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Part III: Lunama, 1-3.

1

Went to Africa when Lady was two years old. It was like entering one of Simon's stories. It made me believe in God.

Africa was Light. Objects came at me all at once before I had a chance to put them in order. Shadows at midday were a deeper black. Objects in shadow became voids, they lost the essence of what they were in sunlight and turned inside out into their opposites. There were trees and not-trees, men and not-men, snakes and not-snakes, things were lost altogether in the intensity of light and dark. Water shone there--not like a series of light particles, not in fragments, but in slabs of iridescence. In England, if light could cry out it would sound like an infant's wail. In Africa, the sound of light would be the shriek of a grown woman--the shriek of a prophet or the damned. Africa was never dark; they got it wrong. But Simon wrote that it stirred the darkness in white men who wanted to triumph over its gorgeousness and majesty.

In the early morning, a certain light rose from the earth--not the throwing on of light from above like a cape, but a rising from below, as if somewhere nearby the crust of the earth had split open, and lava had risen up, spreading itself and its gaseous light across the land. Things changed then, by magic. The faces of men on their mats bowing toward Mecca were suddenly lit from within; their skin turned to burnt copper and their clothes turned from cloth to clay as the light of dawn made everything malleable. It wasn't simply a world waking from sleep; it was a world shaking off the chains of mortality--at least that's the way it seemed to me because the contrast was so extreme.

By midday, the light changed into a glaring opaqueness, a thick wall. Walking in the noonday sun of tropical West Africa is a pushing through heat toward heat. People's block-dyed clothes are so bright that reds, greens, yellows, and blues don't look like themselves; they're hyperboles on cotton and linen. The people themselves seemed to absorb the light so that the dark skins of the nearly black became the color of their pupils, and the light skins of the lighter black became what dark should be. Things weren't lightened by the sun, they were deepened by it. At midday, the palm trees took on a bluey-greenness, the shade of the sea in a storm. If there was no breeze, the fronds were hard against the hot blue-white of the sky. Sometimes I'd imagine that part of the sky had been cut out to fit the shapes of the trees, the palms looked so bold lined up against the sky.

Then, when dusk descended, it was difficult to remember the way the sun had been before. People who looked old a few hours earlier were complimented on their good health; trees that seemed withered and grass that seemed brown at noon had a healthy sheen to them; and houses whose rusted tin roofs and bowed walls seemed ugly before glowed orange-white in the gentle light that covered the land.

At dusk, I often caught the shimmer of a black or green snake in the backyard. I wrote poems about elephants, and animals who used to roam across the land. Often I wrote about things that were not quite themselves, so a black snake in a poem became its logical, expanding jaw, and a banana tree became a series of yellows and earlobe greens, until I hardly knew what the images represented--shape and color were the same thing.

In West Africa, the word "because" made a mockery of logic. The year we arrived Christmas had been canceled because the president decreed it; several thousand young men of a particular tribe disappeared within the space of a few weeks because it happened to be the time for tribal warfare; the usual number of women died in childbirth because they always did; a cow, a donkey, and a boy were buried alive by the paramount chief of the northern province because of a dream he had that told him doing this would restore his virility; and cholera vaccine that had been sent free from the U.S. was sold to the people because self-help was a government motto taken very literally by cabinet ministers who helped themselves. But I loved it just the same. And Lady and I grew whole again in its light.

Manny worked on a number of different agricultural projects, but I never learned much about them. He hadn't wanted to return to Africa after all. It had been a dream he'd held on to, never meaning to do anything about it. When he talked about the World Bank and IMF, the rice shortage or appropriate technology, I'd try to listen. But invariably my mind would wander and I'd end up focusing on Lady or on the view of the ocean we had from the dining room window. He rarely held Lady at that time. Rarely changed or bathed or fed her. It was understood that she was mine. I'd made her happen because I'd chosen to keep her. I had to pay.

I taught part-time at a girls' convent school in the city, just for something to do. Manny got a good salary, but I didn't see much of it. He'd pay the bills grudgingly, and I'd find money for "extras" like Lady's clothes. I taught the girls on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from noon to three. It was the hottest part of the day and the school, like all the others in the city, was without air-conditioning. The only unit they had hummed away in the principal's office. Sometimes I'd invent a problem just so I could go and sit in there and enjoy the artificial coolness. I'd leave Lady with Assieyatu, a young woman I'd met through another expatriate. She cleaned for a woman named Hilary Masters on the days when she wasn't looking after Lady. When they discovered I was paying her wages on an American scale, the Americans and Brits scolded me for encouraging indolence. "They're not used to that kind of money," they said. "You'll spoil her." I told them to bugger off and gained a reputation for crudeness that was somewhat thrilling. Assieyatu left Hilary's employ and came to work for me full-time. It took almost all the money I earned to pay her a decent wage, but it was worth it. We became friends. Soon we were going to the beach together with our children--she had a boy named Michael who stayed with her when he wasn't with her mother or her aunt. She would tell me stories about Temnes and Mendes, Creoles and Hausas, and I would listen because there was so much to learn, and even then I knew there wouldn't be much time.

In those first eight weeks, the beach times with Lady, Assie, and Michael were my main source of solace. Teaching was making me sick--literally and figuratively. Gradually I decreased my hours, supplementing my income with a little freelance editing so that I could pay Assie. The girls had no money for books or clothing. Their poverty threw me into depression. How could I change things simply by teaching a few girls about Shakespeare? Even if we read Achebe together, what difference did reading a Nigerian male make to their lives? There were no African women writers on the syllabus. There were no voices like their own. Those from Temne or Mende country spoke through the veils of three languages--their tribal language, then Krio, then English. We could hardly begin to know each other. My problems with air-conditioning or boredom were as remote from them as theirs were from me. We lived on parallel planes. When we intersected with each other, it was an illusion. But on the beach, I could pretend I had come home. On the beach we played together as children. Assie was only nineteen. Her son was four. She was raising him with the help of a mother and an aunt. Her home was upcountry, in a place called Lunama. She told me about her town as we sat on the beach. I made her describe it in detail, and she would laugh, not understanding the need I had to know the country. She was happy when I told her my father had come from there. "You are African too, Jassie," she said. "Jassie and Assie. Two African women together." Then we twirled around in a circle with the children in the middle nearly tripping us up. I told her we'd go to Lunama together soon. She clicked her tongue in her mouth and shrugged. I asked her if there was something there she didn't want to see again. She said the town was dying; it was the city she loved.The city was full of liveliness. "The city is my kind of town," she said, making me laugh again.

