Caricamento in corso
I racconti del Premio Energheia Africa Teller

The Tale of Blessed and Anwar_Naomi Brice

donne_Africa Teller 2001/2002.

 

The gypsy blood was there, hiding in his features, revealed in his

eyes. Like gypsies, his people had left their home, had travelled away

on the monsoon rather than over1and. They had alighted in the land

of the sun and the thorn trees, the rain and the dry seasons. But the

gypsy blood was there. Revealed most fully when he was away from

the city, away in the land that he knew and loved best. Travelling

didn’t tire him, it invigorated his soul, gave him the space to think, to

renew. When the horizon stretched away before his eyes, when the

land lay ahead with her secrets hidden from all but a few, like him,

then he was alive, awake, aware.

The gypsy blood was there; hidden in his soul, revealed in his sad eyes,

eyes grown large from staring out at the unlimited horizon, from staring

at the land that revealed her secrets to him and a few others. His golden,

dark skin revelled in the warmth of the sun, his feet curled and relaxed

with the earth beneath them. He smiled the gentle smile of a man that

understands the ground beneath his feet. There were so many things that

he didn’t understand, things that felt alien to his mind but this he

understood, this land, the scent that carried on the wind, the animals and

the plants. He understood this land in ways that he had never understood

so many things; it was familiar to his soul. And his soul sang a harmony

with the song of the land. His silence stretched out into the music of the

landscape, freed his soul to sing its own unique harmony. He smiled.

His dis-ease had been shed in the first kilometres of the safari.

The moment the road had begun to rumble under the wheels and the

traffic had begun to thin away. And with it his tiredness and the

turmoil in his head had been shed, thrown away as the 4×4 created

its own wind. The city, work, family, business were all thrown away

from him, sloughed away as he travelled. The discordant song of the

city was gone from his ears, a song for which he had no words and

no harmony, and a song for which his soul could not sing with.

He loved the song of this land, in a way that he would never be able

to love a woman. In a way that left women feeling that he didn’t love

them. But that wasn’t true, he loved and deeply, but the land was his

first love and it wasn’t in the nature of women to be second in any

mans heart. The land had won his heart first and women didn’t have

to compete. And the sadness in his eyes revealed his loneliness.

By the fire of our safari , he told me the story of his gypsy eyes and

his wandering heart…

Once upon a time in a land that is now called Pakistan but was,

before that, called India by the British and before that was called by

the name that Allah had given it and the land had accepted as her

own there lived a very devout family. This family was always

hospitable, they followed the laws of the Koran. They fasted during

Ramadan and they celebrated, as they knew they should. This family

lived in a village in the land that Allah had named with a name that

man would eventually forget.

The father of this family was a farmer, like his father had been

before him and his sons were becoming after him. This man loved

the land, he loved the rich smell of the earth when the rains began

and the fresh green scent of the harvest mixed with the salt sweat as

they laboured.

He loved the sun as it warmed the ground and his skin. And

everyday, at prayers, he sent an extra prayer to Allah thanking him

for creating man to farm the earth.

His wife, also, held the earth dear to her heart and loved it with the

same love that she held for her husband. They had grown together on

this soil and their roots were deep and nourished by it. She had been

blessed and knew well that her gratitude should be limitless.

But there was one sadness in their hearts. They had been blessed with

seven fine sons. Tall, straight boys, healthy and hardworking, devout

and obedient. But they had no daughter. The farmer’s wife missed the

company that her daughter would have provided. She longed for the

joy of preparing a girl child for her wedding day. She had enjoyed so

much the intimacy with her own mother but that was not possible.

Allah had provided them with fine, healthy sons and she was grateful.

One day a caravan of gypsies arrived in their town. The gypsies were

always looked upon with awe and some suspicion. Everyone knew

that a long time ago the gypsies had come from this very land, their

features were proof, but had taken to the road and had never chosen

to return. The gypsies had the large, dark eyes of a people who were

used to looking far into the horizon and not close to their own selves.

They were not Muslim and they were not devout. But they repaired

the pots and pans, the tools and the harnesses and they brought stories

form the great, wide world that they travelled in. They made their

camp away from the village and they kept mostly to themselves.

This group of gypsies seemed particularly ragged and unwell. But it

had been hard for everyone that year and no one made comment. One

night a wailing began from the gypsy’s camp that was enough to rend

the hardest heart. It began at dusk and continued throughout the night.

“Someone should go to them,” the farmer’s wife said in a frightened

voice. ”Not I,” said the farmer. “There’s magic in those cries,” he said

conclusively.

And he was right; there was fearful magic in those cries. And no one

from the village dared to leave their homes for fear of the spirits that

would surely be walking that moonless night. At dawn the cries died

away and the silence lasted only a moment before the muezzin called

the faithful to prayer.

After prayers had ended, and the souls of the men were bolstered after

the fearful night, the farmer led the men to the gypsy’s camp. What they

found frightened them to the core. Every gypsy had died during the

night; disease had taken them all. The men of the village stared in

disbelief.

“Surely demons have been here.”

“Surely they have been punished for some terrible crime.”

“It is a spirit.”

“It is a demon.”

