Every morning, as grandmother milked the cow while patting its ribs, my ten-year old brother, lanky with dark brown skin, held my tiny hand and walked us to the sugar cane fields. One day he hacked off a small piece of the cane for me to chew with a dull machete, the warm sweetness hurting my baby teeth. We ran around the stalks, digging into the dirt to bury treasures before the workers came. I remember my shoes, the leather dyed a raspberry red, were unbuckled, and so he hoisted me up on a wooden crate and fixed them for me and wiped the sugar stickiness off my cheeks with a spit-dampened bandana. This was the last time I saw him.

We had distant family near a place called New Orleans and a father with plans to kill us girls, so mama dug up the money she was hiding in a clay cup under the giant agave. She had sent my three older sisters one-by-one up north from Mexico, quietly, quickly, and we were the last to go. We got into the truck close to the border, where a stranger handed me a scratchy blanket. The bumps in the road felt like someone was kicking under the seat, but I knew we were taking a long trip and that I was supposed to be quiet for it.

For little girls, hours feel like weeks, but the truck stopped finally in a tiny dust-filled town. We stayed there to save money for the bus to New Orleans. The house we entered smelled of cinnamon and patchouli. We had some blankets spread out for us on the floor. In the evening, when everyone came back from working in the fields, after dinner was eaten and dishes washed, we sat around to watch I Love Lucy in English and eat blush-colored grapefruits and mangos the color of Mojave sunsets. Mama peeled the grapefruit for me, pulling the sections carefully away from the white fuzz. The sharp sweetness of the first juicy bite was replaced by a bitterness that lingered and stuck to the sides of my tongue. I preferred mangos when they became overripe, when the soft spots pooled with syrup that tasted like brown sugar.

My mother was quiet in her face only. I knew she had many sad thoughts swarming around inside her. It reminded me of the ants I once saw devouring a downed monarch butterfly. The bright orange, papery wings anchored to the dirt, becoming black and heavy with the weight of the colony gathering her up in morsels, pushing her towards the underground, a place which was foreign to her. How sad, I thought, to die in a place you’ve never seen before.

I remember hearing her crying at night. I heard her say to her sister before she left, “You know nothing. You know nothing until you’ve cut out two hearts that were once threaded together and burnt them over a pit. What would you know about loving a monster?” And I knew the monster was my father, but I didn’t know that love was involved at all.

Weeks, or maybe months, later she had saved enough money picking indigo grapes for us to take the bus to her cousin’s trailer. I was excited to go closer to the water, sad to leave behind the fruit cornucopia. I would be starting school as soon as we got there, and that also made me nervous as the only words I knew in English were Spice Girl lyrics and “Lucy! I’m home!”

We got our tickets at the station and a bag of chili-lime peanuts to share. We had many hours to talk about our new life in Louisiana. I had read about baby alligators that ate marshmallows, which I felt was a good place to start. My mother bent down to fix the straps of my sandals, much like my brother used to. I wondered then what was it that made boys like my brother and also made men like my father and why we had to leave both behind. I would ask her many years later, but for now we only spoke of baby alligators, wild banana trees, and all the gifts we might find in the dirt near our new home.  

Rosanna Rios-Spicer is a full-time nursing student, public health worker, and new mother living in California. She has spent the last few years exploring the role of geography, family history, and conflicting identities in her short fiction writing. She often draws from her experiences as a Chicana growing up in the Midwest.

“On your marks…Get set… GO!”

Kojo kicked as hard as his little legs could. At first, he didn’t see or feel anyone next to him. Just wind gushing past his ear. But after a couple of yards, his sister was by his side. Then ahead of him. Her breaths lost in the wind.

He kicked harder. Letting out little puffs to urge his body forward. But all he did was in vain. His elder sister was already at the finish line, where Joseph, his close friend, stood with a branch lifted above his head. Waving for the victor.

Vivian, Kojo’s elder sister, was jubilant. Punching the air and skipping around a disconsolate Kojo.

Kojo could see in Joseph’s narrow eyes that he empathised with him. But a sudden turn in his look told Kojo that his friend would be joining his older sister. Throwing salt in his open wounds.

“See you! You will never get across the road. A car will come and …” she skipped a couple steps then clapped her hands loudly in front of Kojo. “Crash you!”

Kojo’s tiny fists were balled and his smallish body went rigid. Deep inside, wells of tears were threatening to erupt from his eyes. Fearing this eruption, he ran away from Vivian and Joseph. Jeers and laughter following in his wake.

Kojo found his special corner tucked between the walkways of a heavily trafficked intersection. The congestion on the node was his cover. People walking, cycling, peddling, carrying, calling, begging. It was a jumble of activity. So anyone standing still would go unnoticed.

