“Picking Up the Pieces”

Maroula Blades
  • A deaf and mute woman named Adesanya watches her children and husband playing across a river as a landslide erupts. She wants to shout a warning, but has no voice. The remains of her loved ones are still buried under earth and rubble.
8 min read

Adesanya’s sunken eyes show shadows and fire. The wet earth opens and moves under foot. Behind the log cabin, beyond the stone ridge, stands a grey wind-whipped landscape; it tumbles like a deck of cards. A free-falling disaster charges in gravity’s call, subdividing into quick-moving paths. Pylons as if toys inch down from high ground. Sparks digest the air, trees become burnt offerings. Dense smoke curdles the clouds.

Adesanya runs in the bleak. Her hair catches marl and flames. Rain quenches the torched silver-grey mass just before the roots ignite. She squints in the pain. A deaf mute can only feel, see, touch, and smell trouble. She stops in a clearing as her memory beats in with the past, bringing her to kneel on the wet ground. Life’s reoccurring patterns swing around her, suffocating her as she trudges through repressed memories. She tries to pick out the frayed and frail threads of her life. Adesanya bangs her head twice on the ground, searching answers, eager for closure and peace.

How she wished for a voice to scream a warning back in spring 2010 to her family playing on the other side of the stream. Their glistening Black backs were toward her as they swung from old tires attached to conifer trees. Adesanya had seen it all happening from the stream where she had caught rainbow trout in the morning.

She was sitting on a large rock admiring the cerulean water. Storm clouds gathered above her. Daylight dimmed. As Adesanya looked up, the clouds broke. Her face caught the first raindrops, soon after a downpour began and earth sunk. Giant boulders broke off from the top of the mountain. She tried to scream the word ‘run’. She threw rocks in the water, but the effect was an imaginary ripple over the eardrum.

Adesanya froze as debris plummeted toward her. The sound of ruin shot through the land. Her foothold became unsteady. She scrambled into thickets; nettles clawed her ebony skin. Blood seeped. She released a whimpering sound. Tear ducts erupted. Branches snagged her clothes and tore off the black horn buttons from her coat; as she ran, she trampled them into the soil, the earth spat them back up again.

Everything moved, nudging her from every angle, trying to bully her into submission. On the brink of exhaustion, she came upon a dilapidated shack under a rock precipice and took refuge. The storm raged. A hard impact was inevitable. Adesanya had hoped for the best, but hope turned sour in the waiting and then drowned in a pool of tears.

Two badgers tried to keep her company then; aggressive beasts and territorial. She was not ready to adopt stragglers, so she armed herself with a stick from a sapling growing in the shack. Afraid, Adesanya poked one that came too close. She watched the blood trickle over the badger’s nose, where it split into two streams to pour down the sides of its mouth. The dripping animal left, running into the storm with its mate following. Red stains tainted the ground. Adesanya drew circles in the blood with the stick and then blotted the ovals with leaves. This was a useless thing to do. Time passed.

A year later, during the bitter evenings, Adesanya painted red rings on leaves, made cloth muzzles from sacking and cages from wood. Sewing eased her aching, stitch-by-stitch. Problems still confronted her daily, plagued by a series of panic attacks that rendered her motionless for a spell on the floor. Milk still flowed from her breasts. In a mechanical motion, she siphoned off the fluid; it flowed into a plastic bottle. She hated the bottled milk and discarded it. It floated a while in a stream and then sunk.

One night as Adesanya was discharging her milk, she saw teardrop-shaped lights floating above a bough in the silver birch outside her window. They were so close she could almost touch them. The bark of the tree shimmered under the full-blown moon. She knew her mind cooked up the illusion, but still, she interpreted this image as a divine sign. The souls of her children comforted her. Adesanya rolled the lukewarm bottle of milk over pallid cheeks and then sat looking in awe at the pearly vessel. The lights faded into the night. Numbness left the center of her heart.

The next morning, Adesanya became a nurse for every four-legged animal in need of care and a home. She offered them a safe passage to health and freedom, and in return, they befriended her. They all aged together. When Adesanya found her pet friends dead in the woods, she buried them and pushed white stones into the earth. She lost tears while patting down the soil. A homemade repellent made from rancid cheese, pepper, and urine was then sprayed over the earth to deter predators from ransacking the graves. This was something she could never do for her family who were buried somewhere below tons of rubble.

