Ben Okri’s short story as narrated by theDustySoul.
You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour. Aristotle
Ben Okri’s short story as narrated by theDustySoul.
You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour. Aristotle
I often wonder why I feel as if I am drowning every time I look out into the sea
This and feeling incredibly small
Every time our skin goes under
The reeds remember that they were once chains
And the water, restless, wishes it could spew all of the slaves and ships onto shore
Whole as they had boarded, sailed and sunk
Their tears are what have turned the ocean salty
This is why our irises burn every time we go under
Every December sixteenth, December 24th and December 31st
Our skin traumatises the sea
They mock us
For not being able to throw ourselves into something that was instrumental in trying to execute our extinction
For you, the ocean is for surf boards, boats and tans
And all the cool stuff you do under there in your suits and goggles
But we, we come to be baptised here
We have come to stir the other world here
We have come to cleanse ourselves here
We have come to connect our living to the dead here
Our respect for water is what you have termed fear
The audacity to trade and murder us over water
Then mock us for being scared of it
– Koleka Putuma, Water
I’ve been thinking about Koleka Putuma’s “Water” (seriously, do we walk the same earth as her? Her poetry is out of this world) and the line, “We have come to be baptised here” is playing on repeat in my mind, and I feel my body and soul craving a baptismal of sorts. A watering. A watering to halt the withering.
The following post was first published on my book blog “The Black Feather Hideout”, and is a short account of how I started it. If you haven’t already, check it out, and let me know what you think! Dusty
The Black Feather Hideout started out as a frustration. When I started living in Johannesburg a few years ago, I would troll second hand bookstores, indie bookstores, and mainstream bookstores for reads I could dive into and get lost in. What I kept seeing, over and over, were multiple editions of books like Pride and Prejudice, a JM Coetzee book or two, and once in a blue moon in the corner of some shelf at the back, a copy of Things Fall Apart. Friends of mine too, knowing me to have a voracious appetite for reading, would ask me which African authors to recommend to them, and time and again, my list always felt too short. At first I thought, Let me start a sort of directory where people can find authors from Africa and the diaspora, as a way to expanding their knowledge. But then I began to see that that would be limiting myself and the possibilities for this kind of project a whole lot. My frustration begat an excitement – not just a directory but reviews, interviews, podcasts, giveaways and in the future, events and workshops and all sorts of wonderful Black Feather Hangouts!
This is our corner of the internet where Black writers and their work can be celebrated and acknowledged, where the issues that we want to discuss can be discussed, where we can just be.
I do it for the Black teens who don’t know who Tsitsi Dangarembga is because we feed them Shakespeare every school year, but minimal literature by Black writers. For the black boy who wants to be a writer but writes in thous and thys because again, Shakespeare ad nauseum. He does not know how to articulate his specific, unique, complex and beautiful Black existence, because he is limited to metaphors he gulped down from dead old white men and not his father Achebe, or Sol Plaatje, or Miriam Tlali.
For the times when your skin feels heavy like a burden and you want to scratch it off. This is so that you will reach out and use your hand to join this community of beautiful Black people also groping in the dark for a matchstick. So you will know that you can be free.
Here is the beginning of the salve.
I do it because Blackness is not brokenness, slavery, apartheid and colonialism. Gene Demby wrote it how I felt it when he said that Blackness is not just “a parade of calamities and disadvantage”.
Because we belong in books and there are books that belong to us.
And most of all, I do it because melanin matters.
Yours in power,
Relebone Rirhandzu eAfrika, aka The Black Feather aka Dusty Soul
melanin is why you are still alive.
after. the torching.
it is a second lung. the next heart. and the next heart. and the next.
a ceremony of life. while you are asleep.
a cosmos. in conversation.
“I wanted to write poetry that was accessible to those whose experiences I was writing about, namely the black community. .. I heard music in language and I wanted to write word-music, verse anchored by the one-drop beat of reggae with meter measured by the bass line or a drum pattern; I wanted to write lines that sound like a bass line.” Linton Kwesi Johnson
The devil does not rest sha! While Black women are out here creating, he’s erasing our names from our work. These bloody internet thieves who think our work is good enough to post on instagram and twitter but who don’t think the creators are good enough to credit will be the death of us. Stop that.
For many of us, writing is hard work. Not only because writing itself is a difficult art, but because we often write from our very unique, complicated, and often painful experiences and positions. Yes, we don’t always write from experience, but even when we don’t, it is our imagination that did the work. For someone to swoop in and pillage our sweat, blood and tears – to erase us – is incredibly violent. We’ve been schooled by life and our writing comes from that education. It’s an education that came with a few hard knocks and personal joys and victories. Respect that.
Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for. –Marian Wright Edelman
When the sun eventually rises they find the body lying in what used to be a pool of blood, now a dried out map of red coming from the direction of her side outwards. It shocks them at first, how serene her face looks in that grizzly scene. As though she had the last laugh over death, and were laughing still. As though she were not dead. It’s the look, the elders say, the deceased give when they know they will rise to haunt the living.
The first sighting happens in broad daylight. A boy, coming back from school on Friday finds her waiting by the tree. Her light blue jeans are stained dark with blood, and she is holding what looks to be a cellphone in her hand. Hello, she calls out. Her red lipstick is faded and her eyes are messy with smudged black eyeliner and mascara. At school Mrs Hannigan told him and his peers not to speak with strangers, but at home he’s learnt that every adult is to be greeted with respect, according to Rakgadi Kgaugelo. So now he timidly replies, Hello. Do you want to know a secret? she asks. He looks at her shyly, draws a circle in the dust with his feet. He arrives home to find that all the food has spoiled, flies everywhere. When Rakgadi Kgaugelo tries to shake him awake the next morning she finds that he is not breathing.
A little over a week later a middle-aged man is roused from his sleep by hunger. A headache that splits his head in two greets him when he first blinks. It might be the sleep, but he is sure he hears a woman’s laughter in the dark. The voice is low, guttural, and subtle like the afternoon’s first breeze. He tries to lift himself up from the bed but flops back onto the hard mattress and lies there defeated. He reaches for the matches to see, is that really a fly? In winter? The match dies out and clumsily he reaches for another. Do you want to know a secret? the low voice asks. He moves his candle around him slowly, but sees nothing. Eventually he succeeds, with difficulty, in getting out of bed, and begins to scan the room again, his movements cautious and considered. A rush of hot wind fills the room, but he begins to shake. Who is there? No answer. The pesky fly inches closer to his face with a loud buzz and he swats it away, striking his ear in the process. Moments later he is met with another gush of wind. A grunt. A pause. Then again, laughter. It is a while before he drifts off into sleep once more. A few days later he finds himself restless again, his room warmer than he can stand. He sits up and takes off his shirt, so that now he is naked save for his dark underpants. He scratches his crotch and yawns. Do you want to know a secret? he hears. His eyes widen. By the end of that night his shack is covered in smoke, his charred remains indistinguishable from the image of the smooth talker people knew.
When the sighting first happens to a woman, the orange-red purpleness of the sky is descending into the earth, replacing the lush blue with a navy blackness. Real as the goose bumps on her flesh, the woman feels a hand touch her but sees no one around. She puts the bucket down and turns the tap off. Her throat is stuck between a cry and a scream. Hmmm, she moans, uneasy. Do you want to know a secret? a voice asks. She turns around and finds herself staring into the most chilly eyes she has ever seen. She hesitates. This must be a ghost. But what type? The elders caution against speaking with the dead unless they speak with you first, but what of ghosts with The Chill in their eyes? Some say that kind brings death to those who meet its gaze.
Do you want to know a secret? the voice asks again.
The Secret, the voice continues, is this. Death will come to all who neglected me.
Who are you? The woman responds. Who neglected you?
The young. The old. The knowing. The ignorant. Not one is innocent.
Who are you? she asks again.
I carry the Secret. the ghost responds.
Yes, but what is your name?
I knocked on fifteen doors that night, the voice continues, yours was the first. The ghost moves closer to her and she sees its form clearer.
Her eyes widen. Chriselda?
Yes, the ghost, now identified as Chriselda, responds.
The woman gasps, her hand flying to her mouth in disbelief.
Yes, Chriselda repeats.
But – you are, you died?
Your door was the first I knocked on. Fifteen doors. Fifteen.
How was I to know? I was alone.
So was I. So was I. You took their word against mine. You let them poison you.
Can you blame me?
Blame? she scoffs. Afterwards, you know, he dragged my body into the open field and did it again. And then he pushed a knife into my side thirty times and left me for dead. But now, friend, I have one thing to do.
Please, please, please! She is distracted from her cries by a rush of flies and smoke surrounding her hair. She swats the flies away furiously.
Low, guttural and subtle; Chriselda laughs. She reaches her hand out towards her friend and the flies move away from the woman and to the hand that beckons them. They vanish.
When they find the woman’s body in the morning, they are stupefied. She’s on the ground lying in what used to be a pool of blood, now a dried out map of red coming from the direction of her side outwards. No knife or gunshot wounds in sight but in that pool of blood, marked out in tiny grey stones they find these words: Do you want to know a secret?
– FIN –
“If you prick us do we not bleed?
If you tickle us do we not laugh?
If you poison us do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
~ William Shakespeare
“We are the subjects of our own narrative, witnesses to and participants in our own experience, and, in no way coincidentally, in the experience of those with whom we have come in contact. We are not, in fact, “other.” We are choices.”
