Memories We Lost by Lidudumalingani Mqombothi

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There was never a forewarning that this thing was coming.

I hate to admit that I’ve never really been a fan of the short story, not even when I began fiddling with the idea of writing my own. I love a daunting to me as much as the next bookworm – sprawling plots and endless character development are two of my favourite things – but, recently, I’ve discovered quite a few wonderful stories that span merely a few pages, but packs all the punch of getting lost in a thicker volume.

Lidudumalingani Mqombothi’s Caine Prize winning Memories We Lost is certainly one. In an African village, a young girl watches her sister suffer from mental illness. This “thing” comes as it pleases, without explanation, affecting not only the person it inhabits but also the people around her. The story is aching and poignant. The young girl yearns for her sister to be just that, to laugh and play, while her mother yearns – desperately, but not cruelly – for her daughter to be subdued. And when traditional medicines and rituals fail to calm her demons, her mother decides to send her away to a remote village to be healed by a sangoma notorious for his severe methods. This prospect is so terrifying to the young girl, that she convinces her sister to leave their village and together they set off on a journey leading nowhere but away from dangerous misunderstanding.

The girls’ story is told in such a tender, but chilling, manner. Most unsettling is the portrayal of the push-and-pull between the girl and her illness, how it’s something almost detached from her, with a will of its own. That heart-wrenching isolation and misconception of what is going on inside her, something completely beyond her control and beyond anyone’s understanding; I felt the helplessness of a community that finds itself stacked against one of its own. This is a story that cuts deep and lingers.

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Take a couple of minutes from your day and lend yourself to Lidudumalingani’s writing, here.

Author photo credit: Twitter

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