Memah Lemon

Memah Lemon

A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

I thanked the gods for keeping my mother busy with preparing our evening meal.

Guloc Village.
Early spring.
A hundred years following the massacre of the Guloc River.

1. Memah Lemon

Curled quietly in the safe shadows of our attic, I thanked the gods for keeping my mother busy with preparing our evening meal. But I had to withdraw my thanks minutes later because there she was, dragging her breath as she set one foot after the other on the creaking steps. I wasn't angry. Perhaps Tambier, the mighty god of the river, had been making his own supper at the time I said my prayer.

“Beya!” she thundered at the base of the staircase, “Where will you run from me? Do you think I can’t reach you, you insolent boy? Come down here at once - I am so very--I mean what I say and I WILL, by the Gods-”

“No!” I wanted to bark at her, but my voice snapped like a dry branch of wood. This was natural, because I was becoming a man. My older brother, Lumio, had reassured me that these changes were necessary and that I oughtn't feel embarrassed. 

My mother’s back straightened. Her fists clenched at her sides, she took a small breath and stomped up the stairs. She tried to mimic my father’s walk, but it was not scary. She liked to think that it was.

I already knew she would try to lock me in the darkness, but she would have to hear me first. So I slipped my foot beneath the wooden door and I wrestled with her at the entrance.
She was already huffing and puffing tiredly even though we haven’t even started, “How many times,” she scolded, “How many times has this happened- Beya, get your hands- Move away from the door.” 

“I don’t want to!” I stared at her with pursed lips. She pushed and I pushed.

“Memah Yoranda is leaving our village today! And you make your best efforts to embarrass me!" 


But that woman was not worthy of the proper title for an elderly woman. Even Zahra, the small grey widow who occassionally chased me out of her garden with a broomstick deserved it more than she did.

“Her name is Memah Sour Lemon.” My mouth twisted at the word sour, as if I had actually tasted it. I struggled at the door with a groan, “And I’m happy to see her go away! May she never ever return to Guloc!” 

My mother’s mouth opened and closed.
“Boy!” she bellowed.
I flinched but still I stood my ground at first.

Her face burned red and her eyes grew claws that stretched to seize me. Fearing for the safety of my ears, I let her win at the door and like a spider, I retreated in the dark room.

“I don’t want to see that memah- don’t want to listen to her speeches." I retorted, "She’s such a hateful, wrinkled, old lemon.” 

Earlier in the afternoon, when all the young girls and the memahs of the village were gathered around Memah Yoranda, listening to her reminisce the days of the war, when she and her family were forced to march to the slaughter grounds, I was the first, and I say this proudly, the first to snatch her yellow handkerchief from the biscuit table and hand it to her with some water. 

Memah Yoranda was over a hundred years old. One of the few Ulian survivors of the tragic massacre that dyed the banks of our river with crimson red. The Guloc river was a half-hour brisk walk away from home. The shape of her silver eyebrows as she cried would make anyone’s heart break. But a few minutes passed and she regained her strength. Her face turned into a shriveled lemon fruit similar to those that grew in my uncle's orchard before his house burned down. Memah Yoranda struck a fist into her palm and wished death upon our ancestors who had been dead for at least sixty-five years. 

Because of this, I regretted being so polite with her and I quietly slipped out from the back door. I didn’t even search for my sandals. And I could not describe in words, the delight of running on my bare feet, further and further away from the redemption room. Would you laugh if I told you Yoranda meant 'the forgiving one'? Who named her, I wondered!

Had the sun stayed a little longer in the sky, I would not have returned home so soon. But Guloc was surrounded by a thick woodland of pine and oak. In the daylight, we would play or sleep under the large, bright-leaved oak trees. We bathed in the river and caught fish with our fathers. But in the night, the forest was a terrible dream. A cradle for evil legends and curses; boy-eating wolves and river maidens whom Kofe, the poet had admired in his books. He praised their large dark eyes, sweet mouths, and bell-shaped breasts. When I confessed to Lumio I would like to see one and compare her beauty to the picture in the poet's imagination, he laughed and told me that the poet was a liar. That no one had seen a river maiden and lived to tell the tale. With their lovely hands laced with bracelets of smooth dawn-pink and sky-blue pearls, they would drag you by the ankles and drown you forever. 

