A Serpent for Your Troubles



To match feature SUDAN-BEER/

The small house has been turned into a café-bar. The walls are painted a loud blue. An artist has drawn a fat man holding a woman by the waist in front of bottles of beer. Behind, a huge yellow packet of condoms seems to be watching over them.

Isaro is listening as a man talks to her in the shade of the terrace. She sports a ruby red halter with thin straps and a faded pair of blue jeans which hug her hips. Her body is a human magnet, and all the men in the bar know it. And like a piece of metal, the now-smiling face before her can’t seem to get enough of her. About every five seconds, he touches her: shoulders, cheeks, arms.

As soon as she sees us, she breaks away and calls to us. She seems very excited, she is gesticulating. On her face, you can see fresh makeup which gives her a pale complexion. But beneath the heavy cosmetics are a few dark patches like skin disease. I think she still regrets the day I saw it.

We sit down inside the bar and start to drink the beers and whiskey she has served us. But she does not stay with us. She goes over to a small group of uniforms, sits in one of the men’s lap. This officer has lost some teeth and as he smiles, what is left of his grey dentition stands out like uneven pegs; they attest to a man who indulges in a lot of tobacco.

“Do you think she will deliver?” asks Essien, his eyes on Isaro.

“I hope she does. For all our sakes.” I quietly survey the rest of the patrons in the bar. Besides the men of the Ugandan Police Force, there doesn’t seem to be any other potential obstacle. More than half of the civilians are up to their noses with alcohol. As for the few others, they either must be cautious of exceeding their drinking capabilities, or are more interested in the live football match being broadcast via the caged television mounted high up in the wall.

Underneath our table, Essien’s legs are now shaking. He grips his mug of beer. Sweat breaks over his forehead.

“What is it?”

He doesn’t speak. He looks at me like a child afraid of the dark.

I take his mug away, my stare fierce and uncompromising.

“Achanga should have been our last,” he blurts. His big hands ball into tight fists. “We shouldn’t do this, Cheru.”

The team in green has scored. The men watching give shouts of joy. One of them in particular is delirious. Beer bottle in one hand, half-smoked cigarette stuck between the fingers of the other, he rises, gives a poor excuse for a belly dance. Everyone laughs, especially the waitresses.

I don’t like the fact that one of the uniforms is now looking at Essien. Hoping to draw the attention away from him, I rise, raise my beer bottle. “Next round’s on me!”

More uproarious shouts rock the tiny space. The men closest to our table leave their chairs to clink glasses with us. Isaro gets up. Although the rotten-toothed officer seems reluctant to let her go, he eventually does after she whispers something into his ear. Isaro walks past me, like we haven’t even met, and disappears into the adjoining room behind us. A little bit later a waitress makes a mess of the floor; her tray slips, mugs and bottles shatter with reckless abandon—perfect timing.

I pretend to be of assistance in cleaning up, and together we join Isaro in the room. It’s empty, except for the stacked shelf of drinks. The girl leaves.

“Do you have it?”


“As it’s meant to be?”

Isaro nods expectantly.

I open the rectangular crate behind her. Remove the top layer holding a set of mugs. Two AK-47 assault rifles lie like new-born twins. I pick one up, inspect it, its loaded chamber. I do the same for the other weapon. I look out the louvered window. The rest of our friends are already in position, waiting. I check my watch: 3:30 p.m. Twenty more minutes before we hit gold.

“Not one call from you.”

I know where this is going.

“No more visiting—like before.”

“But I’m here now.”

“You know what I mean.” Isaro closes the gap between us, presses her soft body against mine. Her full, kiss-me lips are inviting. I catch the lingering smell of cigarettes and booze on her.

“Ever since that evening, you’re avoiding me.”

I pull my head back, feigning surprise. “Avoiding you?”

I am about to voice the first lie that jumps into my head but she draws back, frowns. She crosses her arms over her bosom. “Tell me, what is your excuse this time? Work? Your clean-clean job in the police station make you the number one busy man in this town?” Isaro gives me a sad, painful stare. And that pain creeps into her voice now: “You think I have it. Isaro have disease. Your ‘African Queen’ no good no more for you, heh? That’s why you care no more what I do.”

Someone calls out to her, asking for the special drinks she promised.

I should feel remorse for my abrupt and unexpressed withdrawal. I should feel it squeeze my heart. Isaro and I go way back, we used to be so close. Yet I don’t feel anything—even a whit. I am too psyched for what lies ahead instead.

