NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 1 - Winter 2018 - Page 54

She talked slowly , as if she were speaking in another tongue , but I didn ’ t understand the words . Her voice was low but deep . I realized then that my grandmother was not my grandmother : she appeared to be elsewhere , as if someone else had taken over her chair , her eyes , her mouth , her head . She was relaxed , in control , but was this other person , someone else : Papa Loko . That was her new name .
That ’ s when a lady in white brought her a live chicken . GrandAngele grabbed it by the head and immediately wrung its neck . I , like everyone else , watched as the chicken swirled uncontrollably like a spinning top . One , two , three , countless more drops of blood spilled and spotted the mosaics . Some fell on her hand . Then she put the lifeless and totally disheveled chicken on the ground . Slowly , ever so slowly , she caressed my cheeks with her red-hued hand . It felt warm . She whispered words that sounded like a prayer , and again I couldn ’ t understand them . But it didn ’ t matter . The women in white chanted . I felt safe in the hands of Papa Loko , who then was in complete possession of my grandmother ’ s body and mind . The strange beauty of being in GrandAngele ’ s hands , but really in Papa Loko ’ s , will never leave my eyes . Nor my mind .
Tap tap tap … and then patap tap , patap tap . The feet went back and forth on the ground . The drums never stopped beating . The voices became one , as the congregation , for it was one , swayed back and forth . Voices , drumbeats , words , dance steps , all poetic gestures that were so long ago inscribed in their bodies and souls .
“ Vi ,” embodied by Papa Loko , she called Viola ’ s nickname . Papa brought Viola to her for the same ritual and took me back . I watched intently to try to understand what had just happened to me . Papa lowered his voice and told me : “ GrandAngele blessed you with luck and success . She asked the gods for protection for you .”
I smiled . I would no longer be the same . I knew it immediately . I had lived something exceptional . It was a blessing almost like I had been baptized all over again . During a lull in the drum beating , I asked Papa why had GrandAngele killed the chicken .
“ It ’ s an offering to the mystères , like the wine and bread of the priest . The mystères are what we call the spirits , the divinities of our ancestors ,” he explained . Fortunately , I knew the meaning of the word ancestor from studying the slave revolt in history class .
Leaving the ceremony felt like being torn apart from GrandAngele . I looked back over my shoulder , as Papa held my hand and led Viola and me away . GrandAngele disappeared from my view all of a sudden . He walked us up the stairs and said goodnight . I didn ’ t want to leave the drums , the singing , the dancing that were still engulfing the verandah .
Darkness overtook my small bedroom , and I was totally inert , as I heard Papa ’ s steps going down the stairwell . I curled up under my cotton coverlet . I smiled thinking that I liked God ’ s nickname , Bon Dieu , and that Papa Loko had made me feel as light as a butterfly , as I hummed :
Papa Loko Ou se van Pouse m ale Mwen se papiyon Ma pote nouvel bay Agwe
From then on , I could not stop gazing at GrandAngele . I had seen with my very own eyes how she had disappeared and metamorphosed into someone else . I was astounded and mystified . I knew enough to know that the quiet order of my previous eight years was now very much in the past . My present at the time was a constant whirl . I had been hypnotized by what I had seen that night .
Then within a few weeks , GrandAngele lost a lot of weight and lay in bed all the time . Even with my childhood eyes , I could tell that her health had dramatically worsened . I saw it on her face every day , when I went to say Bonjour . She looked very tired and didn ’ t say anything but , nonetheless , received a lot of visitors in that small bedroom . “ She has a problem with sugar ,” was all Papa said with a smile of which only he had the secret to explain that she was sick . I had overheard the word diabetes on the verandah one day , but I didn ’ t know what it meant . Everybody stopped talking , when I approached , and I understood that such things weren ’ t meant for children like me .
Until her final moments , Papa and TanteYvonne , with gloomy faces , spent the day and the night sitting on her bed , very close to her , as if they wanted to hear her breathe . They knew . They were waiting .
