Strange Horizons, March 2, 2020
“Rat and Finch Are Friends” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo
Reviewed by Anthony Perconti
This week’s issue of Strange Horizons features the short story “Rat and Finch Are Friends” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo. It follows the tale of Izu, a Nigerian boy who is an Amusu, a shape shifter, with the ability to change himself info a finch (hence his nickname) at will. Izu goes away to boarding school and befriends another boy, Okwudili (another Amusu) who acquires the moniker of Rat.
Ilo’s tale jumps back and forth throughout the narrative, through time, focusing on Finch’s relationship with his father, who was also a shape shifter and was forced to stop through traumatic means, his domineering Aunty Njideka and his mother who disapproves of Finch’s sexuality. The relationship between Rat and Finch, first as two lonely and awkward friends at school, slowly transmutes into a story of first love. Finch saves Rat from the dorm master’s cat Husky (who is also an Amusu). The creature tries to steal Okwudili’s iyeri, a magical birthmark that is absolutely essential in changing shape.
The consequences and fallout of this rescue for the two friends is disastrous. The principal has a conversation with the two boys’ parents, just before the semester’s conclusion. During the holiday break, the tipping point comes when Aunty Njideka (who was instrumental in her brother’s ‘curing’) tells Finch’s mother about his wings; there is no turning back. Izu’s father comes to him and states that he is going to clip his wings. In a moment of kindness (and sincere sympathy), his father leaves him his iyeri. The final scene cuts to the first night of the new semester, a boy and a wingless finch are sitting together on the dormitory roof gazing up at the stars. This ending, like many a first love, is a commingling of sadness with joy; absolutely bittersweet.
Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.