by Darlene Taylor
I tried to sleep by the river but the sound of running kept me awake. It reminded me of feet kicking my body, of dirt in my mouth. Rain fell like my sister Mona’s tears - still it was not enough to wash away my family’s shame. My shame. I collected water in a gourd and covered it with sticks.
I sat by the river where no one could see me. I heard the sound of children’s laughter moving towards me. Their voices made me happy. I listened and watched, looking for my sister Mona’s face. I always think of Mona, a girl, just two years younger than me, waiting her turn to grow up, to be married.
The last time I saw Mona I was bleeding. She wiped my legs clean with her headscarf. She sniffled: Sister, you will be fine. Her eyes were red and tears ran down her cheeks. Mona loved me. She protested when a crowd of angry men shouted at me. It was rape, she screamed, waving a balled fist. Still the men spat and dragged me away. Their hands were rough, their words dirty. Haram, they said to each other. Sinful. It sounded like one voice, a chant. I couldn't tell who was speaking. Was it two men or six? Their voices grew loud as a giant bell. Dahlia, Mona cried, doubled over, her shoulders shaking. Standing between the two trees that led to what used to be home; she hung her head as I walked away. With every step, I coughed to clear the dust out of my mouth and remembered Mona’s sad shoulders.
By the river, I followed the children’s laughter until they reached the boaboa tree. They reminded me of the games that Mona played as they swung their arms and spun in circles. As I came closer, one nearly fell against me losing control of her spin. The others bent over giggling. I laughed with them. When they raised their hands to get at a bird’s nest they couldn’t reach, I brought the nest down closer and showed the littlest one a speckled egg, hardly bigger than a pea. I rolled the egg gently with my fingertip. The shell was thin and my hands, clumsy. The egg fell next to my feet. I kicked dirt over the sticky yolk and returned the nest to the tree.
Someone called out: Sarah! The first girl to whip her head around and wave was also the smallest. Moments ago, the end of her floral scarf briefly brushed against mine while we looked at the egg. Mother, she said, running to a woman carrying a basket on her head. A baby boy’s brown face peeked around the woman’s shoulder. Sarah touched the baby’s fingertips and walked off holding the woman’s hand; she did not say goodbye before leaving.
When night came I made my bed by the river and tried to sleep. A nomad, I recited the names of my ancestors, counted stars, and asked for forgiveness. I asked for Mona.
Darlene R. Taylor is a writer and public affairs professional committed to helping communities and individuals thrive. She heads a national cultural heritage nonprofit and lovingly cares for a 1860s home. As a fiction writer, she applies that skill in storytelling. Darlene recently completed Eve’s Eyes, a work of fiction set in 18th century France and is a former writing fellow of Callaloo, the Zora Neal Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation and the North Country Institute for Writers of Color at Medgar Evers College.