Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mother [Fiction]

The mother leaves her house early in the morning, to catch the first ferry. It is cold outside, and the weather is a drowsy gray, still not recovered from sleep.

When she arrives at her destination it is night time, the first stars just out, the car in which she rides kereng-kereng-ing over the potholed road. The serign comes out to welcome her.

Massa chornoh, mbaa sornu lore.

The mother sits on the ground. Two candles light the room, and the serign sits opposite her, the light flickering over his features as he speaks with her.

The curse that holds your son, he tells her, is one of whose origin I have no defense against. I will not lie to you, for I am a man of God. It is a powerful curse, one I have never seen the likes of. If there exists a way to break it I doubt anyone can find it. I am sorry. Though God can do anything.

And so the next morning the mother leaves disappointed. The fifteenth serign since January.

The mother used to hear "hol bu dok", but never knew what it meant. And then the reports began to come in.

"Babucarr more biiral behna mindaan… haleh bu tutti".

"Babucarr fighting and sleeping in gutters…"

"Babucarr running around naked after Tobaski prayers outside the jumaa, holding a bottle of alcohol and singing the national anthem…"

"Paaraa yi took away Babucarr again, after beating him badly - he was throwing paketi biskit yi back at the presidential convoy…"

A different one every day. And the reproachful look in people's eyes, when she met them on the street. And their silent stares blaming her, for her son's problems, for what a bane to society he was. And yet she was not angry, not at him - he was a good boy, he was a sweet boy, if only they knew him as well as she did.

One night in August. The lights are off, have been off for the past few days. The world around them seems to be melting - so hot it is. They sit outdoors, on a basang, under the stars, the mother and Babucarr. And they are looking up at the stars, and Babucarr says

Ham nga neh some of them are satalyte?

And though the mother knows, has heard this before, still there is such a childlike delight in his voice, she says nothing about that, she says

Oh really? I did not know that.

And on an impulse, and without thinking, she puts her hand on his shoulder, and then she leaves it there, unsure what to do with it. And he turns and smiles at her, that cheeky grin with its dimples back from an earlier time, from his boyhood, and the mother scratches his head. The mother is sitting with her legs stretched out and he lays his head down on them, just like when he was a child. And the mother peers down at his face in the dark and pops pimples on his nose, and accuses him of not brushing his teeth enough. And he is indignant, and they laugh, and an hour passes like this. He is sleepy, he falls asleep lying down like this on the mother, and the mother looks down at him where he lies and the mother's breathing is heavy and a weight sits on her heart, and she has to shift to move it. He is disturbed by the movement, in his sleep he moves, his eyes flutter half-open as the mother panickedly tries to soothe him back into sleep. But he settles back, and once more is silent.

And the mother looks at him sleep, and she sees the problem, the true problem: his boy is cursed, that is what has caused all the problems so far, and the mother feels a great resolve enter her heart and she no longer feels helpless and she knows what to do, and she sees hope for her boy, and she sees a life filled with evenings like this one, and the mother smiles.

Serigns in Njoangoan, serigns in Soe-koan. serigns in Dippakunda, serigns in Jahali Pachaa. Serigns from Kaachi-kali, serigns from Kaolack. Once a serign from the Sudan, a black narr, dark as his teeth were white, spoken to through a translator. A serign who did not eat or sleep, a Sheriff from Muritani. Short serigns and tall serigns, thin serigns and portly serigns. And all of them told the mother the same thing: they would not eat her money, the curse that held her boy was just too strong, they could not help her. In fact they did not even wish to talk about it, so strong was the one who had lain it, so could she leave now please? And the night after every serign she would not sleep, and in the morning her pillow would be soaking wet. And she would not eat and she would refuse drink, until once more she heard about a new serign, one who was different from all the rest, and the mad look would once more come into her eyes, and she would put on a fresh malaan and a new musoarr and leave the house.

