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A Conversation With Best Debut Short Stories 2020 Author Mbozi Haimbe
“I decided to subvert readers’ expectations in terms of the narrative of a diaspora visiting their homeland in order to challenge the myth that all those arriving home from the west are endowed with bags of cash.”
Elina, the maid, is doing her thing of standing in a nice shaded spot on the veranda, while I stew in the heat. I carry on sweeping the paved front yard, sweat trickling down my back. The flagstones are patterned with black oil stains from the cars that park here at day’s end. I pass my straw broom over these patches that refuse to be cleaned, even with water and soap. They make me look bad, lazy.
“Hey, Cephas . . . Cephas. Hey, Mr. Nyambe, it’s you I’m talk- ing to. Did you hear what I said? Madam’s sister, the one who lives in the U.K., she’s coming at the end of the week. You better move your lazy bones and clean this yard, yah? Make sure it shines London-style.”
My hand tightens on the broom. One: I’m not lazy. How can I be lazy, me? I’m the gardener. I’m the guard. I’m the car washer. And also the odd-job man for all four households within the gated cluster of detached houses.
Two: Shine London-style. I can’t even begin to interpret Elina’s demand. How can an oily forecourt bordered by a threadbare lawn and dusty shrubs shine like London?
“Did you hear me, Cephas? I said . . .”
“Yes, yes. Okay. London-style,” I say, swapping the broom for the hosepipe.
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“Every interaction between adult siblings presents a chance to get more clarity about the past. Hopefully, we’re able to seize at least some of these chances.”
“I wrote much of the story listening to jazz, including the title song, for inspiration on how to shift without imposing too much of a structure.”
“I wanted to portray the pain of trying to reach someone who is inside their own, unreachable pain, and how this often puts untenable pressure on relationships.”
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“I thought this exemplified two aspects of the Colombian spirit that interest and delight me: Any festive occasion can become an excuse to start a full-on party; and time is, as a manner of speaking, subjective.”
“When you’re a kid you’re not sure if you don’t know something because you haven’t been taught it or because you’re not supposed to know.”
A Roundtable With the PEN America Best Debut Short Stories Judges: Tracy O’Neill, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Deb Olin Unferth
So many of the stories I liked best played with understatement and a sort of quiet, confident pacing.