‘All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?’
(Eleanor Rigby, Lennon and McCartney)
black and white are just colours (a love story)
West Africa before you were born;
The sun is high in the great hot bowl of the blue sky. In all the atmosphere there is a goldenness. On a hill nearby a tree grows toward the sky, silver grey and slender. The blue of the sky is so intense that the sky appears close and the tree seems to be cut out of the same flat plane as the sky. The hillside itself is scarred brown for a large area along the side where a rice farm is being prepared. The undergrowth has been set alight and burnt, all the waste has been dragged away and now only a few tree trunks, too big to be carried away, remain. The hillside is earth-coloured and a figure the colour of the earth is working there. Taut, the body is bowed from the hips, legs set a little apart, only the top half of the body moves. She sways upwards rhythmically, and down, to chop into the earth with a machete. If we were closer we would see the sweat glistening on your black muscles, Fatu, but from here we see only what seems to be part of the hillside moving.
Walking on down the hill away from the greens and browns of the hill-side and into the yellows and browns of the town I feel the hot sun on my head, my hair is hot even. The warmth is pulsating through me. I feel powerful striding, with my bag over my shoulder, along the dirt road. On either side of me are one storey corrugated iron roofed buildings, walls of dried mud, and almost all have a little store in front, a nook in the wall which sells sardines, bicycle inner tubes, powdered milk, condensed milk, matches, maybe a bicycle wheel, a sack of sugar. Children wave or grab my hand as I pass. If they are dirty they are the colour of dry earth, dusty, if they are clean then they are the colour of wet earth.
Later in the day I come to you. You are sitting on the steps of the porch playing with the children (twin daughters that once you promised would be my wives) You are black. Your skin gleams and glistens and the light glances from your blackness. I feel anaemic next to you. I look at your face. Your eyes, faintly blue eye-shadowed, are gentle and at ease. The line from your shoulders to your neck, past the lines of your cheek-bone, to the glint of a gold earring, is beautiful and dignified. Your nose is straight, accentuating the dignity. Your lips, a darker colour than mine, are full and curved in a way that is ready to smile. And over it all is drawn like a mask the burnt brown colour of your skin. What can I learn from your eyes when behind them, behind the smooth forehead, you are thinking in a language that is quite different to mine…. A wholly different structure of thought lies there……..
“How are you?”
“ Thank God”
Kailahun, Sierra Leone, West Africa, October 1963 (to be continued)