oh good gracious, singing that lullaby; singing Stone….
A variegated lullaby spun like reels of honey amidst the gurgling hums of cicadas. Cicadas dart around the candles and speak to the light. Light flickers like falling rain, which noisily falls across the night. Night is a good time to sing a song. It was only then that she dared to sing though her voice was rich with volume and thick with passion. Passion once boiled somewhere in her gut. She was discovering that she could go beyond herself- as if her choice propelled her to her true Self. But it was not to sing that she yearned for; that was what she
did when she was alone.
Sarudzai wanted to walk out of the two-roomed house in her mini dress, the blue one she has never worn outside the dressmaker’s shop. Well, there was that one time at the Foto Studio run by cousin Lovemore at the growth point in Bindura town. That dress was growing old with disuse and yet she washed it at least once a month, hung-it-to-dry, in-side-out all the long-sunny-day-through. Then she shook the fluff of day away before dusk and sat the iron on the hot plate until it was hot enough to iron and she would press-and-press-and-press and sprinkle water-all-over-and-over until the smell of hot cotton permeated her nostrils and she was satisfied that it was good enough to hang.
Saru was meandering through life never knowing where it would lead her, every moment was
a mystery and everyday gone by was not what she had expected or desired of life, so she determined to see it through and watch in surprise as her life unfolded in a manner she had never expected. What would she do if she could not sing and press that blue dress in the early evening, knowing for certain that cicadas would interrupt her dappled chorus….
Saru’s hips weigh and sway in the light wind like leaves falling, tumbling like spinning clay on the potter’s wheel. The earth brown clay still fresh and alive. Once she used to smile as she sauntered to nowhere. But now she cannot smile, she does not look at you when she talks; her passive anger is a language with adjectives as expressive as any spoken word. Saru has become like this so that Stonedon, her lover for nineteen years and husband for twelve, can claim only her sorrow as his everlasting memorial. If Saru smiles, laughs or so much as sways from her guarded stature, Stone might credit himself with her joy and forget what pain he has caused her as the bane of her entire existence.
Remember when you were young Saru? Stone would call you ‘Suga’ and you would gush with trembling- now your lips are sealed shut. You sit by the window like an oversized Christmas angel, a badly dressed manikin in a second hand store bleaching in the noonday sun. You see yourself in that blue dress, swinging til night…. The memories of those days are like a life that died suddenly.
Condolences for your Life that passed away, so quickly, so desirable and dreams still cooking on the heat of youth. Now, no one will ever be who you wanted to be Saru.
Saru waits on Stone hand and foot, as if he had ever done anything important with his life to warrant such affection. Men who want women to serve them are men devoid of affection; they mistake affection with servitude. A woman can serve a man without the affection of love, yet it is impossible for a woman in love to have affection and not long to garnish it with the warmth of her hands. Her very strength goes out to demonstrate her heart’s disposition. Stone merely wanted a servant and that is all he got.
All hours of the day and night, Stone’s demands were met and for Saru there was no respite.
Stone in fact had been in a wheelchair for five months since the accident at work. He had fallen from a great height and at one stage there seemed to be no hope of reviving him. The multinational Company Stone constructed for sent him to hospital immediately and sent two bags of rice and two kilograms of beans to Saru as some sort of compensation. She never heard from them again and every time she went to demand money while Stone was in hospital, the foreman sent her away under instructions from the white boss who never went beyond the small air-conditioned office he languished in. Now expected to fend for the two of them, Saru had to swallow her dignity and beg Stone’s relatives for money; money that they would have themselves given, without hesitation.
Stone’s brother Langton had demanded his bus fare when he was summoned to see Stone in hospital. This was around the time Saru stood by his bed, alone and full of a darkness that is composed of fear and hate alone. She surrendered Stone to the atmosphere, the universe, the darkness, God: whatever would have this man! She had let him and his people go, like that wicked pharaoh when he knew what would become of him if he did not let Moses and his people go. Only Stone was no Moses, not by a long shot.
When Stone had pulled through and lived, Saru was stunned, how would she ever manage? And the love which she had cultivated for nearly an entire nineteen years was gone, positively and truly swept away to only hell knows where. Stone who had always depended on her was now like a child she had aborted but he had mysteriously come back to haunt her.
