Safe House

There is no home to go to. Where do you think you’re going? Right now you are living in the Western Hemisphere regional branch of a corporation that built itself up on the bodies of people who looked very much like you who were snatched at night, who were dragged from terrified families, that were traded for some schnapps, who learnt to endure because there was no other option. The right side of the sea for you is a place where the same monster breathes down your neck; it’s breath just stinks a little differently.

But there, your 4×4 smells like abroad. It is pristine and you can yell at the driver for leaving oily fingerprints on the steering wheel covered in beige leather just like the rest of the car interior. And you can use that car to roll over the hands and feet of the people on crutches and in wheelchairs reaching to your windows misted over from the condensation of the cold AC meeting the hot glass. You can toss a few coins to the children grabbing at the pockets of your designer jeans as you exit the club, and maybe you’ll donate last year’s clothes to an orphanage knowing that you’ve done your civic duty.

And there you are safe, and the police yes sah and yes madam to your slippery accent and their giant rifles might as well be water guns because they would never dream of turning them on a big somebody like you. There you are safe, and blackness is only remarked upon when your grandma complains you have stayed out in the sun too long, or when the finest girl in the class is the shade of the inside of the palm you will use to try and get a feel of her wavy hair, or when the waiter is rude to you at a luxury resort full of white people turning red in the sun and you will shout at him, spit flying and veins threatening to explode: “Heh do you know who I am???”

Back home you are safe, and you are not a try-too-hard laughing a little louder and sharper because you don’t want to kill the vibe when your white friends are at a house party singing along in unison: “at least a nigger nigger rich” and making sure you hear the R at the end. You will roll that ‘r’ onto the ends of words like “wadur,” and insert them unnecessarily in words like Sakumono– you are safe.

But you don’t know that now you are living in the West African Headquarters of Keeping up Appearances. Your parents will list all your Latin honors when you shuffle into the living room after rolling out of bed at 1pm on a Tuesday and you will threaten to slap the house help for burning a hole through your silk shirt. Or maybe you won’t even speak to her except for a curt “Thank you” with the ends clipped off, at least everything is dignified you see. She has a uniform and has been working for your family for years, and maybe she has kids in the village somewhere but you really don’t know or care, and you definitely didn’t see her crying in the pantry after your father denied her permission to go home and attend to some sick relative.

You are safe, and the driver will warn you to avert your eyes when the neighborhood people are about to burn an armed robber with some old tires and kerosene and you will shake your head and kiss your teeth, why do these people always have to resort to such behavior? And you will flinch when the front pages of Saturday tabloids are covered with the image of dead bodies of people who were only guilty of loving each other in a way that your parents’ Bible does not permit and you know it’s wrong but Ghana is safe, who asked them to display their love in public­–

Now you are safe and you don’t have to let the white girl get away with anything and everything because she’ll cry if you try to point out her privilege– you are in a dive bar and all her friends are hitting you with drunken, slow punches and you know if you don’t leave soon, you won’t be safe because you will definitely be painted as the aggressor and the police will ensure that you don’t make it to the next morning. But now you are safe and this white girl is different and she cares about Africa’s development with a big ‘D’ and she loves black people, until she has a black daughter she is terrified and envious of and will drag a fine toothed comb without water or coconut oil through the same curls you used to admire on the girl that sat in front of you in class. But you are all safe–

And you will wrinkle your nose when the drains are too ripe and there are parts of the city you will never see. The tires of your car cannot roll over un-tarred roads, but they have built in treads for crushing the backs of the people who have been bought and sold, who are still being bought and sold, so you can sit over drinks on Friday night and celebrate how far hard work has brought you.

And you are safe because on your way home the policeman will wave you past the checkpoint with a flash of the torch and his teeth, even though you both know your “something small for the weekend” is what allowed him to ignore your expired license and the Jack Daniels mist hanging around your head. There you are safe, because the only way you will become a hashtag is if you become a local celebrity known for taking girls on dates with the intention of raping them or if you develop an app that is only useful to tourists looking for a good time and Ghanaians who have data bundles and iPhones manufactured wherever it’s cheapest. And the only slur you will know is the average Ghanaian because you are definitely not average you are special and you are safe.

