‘Under the Awning’ by Melatu Uche Okorie

Family reunification brought Didi from Africa to Ireland to join her mother and siblings. She feels alienated from her environment, from her family, from her own expectations. Everything tells her she does not fit. Her aunt describes how, in her daughter’s school, “all the children’s pictures were put up on the wall with their countries of origin written above it and how the children with non-national parents had their parents’ countries of origin.”

Didi buys a diary, begins to write, joins a writing class, where, when it is her turn to read, her words do not fit either. Her classmates critique her writing from their perspectives of discomfort: she is told that writing in the second person makes the character “hard to care about”, that the story is “bleak and negative” and told by someone “full of hatred and self-loathing.” 

Irish people are used to being hailed for their welcomes, and Okorie’s story superbly skewers that accepted wisdom. It is a necessary reminder that it is high time we stopped clinging to our smug old ideas of ourselves and recognised that, too often, those outstretched hands are designed to keep people at a remove – you are welcome, yes, but only ever as an outsider. 

First published in This Hostel Life, Skein Press, 2018. Anthologised in The Art of the Glimpse, Head of Zeus, 2020)

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