Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Pregnancy


This is how they start, the very first time he calls her, after he has taken her number:

- Hello.
- Hello.

A pause, the sound of their breathing over the line.

- Heeey - yow what're you doing up at this time?, she says, Haleh yu baah yi yaype taydi nenye.
- Anh OK, he replies, more tah yow yaangeh nelawe.

She giggles, a preamble. He settles down, into the couch in which he sits, laying his head on its arm, his hand under his shirt warming his stomach.

- Yow ninga mell baahute deh - how could you say that about Alasan Camara on your show.
- Lu hewe daf la nahari?, he asks.
- Man?! Ham nga neh maasi Alasan Camara yi ngaa def loe lu.
- Hay-haay - dang maa tigal laygi - loal la Miss Rambo - maangi ragal sah.

She is smiling - he can feel it even in her silence.


Tonight he is a comic, and she is his audience.

Her laughter comes sometimes in peals, and sometimes in waves, but always accompanying his words, filling in his pauses.

- Paco bi nyaaye, paara bi nyaaye, ma nyaaye. Paara muss na laa riitaye?

She is laughing so hard she can barely answer.

- Day… he-he-he… Day.. he-he.. daydayt.
- Paco bii nak paaraa daf kor daan riitay very day. More nehkorn sunye baandi konye bi - Hans! Choy yi yaypa kor haameh after.
- He-he… Laygi after?… he-he-he…
- Paco baangeh def tali bi lore ham neh. Paara bi nak ndekeh morm fitut… mu laaha sunye konye rek sayga tay biram bi. Balaa more sigi paco bi disappear na.

She can see the image he describes, and it makes her smile.

- Then after?
- Paara bi turn em chi man maangeh jail curve bi. Sunye boat yi tasseh rek mu rush ma….


- Dama sorna teye, she says, suma borpa bi morye mayti.
- Naan nga garap?
- No - I think dama need pour nelawe.
- Anh OK - kon haara ma baayi la nga taydi.
- Daydayt!

The desperation in the way she says it warms him. She is aware of it, and attempts to take it back.

- I mean unless you have to go, she says.
- Nah I don't. Yaangi tayda?


A mood is upon her tonight. He tries everything - she gives him no quarter.

- Lu hewe, he says, yaangi hala stress teye deh.
- Ah dara.
- You sure?
- Maa la kor wah tehdu.
- OK.

Their conversation falters and comes to a stop, a false start.

- Guess who I saw teye?, he tries again.
- Kan?
- Guessal.
- Hawe ma di - just wah ma!

An impatience in her voice, that she does not even attempt to hide. He retreats, his smile disappears. So this is how she is going to be tonight.

- Ken, he says, never mind.
- OK. Anyway dama sorna - maangeh dem taydi.
- Beh after.

Dama kore feral, he thinks as he holds the dead phone in his hand. Duma kor call three days, suma calleh sah duma pick up. Ndo bii bum ma yap.

But of course the next night she calls, and he picks up.


- Danga lamba?, he asks, his voice mocking.
- Horl ma bu baah seht ndah dama la nuru ku deh lamba. Shuu!
- Ah lu maa wah, he says, laughing softly, So lu hew?
- Dara - dama just buga nehka alone right now rek.
- Daydayt loe lu normalut. Nehku lore dima wah full story bi.
- Maneh yow lu la chi sornal, she says, yow ak man we're just friends tehdu.

The words have the intended effect - she can feel a deflation in his silence. So he is interested, she thinks, and her heart quickens.

He rallies well.

- Dara, he says, dama la yay-raym rek. Cause ham naa lamba-ness easy wut.

She giggles dutifully. She thinks, now I have him, where I want him, and her mind fills with possibilities...


It is the stillest part of the night, undisturbed except for the ticking of clocks, and the creaking of houses. They speak each from their beds, their eyes closed, the distances between them dissolved by a free call. He is listening attentively to her.

- So after loe lu la sumap Pa deh, she is saying, After suma maam mu nyowe dehka si chi kerr bi.
- Ban maam, he asks, the one you go to Gamo with?

Her smile is weighed down by sleepiness, and it cuddles her where she lies.

- Oh you remember?, she says, See that's the thing I like about you. Dang deh actually dayglu. You're not just a sollipsist.
- Solip-lan? Ham nga sa memorize dictionary bi.

She titters, and yawns before she continues.

- Like… nehkut neh sa borpa rek nga deh joh importance. Cause a lot of guys do that.
- Ah OK. Sore deh waaja nelawe si nak sa baat bi…

She smiles again, her eyes closed, waiting. But he does not complete the sentence.

- Suma baat bi lan?, she asks finally. She speaks out the words slowly, a child again, almost a sing-song.