Back Here Where I Belong

There’s been a temporary glitch in the system, the glitch being end of semester stress combined with trying to finalize summer job plans and dealing with some weird personal stuff at the same time. Basically, everyday life is the glitch, but here I am! The creative pieces I’ve been working on lately haven’t been coming along well– or at all– so I decided to share something I wrote for a class (half a cookie for anyone who can guess which class it is, because it’s always the same one)!

This is an extract from my final essay titled, “Back Here Where I Belong,” in which I start to explore what happens when continental Africans and people of African descent from the diaspora can no longer recognize each other, and what that means for the way African culture is preserved (or not) in the diaspora. It is so difficult to write about the kind of forgetting that happens when cultural memory is interrupted by the beginning of colonial history, since there’s so much I’ve “forgotten” and so much I don’t know.

The essay includes some analysis of Cuban abolitionist novels, a brief shout out to Love Jones, Yoruba deities you’ve heard of but don’t really understand, a yearning for identifying my own culture in the diaspora in more than just faint traces, Toni Morrison, “plantains and good vibes,”and an examination of African symbolism in the diaspora, as an attempt to recuperate and reclaim memory and NOT as a form of appropriation. I’ll post a few more sections of this work over the next few days. The actual paper may or may not have been longer than the limit *cringes in shame for being that person giving the professor extra work*

[I’m still enjoying the excitement of recognizing a few Ewe words in a novel about Haiti, and trying not to think too much about the implications of these tiny fragments of cultural memory and how they came to be fragments from a once-cohesive whole. Hint: the answer has a lot to do with colonial violence. In this essay, I use the names of Yoruba deities as they are spelled in Cuban Santería.]

***

Elsewhere in the Diaspora- A Beginning

The Africa I knew as a child was often not the one I saw reflected in books and film. I can’t even say that Africa was an immediate reality I experienced on a daily basis, unless it was the imaginary version reflected back from the West. Africa was a documentary about wildlife I had never seen leaping from bush to savannah in a single frame. It was a textbook caricature of a map fashioned into a cake, being devoured by personified European countries with fangs for teeth and drool spilling into Cap-Vert and the Gulf of Guinea. It was sung onscreen in dark clubs on open mic night in the name of Yemáyá and Ochún and in praise of a woman in an all black outfit. It was found in repetitive prints and drumbeats of indeterminate origin. It was wooden plaques shaped like the continent and framed pictures of women carrying pots on their heads. It was commercials for hungry children with pleas in their eyes and chests racked by coughs induced by the effort to laugh for the cameras despite their suffering.

The Africa that I encountered everyday didn’t really exist for me. My experience was confined to the borders of Ghana, and to Accra more specifically, with a hazy understanding that there were people in other countries who spoke a host of languages and enjoyed meals I didn’t know and whose dances followed a different style and cadence.

Beyond the Africa that was being constructed for me and around me, I had little understanding of the traces of it still living in parts of the diaspora. Glimpses into this unknown entity known as the diaspora were provided mainly by the few people I knew who had returned from there and built their lives in Accra. There was an older Jamaican woman with white hair arranged into a bun underneath a hat, always in flowery dresses for church on Sunday, and an African-American woman with a huge smile who still runs a successful bakery in town.

Popular culture, and music in particular, provided me with some insight into this concept or place called the diaspora. Reggae, dancehall, soca and hip hop were in a never-ending loop on most radio stations, blues from Bill Withers’ tapes and CDs if my mother was driving, stickers of the Jamaican flag and Bob Marley’s face held pride of place on the back windows of trucks and trotros usually accompanied with phrases like “Who Jah Bless” in peeling lettering. I saw Eve’s Bayou several times at an age I can’t quite remember, but I’m sure I was too young to fully understand the richness and complexity of the film. I read and re-read Sula over and over after my first reading at the age of eleven or twelve. I didn’t yet comprehend what the connection was between me and people of African descent in the diaspora. As far as I was concerned, they were just from an “elsewhere” I had not been to and now they just so happened to be “here,” physically or on pages, screens or in the speakers of a car radio.

