Troubles left behind swirl, blessed, released, among images of family far from Burkina Faso. Slowly these vanish with a growing sense of morning. Somewhere between dreaming and waking, Mary has a sense of the healing vitality underlying existence, in the improbable corners of states of being. She meant to grasp something from its hold, even while she had little idea what that state is. Something inside that held her cue to being alive...
From her viewpoint beside a few weary-looking stocks of wheat atop the maison soukala, the flat terrace roof connected to the compound below by a ladder, Mary orients herself to the birds She rises from her bedding---she is still trying to achieve restfulness, such as she encountered her very first day here as a reaction to the sheer exhaustion of her one way journey to the place her mother visited before ("when I was near her, in spirit?"): a village lying about one hour away from the one airstrip in this part of the country Burkina Faso, former Upper Volta. Like every village for miles around, they call it "Dano."
The radio---a Panasonic, two decades vintage---plays out of the neighboring hut, African pop music from a station in Ougaoudao. In French---a little attention in high school has taken her a long way---a disc jockey excitedly extols a coming film festival. The golden stallions, she'd deduced, were the awards. There was more talk of horses out here than she'd ever associated with Africa, so at first she couldn't be sure. She'd tuned out commercials before, but tucked away in this village, they seemed to present a fantasy of the city, far down the flat dirt roads past the gum tree grove.
With the relief of curving her torso down to her knees in the darkness of the earthen hut, Mary's heart energies flow over her head, blood enriching her tissue with a warm sense of being. Before long, everyone will rise and share greetings; for now, those who gather water, risen early in the well, must walk with earthen pots, to questions of sweet dreams and stories riverside to tell.
Her mind drifts back to the fleet leopards in the W Nazinga Park, spotted out of her periphery during her visit there with Aaron and Wobogo. "It's strange, how there's no place for romantic love, in the usual 'boy meets girl' sense. But Aaron is so different from the villagers in many ways---and his Dagara people in the Ivory Coast might be more Westernized, and he's been a journalist. Who's to say there's not a spiritual connection everyone will recognize, anyway? At least I've had a strong connection! " She realizes she's gotten very identified with the village ways in this new life; already she anticipates having their opinions, help and acceptance should this become a love.
In light of this being her last hurrah, the very idea of loving someone intimately suggests a faith for days to come. What do you know? I've built confidence for a hope in this life.
She imagines, miles distant, the lions sleeping away the day long, except for these mornings, the time of the hunt. Once, she'd watched a wildlife program, cautioning of their possible extinction; yet before her eyes a pride had emerged, evoking singing within her wild self---the very life force that kept her living. No longer was she here to only die in peace. She gazes upon a green mask with stripes of tiger-like energy, Kourgi Kambire's creation, upon the compound wall of the maison soukala, on the side of his closest male kin. She knows that mask is a call towards understanding, a gentleness, acceptance, and ancestral wisdom concerning friendship. Every piece of art has several meanings, a lesson that evolves with the viewer's immediate situation, the sharing of inner selves—a point of rituals.
In the early morning's faint embers, Kulinah passes a cart of yams, fresh from the labors of the day before. Yams, two feet long! The rains, now patiently awaited in these hottest days, had been kind, swelling the plant life with nourishment. As she and Sapla and two dozen others had tended the harvesting together, Desiree had come outside with the newly finished dress for Osun's wedding. The dress, too, had meaning, in the renewal of her relationship. Aside from the opportunity every five days to freshen their commitment in ash circles, the wedding holds a broader celebration of one another. "Every wedding is a chance for the whole tribe to marry," Sapla had said, many times. "Everyone's spirits are wedded!"
At the moment, she sees Sapla, whose sight makes her as happy as cartoons of childhood.
"What sweet thing came to your dreams, Sapla?" she asks with a broadening smile.
"The comfort of a happy friend," she replies, "who's come to join the beginning of the day." Sapla sometimes wakens a little slowly, remembers Mary, who notes sluggishness in her demeanor.
"And Sisquekwo---all ready, gagner petit?" she says, putting a soothing hand to each of Sapla's sides. "Before the ancestors on the other side, baby Thurisaz parle, 'je demande la route' (I'm on my way home!) She immediately realizes a connection in her question and Sapla's state of mind.
"C'est caillon, "she replies, shaking her head. "Yesterday, we thought the child was coming, as well as many times in the night. But she is having trouble breathing and her dilations are not wide enough." Sapla tears up, looks off to nowhere particular above Mary's strong shoulder. "We are trying to keep hope, be wise and strong…but we were not yet sure what type of ritual we'll need, after all."
They embrace a long moment, eyes closed, sensing the touch and the wafting smell of shea butter.
"Mary Kulinah, you are welcome to pray in our thilde when you get time in your chores."
