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I could feel it happening. It was after midnight. My fingers were orange and my hair began turning orange. I had a wild urge to lay in the grass. I was turning into a pumpkin. I was flopping around on one lonely shoe. Glass. The other one came off when I was trying to swing from a limb hanging over a waterfall. My cream chiffon dress got wet. I stripped naked and hung it to dry on a low branch. I decided to take a nap and woke up to find myself turning orange.
I was born beneath Cuba, across the waters of the West Indies on an island that lives and breathes Bob Marley. It was 1967. While papa, my grandfather, was mending the house he’d built with his bare hands, civil rights marches were happening in “foreign,” the place the locals called America. As King, Jr lay dead, murdered by the mindset of the majority, I learned to walk on hot stones. The light of a man went out, yet I was oblivious to this. I lived in a place where electricity and running water and indoor plumbing didn’t reach us. The outhouse was dark at night. But my uncle would take me there when I was too afraid to brave the dark alone. At other times the “chimy” as my grandmother called the chamber pot, would be pulled out from under the bed, squatted over, then slid back filled with yellow waste that reminded us of our simple life. I was small and thin and remember the mangoes and jackfruit and star apples and ackee and gineps and the flowers I used to make jewelry; little necklaces and bracelets, bright, red and beautiful. I want to remember the name of that flower but time sends memories away to places we can’t find.
Flower of Jamaica – Dwarf Poinciana – Photographer Unknown
Attached to my old dusty hard drive is a note to whomever finds it when, possibly, my flesh is dust.
Time moves forward, hurrying through a hundred, then two hundred years of peaks and valleys in human existence.
The year is now 2214.
A hunched back old woman ambled into an antique store on a thick black cane. Xia loved weddings. She was looking for the perfect antique gift for her granddaughter who was getting married in a week. Her silver rimmed glasses slipped down and were nearing the tip of her nose. They never stayed in place. She paused mid-stride and with her index finger pushed the glasses back to the bridge of her nose. The antique shop owner watched her jerkily walk around, annoyed that she was touching everything carelessly. She worked hard to clean the fingerprints from the glass and silver items. The old woman didn’t perceive her annoyance and continued her search for the perfect gift.
She happened upon a section with a stack of old computers. They were dinosaurs. She remembered learning about them in school. Large screens that required power cords and batteries to run littered the white round table. Computers in those days consumed more metal and plastic than the people of the time were able to manage. It was amazing to her how primitive they were. She looked at her wrist and smiled at the computer she wore there. It was no more than two inches square. A simple push of a bottom and a crisp, lifelike image of a computer screen popped up on a wall, along with a lifelike keyboard in front of her. The People’s Corporation, the largest community run company in Xia’s city, recently released a new model that allowed access in mid-air, no wall required. The hologram somehow didn’t need a wall to present a fairly solid looking image of a computer screen and keyboard that seemed to sit on a desk in front of you, no matter where you were. She couldn’t afford it, however. It was too new and too expensive. The beauty of the time Xia lived in was there was no more wasted metal, plastic and power cords that were cumbersome and hazardous. No more dying batteries that ultimately found their way in dumps. Endless power was harnessed from the atmosphere and funneled to the wrist mechanism—what powered the wrist computer was drawn directly from the skies. The days of dying batteries and having to search for a power source were over thanks to the pioneering work of Nikola Tesla, a man before the age of computers.
As she looked around at all the nostalgic items from many yesterdays gone, she noticed one smaller item amongst the heap. She remembered it from her elementary school classes. It was a hard drive from a computer. With shaking hands, she picked up the piece to examine it. Her fingers touched something smooth at the bottom. She turned it over to discover a note attached to it. She leaned her cane against the table that housed the many old computers, removed the note from the hard drive, sat in the chair nearest her, unfolded it and began to read it.
To the one who finds this, hello.
