Celebrating East African Writing!

Love In The Body Of An Elephant

Written by Clifton Gachagua

She was a twenty-four-hour mistress to the man who murdered Pio Gama Pinto. I am working on a short film about her, a sort of short poem. I keep looking at those eyes, same color as the Meerschaum pipes hanging on the dining room wall, where photographs and sea shells are strewn on multicolored walls, they search me for wisdom and only find a carcass there. My family has a preoccupation with not having focus. This is unlike the other poems I have written, especially unlike the one whose every line was an epitaph. This short poem begins with a delicate delirium on a Portuguese ship. Its beauty is CGI.

Her fingers full of poems you should have seen her shake a tambourine. Her radiance was afforded only to prehistoric things, gliding in a viscous sea of self consciousness, being free. I heard a hum in my sleep, met a caravan somewhere in the deep of that vast place, pilgrims with renewed faces urged me on to the fountain. They all claimed to have seen her. There was a cutting whisper in the wind; notes that spell out her pseudonyms, the universe, with all its gestures, was floating free in her eyes. The desert wind was blowing north where the gods sleep. I asked Isis if she had seen her, the beauty of the papyrus banks. She was burning with jealousy. Then I knew. A civilization adored her. All the ores were finding a common melting point on the crucible; there a new alloy would allow her garment to be sewn. I was in the deep of the desert sands, treading where footsteps were ghouls, their existence a matter of closing and opening the eyes, this preoccupation with shifting sands. A round bend promised a vision of her. Portraits of her like fragments of a Marian painting. Then she was not there. Where the stars evolve stands a vision of her. I follow.

I went to the old parish and cried. Ever since they gave me the name of a saint I had not been back there. The faces were the same, the holy water felt strange. All through I had been attempting to remember some color from my childhood. Side by side the houses stood, oblivious of each other. I tried to cry for a lost aunt, a lost memory, an existence that shaped me. I tried to look for her among the ruins. I avoided eye contact with the stature of Mary. It takes me a month to forget her sad face. Churches kept me alive because they were landmarks.

My mascara is running. It is time I stop reading Dead Souls. Nairobi has been cruel to me. The night has a mauve hue, and on my skin are the jazz solos I heard while the night was still a night. Louis Mhlanga. Nairobi is a simple bibliography of birds. Tagore is of no use tonight. A pound of flesh. That is as close as I’m going to get to imagery. Back to her story.

The ship’s main attraction was a piano bar. The assassin told her that her fingers looked like ivory. All the women in my family are attracted to poets. It’s a sick joke. He had been raised in Zanzibar. All his memories involved a spaghetti western. Such charm she could not resist. He had a wavering presence, like he was supposed to be at two places at the same time, yet she stood there and watch him grow into the most beautiful creature. He had very smooth skin.

The only evidence of their affair is the collection of stamps. That there had been some sort of correspondence between a man in Mombasa and a lady in Zanzibar there is no doubt. But this is no proof to his being human, to their love ever existing beyond that one night on a ship.

He knew he was going to die. The same hands that had killed a man were now florets on her skin, writing her a love letter for the days that he was going to be away. What she was describing was independence, fireworks going off. The color of marimba beats. Her love was a complex prophecy. This murderer, this man who had read The Divine Comedy, had said she would now be known only as Beatrice. She became his dancer of the empyrean, of the heavily scented afternoons, of flowers and eunuchs in the court of the prince, between pillars and columns of palaces, dancing on a terrace of flowers. So much was the effect she had on him that he contemplated sparing Pinto’s life. In the end he had to kill.

Recollection and love; I have to conjure events for me to be able to love. I can as well exist as a character in a dream where love is manifest as creation, as contact with a nymph. I have to abandon my own body, this house of abstractions, pick up a tulip and marvel at how the railway station looks under a canopy of jacaranda in bloom. So tonight I will meet the assassin, perhaps I will also be a murderer.

© Clifton Gachagua 2011


4 comments on “Love In The Body Of An Elephant

  1. Hillary
    November 21, 2011

    I usually read some shorts while tired and remember a bit of them, i am struggling to remember this one while still reading it comrade….something is lacking.


  2. Sindanni Mwella
    November 23, 2011

    I like the magical realism you are attempting Clifto. A bit an overdoze of poecy and description that it skews the story. It feels more like a long poem than a short story. Maybe you meant it to be a long poem. But the words are singing and the sentences are laughing hahaha. Think seriously of going that magical realism route. You will be great.


  3. akhatenje
    November 24, 2011

    I agree with Hillary. I got lost at the mascara digression, then almost found my way when you revealed that the guy with the mascara and the book is the assassin. One question, who is narrating the story? However, the word choice and the descriptions may just…save your skin:)


  4. Mira
    December 1, 2011

    On the contrary I think your digressions into the real world are not distracting – maybe a little dope would help some readers. I immediately got under the skin of this almost mother of all gypsy figurines. Make it into a short film Clifton.


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