My Daughter the Racist

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The BBC NaTioNal ShorT STory award 2010 My Daughter the Racist Helen Oyeyemi One MOrning My daughter woke up and said all in a rush: ‘Mother, I swear before you and God that from today onwards I am racist.’ She’s eight years old. She chopped all her hair off two months ago because she wanted to go around with the local boys and they wouldn’t have her with her long hair. Now she looks like one of them; eyes dazed from looking directly at the sun, teeth shining white in her sunburnt face. She laughs a lot. She plays. ‘Look at her playing,’ my mother says. ‘Playing in the rubble of what used to be our great country.’ My mother exaggerates as often as she can. I’m sure she would like nothing more than to be part of a Greek tragedy. She wouldn’t even want a large part, she’d be perfectly content with a chorus role, warning that fate is coming to make havoc of all things. My mother is a fine woman, all over wrinkles and she always has a clean handkerchief somewhere about her person, but I 76 BBC National Short Story Award don’t know what she’s talking about with her rubble this, rubble that – we live in a village, and it’s not bad here. Not peaceful, but not bad. In cities it’s worse. In the city centre, where we used to live, a bomb took my husband and turned his face to blood. I was lucky, another widow told me, that there was something left so that I could know of his passing. But I was ungrateful. I spat at that widow. I spat at her in her sorrow. That’s sin. I know that’s sin. But half my life was gone, and it wasn’t easy to look at what was left. Anyway, the village. I live with my husband’s mother, whom I now call my mother, because I can’t return to the one who gave birth to me. It isn’t done. I belong with my husband’s mother until someone else claims me. And that will never happen, because I don’t wish it. The village is hushed. People observe the phases

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