On the beach, Lady was wild. She knew how to swim before I put her in the water. "She is a fish!" Assie cried, and I felt my heart contract. Then I looked at my daughter. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She moved through the water bent slightly to one side to compensate for the lost limb; and her tiny strokes were more graceful than children's doggy paddles. She smiled when a wave came down on her head and smiled when water got in her eyes. Her skin was as brown as mine. She was my child. I forgot Manny had anything to do with her. Assie told me Lady was special. "She is not like other children," she said as we sat at the edge of the water and watched the children play in the sand. "How do you mean?" I said, bracing myself for insult. "She is not like a two. She is like a four or a five. Michael is a smart boy, but Lady is a smarter girl. She can count and sing and dance. She can swim too. She is speaking Tenme before I teach her. I think tomorrow she will read. You have a smart, smart one." I thanked her. I would tell Manny about this. No. I wouldn't. He'd wanted her dead. She was mine. He could go to hell thinking his daughter was a mistake. I wouldn't tell him a bloody thing.

On the beach Africa was kind. The sand sparkled in the sun and the waves were turquoise or emerald green. We steered clear of most tourists and ex-pats. We mixed with Assie's friends--the waiters, the fishermen, the market women. We bought mangoes and pawpaws and ate them in the water so that the flies wouldn't get us. Lady took to swimming underwater. I'd watch for her for several seconds swimming just below the surface, then I'd reach down and pull her up. She didn't want to come. She'd get angry. Her little forehead would scrunch up and her mouth would be puckered into a sulk. I'd kiss her then and she would push me away. Then I'd fiche her and she'd laugh in waves and waves of childhood, and I'd be glad, so glad we were here in my father's country, she and I together.

When the rain came in brief, heavy downpours, we ran for shelter. We sat in the bar run by an old Irishman named Murphy. Assie drank Coke and I drank Star beer. The children played in the rain. We became beach bums. We were happy.

Although I fell in love with Africa, she wasn't an easy lover. She was capricious and occasionally insane. I must have lost my temper a hundred times within the first two months. When we lost the air-conditioning for three days, Lady developed a painful case of diaper rash. When the electricity went out for forty-eight hours, we spent two days on the beach just to avoid the stale air in the house. When I went to the market, I was penalized for being a "Piss Corps," which of course I wasn't. They told me all white people were Piss Corps. I said I wasn't white. The women in the market laughed hard at this. "Black American, white American," they said, "what is different? "When I got angry, they laughed all the more. When I brought boxes of cereal home, they were filled with mealybugs. When I turned on the light in the kitchen, cockroaches scuttled off to hide. When we walked through the yard, Lady would cry out "Sake!" and I would grab her in terror and run inside. For two months, I was angry, angry, angry. And then it all went away.

It's not supposed to happen like that. Change is meant to be a gradual thing. You adapt slowly, so they told us in orientation. Wives of contract workers often didn't adapt at all. They were psycho-vacked--a Peace Corps term invented by a doctor with a sense of humor--back home to recover from nervous breakdowns. But that didn't happen to me. Instead I woke up one day to find I'd shed my anger the way a snake sheds its skin. In its place was an abiding curiosity, and a willingness to accept the land and the people on their own terms. I'd like to take credit for it, but some of that belongs to Esther Cole.

Assieyatu and Esther were friends. They had been lovers once, but they didn't refer to each other in that way because of course you loved your best girlfriends and of course you wanted to make them feel good. Sex was different for Assie. Sex was what you did when you felt like it without making too much of a fuss about the whole business. She would complain about Western views of lovemaking: "Americans like to think about sex all the time. It is very puzzling. Then when they do it, they like to think about it again. I was with one man once, a Peace Corps. After we did it, he is sitting up in bed saying we did it. Now I know we did it because, Jacinta Louise Moses, I am there, isn't it? But this man is telling me we did it as if it is a surprise of some kind. Then he wanted to know if I liked it. Now why would I do it if I did not like it? Am I mad? Am I a fool? I tell him this. He is disappointed. Americans are always disappointed. They expect too much. They want everything now. They want everything better. Americans do not know how to wait for a bus. They do not know how to wait for a fever to go down. They take pills or they ride in cars. Americans are stupid."

I found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending a country and a people I had known only briefly. I tried to tell Assie that people were much the same. Circumstances changed them, but only cosmetically. Yet even I knew my argument was weak. If you grow up without cars, electricity, running water, televisions, shoes, if you grow up without enough rice, how could you be the same as those of us who have all these things? I'd grown up poor in London, very poor, but I was rich in comparison with most of the people here. We were not all the same; privilege was the most successful form of segregation.

"You meet Esther," Assie told me one day as we ran inside Murphy's bar to shelter from the rain.

"Who's Esther?"

"Esther Cole," Assie said with finality.

"Who's Esther Cole?"

"My girlfriend."

"O. Why should I meet her? Does she live here in the city?"

"Yes. Most of the time. Sometimes not?'

"What does she do?"

"She is Esther Cole. She sings?'

"A singer."

"Uh-huh."

"Where?"

"Everywhere. Big hotels. Everywhere. You do not know her, is it so?"

"No. I don't. I never go anywhere. How could I know her?"

"You go to the beach."

"Does she sing on the beach?"

"You go to the market."

"Does she sing in the market?"

"Everybody knows Esther Cole. She is too famous?'

"When do I meet her, then?"

"Tonight. She sings at the Kimani. Come with me. Only twenty dollars for a ticket."

"Twenty dollars! Assie, I don't have it. You know what Manny's like with money."

"I know you do not have it. You give it to me. Now I give it back. My treat. We go tonight."

"Who'll look after Lady?" We both knew Manny was out of the question.

"My aunt," Assie said.

She took my hand.

"Come on, girlfriend." Her pretty eyes were wide and bright. "All the people will see us. Two African women going to party at the Kimani. We will meet some fine people there. Very fine. They will buy us drinks."

I shook my head.

"Okay, okay. They will buy me, Assieyatu, drinks and I will share them with my girlfriend. And then you will meet my Esther."

"What's so special about this Esther Cole?"

"You will see," she called over her shoulder as she ran back to the sea. "You will see you are the same one."

"The same what?" I called after her. But she was already in the water, too far away to hear what I'd said.
                                  ** 


The hotel where Esther sang was new. The guests were European and American--businessmen and tourists accustomed to being entertained on demand. A few Indians and a few Lebanese stayed in the well-appointed rooms overlooking the beach, but most of the people who could afford to pay the Kimani's rates were white. They were served by Africans dressed in white jackets and black ties. I wondered how long it had taken them or their women to press these jackets with irons filled with hot coals. I'd tried it once and burned three of Manny's shirts. Assie had laughed so hard she had fallen over. She said people from the West could not manage without electricity. She said she felt sorry for us.

