Short Story Competition – First Place: Memories of Ma

We don’t like talking about mother.

People never bring her up around here. They don’t even whisper about her or what she did, and we don’t like to think about it neither. But that’s mother, not Ma. No one knew Ma like us. But you seem nice, we think, and you’ll be our first guest in years. It’s been a bit rough lately. We found out a few weeks back that sis died. We hadn’t heard from her in a long time, but it was still sad for us. But enough with the blues, come in, come in. It’s Ma you want to hear about.

It’s funny. After it all happened, there were dozens of reporters like you flocking around here. What was she like? They screamed. Tell us! Was your mother always so violent? Did she ever harm you too? This last question bugged us the most, ‘cause if people knew the truth, they’d know that our recollection of Ma, then and now, is not a painful one.

We don’t remember much from the earliest days, though who really does? We have various images and blurs from when we were little, fading in and out of perception. Our father’s hush, sis’s girlish squeal, Ma’s bright young smile. But what we can both agree on is this: our Ma’s eyes were always tired, even in the beginning. Deep lines beneath them, dark. No glimmer. But at that age we didn’t care to notice; they were the sparkling diamonds of the universe.

Back then, Ma was always caring to us and sis. We both have a memory of a day when she brought us to the playground off Hay Street. We were young: four, five, six maybe, though we’re not too sure. The climbing frame seemed a grand castle to us, the grass our emerald sea, and our Ma, the queen of the land. We have an image of us climbing the stairs, running foot by foot, then racing down the slide. It shone a bright yellow, and it twinkled in the sunlight. We slid down time and time again, and always at the bottom was our Ma, her arms outstretched and her face looking up with joy, getting bigger and bigger with our descent. Our father watched from the sidelines, but it was Ma who caught us, lifting our bodies up for hugs, the sand of the box swirling around us in a whirlwind rush. We’ve since visited that park. They’ve torn down the structure we once knew. The new one is slate and sterile and reminds us of burlap.

As the years went on and our numerical identities entered double digits, the voices of our parents began to rise, raging loudly, two great sonorous machines battling against each other’s power. But we didn’t hear the full blast of it, not then. The sounds were all muddled as if underwater, blocked by swinging doors, late nights beneath bed sheets, pats on the head, and Ma’s hushed voice: “don’t worry sweetie, mommy and daddy are just fighting right now.” But real quickly, that turned into “don’t worry sweetie, we won’t have to listen to daddy anymore.” On the final night, Ma’s hand grasped our wrists firmly, as if holding the handle of a fateful blade. A wild blur in the pale moonlight. An unfocused swipe past the rusty swing set that hung in our front yard. The seats were rocking back and forth, the wind was howling, and when the car door slammed shut, the bang vibrated off through the blackness of the world. But that’s how we remember that. It could have been a dull daytime for all we know.

The next few years were a tumult of moves in what we now call the “flurry of houses.” We drove around. Ma had managed to buy a rusty old bender, so we rode state to state, living in one place until we could afford to travel to the next. The car sprawled across the land, our Ma the scout, we her troop of rabbles, a great caravan of desert fellows trotting along. These were the best times, the most fun. The roads seemed to grow, creeping outwards like the tentacles of some great beast. We were getting into our teens by then, sippin’ on sodas. And while you might think that “adolescence” warranted some rebellion on our part, the constant pick-me-ups forced us to stick with Ma. We remember her bringing home our first record player. It had been in the Westerway apartment. Ma had been so excited. We’d had little money, but she surprised us with a 45, Bill Haley and his Comets. That was our favourite, the comets shooting through our living room—so small it could have been a closet, but big enough for the four of us and the streaking stars. Streaks of dust climbed up the windows so we couldn’t see outside, but the music roared through us. We danced, Ma sang. When the chimes ring five, six, and seven/we’ll be right in seventh heaven. Good times these were, the best, when Ma was happy sis was happy we were happy.

