Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 33, 1992
Neocolonialism
Edited by Jenny de Reuck & Hugh Webb

Deborah Pearson

Light and dark

1

God was meant to be a man. I met him once. I was going up the stairs, not the first flight but just past the landing and heading up the second flight.

I looked back and saw him.

I was taking the new black man Bishop, Festo Olang, upstairs to the Bishop's room. The Bishop's room was at the top of the house. Well, it seemed like the top of the house. It was up the stairs, past the master bedroom, past the sister's bedroom, past the brother's bedroom, past the bathroom and upstairs toilet and through the door. It took a long time to get there. Shorter if a friend was staying. A lot longer if there was a Bishop inside with his purple chest and purple leggings.

It would be someone's turn to go up, knock at the door and say, "Breakfast is ready", or "Here is your breakfast", trying to hold the tray still while he arranged himself in bed. And you were meant to say "My Lord", but I never did like saying it.

I looked back and saw the new black man Bishop. Saw him. Saw Him. God. For a moment I saw Him and He saw me, captured in the sunlight streaming through the stair window, captured, He, me, both of us for a moment, in the light.

And for a moment, a moment everlasting, in the light, I believed.

2

They wanted it to be simple. A plain white coffin for the little baby girl, dead and born. They wanted it to be just right.

The woman looked on. She was to have been mother, dressed in white, milky white, celebration clothes, no matter about body shape, shapeless, new mother shape.

She saw herself dressed in plain white, attempting to cover the bulk, flesh used, abandoned. No puking, mewling babny, milky mouthed to celebrate.

She watched the man, father, carry the little girl hiding in the body, tuck it under his arm. She wanted to hold the box. She wanted the little girl held.

She was born into the soft rain
lying underneath the trees
the colours of the pram
baubles.

She was born into the trees
weaving, waving their limbs
held by their arms, lanky
leggy arms.
The cradle rocks.
The world is quiet and alive.

The children rush around the house,
into the room, her room,
prodding her, poking her,
pinching her to wake.
She cries, cries out.

The mother comes.
The baby is awake,
snorting, snivelling, snorting, snorting.
She is awake.

Bring the darkness back
the softness
the soft dark warm fluid.

The mother comes to hold the baby
limbs are held and still falling
body is not whole, not held whole
separated limbs held up, not held.
They cannot hold all of her.

The mother's smell is too much
light is too bright, hurting bright,
The baby is taken out, shaken upside down,
noises loud, the loud hurts.

The woman listens to the outpouring of grief-words from the people, friends, standing under the trees in the warm air. She feels herself kneel down silently, no one hears, placing the smallest bear among the flowers, for the baby, for her little girl.

She moves with the procession, from grave to burning place, heavy longing in breasts - no lover sucking, suckling, tip of tongue showing, smile on up-turned face - feeling the weakness in her body, lagging behind.

People sing and weep. Waves of feeling wash within her, no names, no wetness.

The prayer man also watches. He watches the woman as he reaches his hand out to the burning switch. He watches for a sign of life. He stops, waits.

She feels the wave rise up from the depth of the ocean and pour out of her, voice deep, moaning, a great moan, crying out, a crescendo of sound in the silence, shattering the glass.

A moment of life
A moment of holding the little girl
feeling the arms empty
A moment of embracing this new lover
knowing she has gone

The prayer man stopped, waited, and when the waters had subsided, he, looking, holding her, holding all of her, reached out his hand and sent the little girl into the fire.

3

Those people, those black fellas, they know how to farewell. They know how to say goodbye, raging and raving, weeping and wailing. They know how to enter the darkness and walk out again into the light.

Someone dies and the call goes out. The family hear it and those old women hear it too. Somehow those old women hear about it and they come. They come noisily, calling out to the spirit, getting a hold on that spirit. They know how to talk to those spirits.

They call to them and tell them to go. Rude? Hey, when you're dead and gone you should go. But spirits are strange. Sometimes it seems they want to hang around, can't think what for. Sometimes feels like they want company, want everything, want to hang on in this life and the life after.

The women come, dressed in black, slipping into the darkness without being seen. They come, singing, chanting, calling "Go go. Leave leave". The song carries the spirit right up the island to the very tip, where the waters of two mighty oceans clash and crash into each other. They sing that spirit out and let the waves carry it to the resting place. The song has to be strong, it has to carry that spirit a long way.

There was once a woman called Miriam. She was never sure which life to live in, this one or the one after. One night she put her child in his bed, kissed him goodnight, even got him to say his prayers. She went out into the dark, leaving the light of the house, her husband sitting by the fire.

She drove down to the beach and parked. No one was around to see her attach a hose to the exhaust, turn the ignition on and idle into oblivion.

When she hit oblivion she didn't want to be there. It was as if she had arrived in the wrong place, taken a wrong turn. She couldn't keep going, not by herself and so she hung on to Louise.

