GRACE, IS GRACE, YES. And I take it, quiet, quiet, like thiefing sugar. From the word she speak to me and the sweat running down she in that sun, one afternoon as I look up saying to myself, how many more days these poor feet of mine can take this field, these blades of cane like razor, this sun like coal pot. Long as you have to eat, girl. I look up. That woman like a drink of cool water. The four o’clock light thinning she dress, she back good and strong, the sweat raining off in that moment when I look and she snap she head around, that wide mouth blowing a wave of tiredness away, pulling in one big breath of air, them big white teeth, she, falling to the work again, she, falling into the four o’clock sunlight. I see she. Hot, cool and wet. I sink the machete in my foot, careless, blood blooming in the stalks of cane, a sweet ripe smell wash me faint. With pain. Wash the field, spinning green mile after green mile around she. See she sweat, sweet like sugar.
I never wanted nothing big from the world. Who is me to want anything big or small. Who is me to think I is something. I born to clean Isaiah’ house and work cane since I was a child and say what you want Isaiah feed me and all I have to do is lay down under him in the night and work the cane in the day. It have plenty woman waiting their whole blessed life for that and what make me turn woman and leave it I don’t know, but it come. Bad spirit they say, bad spirit or blessed, it come, what make me notice Verlia’ face spraying sweat in the four o’clock heat.
Because you see I know I was going to lose something, because Verl was surer than anything I see before, surer than the day I get born, because nothing ever happen to me until Verl come along and when Verl come along I see my chance out of what ordinary, out of the plenty day when all it have for a woman to do is lie down and let a man beat against she body, and work cane and chop up she foot and make children and choke on the dryness in she chest and have only one road in and the same road out and know that she tied to the ground and can never lift up. And it wasn’t nothing Verl do or say or even what Verl was or what Verl wanted because even now I can’t swear but is just that I see Verl coming, like a shower of rain coming that could just wash me cool and that was sufficient and if God spite me for this, is so things is.
I abandon everything for Verlia. I sink in Verlia and let she flesh swallow me up. I devour she. She open me up like any morning. Limp, limp and rain light, soft to the marrow. She make me wet. She tongue scorching like hot sun. I love that shudder between her legs, love the plain wash and sea of her, the swell and bloom of her softness. And is all. And if is all I could do on the earth, is all.
She would say, “Open your eyes, I want to see what you’re feeling.” I don’t know what she see in my eyes but she stare into me until I break. Her look say, “Elizete, you is bigger than me by millennia and you can hold me between your legs like rock hold water. You are wearing me away like years and I wonder if you can see me beyond rock and beyond water as something human that need to eat and can die, even as you dive into me today like a fish and want nothing or so you say.” Something say to me, Elizete, you is not big enough for nothing you done live and Verlia is your grace.
Isaiah gone mad catching me lying underneath Verlia, and even the sure killing in him couldn’t sweep me away from the sweetness of her. I didn’t even raise my head. I finished loving Verlia taking she face and she skin black as water in my hand so I was to remember what I lose something for. I never see him after that. They say he sit under a fishing net in Las Cuevas now and he talk to himself, they say he don’t remember me but call out the name of the Venezuelan woman what first was his wife and what make him carry she fishing one night and when day break she was not there. They say he is like a jumbie, and is best for me and he to leave that way for it have too much between we, and is vindication what make him open the door. Isaiah was a hard man, a hard man down to his skin. Is best I didn’t kill him as I plan, is best I didn’t pour the milk of buttercups in his eyes and blind him, is best I didn’t sling his neck off, is best I didn’t rub his head with killing root. Is best I see this woman when I raise up in my swing, when the sweat was falling like rain from she. I say is grace the way it happen and is grace.
He and me story done right there, one time. It have nothing to say else about it.
Everything make sense from then the way flesh make sense settling into blood. I think to myself how I must be was sleeping all this time. I must be was in a trance because it was as if Verl wake me up to say, “Girl, put on your clothes. Let we go now.” It have ways of trancing people and turning them against they very self and I suspect Isaiah now with his prayer book and his plait hair but I have no time with him. I suspect the woman I grow with and she hands that can’t stop growing things. I suspect the cane. I suspect Moriah. I suspect my life. I suspect the moon. Everything. What don’t meet you don’t pass you.
