The Cement Horse
by Keren-happuch Garba (Nigeria)
Audio: “The Cement Horse,” read by Keren-happuch Garba
The earth, touched by a month of rains and summer-fed winds swelled to a green blanket. A truck packed with my two brothers, mother, me, and the driver—probably in his mid-forties lunged at every pothole it sank into. A small brown suitcase we'd carried touched my leg, old pots covered in soot sat in a corner of the truck and a sack formerly filled with rice was stuffed with our clothes. It was in this truck our only dog was sold for pennies, like fragments of his life fit in Ma’s purse, like it belonged there. “He wouldn’t have survived with us in the city.” Ma explained, squeezing the purse tightly. “Plenty of cars running up and down the road—a highway!”
She continued, “It’s not the quiet, rural life in the village where he can run for miles and miles or two days long till he misses us and comes back home. The city has buses and large pictures of people they put on roadsides. They have clean, nice streets with no potholes like these. I even see in those big pictures stoves that bring out no smoke!”
She laughed, we didn’t. My brothers and I felt bleak with the loss of leaving old friends and our home. Dan, my eldest brother left some girl he liked, Peter, had Ali, his best friend who he played football with every evening. My old books, gone brittle with age and brown with dust, had to be left in our old house. They were the only things remaining of Pa, who, just before I was born, had died from tuberculosis.
“The sack’s full already,” Ma said as the pots were onloaded into the truck.
“I’ll hold them in my arms,” I said, trying to grab as many as I could.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Pick only one and let’s go.”
I picked three. Two were neatly held around my waist, hidden under my clothes, one was in my hands.
Our leave was abrupt and happened before we could have an opinion on staying. Ma had travelled to the city and brought back tales of it. There was a spark in her eyes, a hunger to tell us the things she'd seen and what was different about it.
“There's this thing I see in the middle of the town,” She began, her storytelling voice surfaced above the spark. It was tales like these she told us that kept our eyes fixed on her.
“It was a horse that galloped and he's frozen to the ground and made of concrete or God knows what, with water around it and from his open mouth comes a spray of that water and the water goes back. How they do it in the city? I don't know, but they call it a fountain, I think.”
It was after that she had begun to pack up our things. Was it to go see the horse? Or the water the horse vomited? I wasn't sure.
The sounds of unscrewing bolts in the truck rang like moving bells in our eardrums. Its tires running with old, rickety limbs clashed and banged on the road. I grew sick. My heartbeats pumped with madness, my stomach, hugged by the books, swelled with discomfort. We watched each other's faces from time to time. I stared at Ma’s. Hers was the warmth you seek for when rain empties into a cold night. It ushers you into a bed, tucks your body with sheets and lets the sound of heavy drops beating the roof push you to sleep. Now that it was summer, you didn't need that warmth, just to pulse from her face a breath of cold.
“Are you okay?” Her palm was on my forehead. “You have a fever.”
“I don't know about that. I just don't feel so good,” I said, almost annoyed with the incessant touching on my head.
And yes, I did burn.
Noon came like threads of fire knitted to our bodies. Miles traveled was far behind us, a plain road stayed ahead. The truck squeezed between tall trees and tore through grasses. We drove on green wounds of weeds entangled into the earth.
An hour gone, the tires wheeled on cow dung, rode past houses made of mud and by children, half naked, running with dew-mingled sweat, held their thumbs between their teeth as we passed.
No one said anything. We only watched the light, wide eyes of the children following the trail of exhaust coughed out from the truck.
“Where is this place?” Peter asked as we bounced on the sloppy, untarred road.
“Let me see.” Ma began to count the air with her fingers. “Probably a hundred kilometers from the city,” she said.
“So how far is our new house from here?” Dan asked, his eyes still fixed on the children playing in the distance.
“Same hundred kilometers, idiot,” said Peter.
A tense silence followed before Dan broke it.
“I'm an idiot? Ma, he just called me an idiot.”
“You don't like to listen, that's why." Peter opened the can of worms.
“You're the idiot here,” flew from Dan's lips.
“Shut up, both of you.” Ma withdrew her hands from my face, then gathered her loose wrapper to tuck around her waist.
The silence returned.
She sighed and said, “I haven't thought about where we would live yet.”
The silence deflated to a vacuum of speechlessness.
Mother had to be crazy, I thought.
She folded her arms and allowed the effect to settle. I got a glimpse of a tear roll off her eyes before she swiftly wiped it off.
All because of a cement horse, I thought again.
The silence returned like crashing waves on shore. My brothers, in a repeated fashion, warmed their arms with their hands against the incoming cool breeze. I watched the evening sun lay behind a wash of pale orange as dark clouds moved across the sky. A far rumble called out, the sky answered with rain.
Keren-happuch Garba, age 18, is a Nigerian who likes to write stories and poems. “The Cement Horse” was inspired by a true story and a fictional one.
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9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.
8/11/23, 4:59 AM
Beautiful, moving and thought provoking. Keep up the amazing work!
8/11/23, 4:48 AM
Absolutely beautiful work! Relatable for some and eye-opening for others.
6/19/23, 6:26 PM
It is really great, I'm impressed!
Eunice N Kitchener
6/11/23, 5:13 PM
Quite amazing and interesting story. It's also a challenge to others. Develop your skills through hard work.
6/8/23, 7:21 AM
Beautiful. A wonderful portrait of the identity crisis caused by colonialism.
5/26/23, 6:23 AM
Congratulations Claire - this is a powerful piece - this feeling of a yearning for a home that may not even exist anymore will be something that everyone who lives outside of their original homeland will resonate with. Well done.