The problem is one of time, the old soothsayer says, casting her cowries with a flick to the left.
What do you mean?, he asks her.
You are trapped in her past, the old soothsayer says, and she in your future. And sometimes the other way round.
He is silent, mulls over this.
How can that be possible?
In the night he holds her and she cries. Like a baby, a little baby in the arms of its mother. Once she calls him "Mama!". Once she reaches for his breast, as if to suckle. A child, her past. And he here now, in the now. He holds her tight as she sleeps, and his heart is filled with sorrow that they cannot be together.
Time is but an illusion, the old soothsayer says, casting her cowries with a flick to the right. And it is the mind that lies under the illusion. Free it and the illusion will be gone - poof! The soothsayer lifts her clenched fist in the air and opens it to release an empty hand. And then a minute later a cowrie appears in its center, and drops to the floor, turning over and over in the candlelight.
At the table at dinner. She is hunched forward over her plate, the air around her filled with age.
Pass me the salt, grandchild, she says to him. Her voice is drawled, her eyes are lazy.
He is filled with a sadness, that obstructs his throat. A grandmother, her future. And he in her past, trapped here now…
I could tell you to take life, the old soothsayer says, casting her cowries with a flick forward. I could tell you to kill calfs, or goats, or chicken. But if time is an illusion, then what do you suppose life is? And so then what is death?
Honey, he says, a box of chocolates in his hands, a hope in his eyes, I brought you a gift.
Why thank you, she says, and her smile forms the beginnings of a sob in his breast - could it be true? Could she be here in his now?
...but Babucarr Mbye, she continues, and his heart sinks, Babucarr Mbye I told you that I do not date.
Her high school days. Her past. And he in the future now, trapped in her now.
He reaches to hug her but she steps back, rolls her eyes and cheepus, and sidesteps him.
Time is an illusion, but a necessary one, the old soothsayer says, casting her cowries with a flick toward herself. We must move forward through it. It is the basis of all our promises, our hopes and dreams.
There is silence in the room. Dogs howl outside, distant yells of "Serr-Kunda Nyaari Palaas!".
He has not spoken for so long when his voice finally comes out of the dark it is broken, and it takes a couple of coughs to start it.
And also our sorrow, he says.
Yes, the old soothsayer says, gathering her cowries to her, a circled hollow before her tattered malaan. But without time all become compressed, into one single spot. And how unbearable that is.
He looks at her, and her eyes are a mirror, and he sees himself reflected in them. He sighs, and bows his head, and puts his face in his hands.
He stands before the casket, where she lies, her skin pale.
Every now she looks as if she could get up and spring back into her soul and her life, back into his arms.
Every then she looks as if she never possessed life, had never felt warm against his body, had always been a thing of coldness and white garments.
And he understands, and her now, and his now, and past and present and possible future intertwine and explode and he is filled with grief and his chest cannot hold it anymore and he is only a man and it comes exploding out of him, a violent catch of breath, a bending over, a wail of sorrow.