It’s kind of funny. We don’t exactly remember the change, ‘cause it sure wasn’t sudden. This wasn’t no Hollywood trigger. Ma was getting a lot of sand in her eyes, ‘cause more and more we noticed that she was crying up, the salty tears grainy from the dirt, sticking to her leather skin, the folds on her cheeks like cloth. We remember her becoming less… we don’t know how to put it, friendly? “Please wash the mugs, kids, so we can get back to the music” went to “Wash! Now! Ma’s gotta work!” And the sleeping, we don’t know, we just remember a lot of it. By the time we were done with high school, and the songs of our youth were beginning to fade into the ground, Ma found a permanent job at a diner, not near the coast like she’d always wanted, but in a rotten nobody’s town, the same one we live in now. And then we went our separate ways. Sis got into this big university in the east, while we travelled around. We drove trucks, delivered mail, anything we could to keep moving. We didn’t want to let go as sis had. We tried to always be there for Ma, but you know. Life gets in the way sometimes.

We got the call soon after they invented cell phones, or at least soon after we got them. In a way, we weren’t surprised by what they told us, and at the same time, it was the greatest shock of all. Mother had been different for quite some time, and her actions could have just been a release, a downward whoosh of a knife cutting her agony apart. It’s hard to say, but we don’t like to think about that side of her. And whenever one of you reporters comes along, we always try to say the same thing, that our Ma was kind. So make sure you put that in whatever article you write, sir. Remember the music. Remember our Ma, not our mother.

By Nicholas Handfield-Jones


Short Story Competition – Second Place: The Fight Against Kilimani Eminence


 It’s a common thing really, leaving your dishes out for the night. “Ah, fuck it,” you think. “I’ll get it in the morning.” Except that when morning comes, you’re still a bit hungover and so you’ve missed your alarm. Those mugs still need to be washed, but when you get home that night and look at the stack of dishes in the sink, you resign yourself to a microwave dinner. Once the stench from fetid, standing water gets bad enough, the miniscule desire to clean that existed in the first place flies out the window, along with the flies. Now it’s too gross. You suffer from short-term amnesia: How did it get so bad? Who could have let this happen? What is that noise I hear? Why am I not wearing pants?

There is an evolutionary reason as to why humans must clean their surroundings (and wear pants), why we must purge the defiled and unsanitary from our midst – we cannot afford another Kilimani invasion. We remember the creatures only as shadows, figments, or spectres from our past. Their crimson exterior, formed from month-old tomatoes, are the “demons” that we’ve internalized and created entire faiths around in our prehistory. Historically, it was the appearance of the Kilimani that created the need for civilization in the first place – a sort of pact with the gods for eternal salvation. They have shaped our entire existence and given every surviving human a case of PTMD (Post-Traumatic Mess Disorder). Lest we remember what our psyche has forced us to repress, we run the risk of bringing them back. Cleanliness is next to Godliness for a reason; filth is where the Devil dwells.

In August of 2014, researchers and scholars from our Lost Indigenous Earthenware Squad unearthed a stone tablet, hidden away at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which depicts a great battle. One group, who have been identified by our team of scholars as the “Kilimani,” are depicted emerging from a heap of dead bodies and rotting food, while the opposing group appears to consist of nomadic hunter-gatherers, called the “Jaro,” who are arming themselves with early forms of sponges, brooms, and Lysol. The tablet presents multiple scenes, ranging from the initial invasion, to the coming of three great warriors out of the pantry (described merely as “7 minutes in heaven”), to the defeat of the invaders at the broom-wielding hands of the Jaro warriors. After the battle, the Jaro are seen to offer the Kilimani up as a sacrifice to afro-donning deities, codenamed JIMI. The people make a pact and the gods make love; to prevent another invasion, the Jaro will spend the rest of their days on this holy ground, devoting their life to the creation of soap. While the historical accuracy of this tablet has yet to be entirely confirmed by outside sources, and some have even claimed that the piece seems to be more akin to a child’s doodle rather than an ancient work of art, the importance of this relic to the history of humanity cannot be ignored.