The guests at the Kimani were not made up of local people, but everyone came to hear Esther sing. At least half of the audience in the ballroom was African. They stood up and cheered when she came onstage in her red African gown, embroidered with white thread. She was tall and strong. She weighed as much as most of the men in the audience. Her nose was generous, her lips full and dark. We sat toward the front. Assie's eyes were sparkling. "Look!" she cried. "Look at my Esther! See how they love her! She is a great one indeed, is it not so?" And I nodded because there was something of greatness in the way she inclined her head to the applause and in the way she looked out over the heads of the audience as if she were aiming for a place above us, as if she knew how to lead us there.

Later that night I wrote a poem about her. It was a sonnet and it began
    When Esther sings, the world takes off its clothes. 


And it was true. Because we did. She knew us--black, white, mixed, it didn't matter. She knew us. Esther had been where we had been and she had seen it with us. She'd seen my daughter's lost arm, swimming with the fish; she'd seen it in the paisley swirls of the stair carpet at Lavender Sweep; she'd seen Manny scanning the floor under the hospital bed, looking for it in the days after Lady was born; she'd seen my father in London saying good-bye to the woman he loved in a high-windowed ward made of British ice and indifference; she'd seen little Alison Bean cradled in her father's arms after the slaughter; she'd seen Leonora Hicks finding her way in the dark of drowning in Virginia; she'd seen Maurice Beadycap and his twin sister, Mary, as they groped for answers to questions they didn't know how to ask; and she'd seen my mother bury my father in a grave that was never large enough to hold him. She'd seen us all. We were in the quilt she made with her voice. She threaded us together and we were joined. There was no difference between us. Like Vera Butcher's Hubert, we didn't know where we began and where we ended. Outlines had disappeared. Everything was inside where we were.

I can't remember what Esther sang about that night, but I thought it had something to do with peace. In the West we call it inner peace, but for me in Africa it was stillness. It is standing in the heart of the bush and feeling its pulse and calling it home. It is the woman with wood balanced on her head turning toward you and saying, "Kusheh, kusheh-ya" in slow motion. It is you not knowing where that woman begins and where she finishes because she is the bush--her skin the color of tree limbs, her clothes the colors of the earth. In the West we comfort by forgetting; we are always trying to escape. In Esther's songs, escape was not possible. Comfort was housed in remembrance. If you remembered what was lost, you were made strong. In the act of remembering was triumph. You cried and were washed clean. The key was always recognition.

I didn't fall in love with Esther that night because she did all she could to push me away. She came up to our table after she had finished singing and began to mock me. Esther liked to mock; it was her forte. She liked to take you and string you up on a pole and show you how foolish you were. When she spoke to you one-on-one, she was the antithesis of what she had been onstage. She wanted to make you suffer. Comfort was the farthest thing from her mind.

"Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses," she repeated after she had learned my names from Assie. "Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses." She uttered my names with derision. Her accent and idioms were a strange mixture of Africa, Britain, and America. She tilted her head up so that she was looking down her broad nose at me. Assie thought it was all very funny.

"So you want to be an African like your daddy. How quaint. And you have come to learn about the culture by hearing Esther Cole sing. And what did you think, pretty little Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses, of my performance?"

"You were stunning," I said truthfully.

"Yes, I was. You are right. Stunning. I was stunning. I always stun. That's what I do best. Look around this room, Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses, and you will see there are some men here who think l am a god; some women who would agree. Many of them have slept with me. I sleep with them once only. You know why?"

I tried to look indifferent.

"I sleep with them once because they bore me."

Assie giggled. Esther let herself smile. There was a gap between her two front teeth. Enough space for a tongue to slip inside if it were turned sideways. She caught me looking at her mouth.

"Assie is my friend. We love each other. Assie says she loves you too. Is that so?" Esther asked.

"We're friends," I said. I felt awkward, defensive.

"And what of you? Do you love her too, or will you do what all Americans do--take and then leave? I have seen many like you. Black Americans, black Europeans, coming here to claim the land. They sit on top of it like a chicken on a borrowed egg. They see nothing. Hear nothing. They go away thinking they are African because they have bought some gara fabric and a mask. And they use our people to look after their spoiled babies and do their yard work."

She looked at me and laughed: "But I am in hell already, Jacinta Moses. Didn't you know that from my singing?"

"I didn't say ... I didn't--"

"You didn't have to say it, Jacinta Moses. Your eyes speak for you. You should be careful of eyes like that. They will betray you every time. They are not a politician's eyes. One day they could get you into serious trouble, isn't it so?"

"Why are you so rude?" I asked her.

"Rude? Rude? I am not rude, Jacinta Moses. I am Esther Cole. I say what I please when it pleases me to say it."

"Sometimes you should learn to keep your mouth shut."

She laughed again, much more loudly this time. Her laugh was broad. People stopped talking to hear it. The laughter spread out across the table between us like someone's hand.

"Ha, ha! So! Assie was right. We are the same," she said.

Before I could think of anything to say in reply, Esther had stood up and was heading back toward the stage to begin singing again.

I told Assie we had to leave; it was getting late. Assie went crazy. She didn't want to go yet. This would be the best part. Esther would sing the water carrier song. She'd paid twenty dollars each for the tickets. It would be too sorrowful if we left now. There were tears in Assie's eyes. I took a deep breath and made my mouth smile in acquiescence.

I tried to turn my ears off to Esther's singing, but I couldn't. She seduced me again. I resisted at first--then there was no point. She was taking me to a beautiful place where the air was cool. A breeze was blowing in from the ocean and the moon hung in the sky like a clean wish. There was time to think. I let my mind go back to where Manny was sitting at home banging stories out on his old typewriter. Bang, bang, bang. Words and full stops--a man's way of seeing. Manny changed into my father, Simon. He was a man too and yet his words had wings with soft feathers on them. They brushed you quiet. Alfred was in the picture too, and Louise, saying she was sorry. Suddenly I wanted to go back to London, to the place I thought I would never want to see again. I wanted the house on Lavender Sweep and the narrow rooms. I thought there had been weeping in that house and I was right. But I'd forgotten the most important thing: there had also been love. Why had it taken me so long to remember that? Alfred's sweet and feminine face shone through the dark. As ugly as it was beautiful. Esther was taking me there. Esther Cole was taking me home.

