Engeraloi

 

 

You were chosen for your beauty to console him for his losses. Many wonders he will leave behind. Ahead of him are yours. Be not afraid, Yasmeena. His will be a gentle touch, a kind one, when at last he makes his crossing from the future back to here. How many seasons he will travel is a secret. Like the wind's. Which does not tell from whence it comes, save by the fragrances it carries. Cool or hot, absorbed with rain or parched from drought, it whispers hints. Or howls its anguish! You must b r e a t h e this man, inhale him through your pores. Allow these patterns I am painting on your face, and chest, and belly to dissolve, when flesh meets flesh, to print their import. Forms of you will merge with forms of him whose hue, be warned, is paler. You have heard? I trust from honest sources.

Yes; my son has pigmentation which may shock the un-insightful, those distracted by his outside. You must search for traits within. Are human beings, in essence, colors; or are colors more like markings that protect us like a zebra's shadowed coat confounds the beasts?

But I forget; Yasmeena's vision is accustomed to astuteness—unlike ours, inured by daylight thus dependent on the eyes to teach us how each thing appears. Whereas for you, born blind, the other senses function much like feelers that detect the slightest nuance, taste a scent, embrace a sound, intuit goodness as it issues from the root of tender hearts. My son shall flourish in the garden of your tending.

 

The crone applies her sisal brush to render intricate designs, her palette drawn from mud and menstrual blood combined in earthen vessels; bright to dark, they form a row within the lone acacia's shade—that dapples two distinctive figures; one is venerable, in her dotage; one is radiant, in her youth (if visually disabled).

 

Perhaps they humor me, do the villagers, condescending to my wishes with a bride they deem impaired. Who else would wed Yasmeena? Humph! Do they suppose that every difference is a flaw—How imperceptive!—when the handicapped often compensate with powers supernatural, when yours are so apparent any eye equipped to see would know that sightlessness for you is doubtlessly a blessing? It is ironic that the gifts we are most wont to take for granted lose their magic once we do so, whereas gifts we are without can make us richer by their absence. I marvel at the baskets you produce with hands as sensitive to the tincture as they are to the design.

And thus remindful of another who had wonder-working fingers—though his skills, alas, were tainted by his character's grievous faults. My errant husband, nonetheless, could fashion fine, superlative carvings. Using adz, and sharpened wedge of rock, and bits of splintered bone, his masks and fetishes struck the heart with twofold pangs of awe and terror—so precisely were they wrought, and so infused with dark charisma. Even now, what few examples have survived his disappearance—he abandoned me, alas, when I brought forth our only child—are greatly prized... among the sorcerers, who make dubious use of artifacts.

Superstition is what killed my son. I do not practice witchcraft! If my habits seem peculiar, it is not from 'spells' I cast, but rather from 'hopes' I keep alive—despite our tribesmen's jeers and gestures. Do they think I sit unwittingly, in my self-inflicted exile, unaware that I am mocked as much as misperceived and feared?

But I have frightened you, child. Be calm; forgive me. Pay my rage no heed; it is a remnant, harmless thunder once the lightning bolt has flashed.

 

None too convinced, the blind girl, feeling like a fatted calf, keeps silent, braves each brushstroke with a ticklish flinch, but dares not balk, or laugh, or show in any way impatience with these arcane ministrations—repetitious; several times her lithesome body has been stippled, head hair braided, bosom gilded, navel scented, pubes smoked. To no avail; the groom long-promised, long-awaited has not come. "Nor will he ever," say the members of her clan among themselves—albeit circumspect in the artful elder's earshot.

She who yields to the odd embellishments by her mother-in-law to be (if fact and prophesy overlap) will, disappointedly, take her leave and humbly grope back home, relieved if saddened by fervent, futile wishes, almost wanting them fulfilled, less for herself than for the Seer, whose lonesome vigil is regarded... Yes, by some, with cruel derision. And by others, with indifference, pity, rancor, or contempt. But she, Yasmeena, with defective eyes, has 'seen' a sort of vision, shared an image of the long-lost son—projected almost palpably—that was unlike any human being her tendrilous touch had sensed. As if he did, indeed, exist beyond the whims and dreams and legends of a people lost in darkness sometimes denser than her own.

 

We are a problematic species, you and I, our kith and kin, possessed of wisdom and foolhardiness at a glance, a single wink, an odd duality in a world where one mistake can seal the jaws of our competitors—who behave as though immune from wrong and right. Belief and doubt, the shoulds and should nots of a cultivated conscience may encumber to the same degree they liberate. Are we free because we know our lives are lived in time-spans gauged, or are we captive to the certainty that our vital functions cease? I often wonder, I, whose days have been a dawn-to-dusk entreaty—unacknowledged; I, whose nights have been a mother's dream denied—he rarely visits. When he does, my sleep erupts with such frustration at his distance I awake, embrace the air, lament these paps their robbed utility and regret the loss of him they should have nourished.

Not so yours! It is to guarantee fruition that I blazon these, your breasts, with bits of butterfly wing, their dainty veins like replicas of the ones that will engorge your upturned nipples with the nectar of maternity. Guard your issue, sweet Yasmeena. Let no meddlers interfere. Protect your seed above all else; it is most precious.

 

This imparted, Engeraloi glues on flakes of golden insects with her spittle, each concentric circle rendering a motif exact, prescribed, in strict adherence to a sacred rite whose time-enshrouded origin leaves a faint yet fixed impression. Step by step, each phase complies with nameless rules and proper reverence for a wealth of unseen forces. These assert themselves, regardless of resistance or belief—in this, an era un-demystified by hypotheses bred of science. Invocations are employed, procedures followed, tributes paid, because tradition says they must; the moon 'demands' a prayer to glow; a maiden's charm 'necessitates' primping; to entice the most compatible mate 'requires' a joss stick burnt. Or such is Engeraloi's faith, as she intones an incantation, sung melodically—if allowing for her voice's throaty croak.

The chant brings comfort to a listener made compliant by obedience—mixed with deference. All for naught? The blind Yasmeena, once dismissed, will walk a well-trod path to where she will erase these quaint adornments, wash her torso in a nearby spring, undo her twisted braids, forget advice of little use beyond the giver's mystic aura where mirages of a fair-skinned husband dissipate, unfulfilled.

 

Mkindu, offer up your fruit

Maduga, muster your flotilla

that the feet of her betrothed

my distant progeny

find a path

by which to cross and claim the Masaa

buoy his soles, arrange your pads

support his egress from tomorrow

on your stepping stone-like lilies

bear him hence

to be the groom arrived

the son intact returned

to lead the tribe

to lead the tribe

to lead the very tribe that slew him

from the valley of its ignorance

to the worldly wise one's heights

that we might know the truth of truths

the living life

the death worth dying

and the import of a snake that eats its tail.

 

 

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