- Dara, he replies, Flattery more reye sa maam.

She laughs.


She misses him, the whole day. She misses him when he leaves, she misses him until his return.

She misses him right after he hangs up the phone, in a way that dampens her mood and leaves her feeling annoyed at herself.

- Hello.
- Baby?, she says, sounding breathless, Fore nehkorn - maang la nehka di call rek.
- Dama demorn sidey Ous, after boy yi ak si nyu chlll - left my phone at home.
- Sa boy yi denye sorf - hanaa amunye girlfriends? Di chill beh time bii.

He laughs. He can hear the desire in her voice, and it fills his breast with a certain pride, a certain sense of manliness.

- Lore def teye?, she asks.
- Dara - just went to record show bi. Lamin neh dafa am contacts yu ess - maybe we'll bring Vybz.
- Kartel?!, she asks, excitement in her voice.
- Yeah. Ak nyorm Popcaan.

He tries to sound as nonchalant as possible, as if talking to Kartel was something he did every day.

- Baby that'll be so cool!
- Yep - then day boe bu nak dinga finally stone.
- Ma-aan?, she exclaims, Nopes - baalal naa lehn - mun naa just dem faycha.
- Ah kon haara ma dem uti benehn date.
- Acha demal - you're the one who'll come back - fee ngehn maa fehka, yaa sa date bi yaype…


Tonight they are both relaxed, after the activities of the day. There is a new closeness they share, that had not been there before.

- Ana Little Paul?, she asks, her voice teasing.
- Yow sore morye tu wut sa borpa. Laygi Little Paul nga def sa harit?
- Wawe. Paski more ma njayka def harit.
- Mungeh nelawe - teye man rek maa fi nehka. So wahtaanal ma.
- Unh-unh, she says, shaking her head, imitating a little child, Dama buga Little Paul.
- So lim la def teye dor-yut? Ham nga danga nyaaka jom.

She chuckles.

- Baby hanaa hamulor duma deh dorye-lu chi Little Paul.
- Ah kon laygi amaa tulore suma time.

She can see him pout, as he says the words, his bronze skin, his full lips. She feels suddenly absent, as if her life were at his side only, and everywhere else did not count.

- Aha kanye. You know I love Little Paul's owner.
- Anh? Ndik lan?
- Mmmm… cause dafa cool, beh pareh dafa handsome, beh pareh he loves me more than anyone, ever.
- Ku la wah loe lu?
- Morm.
- Really?, he says, Nahh na la kon.
- Wawe nama nahh - care wuma - buga naa kor noe-nu.


- Aunty Jai mu neh bossam daf deh late yehna saaye, she says.
- You asked her?
- Daydayt - yow tam am not that stupid di. Dama kor just bring up in conversation.
- Oh OK.

Panic chases after them, and though it has not yet caught up they can feel its breath hot on their necks, as they lie in the dark talking.

- Ah I'm sure dina nyowe.
- Yeah.
- Dore deh muna predict these things.
- Yeah.
- Nyaata days laygi?
- Three, she says, Musuta late three.
- Yeah. Ah first time dafa am pour lu nehka, he says philosophically, Dina nyowe.
- Yeah.
- Bull stress sa borpa.
- Yeah.


These are hard nights, of silences filled with stone. A new awkwardness lies between them - their speech is a mechanical thing that they must drive forward.

- How are you feeling today?
- I'm fine, she replies, not sounding fine.
- Did you vomit again?
- I'm fine. When I was with girls yi teye maangi halorna scared. Y no one noticed.

When he is away from her, when he imagines her now he cannot remember her face. All he can recall is her stomach, and in his imagination it is a grotesque, bulging thing.

- Lore lehn dorne def, he says, torga ebeh?
- Yeah. Then nyu dem hang out LP. Famatta faram bi came from England.
- Anh OK.

She has gone beyond the need to blame, is now only filled with a resignation.

- Ban time ngaa nyowe Friday?, she asks.
- Doctor bi said 7am. Dinaa nyowe pick up la borri 6.
- OK, she says, Maang dorn halaat pour Thursday ma dem fanaan sidey Ida.
- Ndik sa yaaye?
- Yeah, she says, She wakes pour njail and sits chi ayta bi.
- OK. Dang kor wah Ida?
- Not yet, she says, Y she has to know sudeh foe fu laaye fanaan. Y du deh wah.
- OK.


A cloud of gloom hangs about her, growing larger with every word she speaks. It comes over the phone line and fills the room in which he lies too, and the distance between them feels endless, though neither can turn away from the other.

- Leh ka nga?, he asks.
- Nah. Heefuma.
- Danga need pour lehka di Babe.
- Yeah. Dinaa lehka after.