Louise was driving to work at the time. She had been told about Miriam's death the previous evening. Miriam had been an acquaintance. Their relationship had been friendly but not close. To Louise, the death was more of a mystery than a loss.

Louise was holding the steering wheel with both hands, singing, and suddenly there was a car coming towards her. She pulled the wheel back and slowed right down, her heart pounding. She had almost run into an onÐcoming car. She went on her way, still slowly and her car veered towards the middle of the road again. It felt as if there were other hands on the wheel, another foot on the accelerator.

Louise got scared, didn't know what to do, thought she might be going mad. She might kill herself like Miriam. Miriam? She started thinking about Miriam. She stopped. She new she had to stop. Knew she didn't want to go this way or that. Knew she wanted to stay on the straight and narrow this time. Miriam. Was Miriam hanging on? Could she hang on? Why hang on to Louise?

Louise went to talk to the women. They told her it was Miriam. Louise would be good to hang onto. She'd be a good travelling companion in the dark.

They told her to light a candle and put it in the window. Miriam needed some light. She could use the candle in place of Louise. Louise need not be snuffed out. Not the right time. And they would meet each evening, for three evenings, as the light was fading to dark, and pray. Miriam had got lost but only as she was looking for a path. The prayers would call her, send her on her way.

I knew another woman who died. It was her time. The funeral directors made her look like someone she had never been. They couldn't hide death, although they did hide her smell, Chanel Number 5. They brought her back, all neat and tidy in her chosen coffin, to her very own bed. She lay in it. In state they call it. Not the kind of state I want to lie in. Not the kind of queen I want to be.

Her family and friends came to visit. Sometimes when no one else was there, I'd call in, sneak in to have a look. I wondered where the old women were. They hadn't come.

The next day was for the final laying to rest. The coffin was taken, closed up, hammered in tight, (as if the dead could rise up). I went with her to the church. Lots of people came to sing, but not that special song, not the women's call. The song wasn't right.

Then a man stood up, a black man, a Bishop. Asked if he could speak. He had been able to come at the last moment and he asked if he could speak. He stood up and spoke to us, spoke in his language, spoke to me. Then he turned and walked towards the spirit in the coffin. He spoke to that spirit woman, called her, sang that special song. He sang and sent her on her way.

In the darkness of that man there was a brilliant light streaming out of his voice, streaming out of his finger tips, reaching out, holding the spirit woman and farewelling her. Sending her on, forward, pushing her forward and out. "Go go. Leave leave."

And in the darkness of this woman there is a brilliant light streaming into her voice, streaming in through her finger tips, reaching, holding this flesh and bones woman and caressing her, sending her inward, pushing her down and in. Go go. Stay stay.


In the dark

I held him in my hands for a long time, just held him. And over time he fitted so easily into my hand, body, mouth, mind, memory. He could do whatever he liked.

It's wonderful to hold something in your hands. When it fits easily like a stone, a rosary bead, the holding is pleasure. But have you noticed that after a while, and it might be a good while, you want to put down what is held, place it somewhere else, get rid of it, throw it out and hold something else or nothing at all. Sometimes, well more truthfully often, it's good not to hold anything, to have your hands free.

Well I was holding him in my hands, and one day I put him down, in his chair, in front of the fire and walked out. Not out the front door, not out separation, divorce out, not that simple out, but out and into my room. I shut the door and contemplated the dark.

I've always been scared of the dark. When I woke in the dark wanting to go to the toilet I would call and call my mother. I knew even as a small girl that I was making her get out of a warm bed, climb out of her sleep to come to me. I knew it was a difficult climb but I made her do it. She would walk ahead, turning on lights. I would make her find the spiders and hating the death, get rid of them.

Once I walked along the road at night in a strange town with my sisters. We had been taken to the hot pool. My father had dropped us off. He was going to stay but had found someone to have a whisky with and that was preferable to being in bathers and showing his back, covered in hair, to the public. Now he was late. I could feel my mother getting anxious at home, knowing her husband would be late, with whisky on his breath. She'd have to say something to him. She'd have to use the twisting knife, go cold and busy herself with the children.

The night was dark. The wind got up and we were chased by sound, paper whirling, grasses spiralling, running after us, screaming. We were walking to get my father, quickly, so that we could get home and our mother would not have to cut, not have to go cold. We would have our mother and father together and warm.

My father did come and fear in us made us cut him before our mother did. We arrived home cold, frozen inside and out.

Our mother knew, but she never put my father down. She got sick and tired of the holding but she didn't quite know what to do, so she held on in a seemingly loose and really very tight way.

I have done what daughters must do. Daughters are born to take the next step. The step their mothers are not able to take. So, I put him down and contemplated the dark.

I want to see the dark, be cat like, un-afraid, trusting of my footsteps as they enter the unknown world. I want to name it, stand up and name it. See what I see. Not bring it to the light, for that would lighten, brighten what I see.

Once I thought stories were about love. Now I think they're about light and dark and loving is incidental.


New: 18 April, 1996 | Now: 11 April, 2015