All in all, the Kilimani have been proven (by our scholars, not theirs) to be the third leading killer in human history, behind only Religion (#1) and White Men (#2). For the last millennia, we have done well to protect ourselves against the foe. Thankfully, different warriors have emerged throughout the ages to keep up the fight, such as infirmaries, sewers, and Mr. Clean. Now, however, our global society is facing the threat of another invasion, this time brought on by our own apathy towards sanitation. As the world gets wealthier, the egotism of our “invincibility” grows along with our susceptibility. Total areas of the world devoted to garbage and waste rival that of a small country, and recently “trash demons” were spotted at the Sudokwon Landfill in South Korea (Jong-un, 2013). If Sudokwon comes under the control of the Kilimani, humanity will face its greatest threat yet (besides other humans, of course).

Therefore, we urge you to please follow these five, simple steps in your home to help combat the oncoming storm:

  1. Clean your dishes right away. No one wants to see your half-drunk café con leche from four days ago sitting atop an overflowing microwave. We know that it’s hard to get around to it when there’s a new “Orange is the New Black” on, but if you think Piper has it bad, wait until you’re in a Kilimani jail. Our recommendation: listen to the life lessons your mother has been trying to impart upon you for as long as you can remember, namely “Pick up your shit.” The Jaro didn’t devote their lives to making soap just so you could drop it in a prison shower.
  2. Take only what you need. Which option will produce less trash: (A) One slice of pizza or (B) The entire box of pizza, which you can’t finish? If you chose option A, we congratulate you. Next time, try using ingredients from your garden to make it homemade. They will be healthier, more sustainable, and you can finally show your parents how adult you are. If you chose option B, skip to Step 5.
  3. Stop pretending like nothing you do matters in the grand scheme of things. Three Jaro warriors saved humanity millennia ago, equipped merely with brooms and a righteous cause. What’s your excuse? Our recommendation: realize that you are the product of an infinite number of possibilities that have culminated into the survival of one specific sperm cell coupled with one specific egg until the present moment. Appreciate it.
  4. Arm yourself. In the event that the Kilimani do rise up, you will need to be prepared. Essential accouterment to the revolution will be AK-47s, colored bandanas, and bomb shelters. Remember, isolation is the key to survival; look at Atlantis – no one even knows where it is it’s so well prepared for the Kilimani’s return. Our recommendation: visit Compton, CA, or the Gaza Strip to stock up on all the latest supplies for urban warfare. There you’ll be sure to find such useful items as a power hegemony, prejudice, and segregation.
  5. Kill yourself. If you’re dead, you are automatically making less trash than someone who is living, and even if the Kilimani still invade, you won’t be around to experience it. Our recommendation: find somewhere isolated in nature to do the deed. Head out into the middle of the desert, ocean, or woods with a fifth of Jack Daniels and a full-blown case of self-loathing. Be sure to finish the bottle as quickly as you can in order to achieve the full, desired effect.

If you would like more information on the importance of hygiene and sanitation for the survival of the human race, please contact General Information for Vehement Existential Upsets and Problems at +1-666-FUTILITY (International).

This message has been brought to you by FILTH and paid for by the Fight Against Kilimani Eminence. Please wash the mugs.

By C. G. Huff

Short Story Competition – Shared Third Place: Adventure Awaits

A man uses magic to turn into a mighty lion, but something goes wrong and he turns into a domestic cat, and has to spend his remaining days as his arch nemesis’s pet. No. Three people lost at sea, one is a tiger… No. Stop it with the felines. Real people. Real problems. Drugs, hallucinating big blue laser-eyed… cats. NO.

“I need a break,” said the writer.


“Not now, Sancho. I can’t concentrate with you meowing away like that. A man can only get away with writing a certain amount of books about cats. I love you, you incredible moob, but I must away, adventure awaits!”


