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18 March 2024

The Acre by Shere Ross

Wasafiri is proud to publish the 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize shortlisted pieces. These poems, essays, and short stories detail a range of emotions and experiences, produced by promising new writers from all over the globe. In this short story, themes of loss, marriage dynamics, and community gossip intertwine, ultimately leading to a deeper understanding of human connection and resilience. The 2024 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open until 1 July 2024. Read the full guidelines and submit your work here.  

Sono Diaz waded slowly through the thickness of the overgrown Hernandez acre. The tall grass and broad stiff weeds of his neighbour's land pricked at him through his clothes. He steered wide of the avocado tree that had began to dump its fruit. Fruit unwanted by all but the flies that droned around the green mush in giddy loops, as if they just did not know where to start. The tree towered over his home like a parasol. Its dark canopy pressed up against his bedroom window and its fruit invited droves of stinging insects into the house over the long summer months.

Sweaty as he reached the Hernandez house, he knocked on the screen door and removed his hat. As he waited he realised he wasn’t sure how to re-open talks with his neighbour. Señora Hernandez, the former village postmaster, emerged from behind the screen door, eyeing him and cursing under her breath. She was taller than he was and her large frame, clad in a loose floral housedress, rocked as she walked.

‘Señor?’ she said wearily staring over his head.

‘Señora, again, your avocado tree. It blocks my windows - I can't see daylight!’

‘l’ve told you,’ Señora Hernandez said scratching lazily under her chin, ‘my husband hasn't strength for clearing land and we've no money to pay people.’

‘Strength and money enough to chase women though!’

Señora Hernandez was silenced for a second, then said ’What’s that?’ and stepped forward.

‘Nothing! Sorry!’ he said, tired of this fight, ‘Sell the land Señora! People are dumping trash on it now.’

‘It is my children's inheritance,’ she said, clearly vexed by this discussion.

‘But... Your children live abroad and hardly visit.’

‘And what of it?’ she said as a hostile smile formed on her face, ‘And what of yours? Ah! that’s right - you don’t have any.’

But before Sono could answer, Señora Hernández dismissed him with a sharp flick of her wrist and went back into her house.


Sono returned home through the acre - he barely noticed the avocado tree until he was directly under it. The cool and dark of its shade nudged him from thoughts of the day they learned it was his fault there would be no one to inherit his family’s land. Seven years of hoping – he’d known of people that had to wait longer for their blessings and had assumed the whole time that they were just such a couple.

One day in their sixth year of marriage, he returned from the fields to find his wife Leonore on the veranda knitting for her new nephew. She raised her cheek to receive his kiss as usual. He slipped off his boots and was about to enter the house, when she lowered the knitting suddenly and said, ‘Maybe it’s time for the medicos querido.’

It was a year more before he agreed. It was two more before Leonore ceased suggesting adoption and returned to nursing full time. He couldn’t be sure how long after this, she had re-gifted the hand-me-downs from her nieces and nephews.

Hours after his latest fight with Señora Hernandez, Sono began making dinner waiting for his wife to return. Her church commitments kept her more and more lately and Sono hadn’t yet figured out his retirement. He sharpened a knife while gazing out of the kitchen window past the trunk of the avocado tree - a pomelo sun was dipping behind the hulk of distant shadowy mountains. The garbage-filled tangle of the Hernandez acre obscured the mountains’ base: an abandoned pram with no handle, a discarded cooker and two unravelling rattan chairs among the trash, but it was the rusting motorbike that troubled him most – vintage, black and shiny chrome. Maintained. When he'd asked Señora Hernandez about it months ago, she'd said her husband had never owned a bike and the fact his initials were engraved on the handlebars was ‘a coincidence.’

Sono rinsed the knife, then closed his eyes and let cold water run over his increasingly troublesome hands. A leg of pork on the sideboard was waiting. He picked it up by the shank and saw he could slice the bone with one satisfying stroke, just as he’d once felled sugar cane easily. Cooking sounds boldly fought the silent house. He slammed the knife into the flesh over and over till it was a mound of misshapen cubes. The cubes hissed ferociously as they hit the base of the hot stewing pot. He listened as the hissing died down to bubbling.

The meal of pork stew and the yuca he had grown put him into a fitful sleep as he sat on the sofa. When he woke the house was dark and the curtains had been drawn. Leonore’s lavender soap scent was back home. As he climbed the stairs to retire, he could hear the faint whistle of her breath as she slept.

The next morning, Sono raised the lid on the stew pot. Leonore hadn’t touched it. He read her latest note on the fridge.

‘Sitting with those at the hospice all week - don't cook for me. Take your joint pills.’

He was grateful she hadn’t left - it shamed him, but mostly he was thankful he had been spared being in a world where she’d had children with someone else. He couldn’t imagine at this point, what she would say she was grateful for.


Later that year, as the leaves on the avocado tree browned and crisped, Señora Hernandez’s husband, Roberto, died. On the overcast morning of his funeral, Sono stood in front of his bedroom mirror, straightening his suit - the avocado’s dark branches also trapped in the looking glass, made it hard to see himself. He began counting and realised that this was his fifth funeral in eight months - all but one a natural death. At each funeral, when he’d shaken the hands of the bereaved children, he remembered the pattern of grief that crumpled or completely blanked their faces. Sono wondered if their adopted child would have mourned him as fully. He had always hoped to pass before Leonore, but worried lately who would hold her hand when it happened. Sono shook off the thoughts as best he could, patted his trouser pocket for his keys and left the house.

