Chasing worthless phantoms

Hope was alive. It beat regularly beneath my breast. It was the blood that came rushing up to my face, making me quite hot. It was the little beads of sweat that sprung up on the tip of my nose, the moist palms and the unbidden prick of tears behind hooded eyelids that wouldn’t look up just yet. It was the dream that wouldn’t let go, and the cloying fear that everything could go up in smoke.

I was waiting on Adam, like I had always done. I remember the evenings I spent at my father’s gate, watching the dust swirling in circles from the dirt road that went past our house, waiting and waiting. It was the most natural thing, the two of us spending our evenings silently swinging on the wooden bars, listening to the sound of villagers’ footsteps as they walked home after a day at the market and watching the sky turn from deep blue to reddish brown and finally to pitch black. Then it was time to say goodbye and run home before we were called in.

Mother had messed it all up, she had. One evening, she’d come out calling in her high-pitched hysterical voice, “Eve! I swear if I catch that girl she’ll rue the day she got me for a mother!”

A ferocious woman with an unpredictable temper is to be respectfully avoided, so I had instinctively jumped off the gate and pulled Adam with me into the shadows. We had stood facing each other, holding hands, our breath mingling in the narrow gap between us. Our hearts had beat fast and heavy as we waited for the inevitable. The creaking rusted metal hinges led mother straight to us. She, like a raving mad cow, launched herself at us with the only weapon she had at hand – a jug of cold water.

That splash of water was the signal of a new phase in my life, one without Adam in it. By the next evening, he’d been sent off to live with a distant cousin. He had not even said goodbye.  Grandma  had found me standing alone at the gate. She had placed her calloused palm on my cheek and said in her tremulous voice, “A mother hen fiercely loves her chicks. Her nature dictates that she spreads out her wings to protect them from harm.” I had heard what she said. I had even understood it, but I never accepted it.

And now, after three years, here he was. I watched him carefully as he walked towards me. He thrust his chest forward and pushed his shoulders slightly backward. His entire backbone leaned at a ten degree angle from his waist. His left foot dragged lazily behind him. The sound it made was like sandpaper scraping on wood. His arms swung loosely by his side, the fingers folded inwards to form loose fists. I watched him get closer, saw his face dissolve into a gentle smile, and I felt my heart melt a little, and then freeze back into place.

I placed my arms around his neck and gave him a hug, daring to hold him for a second longer than he wanted me to. I wished I could lay my head on his chest, imagining how it would feel like, that gentle warmth seeping through his clothes to my face. I imagined his breath caressing my scalp. But this was not that kind of hug, it was a brief squeeze, a pat on the back, a gentle push and before I knew it, there was a half metre distance between us.

“How are you?” I asked.

It was an empty question that knew to expect an empty response. Even back then, he had been as closed as a clam and I knew that if I just scratched the surface a little, I would have made all the progress I could ever expect to make. I was right.

“Oh well, you know…good.”

The voice inside my ear whispered that he had just never felt bothered, that I should have seen it a long time ago. I talked and talked and talked, and all he would say is, “Women talk and men listen.” I tried to keep stride with him, often running to catch up and then losing ground again. He said, “You’re too slow.”

That was it. I could never keep up, and he had never wanted me to. The Adam of my childhood was not the man I had built him up to be. The timing of this sad inconvenient truth, dawning on me at the central station, made my feet drag like they were moulded out of lead.

“So, what do you have planned?” I asked hesitantly.

“I want to show you where I live,” Adam responded brusquely as he led the way out of the station.

“This way,” he gestured, and I followed him, staring at his back for the ten minutes it took to get to his apartment. My heart sunk lower and lower, I thought I could feel it in my left knee cap.

I remember once watching our neighbour’s dogs playing. At one point, they had seemed to stop and stare into each other’s eyes

“Is it really true that the eyes are the window to the soul?” I had asked Adam.

“I suppose so.”

 “Then how do you know someone’s soul if you can’t look through his eyes?”

“Maybe not everyone wants their souls to be seen.”

When I asked Grandma  later that night, she had said, My dear child, if the eyes are the windows to the soul, then you better keep yours downcast. What people don’t know cannot be used as a weapon against you.”

I had heard what she said. I had even understood it. I just hadn’t accepted it. Instead I had gone along my zig-zag path, never really knowing, never clearly thinking, simply hoping.

Now, as we entered his small apartment and the door clicked shut behind us, Grandma’s Bvoice sounded so clear, it was as if she was in the room with us. “Some prisons are chosen, for whatever reason. The prisoner is his own jailer. It‘s an everlasting sentence, going on and on and on and on. It’s hell, and I know the kind of people that go there.”

This time I heard, understood and accepted what she said. I was not on a date. I was on an exorcism mission. It was time.

***

I have been waiting for this moment a long time. Adam is asleep. He has a gentle look to him in repose. I watch the gentle rise and fall of his chest as he breathes in and out through lightly parted lips. I lay down next to him, careful not to wake him up. His left arm automatically encircles and holds me loosely. I stay in this position for some time, watching and listening.

I extricate myself from under his arm, go into the bathroom, shut the door, open my mouth really wide and scream. It is a silent scream, but I hear it reverberate in the room. I count up to ten to slow my heart rate down. I breathe in deep, hold my breath for twenty seconds and exhale. I look stare at my eyes in the mirror, empty my mind of every image and focus, trying to see myself once more.

Grandma’s lilting voice guides me with its wisdom. “Long ago, there was a place where the old and infirm went to die. High up on the mountain, from whence the sweetest water comes, where the air is fresh and the sound of the wind melodious to the ear. High up there, where earth stretches its little finger to touch the heavens. They say a quiet goodbye and embark on a lonely journey, past all things familiar and beloved. They walk with sure step, never looking back, knowing that the time has come.”

He is in the same position when I come out of the bathroom. I pick my handbag and leave the apartment, taking care to shut the door quietly on my way out. I know that he won’t be coming after me.

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