She is tired - so tired. She wishes she could hang up the phone, and shut out the world, and be alone. And yet she feels the exact opposite too, the thought of loneliness filing her with a fear and a panic that she can scarce contain.

- Naka show bi teye?, she asks, Record nga?
- Yeah. He sounds as if she had asked him about a chore he had performed during the day, but had not wanted to.
- How was it?
- Ah - just the usual, he says dismissively, Music, interviews, Lamin ak jokesam yi.
- OK.

When she told him the result of the test he had sprang into action. He did the research, found a good and discreet doctor. He made the appointment, paid with cash. He did all there was to do, and now he is at a loss, feels helpless. What to say, to make her feel better. He casts about for words. His assurances die in his throat, never reaching his tongue, sounding hollow even to him.

- Wah ngaa Ida?
- Wawe, she replies.
- What did she say?
- Dara.
- Dara?
- I mean she was OK. Me and her go back a long way - she's always there suma kor needeh. She's, like, suma best friend dipi timey halel.
- Anh OK, he says, So elayk?
- Yeah - dina ma jailsi si afternoon bi. I told my mum neh we had a show.
- OK.

They speak about inconsequential things, after that, until she can muster enough courage to end the conversation.


- Hello, she picks up the vibrating phone.
- Babe? Yaangi sidey Ida?
- Yeah. Y Mungeh nelawe.
- OK. Yow tam you should.
- Goemantuwu ma, she replies.
- Ah OK.
- Lorye def?
- Man - dara. Just sitting here.
- Ah OK.

With each word they speak the night draws closer to an end, the day becomes clearer in its approach over the horizon. So their silences are longer tonight, as if by not speaking they can hold the day at bay.

- Dama deh nehka di feel as if…, she trails off.
- As if lan?
- Dara.
- As if lan, he insists.
- Ah dara. Just… Suma cousin dafa gaynay worn bosam, and then they found out. Sumap Pa was saying how reye kati nit la, and then he didn't speak to her again after that. Gaayi denye kor banish from family bi...
- Babe, he says. Wah naa la nga stop worrying. No one knows.
- Neh-kut loe lu.
- Lan la kon?
- Dara.

He feels a sudden irritation. The things that worry her are not things he wishes to think about, and he feels a flash of anger at her for bringing them up.

- Danga set sa alarm bi?, he asks, and he could have been talking to a stranger he worked with.
- Daydayt - necessary wut - duma nelawe.
- Maneh just set kor. Sore oversleepay nak? His tone is scolding.
- OK, she says, quietly.

She sounds so weary. His anger is replaced with shame, at itself.

- Sore reyeh nit kuuye dunda, he says, ching deh nehka murderer. Fii amute dara luuye dunda.
- Yeah, she says, almost as if she had memorized the word and did not need to think of it anymore to say it.
- Su dorn a couple of months sah. Y aagut foe fu.
- Yeah.
- Danga wara nelawe.

He wants to go, and his guilt at this makes him angry again. She knows, and does not think she holds it against him.

- Demal taydi, she offers, beh elayk.
- Maneh if I wanna sleep I'll go. Needulore pour wah ma kor.

A long silence.

- Baby demal taydi, she says again, with great effort, giving him a way out, Suma nehkeh di wah damaa eh Ida.
- You sure?
- Yeah - demal.
- OK. I'll leave suma phone bi on. Call ma sore munuteh nelawe.
- Wawe OK, she says, and they both know the night will pass without her calling.


Something is missing from her voice tonight, something that sounds as if it has been crushed and destroyed under a heavy load.

- Munu maa nelawe, she says, and it is as if she has lived a long life filled with despair, and never slept.
- Amulore sleeping pills?
- Aha kanye - doctor bi gave me some. Y bugu ma lehna naan…
- Lu tah?
- Dafa.. suma deh…. my eyes - every time I close them dama deh nehka di giss…, she does not finish the sentence.
- Baby just naan lehn nga nelawe.

There is a note of pleading in his voice, that has never been there before, and rather than soothe her it makes her feel worse.

- Wawe - maybe later, she says, Dinaa naan some later.
- Ana sa yaaye?
- Dafa dem hewe. Maangi kerr man kehna.
- OK.

He gets a sudden inspiration.

- Dang lehn wara naan before she comes home, he says, So dore lehn need pour wah.

She laughs - it is a cold laugh, there is no mirth in it.

- Bull worry - I'm fine. Du detect dara. Yaangi safe.

There is the accusation, in those last words. He is quiet.

- Sorry Baby, she says after a while, I didn't mean that. Dama sorna rek.
- It's OK, he says, sounding surer of himself now, demal naan some pills. Then nga nyowe tayda nyu wah benga nelawe.

The load that she has carried through the day does not seem as heavy, anymore.