Isaro moves over to the shelf, retrieves a small bottle from her jean pocket. She stoops and pours the clear colourless liquid content into a small barrel of fresh local brew. It’s not hard to figure why she is doing so, whom the drink is intended for. This should render the policemen docile, and even though I think she has overdosed the liquor, I don’t say it.

“I still love you, you know.”

“Go tell that to your Momma.”  With that, she leaves from whence she came, carrying the barrel. Before the door closes, I catch a glimpse of her as she is absorbed again by the drinking party in the bar.

My watch says 3:45 p.m. I cock my rifle. As soon as I exit the room, I throw the other rifle at Essien who catches it expertly. It makes me wonder but briefly if he has been able to shake off his fears. Shock, and then horror registers on the faces that turn our way. The policemen, it appears, are now under the influence of Isaro’s potion; they all look at us, slit-eyed, too weak to pull their guns on us. We take their weapons. Essien takes the men into the other room to shackle them while I advise everyone else to remain calm and be sensible.

An orange armoured truck soon comes into view. It is brought to a loud abrupt halt by our friends who throw a line stacked with nails under its tyres. I appear along with them, each of us brandishing his gun.

Mid-way towards the truck, Essien come out of the café-bar, frantically waving his cellphone.

“Cheru!” he screams. “It’s a trap! Isaro set us up!”

I was beginning to think he was putting up another of his silly shows when I hear gunshot from inside the bar. He goes back in, returns fire.

Someone inside the truck opens fire, peppers one of our friends with a burst, almost cutting him in half. The rest of us take cover behind the things closest to us—stacks of wood, used tyres, poles. As the others return fire, and the men and women in the bar scamper and flee in all directions, I’m more worried about Essien’s safety than mine. I dash into the bar, hoping to lend support to Essien.

Essien is badly wounded, soaked in his own blood. He manages to shoot. A spray of bullets from the other end of the room shatter the framed picture over our heads, bore more neat holes in the turned-over tables around us.

Some paces ahead, I can see three of the policemen whom I thought were drugged. They are already dead, lying in careless positions—on the floor, on an undraped table, and beside a chair—like strewn clothes, blood oozing from the bullet holes in their bodies, their guns not far away. But how could this be? Where they actually drugged in the first place? Isaro!

Essien is now staring at me, but his pupils are no longer responsive, his eyelids aren’t blinking. On his face, it seems, is that I-told-you-so look and as more of his blood ooze onto floor, I can see a bit of my reflection.

The uniform with Isaro is telling me to surrender. Outside, there is still the ack-ack sounds of machine guns and rifles as they spit out their dangerous babies.

Sirens. And more sirens wailing.

Blinded by rage and a crushing feeling of defeat, I rise, defying common sense, the growing possibility of catching a bullet. The officer, the rotten-toothed guy, is the last uniform in the bar still breathing and as I draw closer, screaming profanities, emptying what is left of my magazine, he shoots as well. A bullet rips into his shoulder, and then his chest, and he crashes into the wall behind him.

Seeing this, Isaro dashes into the other room, and tries to lock the door, but not before I force myself in. She is afraid, she is speaking incoherently.

From a public address system outside, we are informed that the café-bar has now been surrounded. The one speaking wants me to surrender, offering a kind sentence should I hand over Isaro and myself willingly.


Isaro’s hand are up, appealing. “Please, please my sweet Cheru.”

Sweet Cheru? “Why!”

Isaro jumps, her back crashes against the shelf. She begins to confess, “You’re right. I—I sick. See, I need money. The money—no, no not this one. I, em …” A tear streaks down her cheek. She stifles a sob.

Isaro expresses her fears of abandonment again, her fears that once I pull through with the heist, I will leave her and the town for good. That it will break her heart to see me no more. She tells me the officer I just killed swore to take care of her, to give her the life she’d dreamed of. But now she can see the futility of tipping off the police.

I drop the gun. But as I try to move toward her, I feel a keen pain in my side. I look down.

Blood. My blood.

I rebel against the pain anyway.

“Please,” Isaro begs, as my hands circle her neck. “Please don’t …” Her hands come up to my wrists, trying to break free as I tighten my grip. “Please, don’t this. Please.” She’s now finding it hard to breathe.

“I loved you.”

She gurgles, as though she’s struggling under water. “Essien. His child.” More gurgles. Salvia dribbles down a side of her lips. “In my belly.”