I don’t know how far into the future this hard drive will survive. Mountains of waste in acres of fields have claimed far more precious items—and some not so precious. Many of them may not resurface in a future time, but will be melted down, burned or left to sit amongst piles of old worn out shoes, broken plates, molded rugs, unwanted wigs, Lego blocks, spark plugs, unloved books and a host of other items, some of which probably should have never been made. Who knows when the earth will reclaim many of the things we’ve made and turn them to dust.
Maybe my hard drive won’t suffer such a fate and someone will find it, scratched and bruised, but able to be restored, like a fine piece of antique furniture or old antique car. Love has brought many old things back en vogue. This hard drive, while not the kind of thing one might show off at tea parties, does contain memory. It is filled with my voice, my words, and my heart and soul. You see, I’m a writer. On this drive that is now discarded lives the many thoughts I’ve had about my current culture and the many stories I’ve written that give voice to how I feel about this world.
Had I the funds to restore this crashed drive, I would not be discarding it. But life has been a struggle and the world is taking a turn. I am not as young as I once was and even less savvy. It is unclear if the turn this world is taking is for the better or for the worst. Time will tell. If it turns out to be for the better, then the one reading this will know that humanity surfaced on the other side of its challenges with fewer bruises than I had anticipated. I am hopeful. But more than anything, I want you to find a way to restore this drive. There is history here, my history and to a great extent, our history from my perspective. In some ways, it is accurate. In other ways, it is simply my way of seeing. Oftentimes, that is really all any history is, a collection of stories based on what we believed about the world at any moment in time. Our personal stories add to the puzzle. It allows those in the future to piece together history more accurately. Or, at the very least, get a sense of how people processed their experiences. It speaks to what one woman, me, felt in a time where you may or may not have existed. Admittedly, this hard drive and note may only make it into the hands of someone tomorrow. But if by some strange destiny it makes it into the hands of someone a few hundred years from now, then my my, what an adventure for that person.
I’ve written too much already. You will not only find my writings, but many illustrations, photos and research notes I’ve collected. Each item speaks to what interested me at the time; to what swayed my way of seeing my moment in time. I turn this adventure over to you. Restore my drive and immerse yourself in one woman’s view of the world. It is sometimes sad and sometimes glorious. But it is always me.
Xia looked up from the note, stood up and remained silent for what felt like minutes. The store owner raised an eyebrow and wondered if the old woman was going to croak in her store given that she stood in one place for far longer than what she felt was normal. As long as she didn’t ruin her displays when she fell, she didn’t much care. She was tired of the old woman’s fingerprints anyway. Xia picked up the hard drive, grabbed her cane and walked to the front to check out her item.
“Will that be all?” asked the store owner.
“Yes. That will be all.”
“What is that thing?”
Xia looked at the woman and wondered what elementary school she went to. “It’s an old computer hard drive.”
The store owner laughed. “What do you want that old thing for? I usually only see techie heads come in here looking for that stuff when they’re studying the history of ancient computers.”
“This is more than just a computer part and history lesson, it’s memory, it’s a piece of soul.”
“Memory? Soul? Lady, are you ok? It’s just a piece of junk.”
“Two dollars and six cents.”
Xia took her purchase and left. She knew she’d found the perfect gift. Her granddaughter was a writer after all. More than that, she was a writer who loved to read how other writers saw the world. Xia would restore the drive and give her daughter a gift from the past in hopes of guiding her steps into the future. Xia was glad.
I was born on an oddly shaped island just below Cuba. Places like Kingston, Montego Bay and St. Ann are reminders of a colonized space that begs to forget its past. I couldn’t forget, but I didn’t want to remember either. I instead wanted to save memories of my uncle and our moments in the outhouse at twilight. He on the right hole, me on the left hanging on for dear life, because children bigger than me had fallen in and drowned in urine and feces. I couldn’t imagine drowning in that deep dark hole, alone, amidst the waste of us, mixed together closer than we could be as a family. But my uncle and I were close. We talked of many things as we peed and moved our bowels. To this day he is still the man who reminds me that I can be safe with a man, even in a place where there was no electricity to light my way to safety, no running water to wash away the fear of darkness.