- OK, she says, and gets up.


- Dangaa over make a good mother sah.
- Anh. Naka nga hameh loelu?
- Just horl la rek. Jaimi yaaye nga ameh.
- So dang maa oryeh fat laygi?

It is the first joke they have shared in weeks, and they laugh much longer than its funniness allows.

- Baby so first one bi suma Papa, she says, planning names.
- Daydayt - jehkarr bi gets to name first kid bi di! Hai - yow yabulore ma.
- Anh OK. Wawe OK - so kore kore tuday?
- Sa Papa, of course.

She smiles, and it is not forced.

She feels as if everything will be alright.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Ligaye

His Aunt went to see the Serign on Saturday. The Serign wrote his name down on white paper, with the blood of a goat. 

And by the following Saturday he had gone mad.

It wasn't the kind of madness that was immediately obvious. It was a subtle madness, that infected his thoughts and filled everything with a dark poison, and made him stay awake at night. It found its source in a growing dread of his mortality. The thought of what lay beyond existence, what lay on the other side of the impermeable dark filled him with a greater terror than he had thought possible. And this terror was compounded by the fact that he felt, too, an inexplicable desire to embrace this darkness, to escape himself. 

His mother noticed. Perhaps through his speech, perhaps in his actions - mothers always know, are always able to read the signs, no matter how insignificant they seem to an outsider. 

He snapped at her once, in the living room, over a trivial matter. Another time he would not greet her, when he came in from work. And both times she was silent and showed him no anger- was in fact even kinder to him as he went about the house in a dark mood, complaining about everything. 

That Friday, unknown to anyone, the mother traveled to visit a well-respected but obscure Serign in Fass Njaga Choi, waking early in the morning to catch a van, after she had prayed Fajr. The roads almost empty, the geleh-geleh leaving a trail of dust in the damp dawn air.  

Your boy is under the cursing hand of another, the Serign told her, observing his shells spread out before him, The hand of one close to you in blood and in water. 

Something in the old woman's throat caught. She breathed in deeply, and coughed.

What do I have to do?, she asked, and she could have been asking for the price of a fish - so composed was she.

The Serign's face grew grave, and he shook his head.

The ties that bind the curse can be undone only by one stronger than I - it is an ancient and cruel magic. He looked up at her. Belie Aja - I have been doing this for long now - Jahan-nama is not itself enough of a punishment for the caster. 

The mother had suspected it but been unwilling to believe it. She said nothing of this to the Serign - she thanked him, and left that place in the early afternoon, taking a van back home. 

When she got there she cooked lunch for two (for she lived alone with her son). Then she sat in the living room with the TV on, waiting for him to return from work.

He did not believe her, of course. In truth he thought rather poorly of what he called the superstitions of an older generation, trapped in a time of darkness before Science. So he paid her no mind, dismissed her words, eating his lunch and going into his room to take a nap.

For many nights after, his mother did not sleep. Her thoughts wandered, yet were centred toward only one thing: finding a way to save her son. She wondered, at which of her relatives had done such a thing. In her mind all of their faces acquired ugly sneers, hitherto unseen marks of cruelty hidden in the lines and creases of their faces. It could have been any of them, or all of them in concert. She had never spoken a bad word or done a bad deed against they and their families - why would they do this to her now?

She thought, but God is better than them. And in her mind she made a list of Serigns to visit, to see what they could do.

The mother had not raised her voice against the son, in many years. She handled him like she had handled his father, letting him walk around the house as if he owned it, quietly getting her own way using her own subtle means and ways. 

So she had never raised her voice, since the father had died. Which made the sound of it seem even more unnatural, as she admonished him in his room.

I got this saafara, she told the son, and you will drink it, and you will bath with it. I never ask you to do anything - I slave for you day and night. You will do this for  me - there is no argument.

He had never seen her this upset. With a resigned sigh, a sulky look on his face, he took the bottle from her. 

If only to get her to shut up, he thought. If only to make her happy.

There were a few more bottles-ful, after that, concoctions from all over the land, multicolored liquids with swirls of shredded paper at their center put in old medicine and drink bottles. 

He drank, and he bathed, and he rubbed over his head, and he put in his ear holes, and under the soles of his feet. 

He did these things with a resignation, for he was sure they would not work. Sometimes in bed at night unable to sleep he saw past himself into an abyss that seemed to have no end, a gaping chasm toward which he was propelled through no choice of his. 

And he became desperate for sleep, in the way a faster is desperate for water, yet the more he forced himself the wider awake he felt. 

Mornings became sombre affairs, as he sat with the mother over breakfast. Their previous conversation that had filled the house with life before the Sun was now only a scattered silence between them. 