Eves-Bayou
Eve’s Bayou (1997)

Frequent school trips to Cape Coast to visit monuments marking the Transatlantic Slave Trade, during which millions of enslaved Africans were forced onto ships heading towards the unknown elsewhere of the Americas, began to sharpen my awareness of some numbed pain sitting in the background of Ghanaian history, waiting for the right jolt to bring it back with intensity. The way I picture it, the harsh white walls are still sturdy, the canons look as though they could still be in working condition, the bedrooms with wooden paneled floors lead to a narrow balcony overlooking the courtyard where colonial officials would choose the women they “wanted”, a tour guide’s voice echoes in a tiny chamber with the lingering metallic smell of blood and human life thickening the air: “I’m going to put the light off for you to see what it was like.” The tour guide points to the narrow exit that leads towards the ominous “door of no return” and how much smaller it is than the entrance of the dungeon because those that survive that nightmarish confinement will have lost considerable weight by the time they are brought out. The silence is interrupted only by the quiet sobs of a few tourists who are being led back through the door of no return, with a few fishermen casting casual glances at a scene they’ve definitely witnessed before and hushed schoolchildren trying and failing to avoid staring at these returnees from that ambiguous diasporic elsewhere.

cape coast castle
Cape Coast Castle

Even then, I failed to grasp the importance of the memories contained within the horrific walls of monuments like these, the memories that had crossed the Atlantic, some lost and some preserved along the way, and the people on a mission to restore the faint remnants of the forgetting they had inherited. When Toni Morrison’s characters flew back to Africa in Song of Solomon, I missed how important the hope of a home or a haven to fly to was for the descendants of enslaved Africans trying to hold on to the fraying threads of their ancestors’ culture and to create a new identity out of these elements. At 18, I packed into my suitcase a very shallow understanding of what it meant to be black in the vague elsewhere, pulled from passages in Angelou, Morrison and Hurston, an insight that resulted in the kind of shaky frame one is in danger of building after simply reading without interrogating or actually experiencing the reality awaiting in the US.

(Image of Cape Coast Castle: http://www.ghanamuseums.org/forts/cape-coast-castle.php)

My latest music obsession is Daymé Arocena, whose photo I used at the top of this post! If you enjoy jazz and the feeling of chasing away all your stress, or both, give her a listen. That sentence is proof that I will probably never be asked to write about music. In my defense, I just don’t have  the words to explain how much I’ve been enjoying her music for the past few weeks. My favorite tracks are “El 456” and “Come to Me.” You can buy her music on iTunes!

You in Black

You really need to stop looking for Accra in every pair of swinging hips. You will never be able to fit yourself into the gap between perfect enamel plates set against a starless midnight sky of a face. Why do you care so much? Only a few months and you think you have become entitled to the same petty excuses? I don’t know how it works where you come from, but that won’t fly over here. You in the black, take your hat off! Pull your pants up! Why is your voice so loud? This is not your war to fight. If anything, you are partially to blame, don’t you know your grandfather sold mine away to…

My friend was a midnight baby born to a mother whose golden skin is rivaled only by the sun’s farewell. She said she gets her black from her dad. She has aunts and uncles back home who are “so black, they’re blue”. And it’s beautiful. And tears teeter on the edge of my eyes every single time; what if those were my aunts and uncles too?

Your mother wrings her hands so much that the delicate brown skin on her fingers has began to rub raw and show the ungodly pink underneath. Always in black, what happened to the peace we planted in your heart, worth the seven days we waited to name you…Why are you always bent over? Head touching lap, soul spilling onto ground, ears covered. This posture has become second nature.

I do not possess the right bank balance nor do I have a high enough following of fanatics to discard my black whenever I please. This is not a housecoat or a headwrap that I can shed when it’s time to go out and look like people. Like people. What was I before? This is not a choice. But…you’re not bl− I don’t believe the people who are scared of me and my black lipstick will stop to find out how round my vowels are and what stamp my passport carries before creating a cavity in my skull filled with burning coals and centuries of inhumanity.

But−

The minute I begin to define myself purely based on someone else’s expectations, I no longer exist.

I no longer exist.

But−

This is not a choice. I can show off, sure. I can make this glow under the light, just rub on some extra shea butter to be sure. Yes for the hair too. I can smooth it out with powder and man-made perfection. But no one is going to take the time to figure out if I really am from Keta by way of Louisiana by way of a patch of black soil by the Nile. Which came first?

When did you learn to speak English? How did you learn to write like this? This is my English. I have declared it so by the order of the people who did not need to be taught the meaning of nobility and civilization. These lyrics are mine. I have stamped them with my own combination of verb tenses, because where I come from we hide yesterday underneath our tonsils and it bursts forth very time we speak. Mine. This is my kingdom. What did you say? What? You said what?