Essien? My brother … with Isaro? I’m torn between a fresh anger and shock. And then I refuse to believe the words I just heard. “Liar! You’ve always been a liar!”

I feel twice betrayed.

Isaro’s tongue flicks about in her gaping mouth, the white of her eyes flashing, her resistance waning. I feel it, the life seeping out of her. It makes me feel like a god. An angry deity delivering judgement.


I am not sure whether that is the crack of a gun, or someone bursting in through the door behind me.

My vengeful grip slackens like a stone on free fall.

Nothing makes sense now.




Edited by: Darlene Jones



Book Review: Embattled by Darlene Jones

What would you do if you discovered you were leading two lives? In Embattled, Darlene Jones makes this offhand question the plot of a beautifully compelling tale.

The science-fantasy novel opens with Em, a young female principal, who discovers traces of blood on her hands. Shocked and confused, she holds back from opening up just yet. She, instead, taps her memory in the hope for an answer, a clue, only to bring back the knowledge that she’d recently taken sides with the oppressed in a war. This is not the only instance. There are similar daring adventures tucked away in her memory, showing she’s been active in another way. Most amazingly, in this other life of hers, she’s a popular face around the world. Not only is she able to speak different languages, she’s popularly as known Miracle Madame; a superhuman who stops wars and brings about justice and equality for all. Even though it has been her wish since childhood to bring about positive changes in the world, her dual existence is more than just a coincidence. The reason transcends the physical. Her duality, ability to effect changes in the world, experience what it means to love and be loved, is a delicate task for Yves, a supernatural being answerable to higher powers. As a Drone—a rookie on a test to become a Power—Yves can’t afford to botch up this monitoring task. But when he lets his feelings for his subject challenge his objective, not only is the task thrown into questioning, he risks a sanction even a god dreads.

Written in the first and third person (limited) points of view, Embattled seems like a confusing read at first, but the reader will probably realize that this approach uniquely presents the supernatural and physical dimensions of the story. Jones excels in creating action scenes and character building. With Yves, his sister, Elspeth, and the Powers, bringing a supernatural feel to the story, a reader who isn’t much into sci-fi or fantasy, could be bored after the first few chapters. But Jones handles this well—despite the fact that these beings are supernatural, their involvement in Earth matters is minimal. Purposeful. I was very keen to see how our main character, Em, would fare in such a tricky plot—if her superhuman side would play out as yet another cliché as seen certain movies and book that fall into science-fiction and fantasy genres, if her superhuman side would interrupt the flow of her normal life. But neither of these happened; as I read, I was rather hooked on the intrigue surrounding her. It was satisfying to see she could also be romantic; she eventually fell in love with Ron (a supporting character) and this was of his volition as well. Their romance went on to knit the tale in style. The novel, Embattled, has a direct relevance to world matters. Jones uses the book as effective tool to question man’s role or decision to make wars instead of peace. Here is an excerpt, one of the several conversations that challenge the reader to reason likewise: “Em stared at him [Ron]. ‘Oh God, Ron, you may be on to something about foreign policy, international relations, and the balance of power. I know nothing. If all experts can’t agree, how can I possibly know?’ Thousands of years from now, will war prove, in some horribly twisted way, to have been a boon to mankind? Maybe war is part of the natural selection process, a warped version of the survival of the fittest.

I’m curious to learn what becomes of Yves, if indeed there will more on Em. So I will be reading the rest of the series (a four-book series). Even though I’m not much into sci-fiction and fantasy, I enjoyed reading the book and will highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.


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Product details on Amazon:

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 146646805X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1466468054

Author’s Blog:

Author’s Website:


Recently I had an  interview with Darlene Jones for which she was answered the following questions:

Me: The book Embattled is a tale which alternates between two realms. Do you believe there forces beyond human control, forces that are able to compel an individual?

DJ: Yes, I do, but what those forces are is a question I don’t have an answer for. I’m not religious and don’t believe in God, so why I have gods in my series is a mystery to me. I do believe in other beings. Vast as the universe is, we simply cannot be the only existing life forms.

As for those forces you talk about, how else do we explain our compulsions to do certain things? And I believe we must have lived other lives for how else do we explain déjà vu?


Me: What stimulated you to write Embattled?

DJ: Two things inspired Embattled. The first was my experience living in Mali. My bio explains that. The second came from a sense of romance. I wanted a love story that went beyond the norm. I thought I would write one book to get to the “happy ever after,” but the story took over and worked its way to four books.