The mother watched him, and her heart grew heavy within her, and she fought to keep down her anger and frustration. 

And the son felt the mother's eyes, and felt also the burden he must be on her, and resented both this and himself, and what he had become. 

After a while the son stopped going to work. 

The mother woke him up one morning, and when she returned fifteen minutes later he still had not gotten out of bed. 

Ah - no work for you today?, she asked, standing over him.

I'm just… tired, he said, and his voice was so flat she felt a sudden pang. She sat on the edge of the bed, and placed her hand on his back. 

I feel cold, so very cold, he said, I can't feel my feet. 

It's OK, the mother said, stroking his brow, just relax - you don't need your feet right now. You lie down right here and I'll get you anything you need.

He smiled up at her, a smile that frightened her more than it comforted her. He said 

You should go conduct your own business, you know. I'll be fine. 

Shhh, she said, her hands reaching to his hair, you are my only business - try and sleep now - I'm sure you were up again the whole night. 

He closed his eyes. His chest rose and fell. She looked at him and willed herself not to cry. Gradually the movement of his chest slowed. Once he started up muttering and she thought he had woken - but it was only a dream - he settled back down. 

The mother looked at him where he lay. Even in sleep he seemed filled with an unease that in a sudden fit of violent thought the mother wished she could drag out of him, casting it away from him and back at its owner, the relative that had done this cruel thing. 

She got up after a while, and went into the back yard to cook them lunch. 

When she returned he was sitting up on the bed, his head in his arms.

She rushed to him.

What is it?

Nothing, he said, Dara.

She pulled him to her and held him in her arms.

The thing again?

It's just so heavy. I don't feel as if I can bear it for much longer.

Don't talk like that, she said to him, and her tone was stern. They sat together in silence for a while. Gradually he leaned in closer to her embrace.

It is only a disease, she said finally, a determination in her tone, you must always keep this in your mind. We will fight it. 

He nodded weakly. He thought more than anything in that moment he wanted her to feel better.

God won't give us what we cannot bear, she told him, We pray to Him, and do only good. Our enemies will get nothing to them but shame. You hear me? You must help me shame them - let them hear only good things about you. 

He nodded again, and gave a sigh. 

Now sit up, she said, Let me dish out the lunch. You have to be powerful, so when it comes rek nga box kor!

She made the boxing motion with a clenched fist. 

He laughed, he thought, only to please her.

She began to sleep in his room with him, at night. 

It started after she asked him why his eyes were so red - was he sleepy? And in fits and starts he told her about the night, and how long it was, and how it seemed to have no end - how frightening he found this. 

He looked so tired, she thought, as he spoke. His eyes would not meet hers. They had never been intimate, in this way - and the mother felt what effort it must take even for him to speak with her like this. 

She did not say anything. 

But that night she brought her mattress and laid it on the floor of his room, ignoring his protests. And when it was time to sleep it was she who turned off the light, and said goodnight to him.

When he woke up in the morning and realized he had slept for hours he thought only, My tiredness must be catching up on me. He thought, The insomnia will return again tonight.

He watched the mother where she lay, her face quashed against the pillow, her mouth half-open. And the sudden feeling that surged in his breast made him turn away from her, so foreign an emotion it was. 

She told him stories, about his father. 

In the dying light of day as they sat together, as Taakusaan made way for Timis, she stroked his hair and spoke to him. She told him how the old man would take him when going out, as a child. She spoke about how coming home from work he would open his arms and the boy would run into them, how he would always have a present for him: a kabaa, a koeni. 

The father had died in a car accident. The son had no memories of him, except vague and general ones, that could have been worn by any man. 

Her stories seemed to soothe him -  he snapped them up like an excited child.  For the duration of their telling the fear in him seemed to lessen. 

For it came down to that: fear. She could see it in his eyes, when she spoke of leaving for a moment to carry out an errand. The fear of being left alone, that he had once displayed, as a child, that she thought he had outgrown with the years.  And behind that a greater fear, that the mother could not name or place, but that made her shiver. 

She lessened her errands, the need to leave that room. She changed her daily rituals so they all became centred around his. She slept after he slept, and woke up before him. She prayed in the room, making him get up to join her. She performed her wirrda sitting in a chair opposite his bed, gesturing at him when it was time to close his bedroom windows, to keep out the mosquitoes.

And she hid from him her own fear that gripped her, that she did not examine, or even dare to look at too closely. She spoke with a confidence that sometimes brought a sparkle to his eyes. But it was a confidence that she herself did not possess, and though she kept her expression placid there was underlying it a turmoil of emotion, that sometimes threatened to break through the surface as she watched him sleep. 

The son listened to her speak of the father, and he thought, I am bored, but I must listen for her sake. Yet when she stopped he would ask her to go on, with gentle prodding questions. And as she spoke he sat in rapt attention, laughing when the mother repeated a joke the father had made.