Kojo didn’t mind that his sister beat him or his best friend had laughed at him. But what was disturbing him most was the prospect of crossing the road.

The whole community had been talking about it.

Sleek. Vast. Deadly.

Before the road, there was another road and that was easily traversed. Kojo, Vivian and Joseph would cross it together to go to school every day. But a better and newer road was demanded by the mob, and, ‘mighty be the powers,’ the road came.

It had already handicapped five pedestrians, and several motorcyclists had met their end on it. But it was also heralded by motorists as a gateway to economic recovery and growth. Kojo didn’t know so much about death, or economic recovery, for that matter. But he knew what he saw when his father came home one day without a leg. All of sudden he was half the person he used to be. It wasn’t from the road, but from a road. Soon the remaining half of his father was lost too, and Kojo was left with none.

What if Kojo wasn’t fast enough to cross it?  What if he too lost his legs?  What if he too become none?  Then he wouldn’t be able to chase Jospeh about the compound. Or even run with his sister and finally beat her when he grew taller and stronger. These fears tangled with his anger of being teased, and he dragged them back with him to his house later that day.  Then with him into the morning of the first day of school.


Zoooooooom. Honk. Vroooom. Zoom-zoom-zoom. Skrrrrrr. Honk! Honkkkkkkk! Zoooooooom. Gyimi! Vrrrroooooooooom- ZZZzooooom.

The pattern of sounds was the only way the children could determine when to cross. Standing on the far end of the road. Looking over the railings. Timing the moment in which they would need to dash. The blur of colours. A trick of light.

Vivian mouthed for Kojo to hold her and Joseph’s hand. Her little brother was much smaller than the both of them. They gripped his hand as fiercely as they might squeeze a sachet of pure water.

Vivian had heard from others in the community that to cross the road, you needed to use your ears more than your eyes. The ice kenke vendor had said it. The koko woman had proclaimed it. The Waakye woman, sweat sticking to her neck, had bemoaned it. And by some coincidence, Vivian realised at that very moment, all their food had lost some taste since the road was commissioned.

The road. The road. The road. It rolled on and on in her head and tongue as she remembered the disappointment of the Waakye the other day.

Vivian was counting the seconds between the zooms and the honks. In there somewhere was their path to the middle partition of the road. During the morning, the death trap moved from left to right. By evening, it flipped. If they got to the middle, the worst would be behind them.

Vivian remembered her mother’s parting words. ‘Protect your younger brother.’ Vivian’s mother had so much trust in her that she didn’t fear for Vivian’s life.

Zoooooooooom. Honk. Honkkkkk!

“Onyourmarks!” Joseph yelled, raising his hand “… Getset!” His wide eyes met Vivian’s. “…. Go!”

Honk! Honk!! ZZZZoooooooom! HOOOOONKKKKK!

The children shot straight through. Vivian and Joseph pulling Kojo as they sprinted across. Kojo squeezing their fingers. Vivian wincing from the pain. Jospeh yanking his friend. Kojo’s eyes shut.



They were at the partition. They just made it ahead of the car that had yelled at them. A distant insult and screeching of tyres now many miles away.

Vivian turned to make sure her brother and Joseph were okay. They both gave brave faces and a shaky nod. Vivian did the same. The next part would be easier, she assured herself and hoped to pass the confidence onto the others.

She pulled so that Joseph and Kojo could follow. They were walking this time. In a line. Then a sound. Vivian knew not to look. Only to run. So she pulled. Pulled hard so that her urgency would catalyse in the other children.  But fingers slipped. Cries were screamed. Hearts in mouth. Hands on chest. Joseph by her side. Eyes wide. Kojo no where to be seen. A red blur flashed. And a blue. A black. A silver.

Then a figure. Still. Rigid. Shaking. With tiny balled fists. Tears in his eyes. Vivian didn’t hear a sound. She only heard ‘protect your younger brother,’ echoing from within her. So she did as she had been told. Protected her brother.

Ekow Manuar is an African Futurist writer who hails from Accra, Ghana. He was educated as a sustainability scientist in Europe, and currently works as a renewable energy and environment project developer. His works include “Beans Without Korkor?”– the winner of the 2021 Economic Commission of Africa short story climate fiction award, “Kubulor Country,” published in the African Writers’ Anthology Resilience, “Tell Me What You See,” published in the Dark Mountain’s Literary Climate anthology, Issue 18, and many more. He can be found at https://www.instagram.com/abdallahsmith06/ and https://abdallahsmith06.medium.com/.