“No, you can’t come. I don’t need your rationalizing comments,” the writer said as he left the room, pretend horse riding down the corridor.

“Honey, I’m going out for a bit.”

“Won’t you please wash the mugs first?”

“Can’t that wait?” He yelled from the hall, still pretend horse riding in one place.

“Can you come into the room when we talk?” She was annoyed.

“Adventure awaits, my fair lady Dulcinea,” he replied, ignoring her annoyance, hoping it would go away.

“Whatever, but I’m not doing it.” He knew there were only about four mugs sitting in the sink, but instead of giving in to his lady’s commands, he left. He liked coming home to an angry wife, providing a tiny bit of passion in a relationship that had most of the love sucked out of it.

As he stepped outside the crisp January cold immediately cheered him up. It was a beautiful winter night, snow lightly falling down, melting within milliseconds of touching the pavement. There was no one on the street. Behind the windows he could see television sets flicker, and imagined families huddled up on beige couches. “Now that’s what I call quality time: the warmth of a human body, a cup of coffee, some Kiefer Sutherland to distract you from the fact that you have absolutely nothing to talk about,” the writer scoffed.

All the lampposts in the street were plastered with Missing posters. The writer ignored them at first, but after a while gave in to his curiosity. Mumu the cat had been missing for seven days. “Yeah, he’s dead,” the writer thought. Still, he couldn’t ignore the fact that once again, one of those pestering purr-machines had found him. He gave in. “Fucking cats,” he whispered to no one, as he decided to look around for Mumu.

After about half an hour of walking around, iPhone flashlight in hand, the writer started wondering what the hell he was doing. Just when he was about to turn around and go back to his castle, his lady, his squire, he heard a faint moaning coming from some bushes nearby. It didn’t sound like a cat, but the writer felt he needed to at least take a look. Maybe he was going crazy, but it sounded like someone was crying for…

“Help… Please.” A thin voice was definitely coming from the bushes. The writer shone his flashlight in its direction, and pushed some branches aside. There it was, a small, weather-beaten cat.

He looked to see if there was no one else around and whispered “did you just ask for help?”

“Those evil kids. I had to run away. They were so rough. They knew. They knew they were killing me. Is there no kind soul on this planet? They took me from my mother, took my name, forced me into a cage, mutilated me… down below.”

“We tend to do that. I guess we are kind of cruel,” the writer stammered.

“For decades we have tolerated it, kept silent, created a secret language. I will not put up with it any longer. Tomorrow we fight. All of us.” The cat sounded committed, was already regaining strength.

“And you need my help?”

“Did you really think we could change anything? Just us? We need a human, and I’ve chosen you.” Mumu got back on his paws and looked the writer straight in the eyes. The writer thought of Sancho. His sweet fat companion, had he really mistreated him so?

“I’ll help” he finally said.

“Thank you,” Mumu sounded sincere “now we need to rest. We need all the sleep we can get.” He lifted his paw, the writer shook it.

When the writer woke up, the sun was just shining its first light of the day. In his arms was the body of a lifeless kitten. It had been dead for a while, a day at least. Its body was cold and hard. The writer sighed, got up, and left the little cat near the bushes. He thought about bringing its body to the family it had belonged to, but couldn’t bring himself to ignore what he had imagined the night before. He walked home feeling hopeless, defeated. He thought to himself “If we look hard enough for an adventure, we will find it. But then we have to wake up. Adventures are for books, some say. Well, thank god I’m a writer.”

By Roos Schiffer

Short Story Competiton – Shared Third Place: Mark and Henry

As a professor of law, specialising in freedom of speech, Mark had concerned himself for the most part of his life with the weight of words. He felt strong about rhetoric, prose and text. They’d gotten into one of their quarrels over a frequently discussed topic that night.

– “I panicked baby, I didn’t know what to say”.

– “It’s not what you said Henry, it’s the way you said it”.

