msafiri Kenya Airways is a corporate sponsor of The Caine Prize. Q www. caineprize. com Poison, by Henrietta Rose- Innes, was first published in ' African Pens', published by Spearhead, an imprint of New Africa Books, Cape Town, 2007. Her latest book, The Rock Alphabet, is available through most bookstores. 90 entries were submitted for the 2008- 9 Caine Prize. In announcing Henrietta as the winner of the £ 10,000 prize, the Chair of Judges said that the story showed " a sharp talent, a rare maturity and a poetic intelligence that is both subtle and deeply effective. It is writing of the highest order." fiction 140 Kenya Airways is not involved in the judging of The Caine Prize and the views expressed in these stories are not those of Kenya Airways or the Publisher of msafiri. The stories are published in the interests of promoting African literature. THE CAINE PRIZE The Caine Prize for African Writing is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. It has become the showcase for African creative writing. The winner is announced at a dinner in Oxford, England, in July each year. In addition to a £ 10,000 prize, the winner of the competition is also awarded a month as writer- in- residence at Georgetown University, Washington DC. The Prize has been able to expand, thanks to generous sponsorship, and has set up writers' workshops in Africa. got back outside, the rain had stopped again, as abruptly as it started, leaving a rusty tang in the air. The old lady had vanished. Then Lynn spotted movement out on the road: her car door was open. Coming closer, she saw that the woman was calmly eating tomato chips in the back seat. Having transferred herself from the wreck in the backyard to the superior vehicle out front, she was now waiting for the journey to commence. A neat old lady, Lynn noted: there were no crumbs down her front. She seemed restored by the chips. Her eyes gleamed as she whipped a small plastic tortoiseshell comb out of a pocket and started snatching back wisps of hair, repinning the bun into place with black U- bend pins that Lynn hadn't seen since her own grandmother died. In contrast, she felt increasingly dishevelled, and embarrassed about her tip of a car: the empty Heineken bottles on the floor, the tissues in the cubbyhole. She should have kept things cleaner, looked after things better. " My grandson," the woman said to Lynn, with a nod of reassurance. " Of course," said Lynn. Evening was coming. The clouds had retreated somewhat and were boiling grumpily over the mountain. The brief rain had activated an awful odour: like burnt plastic but with a metallic bite, and a whiff of sourness like rotten meat in it too. Lynn sat in the front seat, put the keys into the ignition and gripped the steering wheel. She had no plan. The sky ahead was darkening to a luminous blue. The silent little woman was an expectant presence in her rear- view mirror. Feeling oppressed, Lynn got out of the car again and stood with her hands on her hips, staring east, west, willing sirens, flashing lights. She ducked back into the car. " I'll be back in a sec. Okay? You're all right there?" The old woman looked at her with polite incomprehension. She just needed to walk around a bit. She headed off towards the sun, which was melting messily into smears of red and purple. The mountain was no longer visible. The road was discoloured, splattered with lumps of some tarry black precipitate. She counted five small bodies of birds, feathers damp and stuck together. Blades of grass at the side of the road were streaked with black, and the ground seemed to be smoking, a layer of foul steam around her ankles. It got worse the further she walked, and so she turned around. There was someone standing next to her car. At once she recognised the moustache, the blue overalls. Her first impulse was to hide. She stood completely still, watching. He hadn't seen her. The clay- faced man was holding something… a box. No, a can. He had a white jerry- can in his hands and he was filling her car with petrol. Suddenly her stomach roiled and she crouched down at the side of the road, vomiting a small quantity of cheese- and- onion mulch into the stinking grass. When she raised her chin, the man was standing looking back at the petrol station. Deciding, she made herself stand, raising her hand to wave – but in that moment he opened the door and got in; the motor turned immediately and the car was rolling forward. She could see the back of the old woman's head, briefly silver as the car turned out into the lane, before the reflection of the sunset blanked out the rear windscreen. The Toyota headed out into the clear evening. Lynn sat in the back of the rusted car and watched the sky turn navy and the stars come out. She loved the way the spaces between the stars had no texture, softer than water; they were pure depth. She sat in the hollow the old lady had worn in the seat, ankles crossed in the space where the handbrake used to be. She sipped Coke; it helped with the nausea. She'd been here three days and her head felt clear. While there'd been a few bursts of strange rain, the chemical storm had not progressed further down the highway. It seemed the pollution had created its own weather system over the mountain, a knot of ugly cloud. She felt washed up on the edge of it, resting her oil- clogged wings on a quiet shore. Sooner or later, rescue would come. The ambulances with flashing lights, the men in luminous vests with equipment and supplies. Or maybe just a stream of people driving back home. But if rescue took too long, then there was always the black bicycle that she'd found leaned up against the petrol pump. The woman's grandson must have ridden here, with the petrol can, from some place not too far down the road. It was an old postman's bike, heavy but hardy, and she felt sure that if he had cycled the distance, so could she. Maybe tomorrow, or the day after. And when this was all over, she was definitely going to go on a proper detox. Give up all junk food, alcohol. Some time soon. Lynn snapped open a packet of salt-' n'- vinegar chips. Behind her, the last of the sunset lingered, poison violet and puce, but she didn't turn to look. She wanted to face clear skies, sweet- smelling veld. If she closed her eyes, she might hear a frog, just one, starting its evening song beyond the fence.
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