Author, Scrabbler, Traveler

I viewed this era of COVID with anger and disdain; for the fear and anxiety driven into us by the 24 hour news media and our governments. That was until I saw the drawing by Banksy given last week to Southampton Hospital as a thank you to its staff. I cried immediately when I saw it.

The drawing portrayed a boy in dungarees ,on his knees, holding a toy nurse in his hand, like an aeroplane. The nurse has a red cross painted on her uniform , her cape flies behind her turning her into an angel. To the side of the boy lies a wire-netting waste bin full of action heroes – Batman, Superman etc.

The message hit me viscerally. I had no explanation save, to me, it was a masterpiece depicting, in one scene, the horror, and the waste of COVID rescued by the miracle of compassion displayed by those who work each day solely to save us.

What does it have to do with my writing? Everything.

Artwork by Banksy

Illustration by Wes Pohl

Banksy pays tribute to ‘superhero’ nurses in new piece donated to hospital. Emil contemplates how art can make a statement, and feels both encouraged and overwhelmed as to whether his own work might one day deliver such a message.

The books I write are a patchwork quilt of individual stories, labelled as chapters. Within each short story (“chapter”) a mini plot is developed and turned into a conclusion drawn at the end. There is little room for latitude to waste words.

Banksy does this in such little space with total genius.

“What are you really trying to say?” my editor asks me, every time I send her a draft.

In “Chasing Aphrodite“, the protagonist returns home to East Africa after an absence of decades. Everywhere he goes he sees destruction , dirt and disease. Every store, shop or person he remembered has been uprooted. He hurries back to his hotel overwhelmed:

“As he ran out of the courtyard, something brushed his thigh. He instinctively raised his hand to swat what he thought was a mosquito. As he turned to look, he was horror struck. It was a little African leper girl, barely clothed in a ragged kitenge1, faded with age and covered in mud. Her arms and legs had been eaten away. Only her torso remained. She had white discolorations across her body and especially at the stumps that had been her limbs. It was the stumps that had gently brushed against him. He stared at her helplessly.”

The limbless girl was as graphic as Banksy’s nurse. But just as the nurse symbolized a message beyond the character portrayed, my girl symbolized the whole of Africa as I saw it then – fetid and decayed.

Banksy called his piece ” Game Changer”. I hope someday, someone will say the same of my work.

(1) Kitenge or chitenge is an East African, West African and Central African fabric similar to a sarong.