In 2012 a London West End student had an unexpected encounter with magic. This book gives an autobiographical account of what happens as her life turns topsy turvy during the months that follow. The story begins in Argentina, and shifts between Brazil, Europe and Africa as the plot unfolds.
The Merry-Go-Round is a global, contemporary novel inspired by a true story. It is about a London student whose life takes an unexpected turn for the worst.
Following a romantic year abroad, Anne Hoboka is keen to get back to London to finish her UCL degree and start a new life with her boyfriend (Fritz Boehm). Shortly after she arrives back, her business tycoon stepmother (Tamara Narapa-Hoboka) invites her on a luxury family retreat in Brazil.
Anne agrees to go; however, unbeknown to her, Tamara has a cunning plan to protect her inheritance. In Brazil she casts an old African spell on Anne, and when Anne returns to London she is a changed woman. One by one, Anne starts to lose touch with her boyfriend, her social network, and eventually herself. Her behaviour changes drastically as the plot progresses, and the people around her start to react as they witness her transformation.
Anne is forced to abandon her old life and take a closer look at the problem. She will find what she is looking for eventually, but not before her sanity, civility and degree are all thrown into jeopardy. Anne's quest for answers takes her to South Africa, Scotland and Spain, where she gathers clues about the root cause of the problem. Eventually she ends up completely desolate and isolated from her metropolitan life. She must make new friends and keep an open mind, as the quest for answers becomes a fight for her life.
When her modern-minded parents (Abo Hoboka and Chutu Chansa), and healthcare professionals, fail to help, Anne turns to her grandmother (Jacky Jarrel), a wise Zambian, who may be the only person able to piece the puzzle together before it is too late. Finally, in a mysterious flat in Sweden, and with the help of a sorceress friend, Jacky resorts to delving into African sorcery to lift the spell that turned Anne into a zombie.
The Merry-Go-Round is my first novel and I wrote it primarily to entertain readers across the world. In September 2012 I was overjoyed by the fact that I could write again, so much so that I finished The Merry-Go-Round in two weeks. The book was my catharsis.I drew inspiration from legendary authors such as Angela Carter, Miguel de Cervantes and the Brothers Grimm.
The Merry-Go-Round sheds light on a cause that is close to my heart: African stepchild abuse. Arguably, African stepchild abuse is a vital aspect of African family politics, and yet it is often overlooked. There is there is no reliable social security system in most southern and west African countries, so most widows inevitably depend on their husbands' estates to maintain their lifestyles. In other words, an upper-class widow could be forced to move to a rural village if she is not named in her husband's will. Such conditions give way to a competitive, even medieval approach to step-parenting, and this has an adverse effect on stepchildren – especially young stepchildren. Many African stepmothers ostracise their stepchildren to prevent them from progressing; some stepmothers poison their stepchildren, to kill them or to drive them mad. All the same, there are still no specific policies or laws to protect these children. To make matters worse, in the aforementioned regions, African sorcery is rife. Therefore many stepmothers abuse their stepchildren for merely superstitious purposes: African sorcery culture promotes the abuse of innocent souls as a way of conjuring “luck”. Hence many stepmothers offer their stepchildren as sacrifices. The domestic abuse that African stepmothers use to marginalise stepchildren tends to be systemic, and highly covert. It is for this reason that African step-child abuse is often unaddressed.
Meanwhile, The Merry-Go-Round also introduces a budding ethnic minority known as “Black Diamonds”. In South Africa, the post-Apartheid equality policies implemented by Mandela have enabled the growth of a small, black elite. A few of the characters in the novel pertain to this group. Hence The Merry-Go-Round is a global story. In its pages, I juxtapose humble African traditions to a modern London lifestyle.
The Merry-Go-Round helped me find my voice. It is a privilege to be able to tell this story on behalf of millions.
Departing Buenos Aires
When you look into a zombie's eyes you sense emptiness. Real zombies have no memory of taste, emotion or warmth. My name is Anne Hoboka. I was a zombie. However, before I tell you how it all happened, I must take you back to a time when my world was bright.
It was August 2012, in Buenos Aires. My year abroad was drawing to a close. I was in the third year of my Spanish degree at UCL. My dissertation was due in October and I had begun writing it up. I was living in a loft on the third floor of an old building situated on the busy Bolivar-Brasil intersection in San Telmo. The loft belonged to an Argentine couple who lived on the other side of town. It was a bright, luminous, forty-eight-square-foot space with whitewashed walls, wooden floors and old-fashioned high ceilings.