When she'd finished singing, she snubbed us. She swept over to another table nearby and sat talking with a group of British tourists until we stood up to leave. Then she toasted us with the Bloody Mary in her hand. "To blood," she called out to us as we left.

"What did she mean?" I asked Assie as we unlocked the Jeep. "What blood is she talking about?"

"It is her song--her famous one. It is called 'Blood and' ...'Blood and' ... how can I forget? I am indeed a silly-Billy! It is about her own daughter, and it is about when she died. She sang it, Jassie, you remember? The song about the water carrier. I do not think you were listening, girlfriend."

"She lost a child?"

"Of course!" Assie said, shaking her head at my stupidity. "All night she was singing to us about that thing. Were you not listening to her? Didn't you hear what she was telling us?"

We got into the Jeep. Assie was excited. She was sitting in the front. It always made her happy.

"When I go to the United States, I will be driving around in Jeeps all my life. And people will see me and say, "There goes Assieyatu in her new Jeep. What a fine life she has.'"

"How did her child die?"

Assie shrugged. "She was a child. She died."

"Yes, but how?"

"Americans always want to know the answers."

"I'm not American."

"She is the best singer in the world, is it not so?"

"Yes. It is so."

"She will be there tomorrow."

"Where?"

"On the beach."

"Who invited her?"

"The beach is free. No one invites."

"She doesn't like me. I have no intention of spending the afternoon with Esther Cole if she's in the same mood she was tonight."

"She will be there. It will be a fine, fine day. We are the lucky people. Yes indeed."

I drove home enraged.

If Esther Cole thought she could speak to me like that again, she had another think coming. Voice or no voice, the woman was a bitch. I'd find an excuse for not being there tomorrow. I'd seen Esther for the first and last time. I set my face to the road and drove on into the dark.

2

Esther didn't like the ocean. She said it was too big. In fact, she complained all afternoon: it was too hot on the beach; white people were the only ones who lay out in the sun with the mad dogs; Lady was too young to be swimming in the ocean--a wave could come and take her out to sea and it would be all my fault. What kind of a mother was I to treat my baby in this manner?

Most of the time I pretended I was utterly bored. I yawned twenty or thirty times. She was goading me. Assie had probably told her that I didn't want her to join us at the beach. She arrived a few minutes after we did with an entourage--a young girl of about fourteen who was her cousin or sister, a young man who looked to be in his early twenties, and an elderly woman Esther introduced as her mother. Later I learned the woman was a distant relative who'd come to the city to buy fabric. They all attended to Esther Cole's every whim. They seemed to consider me lucky to have Esther's company for a whole afternoon. I tried to make it clear from my expression that their idol made me sick.

Esther held audience on the beach. She gave speeches and issued commands. She was solicitous toward her maternal relative, doting over Lady, and reasonably kind toward Assie. The rest of us she treated like dirt.

On the beach, Esther's darkness was more pronounced than it had been when she'd worn the red and white gown the night before. On this day, she was dressed in yellow--a shocking yellow. The word "flagrant" came to mind because it was a color deep enough to possess a scent. She had a matching yellow headtie wound round her head, and the gown was drawn tight underneath her full breasts so that it hugged her waist. She used her hands when she spoke and they were covered in gold. Her skin was like black water--a dark mirror. I sat there hating her and loving her at the same time. She could afford to make proclamations about Africa because Esther Cole was Africa distilled--at least that's what she'd have you believe. And, looking at her, I found myself drawn into her creed, all the while hating her for convincing me of it. Esther came from the land and she would return to it, and Africa would open its arms to her in welcome.

"You do not care for your child, Jacinta Moses," she told me, waving a regal hand across her face to bat away an insect. "You let her swim in the ocean with the waves. Is she a child or is she a fish, Ma?" She turned to her relative to ask the question. All I could see was her back. Her "mother" tittered. I'd had it. I poked her shoulder with my index finger.

"Listen, you, I've had enough. Lady's my child, get it? I do what I want with her. She has nothing to do with you, okay?"

"All children are my children," Esther said, raising herself up proudly.

"The hell they are! Not my child anyway."

Assie ran back just then with Lady in her arms.They were both wet and laughing. Assie handed Lady to me and fell down at Esther's feet. Esther put her hand on Assie's head and began stroking her braids.

"The water is hot! Hot like ice!" Assie cried.

"Ice is cold, Assieyatu," the young man told her.

"Ice is hot. It burns you when you hold it. Just like fire. Ice is hot. And the water it is hot too."

"The waves are strong," Esther cautioned. "You could get pulled out to sea. The child is too young to be in the ocean."

"I thought I told you to mind your own business."

Esther narrowed her eyes and tried to stare me down. I stared back.

"You see! "Assie shouted, pointing at us both. "You are the same."

"No we're not!" My voice sounded childish. I wished I'd kept quiet.

Assie grabbed Lady again. "Come on, little fish," she said. "We must go back into the ocean. It is calling us."

Esther looked out after them. "Children," she said softly. Then she shook her head.

"I had a child," she began.

"So?"

"I had a child just like your Lady."

As if on cue, Esther's entourage stood up and walked off to another part of the beach. The young man led the elderly relative, and the girl skipped along ahead of them until they were all the size of my fingernail. Assieyatu's squeals were carried to us on the breeze. We sat under the umbrella Esther's people had erected for her and felt the sun through its shadow. No one else was nearby. This was siesta time. Most people had the sense to remain inside. I turned to look at the yellow of Esther's gown and the black of her eyes but she was still gazing after Assie and Lady.

"I had a child," she repeated like someone who had memorized a poem and was ready to recite it. I waited for the next move. I thought of a chess game--Esther Cole as the black queen, me as the white one. I couldn't be black because she was; I was metamorphosed into her opposite. My own fragile link to the continent was made more fragile still.

Esther reached out during the pause and grabbed my hand.

At first I wanted to jerk it away. Then I noticed the coolness of her fingers. I didn't pull away. She began to stroke my hand from the palm to the tips of the fingers. Then she massaged the whole hand. Her fingers pulled on mine and I thought about cows and how we can milk them dry with the right techniques.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"I want only to tell you a story. Do you want to hear it, little Jacinta Moses?"

Her fingers were working my own. Now she ran them across my wrist and I thought of hummingbirds.

