The pink and white gold necklace is cold against your neck. As cold as the blade of a knife.
It has been like this, since the ‘events’. Any little thing reminds you of the violence. Everything brutally takes you back, makes you lose balance, unsettles you. Last week, you saw this girl walking about in her black T-shirt, which had a big white skull and crossbones on the front. A skull with an open mouth and eyes taken out was staring at you, sniggering. You felt like grabbing the clothes off her, you wanted to slap her, to insult her. You did none of that. You carried on walking to the market where you now sell liquid soap. Somewhere, the head of your husband lies, with the rest of his body. Somewhere in a gutter under a bridge, beneath the depths of some waters… You lost everything in those 2011 post-election troubles, or nearly everything. You still have life. A skinned life, with the best of it cut off. Without your husband, without your son; the life of a nomad, condemned to go from memories to memories before a present stripped of everything and a hatched future.
The present is a gift for others and a burden for you. The burden to have survived and not been brave enough to go to those whom you shed tears on. Those whose pictures line the walls of your jewellery box in your room. Or rather your house, for you just rent a room in a populous neighbourhood on the edge of precariousness. That’s all you can have now, you who once had a good job, a company car, a house with a big garden, a family, a life. You feel like a hypocrite in this passive bereavement. If it is so hard, why not do it? In reality, it is a gap separating you from death. At the bottom of the abyss, the wan and grimacing features of your uncertainties, the demonic howling of your doubts. And your eardrums bleed. And your heart tightens. There surely is a reason that explains why you are still alive. You owe it to yourself to know why. Why others and not you. Why you and not others. It is as you wish.
You stay cloistered in your pain, walled in your hurt and the scar closes in on you little by little. Millimetre by millimetre, day after day, the prison becomes smaller and you suffocate. The blood, the flesh, the bones. You ache and that annoys you. Pain is the shroud of the living. You, you would like to be dead, no longer feel a thing. Yet, you are here, you sit in front of that big mirror, the only vanity you allow yourself in this new life stripped of everything, in this new life made of destitution. A mattress placed on the floor, a cooker and some pans in a corner, two bags, walls with peeling paint, a tiny bathroom with defective pipes; all of this makes up your world. Before the clean mirror – you make a point of cleaning it twice a day – you look at the woman who is watching you; she sometimes keeps you company. Her skin the colour of wet clay, her high forehead, her big eyes, her nose slightly flared, her full lips, her slopping cheekbones, her hair hidden beneath a colourful headscarf, her wrinkles and lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth; it all seems familiar to you, especially her affliction. In her eyes, a splinter opening a wound on an aching past.
He did not believe in the rumour that there was a list with names of people who needed to be gotten rid off. It was too surreal, too far away. You were too far away from the ‘indics’ of the Gestapo during the holocaust of the Jews, too far away from houses marked with red crosses during the Rwandan genocide. Sharing the views of a political leader was not enough to be marked when he was no longer at the helm. He believed in the war of words and not in that of the fists, your brave, self-made man of a husband.
“These are just rumours, my darling. Don’t you remember the stuff about poisoned waters? We will stay here. Why run away when we have nothing to hold against ourselves? Everyone is free to choose the political party of his choice.”
Idealistic, his outspokenness and his honesty made him often be sacked from his jobs. In the end, he decided to work for himself and he did so successfully. He made the world a beautiful place and refused to see the beast in every man. You entered with him in that faith in the future, in the cocoon of his firm assurance until, hidden behind the sliding door of the library, you saw his chest rattle in red embers and unknown men taking away his body from which the flame of life was being slowly put out.
Behind them, trickles of blood, burst projectiles, and hopes stamped upon. He was wearing a checked orange and blue shirt and a pair of black trousers that day. You hold onto that memory, which will allow you one-day maybe to recognise his bones. You fit every detail in your memory. A shirt with orange block colour around the collar, the wrists and the back with blue checks diagonally on the chest area, rectangular buttons, orange. It is crazy how those things last more than the beings themselves. Sometimes, you imagine that his resting place is in a green field on a big rock, which as if by magic appeared; rain has chiselled in liquid letters a glorious epitaph to the man you love in order that people passing by pay their respects, bowing before the tomb. Sometimes, you imagine that he lies in a common grave with other people from the North and the South, with other checked shirts, other black trousers, embroidered bubus, weaved cloths from the lands of the Sénoufo, the Yacouba, the Lobi, the Baoulé, the Bété…
A song that you know well is being played on the radio. Once upon a time, you would have accompanied the gruff voice of the engaged artist. You would have sung, sharing with him his hopes for a better Africa: a healthier one, more humane, less grasping, less splashed with blood. But you keep quiet. Your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth. Your fingers run along the curves of the jewellery box. It is a box made out of cedar, beautifully carved, decorated with three-dimensional intertwined hearts; a sixth wedding anniversary gift from your husband. Inside, pictures thrown about and burst projectiles.
The music stops. A program comes on. The journalist and her guests speak of peace and forgiveness, of reconciliation and forgetting, of re-building and amnesia, of amputated memory and beginning anew. Speeches of politicians come on, calling for the unity between all the sons of the motherland and you think of your son, alive or dead somewhere, somewhere you don’t know. Your baby, the second man in your life whom you haven’t held in your arms for so long. Their speeches come out false, they are false, those politicians. Those plump wolves of yesterday struggling to fit into the too tight clothing of the lamb. Bouaké, Duékoué, AnonkoiKouté, your living room… at the sound of their voices, all must be obliterated; you must find a virginal whiteness. You get the feeling that they mock you, that they taunt your dead husband, your missing son, your soiled sex. For your dirtied sex especially, they couldn’t care less. They deride themselves at the knowledge that you neither fought nor struggled. And yet, there are things much stronger than cords to keep a woman at your mercy.