“Marie,” he would say, “what you believe you want to be when you get big?”
Wasn’t I already big? I thought at the time. Big enough to sit on the grown-up outhouse hole? Big enough to know about anger and darkness? I was almost eleven. I was big, bigger than my older sister Gem who still played with skinny white dolls with blonde hair on the veranda. I was big enough to bravely look in the hole one day. But it was too deep and dark. I couldn’t see the lives that intermixed, those lives slowly rising over the years, filling, filling, until we reached the top, overflowing with everything wrong with our family, overflowing until Gem’s doll surfaced after years of disappearance.
“I loved that doll,” Gem would one day say. “How it get in there?”
The doll didn’t look like us. It made me feel ugly and afraid of the many faces that passed along the dirt road. I remember seeing the morphing faces of children inside the hole, brown girls with blonde hair, all lost in a time long gone, a time that didn’t admire their beauty and brown skin. They all looked like me and dreamed like me. They were free of this world now and the need to be something other than self. I couldn’t remember if I felt free then. Maybe I did. Or maybe freedom was a dream. As the years went by the days of feeling free diminished. I began to see the chains of our existence. My uncle never asked me again what I wanted to be. He became too busy trying to figure out what he wanted to be. Years later he would continue to search, never really finding what he wanted to be when he grew up. He grew up nonetheless, his chains forever holding him in place. Dreams of planting mahogany trees in Stonehenge kept him alive. But they were only dreams, the kind that would never manifest.
I became a painter. I realized my desire many years after my uncle’s probing question and lost dreams. I struggled with my art and trying to find my muse. Then one day I decided to paint my childhood and my days in the outhouse. I painted the joy of my memories and the despair I imagined those who were swallowed by the vast and deep hole experienced. I painted families packed tight in an outhouse, the release of wasted memories, the stink of their lives floating around them, reminding them of how their lives meshed, solidifying in one moment, liquefying in the next. It became grotesque and beautiful all at once. The people, the canvas, the colors and images now sit on a wall unmoved, but moving those who can remember their story. It takes them back in time, to a moment when they were eleven years old and big.
None of us remember the first colonizers. It was long before our time. But their ghosts remain, walking among the living. They possess us with their language, religion and family structure. The outhouse is the product of this possession filled with mixed up realities and beliefs. Deep in the holes sit the demons that need to be exorcised and the children who need to be saved. I will continue to paint their story and use my canvases like steps of a ladder, so the children may climb out, inch by inch, until the sun is all there is, no outhouse, no wood, no waste, just sun and sky.
Mia was planting yams in the garden. Her hands touched the rich dark soil. It was cool and slightly moist. She ran her fingers through it then scooped out a handful. A worm hung off the side, wiggling its way back to the ground. It fell from her soil filled hand to the ground and disappeared quickly into the darkness that was its existence. What was it like to be a worm? she thought. What was it like to live with soil all around you, up against your flesh day in and day out, rarely if ever needing sunlight? It was hard for Mia to imagine. But a sentient worm would probably wonder the same about humans. How do they live, it might imagine, day in and day out, surrounded by air and light and sun, with no soil to envelop their bodies, nothing comfortably ensconcing them, protecting them. Maybe human existence to a worm is frightening and lacking something humans cannot begin to imagine. Mia picked up one of the yams, roots sprouting from the sides, and placed it in the hole she’d dug. She used the dirt she’d scooped up and packed it on top of the yam. A large green watering can sat to her left. She picked it up and sprinkled water over the newly planted yam. The water soaked into the soil quickly, disappearing as though no water had touched the spot. Mia scooted to her left and began to dig another hole, and then another, until ten holes were prepped for the seeds that would soon be planted within them. She reached into right pocket and removed several packets. The seeds moved inside the paper packets. She lay each one on the ground, one in front of each hole. Carrots, tomatoes, peas, scallion, thyme, oregano, squash, broccoli, spinach and lettuce. One by one she tore open the packets and sprinkled a few seeds into each respective hole. She tucked the packets with remaining seeds back into her pocket and proceeded to cover the holes. In her left pocket she took out plastic bags with seeds, each marked with what they were. She walked to the other side of her garden and knelt down to dig three more holes. In the first two holes she placed apple seeds and orange seeds. In the last hole she planted red rose seeds, which when bloomed, would be used for salads.