“It is the angel of death.”

“It is a child,” said the farmer and he climbed into the wagon.

Lying in the arms of her dead mother, a girl child cried in fear and

hunger.

“Softly, softly”, said the farmer in a quiet voice. “Gently, gently,” he

said as he picked the child from her mother’s arms. “Come my beauty,

into the sunlight where it is warm and the breeze will dry your tears.”

The other men stared at the child.

“She is cursed.”

“She is diseased.”

“She is trouble.”

“She is blessed by Allah,” said the farmer. “bring me her mother’s

jewellery,” he said as he walked back to the village talking gently to

the child in his arms.

At first his wife frowned when she saw the child. But then she saw

the big, dark eyes fringed with long, black lashes and her heart was

turned to liquid gold.

“She is blessed”, said the farmer’s wife and that is what they called

her. Blessed.

Blessed grew up in the village calling the farmer father and his wife

mother and their seven sons brother. She was a beautiful child with

grace and wisdom in all her ways. At first the other villagers were

afraid that she would bring trouble to their lives but as she grew they

saw that she was not only blessed but also a blessing.

Blessed loved the land, the smell of the rains and the harvest, the

smell of the air and the sun. But always her big, dark eyes fringed

with long, dark lashes would look out to the horizon and she would

wonder what lay beyond the horizon. Often she would wander away

from the farm and the village to explore the land that surrounded

them. She particularly liked to visit the wild woods and visit with the

birds and the trees.

“Where have you been?” her mother would scold.

“To the woods,” Blessed would reply showing the firewood she had

collected on purpose.

“The woods are dangerous”, her mother would say.

“But the trees are my friends,” Blessed would reply.

As Blessed grew she became more beautiful and more graceful. She

went about her chores with gentle elegance.

“It is time to speak of marriage,” her mother said one day.

“He will come,” Blessed replied.

“How do you know?” her mother asked.

“I have heard his song. He will come. You don’t need to worry.”

Blessed’s mother was very concerned about this and set about with all

vigilance to watch her.

“Mother,” Blessed said one day. “You must not worry. When he

comes he will go directly to father. He will be very respectful.”

“How do you know this?”

“I have seen it,” Blessed replied with a smile and she kissed her

mother. “Don’t worry, I will never disgrace you. Never.”

One day a young man came to the village. His name was Anwar. He

was a tall, handsome man with straight, black hair, a warm, honest

smile and hardworking, clever hands. He was a very clever man who

could build almost anything and repair almost everything. His

speciality was creating ways to get hard jobs done more easily. He

especially liked contriving ways to bring water closer to the villages

because of the smiles the old women gave him when they didn’t have

to carry their clay jars of water nearly so far, this always made his

heart happy.

Anwar travelled from village to village fixing and contriving ways of

doing things. He made a very good living at this work and he enjoyed

all the sights, sounds and adventures that he met along the way. He

was a happy man. One day he came to the village of the farmer.

Anwar had heard that the village needed his help with their well. So

he came, striding through the countryside on his long legs, singing a

song in his strong baritone -if a little off key. He liked to sing and

didn’t much mind that he was, more often than not, slightly off key.

As he walked through the fields, singing his song, Anwar noticed a

quick flash of bright colour off in the trees. He wasn’t certain but he

thought that maybe it was a person dancing amongst the trees. It was,

in fact, Blessed dancing. She had been so enthralled by the trees and

their songs that she hadn’t heard Anwar’s song until he was quite close.

When she did hear him she dropped to the ground and hid herself,

peeking out through the bushes to see who was coming. Anwar paused

only for a moment, deciding that he had only seen a woman going to

gather firewood. But in the back of his mind he wondered if he hadn’t

glimpsed a wood faerie dancing amongst her trees.

“It is a good sign,” he thought. “Either way.”

Anwar went directly to the home of the farmer, for he knew that the

farmer was the wisest man in the village and the most likely to give

him work. Respectfully he presented himself to the farmer’s wife and

enquired after the farmer. She pointed towards the fields. Anwar

thanked her politely and walked in the direction she had indicated,

whistling gently to himself.

The farmer was delighted to meet Anwar and insisted that he stay with

them. Anwar accepted with the gentle, polite smile that was never far

from his lips or his eyes. And so that evening Anwar and Blessed met.

Their eyes touched across the room and in that instant the farmer’s

wife knew that Allah had sent this young man to them, to Blessed.

“He has arrived,” the farmer’s wife whispered to Blessed as they

prepared the evening meal.

“He has arrived,” Blessed affirmed with a shy smile.

That night Anwar told them tales of his travels. To the delight of them

all he told of how he had once travelled across the ocean, chased by

the monsoon, in a trading dhow, to Africa. Blessed’s eyes were wide

with wonder as he told stories of that great wild continent. From that

moment the gypsy blood, long dormant in Blessed’s veins was stirred

and her heart beat with the wanderlust of her people.

“I should like to go Africa,” Blessed said to Anwar one afternoon.

“And you shall,” he told her, smiling his gentle, polite smile.