When the relatives called the house now, the mother's brothers and sisters, she told them only that everything was fine. When they made plans to visit she put them off to indefinite times, or changed the subject. She discouraged the neighbors, too, from visiting. In time whole days went by in which only a beggar or two would come into the house, the odd salesman. She made an arrangement with one of the girls in the house opposite to do her grocery shopping for her, once a week.

He had seemed to be getting better, but now he was worse.

In his eyes there was a deadness, a lack of interest in anything. When the mother set food before him he would not eat it, until she forced him. And even then only a few spoonfuls, before he would lie back down, turning his face to the wall.

Now there were no stories, or even much conversation. The mother sat in her chair looking out the window as she told her beads. The son lay with his back to her. She thought of many things to say,  but the right words had deserted her. Or perhaps there were no right words, in the barren desert of feeling the son now inhabited that seemed to fill the room, the air still, the silence unbroken.

She had to help him into the shower, in the mornings, then dry and dress him and put him back in bed. He would not eat, and she had to spoon-feed him, cradling his head in her left, bringing the spoon to meet it with her right. 

In all her dealings with him she employed a light touch, meant to soothe him. And she tried not think the thought that forced itself to the front of her mind, that he was beyond soothing. 

She woke up one night to find him crying. She felt it before she heard his sobs. She lay on her mattress, and could not get up, because if she got up she would not know what to do, what to say, to take away his fears. 

And so she lay still, in moments filled with a wracking torture, and whispered to herself a name of God, over and over, until finally he stopped and went back to sleep, his sniffling becoming less and less frequent and finally dying down.  

Even then in his breathing she thought she could detect the hint of a rising sob, and for the rest of that night she could not sleep.

She gave out alms after that, every day. To the children at the local daara, to passing beggars, to the beggars who sit outside the mosque on Friday, to the Imam of the mosque. 

They had lived modestly after the father had died, the mother and the son, their needs few and easy to cater to. 

She sold the few gold bangles and bracelets she owned and with the money she bought bags of rice and coos and sugar, for the making of the sarah. A dim memory compelled her to act, returned to her from her childhood, about the feeding of the hungry and what great rewards it brought back to the alms-giver. 

And to everyone she gave food to she told them only, I have only one prayer. God knows it. Pray for me that He will grant it. 

And the receiver of alms -  whether child or beggar - would ask that God grant her wish, and she would thank them, and go back into the house.

He stared into space for long moments, his eyes seeming old, older than even the mother. Now when spoken to he only answered in nods and barely-heard whispers.

One morning the mother woke and he was gone. She had felt the emptiness of the room, in her sleep, and it had brought her hurtling out of her troubled dreaming. She sat up sharply. The bed was empty, and the feeling that made her spring to her feet came from deep within her. The bathroom, she thought, though she did not know how she knew.

He was there, sitting on the lid of the closed toilet bowl, his head in his hands.

What are you doing?, she asked him. He looked up at her where he stood, and she took a step back, despite herself. His eyes were filled with a certainty he had not displayed since the start of the disease, and on his face there was a terrible smile.

It is OK, he said, standing up, I understand it all now.

Understand what?

It will be fine Ya, he said. 

And he walked past her back to the room, and there was something in his words and manner that made her afraid, a new kind of fear, a fear that filled her with a panic she could not control.

She watched him closely, after that. She gave up sleep almost entirely, would jerk out of dozing in her chair in the middle of the night and immediately reach for him protectively, muttering his name, still confused. 

He ate now, by himself. He took showers. But despite these things - or perhaps in the way he did them - the mother was filled with a growing unease. 

The day when it came felt different. The mother could sense it, in the way he spoke, with a finality that seemed to come from one almost dead, setting their affairs in order for the last time. 

He spoke with her almost normally, laughed, even made a few jokes of his own. And the mother thought, perhaps he is healed, perhaps the curse has been lifted. But even as she thought this she knew it was not the case, that he had at last reached the end of the dark road he had walked and was barely anymore of this World. 

She followed him even more closely that day, standing outside the bathroom door as he bathed inside, holding his change of clothes. He seemed relax, but this was belied by a new hardness in his eyes that made her afraid to touch him, unable to recognize in this stranger her son. 

She thought, very well. She thought, this is the day then. She thought, An ending - but I will not let it end here.

The day ended, and nothing had happened. 

That night she lay out her mattress, and pretended to fall asleep early. She lay in the dark trying to slow her breath, her eyes closed tight, one hand slung carelessly across her stomach.