Mia diligently cared for her garden. She weeded it and watered it, ensuring that everything she grew would grow in love and thereby carry love within it when eaten. She cared for everything in this way, especially Ziza. Ziza was like her garden, rich and ready to produce nourishment for all who were there to receive it. Mia walked to her fig tree and sat beneath it, watching the horizon as the sun went down. She thought about the past and how it was preparing her for the future. She wondered what her ultimate role would be. Yes, she gave birth to Ziza, but she felt there was still more for her to do. A ripe fig fell from the tree. She picked it up and held it in her hand, examining its contours. It was imperfect. She then tasted it. It was perfect. Mia begin to consider the notion of perfection. What was it? What did it really mean. She tasted a fruit that was ripe and filled with flavor that burst over her tongue, yet, it looked ugly and homely, as though it were not worth eating. Yet something in her told her to take a chance, bite it, don’t judge it by how it looked.
She sat and pondered the notion of perfection and wondered how that would one day play into her notions of life in the future. What would this small revelation do for her? Would it help her? Would it save or destroy her?
Indira didn’t like electric stoves. They had no character, no life. They were artificial and didn’t understand what food needed in order to cook well. Gas stoves were filled with a life she could barely explain. For her, starting a gas stove was somewhat of a ritual. It was like genuflecting to the ancestors. She would first light the match. The scratch of the red tip against the box was, for Indira, the sound of creation. She saw it all in slow motion. The flames burst into existence; then suddenly, the sound of light brought forth a larger flame that began immediately to turn the wood black. The flame then burned quietly, as though all the universe stopped to witness this fire, the sometimes yellow, sometimes orange and sometimes white flame, this life that would soon impregnate the void with more flames of life. It continued to burn in silence, eating away the wood, the flame moving closer to her fingers with each second.
She heard the clicking of the gas stove and realized that without much thought, she’d already prepared it to be lit. She moved the match near the invisible gas that leaked from the tiny holes in the stove top. Woof! Blue flames ran in a circle around the tiny eye, flames ready to share in the preparation of her meal for the night.
Indira wanted a simple meal, no work required. She filled the pot with water, broke in half the long angel hairs she’d purchased more than two weeks prior, spilled a bit of olive oil in the water and let the flames do their duty. Let them work for her tonight. The jar of garlic and roasted peppers spaghetti sauce stood like a sentry on her counter. It watched her as she watched it, wondering if like those many nights long ago, she’d be forced to ask for help to get it open. What made the jar seem more ominous was that she no longer had anyone to turn to. There was no one to rescue her from her weaknesses, physical or emotional. She had to brave this jar–like so many other things–alone.
She lifted it from the counter but tried to stall. She looked at the label, examined the logo and pondered the color scheme. The water began to boil. Pasta didn’t take long to cook, especially al dente. She turned the jar around and began to read the ingredients. Organic tomatoes, organic garlic, organic basil. Indira continued to read. The water continued to boil. Organic onions. In minutes, the chance for al dente would be gone. She could stall no longer.
