Hello! Once again, we wish you a happy Monday and hope your week has started with a bang (a good bang, nothing too stressful or unexpected). And because we don’t want you to suffer anything unexpected, here is our regular Monday snippet of Issue 20! “Birthmarks” by Gordon Brown closed off our issue. We hope you enjoy 🙂
Mama drank poison on a black, moonless night. She had forgot to turn the stove off before she died, and the kitchen curtains had caught on fire. The noise and the light woke up the rooster, and he crowed three or four times before the smoke choked him dead. Papa cried when they put Mama in the ground. He always cried after he hit Mama, but now he only cried.
But this had happened before I was born.
I remember it only because Mama remembers it. I was in Mama’s belly when she drank poison. I saw only the things that Mama could see. Watched them through her eyes. I could hear Papa crying from the other side of the coffin lid. Could hear the dirt falling down on us.
And afterwards – for a long time – we couldn’t hear anything.
For a long, long time.
The box wood was cheap planking. It only kept the beetles out for six days, maybe seven. They started with Mama’s eyes, but it was alright, because there was nothing to see anyway. Before long, there was no more box and no more dirt. The beetles had gotten to Mama’s heart. To her old heart. The one made out of meat that went thump-th-thump. They chewed it away, and so now there was nothing to weigh Mama down. And then there was no more box and more dirt. There was only the road.
And we were on the road for a long time too.
There was the forest on this side and the forest on that side, but it was all so wide and empty. Mama walked down the road for a long time. She saw people sometimes, far ahead. She called after them, but they didn’t hear her or they did not wait. Mama ran to catch up to them, but whenever she did, they were far away again.
By now, Mama’s belly was swollen up large. When it was time, she found a banana tree by the road and brought me out. I had not seen through any eyes except Mama’s, and I was so scared. I cried and cried and cried for the first few hours. And for a whole year, I held on to Mama and wouldn’t let go.
I rode on Mama’s back in a sling she made from her shirt. All year, I stayed small. Mama said I would be a baby forever, and she sang me songs as she walked along. From Mama’s songs, I learned how to talk. Mama told me what I liked, and what I did not. That I liked all the things she had liked when she was just a little girl. Bananas were good, and so was bubblegum. And gin tasted good, but only after three glasses. And that I was frightened of thunder and of large dogs, but that I was never afraid of the water. But I should never fall in love with a fisherman, even if he had cream-colored shoes and his own canoe and bright and perfect teeth.
This, I was told, was the only way I was different from Mama.
I learned to walk while Mama slept.
In the early mornings, I would slip out of her embrace and crawl away from the place by the road where we slept. It was always the same place, beneath the same banana tree where I was born. No matter how far Mama walked, she always rested here, telling me how fortunate it was that we had found another place to stop.
I pushed myself up to my feet, swaying as I stumbled over the rich, red earth and up onto the empty road. On the other side, I could see the red flowers on the Tamarind trees, and tall, sweet-smelling grass that grew up by the river. And there was a bird there. Immense and white. And he walked like me, stumbling through the water lilies on his long sun-colored legs.
Mama would wake and find me missing. She would sweep me up in her arms and hold me tight to her, and ask how I managed to get away. Did I not know how worried she was? How angry she was? How relieved she was?
I must promise, she explained to me. I must promise that I will never wander away from her like that. I must promise that I will respect her and obey her. I must promise that I will always be her baby.
And so I lied.
Mama walked far in the days that followed. Further than she ever had before, continuing long after the sun had fallen behind the tamarind trees and the road was unlit. And exhausted, she would collapse beneath the same banana tree that she had the day before.
She slept a long time that day, and I got away again.
Up, and over the road. Tumbling down through the slick grass on the far side, caking red mud onto the soles of my feet, the palms of my hands. I pushed my way through the reeds, letting the water rise up to my ankles, my knees, my waist, my neck. And when I thought that I would slip away, the great, white bird came striding through the water, scooping me up from the sling that Mama had carried me in, that I wore now as my clothes.
The great, white bird flapped his wings hard, sending ripples across the still water. He kept the sling clenched tight in his long, straight beak, and as we crested the trees, I looked down and saw Mama, still sleeping under the trees.
We climbed higher and higher, and I could see the road below – a great circle in the center of a forest that stretched on and on in every direction. And even that tumbled away as we climbed higher and higher, up into the darkness.
We climbed for days, for weeks, for months. We flew so long that I forgot how to talk, how to walk. I forgot the name that Mama had given to me. And there was light again.
When I was born alive, my mother was not Mama. She had hair the same color as the bird’s beak, and my father was not the man who had hit Mama. And I was not the same me.
When I learned to talk again, I told Mother about the big, white bird and about Mama by the road. My mother said that my story hurt her, and asked me where I had heard it, or who would have told me to say such a thing. She said that she was my mother, and that I had come from her, and that I was hers and hers alone.
But I had red stains on my feet. Blotches from where the red road dirt and red river mud had caked and dried.
Mother says that they are only birthmarks.
Lots of people have them.