It’s Caine Prize season again! Before the judges’ announcement on 4th July, we’re having a look at each of the shortlisted stories. This week, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva reviews Abdul Adan’s “The Lifebloom Gift.”
AiW Guest: Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
“The Lifebloom Gift” will be remembered as one of the Caine Prize’s most memorable and highly original stories. It is written by the Somali-born author, Abdul Adan, who takes creative risks that pay off. There is nothing excessive about the story; it is neatly packaged and explores sexual and mental variances with such skill.
Written in the first person and set mainly in St. Louis, U.S.A, “The Lifebloom Gift” is a narrative of human complexity without being too obvious. Adan selects strong characters to share a powerful and believable tale. Who in their lifetime would not want to meet the quirky, honest embodiment of love, Ted Lifebloom, whose character frames the story? Ted is a 30-year-old man who has a special gift that, although it could be described as incestuous or highly odd, leaves the reader with the enviable feeling that life should be embodied with the fearlessness of love and nothing else.
Ted’s special condition, which the narrator eventually comes to share, is one where his sense of touch is heightened to the extent where, if he can’t touch something, it doesn’t exist. Celestial objects like the sun, moon and stars therefore do not exist in Ted’s world. While we may be drawn to pity him, Ted also has a deeply unapologetic sense of self that compensates for his limitations. As a child, in order to feel close to his parents, Ted reaches under his mother’s and father’s clothes and touches either his mother’s chest or another part of his father’s bare body. His hands “settle” there and it is this “settling,” as the narrator puts it, that plays a central role in the story.
Indeed, while mostly Ted finds his place of comfort, the narrator is fired from his airport job for the same reason of “settling.” His boss at TSA interprets Ted’s stroking of a passenger’s leg mole during frisking–the narrator’s attempt to stimulate the man’s own “lifebloom gift”–as an act of sexual deviation. Digging further into the mysteries of “settling,” the narrator researches into the lives of several others who have Ted’s unusual talents of connecting with people and moving them, including an elderly man in a nursing home.
The narrator gently explores the challenges of slothfulness and obesity through Ted’s life; without a certain amount of self-will and physical activity, there are dangers we can bring upon ourselves. However, Ted is multi-dimensional and not just one thing, as all humans are. Abdul Adan is a risk-taker: he writes with a razor-cutting precision and admirable creativity. It would be a pleasure to read more of his writing.
Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva is from Uganda and is a public speaking trainer, poet, editor, actress, leadership trainer, events manager, children’s facilitator, a long-distance swimmer and founder of the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation. She holds a Distinction in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, which she received in 2012. Her creative works have appeared in Wasafiri, The Kalahari Review, Prairie Schooner, Drumvoices Revue, Kwani?, Lawino and others. Beverley was Uganda’s 2014 BBC Commonwealth Games poet. Her desire is to travel to every country in the world before she turns 70.
Abdul Adan is a Somali writer based in the United States. His work has been published in Kwani?, Jungle Jim, Gambit, Okike, Storytime, SCARF and elsewhere. He is a founding member of the pan-African writers’ collective Jalada.