Wow, your hair and clothes are always so…fun! Why are you always so uptight? This isn’t your story. You’re so…different. It doesn’t matter to anyone that I clapped my hands and stomped my feet amidst dust clouds in games of ampe and not double dutch. I’m sorry, you look so much like- Let’s ignore the fact that my curls scream do-not-comb and hers have been pressed into stringy submission… I’ll pretend I don’t know I’m the only one you actually know…sort of. It doesn’t matter, to them you are all the same. Hey! You in black! What are you looking for in here?

On dirait un Toucouleur! You mean you only speak Ewe? Not only. I speak. I thought your mum was an Ashanti, she’s so black!

The minute I begin to define myself purely based on someone else’s expectations, I no longer exist.

I no longer exist.

I showed up late to class today. In all black. I decided to leave out the black lipstick, mostly because I don’t own any. But also because I didn’t want to intimidate anyone any more than my shiny African blackness was about to do. Someone said that poetry was supposed to be a thing of virtue and not a vehicle for hate and vengeance. He didn’t know he was talking about James Baldwin. Why is he so angry? I said: “Maybe because he didn’t ask to be brought here to begin with.” Do you think his ancestors were invited to take an all expenses paid cruise to the New World? Do you think the family he will never know has stopped mourning their loss? You are the reason I wake up with anger fighting to shoot out of my pores. You are the reason we wear anger laced through the spaces between our fingers. Look at my fist.

I no longer exist.

Your lily-white indignation means nothing in the face of pitch black rage. Your voice may try to stack decibels above mine, but black rage will explode hot lava all over your island, black rage will be the only pillar left standing in the middle of your crumbling colosseum, black rage will trample the relics of your stale accomplishments. Black rage has bigger problems than you. Stay out of my way.

You need to make your writing more accessible. How is anyone going to know what this means? They would need to have grown up exactly how you did. Besides, this is not your story. No, there are not enough Toni Morrison or Toni Cade Bambara texts in the world or on your bookshelf for you to claim otherwise. I don’t care that you went to sleep with Sula stomping behind your eyelids. Why are you always so angry? Why the obsession with white evil? Aren’t you tired of carting that hunk of rock around on your back?

I could stop, if only white evil stopped telling me how to be, stopped telling me to be at all-

This is a response to the phenomenal work “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine. You should definitely look it up if you have never heard of it. I had to submit this for my writing seminar, but after the class I went through and made some edits based on how the class went…but that’s another story. 

Your Highness

Isn’t it time you told a new story? Do you not find your own oppression tiring and frankly, a little unoriginal?

So I won’t tell you, that your predecessors adorned themselves with billowing white robes and clouds of incense; that they sat debating philosophy and art; that they often pondered the question of the dubious humanity of those pale barbarians somewhere out there, beyond the known threshold of the last flaming sunset. I’ll save my breath; nostalgic words like these are too “trite” in any case.

No- please arrest that dazzle in your eyes, curb that peaked interest before it consumes you and starts to burn in the pit of your stomach; a dull, persistent ache, like one last lonely spark attempting to ignite a dead leaf after the bush fires have subsided. Obsession with the past, hero-worship, searching for the same noble contours you see in the mirror in hieroglyphs, and cave paintings hidden under layers of dust which originated worlds away from this one.

You are no longer a king, nor will I call you a conqueror. I do not wish to elevate your stature beyond that which you deserve. You are left with sex dreams and groups of fanatics drooling at your ebony-carved form. Your throne is crumbling, turning from burnished gold, amber melting through feverish hands, crude oil mingling with clotted blood. You sit in expired splendor at bus stops, in the daily headlines, at the end of static-filled phone calls once a month. Object. Suspect. Deadbeat.

Your highness, I tried to warn you about the crack in your throne. It started a century or three ago, or maybe it was just the other night when your dignity was wrenched from you in a single shot. The crack has widened and deepened beyond repair, revealing a different kind of hell below; where all your earthly potential and your mortal soul will go to live out a torturous eternity. Trust me, royal one, you have more than molten rock to be worried about.  

Serving Suggestions (cont’d)

“Listen, Awo, I can explain.”

She looked up through the fog of her anger and pride, and realized the once rugged lines of her husband’s face had blurred since she had stopped seeing him, so focused was she on enhancing herself.