"Once upon a time there was a young woman. She was a black, black one, and very proud. She had a magic voice. When she sang the animals would listen, and the people would cry because it made their hearts large to hear her. This young woman traveled all over the world. Men took her. Men she met. And women too, if they had money enough. She came back to Africa filled with ideas. She had a baby. A little girl called Florence."

"Florence?"

"Yes. Florence. A fine name. Better than giving a child the name of a dog."

I pulled my hand away. She roared with laughter, then cut the sound off as if her will were a knife that could slice anything in two.

"Florence was a beautiful child. She could run like the wind even though she was only two or three years old. Her mother was proud of her. One day, her mother went away with one of the men she knew. She went to Paris. Everyone loved her. She came back. Florence had been in a fever for three days. She lifted up her little baby and kissed her. Hot. Hot. She held the baby in her arms until Florence stopped. When she stopped it was very quiet. The white doctor came. He said, 'You are lucky. You came back in time.' 'In time for what?' she said.

"It was two days before she could give the child up to the earth. For two days she carried Florence around with her and sang to her. She was not mad; she knew her baby was dead. But she did not want to let her go until she was ready. On the third day she let go. Since that time the woman has' grown old. She does not travel away from the land anymore because Florence is there. Good mothers do not leave their children behind."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"You have a girl too. She is alive today. She may be alive tomorrow. I cannot say those two sentences. Some people are lucky; some are not."

"Some people would look at Lady and say I was very unlucky. Some people would pity me." The bitterness in my voice took me by surprise.

"Why unlucky? Because of an arm!" She spat on the sand in disgust. "People are fools. What do they know? What is an arm or an eye or hair or a nose? Nothing. The child is the child. Her blood is the same as yours. She lived inside you. She is you, is it not so? Her rhythm is your rhythm. And people who tell you she is not beautiful are ugly people themselves. Their hearts are sad. When they hear the rain they think of daggers, and when they see the sun all they know is thirst."

She was drawing me close again. She had become the singer whose voice could make you strong. Her next words slapped me in the face:

"You know nothing, Jacinta Moses.You are a fool. We are not the same."

I stood up without saying a word and walked down toward the sea. Lady and Assieyatu were sitting on the edge of the ocean where the surf met the sand. Lady screamed with delight whenever the waves reached her toes. The sun was fierce on the water. Lady had thrown off her sun hat; I tried to get it back on.

"She needs a sun hat in weather like this, Assie. Why doesn't she have it on?"

"She does not like the sun hat, girlfriend. She will not wear it."

"Then it's time to leave," I said, picking Lady up and marching off with her in my arms.

It took them a few seconds to catch on to what was happening; then they both began to cry.

"It is early. Mr. Murphy is expecting us. He has cold Star beer waiting at the bar. He will be too happy to meet Miss Esther Cole. He will never forgive us if we leave now."

"Me want water! Me want water!" Lady cried.

I told them both to shut up. It came out before I could stop it, and then I couldn't take it back because I could feel Esther's eyes boring into nay back. I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of seeing I'd lost control. Assie was stunned. We swept past Esther and headed for the Jeep. When I'd strapped Lady into her car seat, I turned to Assie to apologize, but she took off running before I had a chance to find the right words. "Damn Esther Cole!" I said. "Damn her to hell!"

Lady was still crying. At least I knew what to do as far as she was concerned. "Cookie," I said.

"Cookie! Cookie!" she cooed and stopped crying instantly, as if she were a faucet. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Assie skipping back to where Esther was sitting. It was obvious where her loyalties lay. I'd been a fool giving her all the money I earned. In return, what did she give me? A prima donna who thought she owned all the children in the world. I would never be able to stand Esther Cole; her ego didn't allow you in. This would be the last time I would see the woman. She was nothing more than an opinionated fool. I turned the ignition in the car and drove off fast enough to make the road howl.

Manny was in his study when we arrived. It was more a closet than a study, but he talked about it with pomposity, and I often envied him the tiny space he had all to himself. The electric typewriter was clicking itself to a frenzy. I didn't bother to let him know we were home. We didn't speak much unless it was necessary.

He emerged from the room when Lady began wailing again. She wanted Assie. She wanted the water. She said a word that sounded like Esther.

"What in Christ's name is the problem here?" Manny said as he walked into the kitchen.

I gave Lady a cookie and she was quiet. Her chest was still heaving but there was a grin on her face. She had what she wanted.

"How come you're back so early? Thought you were planning on making a day of it," Manny said irritably. It was clear that he was counting on having the house to himself.

"Lady wouldn't wear her sun hat on the beach. I brought her home."

"Where's Assieyatu?"

"She wanted to stay on the beach."

"Are we paying her for this little vacation?"

"We never pay her at all, dear. And no. I am certainly not paying her for this afternoon."

Manny sat down at the table with the bread and meat he'd taken from the refrigerator. He began to eat. I could see his jaws from the back as he chewed and swallowed. I was married to this man. I could hardly believe it. I used to want his tongue in my mouth and his hands all over my body. Why? I knew the writing wasn't going well. He'd told me a few weeks before that he was at a tricky stage in the novel--trying to orchestrate a confrontation between the boy and his father. He was up to page one hundred and eighty, he'd said. It was slow going, but he was making progress.

Lady was getting heavy on my lap. I stood up and put her in the high chair. She began to howl. She hated being confined, so meals were always a battle. I tried to ignore it, but I could feel the tension growing inside my head. I bit my lip to stop myself from swearing at her.

"How's the novel?" I asked, putting a spoonful of cereal into Lady's squalling mouth, trying to find something to take my mind off her behavior.

"It's a bitch."

Lady spat out the oatmeal.

"How much did you get done today?" I asked absentmindedly, forgetting that Manny hated to "talk pages" as he called it.

"Jesus, Jazz, that kind of thing isn't quantifiable, you know. A lot of fiction writing is thinking things through, mulling them over. Does she have a shirt to wear?" Lady was naked from the waist up. Manny hated seeing her that way. I didn't think he'd ever touched her stump.

"She's happy like that."

"She's half naked"

"If you don't like it, you know what you can do." There. I'd said it. For a moment it tasted good, then the good feeling evaporated and all that was left was bitterness.

Manny shoved back his chair and stood up. He still had bread and meat in his mouth. He spoke through it.

"Look, obviously you're in a rotten mood. Just don't take it out on me, okay? I'm going to the office. I was taking the afternoon off, it's so damn hot in that building. But at least it's peaceful. Salamatu doesn't nag me to death. I'll see you tonight."

I was sitting in the echo of slammed doors for several minutes before I realized that Lady was screaming for more cereal. I handed her a cookie and put her in the playpen. For once, she didn't protest.