In fact, was it just a rape for them? A ball grows inside you, whenever you think about that cold night of the crime. It reaches your throat, your breath, your eyelids at the memory of the grimacing features of the man holding your hips, his cruel sweat oozing on your face, his callous hands on your chest, his crass words thrown about in his mother tongue every time he reached his cruel ecstasy. In his eyes, the unbridled joy of a thief of paradise, the shameless happiness of the hands of imposture. The ball bursts in a rain of bitter rings when you think of that man.
He had been in your employ for many years. The watchman. The guard. He bowed before you. He did not hesitate in demanding your body, every inch of your body, otherwise he would have informed on you, told on you to the mercenaries. You had known it. Your name was also on that damned list. In pride of place. Between those of your husband and your son. Help, you had a great need for it. Need to run away. Your husband had just been gunned down. Your boy had not come home the night before. Did you have a choice?
Death can be forgiven; she is the destiny of everyone. Quiet or violent, she is the only promise life always fulfils. If all beings must die, it isn’t however in the destiny of all women to be raped. And that intrusion in the heart of your intimacy, never will you forgive it.
“Madam, you turn around now!”
The hurtful injunction in the sonorous throat.
The necklace is lukewarm against your neck, lukewarm from the mugginess of a tear. You are crying. The woman before you as well. She wears a beautiful necklace where the pink gold and the white gold intermingle with each other, harmonious in their differences, a mat weaved by an unknown hand. A cord made of three strands that takes a lot to break. You now look at a picture of your son and the veil of tears breaks itself on a smile. A sad and nostalgic smile. He had just turned 13 on that picture with the hardened borders. It was the day of his first communion. All in white, a serious look on his face, his hands enclosed around a candle. You struggle to comprehend how the years have been able to transform your little angel – on whom only the halo was missing – into a monster. How your beloved son ended up being that man in the video, giving dusty old tyres, asking for petrol to burn another?
“Article 125, we will finish with every assailant here!”
You refuse to admit it to yourself, but behind those pixelated images where one is able to make out the faces with much difficulty – you saw them by chance on the phone of another trader – your mother’s heart knows it is him. And you ask yourself where the world will go, if the parents of that young man burnt alive decided as well to stay cloistered in their heartache, to wall themselves in their hurt and to let the scab close in on them little by little, revenge suffocating them. It is your son. Despite his escapades, his rudeness his crimes, you gave him life and you’d naively hoped to have some control on his death.
Thankfully, missing doesn’t mean dying. So, you never use the past tense when referring to him. You are grateful for the ambiguity resting on his fate. It gives you the freedom to invent for him one and a thousand destinies. Perhaps he was successful in running away? Maybe he is happily living in another country. Maybe he is locked up in a gaol awaiting to be among the next wave of prisoners to be released. Maybe he has lost his mind and he no longer remembers his mother who loves him and who will always love him despite all his faults, despite all the atrocities he has committed. We easily forgive the wrongdoings of our own children. What if everyone tried forgiving those of others’ children for once?
In the brown box, a baby watches you as well. Light skin, plump, full cheeks, green sleepsuit bordered in white, his smile spread on toothless gums. Every time you look at your grandson, you feel a wave of love penetrate you. The little Patrick, his spitting image, but whom your son didn’t want to accept as his at the beginning of the pregnancy.
“Mum, she is talking rubbish. We did it only once!”
He has grown a lot since that clichéd answer. His mother regularly sends you their news from Ghana where she now lives and each call, each letter is a wedge that keeps you balanced and keeps you from hurtling down the slippery slope, to smash yourself at the bottom of the abyss. And suddenly, you know why you are alive. It is so clear, crystal clear, that you feel a shiver running through you and the hairs on your body stand up.
In the bosom of all the calamities, fate always chooses for itself survivors, to bear witness, to teach, to rebuild. He deserves better, your grandson. He deserves to be able to live and grow up in a peaceful country, free from all the stench, from all the rot of his grandparents. For him, you are willing to make concessions, to make an effort. You might even try to get your old house back since they are regularly asking each and every one to go back to their home. The papers are somewhere safe. The little Patrick deserves to run around in a lovely home with a big garden. For him, you are willing to believe once more in the good faith of politicians, in the honey flowing out of their mouths and in the bright future their lips hint at and to which the prelude is mutual forgiveness and total and true national reconciliation.
On the radio, the program comes to an end. You didn’t really pay attention to it. You just hear the closing words of the presenter.
“We need to forgive each other. Besides, do we have any other choice? Our future depends on it. Let’s go beyond our humanity and call upon the divine in each of us to forgive the unforgivable. Let’s do it for our children and grandchildren.”
The notes of the song that came on at the beginning of the program are played again. You hum along to accompany the singer. You sing with him your hopes for a better Africa, one that is more beautiful, more healthy, more humane, less grasping, less splashed with blood … for the generations to come … for your grandson.
The necklace is warm against your neck, warm like the beginning of a sun rising up, warm like the promise of a better future.