“Listen to what, Elorm? I can’t believe you. Did you forget? Have we not been planning this anniversary celebration for the past two weeks?”

“I said I could explain.”  That familiar knife-like sharpness had found its way into his voice the way it did every time Awo tried to confront him with her temper and her incessant demands.

“Go ahead and explain then, I’d love to hear how I’m over-reacting and how there is a perfectly logical reason for why my feelings are not valid. Go on! I know what this is about. It’s not my fault I don’t make you feel like a ‘real man,’ that your male ego can’t take you being ‘Mr. Awo’-”

“I’m fed up of having these arguments with you. It’s like if I don’t act exactly the way you want, with everything according to your specifications, then you have one of these tantrums. And then come your excuses, and your promises- and I know we’re supposed to lean on each other but I’m tired Awo, and-“

His eyes narrowed. “Wait, what did you just say? Mr Awo? Do you really think this is what it’s about? If anyone here has an ego it’s you, my dear wife. You manipulate me with your tears, and you think you can back-pedal and blame our problems on me being a typical African man, on me being unavailable, too logical, on all manner of things! After the miscarriage, you said you didn’t want to try again because you couldn’t afford to give up on your career, and I supported you. I have always been your biggest fan. I would do anything for you, but it never seems like enough. Enough! It’s time you took responsibility for our problems and not just our triumphs.”

“You know what?” he added bitterly. “Don’t bother, I’m fed up of your hard-fragi, Jekyll and Hyde act. Keep your emotions and your selfishness too.” He turned towards the door.

She was so stunned by this monologue that all she could do was watch his retreating back, already missing the broad shoulders that had held her up like that brick wall to the cross, after long days in the kitchens, at times when it had seemed like her own spine had been turned into jelly. His harsh words hung in the space right above her head, like smoke refusing to disperse after a pot had been left too long on the fire.

“Elorm wait! Wait, please I didn’t mean to…”

He turned back with a look that belonged to a total stranger. He reached into his pocket and retrieved an envelope which he slid across the countertop. “I wish you had just listened. This time I really did have an explanation.”

He was gone. Awo continued to sit just like her mother had done years before. Her meal, ice-cold and long-forgotten, also sat before her, silently taunting her. Who said she was above mediocrity? She had failed. Once open, the envelope revealed just how her pride and her desire to control had helped to unravel her marriage. Two tickets for a luxury getaway to Thailand. She had been dying to visit and dropped hints at every opportunity. She got up and picked up her car keys and her white chef’s jacket. She attached the gold pin to her chest and smoothed it down. It declared in embossed capital letters, “Awo Ayi, Head Chef”. A long shift at the hotel awaited her.

 

Serving Suggestions

For the 4 and a half people who have been waiting for me to post new work, I apologize. I’ve actually been writing  but haven’t been too happy with the results which explains my disappearance for the past month. But I’m back 🙂 and I hope you enjoy! 

She sat staring at the plate of food in front of her. Only half an hour ago steam had risen from it with its characteristic slowness, seductively daring the diner to resist. Now, it was no more than a congealed mass of over-cooked tomato paste sitting next to sticky rice. She almost let out a laugh when she thought about how much she had in common with this rejected meal, a mere substitute, left to simmer too long only to grow cold waiting to be consumed, better yet, devoured by a certain someone’s hunger. Awo had this curious habit of thinking of life in terms of food metaphors, creating analogies that were sometimes humorous but mostly inappropriate for the gravity of the current situation. Perhaps it was one of the many symptoms of her job as the head chef of one of the most prestigious hotels in Accra. With every day she spent controlling her staff with her infamous bellow; “Is that clear?” and sending out sumptuous meals with finesse, she felt as though she was laughing in the faces of all those who had slapped their knees and doubled over with laughter, mocking her career choices.

“You? A woman as a head chef? How? It’s not possible, we all know men make the best chefs!”