In the middle of the night she felt his tread as he climbed out of bed, as he walked toward and over her. There was the sound of the door opening, he was out, and the mother sat up quickly. She stood, and in a rush regathered her malaan about her, put on the slippers that lay at the foot of the mattress. And then she ran after him.

She found him outside, standing under a sky with no stars and scant moonlight. He turned and saw her, their eyes met and held and they did not speak. Then she looked up at the washing line that hung above his head, knotted into a perverse shape, a circular shape.

The mother had never cried in front of the son, that either could recall. And so when her tears came, an explosion that sounded like a sneeze, it surprised both of them. She wept, and did not try to stop it and he took an instinctive step toward her and away from the rope. 

Your father is gone, the mother said, sobbing like a child, If God takes you too what shall I do?

The boy went up to his mother. He put her hand on his shoulder, and there were tears in his eyes, a moisture that seemed to soften their late hardness. And when his mother saw this she cried even more, though now she was also smiling, for the worst was over, and now the darkness would only grow in distance behind them.

They went back inside, and in the morning they sat together over breakfast, mother and son, listening to the news on Rajo Gambia, a plate of akara set before them, loaves of bread and cups of tea.

Here - here is the sauce for the akara, the mother said, reaching to give it to him. He reached to take it with a smile, and the mother sighed and silently thanked God.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Your Sisters' Keeper

She waited all night and he did not call.

She does not know when she finally fell asleep, waking up to a hardness against her chin, the mobile on top of which she had rolled. It was vibrating. A text - Jai - 'gal we r at idas house cme down'. An ebeh hangout - they had discussed it the previous week, before the fight. After a week of christmas and new year dates with boyfriends a girl's Sunday, to sit around and gossip and tease each other.

She gets out of bed. There are no missed calls on her phone. She keeps checking, but there are never any missed calls, or if there are the names she reads only irritate her.

She is not hungry. Not for breakfast, and to tell the truth not for ebeh, either. She sits at the kitchen table, slumped lazily forward, her head on her elbow. She wants to go back to bed. I am tired, she tells herself, that is all. I need to sleep - when I wake up I will feel much better.

She tries not to think of the mobile ringing. She tries not to glance over at its screen, to catch the call in the moment of its connection, to will it into being by being sure of its imminent arrival.

The phone rings - she gets up and grabs it. It is Saye. She sounds like she is licking a cut lemon. Jang-ha ananga? Hanaa jotulore sunye text bi nga nyuuse nyore ignore... 

Saye.... Saye.... she tries to interrupt in a small voice. Saye finally stops and listens.


My head hurts.

Anh?, Saye says, come get some ebeh then - it's good for it. She is silent. Maneh jang-ha dunye la nehal - come if you're coming. Nonsense.

Maneh taygal sa time, she says, lee lan la nee? Maangeh nyowe in a bit.

More gain chi yow deh. And Saye hangs up.

She drags herself to the bathroom, and slogs her way through a shower. She dresses - a little mascara over the eyes, a string of beads around the neck. Then she leaves the house.

It is not that other men do not like her. She reminds herself of this, she presents to herself as evidence the looks in the eyes of the ones she passes, on the roads and in the streets. She reminds herself of this, and it in no way proves to be a salve, or serve as a lightening or even a shifting of the weight that sits on her chest.

She hears the girls as soon as she's inside the gate - their laughter from the back, one voice listened to as it finished its story, three others raised in raucous laughter following its denouement.

Saye sees her first. jinay bi nyowe na!, she says, slapping her thigh. She is a slight woman, fair skinned - of the girls she alone does not own her mouth. This is what they tell her, Saye the blunt one, the one you wanted at your side in a fight.

The others stop talking and turn. She thinks she can see it in their faces, how they analyze her: the way she walks, the expression in her face. Seeking to fathom from these things the answer to the question they are not sure yet it is cool to ask. And they must see that there has not yet been a call, because none of them mention it, then, not even Saye.

Jang-ha baayil di nelawe beh naaj bi laka sa taat yi - jang-ha ninga Mel baahut deh, Yassin says - Ida giggles.

Hey jang-hus beads yi, beads yi, Jai says, and she can't help but smile.

As they cook, and talk, gradually thought of the call slips almost from her mind, is reduced to a slight itch that she is almost able to forget, for a moment, as Saye explains how she confronted a girl who kept rolling her eyes at her in public the previous week, as Jai tells them of the latest eruptions of her father, the man of many wives. They are careful, in the way they speak - they steer the conversation away from boys in general. Though occasionally one will come close to quoting a boyfriend, or repeating a joke he made on the phone at night, always they avoid it at the last minute, skillfully maneuvering around it. But she notices, nevertheless, and gradually over the course of the evening the call waiting returns once more to the forefront of her mind. There is a sinking in her mood, a sloughing. Bit by bit she falls out of the conversation and retreats into herself, staring fixedly into a space of her own significance. And the others falter, their conversation sinks into the hole she creates, despite their bravest attempts.

