Celebrating East African Writing!
You always remember that night. The silence in the wind and the unraveling of complexities that turn into simple conclusions… and you know.
I learnt something about life from her eyes. Always, there was a sparkle. Not the kind you read about in romance novels or envy from fashion magazines. This was different. A sparkle glazed by looming sadness that disappeared in an instant and became a sparkle dawning from a joy somewhere. It was beautiful.
Patricia. Funny now even when I write about her I still feel that lightness she always brought in the room. Her deep blue summer dress accented with cheap perfume and she would say in the middle of stripping down to the bares of a cold July, “It’s hot in here, walk with me, luv.”
And she would giggle with June and July, warming the cold.
I suppose I do owe her this – telling a story about my Patricia.
The first time was a puzzling euphoria and most memorably, a gulp of fresh air. It was May when I met her five years ago. She sat next to me at the gynecologist’s office wearing a painted black t-shirt and worn out frayed blue jeans. She looked, to me, like a memoir from the Beetle’s 60s. I was there for my monthly check up with Dr. Mwenda. We – James and I – had been trying to get pregnant for the past three months and every visit begun with his relentless optimism:
“This is it babe. I have a good feeling about today.” And he would smile before leaving for his millionth appointment with the bank managers meeting my disapproval with the same words, “I’m up for a promotion anytime soon.” Pause. “I need to show my commitment and then we’ll get married. Ok?”
I never responded and then he was gone. Then again as if on key, a regular interruption by the doctor’s assistant to go in snuffed the flashbacks. At least I have a boyfriend, I thought with a final glance at her direction before going in.
It never went well. As the water splashed on my face in that dingy hospital bathroom, I replayed the doctor’s words: “I’m concerned about the infection. It’s spreading to your ovaries and the womb.”
“Is it life threatening?”
“…we talked about this last time…I have to remove your womb…”
“…there has to be another way…I-I can’t…”
“I’m sorry either way…”
“Will I ever conceive?”
Then I was there staring at the mirror. Blank and tearless. Not a woman and the wombless woman remarked unintentionally loud, “I should shoot myself.”
Behind her, a deep mellow husky voice replied, “I have a gun. Maybe you could borrow it sometime.”
Her voice could be color- colors: Blue, orange, red and gold. Like her name. Patricia.
I found myself in her dainty apartment six months later. It was inevitable, she had expressed, for a bastard like James to throw away a gem like me – he had no taste or pretext of taste. The eccentric paintings on the walls, floor, and bed crammed the apartment but it was still home. My first real home.
It was here that I discovered first-hand the exhilaration of riding in the back of an old pick-up truck. It was there every night sailing through deserted roads and trailing invisible paths. In the truck we re-invented ourselves and we begun whether in the harsh blades of cloudless night skies or the over pungent heat of African suns. I found the real Patricia behind her rebel façade and from her large transparent brown eyes she emerged a person and there I collected pieces of a book with pages that would become my own someday.
At midnight we parked at some abandoned warehouse. Sometimes at the edge of a cliff in no man’s land and the recycled smoke from her Marlboro cigarettes would cut the sanctity of the air. For a moment we were all there as friends – the booze, the cigarette pack and recollections, dreams and sometimes there was a supernova brewing in her eyes reflected on my face. Then she would begin a recital of her life to the lonely space. I listened. Always, there was the sparkle in her eyes, her voice and her caramel skin.
Once, she caught me in her room staring at some old paintings in her drawer. She didn’t stop me and I sponged off the art hypnotized by the flare of colors coming alive on the landscape of the canvases. The paintings of a sea she had dreamt of, a gold sleeved locket on a yellow rose, crimson view of the countryside and the most vivid was that of a naked woman covering herself with sunflower canopies with eyes drawn in pain and pleasure. Her name was Noelle. Patricia’s lover. She took my hand almost an embrace pulling me to the bed and she started with a silent, lachrymose and sultry ambience.
She was always awkward as a child not knowing how to sit, when to speak, where to behave mannerly or just be herself – she was weird. She had never been sure of anything in her life except love and art more so after her parents’ death. Noelle was the embodiment of both. She didn’t think it was wrong. Love could never be wrong. It had no face, no color just a heart. She never cared much for the repercussions presented by a “conservatively up tight society” and she never gave the dirty looks and talk from people a chance to rain her down. No. She would never apologize.
Her voice trailed off reining in whatever light it had shone and she wrapped it up in a few words, “…she died two years later but her spirit never did. It never could.”
