncle Harry because only Da’s siblings called him Jimmyfio, little Jimmy – with reference to Da’s father who shared Da’s name – and we knew Da’s seventeen other siblings.
“I’m trying to be like my big brother,” joked Da, pointing at Uncle Harry, who had, excuse me to say, quite a big paunch.
Uncle Harry threw his head back and laughed, then he pushed Da to one side and hugged Ma. “Atuu, NaaNaa.” He held her an arms length away and smiled. “Do you ever get less beautiful?”
Ma laughed the same laugh that my sister laughed when she got phone calls late at night and went to her room to take them.
“Is this the ’76?” Da ran his hand along the roof of Uncle Harry’s car and slapped it once.
“Yes.” Uncle Harry’s moustache twitched as he smiled. “Ei, my brother, still no car but you know every car in existence.”
“Nii Ayi, come here.” Da signalled to me then turned to my sister. “You too, Ayikailey.”
I sprang from the gate and ran to him, grabbing his arm before my sister could reach him.
“This is your Uncle Harry who lives in Liberia,” he said. “Ayikailey, do you remember him? You were six when he last visited.”
My sister shook her head.
I've never started a message by saying thank you, but this feels like one of those messages that needs to break rules. Thank you!
I mean, I'm a logical man most of the time and - of course! - I expected to get at least one person to back The City Will Love You, but I still can't describe the feeling of eupho-relief I had when I go my first funder. And then, when I realised who it was (this kid…
These people are helping to fund The City Will Love You.