Henry could hear his calm, deep voice floating in from the bathroom door where Mark was shaving himself. In those five long beautiful years, Henry had never seen Mark lose his cool. They’d talk about their innermost feelings or painful childhood memories but Mark would always keep his composure. Henry enjoyed this because it had a calming effect on his temper. Even when they’d fight he could look at Mark and admire him, admire his posture and way of speaking. He could clearly love him through the fog of annoyance. For him, love was about this. Creating something sustainable, something enduring in a transitory reality. A feeling of pertaining to something essential, to a stable core around which the fast paced and ever changing world revolved. Mark always told him that the gravity of words was determined by their form. Once, when they had known each other for not so long, he’d read the introduction to one of Mark’s researchpapers. He could remember being greatly impressed by this first encounter with his intellect. The introduction had stuck with him ever since:

‘’As Jose Ortega y Gasset declared during the first half of this century: man is nothing but man and the circumstances. It seems then, that from this viewpoint words are no different from men. They are, after all, firstly and fore mostly determined by their form and context. Moreover, as the definition of human life starts with its material circumstances, (that is to say: with the absolute conditions in which it finds itself) this is also the case for the words we speak. Their shape and interpretation commences with the mouth that speaks them. This is what freedom of speech is about.

Probably without knowing it, Mark had just transmitted the same message to him while standing in the bathroom shaving himself. Henry sat down on the couch on the opposite side of the room so he could see Mark’s body and face in profile, standing in front of the mirror with his razor, carefully stroking the white cream off his neck. He went on in his steady voice:

– “You knew I had that meeting in my office today Henry.”

It seemed as if he pronounced his name extra slowly and expressly to make him feel his deception.

– “I know baby,” Henry responded with a hint of remorse in his voice, “I just wanted to pass by to say Hi and give you a quick kiss.”

He had never known about the meeting.

– “I know your intentions were good, but the way you entered and the way you said it. I mean, why would you come in my office and tell me to please wash the mugs like that? The tone of your voice just gave you straight away.”

Earlier that day, Henry had gone up to Mark’s office on the second floor where the law faculty was situated. He knew that it wasn’t a regular thing for an administrative clerk to go up to the offices of the faculty-staff but he hadn’t seen Mark for a week since his trip to Washington. When he had opened the door of Mark’s office with a generous smile on his face he had instantly realised he’d made a mistake. He’d found four slightly disturbed faces turning and looking at him. The only expression in the room that presented a different emotion was Mark’s which was one of controlled panic and surprise. In a millisecond Henry had realised he had to say something to his involuntary public to compensate for his unannounced entry. Without thinking much he had looked Mark in the eye and asked him if he could wash the used mugs that had accumulated in the kitchen of the faculty-staff. He had closed the door and returned down the corridor to the elevator. The nausea he knew so well had presented itself in his lower stomach and he had felt like going home and saying the words.

“It’s just that, you’ve been so busy lately and I missed you”, Henry told him. Mark stopped shaving himself when Henry was in mid-sentence. He turned to face him. They locked eyes. Mark did not have any clothes on. Henry knew that Mark had a weakness for weakness. Mark put down his razor and approached Henry without taking his eyes of his. When the embrace came, Henry could feel a tidal wave of warmth absorbing his anxiety over the day’s happenings. He breathed deeply and felt his body relaxing for the first time since he had entered Mark’s office. The tension relief was of such proportion that it came close to an orgasmic sensation. It was satisfaction withheld for so long that it made the contrary feel ever better. The tense elastic of dry scarcity finally released and catapulted into overflowing lavishness. His only respite.

– “I have to go now. They’re waiting.” Mark whispered into his ear while loosening his grip.

– “I know.” Henry stared at the ground and felt a tear rolling down his face.

When Henry entered his car it was like waking from a dream to find himself in a desert. His mouth tasted dry as the hands on the wheel led him home.