She walked to the balcony lit a cigarette and came back in. Like a helpless child begging for absolution she took my hand in hers once again and asked, “What about you?”
That was the birth I remember.
I wrote a lot while I was growing up. I wrote anything and everything but my parents’ had always despised artistes and anything art. My dad the engineer and my mother the doctor all thought it improper to live for the pen. I needed a stable income; they shouted a lot, a husband and children instead of globe-trotting to nowhere looking for miniscule shreds of inspiration which didn’t exist.
Patricia was quiet and then she smiled, “At least you pissed them off and its not so bad living off art. You get to do this…” she led me outside to the rain and we screamed, yelled to no one in particular. We fell on the mud smelling the wet earth and being subdued by the symphonic release.
That night I was reborn from the carnage of dilapidated pasts and I wrote waiting for the baptism of dawn.
In a memory in my dreams she swings in a red dress with imprints of Noelle’s face, “Why don’t you write?”
In her laughter she knows.
Life went on but under a different guise exuding radiance and tomato suppleness. She would paint the cozy wine shops along our street complementing the imperfections of the people that walked along. I would write about our times together in the cafes, in the half asleep city walks at night where the underground life came to every night. For a while I didn’t think of “if”. There was no time; only roads and maps leading to somewhere.
In August the summer heat seemed unwelcome. That month it drained the color from her face leaving an alabaster print in her voice. She would talk about the cancer like a friend. Sometimes embracing it then drowning it in a bottle of whiskey hoping to draw it out with the fumes. During our midnight drives she would dance for the stars and then whisper something to herself. For the first time I saw her cry. Sitting there almost like she was floating on the air. I thought she had never seemed more distant and beautiful. She left drenching the night with wet salt. I did not see her for three days and whenever I heard someone sing, laugh or pull up in the drive way, I thought of her. When she returned she never cried and when I asked her where she was there was always a smile playing on her lips, “Trying to be.”
It wasn’t the cancer I was afraid of. It wasn’t death that she feared. It was a joke we both didn’t understand. Days when time crawled and then flew right past us like we were invisible. Sometimes it was worse to see it happen to her. She had refused any kind of treatment and I didn’t blame her. I found it exceedingly difficult to picture this bright light called Patricia being dimmed by streams of chemical injections and then living her days out in puke and the hovering smell of death’s welcome mat. It was at that time that her world was embedded into mine and mine into hers and everyone else was just a passing tune on the highway lights.
She played out the pain in an old piano sometimes in the words I read to her from my journal or my stories. When she was strong enough we still rode the truck and her spirit would wake constantly streaming hope and I thought maybe God wasn’t too bad after all. Maybe my Patricia would still live. We sold her paintings that month and toasted to new beginnings with the cabernet. She loved the flute glasses, she said, you could tell just when the bubbles were about to pop.
Then came December and I knew; when no one came around with wine or new conversations, when the floor oozed crystals that were cold with silence. There was no music to be heard from outside and I couldn’t write. There were no stories to tell.
She couldn’t bear it. It showed in her eyes and everyday she disappeared little by little. She still hummed something from her glory days but it was always a frailer version and I knew Patricia would never wait for death. She would go out and find it.
I didn’t have to read her letter to know peace was all she had waited for and it would embrace her if she dived in with the dignity of her memories.
That night she wore the loveliest magenta dress I had ever seen. She held her hair in a chignon and we drove off at midnight. She had carried her painting of Noelle and some pictures. Thinking back now even through her butterfly smile I had never seen a sadder person but still there was something like repose in the conflicted silhouette. We sat out flushing through the pages of her life, then our life. There was the laughter once again more composed and graceful than it had ever been and it flowed so soulfully from her open hair to the misty vibes that had become a haven for us, for her if only for a while. That counted for something. It was a lullaby and I slept for the first time in a long time in her hand, I remember, faded out by soft indie tunes. I never wanted to wake up.
Her hand wasn’t cold. There was no stiffness. Her eyes were closed ripe in the fullness of all they had ever seen. There was no pulse and still it felt like she knew something I didn’t. Her lips gently touching parted with a soft smile. She was there then she wasn’t and the night passed in her hands wet with my tears of sadness, joy, endings and beginnings.
I still think of her. Sometimes outside my house by the beach I wait for her songs or the color of her smile in the gold crested horizon. Her ashes spread out in the wind whistle luck and tales of love somewhere.
©Connie Mutua 2010 www.spinningcosmo.blogspot.com
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