Salamatu was Manny's assistant--or rather, she was the assistant to many of the low-level contract workers for the nonprofit organization. When I'd visited the office once she'd told me how handsome my man was. "I like the blond people," she'd said. Her dress was so tight you could trace each one of her ribs, her navel, and both nipples. I had no doubt that Manny was right: Salamatu never nagged him to death.

Heat lay on the house like a blanket. The air-conditioning was noisy, and the air it sent out through old filters was stale. A sluggish fan turned in the living room, and the lights dimmed whenever the refrigerator kicked in or the a/c revved up. The house had too few windows. We had a spectacular view of the beach and another over the city, but the small windows didn't take advantage of it. The old vinyl on the floors had lost most of its original pattern, and the furniture was standard contract issue for those ex-pats of the lower order--those whose skills were needed but not prized. Yet we lived like royalty in comparison to most of the people in the country. We were the lucky ones. I laughed bitterly. We were the lucky ones.

Lady began to scream again. It echoed through the house and leaped back at me off the walls. "Shut up!" I said to myself. "Just shut up, for God's sake!"

I ran over to the playpen and yanked her up and out. Once again, her crying stopped instantaneously. Where was Assie? She should be here. She knew how to keep Lady quiet. I hated to admit that motherhood wasn't especially appealing on many days of the week. I wanted time just like Manny did. I too had writing to get done--a university press was interested in seeing a collection. I was more than a year behind now that motherhood and teaching had taken over. Manny claimed it would all be worth it once "Sophie" was finished. It would make us a small fortune, he once said. A six-figure advance, a movie option. Three agents were already interested now that they'd seen a few chapters. I couldn't claim that for poetry. No one made money from that. So I'd become a woman who gives a man time to realize his dreams while stifling her own. Jesus, it had better pan out the way he says it will, I thought.

I walked into Manny's study. It wasn't a deliberate act--it just happened. Usually he kept it locked. He said he didn't want Lady getting into his things, but I knew it was me he wanted to keep out. I didn't care. But today I wandered in there and then found that a raging curiosity took over.

It was dark in his writing closet. The whole room was taken up by the desk, a chair, and a small bookshelf. I flipped through the pages on his desk. The manuscript, as expected, was called "Sophie." It began with a description of a woman--
He saw her emerge from the water--hair on fire, limbs as wet as
    mirrors--and he thought she was the most beautiful creature
he'd ever
   seen ...
    


I flipped over the pages. The chapter was ten or twelve pages long. The next chapter began
He saw her emerge from the water--her hair on fire, limbs alive
    with the sea--and he thought he would like to marry something as
   beautiful as that if he had the chance.
    


I hurried to the next chapter. Another version of the opening paragraph, a few more pages of notes. I looked around. This couldn't be his novel! He had written nearly two hundred pages. He'd told me so. Where was the rest?

And then I stopped looking. Suddenly I knew I wouldn't find any more because he hadn't written any more. "Sophie" would never be written. Manny couldn't do it. My hands were shaking. He'd tricked me! He'd mocked my own achievements in poetry while staring at blank sheets of paper for years! He'd lied to me. Emmanuel Fox would never be a writer. The last vestige of respect I had for him fell away.

I didn't notice Lady. I didn't notice that she had a cookie and a cup of grape juice in her one hand. She came running up to me and planted her hand on the desk. The grape juice splattered all over Manny's pages. It looked like blood.

"O my God! Lady! You little fool! You are so stupid!"

She looked at me with eyes wide open and took it all in. Then she looked down and took three deep breaths. Then she turned around and stumbled out into the living room. I looked at the pages--they were ruined. He'd know what I'd seen. All the masks were off. I put my head in my hands to steady them.

Several minutes afterward I went out to the kitchen to fetch a cloth. I'd wipe up what I could; the rest would just have to be Lady's fault. He left the door open; she got in. No one was to blame but Manny.

I'd forgotten all about Lady. When I entered the living room, I saw her pulling wildly at her tiny left arm. "Bad, bad, bad!" she whispered. Then she'd slap it and start rocking back and forth, back and forth.

I rushed over to her and picked her up.

"Lady! Lady, don't be sad. It's Mummy's fault. I'm the bad one. You didn't do anything."

"Bad, bad," she said softly, pulling on her arm.

"No. Not bad. Not bad. O, Lady. I've messed everything up. It's me, not you. It's me. I was forgetting."

I held her against me. She was small and warm. I kissed her left arm and she pulled it away. I kissed it again. I didn't know how to comfort her. When she'd been hurt before, I'd been able to do something; I'd always found a way. But her voice was unlike any I'd heard before. It was a cry of despair. It was as if she'd looked in the mirror for the first time and seen how she was. But the mirror had been me. And I had failed her.

We sat in the living room for a long time. The air-conditioning chugged through the vents like a train and the fan labored to turn the heavy air. The sounds of distant traffic came up the hill and Lady pulled on her arm until it was red.

I wished for Alfred and for Louise. I wanted to make sure that the toddler in my arms would never suffer the way I had, but already it was too late. I thought of the stares she would endure, and I thought about her looking at her father's expression as he covered her left arm with empty sleeves.

"We can't stay here, Lady," I said. "It's too dangerous with your father. He's not whole and he breaks us into pieces. We need to get out. We need to find a safe place to go."

Just then the doorbell rang. I stood up with Lady in my arms. On the other side of the door were Assie and Esther.

"We have come to take you to Murunghi," Esther said, as if I'd been expecting them. "My mother lives there. She would like to meet you."

I looked at them and smiled.

Assie propelled me into the bedroom while Esther played with Lady.

"She likes you very much," she said. "Only her most favorite girlfriends are being taken to see her mother in Murunghi."

"Supposing I don't like her?"

"Her mother is indeed a wonderful old woman."

"I don't mean her mother. I mean, supposing I don't like Esther? And I don't like her, by the way. I think she's a bitch."

"Shhh! She will hear you and then where will we be?"

"Better off."

"Shhh! She is famous. We are very lucky. Do you not want to see this country? I thought you wanted to travel and find things?"

"I do want to find things out. I do. But things haven't turned out the way I thought they would, Assie. It's all ruined. There's no book. Nothing. And the grape juice--all over everything. He'll kill us when he finds it. It wasn't supposed to be like this. O, God, Assie, I'm so lonely I can hardly bear it. And now I'm just like my mother after all, so what will happen to Lady? Where did all the dreaming go? ... Assie ..."

