Love Is Power, Or Something Like That
“The Worst Thing That Happened”
“The Worst Thing That Happened” is from A Igoni Barrett’s second collection, Love is Power, Or Something Like That: Stories (Graywolf Press). Barrett’s work has been published in many print and online magazines, including AGNI, Guernica, and The Millions. His first book, a collection of short stories entitled From Caves of Rotten Teeth, was published in 2005. Barrett won the 2005 BBC World Service short story competition, and he is the the recipient of a Chinua Achebe Center Fellowship, a Norman Mailer Center Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency. His short stories have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Nigeria.
Barrett said this about the origin of his story: I travelled from Nigeria to Kenya in June 2010 for my first-ever writing residency. In the last fortnight of my visit, after six months of nightclubbing in Nairobi and beach bumming in Mombasa and not writing anything, I grew desperate to have something other than memories to show for all the money that the program had spent on me.
And so I did what I always do when I have to write to deadlines: I didn’t. Instead I went online and read every short story of Katherine Mansfield’s that I could google up. (When the minutiae of one’s own life threaten to overwhelm, read Katherine Mansfield.) The last one was “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” which I had read and reread several times over the years, but read again to the end with giraffe-eyed melancholy at some time past midnight in a beach house in Mombasa three days before the expiration of my Kenyan visa. So that’s how it went.
Only this time, after I shut down my laptop and climbed into bed, the instant I closed my eyes a name floated to me on the crash of ocean waves outside my French windows. Ma Bille, Ma Bille, Ma Bille. (In truth I heard it once, but here I write it thrice because it hints at witchery.) Three days later, on the flight back to Nigeria, I finished drafting the first version of “The Worst Thing That Happened.”