NewsNorth AfricaHowl - Last word by Rotimi Babatunde


Posted on Friday, 25 January 2013 12:49

Howl - Last word by Rotimi Babatunde

By Rotimi Babatunde

Rotimi Babatunde won the 2012 Caine Prize/Photo©All Right ReservedThe proprietor of the restaurant on the other side of the pond loved dogs, especially mature and well-fed ones like Jack.


His establishment catered to clients with special tastes. He came with two of his employees and a cage.

A woman from the neighbouring house accused him of cannibalism. Anyone who eats creatures with names can eat my children, she said.

The man turned to Jack. What is your name, he asked. Jack kept quiet. It was his first time in a cage. His dilated eyes betrayed his panic.

Can you now see that this dog has no name, the man said, chuckling. I don't eat any plant or animal that can tell me its name.

Jack began howling.

That animal sound you're making is not my idea of a name, Jack's new owner told him. Trust me, those ravenous hounds I have as customers will enjoy crushing the marrow out of your bones.

Jack's howling intensified as they carted him away, the agony of his wailing sending the neighbourhood's chickens squawking to their roosts and startling into flight the bulbuls that soared screeching from the treetops like an indictment of feathers to the heavens.

The lament, neither human nor bestial, sounded as if not from the dog's throat but from the deepest pores of his being,

piercing through walls and clothes and skin and rattling open windows through which peeped out anxious faces and doors out of which stepped maids wiping their hands on aprons and drinking men suddenly gone sober and bleary-eyed children woken from their siesta and petty thieves temporarily penitent and bored housewives now alert and artisans covered with grime,

like the grand carnival of the world, wondering what terror could have occasioned an alarm so unearthly it could have been the last bugle ushering in the fiery doom of apocalypse.

The howling advanced down the street as the restaurant owner departed towards his kitchen with his trophy in the cage from which kept on coming that gloomy and interminable wailing that recalled the dankness of dungeons and the eternal sadness of cemeteries,

the dog's lamentation carrying on like the savage wind that has haunted the universe from time's beginning, ripping death through ranks of dinosaurs burning into extinction and fanning hotter the flames dancing around hecatombs.

That wind which set sail Agamemnon's plunderers and Transatlantic slave ships and blessed the Christian vessels of Columbus in whose wake conquistadores privileged new lands with the gift of gunfire and the pox, which seeps in through the vents of gas chambers and sometimes blows off rooftops like terrorist bombs or whistles like missiles from hovering drones, was the same wind now wrenching trauma out of Jack's viscera.

The howling got fainter and even more dejected as the dog who wanted to become a man was ferried further away from his home towards death. When the howl went silent, it kept on resounding●

Rotimi Babatunde won the 2012 Caine Prize. 'Howl' is an extract from a new short story.

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