"Je suis en bouill"---I'll go wherever you like. Sapla loads up her lovely red calabash of water and shambles away, as Mary completes filling her calabashes and pots as well.
"Oh, God, no," says Mary, weeping. "Oh, no, please, no, you can't"---the word pours forth from her quivering lips, dissolving into an impassioned sob. "Oh, please, oh, please," she cries pleadingly, to the source of the world inside herself. She pictures some hazy figure, clad in a kaftans robe, standing over Sisqekwo, holding her baby, for whom she's waited since the day the Dano villagers greeted her, acknowledging her, welcoming her, enfolding her into the embrace of the tribe. "Thur-i-za," Mary would sing, joined in the work of daily life, "little Thuriza…" so happily as a child's heart, when gentleness settles therein. At this moment, many of her fellows come along to collect water as well.
The kindness of people of all ages made Mary celebrate her decision to be here. When she arrived, fresh from the crossroads that took her from incarceration to this village, she'd only sought some way to fill her remaining days with hope. She left behind the betrayal which painted her the "ringleader" of the Robin Hood ploy to cyber swipe money already stolen inside the company---but she could not erase the Crohn's Disease, discovered in her last prison physical. With the 'honeymoon' of culture shock and a friendliness that she considered "down home," she'd begun the great mental distance from fear, captivity.
At first, she'd resisted. Then she watched what belief was doing, how free of unnecessary cares one could become, face to face with cooperation. The fear became her possession through ritual; she began to live from a part of herself beyond disease, beyond death.
Now, at least, she feels better, and someone else feels good. And if sadness is to be, between them all, the separation may not feel so painfully lonesome. In fact, the conditions for a spirit to visit---to be treated as a presence, felt beyond mortal fear---could they be any finer? Everyone would understand. An entire community knows. The character of fear, the bereavement, could be transmuted---is that the word? Still, she watches the visiting Mossi trader parking his motorcycle, detached, with a bubble of sorrow inflating now, and takes a deeper breath with heavier eyes...
Thurisa, she thinks, willing a thread of power between herself and the baby she wishes to comfort. Here is my life. Take my warmth---please don't be afraid.
In the tension, Mary's bowels trouble her. Mary believed she'd quietly side-stepped her death sentence; the diarrhea she feared would dehydrate her body has been absent so long. Wasn't I the fool, believing some place is beyond harm---as though we can be good and wish it away!
She crouches, remaining concealed for privacy as she watches more of the new arrivals fleeing the Congo, passing here in Dano. Their wretchedness state of clothing marks the refugees. If only our neighboring countries weren't so torn with greed and killing, there wouldn't be so many still born children. Or refugees. Sick to her stomach with anger, she realizes she must calm herself, ashamed at her unwelcome towards those proceeding to the water, life preserving, without which the tribe passes away.
So that is what it is like to fear the downtrodden.
An image of her friend Thomas---my gay magician buddy---eases her mind, brings an awareness of the fear itself, like the joy, childlike in equal measure. She blinks back tears, resolving to see him after delivering water to her hut.
Unless someone asks, I'll keep this to myself, I can't spread this feeling! How can I greet everyone 'good morning'? Happy things can be said, even when days begin in unhappy things. What of the birds, singing in the baobob tree on the left hand side of the path? Her evaluations shrink quietly, like one of many obstacles an ant might notice upon the ground.
She continues vacillating between sorrow and solace until she reaches the hut, tears welling in eyes lit by dawn as she kneels with the pots and calabashes. By night only, she shares this earthen hut, always safe, hearing, feeling the breathing of the women and children, even when she'd first arrived, when the thilduu, the hearth shrine, was still enfolded in mystery, brightly colored carvings. In a way, knowing of the ancestors, the closeness of their world, its place in the hearts and imaginations of her precious Dagara only deepens the mystery, though all her alarm over the supernatural---she'd avoided thinking about it 'too much' at first---faded as she saw it naturally incorporated. Life was less sophisticated by a material standard here, yes; did she find, in sophistication's place, an honesty nonpareil, based on love and appreciation? Isn't that worth the hardships we bear?, she implores, to some witness self within. Is it?
She starts the fire for the largest kettle. I can take Sisquekwo warm water. Maybe Wobogo or someone can help me get it there. That's what I love---no one has to do anything alone.
There's a soft tug at her sleeve as she stares into the fire, lofting some hopeful part of her from the ashes, hope that slowly descends, mist-like, her presence comforting Sisqekwo and all her house. She turns from this inner sanctity to find it reflected without, in the face of little Naylan, watching her, awakened by the shoveling of ashes, stirred from dream to hug her unconditionally.
"Mam nanga feom," Naylan Da says.
"Mam nanga feom (I love you!)" replies Mary, stroking his head, shaven for summer.