The high-pitched voices of Sandra and Donny met his ears when he turned his key in the lock. “Daddy, daddy, daddy!!” He embraced his son and daughter. Toys were scattered on the floor. Looking up, he saw his wife coming from the kitchen with an oven glove on one hand and a spoon in the other. She looked at him with a blank stare, stressed out from a long day’s work but still emanating her relentless trust in him as a husband.

– “You told me you would cook today.”

It was always the most difficult when he saw his wife like this. He could feel the words surge. Five long years filled with words that only accumulated weight as time passed.

They could turn him into a neighbourhood-gossip.

– “Did you hear about that couple down the street?”

They could be a running gag between students.

– “You know that front-desk clerk at Humanities? Turns out he’s a fag. A married one.”

They could be the tears down his children’s faces on their birthdays.

– “But I thought he would be here…”

– “Come on now honey, blow out the candles.”

And their eventual forgiveness.

“We still love you dad.”

But they weren’t. They paraded up and down his lips until they were launched back inward by their gravity. Falling down into his throat and landing in his self-imposed determination that manifested itself as a nausea in his stomach. It was the nausea that preceded their surge. They always surged, but remained unpronounced by the mouth that wanted to speak them.

By Kees van Ekeren

Short Story Competition – Writer’s Block #24 – CLOSED.

Writing comp

UPDATE: As per Januari 1st, the competition is CLOSED. We’re currently in the process of reviewing all of your wonderfull submissions. Still, keep an eye out for future updates: the winners will be announced at the Writer’s Block Drinks commemorating the release of the issue #24!

UPDATE 2: Issue #24 is out, and the winners have been announced! Thank you all for participating, and for all of you who crave more incentive to write your short stories: don’t worry, there will be other competitions 😉 So stay tuned, and keep your pens sharp.

Our competitions last year were a resounding success, and so we’re happy to announce that we’ll be hosting a short story competition for the next edition of Writer’s Block! If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of submitting your work to us, now is the time to do it: you’ll be entering a literary fray with other talented authors from our audience, with fame and fabulous prizes on the horizon! We know you’re all super excited for this, so we will quickly tell you exactly how this is going to work.

Prompt & other requirements
First, it’s important to know that this time around,  there’s a bit of theme challenge involved. We’re going to give you complete freedom on what your work is about, with a small ‘but’: you need to include the sentence “Please wash the mugs” in your submission. We don’t care how exactly you choose to include it. That is entirely up to you. Please make sure that you do, though – your piece won’t be eligible if you don’t! Furthermore, it’s important to note that you may submit one piece with a maximum word count of 1200 words. Again, make sure not to go over this, as it would be a shame to a have to disqualify a beautiful piece of writing on the vice of a few too many words. Finally, contrary to previous reports, everyone is welcome to participate! Whether you’re a student or a stay-at-home mom, whether you live in the USA or in South-Africa, we would love to read your work.

As with our previous contests, your piece will be judged by the Writer’s Block board as well as two UvA academics (think literature teachers or professors).

So, what happens when we find that you officially wrote the most amazing thing ever? First, there will be an official ‘award ceremony’ at a Writer’s Block borrel – if you send in work, we hope to see you there to celebrate the new issue, as well as to (hopefully) celebrate your winning entry! The winning piece will be revealed here, and it will of course be published in Writer’s Block #24. The top three pieces will all be featured independently on the website. There is going to be another special prize for the #1 spot, although we’re still working out the details on that. Think book coupons. We’ll update this post as soon as we know more, and we’ll try to make this public through our social media as well, so keep your eyes open!

Please note that we can only give out any of the physical prizes if the winner can come to pick them up themselves. That being said, we’d still love for you to still enter the competition, and any winners who are unable to pick up their prizes will still be featured in the magazine and on the website!

Of course, the number one most important detail of every competition: the deadline. Send your piece to before December 30th, 24:00 GMT+1. That’s still a good one and one-half month to get crackin’ on that piece (as of this posting), so what are you waiting for? Get writing!