There is a moment when there is a lull in the conversation. Everyone waits for someone else to fill it, with a word, a laugh - it remains empty, turns into a morose silence. The sun has almost set - it is getting dark outside. Cats fight on the other side of the fence, their caterwauling penetrating the brick wall. Suddenly she does not want to be here anymore - she wants to be lying at home in bed in a complete dark, the room silent, no music playing. She gets up.

Jang-ha forye dem?

She makes an excuse. She does not remember what later - something about her father coming home that night. It does not matter - they can see how she wishes to leave. They walk with her to the gate.

Jang-ha Assan said he'll call me when he gets here tonight, Saye says, as she gets into the car.

Assan, who may have information. But does she wish to know, truly, is there not an advantage in this not-knowing.

At home. She is tired. But she cannot sleep - she lies in bed, as she imagined. But though the room is dark, the light of the mobile phone screen lighting as a call arrives will not enter it. And though it is quiet the sound of a mobile vibrating and screaming its ringtone will not startle her in it. Time plays funny tricks on her. She waits for an hour and when she looks at the luminiscent clock only a minute has gone by. At midnight Saye texts her.

Jang-ha Ass said he has not spoken 2 im yet bu he will 2mrw.

k thnx, she texts back.

She thinks she must have forgotten how to sleep.  She closes her eyes, and breathes slowly, and tries to clear her mind, but always she seems as far from sleep as she is in the middle of the day, with the Sun at its highest, destroying all shade and shadow. In order to fall asleep she must stop thinking about it, yet she cannot stop thinking about it unless she falls asleep... a circling that leaves her feeling even more irritated... And it is hot and it is cold... And her eyes feel so red, under her closed eyelids, so she has to keep opening them... And where is he now.... She sees him, reaching for his phone.... His hands rest on the keypad but they cannot type out her number, they are frozen by some dark magic... But it is her dream, she... Must... Be... Able... To.... Move... And she wakes without succeeding, bleary eyed, and reaches automatically for her mobile.

No missed calls, one text. Her heart skips a beat - she jams her finger down on the inbox button. But It is only her brother, back home from clubbing the previous night, texting her to open the gate. She checks the time - 4am - Ya must have opened it for him, in the end.

She goes into the bathroom, to brush her teeth. She looks at her cheeks in the mirror and they seem so fat, even grotesque.  She is suddenly angry at herself, her many-faulted self that men will abandon without a thought. She is too ugly, she thinks, she is too fat, too slow. He would not call, he would never call again, she thought, feeling sorry for herself. And then she thinks, and he does not care the effect this is having on me. And she feels a sudden flash of anger, she thinks if he does not care then neither will I. Something in her hardens for a moment and she savagely puts away the toothbrush and marches back to her room, flecks of toothpaste still on her chin. She will not care either, then, she cares so little that she will turn off her phone right now! She picks it up. A change in the color of the flashing light, a missed call notification, and in a moment she has forgotten all her anger as she picks it off the bed, her heart beating in anticipation. It is an international number, and her disappointment makes her sigh, and sink back into her posture.

She climbs back into bed and gets under the covers. She does not wish to go out, not today. She will stay here, and perhaps sleep will come to her.

When the phone rings it is without any expectations that she picks it up.  Her eyes are closed and she does not bother to open them - she merely gropes on the bed for it, her fingers pressing remembered buttons. She holds it to her ear.

Hello, she says, almost a whisper.


It is him. Her eyes fly open and she sits up in bed. The phone is pressed tight to her ear, so tightly it would have hurt, under different circumstances - but now she does not even notice. She barely knows what to say.

Yow lu hew?, she asks him. Her voice is not accusing yet - it probes him, intends to find out his explanation first. There is a pause in which a thousand possibilities come true, and each is as false as the one preceding it. Then

Baby, he begins, and she knows she has won, it does not matter what he says next, in his tone of voice she accepts his surrender and she is once more the queen who will lay down the laws which he will follow. She listens to him speak with a regal silence, not interrupting, making barely a sound.

And all the while the relief in her chest is so sharp she is left breathless, she has to gulp back her breathe, and regain control of herself with an effort. She has had many years of training, in the ways of deadening her voice with a cold rejection that makes the hardiest of men take pause and re-consider. But all she can manage now is a stifled rasp, like someone recovering from a bad cold. She tries to pack as much anger and sangfroid as she can into it.

I don't want to talk now - I'm busy, she says. Beh chi kanam.

And over his protests she hangs up, her hands trembling a little.

Then she puts the mobile on the bed, and sits waiting for him to call back.