At eleven-years of age, I belatedly made one life-changing discovery: that I loved my parents dearly, but our world was actually nothing similar to what they had taught me it was.  

I sat in the corner of the punishment room and my mother stood by the door. Her shoulders drooped and with a sigh, she came to sit with me. Her tall shadow as she walked toward me was ugly like that of the Greedy Crow in the songs we sang around the fire, but my mother did not notice this.  As I had expected, her heart ached at the sight of me; crimped in a room with no light, like a field mouse caught in a snare. I made sure to bend my knees and hug them to my chest, for dramatic effect. 

"Have you been near the Mad Herbalist's hut?" 

"No." I mumbled against my knees.

“Good.” she gently sighed, “Beya, you ought to be thankful I was the one who hunted you down and not your father. Tell me why you disappeared when all the boys your age sat and listened. With appropriate respect and remorse.”

“Because,” I reasoned drawing with my finger shapes in the dust, “it was my great grandfather and his friends who turned Memah Lemon into a sour lemon. It wasn't me.”
“But can’t you see, son,” my mother’s eyes sadly fell at my wrists, and with her finger, she traced a faded vein, “Your great Obi’s blood runs right about here. Inside of you.”

“But I never banished the people of Ulia from their homes. And I didn’t butcher them and throw their corpses into the river!” I huffed a breath and strained to make my words strong, "I don't understand--"

“Still, we must seek forgiveness. All of us.” My mother nodded with closed eyes.

"But Memah and Obi used to say that the war -" 

"Shush, Beya!" her eyes opened sternly again, "Do not waste the names of your grandparents on blood-stained arguments. They are at the mercy of the gods now." With her hand on her heart, she locked her eyes with mine and murmured, “When will you grow as tall as my hopes and learn to redeem yourself as you should, hm?”

She lightly gathered strands of my hair behind my ears and the rigidness in my throat returned.

“Until when?” I finally asked, “When will the persecuted ones forgive us?”

“Well, it's-” she shifted on the ground beside me and smoothed the folds of her dress, “Nobody knows, Beya, but maybe…maybe,” she shrugged, “Maybe your grandchildren will be fortunate enough to live in an age of harmony, when the house of Ayar and the house of Ulia treat one another like neighbors, friends and equals even.”

Her eyes glinted in the new lamp light streaming from the hallway. A shiver ran beneath my skin. I did not know why at that moment, but it was not the coolness of a spring night.

We hadn’t noticed until a moment later that the one holding the lamp was Lumio. He had been standing by the doorway for a few moments, like a slinking phantom. His shadow exceeded our mother’s and when he’s hungry and tired, he resembled our father, only taller and grouchier.

“Mother,” he said, “What’s happening?”

“Brother!” I shouted eagerly and scrambled to stand on my feet, but my mother grasped my wrist in her hand. I had the strength to shake her off, but I did not want her to feel weak or defeated.

“You sit back down!” she fired at me before turning to Lumio and with a softer, more apologetic tone explained, “Welcome home, son. It's nothing out of the ordinary, really. Your wolf brother ran away again, that’s what happened.” she uttered 'wolf' with hotter vehemence than the rest of the words. And she did not need to elaborate that I was denied to sit at the family table.

“No, no. Not now. It’s time for dinner.” he signaled us to stand in a dull tone, “Father’s waiting.”

“But Lumio-” my mother courteously protested.

“Ay, mother, dear.” my brother sighed, “We either dine together or I sleep hungry. Choose whichever brings you joy.” Silence. I grinned, secretly nodding at him.

