A short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from the Amnesty International Anthology Freedom: Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sola has disappeared. Today, I walked into his room and saw his father sitting on his bed, crying, back slumped, and in one hand was the red Arsenal shirt Sola always wore when he watched the Premier League. His father never liked me. For the almost two years that Sola and I have been together, his father would ignore my greetings, would mumble that I was a bad influence, a city girl. But when I walked in and saw him crying, he looked up, his eyes full of bewilderment, and I placed my hand on his shoulder and then offered to boil some water to make him atiya.
Sola walks with a limp. The midwife pulled me out too roughly, he said, to explain that hiccup in his gait. He told me this the first day we met. I had gone to the kiosk owned by one of those Fulas from Guinea to buy a packet of biscuits and was walking back to my aunty's house when he called out to me to stop. I don't usually have patience for men who stop women on the street to chase them, and I was going to tell him off, but he did not say the usual, 'Tell me your name,' or 'I like you.' Instead he told me, 'Don't walk so fast. I can't catch up with my three-quarter leg. The midwife pulled me out too roughly.' There was a slightly selfmocking smile on his face and I found myself smiling back. Later, I would come to hear him tell this midwife story to many people and would watch them fall under his spell, as I did that first day. It was so easy to fall under his spell.
I walked along the street with him, this slender stranger, talking about nothing in particular, watching him kick a small can along as he walked. He did not profess love at first sight, as many of the men I saw in the neighborhood liked to do, as though a good way to deal with their boredom was to find a girl and tell her you were madly in love with her when you were not. He did not even say he wanted to be my friend. He just walked along with me and talked, with a kind of intensity that surprised me, about small subjects like which brand of milk was better, Peak or Omela. When we got to my aunty's gate, I said I would walk around the street once more with him; I was not ready to go inside. He was a journalist with the Express and when I said, 'That paper is just the president's mouthpiece,' he looked at me and nodded and then changed the subject. I would come, later, to realize how much he resented the restrictions placed on his work, when he would give me articles to help him line-edit and then later tell me that his editor, Mr. Mahoney, had killed the story because it might offend the president.
As we walked, he said he had seen me a few times at the kiosk and had heard the people there gossiping about me, calling me a foreign girl, a spoiled rich girl, saying that all I did was read books and take photographs of ordinary things on the street and go to London whenever I wanted to. That was why he had stopped me. He was curious about me. I felt a little dampened by this but I told him my story: I had left university and I was painting and taking photographs and living with my aunt because my parents had asked me to leave their house until I decided to behave myself. He looked at me, his eyes huge with disbelief. I was so different from what he was used to. I had my camera around my neck so I showed him pictures I took from the last time I visited London. The buildings and pigeons and ducks at Hyde Park did not interest him, but he focused on the only picture of me, taken by a friend. He noticed that I was wearing the same shoes in the photo as I had on then and he bent down, in a swift and surprising way, and touched my black sneakers and said, 'Oh, so these have walked in London!' Before we parted that day, he told me, 'You are too big for me,' and I told him to stop Mahoneyking rubbish. But he was right. I was the silly daughter of big people who owned property all over Banjul and I could afford to loaf around knowing my parents would always support me. He was a boy from the country who had worked hard and come to Banjul to get a job in journalism and was paying his brother's school fees and supporting his father and his sister. Still, only two days later, I was with him in his room, under the blanket, and he was whispering that he loved the sound of the rain on his roof.
Sola has disappeared. Policemen came to his house and took him away. Some people say that he had argued with his editor Mr. Mahoney earlier that day, that Sola's voice was raised and that Mr. Mahoney was threatening him. His father and I went all the way to Fatoto Police Station in the east, because we had heard that he was taken there. But the police said he was not there. One policeman called his father an old fool. On the long bus drive back, I began to cry. His father said that he'd liked it when Sola began to work at the Express because working for a paper that had never been anti-government meant that what had happened to Deyda Hydara would not happen to Sola. I remember when Hydara was shot in Banjul, I remember how Hydara wrote so angrily, so boldly, about press freedom, about the excesses of the president. But I felt angry with Sola's father for bringing up Hydara and for linking that brave, doomed man to my Sola.
Sola is an avid self-improver. The first time I saw all his books, collected from second-hand shops, from acquaintances he met through work, many of them without covers, I was very moved and thought about how casually I had always treated my father's library. Sola is always asking me the correct way to pronounce English words. When I told him to stop saying 'innit' because it was not the kind of British thing that was good to imitate-all the young people in Banjul say innit and it annoys me so much-he told me he was lucky he had me to explain these things to him. He has that kind of humility, but he also has a kind of confidence that just pops out when it is needed. When he first told Mr. Mahoney of his plan to write a long investigative piece about his country, Mr. Mahoney told him it was unnecessary, but Sola insisted. Of course, he did not tell Mr. Mahoney what he told me, that he planned to show Mr. Mahoney a tame version but would publish the real thing abroad, that he was already in touch with some journalists in Europe.
Exactly eight days before he disappeared, I met his editor, Mr. Mahoney. 'You are Sola's woman?' he asked, in a tone of surprise that was also lazy and knowing. I did not like the way he looked at me, as many men with influence do, as though they already know what is inside you and they own it and they will decide when to take it and you have no say at all. It is small-small men with petty influence like Mahoney who cause the greatest trouble. That evening, as I watched Sola make his atiya, with cube after cube of sugar, and throw his head back slightly as he drank, I was filled with a panicked love. I began to worry about his safety. I told him I did not think he should send that piece he was writing to the European journalists. He looked at me as if I was suddenly speaking an incomprehensible language. I, after all, had encouraged the article from the beginning and it was almost finished now. He had said that it was the best way for him to air his concerns about the future of his country, by publishing his piece abroad, and I had agreed. But now, perhaps because I had met his editor, I was no longer sure it was worth it. It was raining. On Saturday, the Naweetan football league would begin. I was making a bean soup that he liked, that he teased me was very 'foreign', just as he teased me about not knowing how to boil water properly unless I had an electric kettle.
He finished his atiya. I watched him, this slender man with a gentle self-composure. He was not a man who needed to be loved, and because of this, he commanded love, he drew love to himself. I came to know of the many women who loved him: the women he worked with, the women he met when he went to conduct interviews. Once, I asked why he was not like his friends who chased many women at the same time-I knew that he was faithful-and he looked at me and shrugged and said it was because he had nothing to prove to anybody. Then he took my hand in his.
Sola has disappeared. Today the information minister sent out a press release, which said this: the government does not have any knowledge of Sola's arrest. A woman whose cousin's wife works as a nurse at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital came to tell us that policemen had brought in Sola for medical treatment. I ran to the hospital. He was not there. And I came back and told his father that I had not found him. Sola has disappeared.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the Nigerian-born author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, and The Thing Around Your Neck. She is the recipient of a Macarthur fellowship, the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.