HER

She came up to the window; a dark wrinkled bony frame upon which hung a white cloth. A cloth encased her scalp, it was old, tattered and dirty; a mix of shades of brown and other now-faded colours. There was a nick below her left eye, an egg shaped indentation lighter than the rest of her face. I thought it a tribal mark or an identity of some sort; it looked too carefully drawn to be the scar of an accident.

Allah ya kiyaye hanya…

Her lips had once been beautiful; slim curves of kiss-me on her face. But they looked far from kissable; parched by environmental wear. Scars from seasons past left them white, and the dry winds had left them dusty. You could tell she lived on the streets.

Aunty, bani kudi dan Allah…

A slim palm appeared in my line of vision, its gesticulations pleading. The fingers were slim, long, and roughened by hardship. I could not see the lines of her palm; it was caked in leftover oil from a meal and dirt. I wondered how it was I had never known there was more than one shade of chocolate brown. The palm moved closer to me, and my eyes caught the sway of a water bottle under her shirt. I craned my neck to stare closer, wondering why she hid the bottle under her shirt instead of hanging on it, as kids did. Another water bottle swayed. I stopped. Blinked once, twice. They weren’t water bottles; except if milk is now same as water. Still in some sort of shock, I stared at their profile against the white shirt. They hung like deflated balloons to the end of her shirt. And that was when I noticed the wrapper.

It was a flimsy piece of cloth, aged far beyond the beauty of colour. The rolls which confined it to her waist bunched almost imperceptibly; a twine of mangled cloth. It however gave shape to her hips, defined her waist, and gave some modicum of feminity to what should have been shrivelled skin hanging on sturdy bones. Something made me look into her eyes, I don’t know what it was, but I wish now that I hadn’t.

The sun, that beautiful artist, put some light in her eye. Made it looked like liquid chocolate defined by black topping. The white of her eyes were slightly discoloured, but the kajal that lined her lids lit them up still. Her lashes were a shade of coconut leaves: long, thick at the roots, and brown. Dust sat between her lashes, and I saw that minus the dust they were a rich black.

The car suddenly moved, and I realised that the traffic lights must have passed us. As I looked back at her in the mirror I stared at the pain nested in her liquid pools of chocolate. I watched her in the rear-view mirror, saw disappointment and a hint of relief cloud her eyes. It dawned then that she had noted me staring, and had perhaps thought it would fetch her a meal. Perhaps she had thought I was evaluating her for some man? Or that I wanted her? A child was tugging at the hem of her wrapper; a little food or attention hungry person with skinny arms dressed in rags. I looked at the men around her; wondered which of them had taught her to fuck a meal out of a pocket. I also wondered if they had nested in her warmth weeks ago, when the winds had blown icy, and if they had given some of that warmth back. I wondered if she knew the father of the little child, wondered if she should, and if it made any difference.

I woke that night from a dream about those eyes; and I knew she would forever haunt me. That woman I did not know, who had chosen to let me glimpse her soul. As I stared into the darkness I wondered how much of it remained; her soul that is.

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