They speak of their dreams, as Sankanthu Da, who remembers no dreams, arises to play with Naylan and aid in morning chores. They take great delight in Naylan's tale of reptile giants, like crocodiles, shaping the world with new mountains and oceans.
"Maybe you dreamt of the creation of the world," says Sakanthu. "I've never heard it that way!"
Mary dismisses herself from their company and the warming water, departing for Thomas Sankara's hut.
"I think we will go welcome Thurisa today," Naylan says, provoking cooing from Sakanthu. "When she comes, we will all know happiness."
Still sometimes I hurry, Kulinah thinks, grateful to head straightaway to her objective. Early on, she'd beg excuse for the embarrassing irregularities of her condition, only to find no one was particularly bothered, even offering ritualistic health. Her resistance to ritual lessened, and then in time, she found the rituals had replaced the anxieties, even most of the effects!
A quick dismissal doesn't seem appropriate in the presence of Osun, one third of the Hienbe wedding party planned for the next day. They'd first met, chasing the elephants out of the strained rivulets of the cracked riverbed; the elephants tended to keep a trail near water. She'd introduced Mary to "monkey bread," the sweetly, slightly acidic enormous oval sacs, picked off the trees for a delicious jolt.
"Kibari, Kulinah!" says the topless, stately young woman, with the Yoruban first name and Fulani looks. She'd attained baskets of leaves for shea butter from a kerlite tree, doubtlessly to prepare cooking. She puts them down for a hug. Something in Osun's love, thinks Mary, is full of every one's love! She wonders about her, the wedded life ahead. She replies, squeezing Osun tightly as she speaks:
"What joy you must feel, making your vows open to all!" She finds, in the strange language, an eloquence here, after the burdensome clichés piled unthinkingly into most of her life, erased by new talk in this ancient land.
"And you are most welcome, too, my far-away bird!"
"Are you nervous?"
"Oh! Unafraid, but yes, so much attention! What did I ever do to deserve so much, besides follow my path?"
Something deep within Mary-Kulinah stirs, a point of view open between dream and waking, an idea that titillates and comforts simultaneously. Perhaps, she thinks to herself, of something so irrational, yet possibly magical, so long denied.
"Osun, come with me if you want to share conversation. We are going to see our thildar friend."
Osun pauses thoughtfully. "The gateway Thomas?"
"That's the perfect way to say it, yes!" she replies, taking the hand offered, with its aloe scent wafting in the breeze-born rustling.
"Na an bi baro ke (let's hang out)!" Osun says. "Nib'I fe (I like you!) Ed looge (let's go!)"
*Mary listens to Osun's joyous chirping , as she caresses a gaa tree reaching out of sight into the sky. They pad the cool, red earth; a kerlite tree rustles nearby, as Osun hums before speaking.
"Oh, the yolon! My wedding will have a balaphon player! You know, like 'tinka tinka tink-tink'," she says, pantomiming a xylophone, hammering its bars to some danceable rhythm. "I'm sure you didn't know at first how many people have taken on the name Thomas Sankara. That was one rare president! No air conditioner and one refrigerator; an honest, four hundred-fifty dollar a month salary, an all-woman motorcycle honor guard, a guitar, and a mind full of compassion for what all the tribes need."
"He sounds like one of us," says Kulinah. Us.
"He still is one of us," says Osun with cheer. Mary Kulinah contemplates how happiness marks Burkina Faso, is part of its identity as surely as poverty and the danger of malaria. But why doesn't that joy survive the education process more often? Why couldn't a few more tribes people acquire Western-style skills for improving the quality of life? What could anyone now do for Thurisa? Who could save Sisquewo?
"You have a furrow in your brow," says Osun. "With that place to plant your millet, you are already for the rains!"
"Ha ha! You darling," says Kulinah. "Tell me of your wedding some more. I like your thinking."
"You know, Kulinah, the wedding is a happy occasion, but the exciting part is soon, when we gather at the caves, and the three seeds and the four seeds, girl and boy, will be rubbed across my skin, and I will call to the baby we will have!" Osun squeezes Mary's hand as they come to the gnarled little tree beside Thomas' door. "Maybe you will be there, praying with me. All these people, their loves and cares, chose to be here, to do all wrongs and sometimes, in spite of themselves, do right. So much goes right, I suppose we must stay all right with whatever comes our way, so that we may continue receiving also the good that is our due, and continue to attract that, also!"
Did you read my mind? You read my heart.
"If you were fishing and caught an old shoe," Mary responds aloud, "you'd remember there's still fish to be had."
"And if the shoe's still useful," says Osun, vibrantly, "perhaps you'll catch the mate!"
They laugh, they touch each others' arms; each shares energy, as they stand before the antechamber of Thomas Gateway's, the small enclave added to a larger compound, a place to hold a few useful things.
