Mother, There is a Mad Man at Our Door.
It was an unfinished conversation that began and ended at the same place. It was a Sunday morning with a brilliant shine in the trees outside. And the Man went away just as he had come.
Mother stared at the shut door for a long time. She held in her hand her only recollection of the visitor. It was a tattered piece of paper.
It was a Sunday morning. The kind of Sunday when you would happy to be alive, to be in love, to be living. She was wearing make up and wearing one of her full skirts. You could see the curve of her hips and the slender lines of her legs. She walked in slow paces. She was so happy her wrinkles hid in the happiness the creases made around her eyes. Her black curls were pinned to position around her neck. She felt beautiful.
Her black skin was shinning. Her red lips shone. She was beautiful.
We heard the music play after the door was shut. They were the anthems of the old capital. Loud staccato sounds and laboured voices. Inspired sounds of humanity that grandmother would sing to us. The ones the would lull our souls to sleep and when we woke up we would forget again.
She was dancing to the music. She pretended Father was there with her, holding her hips and pushing her to and fro, to and fro. She was happy.
She would not let go of the piece of paper. She danced with it. Not even Father’s spirit could make her let go. It was her life in the paper.
We remembered her that day. Maybe it was because she had already forgotten us. She lived in her own amongst her spirits and invisible children. But when she saw us she looked right through us. We were ghosts in her world.
She stopped the music, finally tired of Father’s miscalculated steps. She pushed him away because he was stepping on her toes.
‘You are drunk, man!’, she cried.
She patted her head. She was going to cook for him to drive away his drunkenness.
Pepper and spices. Meat and Chicken. His favourite meal. She made her legendary stew, the one that would leave the sweetness of its scent on our clothes. The one that would leave us satisfied for days. She set the table with the red placemats she reserved for special occasions. Then she brought out the glasses for the wine. She pulled out the bottle that she laid hidden under her bed since her wedding day. It was a hundred years old.
‘Sit!’, she commanded her invisible family.
We sat down sure she would not see us. Father, it seemed, was sat at his usual place at the head of the table. She was telling him to say the grace and ask forgiveness for his Sunday drunkenness. He must have said one of his blasphemous prayers as mother wailed in opposition then she let out a laugh.
‘ Dis man I married!’, She was showing us the gap between her teeth. She looked beautiful.
‘Eat, Eat’, She commanded the table. We ate in the silence of her madness and in the mystery of the visitor and of the piece of paper now hidden in her bosom.
Father must have asked her to open the bottle of wine. She screamed at him, ‘Not now, Man!’.
She began laughing at Father’s audacity. She laughed to herself for a short eternity.
She stood up in a daze and stared out the window.
‘Look, the wind’, it seemed she was talking to us.
‘The last time it talked to me I was in love’, she began to laugh. She looked back at us and at the empty table and the ominous bottle of wine. ‘I decided to forget him, his name, his face, his being’.
We were silent.
‘He is just a man to me now’.
She walked back to the table and sat on Father’s chair. She began to sing the song that she sang the day he went away. It was a dirge of each of our names. When she sang father’s name she would sing louder as if to say that she would never forget him. Not really.
She began dancing to the tune of our names, in the silence of the empty dining room. She felt the paper in the bosom. She moved her hand closer to her chest and with slow intricate steps danced to the end of the song. She sat on the floor and looked back at us.
‘Why are you looking at me!’, she shouted at us.
We sat silent.
‘You are not supposed to be here!’, she was talking to us.
Neither of us stirred. ‘Are you there, my children?’.
She began the dirge again. It was slower more pronounced as if each of our names were song in themselves. She would clap in between breaths. She repeated the dirge.
Her heavy kohled eyes hid her sorrow. She was smiling at us now, as she sang her song.
She was clapping faster and laughing now. Laughing at her song.
It was a Sunday morning and the death bells began to ring. Once then twice. Three times then four. It began to beat in four beat cycles.
She was clapping to the rhythm of the knoll. She rearranged the dirge to match the beating of the bells.
‘Sing with me’, she called back to the table.
Even Father remained in his place, silent.
She took out the paper from her bosom and kissed it. She pressed it on her forehead. She let it fall to the ground.
She rolled around in the ground without regard for her makeup. Her rouge smeared and her kohl coloured the floor. She threw her hands to the sky and beat her legs to the floor.
‘Come here children!’, she commanded.
No one moved.
The bells continued ringing. The time had come.
She sat still and opened the tattered note. It said very little but too much.
‘The man died. The children followed’
They say sorrow is not of this world. Because the wails that followed were heard only by us in the spirit world.
Mother cried vigorously, screaming and kicking. It shattered our world and it shattered the ancient wine bottle.
Nothing was real. Only her sorrow.
And she was beautiful.