#Caine Prize2016: Read the first 5 pages of 'What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky' by Lesley Nneka Arimah

 

Are you wondering what &;What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky&039; actually looks like? You can now read it here.

Are you wondering what ‘What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky’ actually looks like? You can now read the first 5 pages. You can continue reading on the Caine Prize website.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

It means twenty-four hour news coverage. It means politicians doing damage control; activists egging on protests. It means Francisco Furcal’s granddaughter at a press conference defending her family legacy.

“My grandfather’s formula is sound. Math is constant and absolute. Any problems that arise are the fault of those who miscalculate it.”

Bad move, lady. This could only put everyone on the defensive, trotting out their transcripts and test results and every other thing that proved their genius. Nneoma tried to think of where she’d put her own documents after the move, but that led to thinking of where she’d moved from, which led to thinking of whom she left behind.

Best not to venture there. Best instead to concentrate on the shaky footage captured by a security camera. The motion-activated device had caught the last fifty feet of the man’s fall, the windmill panic of flailing arms, the spread of his body on the ground.

The newscast then jumped to the Mathematicians who had discovered the equation for flight. They were being ambushed at parties, while picking up their children in their sleek black cars, on their vacations, giving a glimpse of luxury that was foreign to the majority of the viewing public, who must have enjoyed the embarrassed faces and defensive outbursts from well-fed mouths that knew nothing of rations.

By blaming the Mathematicians instead of the Formula, Martina Furcal and The Center created a maelstrom around these supposedly infallible scientists and protected her family’s legacy. And their money. Maybe not such a bad move after all.

Nneoma flipped through the channels, listening closely. If the rumor that Furcal’s Formula was beginning to unravel around the edges gained any traction, it would eventually trickle down to the 2,400 Mathematicians like her who worked the globe and made their living calculating and subtracting emotions, drawing them from living bodies like poison from a wound.

She was one of the fifty-seven registered Mathematicians who specialized in calculating grief, down from the fifty-nine of last year. Alvin Claspell, the Australian, had committed suicide after, if the stories were to be believed, going mad and trying to eat himself. This work wasn’t for everyone. And of course Kioni Mutahi had simply disappeared, leaving New Kenya with only one grief worker.

There were six grief workers in the Biafra-Britannia Alliance, where Nneoma now lived, the largest concentration of grief workers in any province to serve the largest concentration of the grieving. Well, the largest concentration that could pay.

It was the same footage over and over. Nneoma offed the unit. The brouhaha would last only as long as the flight guys took to wise up and blame the fallen man for miscalculating.

“Cover your ass,” as the North American saying went, though there wasn’t much of that continent left to speak it.

A message dinged on the phone console and Nneoma hurried to press it, eager, then embarrassed at her eagerness, then further embarrassed when it wasn’t even Kioni, just her assistant reminding her of the lecture she was to give at the school. She deleted it—of course she remembered—and became annoyed. She thought, again, of getting rid of the young woman.

But sometimes you needed an assistant, such as when your girlfriend ends your relationship with the same polite coolness that she initiated it, leaving you to pack and relocate three years’ worth of shit in one week. Assistants came in handy then. But that was eight weeks ago and Nneoma was over it. Really, she was.

She gathered her papers and rang the car, which pulled up to the glass doors almost immediately. Amadi was timely like that, always been, even when she was a child. Her mother used to say that she could call Amadi on her way down the stairs and open the door to find him waiting. Mama was gone now and her father, who’d become undone, never left the house.

Amadi had run Father’s errands until Nneoma moved back from New Kenya, when her father had gifted him to her, like a basket of fine cheese. She’d accepted the driver as what she knew he was, a peace offering. And though it would never be the same between them, she called her father every other Sunday.

She directed Amadi to go to the store first. They drove through the wide streets of Enugu and passed a playground full of sweaty egg-white children. It wasn’t that Nneoma had a problem with the Britons per se, but some of her father had rubbed off on her.

At his harshest Father would call them refugees rather than allies and he’d long been unwelcome in polite company.

“They come here with no country of their own and try to take over everything and don’t contribute anything,” he’d often said.

That wasn’t entirely true. When the floods started swallowing the British Isles, they’d reached out to Biafra, a plea for help that was answered. Terms were drawn, equitable exchanges of services contracted. But

while one hand reached out for help, the other wielded a knife. Once here, the Britons had insisted on their own lands and their own separate government. A compromise, aided by the British threat to deploy biological weapons, resulted in the Biafra-Britannia Alliance.

Shared lands, shared governments, shared grievances. Her father had only been a boy when it happened, but held bitterly to the idea of Biafran independence, an independence his parents had died for in the late 2030s.

He wasn’t alone, but most people knew to keep their disagreements to themselves, especially if their daughter was a Mathematician, a profession that came with its own set of troubles. And better a mutually beneficial, if unwanted, alliance than what the French had done in Senegal, the Americans in Mexico.

As Amadi drove, he kept the rearview mirror partially trained on her, looking for an opening to start a chat that would no doubt lead to him saying that maybe they could swing by her father’s place later, just for a moment, just to say hello. Nneoma avoided eye contact.

She couldn’t see her father, not for a quick hello, not today, not ever.

They pulled up to Shoprite and Nneoma hopped out. Her stomach grumbled and she loaded more fruit in her basket than she could eat in a week and cut the bread queue to the chagrin of the waiting customers. The man at the counter recognized her and handed over the usual selection of rolls and the crusty baguette she would eat with a twinge of guilt.

The French didn’t get money directly, but she still couldn’t stop feeling as if she funded the idea of them.

Ignoring the people staring at her, wondering who she might be (a diplomat? a Minister’s girlfriend?), she walked the edges of the store, looping towards the checkout lane.

Then she felt him.

Nneoma slowed and picked up a small box of detergent, feigning interest in theinstructions to track him from the corner of her eye. He was well-dressed, but not overly so. He looked at her confused, not sure why he was so drawn to her. Nneoma could feel the sadness rolling off him and she knew if she focused she’d be able to see his grief, clear as a splinter.

She would see the source of it, its architecture, and the way it anchored to him. And she would be able to remove it.

It started when she was fourteen, in math class. She’d always been good at it, but had no designs on being a Mathematician. No one did. It wasn’t a profession you chose or aspired to; you could either do it or you couldn’t.

That day, the teacher had showed them a long string of Furcal’s Formula, purchased from the Center like a strain of a virus. To most of the other students, it was an impenetrable series of numbers and symbols, but to Nneoma it was as simple as the alphabet. Seeing the Formula unlocked something in her and from then on she could see a person’s sadness as plainly as the clothes he wore.

The Center paid for the rest of her schooling, paid off the little debt her family had and bought them a new house. They trained her to hone her talents and go beyond merely seeing a person’s grief till she knew how to remove it as well. She’d been doing it for so long she could exorcise the deepest of traumas for even the most resistant of patients.

Then her mother died.

THE END.

Just kidding, continue on The Caine Prize Website

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