At night when it is cold, he would wet himself. His explanation when it first happened, though he no longer gave an account to anyone of his moods and affections, was that he was sick of trying to rouse Saru, that her sleep was too deep, she had no compassion! Saru says nothing, nothing at all. To unstick her lips, Stone would have to unseal her heart and it would be more possible for him to walk across the Atlantic without sinking, than to ever do that. This is what she is like at home with Stone, even now; silent. SILENT!
Mudiwa (Beloved), once, it was that you would do anything for me:
You would fish the streams with your bare hands; for me.
You would search among the groves for mazhange fruit because I loved to eat them.
You would place your palm on the small of my back as we walked.
You would turn out the candles once I lay my body down on our bed to sleep.
You would cover me at night when my thighs would spill out of the sheets.
You would call me ‘Suga’ as I lay my head upon your chest in confidence.
You would, yes you would, but no more. Those days are no more.
Saru robs Stone of the sweetness of her voice, it would pleasure him to hear her speak as she used to, even if it was in anger or protest. But Stone is subjected to feeling only pain; the delight that is clammed up in this wholesome woman in within view but beyond taste. Many times Saru pretends to sleep as Stone falls off the toilet trying to get back on his wheelchair late at night. At the break of dawn, Saru bangs the door to leave the house and is not back fir hours. Hours they could be spending together; reminiscing, disagreeing with the radio commentator or watching a soccer match. Stone’s very life is a reproach and it has nothing to do with what he can no longer do for himself, but what he has not done for Saru in what seems like another life time.
This year Saru is forty-six-years-old, already she has outlived her love for Stone and she thirsts only for the blue dress she washes and presses religiously. She has decided that when she dies her relatives can comment on what nice styles she used to dress in. No one will recall having ever seen her in the blue dress or the other dresses and coats she has kept packed away over the past five years, waiting for them to be discovered by her customary law heirs. At least her daughter Nomagugu and her various nieces will remember her, as they walk down the street in her finest gear. They won’t think to look after her garb, but it will be as though she was still alive, feeling the sunlight and the storms on her old clothes.
As for Stone, he will have no recollection of any of this, he is after all, not the same man she married. But Saru chose her poison well. Stone used to beat her, before the accident.
At times she would slit her wrists with despair, but thankfully the communal home they shared with a cousin did not allow for privacy, especially in death. She was ever at the edge of despair. At times, Saru would throw herself against the walls so violently that when she woke up she forgot her name or what language she was thinking all those gruesome things in. Oh how Saru prayed to Jesus, to break his body and his mind, but not to kill him. At night, Saru wanted to make sure that Stone knew she would be resting and her sleep would be truly deep, so deep his cries would not rouse her and his despair would be complete without her participation.
In those days, there were many accusations against her, infidelity was the main one and bore the worst punishment. The punishment was so severe Saru may as well have been brutally stoned to death. Stealing and drunkenness were others, but she knew nothing of all these vices. Perhaps because they were Stone’s private stumbling blocks, they unfolded themselves so easily to him. Stone mistook Saru for himself so that the man in the mirror was a fragmentation of two persons.
Stone had beaten Saru for nearly all of the nineteen years they had been together; it started as a shove into a bus upon which she fell with a thud, much to her embarrassment. It had appeared as an accident at the time and by the time they had reached their destination Saru was convinced it was her fault; she was clumsy. When Stone had hit her with the end of his umbrella one day after work, Saru had waved it off, as you do a fly you think will not return. But it does, until you escape into the next room or swat it- all the while thinking that you should have shut the windows minutes earlier.
Yet Stone was always kind to the children, he adored his daughter Nomagugu and he absolutely spoilt his three sons. His work was really for them. He felt as though he needed to redeem them from their fate and the hot fever of poverty, which had chased them for generations. His seed saw him as the open palm of generosity, the palm that locked the house at night, which gently sheltered candlelight from the wind; the open palm that covered the face of their mother’s shame and embossed itself on her oval face….
When a woman blows out the light of her heart, the clouds swell around her and you will never find her sunshine again. Even if her heart should dive, or her voice should burst into laughter, it will not be for you because you will be left desolate.