I had just completed a finance internship at a small tax firm in Palermo; and I was in a relationship with a young man from Germany called Fritz. Fritz was a third-year student of architecture in Weimar. He had travelled to Buenos Aires as a year-abroad student, to learn Spanish. During his year abroad, he worked as a receptionist at the Broadway Hotel. The hotel was a bright-red modern building that stood out in the otherwise gloomy, dustbin-lined Chacabuco Street. Fritz used to work the night shift for four consecutive nights a week. He and his flatmate Delmar would alternate those shifts. Fritz and Delmar received their payment in the form of lodging. They lived in a furnished one-bedroom flat on the top floor of the hotel. On most days Fritz would finish his shift by eight thirty in the morning, when the manger came in. Straight afterwards, Fritz would take a shower and change before heading six blocks south to my loft. Fritz stood at just over six foot three. He was a soft-spoken, shy young man, who stammered when he spoke. His hair was a dark shade of blonde and his eyes were blue.
Earlier that year, I had checked into the Broadway Hotel for a few weeks while I waited for the loft to become available. As I walked up to Reception when I first checked in, I saw Fritz hanging around the pool area. He was having a smoke with his colleagues. A few moments later, he came up to the front desk and introduced himself.
“What brings you to Buenos Aires?” he asked as I gathered my documents.
“An internship and research,” I replied.
“We're having a barbecue by the pool tonight if you want to join us,” he said.
“I can't,” I replied. “I have work tomorrow.”
Over the next few weeks, Fritz and I became good friends, and in April we started dating. We both lived in San Telmo, the birthplace of tango. It was the oldest neighbourhood in the city of Buenos Aires and it was famous for its Bohemian atmosphere. San Telmo had narrow, cobbled streets lined with old-fashioned lampposts that distinguished it from the other parts of the city. There were quaint little cafés, old bookshops and vintage boutiques on almost every corner. Dorrego Square was three blocks away from the loft I was renting. On Sundays the square turned into a marketplace. Buskers would play tango in the streets and locals performed the dance in the middle of the square. On those days, artisan vendors would come from all over the province to set up their stalls, which sold Argentine curios and souvenirs at double the normal price.
San Telmo was also famous for its underground night scene. Fritz and I had many friends who lived and worked nearby and on Monday and Friday nights we used to gather with our friends at the hotel bar and then head out to Club Severino a few blocks away. On Fritz's days off we used to walk around the city's sights and explore the parks together. Afterwards we would rent films and spend the siesta watching them. Some days as a treat, Fritz would head out to the local marketplace and buy wine and fresh ingredients to cook us a meal. Once we had eaten we would take a walk to Greddo’s Italian ice-cream shop and have dessert.
The months flew by. By August Fritz and I had started to come to terms with the fact that our time in Buenos Aires was nearly over. Fritz was scheduled to leave Buenos Aires in the first week of August. During his last few days, he focused on finishing his exams and fulfilling his last few duties at the hotel. I concentrated on finishing my dissertation. Neither of us really noticed how quickly those last few days passed, but before we knew it was the sixth of August and the morning before Fritz's flight back to Germany.
At nine o'clock I heard the rattling of keys unlocking my front door. A few seconds later, Fritz walked in.
“Hello my love,” he said as he dropped his satchel on the living-room couch.
“Hi Fritz,” I said, opening my eyes.
“I brought some pastries from across the road,” he said as he walked into the kitchen.
“Yummy.” I rubbed my eyes.
Fritz put the bag of pastries on the kitchen counter, dropped his bag on the living-room floor, and came upstairs.
“How was your last day?” I asked as he came to the bedside and sat down.
“Fine.” He kissed me. “Although I think it's time to go back to Berlin. Before I forget, Alberto said you're invited to his girlfriend’s thing.”
“You mean the barbecue,” I said, sitting up. “Salma's having an asado next week.”
“Are you going?” he asked.
“I told her I'd get back to her,” I replied as I put my arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.
“Anyways, shall we go?” said Fritz as he patted my waist.
“Aren't you going to rest?” I asked.