Me: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

DJ: It’s been a lifelong dream. I tried writing when I was very young, but didn’t go anywhere with it. For me, it seemed that I needed more life experience. Whatever the reason, I didn’t start writing until later in life.


Me: What early experiences influenced you?

DJ: Growing up on a farm with no other kids around, without electricity or radio or television meant that books were the most important thing in my life and thank goodness for that.


Me: As a writer, once you have the idea of a story, do you wait on inspiration or do you set a timeline for the writing?

DJ: I never set a timeline. Sometimes I work furiously for several days, other times I don’t write at all for days or even weeks. My work in progress started with one sentence that popped into my head. I wrote it down and ignored it. Then, looking at my list of possible novel ideas the sentence popped out at me and a story line appeared as if by magic. I wrote 30,000 words in a matter of days to get the plot line on paper. Now, I’m doing the re-write—fleshing out the story, building on the characters, adding details important to the plot. A lot of fun!




Although the Liberian war is now over, I cannot wish away the memories. There are nights in my sleep when I still find myself dressed in army uniform, AK-47 ready. On these nights I hear the voices of parents calling their children; others joking, shouting: “Where’s your bunker?” The air cracks and I hear the sounds of diving jets and stuttering LMGs. Fire, blood, bullets and bodies everywhere. Things soon simmer to normal as danger passes. People fill the streets, young boys and girls going on various errands. Then he appears in a blood-stained enemy uniform. His oily dark face is teased with abandon. He’s about to aim his rifle at me. In my dreams, he dies in different ways. I’m his killer. Something tells me that he is my son. But I’m too afraid to believe it.

“Daddy, that’s the toy section!”

I manage to smile. “Go on, make your choice. I’ll wait right here.”

My son’s gait is a proud and happy one as he follows one of the shop attendants.

I was the one to survive, not my fellow comrade and best friend, Silas. I think of his family and friends that he left behind. I can only hope that I won’t be called back into action any time soon. The fiery cover of a magazine on the counter grabs my attention and brings me back to July, 2003.

There is no way to communicate with the rest of our platoon. The only option left is to return to base, west of Monrovia. We are barely a meter away from a shelled restaurant when a bullet zings past us. It’s obvious that our enemy is a splinter group with the RUF. Silas returns fire, I quickly take cover. Bullets rain in all directions. Concrete walls and glasses fall recklessly. I fire, ripping off a few arms and heads. Defeated, the last of our enemy limps away and out of view. Silas wants to go after them. I hold him down.

We make our way down narrow streets, pass people staring hauntingly through open windows. Tattered pieces of clothes are hanging on the lines above us. Fresh bloodstains on the walls and destroyed vehicles suggest a recent shootout. This is no sign of relief. I’m about to flip my map open when a shrill cry pierces the air. Silas and I make eye contact; we agree to move after fifteen seconds. Deep down, a new fear confronts me: what if the cry is a signal for some other militia in the area? We scurry off the main pass, find refuge behind an enormous boulder and wait.

No noise. Not even the sound of birds.

We crouch around bullet-ridden buildings and try to avoid the morning sun, lest our shadows give us away. We walk five steps, stop, and then repeat the pattern. The front of a hotel comes into view. Choice point, none of the options are good.

We scan our sides and agree on heading into the building. Just when I thought that stealth had kept us safe, I hear a loud blast. I flatten my back against the wall. Shortly after, I can see Silas’ hand jerking, trying to reach for his weapon.

“Shoot you blaady Nigeria sojah!”

“Please don’t—”

I open fire. A skinny figure crashes into the wall. I hurry over to Silas’ side. As I go down on one knee and hold his hand firmly, he says, “He…a…boy.”

I’m shocked, confused. Indeed our enemy is just a boy who is now looking at me with pitiful eyes, blood oozing from the sides of his body.

“Look!” My son shows me a toy gun. “This is the type of gun I saw in the Rambo movie. I want it.”

I shake my head. I hand the shop attendant the toy and say, “I need you to help Lex to find something else he could play with. I’m not paying for this.”

The young female is clearly baffled.

“But dad, you said I could have anything in the toy shop. You—”


In an attempt to calm my son, the cashier tries to coax him into taking another toy in the store. “No! I don’t want them,” he pouted.

I frown, then extend a hand to him. “Let’s go, then.”

