C H A P T E R E L E V E N
b y m. e l i z a h a m i l t o n a b é g ú n d é ~ c h i c a g o, i l l i n o i s
NOTE TO READERS: This chapter should be read in conjunction with Chapter 8, " 'Dele."
IN THE dream that was not a dream, ‘Dele was screaming. But I could not hear her voice. I heard only the flutter of wings around my ears. A small, soft brush against my neck. I stood up and called her name. Somewhere, she was lying down, with only her memory of me holding her to this world.
“ ‘Dele. ‘Dele." I called her by her true name. I called her over and over again, until the sounds in her name became nothing but a string pulled tight, then a breeze, then a hum in the back of my throat. I saw the sound floating into the water, carried by fish, carried by the water itself, without shape or form, but at any moment ready to take the shape of whatever carried it. I hummed her name until I saw that the note had reached her, and then I was there, touching her with my voice.
She was alive, but could not move. She was spread on the deck. The women walked past her. She was breathing, but the breath came as a moan. I let my hum enter her. “Do not leave me this way. Do not let your silence be the last thing that you give me. Baba, my Iya’s father, says there is always a patch of blue. I have found it. Look for it.”
My voice rushed back to me and settled in my chest as something I had mistakenly swallowed. It was looking for a place to go, to store what I had seen. For the first time since I had come aboard the horror, I allowed myself to cry. I stooped in the corner, holding on to the wall, not wanting the other women to see this weakness, afraid that they would lose courage in...what?
I felt a light touch on my back. When I turned, daughter-of-the-wind crouched before me. “All will pass, little one. Do not worry, you will live to tell the story. It is the way this ends. There can be no other. It has been divined so.”
I looked at her as she stooped beside me. My father’s words come back to me.
“Do you think your people would send you on this journey without a guardian? Do you think there are those of us here who do not know what happened to the young priest who was sold by her father? Do you think we do not know that our destiny depends on the completion of yours? That our children’s memory, generations to come, depends on this destiny?”
I remained silent. And I remembered the silence of my village on the day I was taken out like prey. There had been people present at my initiation that I did not know. Could she have been one?
“No, I was not there. But, we were told long before you were born that you would be the one. To remember. Do not worry about what you don’t know. In time, it will be revealed. And, do not worry about the one you love. We are making our way to her. The Spirits do not abandon their children. They do not set them down in places where they cannot find hope. You are the foundation. Sleep.”
She placed her hand on my head as if in blessing and I felt a surge pass through me. Everything inside me answered the surge of heat that passed from her to me and in a short time, my body was floating, warm, remembering my mother’s hand weaving cloth. This time, she was weaving me, it seemed. Her hands and the small stick she used to form patterns, entering my skin without breaking it.
Abi, remember this story here. When you need it, look for it right here. And here’s another. The women will show you. They will tell you what you need to say. You will have their lives, Abi. Treat them well.
Then without warning, my mother’s voice was pushed away by the sound of loud cawing.
Three large birds landed on my head. They poured things into my ear and whispered to me. ‘Dele reaches out, a gun in her hand. You do not need this, she says. But I do. You need only to think it and what you know will manifest. I will see you once more. Follow the birds. They too know blue.
When I moved again, the women each had a hand on me. When they saw that I was awake, one came to me, took my hand, and put it on her chest. It was as if she were sand. My hand slid past what should have been skin, bone, blood and into a place so soft that it hung there.
“Know my truth. Remember.”
At the same time, she put her hand on my chest. I felt a small prick, then an opening, like someone peeling me back.
“I have left my story here.”
I cannot tell you how long we lay like this. Each woman offering me a different part of herself. Each woman inviting me to place my hand inside her until I had entered a leg, an arm, an eye, the soles of feet. And they each entered me. And each time they did, when I felt like I could not stand the peeling back of my self anymore, there was no pain, only the sudden washing of rainbows, water, sun and moon.
They left me in a corner. I could feel my body jerk, rise up; could feel the fight of voices inside my body, a murmuring like angry bees trying to find their hives. There was the taste of goat and stewed kola. There was the touch of a lover in the grass. There was the singing of an old song to the great Mothers. There was. And more.
My body vibrated, unable to control itself. Yet, they left me alone. Waiting, certain that I would learn myself how to accommodate all these pieces of themselves into my small frame.