“But I thought a woman’s place was in the kitchen? How ironic, that cooking is the domain of the lady of the house until it becomes a high-paying job with all the perks, only then does it become a legitimate activity and not a wifely duty…”

“My friend please spare us your feminist nonsense! Your parents sent you abroad to go and read aaah you came back to cook for the same big men who run the system you want to insult…”

Awo looked down at her dismal lunch and wondered what an award-winning chef was doing eating like a college student. The exquisite steak she had prepared some hours earlier, lovingly rubbing the meat with spices and tending to it so it would emerge from the oven just the way he liked it (“No blood oozing out like your posh hotel guests please I like my meat well cooked!”) was stewing in the bin, still releasing it’s aroma into the air. Ever since she had watched her perfect mother lay out impeccable meals night after night, hands folded primly in her starched lap waiting for her father, meals at which he rarely deigned to show his face, she vowed to herself never to let a man dictate her actions in that way. Never to descend into the murky abyss of depression covered up by family’s hushed reassurances,

“Sister Monica is just tired, not crazy! Imagine looking after all these children and a husband, in that big house! Hmm in fact she is trying…”

Never to wait for anything. Never to curb the force of the tidal wave that was her ambition, breaking gently instead at the feet of her lord and master, washing them carefully and dutifully. Never to put her goals on the back-burner in order to complement another and allow him to bask in the glory and praise of those around while she sank deeper and deeper into oblivion. Always a palette-teaser and never the main meal.

She smiled to herself; surely this was a problem. Thinking of food at time like this, when the draughts of separation and misunderstanding were ripping through her carefully constructed marital home. She did not even afford herself the leeway of wondering what she had done to deserve this, or how she had arrived at this point. That was for weak people who did not want to claim their share in their own unhappiness, choosing instead to point fingers at “circumstance”. Awo, the booklong, had achieved the enviable feat of embodying the modern Ghanaian woman trifecta, educated and beautiful with an unmatched recipe for jollof rice. She had never given anyone the chance to raise her virtues above their underserving head as a trophy, an offering to failed manhood and family expectations. She had been notorious among the male population of her secondary school for being rude and unwilling to accept their romantic advances, a fact which branded her automatically as frigid and strange.

“See am oh! Notin give am saf!”

She wore her supposed strangeness like a badge of honor, debating with teachers while others kept silent and buried herself in books; encyclopedias, outdated chemistry textbooks, cookbooks, which probably explains why no one was surprised when she announced that she was abandoning her chemical engineering degree to take a job as a chef in a French restaurant. Nor were they surprised when she rose through the ranks of the best restaurants in town, eventually assuming the head chef position at the Regal Palm Hotel, making her the youngest and only female to do so. No one expected anything less from her, and the rumors swirling about her painting her as a snobbish shrew settled after her marriage to a certain executive at one of Accra’s leading advertising firms.

“Hmm maybe she was expecting ooh…no wonder they did it so quickly!”

“Yes ooh and I heard no traditional marriage too! Not even a single bottle of Schnapps!”

Awo remembered this same day ten years ago, or maybe it had been ten lifetimes, and how little she had cared about all the wisps of gossip floating about town, only just eluding her ears. They had been ecstatic. Their modest ceremony had been conducted beneath a stoic cross held up by aged brick, the same eternal symbol that had borne witness to both their baptisms. The reception was a never-ending blur of envelopes of money and suffocating hugs in the ample bosoms of old aunts. They were so eager for it to come to an end so they could be alone. Their craving for one another set the tone for their marriage, and their first few years were spent in this suspended state of wanting but never having their fill. One could argue that this was not the healthiest foundation for a long-lasting union; after all, a candle burns brightly for a brief moment before melting down to an unrecognizable version of its former self.

And today, she sat in her spotless kitchen, an unfortunate replica of the mother she resented and whose fate she had tried desperately to avoid. She believed that she was nothing like that wan shadow of a woman who smiled emptily at her emotionally abusive husband, receiving his subliminal blows while keeping his house pristine. She did not belong to that army of women kitted out with vapid facial expressions and a baby on the hip who she had always looked upon with disgust. As far as she was concerned, they were to blame for all their marital woes as they lacked the guts to leave, settling instead for a life of bakery and mediocrity. She knew she deserved so much better than that. How dare this man reduce her to the ranks of such weaklings? And yet…true love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, it endures every circumstance. And yet…wasn’t humility one of the fruits of the spirit? Several Bible verses flashed through her mind, but it had been years since she left Sunday school and they were no longer as clear as they had once been. And yet…she was alone on her wedding anniversary, with a home-cooked meal which would soon begin to rot in the garbage just like her disintegrating self-esteem.

