Ikechi

by Jay Merill Read author interview June 23, 2014

I’m walking on air and will try to tell you how it happened: Long story.

Used to think I was Mickey Mouse. When I was six years old I mean and I lived in Kano, Nigeria. After my ma died I started behaving cartoon-like. The dust in Kano used to make me wheeze but whenever I had enough breath in me I’d go leaping across the furniture, using a funny voice. Everybody said I was a natural. But it was the unnatural which I craved. It felt a safer way to be. You couldn’t just fall down one day spluttering, coughing up blood; you couldn’t stop breathing.

Yes, I felt better about my life when I was being Mickey. Didn’t know exactly what I wanted but I knew what I didn’t want. Death, and also Dust. The second can lead to the first if it chokes you. Mickey was the enemy of both. He was all bright colours and zippy action and he could breathe easy. Mickey Mouse was happy because he was always smiling and so it made me see I could be happy too. Which was fine for when I was a kid. But then I grew up. I came to Britain to get away from dust and memories and then I met up with Sandra, got married, got divorced.

And, on the cartoon front, I moved on to Shrek. Shrek smiles all the time as well so it was a sideways shift. But it’s a smile that knows stuff. The shiny green face has a grown up kind of happiness.

I have a kid, Tommy, and he can’t stand Shrek, or anyways, that’s what Sandra my ex tells me when I goes round hers at the Elephant and she’s angry because I’ve nothing to give. Sandra’s Tommy’s mum and I used to see them every week. But I don’t go now. I wish I could but truth is Sandra’s met somebody real. Not like me who was never real enough. Well that’s what Sandra says and now I don’t have the strength to argue. I feel all the weight is concentrated on their side, and me, I need to rise above it or I’ll sink. I’m glad she’s happy, though when I say this I get that choked-up feeling.

I couldn’t hold a job down was the trouble. Would start to wheeze as bad as in the Kano days. I’m useless, Sandra’s right. She threw me out saying she’d had enough. I found a flatshare near the Oval but things got even worse. The asthma took me bad and even the inhaler didn’t work. In the end I wasn’t even able to get up out of bed. I watched Shrek movies till kingdom come. Couldn’t pay me rent; no job on horizon. It was out to the street. Finished.

But just at the crisis point there was a saviour. It was Shrek to the rescue, will you believe. How it happened was I met this guy Trev. We got talking and I kind of admitted to him I was feeling low about things and not sure which way to turn. What would happen to me if I couldn’t hold onto any job; if a job made me cough as bad as a cloud of dust? Guy asks me what I like and that and I’m a bit stumped at first, as I can’t think of anything. Which shows in itself how low I’d got. “Only Shrek,” I tell him and this Trev says, without a blink. “Well, why not be him, then.” He’s got some mates who’re into making latex face masks and he just knows they could do me one of Shrek. And then I could be a Shrek impersonator in Trafalgar Square. That was it. Sorted. I saw my whole life stretch before me as a tender dream.

Got the mask; got a frame. Frame goes under mat on ground with pole at one end. I stand on perch coupla feet up, well out of the way of pavement dust, wearing a cloak so’s nobody can see how I’m connected. Tourists come by and laugh, give me a quid to take a photo. I’m walking on air.

About the Author:

Jay Merill is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize with her story "As Birds Fly," which is now included in the Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013. Her two recent short story collections, (both Salt), were nominated for the Frank O'Connor Award. Jay has an award from the Arts Council England and is writer in residence at Women in Publishing.

About the Artist:

Stevie London is an award-winning London-based painter who has attended many different art colleges but is mainly self-taught. His figurative oils on canvas, drawings and etchings are largely concerned with mood and atmosphere. They are in many European private collections and can be seen on www.stevielondon.com.