Cut-Off Eyes

Submitted into Contest #83 in response to: Write a fantasy story about water gods or spirits.... view prompt


Black Friendship Funny

It was six o’clock in the morning and my portrait had woken up. 

Usually I don’t let myself be taken in by the shriveled portrait-drawers on the streets of Abuja, but the drawer looked about my age, and so handsome, and I couldn’t help it. It was only two nairas, anyway. So I sat for him, while Mama bought rice and raw murre bird in street markets of Abuja, Nigeria, and let him sketch me.

He was terrible at it. 

I brought the paper home, propped it up against the big calabash bowl beside the door, and vowed to burn it in the morning. I woke to the yuhina birds singing in the baobab outside my window, sat up, and stared at… something definitely not me. 

It was green. With a huge chin. The lips and nose were pretty accurate, but the eyes—they were only half drawn, to start, like the sketcher had thought there was another piece of paper underneath, but there wasn’t. They looked like they belonged to someone who would steal your soul and eat it in front of you. And I was not that kind of person. 

“Hujambo,” I greeted it.

The eyes swiveled around and winked at me. 

“Hujambo,” it said in my voice.

I stood up, picked up the piece of paper, and wadded it into a ball. 

“Yee-ow!” it shrieked. “Unfold me! Owch! Unfold me!”

I didn't answer, just dropped it on the ground, kicked it into a corner, and curled up on my bed, staring at it. It didn't move; the demon thing didn't seem to be able to do anything besides talk. I wrapped my arms around my knees and listed to it yell and complain.

I watched it for about two minutes. Curiosity killed the cat, I thought, before shrugging and going over to the ball of paper. I leaned over it and whispered: “Hujambo.”

“Unfold me right now, Furaha!” it screamed.

“No,” I said, more confidently now. “You’re a demon, that’s what you are. The dirty drawing bastard put a demon on my face. He owes me two naira. And I told him my name! And he told you!”

“No, no!” the ball of paper said. It sounded just like me. I unfolded it and held it up in front of my not-green face.

“That’s better,” it snapped, “but now I look old and ugly. Oh wait, I was already ugly, because you are, Furaha.”

“That’s unkind, pepo,” I said sternly. “You watch it, little demon, or I’ll crumple you up again and then burn you.”

“Yeah?” the pepo said. “I dare you to. My paper won’t crinkle up and die; you’ll feel the flames on your pretty skin, your toes roasting, your hair shriveling up into smoke…”

“What are you?” I demanded. “A devil? A demon? A pepo? Are you trying to steal my soul?”

“You can call me Macho ya Kukatwa,” the paper said smugly. 

“Cut-off eyes?”

“I heard you thinking it.”

“I really am going to burn you.”

“No, you won’t. I can see you thinking it.”

“Shut up. I have to dress.” I turned Macho ya Kukatwa down on the floor and pulled my long shirt over my head. 

“You’re fat, Furaha,” the picture said. 

“I am not.” I pulled on my trousers and isiagu shirt, brushed my braids off my shoulders, and wrapped them in a white scarf. Then I picked the paper up.

“You are. I can hear your mother thinking it.”

“Shut up!” I said angrily. 

“Hurry up,” Macho ya Kukatwa said. “Your bread-and-eggs are ready. And Mama has made moi moi, too.”

“Yum,” I said without thinking. “I mean, be quiet. Don’t you read my thoughts. Or Mama’s.”

The picture rolled its cut-off eyes. The irises disappeared beyond the edge of the paper and returned. I shivered watching it. You’re creepy, I thought as a test. The picture demon glared at me but said nothing. 

The sun outside was already hot and gaining strength, even a quarter past six in the morning, and shone down in layers onto the baobab’s limbs in the center of the courtyard. 

“What’s this?” the paper said. 

“Oho,” I said cheerily, folding it up and shoving it into my trouser pocket. “Miss Smartypants doesn’t know? Miss Demon doesn’t know?”

“I’m not a demon,” Macho ya Kukatwa said, a hint of irritation showing through. “Just a kiroho. The sketcher I hear you thinking about was trying to give the pretty young Furaha city girl a demon, but he didn’t know what he was doing.”

“Clearly,” I muttered. “It’s disappointing to be haunted by a normal weak spirit. A real demon would be much more exciting.”

“I am not weak,” Macho ya Kukatwa snapped. It cleared its throat and repeated, “What’s this place?” 

“It’s my home. It’s a compound,” I told her, jogging a little in the courtyard. My stomach rumbled. “We’re just outside Abuja so it’s nice and peaceful. We share it with five other families; we’re the most crowded on the block,” I said proudly. “Mama shares the kitchen with five other mamas, but she makes the best food. A family from Abuja hired her for catering, even.”

“I hear you thinking about that moi moi,” Macho ya Kukatwa said slyly.

I cleared my throat loudly and walked through the shade the baobab threw, toward the kitchen door. I could smell something delicious wafting from that door, something spiced and salty, nicely browned on one side, broiled on the other, turning slowly on the spit, dripping juices… 

“Would you hurry up and just eat something?” Macho ya Kukatwa shouted suddenly from my pocket. “I can hear your stomach rumbling and your head leaking thoughts about roasted birds.