Babucarr went to prison: for a month, for three months, for three years, for four, for stealing a car, for impersonating an intelligence agent, for patching NAWEC wires to streetlights. He would be on GRTS (she did not watch TV, anymore), and they would match him off in handcuffs. And at the end of every term she would be outside Mile 2 with a taxi, waiting for him, and she would take him to the beach first, to bathe, and then she would take him home, and there would be chuyi kong waiting, and his favorite wonjo (with buye added). And they would sit in silence, and he would eat, though in his silence she would be able to detect what she thought was perhaps gratitude, and she thought, where gratitude steps perhaps change of character may also follow, and she would feel the stirrings of a hope in her heart.

And in a few months he would be back in prison.

By the time she hears about Merr Sidikeh the mention of a new serign no longer has any effect on her, as it once did. She is growing old - her face weathered and worn, her eyes sunken, her hair almost completely gray. Her legs have begun to fail her, and she no longer goes out as much. Occasionally she will hear of a big serign, one who is in town to throw a gamo or siyaareh, and she will limp her way to an audience with him. And the answer that always came from him will be the same one she expected, the one she has been hearing for the past twenty-five years, and she will thank them, and limp her way back home. At the time Babucarr is almost at the end his longest jail term yet, one for seven years, with hard labour. He had been caught selling fake US visas to a Serahule family. And so when the mother hears about Merr Sidibeh she is not at first in any way moved to contact her. But word of her powers spreads. Strange thing that she is, a female serign - still she is well respected by even her fellow serign.

And so one day the mother wakes early, and after she prays the fajarr she leaves her house, a pink shawl draped over her hunched shoulders, and brakes a van.

She is the first to see the female serign that day.

Sidikeh, Sidikeh, she says in greeting.

The merr serign wastes no time. She looks deep into the mother's eyes.

I will not waste your time, she tells the mother, I know why you are here.

The mother waits, expectant. One of the serign's female borka-nayk steps in - on seeing her she retreats once more into the living room. The serign waits until she is gone before she continues to speak.

The only way you can save him, she says to the mother, is a way that I do not know if you are ready yet to take.

What way is it?, the mother asks, and her voice is like a slight breeze under the Sun, so soft, so tired. Though her dentures are in her mouth it still seems caved in, as in one with no teeth.

If he is to become successful, if he is to become the man you want him to be, the merr serign says, you will have to let him go, he will have to become lost to you. That is the simple matter of it.

The mother looks down at the ground. And there is no other way?, she asks.

No, the old woman says, no ways that will persist, that will not wear off.

The smoke from an anda begins to blow in from another room. The mother runs her finger over the carpet in a spiral. She starts on the outward bend and works inward, toward the center. When it is done she looks at it for a moment, gazing deep into the carpet's strands. Then she looks up at the merr serign, and she nods.

When he comes he bangs the front door open without knocking, and she can see immediately that he is drunk.

My own mother, he says, stumbling in, my own mother leaves me in jail to rot! You know how I got here? I walked! No one would give me a lift!

She does not speak, is not yet sufficiently prepared, though all night and all morning she has been readying herself for this moment, steeling her heart. She looks at him, and her eyes glisten, and she looks away again. His eyes burn and do not settle on her, but instead flitter all about the space around her. He gesticulates with his hands as he speaks, yet the alcohol has him under its hold: his movements are disconnected from what he says, sometimes even in silence he waves them, and in speech holds them stiff and motionless.

- Filthy whore! He is screaming now, and there is foam around his mouth, and his voice tapers off into a dry hoarseness. - No wonder your husband left! You tell people you took care of me - you did nothing for me! Nothing! You hear!

And he reaches for her and she closes her eyes and shrinks away, expecting contact, perhaps wanting it, but there is none and when she opens them again he is walking out, banging the door behind him.

That was the last time the mother ever saw her son. She died a year later, two years before he met a toubab on the beach, before he got married and went to Switzerland, before he got himself into a school and cleaned up and made money and came home and became a respected and powerful business man. And he knew many people, and had many friends, and on the manicured lawns of one of his many mansions, when he and his friends sat together and the subject of his mother came up in conversation, he would scowl, and speak in glowing terms about his father, who had left when he was too young because he could not take his mother anymore, and how his mother had almost then ruined his life, doing nothing but spending all their money on serign-tu, dark magic to make her rich and get her a new husband, and he had escaped only by some form of luck, that he did not know, or the favor of God, or at least the protection of some manner of saint or prophet.

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