C H A P T E R E I G H T
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 11, "Abiodun.""
THIS MEMORY is the beginning of what I am now. It will not move, as the others, into the past. It insists on being present. It is the one dream I send out that never gets dreamed. It is the one that everyone wakes from before it gets started. It persists because it is ignored. I am waiting for the one strong enough to dream it, remember it, and tell.
My head pounds. I do not know where I am, only that I move without moving. My eyes have grown five times their normal size while I slept. There is light under my eyelash. The movement of shapes around me, laughter crossed with yelling, the sound of tin.
Move. I want to move. Relieve myself. My left arm. My right arm. There is only the dangling of my hands when I pull them. My palms touch one another. But my wrists hurt the more I move them. My right hand touches wood and I know now that I am tied to something like an animal without shelter. My ankles are tied apart. My knees are bent.
This is the dream I have been dreaming in another dream. I want to wake up, but I am afraid I will wake from the wrong one. So I sleep.
I float to the surface of my body into laughter. Someone slaps my face. Cold water drips on me. Then something hot on the top of my breasts. A pink contorted face glares above me. Grunting. The movement inside me. Dry wood against dry wood. The wood shreds the leaves. Then burns it. And I am beginning to see that these are many dreams. I am still not sure which one started first.
Something rough and warm in my mouth stops me from crying out. My tongue pushes against this thing. My mouth is dry, a cave recently smoked out. My mouth opens and I push out what is blocking my screaming. Still, I do not recognize my voice among these other voices and I listen carefully to hear its fullness, to hear its anger at what is being done to me. Why is it in this dream I am silent?
The white man shows me something. He looks at the one standing next to him. They laugh. Pat my stomach. When I do not understand, he grabs my jaw then pushes the thing inside my mouth, pulls it out. He does this several times, and finally gets a jagged knife and slices the thing in half. My scream encircles them like the wind but only I hear it. Only I see it slip back into my mouth and feel it rest in the back of my throat. Waiting.
They threw me in front of the wheel. Those emerging from the belly of death saw me and became grateful for their type of dying. After a while, many did not look at me, believed me dead. But the white men left me there. Wanted the birds to pick me to bone. They wanted the others to know that this could happen to them, too. The truth, however, is that they wanted to be certain for themselves that I was gone.
In the warm place that was my own blood I searched for Abi. I moved quickly and as small as an ant towards the back of my navel, the inside of my neck where I remembered her whisper on the night we parted. I did not remember time. It did not remember me. But I called her. In my silence, I opened my mouth and cried as if words poured from me.
The Mothers of the Night, the ones with wings and heads like vultures, carried my tattered songs, with missing syllables, twisted letters, garbled notes, into the night. They perched themselves around me where I was thrown. Several suns. I kept track by pulling splinters from the wood beneath me. Sometimes, someone spilled water onto my face, a quick movement to avoid being seen. Sometimes, someone came close enough to throw it into my mouth. It rushed into my throat, a small river without stones. Once, I heard a woman’s voice, but it was yanked from me.
In the dark, the birds pushed their beaks into my mouth, feeding me fish they would give their children, had they any. The first taste was bitter and warm, alive, moving too quickly for me to breathe. I could not hold it down. When the second feeding came, I was ready. Fed from the wombs and stomachs of the Mothers themselves. I was reborn, but into what?
Another wing traced between my legs. For a brief moment, I felt myself opened by fingers instead of feathers. Oil poured into me, then spitting, then more oil deep inside me until I was certain I was being turned onto my head to reach all the places that had been torn and burned. I was rubbed from the inside out until I was smooth as stones in the river. Until I was cool. Until the seal was removed from my eyes.
After three suns, the birds disappeared. On the fourth day, after I bathed in the full moon with their feathers to dry me off, I stood up, walked to the rest of the women and began scrubbing the ship with them. They made room for me as if I was just shifting spaces. One gently touched my back and continued scrubbing. Singly, they each found a way to touch me, to see for themselves.
The white man who saw me rise said nothing. The others said nothing. My brothers who saw me rise immediately dropped to their knees, jumped up, and began singing and dancing. Each dancing their own steps in praise of creation. The whip on their backs did not silence them.
The white men were quick to gather in tight groups in front and behind us. They separated us between guns and cannons. They rushed to lock us down again, each one afraid of the assignment to go below. We did not resist them. They threw us down the stairs. Kicked us. We fell obediently to our places in the coffin.
When they reached me, they continued to look but did not touch. They cleared a wide path for me to walk. One moved his gun to shoulder height just in case. His eyes were not really focused on me, but on the horizon beyond, and his hands shook until he had to lower the gun for fear of it falling. The white man next to him stepped back feigning that he had dropped tobacco.
My laughter welled up inside my ears from the bottom of my feet. It made my body warm. And suddenly, it was as if I could hear laughter from all around me moving through me, but no one moved their mouths as we returned.
A large wave hit the ship and we clung to whatever we could as she tipped nearly completely on her side. When she was righted, the wind blew at my back instead of my side. The white men forgot to hide their panic. They rushed to the wheel to return to course. But as they did so, the wind and waves worked together again. The sails unfurled and before they could close them, we had once again turned around. This time, seemingly in the right direction. But, the wind was still at my back.
I could feel the churning below us. I could smell the air. The salt separated from the water and dropped onto us like cloth.
I knew then.
Abi had gotten my message. If Abi was not coming, then she was sending someone.
Go to Chapter 11, "Abiodun."
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