Driving down the red dust mountain road to the village centre, he thought of his wife who'd left hours before to help cater the funeral – she’d declined his offer of a lift. Leonore did not share his concern for the Hernandez acre and would often bring Señora Hernandez provisions from their land.

After the burial, Sono watched Leonore move breezily around the church hall. Her slight frame, straight and balletic as she weaved around the mourners. She had always been effortless with people and his gut seized whenever she cooed over children. Before they knew it wasn’t ever to be, Leonore had told him that she was looking forward to burying her face into the soft necks of their babies and having their babies do the same to her. Today, Leonore smiled and chatted as she served refreshments to mourners. When she reached him, she offered the trays silently – he accepted the food with a nod. Then he knew with cool disappointment, his wife would probably remain at the wake until the very end, leaving him to return home alone.

Señora Hernandez, veil lifted, shuffled between the mourners, shaking hands, thanking them and listening to their grief with her head tipped to the side - she sometimes placed a consoling hand over theirs. Later that day, he was surprised when she approached him, rocking as was her way, but she was thinner now and her walk seemed less certain.

‘Condolences,’ Sono said. ‘Gracias,’ she said, with the same half-smile she’d used on everyone else. Then her voice dropped and she leaned toward him and said, ‘I have a request, Señor. I want to clear the acre. Could you help me?’


The leaves of the avocado tree had mainly fallen when early one morning, Sono sat on the wooden steps of his veranda laying out his gardening tools: shears, a cutlass and two sickles. He placed them in the holdall he'd used in his farming days, slung it over his shoulder and carried it onto the Hernandez acre. Dew dampened his trousers and chilled his skin - he’d missed the feel. He stopped in the centre of the land looking around in the low dawn light. The cockerels were more shrill here, thrillingly so, than hearing them since retirement, where he would lay in bed next to his wife each morning, trying not to wake her. Then, another cockerel, long and loud seemed a signal it was time to start and so he raised the sickle and began.

Three days later when the grass and fibrous weeds were shorn to ankle high tufts with the aid of a tractor, it revealed enough litter to fill several carts including the rotting carcass of a small dog that no one had seemed to miss. His hands throbbed, his back ached, red earth caked uncomfortably under his nails, but the rest of him was sad the work was nearly done. The avocado tree needed more manpower and would have to wait, but he decided he would take a cutting – it was a healthy tree after all.

Long shadows of bare poplars cast across the fresh buzz-cut acre, when Señora Hernandez called him over to her veranda. She held a plate of food and shielded her eyes from the sun. Her house dress was now obviously too big, reminded him of the sunken scarecrows he'd once dressed in empty grain sacks, but her face was now less pinched and wary.

‘I've grapefruit and lemon juice inside. Which would you like?’ she asked pushing the plate and her bottom lip towards him.

‘Just lemon juice, gracias.' 

She looked at him seriously over her spectacles. ‘You’ll eat and you will not argue,’ she insisted.

Señora Hernandez sat next to him on the wide veranda steps as he ate the chunky slice of bread - the braid on top of the warm bread was slightly burnt, but he thought it best to eat all. For several minutes Señora Hernandez examined the cropped land as though seeing it for the first time. Then she said, 'He used that bike to run between his women - kept it hidden at a friend’s house.’ She lightly cleared her throat and turned to him. ‘When he fell ill, his friend returned the bike to me. I put it in the acre but didn't tell Roberto.’

Sono found it difficult to swallow. ‘That’s understandable,’ he said relieved to have thought of something to say. She smiled faintly, maybe gratefully, and continued though he really didn’t want her to. ‘Until a few months back you were one of the few people in town not to mention his affairs to me.’

‘Wasn't my place - it's no-one’s place,’ he said and meant it.

‘Well Padre Alex didn’t think so,’ she said sharply, scratching roughly at her chest - her eyes drifted back to the acre. ‘Three years back, Padre offered guidance to help my marriage - Roberto refused to come with me and I stopped going to mass - after that everyone had something to say about my situation.’

Sono distrusted Padre Alex. When Padre visited his wife at their home to plan support for the community, he’d begin by discussing, but not naming, all the locals whose immortal souls he was concerned for. He’d detail exactly why and how they came to be in such 'peril', in a way that made it near impossible for Sono to look many of his fellow villagers in the eye.

Sono had no more food to chew on and the silence had gone on too long, so he said, ‘I remember Señor Hernandez being a very generous and happy man — he made time for people,’

‘Ha!’ said Señora Hernandez and slapped the top of her thighs, ‘didn’t he just!’

Then she sighed in the way of someone very tired and said, ‘Sorry, I know what you meant.’

Stiffly, she began to raise herself from the steps. Sono got to his feet just before she did and offered his hand, but she refused it with a gentle wave.

She reached the screen door of her house, turned back to him and said, ‘He was amiable for sure, my Roberto, but good men look after their own land.’

She nodded to herself as though reflecting on the adequacy of her words, as a person might squeeze fruit when choosing it. Then she waved her hand down in a languid movement, as though she had given up on fruit completely and slowly, slowly went back into her house.  

Featured image by Getty Images via

The 2024 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 1 July 2024. Submit here.

Shere Ross is writer based in the United Kingdom. Her work includes short stories and other works of fiction, which have been shortlisted for several prizes including the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. She is a winner of BlackInk Writing Prize.
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