She held me while I cried. She didn't ask me why I was crying. Esther must have heard me, but she didn't come in. Assie said we should go to Murunghi, that everything would be better once we'd done that. I was too tired to argue. "I ha-hate him," was all I could say. And she nodded and told me to hurry before he got back.

Esther was gentle with me when we climbed into her car. She drove fast down the hill, swiveling round to me and Lady to relate stories about the beauty of Murunghi. I didn't know whether I was leaving my husband or not. I felt tired and stupid. You should know when you're separating from your husband. It was a final thing, dramatic. I knew nothing; Esther was right.

I looked back. I could see our house way up on the top of Hill Station where white women had lived in houses built on stilts for more than a century; where white men had come to get away from the blackness of the city. But I didn't know the city from up there. It was a distant thing--something I could escape from. I didn't ride in crowded poda-podas or eat potato leaf soup and foo-foo. I lived White. Esther had been right about that too.

Lady leaned back into my arms. Manny had the car seat with him in the Jeep so I held her tight as we dodged huge potholes. Esther suddenly stopped talking and began to sing:
When my baby carries water
      On her head in her mother's pot
     Don't let devils come to take her
     She's my baby, she's all I've got.
    


I fell asleep to the rhythm of her song and the rhythm of the road and the rhythm of my baby's breathing. I wouldn't look back anymore. Lady was my baby; she was all I had. Simon was my father and I had to trust him to show me the way home. Manny was the devil coming to take her away from me. "We can let her die," he'd said. "It's for the best. She's not beautiful. No man will ever want her"
The path is narrow to the river
      She is young and foolish too
     If they get her, the angry secrets
     I'll know all my fears were true.
    


Esther wound her voice around her song and the car wound around the roads through the hills and over to the coastal village of Murunghi. There were rivers everywhere, and some of them were invisible. Angry secrets lurked behind the bushes and turned shadows into vengeance. No one loved my baby the way I loved her, unconditionally. I would keep her safe. I would be the mother my mother couldn't be.

The only road to take was the one that led into the heart of my father's Africa. Esther Cole was a capricious guide, but I didn't care. I'd go with anyone who could take me away from the white house on the top of the hill and show me what darkness meant. There was something I had to find in the bush. I was still the child on the elephant--the girl in my father's story. If I tried hard enough, I could swing Lady up onto the elephant with me; together we could find comfort in the sweet, dark warmth of the bush where our names were etched into the fronds of the high palms and trodden down into the earth by old elephants making their long way home.

3

Murunghi was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

Its beauty reminded me of my first days in Virginia when I'd been struck dumb by the glow of the place. Esther's home was a small fishing village hidden in the dense bush that skirted that part of the coast. Floating over the wattle-and-daub huts and the concrete slab bungalows came the sound of the ocean. There were stories Esther told me that she said came from the ocean's mouth. If you listened carefully, you could hear the lost children under the sea moaning for their home. All Africa's stolen people could hear the sound, she said. It was inside them when they were born, but some of them could never identify it. She called it the reminder of loss, and she had found it when she'd traveled to America and heard the blues singers down in New Orleans. Now the ocean was never quiet, she said, because once the ears were open to suffering they could never completely close themselves again.

The dust road through Murunghi was orange in the early morning and pink at dusk. It was made firm by the bare feet of women carrying water and wood on their heads.

After the sun had gone down, the village people gathered on their porches or by the open cooking fires and told each other how they were. Kerosene lamps gave out a kind of fluid light that softened the edges of things and made me warm. I lost track of time. I didn't know whether Lady and I had been there for a couple of days or a week, and I didn't care. No one wore a watch. I discarded mine soon after I arrived because it tied me to a way of thinking that was out of place in Esther's village. It harnessed my imagination to schedules. My concept of time in England and America hadn't allowed me enough room for poetry. But in Murunghi, without watches or clocks, deadlines or dates, I could listen instead to the irregular beat of the land and the sea; I could time my arrivals and departures by the arcing of the sun or the moon; I could measure distance by what was in between one place and another and not merely by the length of the road. I was free.

Esther's mother was a beautiful old woman. The strong lines in her face made me trust in her experience. Her face told me she had tackled life head on and not lived on its surface. She had eight teeth and a bridge she inserted before eating. Her extra teeth, which she treated with reverence the way some people would treat a work of art, were kept in a glass on a shelf in her living room. She seemed to wear them out of respect for her dentist whose photo she kept next to the denture glass. Esther said her mother had been fascinated by the time the man devoted to other people's teeth. Her mother thought of his vocation in terms of great sacrifice, for who in his right mind would want to spend most of his life inside other people's mouths? Esther's mother pointed out the photo soon after I arrived. In it she was standing next to a stout Indian man dressed in white who was smiling at the camera. The photo had curled up with age, and the humidity had affected the color so that both subjects looked as though they were standing on an ocean floor. But it was a happy portrait--one of the few I'd seen in which the subjects seemed totally satisfied with each other.

Esther's mother was called Di. I asked if it was short for Dianna. No, Esther said. I asked if it was spelled "D-i-e." I was used to the unusual now--perhaps people here would be more comfortable with a name like that than I would. Esther said I was a fool. I asked her what the hell the name was short for, if anything. She said the name was, of course, short for Diamond. Her mother's name was Diamond Cole. When I thought about it, I wondered why that hadn't occurred to me before. Her name was as delightful as any other name I'd heard of, on a par with Lady's and my own mother's name. I was glad Diamond Cole had been given a name that reminded us of how slow the process of her making had been and how brilliant the result.

Ma Di made us foo-foo and bitter-leaf soup one night. Was it the first night? No. We were too tired then. We fell onto the palette bed in one of the windowless rooms and were asleep in minutes. The foo-foo had the consistency of dough before it's been cooked. It had the flavor of yogurt, and Ma Di put wells in the high white mound of foo-foo on the communal plate and poured the bitter-leaf soup over the top. The choice pieces offish and meat in the soup were picked out for me and Lady. We ate like pigs, using our hands as spoons. The palm oil in the soup was startlingly orange. Mango orange. I told Esther that the orange in mangoes, papayas, and palm oil would be the color I'd take back with me to America. For me, that color was the recurring theme sung by the land. I fancied it was an echo of the tropical sun caught in the fruits of West Africa. I saw it repeated on women's block-dyed clothes; and I imagined that, if one day I were to try and paint the faces I'd seen, I would layer burnt sienna over a blood orange to re-create the light in the dark faces of my father's people.