After each burial, she dashed to wash her hands and face in the nearby stream. She loved pure water. How she longed for her conscience to be the mirror image of it, transparent and innocent, devoid of pollution. Guilt and despair were her long-term companions.

She reflected on the meaning of her name, Adesanya, Yoruba in origin; it means: Rewards my suffering. Adesanya sought hard for the remains of her family, but the search yielded nothing. With each passing year, her jet-black hair became ash-colored and knotted. Dreadlocks grew to the small of her back. As she dug the animal graves, the locks stroked the earth.

Daily with her bare hands and a rusty wheelbarrow, she tried to clear the stream of the landslide rubble. It was a mammoth task, but the cloudiness dissolved, and the trout returned to lay eggs. Work still needed to be done, but Adesanya’s strength waned by rebuilding her log cabin. The 2010 storm reduced the home to a pile of logs. She would never abandon it, the holiday retreat where she and her family communed with nature. In the spring, the area was alive, thriving with green canopies. Crisp buds attracted butterflies to snoop in between their knotted layers. A bustling city could never stand up to the fresh soil and bark of a forest.

Adesanya regains her survival instincts. She punches the earth with a clenched fist and lifts from the dank ground. The painful memories leave. She is on the move again, limbs stretched out to cut through a dusty mushroom cloud that has caved in on her. Intuitively, she runs and runs; the final destination in her mind’s eye is always in view in times like these. Her safe shelter for years is the shack which now resembles a fence around a tree. Inside is a cellar full of millipedes, moths, and snails. Here she will sit out the storm. A plump provision of functional foods, bundled up in a white blanket is slung across her back.

She submerges in the darkness to a place in the cellar that houses an old paraffin heater; it also serves as a stove. She lights a torch at the bottom of the steps, and then the thick beeswax candles dotted around the room. An oak leaf with a red Yoruba adaptability symbol is tacked in the middle of each candle. She cuts sprigs from the tree and places them in a metal cup on the table.

Adesanya wraps the blanket around her body; she resembles an Iyawo; a “bride of the Orisha.” She spins on the spot with her arms outstretched. The air is musty, smelling of decay. Mildewed photographs in battered frames sit on a rickety table. They show a family of two small children, a man and a woman in their prime, enjoying a spring picnic in a basin of wildflowers. The trauma of loss solidifies in the soiled clothes draped on the walls. A child’s satchel bulging full of white stones hangs on a hook. Rain patters through the ceiling; it stains the beige leather.

Adesanya’s rubber boots are ankle-high in sludge. Each step gurgles, but she can only see the mud oozing over the robust footwear. She will have to sleep sitting upright on a stool where a fungus grows on the legs. Like in the past, time will move like a slug. Adesanya will weep in the waiting while the waters recede, and earth and dust settle. Stones are counted, recounted, and placed back in the satchel.

Five days later, the sun filters in through the waterlogged boards. Shafts of light give a supernatural glow to a tiny purple dress and a pair of blue rompers hanging from rusty nails. Cocoons decorate the garments. Soon sky-blue butterflies will emerge with four black eyes etched on the delicate wings. Adesanya smiles.

She creeps out of the pit with the blanket tied around her neck; it trails. Her marl-caked face presses into the shine of the sun. The sky is cobalt blue. Her sore scabby scalp has fine silver hairs on it. Adesanya’s muddy hands open like sepals; it’s spring.

The earth is still, but breathes through the change. Life pushes up through the soil. Adesanya stretches her neck; the sun saturates her head. She radiates, feeding like a fresh corolla bathing in sunlight. Freedom, she breathes deep and steady. Her mind is tranquil and open.

With a meditative gaze, her eyes examine the subtle nuances of the land’s transformation. In the distance, only a roof stands where Adesanya’s cabin once stood. The terrain is cracked. She shrugs her shoulders and walks with a purpose toward the ruin, picking up colored stones on the way. Sunbeams dance around her, weaving between lush blades of grass and fallen trees. She thinks it’s never too late to pick up the pieces.

 

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