Indira grabbed the top of the jar, held the body tight and twisted with all her might. Her hand and fingers turned red, the jar cover did not budge. She ran some hot water over the cover, tapped the top on the side of the counter, then twisted again. She twisted until her hand hurt. The cover refused to move. She ran a bit more hot water on it. Sat it on the counter for a minute, then tried again. She was about to swear, but instead, in frustration, shouted, “Marcus baby, could you please come down and open this for me?” She waited. There was no answer. “Marcus, can you hear me?” She stopped. Her heartbeat became audible. It was pounding as though threatening to leave her chest. She realized more quickly this time what she was doing. She couldn’t breathe. She needed to leave the kitchen. She didn’t want to eat anymore. She wanted to leave and let the spaghetti burn, let the house burn, let everything go up in flames. She needed life to be like the phoenix, burn and be reborn. But hopes of her dear husband being reborn full grown would never happen. He was dead and would never return to her. It was the jar. It reminded her. She didn’t want to be reminded, but it reminded her that she was alone and helpless. She didn’t want to remember that she missed him desperately, but the jar reminded her and now sat on the counter, unmoved by her emotions. Her husband loved pasta al dente. She dumped the soft and useless pasta into the trash. She threw the pasta jar to the floor, smashing it.
“There. Now you are open and won’t be able to remind me of anything anymore.”
She turned to look at the blue flame. It still burned, waiting to do its duty. Wicked little flame, she thought. It gives rebirth to only that which it chooses. Insidious. Tears stained her face. She turned off the stove, tossed the remaining box of matches into the trash and went to her room to sleep. She’d had enough of matches, flames, pasta and jars that refused to open.
The music started. Emanating from the office were tunes meant to soothe the inner beast. I walked to the doorway. His back to me. Moving slightly to the beat, tunes dancing around the room like fireflies on a warm night. He moves.
I walk in, notice the green beach chair. Again. It sinks to the curve of a body, any body. I sit, slide back, both legs up. I watch. He moves, gently nodding his head, slightly rocking, no intrusion to the air around his head, he rocks. I watch. His back to me, smooth and clean, freckles smiling at the sounds that invite them to move in time, they move. I watch.
He listens. I smile, wondering what he is thinking at that moment, his handsome form soaking in the electrifying beats that fill the room. Only hours before, his sensual body writhed in time with the beat of my heart, our skins melding, folding, unfolding, a symbiotic melody that churns to the tune of our moans. He moans. We meld. A symbiotic life form is created between us. Forgetting where he begins and I end. We moan.
The images clear as he turns to place a CD in the slot. It is only then that I realize he does not know I am there. He rocks. I smile. His body moves in time, he tilts his head, wondering, wondering what? What is he wondering about the tune he’s just selected. He tilts his head, twitches his mouth to the right, changes tunes, sits back, listens. He does not move.
Then, my captivation is shifted from him to a song that begins to slide into my soul, distracting me from the beautiful form that sits before me, quietly enjoying his space. A space he doesn’t realize I also inhabit. It is the symbiosis. The thing between us that does not speak. It is quiet. He leans back, no movement, just listens. I listen. The tune is slow, easy, instrumental, but words float off the notes like a siren calling to us from the sea. We listen. He still doesn’t realize I share the space, and the pleasure of the tune.
Nearly twenty minutes have passed. He turns, picks up a paper, begins to flip through it, his full form nearly facing me. He reads, and listens, but does not see me, sitting there, in the green beach chair, unmoved, but moved by his presence. He does not see me. Yet, with a mere upward glance, I am easily seen. He does not see me. His space is uninterrupted. I smile. I shared in a moment, a natural moment, him being him. Him being his whole self. I captured that moment. I speak. “What was the name of that song?”
He glances to the doorway, realizes I’m not there, then searches for the source of the sound. He sees me, sitting there, unmoved, but moved by the sound of his voice. “Wow, I didn’t know you were there. How long have you been sitting there?”
Moved by the sound of his voice. Moved by his form, his smile, the easy way he speaks. His easy way of being. His light-hearted surprise at my presence. I smile. We talk. The space remains calm and easy. But something stepped away. His sense of alone stepped away. It walked out the room when my voice entered the space. It’s still easy, but different. We talk. I smile. And sit, on the green beach chair.