~ Toni Morrison, Unspeakable Things Unspoken
I love to tell the story of how I got hooked on words. How, ever since I could read, I have wanted to be a writer. I would walk around during break-time reading Sweet Valley books, because I was socially awkward at that stage (to be honest I still am) and had not made very many friends, but also because I was enthralled by the idea of delving into different worlds while remaining in this one. It was, and still is, magical. I was certain, when I grew up; that I wanted to ‘make books’. I had no idea that the process of ‘making books’ meant being a writer, but as I grew, I came to understand that it meant wielding words.
It appealed to me as a child because it gave me a way out of whatever disappointments and pain I was faced with. I could become a part of a world that was limitless. Words, in many ways, became more than an escape, it became home.
So when I was about seventeen I got my first pair of Chuck Taylors, or All Stars. Any owner of a pair of Converse sneaks will agree that these can quickly, as they did for me, become a staple of one’s wardrobe. Ever since I got them I have been wearing my sneaks with jeans, shorts, pants, and even (to my mother’s dismay) skirts and dresses. What I love about Chucks is that they’re so comfortable, they go with almost anything, and they’re super cool. They are, in a word, travelling shoes.
In Maya Angelou’s autobiography (one book in a series of six) All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes, she writes of going to Ghana and how living there helped her connect the dots of the Diaspora from Africa to America. She experienced firsthand that the Diaspora testifies to how connected we all are. The theme of home is strong in Travelling Shoes, and through anecdotes and reflection she explores how we all yearn for home; but most importantly, how home is really wherever our hearts feel invited and embraced.
I especially loved this bit:
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. It impels mighty ambitions and dangerous capers… Hoping that by doing these things, home will find us acceptable or failing that, that we will forget our awful yearning for it.”
Her words resonated with me: ‘home’ has always been a complicated topic. I have always felt that I am more of a wayfarer, more inclined to move from one place to the next than to be rooted in one spot too long. I’ve ached for home, for that place where I did not feel questioned, or like I needed to fulfil a certain role in order to be acceptable within ‘those’ surroundings to ‘those’ people. My friends say I have ‘itchy feet’ and an ‘itchy bum’.
Well, I do have itchy feet. Find myself moving about as though each place has a deadline. But God has given me travelling shoes for the journey: love, words, my faith, and His heart.
He’s with me wherever I go, and so even though the only ‘places’ I ever felt like I ‘belonged’, is in Him and in my writing; I’m pretty darn glad gave God gave me this refuge so that no matter where I am – I will always be (or find, as it were) home.
**the DustySoul recently decided to get a tattoo. Always wanted one, but after deciding that last year was the right time, God told me to wait a year. My motives at the time were wrong, so I get why He said to wait. After the long wait, I booked in an appointment with a parlour. I knew what I wanted: All Stars with wings. I feel it speaks to my story, to my being a traveler and having big dreams. Most of all, I wanted it to be a reminder and testimony of the fact that God will be with me wherever I go. I encountered opposition though, from people who feel it’s wrong because of what the Bible says, or skin cancer risks (science proves these are unfounded), or (God forbid!) wrinkly skin (rolls eyes). Truth is, it’s a grey area in the Bible, and if we’re going to judge people with tattoos, we may as well follow the Levitical Law completely and not just pick what’s convenient for us. We’re no longer under the law of the letter. The law of the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3v6). Found myself crying, because it brought me back to that place where authority dictates which direction my life should go, as it has done in the past and still tries to do (it would seem half the things I do are classified under ‘heathen’, but I can’t live life by other people’s standards). But it wasn’t a rebellion: I was not trying to prove that I’m ‘cool’/ ‘hip’/ not conservative, or whatever else people think is happening here. Also, it upset me that people were so quick to make value judgments about my character based on what is external. But I was doing this for me. And I don’t regret it. Go where the Light guides you folks.
Love and light,
“…Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1v9 (NIV)
“There was this one guy in his unit, real different, an intellectual, real bookworm. And over time, he became Boy’s best friend. He lent him some books to read, the first books the kid had ever read about anything. For the first time, he saw a world that was bigger than the one he had been born into – and he wanted more. He wanted to BE something more.” The Old Man, The Words
Love is my favourite author. They inspired this. I hope she finds you in your secret place; lays your soul bear; and pierces your heart. I hope your heart bleeds…
Love: unrelenting fighter you are.
I remember those times
when the moon bore witness to our love.
Shining bright—the only light to guide us in the dark night.
It was the only certainty I needed, the knowledge of our truth manifested in the natural
Intended as a sign, a symbol, a reminder of love in times distraught.
When a speck of light brought illumination to a sea of blackness;
When the glow in your eyes could not conceal the past—History.
A man in dusted rubber boots dancing joyfully, treading on our dreams;
Weighting truth with truth.
