The Girl With A Twisted Future, by Mia Couto of Mozambique, is from his collection of short stories, Voices Made Night, a landmark in Mozambican prose fiction. The collection was translated from Portuguese into English by David Brookshaw. Voices Made Night expresses through striking poetic metaphors, a surreal world defined by its contradictions, and set against a background of political instability. (blurb)
Joseldo Bastante, a poor village mechanic with twelve (12) children decides to use his eldest child and daughter, Filomeninha, to make money for the family by passing her off as contortionist, displayed and advertised along the highways and byways of afar. (P 77). Through a twisted sense of desperation, born of extreme poverty, Joseldo takes his poor daughter through moments of inhuman treatment of malformation and excruciating pain, getting her to bend herself to get her head as far as the floor and vice-versa.
“At night he would tie his daughter to the drum so that her back and the curve of the recipient would cling to each other like a courting couple. In the morning, he would pour hot water over her before she woke up properly. (This water is for your bones to become sort, flexible) When they unbound her, the girl was bent over backwards, her blood flow irregular and her bones disjointed……………Filomeninha was crumpling for all to see. She looked like a hook without any more use, an abandoned rag. P 78
Finally Filomeninha is ready to be sent to an impressario who would launch her career as a contortionist. However, the impressario refuses to do so, because there is no market for contortionists or rather, there is low premium on that.
“There is no point in wasting my time. I don’t want it. Contortionism is out, it’s no longer a sensation…..This girl is sick, that’s what she is.” P 80
Needless to say, Filomeninha collapses and dies on her father on their way back to the village; Joseldo’s dream was thus dashed.
This tragic narrative is laced with wry humour to perhaps underplay the stark portrayal of the absurdities and foolishness of life bound by greed and extreme deprivation in an African setting. The story also abounds in themes of exploitation or victimisation of women, particularly daughters, for economic gains. Reading the collection, I could only marvel that the translator, David Brookshaw did a fine job as I was horribly reminded of current situations of child-trafficking for economic and sexual purpose in Third World Countries. I gladly recommend Voices Made Night to all who are interested in reading about Africa.
About the Author: Antonio Emilio Leite Couto was born in 1955. He has over twenty (20) literary works published in several languages including Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian and Catalan. His first publication, Raiz do Orvalho was a collection of poems published in 1983. Voices Made Night, first published in 1986 in Portuguese, is his first collection of short stories. His recent novel Jerusalem was published in 2009. Sleep Walking (Terra Sonambula) was published in 1992 and considered one of the top twelve (12) African books of the 20th Century by the Zimbabwean International Book Fair. Aside his writing, Mia Couto is also a biologist.