Verl was sure. Sure of everything. And sure like that was not something in my life. I was sure that I would wake up each day, I was sure that I had to work cane, I was sure that the man they give me to was Isaiah Ferdinand. I was sure that he would illtreat me. I was sure that each night I would dream of miles of cane waving. Things like this. I was sure iguana would be thirsty enough to cross the road if the dry season was too long, I was sure birds would fly across the house in the morning. I was sure of what anybody would be sure of. Spite, hunger, rain. But Verl is sure of what she make in her own mind and what she make didn’t always exist.
I like it how she leap. Run in the air without moving. I watch she make she way around we as if she was from here, all the time moving faster than the last thing she say. It come so I know where she standing in the field without looking for she. Because she moving, moving, moving all the time without moving. If I didn’t like it she would frighten me.
There is a heat that looks like glass waving if you make your eyes look far. Everybody didn’t like that moving but everybody eyes was on she the first time she come. She was walking in that heat and we was all in the shed eating. Some was laying down for the while and she reach and start busy busy giving out papers. She look like the transport drop she by the junction and she walk in. People get up and start going but the old ones listen to she. I know why they listen. Is not often that some young one with soft hands and skin smelling of the kind of sweat they make in the town come talking to them. They touch up she clothes and she hands and she face and say “Who child is you?”They play with she and kiss she up. And it give them a softness like how they might have been if they live in town and if they had money and if their life was different. They give she water and they give she fry fish. They tell she don’t drink fast. They love it when she just eat as if she don’t scorn them but they laugh when she say what she want. They laugh long. And then they hush.
Nobody here can remember when they wasn’t here. I come here with Isaiah. He show me the room and he show me the washtub and he show me the fire and he show me the road. He tell me never let him catch me at the junction. I didn’t believe him but I find out soon when I catch the end of his whip. That was long time now. No need to remember. I don’t even remember when I stop trying to run away, stop trying to make that junction. It was long. He would always be at that junction when I get there. I tried for a long time. I think to myself one day he is going to miss, one day. One day when he think I train, he is going to miss. But I stop. He get his way. When I see that it was his play, I resign. He stop watching me but then I could not remember why I was trying to get there. Didn’t have no place to go anyway when I think of it. Trying to get to the junction so much I forget where I was going. I know every track leading to it but when I get there and see Isaiah, it come like he was the end of it. I used to have some place in mind I know but… One time, I plotting my way through the mangle, one of these old ones I never expect ask me “Where you running running so all the time?” The spite of the thing hit me and it take me by surprise, and I suppose I didn’t have nowhere in mind except not here. Cold water just run in my feet then. You trust old people to know better. Why they wouldn’t want good for me? If you can’t see a way for yourself, see it for somebody else nah? So all of that is how I wear away.
Not a bone in she like that. Verlia. Hatred and anger, but not spite. Spite is loving to see people suffer. She say to me that you could get used to suffering. She say is what curve we back to the cane. Is all we know. Hatred you could out and out deal with, and anger, but not spite. It was her speed though, the way she could make the junction still standing in front of you, the way she could move fast in she head. People say this is not people to trust, people who know what you saying before you say it, people hurrying you up to move, them kinda people busy busy going someplace soon but I was ready for Verlia. She get send for me.
She was burning. You could see she burning bright. Before you know it they making sweet bread for she, before you know it washtub full of ice cream done plan. Before you know it she invite for Sunday. I suppose not only me see rescue when she reach.
I used to wonder who she went home to; watch she walk to the junction in the evening half dead and wonder if her quickness fall away on the transport, wondered if she was the same in town, what she kitchen smell like, and if she plant okra and what she think. Soon I was only wondering about she. I watch she disappear up the junction and I wait for she to break it in the mornings. Is nothing that draw me to she but that and the way she want nothing from me and the way she brand new and come from another life.
