Edition 20: Nne: Mother by Shawn Frazier
Fa’izah dreams of the mother who disappeared out of her life into the forest long ago. Her father has never stopped searching. Seeking her mother out in her dreams, Fa’izah encounters more than she bargains for. SY
Each time Father went to West Africa—Igerbian—he searched for my missing Mother. A remote land surrounded by rivers, valleys and rainbows, where fog blanketed the water. Don’t look for it on a map; you won’t find it. Father brought many things back, but never her. He found her brown sandals, a red scarf and an untouched white sundress hanging on a coco tree in the forest. The last time Father went, he never returned.
I went to Igerbian without ever leaving my bedroom in New York. I made a pot of soup—just like Mother taught me when I was a young girl—and placed it beside my bed. Inside the pot was a liana; a long woody vine that is hollow and native Nigeria. I brought it at the African market on 116 Street. The stems were dry, unhealthy, but I had nothing else to use.
Liana grows in the tropical forest and ensnares other plants. It is too complicated for the white man to understand, so they ignore it. The vine grows unpredictably and is known throughout West Africa for its wondrous abilities.
I chopped and boiled it in a huge black pot; it must be in a black pot. Before going to sleep, I wrapped my mother’s red scarf around my head and dressed myself in her white sundress—the one Father found. I placed the black pot beside my bed. My spirit flew upwards, through thick gray smoke, before landing safely in Igerbian—a place I have not visited in years.
Backlit by the moon, I saw a brick structure built in the middle of town: tall, brick cylindrical, spewing sticky tar fumes. Near to the path Mother disappeared on, I covered my nose and carried on my journey, smoke twisting about me; black fog battling the moon.
I was in awe of this magick the liana gave me, though it was only temporary. Fireflies lit my path through the vibrant indigo and emerald woods. I held out my hand, hoping a firefly would land on my thin wrist, but it flew through it. My red scarf moved like the waves in an ocean against my skin when I walked.
Five soldiers carrying backpacks, holding rifles, jogged past in single file. They disappeared behind the bushes leading to NeverGo Road. I followed, my feet floating above grasses, weeds and other plants growing. A leopard charged at me, falling into a bush that stood behind me.
The soldiers turned to see what caused the commotion. Why owls turned their necks and squawked. Why bats spun dazed in the air.
The soldiers saw nothing.
In the highest branch of a coco tree, the owl’s eyes were full with the moon. The soldiers continued tip-toeing down NeverGo, unaware of me floating around them. As I passed, I noticed the salt and pepper hair and beard. My father.
Years ago, Mother and three other women ran down the path of NeverGo. Her red headscarf became a tiny dot, growing smaller and smaller until she disappeared.
I was forbidden to go down that road. Girls who walked down that road never returned home.
A soft, melodic voice called out from the forest. I still remember the song that floated in the air—come join us.
I fought not to join the women that day, scared of what would happen. I was stronger than the women; I resisted the soft crooning that lured them from their homes. Covering my ears with both hands, I yelled for help, just as every girl was taught to when the soft voice calls.
Once in Igerbian, locusts ravaged crops and made our plates empty. The women came to the NeverGo, looking for food, but they never returned. Was this why? For it was beauty that lived in this place, hidden from all the horror that war had caused. A wealth of life and food lay buried beneath this peaceful place.
Deeper along the NeverGo, zebras with red, blue, and yellow stripes pranced amongst the trees. Fruit of every kind grew and dangled from low-hanging branches. Winds rustled the leaves over the occasional footsteps of a giraffe or elephant still proudly bearing its ivory tusks. How peaceful they must be in the day, basking under the sun.
The further the soldiers and I went into the forest the darker it became, but the moon illuminated our path. Trees were thicker and rounder than any I had ever seen. Yellow colored moss covered up the bark. A slight hunger grew in me and knew my time would come to an end here. Berries fell off one tree, raining on me and suddenly, my stomach felt as if it were full of berries. I wanted to wait under the tree like a fox, but I couldn’t wait.
I felt powerful and free.
In this place, I didn’t need to worry about Father saying, “Fa’izah, cover your hair.”
I hated covering my hair when I went to school.
“When I have returned with your mother…”
“For years you have walked into that forest bringing back things she lost, but never her. Let me move on. Going back and forth to that place has made me forget what’s in front of me here.”
“I expected staying in New York would change you. All of this will stop once I return from Igerbian.”
“No, Father!” I shouted.
All five men turned, pointing their rifles at nothing. They continued on their path, until they came upon Mother.
My mother stood beneath the foliage, eating an apple. Garlands of rifles, with skeleton hands still holding their weapons, adorn the tree branches. Skulls partially swallowed in the growth of the tree. I longed so very much to touch Mother, remembering how she used to rub me with shea butter. Spewed hair and nipples firm, erect; her indigo skin flawless. Milk oozed and dripped from each of her black nipples.