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S H O RT STO RY Nobody suffers from depression, at least no one I know of. Nobody knows what it is. It isn’t something we speak of, and I have never met anyone who was seeing a therapist. That was, as we would say, for white people. I was writing frantically, sharing it for my online friends to see. My friends called from a distance to see if I was okay. I lied and said that I was. I pretended I was. I pretended that the night before I had not been trying to count the amount of pills it would take to die, or that I had not been struggling to stop being disappointed at not living up to my exceptionalism and the expectations of my parents. I pretended that my bones and my blood were not moving in two separate directions. I had never been taught to ask for help. I had been beaten into understanding my pain was nothing more or less. In America, even the trees do not bear fruit. Unless the trees here grow on private properties, they do not bear fruit. I look outside my apartment. Trees that do not give fruit… it is a bit calculated, I think. Is it capitalism or a matter of not wanting to be sued? Maybe someone will pick a fruit and become sick, sue the city and win, and before you know it, everyone will start to sue. Maybe it is capitalism, because nothing is free in America I tell some of my friends still back in Nigeria. I tell my friends when I am in Nigeria that even the weather in California is added to our rent; nothing is free. It does serve a purpose, but as an African, I look at it this way — if it does not bear fruit, what \H[]\O’H[HZ][܈H\\\ \\›^H\[YH\K]\H\[YBH[]XܛHH\ۈ[[\[H\^KۈH\^BYܙHۋ]H[[\KHXH ][Y B\]HܙX[H܋[\Z\Y ܙ[ ]Y HZH^BXHۈHX[\['[YH[HY['HH^\œٝKZHHۛ[^H\ZHH\\H[H\ܛZHHۛX]H][Y^BZ[[]Y\X[Y\XK[H]\\[HY] [] ZHHۛ^HܚY[˂Hۈ]^H\ HYH\[HYܙHžYX\Y[H[\][K[HYZHH[\ۈ\™XK[H[YۈHY] [H[\[Y\XZB\HH[]\X]KH[Y[HܙKH[KX[X[ \ܙH[H[[\HY]\B\H\K]\][\\[[H\ˈ^HZ[Y]\[HZ[YXˈHH[[K[^H\H\\YBܙ[ۙ\\[YHHX]]Y[\][\KXܙY[[[[[[YH]\YKH]YYB]YY^Y^H[ []YBܙHH\[\\H\Y\[[\X]] [[YBX]]Y[HY H\\\[^HHٝKH]H][\^H[\KX]\HH[&]X\[\ܙZYۙ\^Z[8'[^XK8'H\Y\Y][XZˈH\^Z[¸'Xx'K[]Z\YHH]Xۙ[Y[X\]H[K[X XKHۈ[H[&]XZˈBܙ\H\K\Z[K][Y[ܛYY[^HۙYH܈X[HYX\˂] H\[&]XZ˂HY\\\\[\ XܙY\\]Y[Y\[\^Y\œZ[K^HZ[KYܙHHZ[BXX\\[] \Y]\H]K[[H][ H]\Z[X [ZHZ[K\HZ[Y H^\[[\ۈY[Z[\YZ[^HX\˰8'H[HZ[š[YKH[Hۚ[H[]K]H[ [YK'HHY[ܞKH][&]ܚYYZH\[ۙ^HHZ[^H[\HBܞZ[ˈH]YK[HۛœH[YHY\[\]HZ[HZHH]Y\X]H\]\[\^Y\Z]܈YHܞZ[˂'[YHX][\[ 'BH^\ˈ]\Hܙ ]\H[[HYY]\HۛH^H\ܚXHBY[[ˈHYܚ]NHYYYܚ]K]\[H]Hۛۋ[HH\\Y[YX\[YXZ™܈YH[۝Y\]ܜXBY\^HY]H[۝[^B\Y[YX\ۈX\ [H\™[X[HX\[܈^\[ܙ]و^Hۙ\]و^B ]و^H[\8%ܚ]H][][[\ۛ[HY]B^\[Y][Y\H\ۈ^HY܂ۈHX[HٝH\Y]YH\\ˈHYYYܚ]KYܙH] H]Y[ۙH܈H]›[۝[H[[H[[ݙBYH[[KH[&]Y\[B^[Y[YH[H\۝[Y^HZY܈\™[Y][\KYHYH[[ݙH\\]\K[H^H\\Y[ۜZ\H[X\HܙYX[[ H\\\][H[YYوY[ۙB[\[HY۞H[[Z\H\[[YKۙHY \H\H܈][\[XYKH܈][\\\ˈB^HHHHYܙYZY 8'YHH[H]BX[X\\[ۈx'HHY]\[YY[\[] [\[HXY\ˈH\Y]]ۂH[\ۙKHX\Y܈\X\ۂKHYY]]\ܛۙ]YK[\[]BYX[ \\HH[]\[YO\\HH\]\\HY[\\HH[][X[H[\[^H[˜[HYX\]\HX\YYY[ۙB[O\\OH]\Y[˂HYY[][YK[\\XKY\ۈH\˜Hݙ\ˈHYY[\Y [\Y [Y܈XY [ۙHۙ]˂܈^H][YۛˈHYXYHYXYY8%Z[B]\ ]\Z]\Hۙ[[\܂H[X[\\H[\[B\^H\\ˈH]^\[\[^HKZ[]ۛHܚ\HH\H\Y\\ۂو]\[ۙKHYYX[X]H܂H[۝ [[H[YH™X[X]\YH\ܚ]BX]]X[H^\˜[ۙHYOHZ[XH[YX[][“و\YYY[[ܚY\˜[\ܚY\