We all ate the foo-foo with our right hands, as was customary. Assie had to constantly remind me to accept things with my right hand. As I was shy about the scar on my right palm, the custom was a trying one for me. But Lady, of course, ate with her right hand because it was the only hand she had. She ate with astonishing grace for a two-year-old, and everyone, especially Esther's mother, praised her for her dexterity.

Later on that evening, Assie played with Lady while I went with Esther down to the beach. She took my hand and led me down to the water. No one was there. The moon was full. The light cast on Esther's face and arms was alabaster, which made her skin by contrast darker than ever. I too was dark in the moonlight. I looked at my arms--thin shadows.

Esther began to take off my clothes. I put my hand up to stop her. "Shh," she said. "It is only fabric. What will happen when it is not there? Will Jacinta Moses disappear?"

Yes, I thought. Jacinta Moses may disappear. Then what would be left after that? A wisp of regret curling like smoke up to the stars, and a deep love for a child.

Esther took off my clothes and led me to the edge of the water. The ocean was flecked with light--white birds' wings glimmering under the moon. The ocean was still warm. She told me to sit down. I was conscious of the fact that my clothes were behind me, farther up the beach. I was conscious of the size of my full breasts and conscious of the water lapping up between my legs, lapping me up.

Nothing happened except everything.

Esther talked to me. She kept her clothes on. She didn't need to be naked because her clothes were not cumbersome like mine. One day I wanted to wear clothes the way she did, but I had to find something out first. When I discovered her secret, my clothes would be light on me--as light and intimate as skin. She told me that without saying it. I believed her.

If I could have fallen in love then, I would have. But love for me had always been a question of timing. And, in spite of the silenced watches at Murunghi, I had come from a time of marriage and a time of obligation. I couldn't love. And when Esther's hand came to me I pushed it away. She only laughed and mocked me for being a coward. We looked up at the moon; she wasn't angry. I lay back in the sand and let the moonwater kiss me and was glad.

Esther told me stories. We felt the pull of the sea. I asked her whether she could hear the lost children moaning under the water. She said children were never lost as long as they were remembered. I took that idea and held it to me. Lady's arm was remembered; Lady's arm was not lost. Florence was remembered; Florence was found. At the drive-in funeral home in Virginia, Quasar Hicks remembered little Leonora, his drowned relative; she was not lost. If loss was forgetting, our duty was to remember.

"I want my poetry to be like your singing, Esther."

"How so?"

"I want it to make people remember the forgotten things. I want happiness to come through the sorrow like that mango orange that shines up through the land and the people."

"Then you will have to write inside fire, little Jacinta Moses. And you will get burned."

"I'm already burned."

"You are not even half-baked yet, girl."

"How do you know?"

"Because you are ready."

"Ready for what?"

"Ready for love."

"So are you."

"No. I am not ready. I am past ready. That kind of love is not a part of my life anymore. I have myself alone. I do not waste time chasing after some romance from the West. I live instead."

"I thought you were chasing after me."

"That's because you're a fool, Jacinta Moses. I would merely like to try you, that is all. If you too could find that interesting, then we should do it. If you could not, then we should put you back into your clothes."

I didn't know what to say. I was unused to her type of bluntness.

"I would like to be friends with you, Esther. That's all. I'm tired. Just friends. That's all."

She shrugged. I couldn't make out her expression in the moonlight. Then she took my hand and kissed it.

"Okay," she said. "It is probably better this way. I do not think you could cope well with Esther Cole. You are too white."

"I do not think I could cope well with Esther Cole because she is too arrogant."

"Ha, ha! Is it so? And tell me, Jacinta Moses, what is poetry but arrogance? We have no visions worth telling without it."

"You sound like William Blake."

"Who?"

"A friend of mine."

"Ah. Well, this friend of yours was very wise. Did he sing?"

"Sometimes."

"Sing one of his songs."

"I can't. But I can recite one.
    'Tyger! tyger! burning bright
   In the forests of the night,
   What immortal hand or eye
   Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?'" 


"He was a good singer, this Blake. I would like one of his tapes. Yes. I like him. He is not afraid to be afraid, is it not so?"

"Yes. It is so."

"People are afraid to look. They keep their eyes closed. You, Jacinta Moses, for example. You are one who keeps her eyes closed when making love."

"How do you know what I do when I make love?"

"It is clear. I see it here." She touched my forehead. Her hands were wet from the surf.

"Do you keep your eyes open?"

"Always. Even when I am sleeping."

"Are you mortal, Esther Cole?"

"Yes. I am mortal. But I cannot die."

"How can you be mortal, then?"

"It is a secret."

"I think you are an arrogant, rude, selfish, magnificent woman, Esther Cole."

"Good. You are beginning to know me."

"I never want to leave. My husband is one of the frightened ones. He is pulling me down with him. It's like drowning. He's lied to me. He doesn't look at Lady. He's afraid."

"Then do not go back."

"Just like that?"

"How else is it that you leave someone? You leave or you go back. No middle way. There is never a middle way."

"Yes there is. You're wrong."

"I am never wrong, little girl."

"Now you've just been wrong twice."

"Ha, ha! I am liking you more and more, Jacinta Moses. Perhaps I will let you love me one day. Who knows?"

"Perhaps I will have forgotten you by then."

Esther stood up suddenly.

"We go now," she said. "Get your clothes."

I wanted to say I was joking, but her tone was imperious and I resented her for it. She had hurt me on many occasions, yet she couldn't carry her own hurt with dignity. I fetched my clothes and hurriedly put them on. She watched me in the moonlight. I felt embarrassed. I couldn't pull my bra up over my damp skin. I threw it down in disgust and just put on my shirt. Esther picked it up.

We walked back to the house in silence. Just before we entered through the door, Esther pushed me up against the wall of the house and whispered something in my ear.

"What? What?" I said. But she was gone through the door.

Later that night as I lay next to Lady I tried to capture what Esther had whispered to me. I thought I could reach the last words: "--the moon." Something, something the moon. Don't something the moon. That was it. Don't what the moon? Don't ... don't ... don't forget! Yes! Don't forget the moon. Was that what she'd said? I couldn't be sure. Damn! I couldn't be sure. Was she asking me not to forget the night? Or was Esther Cole the moon, waxing and waning in the black sky, as full as the holes in the world, as empty as the open mouths of the dead?
COPYRIGHT 1998 COPYRIGHT 1998 Lucinda Roy
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roy, Lucinda
Publication:Lady Moses
Article Type:Novel
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Words:13591
Previous Article:Part II: The New World, 4-7.
Next Article:Part III: Lunama, 4-5.
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