Then, the unmistakable clink” of keys on the kitchen counter, and a familiar shadow darkened her outlook.

(to be continued)

-Special acknowledgement goes to my dear friend Aba Quagrainie for the pidgin consultation. 🙂 

Goodbye, My Temporary Lover

More thoughts from Dakar…

I wanted you to sing to me. I had grown accustomed to hasty lullabies flung over my mother’s shoulder while she fanned a reluctant flame, or loving strains whispered to me long after I had fallen asleep, another hard day of work completed. I wanted you to sing to me, to speak to me tenderly, to bring offerings of fabrics and drinks to my family, humbly asking for my hand. Instead, you spoke to me in a bastardized mix of phrases and predicates, faint traces of grammar lessons you never paid attention to. You shrugged your shoulders when I delicately pointed out your mistakes, ready to applaud your efforts to correct yourself. You carried on, contorting the names of all my beloved places. The haunts of my childhood, towns with melodic names, appellations lovingly bestowed eight days after birth, corrupted in your bitter mouth, hacked apart with your lackluster accent. Popenguine. Ziguinchor. Sangalkam. You didn’t bother to learn the names of my children, they were just props in your collection of rare objects. Aïssatou. Ndeye. Moustapha. I wanted you to sing their harmonies, but you were never quite on key.

Why did I try? I invited you into my world, laid all my wares before you. Your hands invaded all my nuances, manipulated my curves and felt every crevice. You were trying to see if I was worth the “bon prix”, worth taking back and being put on display in your ivory tower for all your people to ogle and admire and criticize. I was exotic enough for the moment, the highest of cheekbones and the longest of necks. Beauty incarnate, elegance itself. I would do. In the same way you chewed up and spat out words in a twisted mess, you mangled the parts of me that suited you and discarded those that were too mundane. Your greedy, sweaty hands roved and roved over all my goods, and picked what looked most authentic to accessorize your pale life.

And yet, when I tried to introduce you to my aunts, the one who was not wanted and the illustrious Madame Bâ, the disapproving Uncle Leopold and the eccentric neighbor Soyinka with his shock of white hair, you offered a wan smile out of courtesy. Your hands had barely grasped theirs in greeting before you turned away and sought more exciting things to satisfy your wanderlust. You wanted to explore with me…explore me, exploit… You carried on with your expedition, taking and taking. You said you needed souvenirs to remember me by, and I foolishly obliged. I knew you did not fully understand, nor would you ever, but accorded the privilege of guest status you gained access to all the secret trappings of my being. I unraveled lengths of beads from around my neck, my wrist, my waist. I smudged the kohl from my eyes, extended my palms free of their red stain. I wanted you to experience me in my truest form, in my multitude of realities. I offered you the finest mbazin, but the ill-fitting garment you produced did not do it an ounce of justice.

I wanted to dance with you. I wanted us to sway together as the strings plucked our pleasure in liquid form, harmonies deliciously languid and painfully expectant. I wanted you to fly feet off the ground driven wild by the escalating rhythm. We would disappear into a cloud of dust and emerge laughing and arguing about who fell first. But instead, you stayed firmly planted in the sand, your joints creaking and complaining as they were not accustomed to moving in that way. Your hips remained immovable, but I loved you for trying. At least I did, until you whispered to me with your mouth curved in that cruel smirk, more disjointed words about how this wasn’t a “real” dance anyway.

The sound of drums grated your nerves. You failed to see how this could be considered music. You failed to notice the exhilarating effect they had on my sisters surrounded by a circle of eager spectators. You failed to listen to my stories of ancestral triumph and defeat, to the ways my cousins reclaimed their compromised nobility and built shaky nations where empires had stood just the other day. My stories of cultural movements and newborn intellectuals in impeccably fitted suits failed to tickle your fancy. You failed to perceive the romantic wistfulness in my eyes, the nostalgia for a time I had never known. Or lack thereof. You did not even sniff at my apathy, my longing to be more like you and your own, nor did you understand your role in my cracked mirror reflection. You failed.

Please tell the others. If they are only looking for sweet mangoes and wide hips, for immaculately starched boubous collecting red sand as they sweep along, for chivalry and chauvinism wrapped in a confusing dark and handsome package, for “cute” little keepsakes to collect as ransom for my forgotten history, tell them not to come. It is not the right season for mangoes, and I am fresh out of cheap tricks.