Slowly he takes it and we walk out of the mini-mart. I try to convince myself that I did the right thing as we head toward the parking lot. Inside the car, Lex begins to sob quietly. He’s trying to fight back the tears. I start the engine and back the car into the street. Half way out, I’m attacked by pangs of regret. It weakens my hands on the wheel so I pull over.

“I’m sorry.”

Lex doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even look at me. I take a deep breath. “I want you to have that toy gun.”

“Really?” his face lights up like bright bulbs on a Christmas tree.

I nod and put the car in reverse.

Illimitable Beauty by Skywalker Payne


It could have been dismissed as forgetfulness or wasteful thinking but Jewel, a science teacher, is not taking this particular feeling lightly. Not even the sceptical remark of her close girlfriend, Diane, is able to dissuade her from paying attention to this ‘out-of-body’ experience. The more her mind seesaws from her conscious state to realms on Earth and beyond, the more she gets to see, admire, and embrace life from a wider perspective. This divine alteration alongside physical observations finally point her to a sad truth about John, the man she’d loved for more than twenty years; the one who is the father of her children.

My Review:

This novella is delivered with well-structured lines (some of which I find quite poetic). Told from the first person point of view, Payne tactfully reveals the emotions of her main character, Jewel, and how she’s able to relate with other characters as the story unfolds. This is a very important step in character development from the first person’s as it helps the reader decide who the protagonist really is and why there should be a special attachment to him/her. The environment and places mentioned in the book point to a story that takes its roots in our contemporary world. Because of length and intent, Payne has cut down on the description of the weather and terrestrial activities/existence. This would have come across as superfluous if stretched beyond what is already written. What you don’t find by way of storytelling, you find in the dialogue. For me, this is an intelligent move. It gets the reader more involved than distanced from the narrative. I’m a sucker for well-knit endings. Jewel’s note of goodbye took me by surprise. It’s filled with a strong emotion. That’s thumbs up. And I mean it. In Illimitable Beauty, Payne depicts a picture of freedom and subtle happiness beyond pain and disappointment. She puts poetic justice in its proper perspective and covertly warns that truth that cannot be kept away forever…not even in solitary confinement. I will be recommending it to my friends.


Skywalker Payne Interview:

Thanks, Uzoma Okoroafor,  for reviewing my book and giving me a chance to answer a few questions about it.

What’s your first major writing experience? I wrote my first, very crude, book when I was in third grade. It was written on construction paper with illustration. On the back, I had a short questionnaire addressed to my family members asking them what they thought of my book. I’ve been writing ever since, I began a diary in fifth grade after reading Ann Frank’s Diary. It’s taken me so long to get published because I did not handle rejection well.

How did you come up with the idea of Illimitable BeautyThe idea of a woman leaving her body came to me over 15 years ago – I put the slow in slow writer.  I wrote several versions of the story, and at one point even saw it becoming a novel. Then I put it aside,  got married, got a degree in storytelling, we moved around, the next thing I knew, I was in nursing school. My first nursing job was with the Indian Health Service and after a year or so, I began writing again, over a year writing a screenplay.  I cannot remember what prompted me to return to Jewel’s story, but I did so in the past couple of years. The story went through many rewrites, submitted to magazines, rejected, more rewrites until I submitted it to Amazon. They rejected it but provided a link to their Direct Publishing. The choice was spending more money submitting to magazines – and getting rejected – or publishing my e-book, with no up-front costs. My husband read the story and chose the title and designed the cover.

In your book, you mentioned an “out-of-body” experience. Do you believe that there is a connection between the physical and spiritual realms? I’m a practicing Buddhist so the question quite simply is yes. But, I’ve not had experiences like Jewel’s.

What type of books do you like to read? I primarily like to read books about Buddhism now. As a teen I read a lot of the great classic writers, I read Crime and Punishment before I was 16. Now, I read a variety of fiction they comes across my eye, from Chekov, to the interesting stories and poetry of WordPress bloggers.

You self-published Illimitable Beauty. With your next book on the way, would you like to be represented by an agency/publisher? I’m already submitting my book The Ultimate Wonder to agents. I think it’s really marketable and have just started submitting queries to agents. The book is a collection of rewritten world folklore, original stories, and commentary on the theme of death.

Aside from writing and trying to get your book published, do you have any other major project for the year? Well, that’s a lot. I wrote over forty poems and forty haikus last year which I want to refine. I’m researching for another story, and yes do want to find a publisher. I have a day job as a school nurse and a loving husband, so no other major projects.