Disclaimer: We reserve the right to change these details at any time.

Updated: 23/11/14 – participation no longer limited to UvA students.

Essay and Fiction Competition


After the success of the first two competitions, Writer’s Block magazine will now continue with the next categories: essay and fiction. We are looking for:

Essay: No restrictions regarding theme and form. Maximum of 1500 words.

Fiction: No restrictions regarding theme and form. Maximum of 1500 words.

We hope you’ll be inspired to write for us in the next few weeks, or that you already have something that you can adjust so you can make it to fit our competition!


A professional jury of at least two academics will award a prize worth 50 Euros to the winner in each category. The winners will of course also be published in our next issue.


To participate, you have to be a student of the University of Amsterdam, but if you are not, you are very welcome to submit any kind of creative writing for the magazine itself.


You can submit your work (essays and stories) until the 21st of April by sending an email to and mentioning the category of your choice in the header.

Please let everyone who might be interested know we are hosting this competition and we are looking forward to read you work!

Poetry and Translation Competition


Writer’s Block magazine proudly announces four competitions: in the upcoming half-year we will be hosting a translation, poetry, essay and fiction competition. The first part, for the next edition of WB, will be the translation and poetry categories. This is what we are looking for:

Poetry: No restrictions regarding theme or amount of words. Send in your best work, with a maximum of 3 poems.

Translation: 300 words of Dutch prose into English. The text we selected is from Allerzielen by Cees Noteboom, to be found below.


A professional jury of at least two academics will award a prize worth 50 Euros to the winner in each category. The winners will of course also be published in our next issue.


To participate, you have to be a student of the University of Amsterdam, but if you are not, you are very welcome to submit any kind of creative writing for the magazine itself.


You can submit your work (poetry and translation) until the 24th of January by sending an email to and mentioning the category of your choice in the header.

Please let everyone who might be interested know we are hosting this competition and we are looking forward to read you work!

Text to be translated, by Cees Noteboom, first passage from Allerzielen:

Pas een paar seconden nadat hij langs de boekwinkel gelopen was merkte Arthur Daane dat er een woord in zijn gedachten was blijven haken, en dat hij dat woord intussen al in zijn eigen taal vertaald had, waardoor het meteen ongevaarlijker klonk dan in het Duits. Hij vroeg zich af of dat door de laatste lettergreep kwam. Nis, een raar kort woord, niet gemeen en bits zoals sommige andere korte woorden, eerder geruststellend. Iets waarin je je kon opbergen, of waar je iets verborgens in aantrof. Andere talen hadden het niet. Hij probeerde het woord weg te krijgen door sneller te lopen, maar dat lukte niet meer, niet in deze stad, die erin gedrenkt was. Het bleef aan hem haken. De laatste tijd had hij dat met woorden, wat dat betreft was haken de juiste uitdrukking: ze haakten zich aan hem vast. En ze klonken. Ook als hij ze niet hardop zei hoorde hij ze toch, soms leek het zelfs of ze galmden. Zodra je ze uit het snoer haalde van de zinnen waarin ze thuishoorden kregen ze, als je daar gevoelig voor was, iets angstaanjagends, een vreemdheid waar je niet al te veel over na moest denken omdat anders de hele wereld ging schuiven. Te veel vrije tijd, dacht hij, maar dat was nu juist zoals hij zijn leven had ingericht. In een oud schoolboek had hij ooit gelezen over ‘den Javaan’ die, als hij weer een kwartje verdiend had, onder een palmboom ging zitten. Kennelijk kon je in die lang vervlogen dagen heel lang leven van een kwartje, want die Javaan ging volgens het verhaal pas weer werken als het kwartje helemaal op was. Daar werd schande van gesproken in dat boekje, want zo kwam een mens niet verder, maar Arthur Daane had bedacht dat de Javaan gelijk had.