“Come, Beya.” my brother stretched out his hand and I gasped in relief, escaping my mother’s shadow and taking shelter in Lumio’s. The light of the oil lamp reflected in his brown eyes as he glanced at me and I understood instantly: he had stories to tell!

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

Author's Note

critics and reviewers are my honored guests.

My Review

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I'm very glad I came across this! Amazingly written with wonderful details. Colorful and written with heart, too. It's a story I'm very excited to follow, and the dialogue is wonderful as well! The characters already pull you in and are very interesting this early in the story. I'm very excited to read more!

Posted 3 Months Ago

• Guloc Village.
Early spring.
A hundred years following the massacre of the Guloc River.

None of this is necessary. If it’s early spring have someone take a breath and enjoy the scent of spring. The name of the village is tells the reader nothing because it could refer to a tribal village in 1800’s Africa or a place like Greenwich Village in New York. So lacking context, this isn’t the place to name it.

And learning that an unknown massacre of unknown people, by unknown people, for unknown reasons, took place 100 years before an unknown date serves only to confuse the reader.

Keep in mind that our goal is, as E. L. Doctorow put it, “to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” And one critical part of that is that the reader must have context as they read.

• Curled quietly in the safe shadows of our attic, I thanked the gods for keeping my mother busy with preparing our evening meal.

Not a bad opening line, but as a reader I have no idea of what a “safe shadow” is. And given that at this point my protagonist could be 5 or 50, male or female, knowing what would be happening were the mother not busy with dinner, the reader has no context.

• But I had to withdraw my thanks minutes later because there she was, dragging her breath as she set one foot after the other on the creaking steps.

To you, who knows the protagonist and his or her backstory, plus the situation, this makes perfect sense. How long has this person been there? Dunno. Why is s/he there? Unknown. Why did this person believe the mother was working on diner? No idea of why, or even what time it is. So to a reader, I don’t know where I am in time or space; I don’t know what’s going on; and, I don’t know whose skin I wear. Lacking that, how can the words have meaning for me?

• I wasn't angry.

This person also wasn’t sweating, wasn’t drooling, wasn’t farting…the list in endless. Why tell the reader what’s NOT happening? Unless we know why this unknown person should be expected to be angry, why are we interested in knowing that they’re not?

My point is that to you, who already know so much of the story, as you read this makes perfect sense. For you each line acts to a pointer to images, ideas. history, and more, all stored in your mind. But what about the reader? For them, each line acts to a pointer to images, ideas. history, and more, all stored in *YOUR* mind. But without you available to ask…

• “Beya!” she thundered at the base of the staircase, “Where will you run from me? Do you think I can’t reach you, you insolent boy?

Did you edit this? Here, she’s at the base of the steps, calling out. In the previous paragraph she was climbing the stairs.

• Come down here at once - I am so very--I mean what I say and I WILL, by the Gods-

Here we have a critical point: What you’re doing is transcribing yourself telling the story aloud. But verbal storytelling is a performance art. How you tell the story—your visual and auditory performance—matters as much as much as what you say. So...when you read these words they’re filled with emotion you would place in them. There’s anger, exasperation, and more in the mother’s voice. When anyone else reads them they’re lacking emotion. I strongly urge you to have your computer read the line, and the story, to you, to hear how different what the reader gets is from what you hear as you read.

• My mother’s back straightened. Her fists clenched at her sides,

Another critical point: She’s at the base of the stairs and he’s on the floor of the attic, so he can’t know any of this.

• So I slipped my foot beneath the wooden door and I wrestled with her at the entrance.

It appears that you posted this without editing. Here, you say he wrestled with her. But the next line says, “even though we haven’t even started,” (and should have a period, and should be in past tense)

• “Memah Yoranda is leaving our village today! And you make your best efforts to embarrass me!"