Ours boxed, graved, sinking deeper and deeper into nothingness,
Light as a feather. _
Oh, what an unbalanced scale, when the reality of it is compared to will.
An equivocation unseen, caused only by seeing.
I remember those times, when the stars sat hiding;
A sky graced only by a moon,
Half drowned by the blackness of night.
How alone it must have felt.
Overcome. Doomed. Destined to nothingness.
I remember when the moon bore witness to our love.
I remember when the moon was our love.
I remember a conflict of truths. A balancing of scales.
A blindness of sorts.
Oh how I wish we could have seen that moon, that light, that sign
A symbol; a reminder of love in times distraught
How I wish we saw a soldier adorned in the blood of her enemies;
An unrelenting fighter
But instead we saw an army of full stops.
We saw the end…
Oh how I wish we saw love
“I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.” – Pablo Neruda
“It was my destiny to love and say goodbye.” – Pablo Neruda, Still Another Day
**theDustySoul thanks her dear friend Bella Boqo for this poem: a swift but beautiful, painful and enthralling journey through the rollercoaster of being in the clutches, the throes, of love. Who can escape this mixture of the pretty with the ugly, sweet and bitter? Better yet, who would wish to? theDustySoul hopes you will embrace this poem even as you embrace Love.
It had rained harshly all day that day, but with night time the downpour quieted to a slight drizzle. Where the rain water ran down in clumps the tar had started to appear like slimy trails, especially under the illumination of the street lights. She walked with her face down and her body tightly wrapped by both arms, comforting herself. She was wary of her surroundings, threatened by them, squashed by the size of the depression that hung in the air. Every living thing had resigned itself to defeat. The understanding seemed to be, that each would wait its turn for death or escape, getting by in a visionless haze.
She passed a man whose face had eyes so big they seemed to overpower his face. These were the largest she had ever seen. He had a haggard and tired appearance about him, and yet his person called no attention to itself. But those eyes! Their size shook her up within. Inspecting them more intently a thought occurred to her: it was not the size, but the size of some emotion within them, some emotion so powerful it frightened her.
She hugged her body even tighter, aware of the depression of her surroundings once more. She had not been looking where she was going, and almost bumped into a woman scantily and distastefully clad, complete with a scowl on her face. The woman’s clouded face looked repulsive, and immediately swerving her body out of the woman’s path she avoided a collision and walked on. She stole a glance back, and saw that the woman had begun to talk to a strange man of slight build, and they seemed to be discussing something important. Maybe the woman’s fee.
She kept walking, the weight of helplessness heavy on her. Why did she still feel this way? She had hoped that getting rid of it would make her feel much more in control of her body – of everything, in fact. Yet the weight of it clung stubbornly and oppressively to her shoulders. The sense of it was more vivid now than it was before, and she longed for the certainty she once knew. She had always been sure that gravity pulled her to the earth’s surface. That the consequences of mistakes, like time, would not hinder her past the moment of their first occurrence. A heavy sigh..
She struggled on, the medication the woman in the small room had taken from her cupboards making her dizzy. “What’s that?” she had asked the woman, whose only credentials and qualifications were that she had “done this before, a million times over”. “This?” the woman had said by way of a reply, as though she had not heard the question correctly. Looking at the girl on her bed, bottle in her hand, she had proceeded to shake the black substance within it vigorously. “Ask me no questions. Just know that it will make you feel better. Do not ask me questions. No one asks me questions!” She pointed to her own breast, then shook her finger and head sideways in irritation and moved towards the bed. Her hands were cold, so cold and so rough. The feeling of them gave her no comfort. But comfort was not part of the deal.
She walked on, looking self-consciously at her belly as she moved. A rustling sound made her start and look to her left. Another naked woman. This one was wedged in between a dark wall and a man with his zip down, clutching her shoulders in a passion that was vile and violent. The man bit the woman’s neck and pulled her head down forcefully, spitting at her as she eventually fell to the ground. The woman looked across the street at the spectator who had her hands wrapped around her belly, then turned her face to the ground she had landed on, shivering.
From across the street, the spectator released her body from its self-embrace and keeled over. Floods of liquid came sprouting forth from her mouth, her whole body shaking from the force. She gasped for air, nearly choking as another violent jerk stole all of her strength. She lay beside the puke, tired from this reluctant exercise, and looked across the street once more. The woman on the other side struggled up and was thrust by the man in between him and the wall once again. An image of the homeless man with his trolley, and his eyes appeared to the spectator’s mind. And once again it was not the size of his eyes. Certainly not. It was that she recognized the same hopelessness in him that she knew crept through the crevices of her own heart. Not the size of his eyes. Not the size of his large hopeless eyes, but the recognition of the same emptiness that she carried within her own soul.
I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects.
– Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
**This is an exceprt from my (aborted) first attempt at a novel. A stranger recongises her misery in another stranger.