“Nope. I'm going to take a walk to Palermo Bosque. I want to walk down that footpath we missed last time.”
“All right,” I said as I yawned and stretched out my arms.
“Wake up.” Fritz stood up and started down the stairs. “I'll make us coffee.”
I got out of bed and took a shower, and then Fritz and I ate the pastries with coffee. Shortly afterwards we headed out to enjoy our last day together in Buenos Aires. We took the metro to the botanical gardens in Palermo Bosque and walked around the gardens. Two hours later we walked to the central lake and hired a pedal boat. Fritz and I pedalled around the lake for an hour, and then we docked and set off down the only footpath we hadn't been down yet. A few metres down the footpath there was a churro stand. A man was standing behind the stand pouring Dulce de Leche over a long, freshly fired churro. Fritz bought one and we sat down on a nearby bench and ate it. Then we left the park and jumped on a bus that took us back to San Telmo.
There was a small cyber café next to the bus stop. We got off the bus and Fritz went into the café. He checked in for his flight, and printed off his boarding pass. Once he was finished, we headed back to the hotel. A few of his colleagues were waiting for us in the foyer. Alberto and Salma were discussing the farewell barbecue they had planned for Fritz that night. Salma and I prepared the food and beverages. Once we were finished, I went to the foyer to welcome some of Fritz's friends who had arrived early. Fritz went up to his flat and spent the rest of the afternoon packing his bags. Over the next few hours, forty people showed up. Each had a gift or a card for Fritz. Our friend Gaultier offered to DJ. And our close friend Michael from Brooklyn offered to man the asado. The meat was ready by eleven o'clock. All the guests ate, and after that Gaultier turned up the music. Fritz and I danced until three o'clock in the morning, and then we returned home. The party went on till eight.
The next morning Fritz and I woke up early. After breakfast we walked back to Broadway Hotel. Shortly after that, a taxi came to pick Fritz up. Fritz and I loaded his luggage into the taxi and went to the airport. We held hands as we stood in line at the security gates. Just as Fritz was about to reach the front, he kissed me. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and then I stood back and waved as he disappeared behind the security gates. I went back to the bus stop and caught the next bus to the centre.
A tear rolled down my cheek as I rode the bus home. I thought about how quickly time had flown by. I had grown so much that year. I had become fluent in another language; I had completed an internship programme that was designed for a native Spanish speaker; and I was in a stable relationship. Furthermore, I had decided what I wanted to do when I finished my degree: I wanted to write a book that made a statement about life. I wanted the book to make the reader feel as though they were on a journey with me.
The last weeks that I spent without Fritz flew by even faster. I spent most days indoors, working on my dissertation. Every Tuesday I went to Rina's barbershop to do my hair and nails. On my last few Thursday nights I attended the open-mike night in Palermo. On Saturdays I would go to the samba night at LeBar. On Sunday nights I hung out at Club Araoz with my friend Lucia from work. Afterwards Lucia and I would leave the club at eight o'clock and head straight to Emiliano's waffle shop, on the corner of Estados Unidos. We would stay up and banter over strong coffee and fresh waffles before we went home.
In the last week of August, I began preparing for my trip back to England. I sent my mother an email to let her know what time I would arrive in London; and I booked a cheap London hostel to stay in while I searched for a housemate.
On the fifth of September I held a small farewell lunch with Lucia and Salma. Once the lunch was over, I went back to my loft, finished packing and checked in for my flight. The next day I woke up early and ate breakfast. At eight o'clock Facundo knocked at the front door. A few moments later I opened it.
“Hola Anne,” said Facundo as he kissed me on the cheek.
“Hola Facu,” I said.
“How was your stay?” he asked.
“Great, thanks,” I replied.
“Next time you come to Buenos Aires, just send me email and I'll give you a discount,” he said. “Where are you travelling to now?”
“London,” I replied as I handed him the keys to the loft.
“Great city,” he said. “Do you have property there?”
“No, I need to find a place to rent. I'll be staying at a hostel for a month while I look.”
“A month?” he remarked.
“It's the high season,” I explained.
“I see. Well, good luck. And hopefully see you soon,” he added.
Shortly afterwards my taxi arrived. Facundo helped me load my luggage into the boot. The taxi drove me to Ezeiza, where I departed Buenos Aires for London.
* Find out what happens next [Chpt 2 & 3]: https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Story/52983