top of page
Welkin Twitter Banner.png

The Firefly

by NmaHassan Muhammad
A doctor in lab coat

Grand-aunt is ill. She has swallowed a firefly.

We were watching the night News at Nine on the NTA when a firefly fluttered into the sitting room just as an outage swallowed our eyes in darkness.

“As usual,” Mother said, her tortuous hissing like whispers of grief. She flicked on her phone’s flashlight. “Yisa, turn off the TV. The socket, too.”


The firefly blinked toward Grand-aunt’s open mouth as she snored in her favourite chair, and we heard her cough, jacking awake.


While Mother drives, Grand-aunt keeps sucking the air like a fish outside the water. The firefly is in her throat, having a disco-light blast.


I think of Father. I was sixteen when they brought home Father’s body. He was killed in the #EndSARS protest. It has been eight months six days since that tragedy. Recalling Father’s memory, my heart squeezes my breath.


I suck on my inhaler.


“Sorry, Nana,” I say, and pat Grand-aunt’s frail fingers. “You’ll be fine.”


At the Langzdu community clinic, the doctor’s white coat smells of drugs. Chinks with keys. The slow ceiling fan rustles the breastfeeding mother in a calendar on the wall. Under February under Tuesday, six sits in a silver circle.


The doctor looks inside Grand-aunt’s throat with a tiny flashlight. She drives her glove inside Grand-aunt’s grinder. 


“Kai, Mama!” the doctor yelps. She surveys her hand and looks shaken. “Isn’t it well that you’ve more gums than teeth?”


You can see a hellish glint in Grand-aunt’s glare. Does Grand-aunt think the doctor was going for her belubelu? I sense she feels confidence in her strong gums. 


Watching, I wonder why Grand-aunt doesn’t open her grinder wide enough for the doctor to send her small self down Grand-aunt’s throat to pluck out the firefly.


Instead, the doctor gives Grand-aunt some olive oil to drink. To drown the firefly. But her worms won’t welcome the olive oil. Her worms will make her spew. Everything. Rice. Pete. Pap. Jekun which she loves.


The firefly climbs out of the bowl. Dusts wings. Blinks tail. Flutters about the tiny room, then out the open window into the warm, wide night.


As we return home, Grand-aunt chatters about the firefly. She sounds happy, like most of her teeth have returned to her gums.


We are glad.

Author Bio:

NmaHassan Muhammad is a poet, short story writer and a children's book author. He has received grants and scholarships from GrubStreet, Authors Publish, SCBWI, The Writing Barn, Highlights Foundation, and fellowship from Ebedi International Writers Residency. An active member of SCBWI and ANA, he's a recipient of several awards, including, most recently, two longlists for the African Writers Awards and Wakini Kuria Prize – which have honoured the memory of his young son Abdullateef Hamood. He publishes a list monthly in Authors Publish magazine. NmaHassan writes from Minna, Nigeria where he resides with his family and aged mother.


Judge’s Comment:

This piece made me smile every time I read it; the largeness of the characters, the small absurdity of the situation, the brilliant tone of voice. There is humour here, but there is also a shadow of sadness cast by that middle paragraph about the father, and when I reach the end of the story, I am left with a sense that nothing has changed, but also everything has changed – a drama has been survived, the sudden darkness of the opening has been followed by light, even after everything she has lived through, Grand-aunt finds a way to be happy.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Email
bottom of page