“I wonder if he’s home,” Mary says, “Thomas gads about the village at any time.” Since the entire village is a good place to think, Thomas chooses not to confine himself for his mystical traveling. The village helped him quite incidentally make time for others. He suddenly appears without a knock.
“Osun! Mary Kulinah! Won’t you come inside?” He embraces them, exchanging a few rapid-fire phrases in Fulani with Osun before pear-shaped Maura arrives, excitedly beckoning her elsewhere.
“Yell ka ye’ (no problems)!” says Osun. Behind her retreating figure, Mary observes Raoul and Johmay nearby, closing a conversation for a casual moment of silence, as though the inspiration has quickly occurred to them both to acknowledge a pervasive, quieting force, momentarily exposing the simplicity of being. The silences in being together are an everyday sight throughout the village, indubitably respecting the need for something like solitude without loneliness. Here, I felt, fit to burst, to spill sorrows to a completely receptive friend. Could it just be enough to know I could, and not add to the burdens others carry?
But what I want to ask---about this life, with the chance to catch that other shoe---it’s been---“
“Ooo, come inside, I need you if you please!” says Thomas, already pulling at her wrist.
The horror of what was done to her---the betrayal she felt she’d always feel from the justice system, the terminal reputation of the disease inhabiting her body---none of the things without redress could haunt this shared life for long, and memories of pain became too small and selfish a shell to contain the growth of her new form. If this village could not shelter her from further disappointment, was not proof against all irresolution, still she could not find the fault within herself. She wonders, in the balance of things, if her life doesn’t belong to Thurisa---belong to the dream. In what way?
“I have much to prepare today,” says Thomas, simultaneously plopping on the floor before his handmade wicker chair, suggesting Mary take it. “So if you please, take this shea butter and rub my feet! It is all in the world I need. I will be so very strong for everyone, but I need to be served, too, thank you, that’s soo good! I’m recuperating rapidly! But not too rapidly,” he adds with a cocked grin, “I want you to get all you need from my feet!”
If ever there was a man who was in this world but not of it, my friend qualifies. And where I grew up, you’d only laugh at the idea of a bisexual witch doctor---yet here is the most natural person I know. She reapplies lotion, awakening nerve endings in Thomas’ toes, thinking of these feet, their steps putting his wisdom and healthiness in the ways of those his soul intended. He had showed her how not to keep the raging storms of emotions pinned, nor to allow them to rove the subconscious unacknowledged. When she sat in the ash circle and vented her bitterness---however undeserving she felt about embracing her hurt initially---she lived a new way, open minded and open hearted, as she had been before the Robinhood scam, but with greater self-respect, for choosing to bear the trials with meaning and grace.
“The ancestors share our concerns over beings flowing into their new forms,” says Thomas, returning the favor now on her feet. “Mary Kulinah, dear, take time to love the red clay with your hands as you do with your feet. With each step is a kiss, an agreement to make a way for you, your own. Before you went inside your mother, before you became a part of this world, without earthly expectations, you selected a life of your needs and your service. You decided on this foot rub, and the breakfast you’ve forgotten about, and every friend and every word, even if you didn’t quite know them yet as they are! My namesake was executed at the hands of his best friend, whose justice was taking over the presidency.”
“I never knew that!”
“Yes! But in a fundamental way, they both made that choice—because of a lesson, an example towards which neither realized they were working in life---and then, there it was! And these lessons are worth our lives---even very good lives of forgiveness are laid down---because these choices are for borrowed things.”
“All our time is borrowed,” she replies quietly.
“All time is made for borrowing,” he says, draping his right arm around her shoulders, he, a few inches shorter than she. “All the experience is your own. Well, your water’s ready to share when you arrive home.” Did he mean the water boiling at the compound? A metaphor? He meant to send her on her way, gently, so signified with a kiss atop her head and a light squeeze on her shoulder.
“I’ve borrowed your time enough, Thomas,” she says, “but I’ll repay it everywhere.”
“I’m the one who’s borrowed you,” he replies, as she makes for the doorway. “See you!”
Much of her caar---her matrilineal clan---already had arrived. Many neighbors at rest outside the banco walls of the hut sing or pray or handle stones or light the candle way.
I am that child. I feel as though I am that life.
Gather around me---we’re going to top ourselves!
Traveller, dear---chiekuo or whatever you are, we’re all travelers here---If you find it unnecessary to cause this pain to your mother by leaving, please don’t. You’ve got to understand---you are where all understanding begins, and you know, as you begin your life, you will mean so much to these people. We’re here for you, wherever in the universe you go. With you, I understand how everyone thinks and feels, and love them like Thagba, like Christ loves them. From where you stand, in infinite mercy---from grace---everyone’s someone who is understood, who creates themselve s.
This is a sample of ch. 8 of my novel
Current mood: blissful
Category: Writing and Poetry