“Mmhm,” I said, closing my eyes. “Roasted murre bird, mm. Spicy, crinkly, charbroiled over baobab wood… ”

“Gross,” the paper said. “That thing once had wings and a pumping heart and you’d dig your teeth in its flesh.”

“Mm,” I said again, pausing outside the aromatic kitchen door. “It’s an awful shame you can’t eat delicious murre bird…

The kiroho was silent for a minute. I could almost feel it weighing decisions, honor versus hunger. I leaned against the mud walls, listening to the clatter of plates and hot pans inside, the roar of the ovens heating up, the mothers and uncles talking cheerfully. My mouth watered. Breakfast was my favorite part of the day. And today was a day free from school, a weekend. And I had a kiroho in my pocket.

“You could draw me one,” Macho ya Kukatwa then said, her voice smaller.

“Is that… a note of hope?” I said snidely. “Maybe… hunger?”

“Humph. I guess so. Just get a pencil, won’t you?”

The moi moi batch that morning wasn’t that good, but ever since then, I keep Macho ya Kukatwa taped beside my bed, next to a lead-colored murre bird roasted with garlic and suya spice. And each morning as the sun rises over Abuja, she tells me what Mama’s made for breakfast.

March 05, 2021 12:59

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18:10 Mar 05, 2021

I like this so much. It was good. The writing was beautiful. I think you could make her a little bit withdrawn when she calls the paper a demon. Like maybe write about her fear and her uncertainty and then write about how, out of wonder, comes back to the picture. That would make this tighter. Next, naira isn't nairas no matter what. It's not like dollar and dollars. It's naira for one or ten. I hate moi-moi but my mom loves it so that's good. Abuja streets? Hmm. That confused me a bit. In the streets of Abuja might sound better. When I saw...


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00:17 Mar 08, 2021

Hey Zilla, I would love it if you could check out my newest story, I'm feeling pretty good about it this time :)


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Ru .
15:17 Mar 05, 2021

I laughed so many times it's not okay. My laughter costs dollar bills, you know. But it's okay because this is a diamond in the rough. I loved the integration of the Nigerian culture, made it feel vivid and authentic. The pacing is a bit fast, but overall, well-structured. Good job.


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13:50 Mar 05, 2021

This was great!!! You could sincerely feel the cultural references and the ideas that you were trying to portray did come through well. I would say that it would be nice if she took a break from the portrait after thinking it was a demon and then came back out of curiosity, but that's just me. Other than that, great job!!!!!!!


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Doubra Akika
10:33 Mar 08, 2021

This was so funny. Maybe I'm a little bit partial towards it because I'm Nigerian but I honestly loved it. I've never lived in Abuja but about it being peaceful, you've got that right. I love how clever your use of words is. For the beginning though, naira remains naira. Maybe that was an accident though because the next time you spelt it, it was correct. I honestly loved this, the setting is much different than what I'm used to from you. You inspired me to step out of my comfort zone as each story I read of yours is different from the last ...


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Jakin Files
13:58 Mar 07, 2021

To be ho honest, it was a little confusing. After reading through it a second time it made more sense. But it is really creative. Great job. Also, I've got another out. Salt On The Air. If you have time. Thanks 😊


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00:23 Mar 07, 2021

The ending is so good! I love it. Again, you amaze me.


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Maya W.
22:55 Mar 05, 2021

When I saw that title I thought of that Emily Dickinson poem about having her eye cut out, but to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas because my dad told me all her poems fit that. Who knows. Anyways, great story! The dialogue was very well done, the characters were nice. I feel like the protagonist could have been a bit more developed, but it was an all around nice story. Great work! I'm gonna submit another story for these prompts in a little bit, so look out for that!


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Scout Tahoe
14:40 Mar 05, 2021

Haha, this was certainly interesting. I thought the beginning was compelling, but that it was unexpectedly cut off at the end. Maybe this was your plan while writing? Anyways, made me laugh. I love when people write about other countries. You did a good job.


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14:14 Mar 05, 2021

Haha, this was amazing! You had me from the first line. This is probably one of my favorites of yours. I loved it 😊 Great job with this Zilla!


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Kutee Tilbe
03:47 Mar 11, 2021

Zilla Babbitt! It is so entertaining. I enjoyed the cheeky Macho ya Kukatwa! Won't you share more stories?


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Nainika Gupta
13:33 Mar 08, 2021

Hey Zilla! Amazing story - thought the style was really nice and I definitely laughed! quick question....I saw you love memoirs, I'm reading P.D. James's Time to Be in Earnest right now, have you read it?


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Sia S
03:12 Mar 08, 2021

Laughter-filled and beautiful. My new favourite :)


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Amany Sayed
13:28 Mar 05, 2021

I like it, it's cute. The first sentence pulls you in and you're like "Huh? This is either some interesting metaphor or fantasy story." And I feel like it's sort of both at once. The endings a nice tie-up of it all. Keep writing :)


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Jane Beckwith
02:09 Nov 11, 2021

This story was so funny and off kilter. I like it that their characters are defined through the conflict. It makes every response they have to one another a bit of a surprise but also logical! Loved the end.


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