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The short story in which single women go naked

Caine Prize shortlist: Skinned by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Lesley Nneka Arimah
Caine Prize
Lesley Nneka Arimah now lives in Las Vegas and is working on a novel

Lesley Nneka Arimah is one of five authors nominated for this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing, which will announce the winner next Monday.

Born in the UK, Arimah grew up in Nigeria and has been nominated for her story Skinned, which follows the fortunes of Ejem, who comes from a culture where girls are uncovered at a certain age and go naked until they are claimed by a husband.

The 36-year-old told the Literary Hub that the idea came from a conversation about the difference between married and single women in Nigeria: “A newly wed friend marvelled at how her family - usually difficult - became easy going after her wedding. Marriage gave unconventional women cover to be themselves, we observed.”

This is an extract from her short story:

She had cried when, at 15, her mother had come into her bedroom and, stroking her hair, told Ejem that it was time to remove her cloth. The only people who could get away with keeping their daughters covered for long were the wealthy, who often managed it until the girls could secure wife-cloth. But Ejem's father had grown up a poor man in a village where girls were disrobed as early as possible, some even at age ten, and it was beyond time as far as he was concerned. He knew what happened to the families of girls who stayed covered beyond their station, with the exception of girls bearing such deformities that they were permitted "community cloth" made from donated scraps. But if a girl like Ejem continued to be clothed, the town council would levy a tax that would double again and again until her father could not pay it. Then his girl would be disrobed in public, and her family shamed. No, he couldn't bear the humiliation. Things would happen on his terms."

You can click here to read the whole story, or listen to it here.

This week all five of the shortlisted authors will be featured on BBC Africa Live - and BBC Focus on Africa radio will have full coverage of the Caine Prize ceremony and winner, who will win £10,000 ($12,600).

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