by Anna Pembroke


The boy who stabbed me with a compass has a name that means father of a horse. I can still feel it under my tongue, circular, marbled, and when I cough it rolls around the dampness of my cheek and clicks against my teeth. If I bit the name, it would crack a molar.

The boy who stabbed me with a compass has no father. I find this out when I’m sitting under a palm tree eating salami sandwiches while my only friend picks at a tupperware of fried plantain. His father died in a helicopter crash, she says, mimicking a spiralling vessel with her left hand. When her fingers land on her lap she clenches her fist then releases it in an explosion. When, I ask. She shrugs. Did you know your salami is haram, she says, and the conversation moves on. I watch the boy kick a football into the goal, dust rushing in its wake, and imagine what it’s like to have no father.

The boy who stabbed me with a compass prays five times a day. As our car pulls out from the school gates on a Friday, the muzzein warbling the adhan for jum’ah, I watch him remove his shoes and place them on a rack. An older man clips him on the back of the head, and he shrinks back before disappearing into the mosque. I see him later while wandering through Wuse Market with my father. We catch eyes near the meat stalls, where blood sluices down a central drain, mingling with the heat to create a thick iron smell. Carcasses are splayed on plastic tables as men with cleavers hack at their limbs. The ragged stump of a goat’s neck drips into the dirt. I see him, and the lumps of flesh, and think of a body studded with shards of burning shrapnel.

The boy stabs me with a compass in the middle of a numeracy lesson. I have just demonstrated how to balance an equation on the whiteboard, wielding the marker with a confidence he finds offensive. He grabs my hand and pins it down, slamming the tip into my palm. Blood pools from the wound and I start to cry, gagging on my tears as I run out of the room. I hold my forehead against the headmaster’s stomach, wrapping my arms around him and staining his blue shirt. Later, in the office, when the headmaster asks what happened, the boy leans into his chair and crosses his arms with a smirk. His mother, hair coiled in complex circles that accentuate her high cheekbones, smiles disarmingly and leans forward. This girl is racist. My parents rise, outraged. I don’t really know what that means, but it doesn’t feel good. I have never had my identity weaponized against me before. I step out of the school gates with my freckled cheeks burning. Racist. It’s sour, corrosive, stripping the skin from the roof of my mouth like acid.

The boys whisper about me in the playground. The other girls avoid me, following their lead. Crazy oyinbo, dis girl wahala. They fling around words they’ve heard from their older brothers, bitch and slut and whore. My friend turns from me when I call her name, so I eat my packed lunch alone in the library. A year later, I leave this country for the last time to return to a homeland I have never lived in. The peach-pink scar still sits between my lifelines: a reminder of the fatherless boy who spat every word except that of grief.


Anna Pembroke is a writer and English teacher based in London, England. Raised in South Africa and Nigeria, she taught in Malaysia for a year before beginning a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at the Open University. She spent the Fall 2018 semester at the Aegean Center in Paros, Greece, studying creative writing and photography. Previous work can be found in Milk Candy Review, Ellipsis Zine and Messy Misfits Club. Find her on Twitter @annaisediting.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Mo”?

‘Mo’ explores the relationship between two children based in Abuja, and is loosely based on my time growing up in Nigeria. Although there are situational similarities, these characters are an amalgamation of people, stories, and emotions: much of the drafting process involved compressing the narrative to its smallest form as I experimented with the concept of ‘snapshot’ recollection and – more broadly- the idea of fragmentation as inherent to memory.


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • Eric Steineger
08/05 • Baylee Less-Eiseman
08/12 • Rae Gourmand
08/19 • Chiwenite Onyekwelu
08/26 • John Arthur
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