Inside my head, there were shouts. I began to sort them out by identifying one particular sound then following it to a place. When I came face-to-face with it, I showed it where it could stay. I did this until the only thing I heard was the sound of waves beneath the ship. The only thing I could feel was the wood beneath me, scratching my skin, which was soaked in sweat.
When I sat up, I was hungry and tired. Someone handed me a hard piece of bread and I had the sudden memory of eating rice. When I looked around, I noticed the women seemed smaller. Many had been sick. They were beginning to take on the appearance of the men, shadows walking, iku crawling under their skin. It seemed that the oyinbos had not come down for two suns now.
“We are dying,” daughter-of-the wind said. “Soon, there will be no one left but you.” She touched my face as if wanting to remember it even in death.
“Iya,” the man who had made himself known shouted sharply. “We want you to take us, too.”
I looked, frightened, at the woman in front of me. She nodded. But, how would I be able to do this? She guided me to the door which separated us and put my hands on it.
“The one closest will touch. And the others will touch him.”
“I am the one closest, Iya. The others, who can, will touch me with their feet. We will touch you.” I pulled my hands away suddenly. No, this destiny was not mine. “Do not be afraid. You will never have to be afraid again.”
I replaced my hands. The door was warm. It was as if my brother’s hands broke through and grabbed mine. When I was certain that we were together in spirit, I closed my eyes.
Oh, my great Mothers, my mothers of the wind and sea. How can I tell you all that passed into me. It was not like the women. No, this passing and telling was like great stones and walls beating me, not only entering my hands, but my entire body. They came all at once, each hurrying to leave something in me before they died. They were rough, and I began to smell the sour taste that many of them had about them. I began to taste their heat and dryness. Within it, there was a small crying, and I followed it down into the ship until it stopped. Someone was remembering his son. The fineness of his face. The strength with which he threw the spear. The way in which he laughed when he found the first love of his life. I focused on this crying.
I let the others be guided by it into something that they could hold on to in the last days that they would have left. I did not want them dying with only the knowledge of death and pain in them. I wanted them to know this kind of joy. Slowly, the heat in my mouth began to lessen. I began to taste the cool liquid that one man made from plants. I let it pass through me, remembered its name was Acant and then asked for permission to make it. There was one who held onto the memory of his parents holding him when he was sick. All their love going in and out of a song his mother sang to call him back. There was the one who remembered his third wife, the way her body rose to meet him the last night they had together. He wanted to touch her again. To be certain that his love inside her was still there. There was more.
Until finally, I fell back, my body cold, then warm. And then I was still.
Little one. Little one. It is so, is it not, Abi? That you have known us before? Wait, do not run from us. Listen, I want to tell you a story. Is that the smell of rice? Oh, look how my mother fixed it. Did you remember my brother? Don’t push me out. Remember him. He was dear to me. Do you think he is alive? What of the new moon? Did we do things on the new moon? And the trees. Acacia, baobab. Ebony. Remember their names. And do you remember the rocks? We had so many rocks. Where I come from we had only one. One I remember. It was small with black spots. We used it to cook sometimes. Well, I know that we used to collect them. But not before asking the spirits if we could use them. Do your people use the flat end of this stick to call animals? How do you sing? With your mouth open so? Or do you let the words fall from you through your nose? What is the meaning, when a fish comes to you and kisses you? There are winds in every part of the world. Know the nature of things, Abi. If you do not know the nature of things, ask them, they will tell you. Once you know the true nature of a thing, you never have to ask its name or name it. It will always just be. Do you know the nature of the water, Abi? The nature of the wind? Learn these things. Do you know the nature of man, Abi? Ah, there are many natures. Learn them. See the one that knows you also and will respect you. There is my son. My son. Will he know me when I see him? Oh, there is that smell again. Rice with goat. Pepper. I loved the pepper. Corn. Taste. Coconut.
They went on and on. I did not think I had so much space in my body for so many things. When I was able to sit up, I vomited black and green bile. I shivered, but there was heat coming from my hands and feet. I felt the heat behind my eyes and inside my head.
“Sit.” I did as I was told and curled into a tight ball in the corner where I could find space.
“Iya, adupe,” the voice said. “Adupe. We will not be forgotten now.”
Go to Chapter 8, "'Dele."
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