Stained Asphalt: By Anthony Madukwe Winner of The Random Thoughts Prize in Creative Fiction and Poetry.

This week on The Random Thoughts features a story by Anthony Madukwe who won our Writing Competition with a simplistic, vivid story. 

Read his interview and the story:

Stained Asphalt

If you gripped my shoulders today, shook me hard and yelled at me to say just one thing to my younger self, I would laugh at you and tell you that I had nothing to say. But if you insisted, like really insisted, I would take two deep breaths and tell you to tell a young Peter that he should laugh more. That the time he spends looking down at the earth and hating life was precious time wasted which he would never get back. That laughter was something to be stolen with brave rebellion, not gifted, and that he should be one proud thief. 

I’ll tell him to eat more beans, especially the kind made with potatoes and lots of onions and to release a dozen farts that will spoil a room’s mood. I’ll tell him to make sure he didn’t chuckle when everyone was looking for the guilty party and to make sure no one ever caught him. I’ll remind him to improve his general skills at avoiding capture, at maintaining an unwavering gaze when he was accused of doing something  ‘wrong,’ because Peter you will need this skill. Do you hear me? You will need it like a body needs air because people will suspect you and your body of many things that you thought they shouldn’t care about. 

These people will not be kind to you because they were never taught that kindness is a property people like you deserved to have in their bags. You will discover that the definition of love, in churches and in mosques, has a dozen caveats, clauses that allow the joy of the Lord to be paused when you and your kind enter the conversation. I am warning you, Peter. You must learn to keep a straight face when they ask you why your waist swings a little when you walk. You must not blink when they accuse you of loving boys. 

Tell Peter also – the younger Peter that is – that he should understand early the importance of music. He should know that there are escapes available for him when the noise the world makes about his choices become too loud. If he wanted me to suggest, I would recommend artists like Sia and Birdy. I would advise him to swim with Lana Del Rey’s melancholy and to not be scared to have songs on his music playlist that mirror his disagreement with the world. But, he must be careful not to let the music create sadness for him. He must understand that it is important to remain happy because there are many people who will like his sad face, people who are sure he should not be burnt with the bright rays of ecstasy especially if it is not their kind of sun that does the shining. For this singular reason, he must find happiness – as a message of defiance. 

Have I mentioned that these people will not be strangers? That they will be family and friends, human beings that he grew up with. Who loved him for everything, loved him utterly and mindlessly until they discovered the kind of lips he preferred to snuggle up to in the dark. 

Tell him also not to expect protection from a government or a police that swore sometime in the past to protect everyone. Tell him that his survival depends on his ability to hone his perceptive skills. To grow an ability to sniff friend and foe from miles away and to do it long before they get too close, because Peter, you will die if you let them near. You will die. 

But, I know Peter. The young Peter, that is. He is stubborn and foolish and will not listen to me. He will expect people to understand, to give him some kind of privacy to show love exactly how he has always known. He will trust friends who have a problem with accepting him. He will watch too many Hollywood movies and begin to think that there is a place for heroes in a country of withering cowards. And this will be his mistake. He will find out a little too late that hate is a stronger emotion than love and he will grow up to one day live on hard asphalt, the smell of burnt rubber in his lungs and two firm hands shaking his shoulder and yelling at him to send a message to his younger self. 


You have had a while to reflect on the win, what does it mean to you?

Honestly, a lot. It is my first literary prize and though I have been writing for some time, it is moments like this that reassure you that the words you put down mean something. Every conscious writer admits that validation, especially in the form of the contest, prizes and the recognition they bring, is some form of fuel to their art. A confirmation that in the eyes of another, you are using words for good. It is a much-needed encouragement.

What inspired you to write Stained asphalt? 

I wanted to draw attention to the fears of homosexuals in this country in line with the theme. People are subjected to the vilest forms of discrimination because they are queer – or under the littlest suspicion of being so – and I thought I should lend my voice to the campaign against this. One mustn’t be queer to identify with the struggle they face in this country and the urgent need to simply stop this obsession with what people do in the privacy of their homes.

Do your characters take inspiration from anyone you know? 

Not exactly. But the chief character, Peter, can be said to represent the many queer people who have lost their lives for the senseless hypocrisy of people who disagree with one’s sexual and romantic choices. No friend or acquaintance of mine has been lynched for this reason, but every day I read of those who have been brutally attacked and come close to death because they were even suspected of being gay. To me, it is utterly senseless.

What motivates your writing?

Life. Mine and the ones I encounter every day. I am a keen watcher of people and I notice the little things that almost always appear unimportant. It is sometimes shocking the remarkable stories that are present in what we may deem everyday routine. We only have to be patient enough to stop, look and see.

I am also inspired hugely by the art of others. A great deal of my writing comes after I have read that of another and have been reminded of a truth I had till then ignored.

If there is one book you wished you had written yourself what would it be?

That would be Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. It is a book that is both sad and funny in its telling. I believe it made me feel the exact way I would love, one day, to make my readers feel.

Where did you hear about the writing competition and what made you want to enter it?

A friend came across the contest on the Nanty Greens Twitter page and sent me the picture that had the details. I followed through from there to the website, found the theme and entered. What made me want to enter, I believe, has been sufficiently covered in my answer to the second question above.

What were you trying to achieve with the story?

To tell a story that mirrored how deep hatred has sunk in our hearts, how we don’t even know that we are making some others live in paralysing fear. How we show selective disgust in the ways that suit us. I was hoping that anyone who read that story would be inspired to rethink their attitudes to homosexuality, an affair that for the most part remains largely private. That they would learn to simply let others live. That even if you will refuse to show support, you can do the honourable thing and choose to ignore. That it’s very easy to do this.