Okay, I am officially lost. Having no idea of what has gone before, and given that this appears to be chapter 1, I have no idea of how our protagonist could have “embarrassed his mother.” So we have a boy who is hiding for unknown reasons, a mother who is angry at him for unknown reasons, and zero knowledge of his mental state, his short-term scene-goal, or anything meaningful so far as his mind-state. He has had no thoughts, evaluated nothing, And, according to the text, is about to assault his mother, who is so out of shape she's winded by climbing a flight of stairs.

What would make a reader care about him? He goes on to call an unknown woman woman names for no reason the reader knows. Are they good reasons? No way to tell, but his mother doesn’t think so.

My point is that this works for you because you can hear the emotion in the voices of the characters, and know why it’s there. You, and only you, can hear and visualize your performance, which is why we cannot use the skills of storytelling in a medium that reproduces neither sound nor vision.

For fiction on the page you need the skills the pros take for granted—skills that aren’t mentioned as existing in our school days, because professions—and ours is a profession—are acquired in addition to the general skills we’re given to make us useful to our future employers.

All your life you’ve been choosing fiction created with those professional techniques. You don’t see and learn those skills by reading, any more than we learn to cook by eating. But you expect to see the result of using those skills in what you read—as your reader expects to see them in your writing.

The fix? Simple. Add the skills of the profession to the nonfiction skills and storytelling skills you now own. They make the act of writing more fun, and help prevent all the problems I mentioned.

Of course, the words simple and easy aren’t interchangeable. And it’s a lot more than a list of, “Do this instead of that.” But no profession is easy to learn. So it’s not a big deal.

To help, I’ve found a site that provides free copies of the best book I’ve found on the basics of giving wings to your words, so grab a copy before they change their mind. It’s the book that got me my first publishing contract, and perhaps it can be yours.

Certainly, it’s worth a look. So dig in. And while you do, hang in there, and keep on writing.

You did ask… 🤪

Jay Greenstein

Posted 7 Months Ago


7 Months Ago

As soon as I read your review, I started telling everyone: my most challenging critic for more than .. read more
Really good, the opening grabs the reader and makes us wonder where you are taking us. Great opening .

Posted 7 Months Ago


7 Months Ago

Cherrie, thank you for the uplifting review! I would be delighted if you read the rest of the chapte.. read more
What a lively compelling story told with pure professional talent! I'm reading Sejal Badani right now & I love noticing the cultural parallels between you & her, plus it's so interesting to me, an American, to see how much tradition plays a role in almost every interaction! But I have to say, your writing is twice as interesting as the book I'm reading. One difference is that in the book, the cultural references seem to be stated as asides, like taking a time-out from the forward movement of the story to explain or emphasize . . . by comparison, your cultural references are all fully integrated into your story (show instead of tell) so it doesn't feel like you are "explaining" in a self-conscious way, as this other author feels sometimes. Anyway, your work is every bit as good & much better in many ways than a well-promoted book seller of thousands of books at Amazon.

Sorry I've been too scattered to tackle a book here at the cafe lately. When I read a book at the cafe, I analyze as I'm reading, remembering points I want to make, so it takes a functional mind, which mine often fails to be! But now that I've started this, I will keep going becuz your top-notch writing compels it (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 7 Months Ago


7 Months Ago

your review painted a smile on my face. I enjoyed writing this book and a piece of m.. read more
This was very enthralling. I like how it was full of colorful metaphors, too.

Posted 7 Months Ago


7 Months Ago

Thank you for the kind review! I hope you like the rest of the story.
Well well! What a delightful first chapter! A lot of history, names and stories to parse through and I can't wait! Impatiently waiting for the next one.


Posted 7 Months Ago

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7 Months Ago

Thank you for the sunny review. :) I hope you like the story.

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6 Reviews
Added on December 5, 2020
Last Updated on December 11, 2020
Tags: poem, poetry, love, romance, dawn, meadow, nature, story, poet, writing, writer, write



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