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Bijihuanu

by Hannah Storm

'You are Bijihuanu'. His mother gifts you this title, with the geometric terracotta and black skirt of his people. 'It means Sparky', he says, and you marvel at what she has bestowed. In Shipibo, his name means born in a boat and you imagine him slipping from her, lithe as the anaconda stitched into the geography of his childhood and the geometry of your skirt. He unravels it, the fabric and the fables, until you are both naked beneath the Amazonian sky. Now he plucks leaves from heaven-grazing trees, pours vinegar and water into the poultice and places it to your lips. You wait for the bitterness, but there’s only the sweet taste of something foreign but familiar. Ayahuasca he chants, a perfect Peruvian lullaby: Ayahuasca. There are other words too in this sacred hymn he calls Icaros, and you recall that myth of a man who flew too close to the sun. But this man will never burn you. His eyes are deeper than the river, where you want to plunge your hungry soul. You follow him to the water’s edge and bathe in the memory of somewhere you have never been. 'Bijihuanu', he whispers, the heavens humming with the sounds of his Amazon home. 'Bijihuanu', he repeats, and you call his name. The jungle listens and answers: cries and moans, half human screeches in the dark, the hush, hush of water lapping and somewhere out there life beginning and ending on this endless river. You imagine the infant in the boat, now the man clinging to you as if he might drown in your being. In the dark, the walls of his world are mapped on your eyelids, a heaven of stars brighter than you have ever seen. And you know this is what your name means. You fall asleep now in his arms, and dream of the Amazon stroking your skin, an anaconda wrapping itself around you, and a baby unfurling like a fern from the forest.

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Hannah Storm has been a journalist for 20 years, travelling the world, witnessing war and disaster, love, loss and more of life than she could ever have imagined. She writes to pay tribute to the people she has met and the places she has been, and is currently working on her first novel as well as a flash collection.  Hannah has been published in Atticus Review, Barren Mag, Bending Genres, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Cabinet of Heed, Storgy and others and has been shortlisted in several competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Retreat West and Flash 500. She lives in the UK with her Kiwi husband and juggles writing with her media work, motherhood and marathon running.

Judge's comment: Beautiful writing with a scene that gets under your skin and stays there. Poetic and sensual, with surprising turns in descriptions such as this: ‘You follow him to the water’s edge and bathe in the memory of somewhere you have never been.’ The use of second person adds even more intimacy to the scene. This may be mistaken for a story, even fiction, rather than a travel story, but it feels like a travel piece because it takes the reader to this place: we learn of customs around clothing, language and folklore. The detail of the anaconda woven into the skirt, and the way this theme returns to haunt us near the end, is very well done. We peer into this intimate scene and can feel the jungle surrounding us, see the stars in the heavens above. A thorough capture of a place, and the feeling of being there. A trip, indeed, to remember.

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