“Your body! You haven’t aged a day since I last saw you.” Father reached out to touch Mother, but she moved away.
“We…I mean I finally found you.” Father turned and signaled to the men. “For years, I looked for you, but this forest is like a maze.”
All around her, the other women of Igerbian gathered, those who fled years ago, looking as young and vibrant as the day they departed.
Slowly, Father walked in awe to my long lost mother. Holding a blanket from his knapsack, Father tried to cover up Mother’s naked body. She resisted.
“A child who has no mother, will not have scars to show on his back,” he said. “Please, come.”
“You go back and put them there yourself.”
Father’s expression was appalled. For years, he had searched and traveled throughout the vast wilderness to save her. For what? To be slashed by her tongue.
“Come here now!” he shouted, scaring birds from their nests.
A single apple dangled over Mother, while birds searched for a quieter place to rest.
“When a ripe fruit sees an honest man it drops.” Mother pointed to the last apple hanging above her.
“This place has made you ill.”
Father nodded to the men and they began pulling weapons from their knapsacks. Father tore the apple down with his long blade. A snake hiding in the tree hissed, and plunged its fangs into his cheek.
“You all had husbands and children once, or did you forget?” a soldier shouted, picking up my father who bled from his face.
Half the men attended to my injured Father, while the other half attempted to subdue Mother. Once more, she pulled away, even knocking one of the men down.
“Nne doesn’t hold us here against our will,” Mother proudly declared.
The men stared at her, bewildered. Father lay on the grass, while the men played nurse with him.
I wondered…Was this why they told women never to go here? So we could continue in Igerbian, herded like cattle? Was this what men were angry about? Seeing women leave them with a family to raise, as was done so often to women around the world. To see women that did not need men for their happiness.
“Leave! She will be angry to see any male in her home!”
“No. We will not let a woman tell us what we can do!” a solider yelled, holding a towel to my father’s cheek.
“And I want no man to tell me what I can do.”
“You talk foolishness because of this place.”
Behind mother, Nne emerged. She appeared amidst entangled branches from behind the tree where my Mother stood.
Nne’s lower body had four legs with black fur, full and silky, like a stallion. Her torso was bare, except for a string of human skulls hanging around her neck like pearls. Each arm was thick as an oak branch. Acorns, pinecones, twigs, leaves and flowers decorated her tresses. Nne’s hooves shook the ground as she walked. Her shriek echoed through the forest around us.
Women emerged from the bushes, surrounding Nne. They looked like mother: each one young, beautiful, vibrant. Nne’s braided tail swayed back and forth, while she eyed each man bold enough to invade her territory with fury. Her eyes radiated green until they turned blood red.
The men didn’t seem surprised to see her; like me, they must have remembered stories from the elders about how they lost their wives to Nne.
A terrifying scream rang out. A fire ignited, where one of the men had thrown a lighted can into a bush. It soared in the air like a falling star.
The women charged.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.
When I awoke, my body was covered in sweat. I looked inside the black pot—it was empty. I felt as if I had walked all night, my legs wobbly when I tried to stand and walk.
My head…I heard a voice, but did not know who it was. Mother? Yes, it is her. I can hear her.
Where is father, I ask her?
I drank water from the kitchen faucet, without using a cup, letting the cold water splash over my face, washing away the sweat. Covered in the stickiness of cooling sweat, I undressed and went to shower. The damp sundress and red scarf I left on the kitchen floor.
When I am alone sometimes, I hear my mother’s voice calling me. Three times a week I go to counseling and take pills that are thicker than peppermint balls. I’m unable to get rid of her voice. At nights, I cover my ears with both hands to try and keep her away, but I still hear her.
Each day, Mother’s voice grows stronger, overpowering with the peppermint candy the doctor fills me with.
Mother calls me to join her, but I could ever again call Igerbian home again.
My freedom resides here.
Shawn Frazier is an African-American writer living in Harlem, NYC. After completing his MFA in fiction, Shawn continued to hone his craft at writing workshops: at Taos Writers Tool Box with Nancy Kress and Walter Jon Williams, Callaloo fiction workshop with Josh Weil and the Hurston/Wright Workshop with Marita Golden. In 2015, Shawn will attend a writing workshop with Kij Johnson.
Shawn is completing his first novel, The Wizard of Darlington. A chapter was published by Quail Bell: http://www.quailbellmagazine.com/the-unreal/short-story-the-hoodoo-nigger
His story, Jacob and The Owl won the Mary Shelly Contest and was published in Rose Bud Magazine: http://www.rsbd.net/NEW/index.php?option=com_linx&Itemid=61
He received an honorable mention in a short fiction contest in Ragazine Magazine.