After the woman I lived with die on me I was given to Isaiah. She passed on when I was not yet a young lady. It seem to me that one day I wake up under Isaiah. Isaiah ride me every night. I was a horse for his jumbie. His face was like the dead over me on the floor when he cry out for the woman who leave him as he ride me to hell. Each night I hear him say these words as if I should pity him. “When I meet that Venezuelan woman it was the last day of my life. She sail me like a ship. That woman could tell stories. It was through one of her tales that I arrived at this sandpit with my back breaking and my eyes burning with this sweat, with her fine clothes and her fine ideas; I laid every brick on that stone house where she take man in front of me. My hair turn red and I never scream in this place yet.” With that he ride me again. These times I wander, I turn my head to the wall and travel in the dust tunnels of wood lice. I cover my self in their fine, fine sand, I slide through the tunnel and I see all where I have to go, and I try to reach where they live and I try to be like them because try as I did when I was little I never see one of them yet only the rifts on the walls. Is so they work in secret and in their own company. Is so I travel the walls of this room catching hell and Isaiah’ advantage till morning. I dream every day to break a shovel over his head which he plait in braids for he read in the Bible that he should not cut his hair. Every evening when they was in season he would climb the land above the quarry to pick cashew fruit and nuts. I would stand at the bottom looking at him hoping that the bitter juice from the fruit burn him to death for I know that it is poison. I carried a mountain inside of me. The thought of him and his hardness cut at the red stone in me from sun-up to sundown. I went in the evenings after work to the sand quarry while he sleep. The salmon dank sides rise up around me and I was silent there. It was a place where I had peace, or I wouldn’t call it peace but calm, and I shovelled, the sweat drizzling from my body as I think and think of escaping him. I did not sympathize with him, no matter what he said that red woman do to him. What she make him eat, how she tie his mind. It could not compensate for what he do to me. There in the damp, it make me calm, calm, calm and hollow inside me. If I dig enough it cool me and take my mind off the junction. I feel my body full up and burst. All my skin split. Until I was so tired I could not run. I dream of running though, to Aruba or Maracaibo. I hear about these place. Yes, Maracaibo. I love the sound of it yet I have never seen it. I dream of taking his neck with a cutlass and running to Maracaibo, yes. I imagine it as a place with thick and dense vine and alive like veins under my feet. I dream the vine, green and plump, blood running through it and me too running running, spilling blood. Vine like rope under my feet, vine strapping my legs and opening when I walk. Is like nowhere else. I destroying anything in my way. I want it to be peaceful there. The air behind me close thick as mist whenever I move and Maracaibo open rough and green and dense again. I dream I spit milk each time my mouth open. My stomach will swell and vines will burst out. I dream it is a place where a woman can live after she done take the neck of a man. Fearless. I dream my eyes, black and steady in my black face and never close. I will wear a black skirt, shapely like a wing and down to my toes. I will fly to Maracaibo in it and you will see nothing of me but my black eyes in my black face and my black skirt swirling over thick living vine. I dream of flying in my skirt to Maracaibo. I want to go to Maracaibo if it is the last thing I do. This black skirt will melt like soot if it get touched. And my face too. One day I will do it, for Isaiah don’t know my mind in this. He too busy in his own mind now. He make his heart too hard to know anyone else. One day I will done calculate him.
