A Collection of Stones

Gavin Tierney

In Nigeria, Islamic law states any unmarried couple who commits a sexual act will be punished by beating. But if the woman is or has been married then her punishment will be death by stoning.

In 2001 a divorced woman in Nigeria was raped by a man in the bush. Later, when pregnancy began to show, the man involved denied everything and the woman was sentenced to death.


It was not the way the sun went down, though it sped away faster than it had ever before, never to return. It was not the rumors, nor the stories.

They were told and would be told. Waiting to be picked and planted, harvested and washed away. It was not the memories. A barrel full. Enough to last a lifetime. And me standing over, stirring. Dipping in my ladle (and the taste was bitter). And though I kept my ladle full, the sweet memories always sank to the bottom.

Maybe it was the memories. A handful of memories. A handful of stones. Only the prettiest for a summer’s day and a five-year-old girl. I would line them up. A parade, all shapes and sizes, all purple and red and white and green. Side by side.

Show me the prettiest, my friend Midari would say.

Pick out the prettiest. I would say to myself. Not the red one, it’s too flat. Not the large gray one, there’s not enough color. Not the yellow one or green one.

Can’t you just pick one? Purple and red. I would hold up the rock. Into the fever of the sun. And the rocks held the sun.

Cold and wet. And holding the sun. Midari and I had found the prettiest ones and we put them outside. Next to the house. All lined up. Purple and red. Cold and wet. Being judged and judging.

And in the mornings I would run outside to look at my cold rocks in a line.

Maybe they didn’t collect the sunlight after all.

Maybe that was a song.

And how we would sing that song again and again. Sitting next to the house in the sunlight. Midari and I facing each other.

Let’s sing our favorite, she would say. Of course we both knew. The one about the sun and the purple rocks you could find in the harvesting fields. Sitting and singing. We soaked up the sun. And sang a different song. One without meaning or color. One that didn’t sparkle when you held it up to the sun.

Together we would sing that song again and again and only once did I ever forget the words.

Or was that in prayer?

Sitting along side my mother, my aunts, and my sisters. All lined up in a row. The candles all purple and red. And mother all dressed in white. She was always the prettiest. Even more than Auntie Suraku, whose hands were always cold. And though I prayed, all the words came out wrong. It was only that once I promise.

You’re destined for trouble. Later my aunt would say. Looking down at me, with her hands as cold as rocks and her songs dull and meaningless. I sat in the corner, alone and destined for trouble, repeating the words. The words I had forgotten and can still remember to this day.

And later, when it was time for bed I lay down and cried to myself.

Or maybe I didn’t cry that night.

Perhaps that was the time I fell down during a race. We stood side by side, Midari and I. And we ran. And I was winning. All the way home we would run. So fast we were only streaks of color. Purple and red. Running too fast to sing, too fast to be judged. Faster than the sun we were. Then I tripped and fell to the cold ground. As Midari ran off, I sat alone and cried. And as I walked home alone. And as the sun was going down. And when I got home. I cried.

Or maybe that was my wedding day.

Or maybe that was the day he left.

Or maybe that was the day I returned home.

Or maybe that was the day I sat beaten and raped in the field.

Or maybe that was the day I was sentenced.

Or maybe that was yesterday.

Or maybe that was today.

And the memories floated to the top. And I scooped them out and sang a song and said a prayer and held a rock in my hand. Purple and red and warm. Like the sun.

Or maybe there was nothing in my hand. And maybe there were only children outside picking up all the rocks. Not the prettiest. Not the warmest. Not the ones all purple and red.

They have to be the size of your hand. I heard one say. The size of your hand.

No, it was not the way the sun went down, and would never go down again. It was not the way I could not remember the words to songs and prayers, and would never remember again. It was not the memories, like rocks vanishing from my hands. Gray and cold.

It was the children. Collecting stones. Beating down on me like the sun.


“I have been writing since the age of eleven and have participated in a handful of post graduate writing classes and workshops at CU Boulder and Lighthouse. My writing has been published in WordRiot, Cross Currents, Icetongue, The Circle, and The Boston Phoenix. I have also been a part of a small writing group that has met weekly for over four years.” E-mail: gpw_tierney[at]hotmail.com.

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