These things you keep inside you all the day long… these things you forgot to tell your daughter when she told you she was in love with a boy. You could have said, ‘Gugu, my daughter, this love you speak of, save it for when you have grown calluses, or wings or at least when you have seen me rise above my breaking.’ For love is a strong wind that carries you where you know not and when it changes course as it is wont to do, you are left to fall into the valley of despondency. The very place your beloved promised you would never descend to.
But you did not tell Nomagugu your experience… you said nothing, only that Gugu should
remember her mother’s desperate situation, before she let that boy touch her!
Stone cannot find Forgiveness for it took to flight somewhere in your lips Saru and dissolved into quietness down your throat. Sometimes he cries but he has nowhere to go, even Death has abandoned him and there is nothing outside this home left for him. How sad it is that Stone has outlived your Love. He looks upon your Affection as a foreigner, your Beauty is masked by tumultuous anger and he even dreams of standing up on his own two feet to kill you.
How can you say that he has not suffered enough? You ignore him and at night when he calls your name. You call to Jesus instead to heal and deliver Stone as one of your many burdens. You have not yet mastered your hate but you sometimes think to yourself as you are doing the dishes or walking to the markets to buy candles and matches, ‘when Stone dies, I will wear my blue dress.’ Yet what will become of your soul if he should outlive you?
Memories of love past insist on living on, living beyond the days of love itself. Time resists death and remembrances become emotions of who we are and who we think we are. Memories are photographic images depicting guilt, pain, passion, love and of course sorrow, but they fail to remind us of what in fact happened. For some people the past is always iconic and hence their present is mundane and their future is ever bleak. For Saru, a past lover is always better than Stone, yet she forgets that it is actually her heart which has become jaded and she is robbing her present of her true essence. Saru had never thought to ask more of herself or Stone, she felt she could not condescend to her needs.
You enjoy love more now that it is over, you think of your youth as if you could somehow go back; love is reborn in fantasy where it rotted in reality.
Saru sometimes wakes up in prayer: ‘Jesu bind that man, break him, place burning coals upon his head, fire, holy fire, fire, holy fire, fire, fire, fire!’ But fire does not come, only the light of the sun piercing the thin curtain sheets…. Then it is ‘Sweet Jesu keep him!’ Perhaps this is what remains after the fire of anguish; Love creeps into Her domain to soften and tame once
These scalded remains of love are all Saru will have in this lifetime; the decision was made the moment of her violent egress from the bus without protest. Now it was God’s turn, to utter, ‘woman thou art loosed from thine infirmity.’ Perhaps when she opens her heart to Stone, there will be room enough for the Voice to call to the depth of her soul.
The cicadas sing amidst Saru’s variegated songs. She sings of her childhood and her girlhood
dreams; of love. It may well be that there are days of pleasure still left for her. But while it is possible to rob yourself of love, love may come back at you and rob you yet again of a second chance.
Then you wonder how one woman can be so alone, so untreasured. What is left to contemplate is that love is a choice, variegated, thick and sweet amidst cries of uniform interruptions. At the core of longing is that same love that forsakes us all at some point in our lives. Yet we can choose the words to our own song.
You could be anywhere Saru, sauntering along Waikiki Beach, perhaps window shopping on La Salle Street in Chicago, or maybe in a boat on Lake Sammamish in Seattle. You could be standing in Martin Place downtown Sydney, wondering in which direction to go or the place people egress the buses on Adelaide Street in Brisbane… but it isn’t so for you. You only travel in your dreams.
Down the road, a middle aged woman, poor, black, wearing sadness on her face parades about in a short blue dress. You laugh to yourself as you pass her by, a little odd you think. But wait, she sings a song and you wish you had caught it; a variegated lullaby spun as if in reels of honey amidst the gurgling hums of cicadas and human shadows. Shadows dance about like falling light. Light which softly rises across the day. Day is a fine time to sing songs. Songs-of-back-then-and-back-to-now, thick with passion. Passion, travels in women’s blood. Blood is life, and in Life is the possibility of true Love: Love is the Landscape, River and Stone in her Song.