The time in between as I say I don’t remember but it must have been there because by the time I recognize myself I was a big woman and the devil was riding me. How I reach here is one skill I learn hard. The skill of forgetfulness. So I shovel in this pit from morning till night, cut cane when it in season and lie under this man at night until one day I see this woman talking, talking like she know what she is saying and everybody around listening. I walk past because I have no time for no woman talking. It don’t mean nothing. It don’t matter what woman say in the world, take it from, me. This woman with her mouth flying. .. cheups. I hear something about co-operative. Black people could ever cooperate? This little girl too fast again. Her mouth too fast, she tongue flying ahead of sheself. Face plain as day, mouth like a ripe mango and teeth, teeth like a horse. I en’t talk to she then. They tell me she is for the revo, that she is for taking all the land and giving it to people who work it all their life. Revolution, my ass. Let foolish old people believe she. Is only them have time to sit down and get wrap up in her mouth and think Oliviere and them will let go any land. Is only one thing will fix Oliviere and them and is the devil because them is the devil’ son self. I pass by her going my way and didn’t that woman skin she big teeth for me and look at me so clear is as if she see all my mind clear through to Maracaibo. Her look say, “I know you. I know you plan to sling off a man’ neck and go to Maracaibo.” I brazen she look and I pass she straight. Smelling vetiver and salt, fresh ironed clothes I pass she. Nobody from no town coming to look me in my face so. Nobody coming here to tell me what I done know. Anything she do could help me? Who she think she is come preaching here? Revolution, my backside. Then, she say “Sister.” And I could not tell if it was a breeze passing in that heat-still day or if I hear the word. “Sister.” I know I hear it, murmuring just enough to seem as if it was said but not something that only have sense in saying. I know I hear it silver, silver clinking like bracelets when a woman lift her arm to comb hair. Silvery, silvery the wind take it. It hum low and touch everything on the road. Things in me. I feel it cuff my back. I have to take air. A spirit in the road. It make a silence. It feel like rum going through my throat, warm and violent so the breath of her mouth brush my ear. Sweet sweet, my tongue sweet to answer she and it surprise me how I want to touch she teeth and hold she mouth on that word. I keep walking. I don’t answer. But I regret every minute until I see she next.
The next time she come playing she trying to swing cutlass with she mouth moving as fast as you please about strike. Strike and demand a share in the estate. Well, look at bold face. We navel string bury here, she say, and we mother and we father and everybody before them. Oliviere use it up like manure for the cane, and what we get, one barrack room and credit in he store until we owe he more than he owe we, and is thief he thief this place in the first place. The people listen to she and smile because they know she make sense but she don’t know what a hard people these Oliviere is. Is not just people navel string bury here is their shame and their body. They churn that up in the soil here too. It have people they just shoot and leave for corbeau to eat them. What left make the cane fat and juicy. She come from town and God knows where light, light and easy so. She not ready yet. One for she, she work hard. She body en’t make for this, well who body make for it, but she do it.
She break my swing. It was the quiet. When I get used to she talking as I bend into the cane, when I done add she up for the swing so I wouldn’t miss doing how much I need to do to make the quota, when I make she voice count in the stroke, I don’t hear she no more. I swing up. What she doing now, like she tired talk at last. Good Lord! I say to myself, God wasn’t joking when he make you girl. She was in front of me, staring my way, sweating as if she come out of a river. She was brilliant. I could see she head running ahead of we, she eyes done cut all the cane, she is not here, she dreaming of things we don’t dream. I wanted to touch the shine of her, to dry off she whole body and say “Don’t work it so hard,” show she how to swing, how to tie up she waist so that she back would last, shield she legs so that the sheaf wouldn’t cut. That is the first time I feel like licking she neck. She looked like the young in me, the not beaten down and bruised, the not pounded between my legs, the not lost my mother, the not raped, the not blooded, the not tired. She looked like me fresh, fresh, searching for good luck tea, leave my house broom, come by here weed. It ease me. It sweet sweet. A woman can be a bridge, limber and living, breathless, because she don’t know where the bridge might lead, she don’t need no assurance except that it would lead out with certainty, no assurance except the arch and disappearance. At the end it might be the uptake of air, the chasm of what she don’t know, the sweep and soar of sheself unhandled, making sheself a way to cross over. A woman can be a bridge from these bodies whipping cane. A way to cross over. I see in she face how she believe. She glance quick as if unimportant things was in she way, like Oliviere, like fright. She eyes move as if she was busy going somewhere, busy seeing something and all this cane all this whipping and lashing was a hindrance. Then like a purposeful accident she eyes rest on me, and she face open, them big teeth push out to laugh for me, sweat flying, she fall again to the cutlass.
Copyright ” 1996 by Dionne Brand. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.