Blessed and Anwar were married. The farmer, his wife, their sons and

the entire village were delighted. The celebrations lasted long and

gloriously. Anwar and Blessed were the most handsome couple the

village had ever seen and it was agreed unanimously that in the whole

world there could not have been a more handsome or well-suited

couple. The only sadness was the knowledge that soon they would

have to leave. The farmer’s wife wept as she kissed Blessed goodbye.

Blessed held her mother close and whispered, “Do not weep

mother, for you always knew that I would have to leave, for I have no

choice but to wander.” The farmer’s wife nodded her head

acknowledging the truth of her daughter’s wisdom.

That night the farmer’s wife wept in her husband’s arms.

“My baby girl,” she sobbed. “She’s gone. Never to return.”

“She was never ours,” the farmer replied, although he too wept. “Allah

has merely given us a few moments with these children of ours. She

travelled to us. Now she must travel away from us. As Allah wills.”

Blessed looked out to the horizon, her husband stood beside her. She

smiled up into his face. Her joy reflected his.

“One day,” she said softly. “You will take me to this Africa of yours.

For it seems a proper place for us to dwell.”

“Certainly my blessed one. For it is a good place and you will see the

bright golden beaches and the turquoise sea.” And he went on to

describe to her the beauty of Africa.

And so Blessed and Anwar travelled throughout the countryside.

Anwar plied his trade and Blessed helped him, she learnt quickly and

was soon an adept assistant. Always they moved towards the sea.

Every village they stopped at they were welcomed and cared for,

every village was one step closer to the sea and the dhow that would

take them over the ocean to Africa.

Every evening they would sit over their evening meal and Anwar

would tell Blessed tales of the far off land of Africa. He would tell her

of the sun and the thorn trees, of the great baobab trees, the animals

and the plains. Blessed never grew bored of his stories, her eyes

would grow wide and soft as she tried to imagine the great land that

was waiting for her.

One day, when Blessed was heavy with their first child and very near

her time, they approached a village.

“We will stay here,” Anwar said. “Until after our son is born”.

“That is good,” Blessed said. “This is a happy village.” Blessed was

happy far the rest, although she loved travelling it was beginning to tire

her.

Anwar found them a pleasant room and introduced himself to the

local men. Soon he had work to do. The women of the village brought

Blessed food and drink. When they saw that she was near her time

they sent for the midwife.

The midwife was an ancient woman who had delivered every child

born in the village for three generations. She was tall and slender with

a million intricate lines that the sun and wind had lovingly written on

to her face.

“Tsk, tsk,” she said to Blessed. “It will be soon. Very soon. You must

rest now. No work.” The midwife smiled, revealing that most of her

teeth were gone. Blessed said that she would rest. The midwife said

that she would call again after evening prayers.

“Thank you mother,” Blessed told her as she left.

“You are welcome beautiful girl.”

That night the pains began.

“Anwar,” Blessed gasped. “It is time.”

Anwar dressed quickly and ran to find the midwife.

There is plenty of time,” said the midwife as she collected her things

and called for her daughter to assist. “First babies always take a long

time to arrive. Quick to make, slow to arrive,” she said chuckling to

herself.

Blessed never cried out, she bore the pain quietly and with

perseverance. The midwife was very pleased with her. Dawn passed

without them realising and then the noon sun slipped overhead.

Anwar paced before the door, worrying and praying, praying and

worrying. The midwife would step outside, when she could, to

reassure him.

As the sun began to set into the horizon, a great angry ball of fire, even

the mid wife began to worry. The night dragged on and Blessed bore her

pain bravely and silently. As dawn approached a baby boy was

delivered, a big strong boy. As the midwife laid the boy into his

mother’s arms she knew that Blessed was too weak to live through the

day.

The midwife stepped in to the grey predawn light. She saw Anwar

standing watching the East.

“It’s a boy,” she said.

“Allah be praised,” Anwar answered. “Can I go to her?”

“Yes,” said the midwife slowly, a deep frown creasing her already

wrinkled brow.

“What?” Anwar asked. He took her hand. “What?”

“Blessed is very weak. It was a difficult birth. I do not think she will

last the day.”

“No,” Anwar answered.

“As Allah wills,” the midwife replied sadly.

That afternoon Blessed lay with her head resting on her husband’s

shoulder. Her breathing was shallow and her skin pale and clammy. “I

am so tired,” she whispered.

“Then sleep my blessed one,” Anwar answered.

Blessed closed her eyes and slept. She never woke again.

Anwar’s heart was broken. He stayed in that village until all the

obligations he owed to the living and the dead were completed. Then

he took his son and his tools and headed for the sea. He cared for his

son like a mother would but always he moved towards the sea.

Eventually they reached a port and Anwar booked passage for them.

The captain of the dhow told him they must wait some weeks until

the monsoon began. Anwar said he would wait. Finally the monsoons

that would take them away began to blow. Anwar and his son were

the first aboard.

Of their journey there were many adventures but they are for another

tale. After some weeks they saw the shores of Africa. Anwar lifted his

son and showed him the great continent growing before their eyes,

“This is your mother’s land,” he said. “This is blessed land.”

And by the fire, in the middle of the African bush I finally began to

understand my friend and his sad, sad eyes.