This lyrical tale of life on the edges of the Sahara desert was unveiled as the winner of this year's VS Pritchett Memorial Prizeby Peter Adamson / October 29, 2013 / Leave a comment
Peter Adamson’s short story Sahel has won the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize 2013. The award, which has a winner’s pot of £1,000, was founded by the Royal Society of Literature and recognises the best unpublished short story of the year.
The day that Kadré has waited for through the long months of the dry season had broken without the usual blinding light. He sits up, and within a second his heart has begun to pound with the weight of all that the day might bring.
He rolls his head to loosen a crick in his neck. Just outside the door a chicken scratches. The sound of pouring water. And something else. The months of morning dryness have gone from his throat. He swallows, pleasurably.
“When will you go?”
His mother has placed a bowl of tamarind water by his mat in silent acknowledgement of anxiety. She is moving around in the shadows of the hut, setting things straight, squaring up his school books, pulling the rush door to one side, letting in the day. The light is opaque, muted, as if seen through a block of salt. He tastes the moisture in the air, pulls the damp into his lungs.
When he has washed he scrapes out the last of the porridge, pushing in sauce with a shard. She hands him his shirt, eyes brimming with concern.
Usually, on such a morning, there would be only one topic. For a week the skies above Yatenga had been heavy with promise. And yesterday, towards evening, the first warm drops had spilt over onto the dust of the compound. Soon the whole village had been crouched in doorways, whooping relief from hut to hut in the dusk as the rain, hesitant at first, had begun to insist. “Yel-ka-ye” they had shouted – “no problem” – eyes drinking in the dark blots exploding in the dust, darkening the thatch, patterning the jars outside each door. Later, after the meal had been eaten and the youngest children put to bed, a silence had settled on Samitaba as the adults and elders had returned one by one to squat in their doorways, hypnotised by the rhythm of the rain, awed by the completion of the earth’s slow stain.
But this morning the talk is not of the night’s rains, or of the seeds being sieved from the ashes,…