I heard a scream that made my heart stop! The type of scream that tells you something is very, very wrong. The scream of heart-wrenching pain. Of death. I was quietly reading when I heart it; sitting in the corner of the bamboo couch closest to the window that overlooks the front of the house and the neighbours’ properties across the street. It was a still morning, peaceful, with only the song of routine life’s rhythms playing in the background: roosters crowing, dogs barking here and there, the vroooom of a distant car, even the faint sounds of workmen hammering at some unseen worksite. A light, gentle breeze blew through the open window that overlooks the front of the house and the neighbours’ properties. This is my morning spot! With a book (or newspaper) and tea (or water) I pass the morning hours in quiet leisure.
The sounds from the neighbour across the street, Mango I call him, were louder than usual that day. Mango was home (he’s not usually home in the mornings) and was in a rather disagreeable mood. Earlier, before I settled into my spot, he quarreled with the young lady that lives at the house. It’s difficult to tell what relations she is. She looks young enough to be his daughter but she could be niece, cousin, wife… one never knows. In my two weeks here I’d gathered that Mango was the only male living in that house… and I counted at least six female inhabitants already – two women and the others ranging from baby to young lady. Anyway Mango’s ire was primarily directed at the young lady and I took notice of their day unfolding just in time to see him strike her hard across her lower back with a piece of wood. She cried out and crouched in a ball of sorts against the house’s wall. He struck her twice before she managed to run off further into the yard, to the section closed to my eyes by the heavily ladened mango tree. It was in observing that scene that I realized that Mango was home, and in a bad mood. The other inhabitants of the house went about their day’s routine without noticing Mango’s assault on Young Lady and, 10 minutes later, she reappeared and seemed not to notice either.
And so it was, with the half awareness of Mango and company that I settled down with a new book, my third that week, Amilcar Cabral’s Unity and Struggle, a glass of water and a plate of crackers. The breeze that day was especially soothing and my mood was pensive, nostalgic even… the mood where memories of my past, the past, insist on being fed with recognition, satiated with energy from the present, and married with thoughts of the future. Everything, it seemed, reminded me of something.
I read the Introduction and was halfway through the Biographical Notes before pausing for a drink of water. A small flock of tiny birds perched on the awnings’ metal arm engrossed in scandalous conversation. I watched the most animate one, obviously the main news-carrier, flap wings, bounce up and down and screech over the others to ensure his story was heard by all. I noticed a nest in construction in the awning to the left of the flock and wondered if lead news-carrier was talking about that. My attention casually moved to Mango’s house then. Someone had just arrived. A woman. Traditionally dressed. The pink and cream pattern of her cloth felt motherly. She and Mango greeted and retired to that part of the yard closed to my view. I was left with their voices, the too full mango tree, and my thoughts. Slowly, I returned to Cabral.
Suddenly, I heard it. My heart skipped a beat. That sound… that scream made me sit bolt upright. I was a solitary scream but insistent, panicked, urgent. It begged to be seen, acknowledged Looking out onto the road and then in the neighbours‘ yards, both Mango’s and Washing Lady’s, my eyes searched in vain for the scream’s owner. Had Mango resumed his attack on Young Lady, I wondered. Moments later, a casual Young Lady striding across the yard with a bucket of water assured me she was presently safe from Mango but that sound chilled me enough to keep me taut, on alert, for its source. Two minutes later, it came again. That gut tightening scream. What in the hell is going on over there?! Silence. Then laughter… Mango’s and Pink Pattern’s. Laughter and animated talking while that scream came a third and then a forth time. They were walking now, Mango and his companion, towards the front of the yard, walking deliberately yet being held back at times by some sort of resistance. The yard’s animals were agitated too, the goats bleated and one in particular ran frantically ran around the yard as if filled with confusion and urgency. The dogs barked, probably excited by the goat’s behaviour, and the hens ran a few paces then did a sky-walk/fly, obviously eager to clear the path. Mango and the lady continued to walk away from their mango tree hiding place allowing me for the first time to see them and the source of my confusion who now screamed with reckless abandon. A scream that yelled ‘LOOK at me!’, ‘HELP me!’, and ‘SAVE me!’ all at once. Mango pulled behind him a young goat, too old to be considered a kid, not old enough to be considered ‘tough meat’. Pink Pattern apparently bought one of his goats and they were leaving with it, presumably to take it to her home or the the place of slaughter. The goat, black with specs of white, knew death was near. Its scream spoke truth to its fear and, as any living being faced with death, it fought and fought. And screamed.
What struck me most wasn’t the goat’s obvious awareness of its impending doom. It wasn’t the guy wrenching, almost human-like screaming. It was the insistence of that other goat, the agitated one, who, by the time the trio had reached the gate was beside herself with grief. She screamed… a different scream… a ‘WHERE are you taking my loved one?! ‘ scream. She tried to butt Mango but he shooed her away. She followed them outside but Mango stoned her back into the yard. She found an opening in the bamboo fence and slipped through it then ran as fast as she could up the road in the direction the captors had gone with her loved one, all the while screaming her ‘where are you taking my loved one?!‘ scream. Young Lady, using a combination of shoos and stones, managed to get her back into the yard. Throughout it all both goats’ screams haunted the air; the screams of despair, desperation, separation, fear and death.
The scene tore at something in me. My eyes remained glued to the yard for a while after all the excitement had returned to the peaceful calm of life’s routine rhythms. Looking at the scene ten minutes later no one would have guessed at the torture of minutes past. Life returned to normal, sort of. The roosters continued crowing. The faint hammering was still there. The dogs gave half-hearted barks. The occasional car vroooomed past in the distance. ‘But all isn’t normal!’ I thought to myself and found it difficult to resume my day’s routine as normal. Despite the soothing breeze that never stopped blowing, my forehead was moist with sweat. My breath was louder, heavier. I remain glued to my spot as my eyes searched the scene for some indication that life had, in fact, changed in the last minutes, confused at the scene’s ability to so entirely capture me.
Without warning, a strong wind blew, continuous and heavy, with none of the light, cooling caress of the usual breeze. It lasted longer than normal and my spirit reminded me that the ancestors‘ voice is in the rustling breeze. So I listened, still transfixed to the history of the minutes past. I listened. I listened and I heard.
“That scene isn’t new to you” they told me. “You’ve seen it, lived it, before, many times. Too many times. We’ve lived it with you. Too many times. Don’t deny remembrance fear of sight! See the slaver where you were ripped from your husband’s comforting reach. separated for easy slaughter of your womb. See the auction block where you were ripped from your mother’s breast for easy sale because new massa didn’t need not more wenches. See the separation and see the slaughter of your ancestral memory. See the plantation where you were snatched from your brother, sister, father, because a debt had to be repaid and your price tag fit the bill. See the separation and fee the slaughter of your soul. See and remember the time when demons saw in you a thing a thing of be bought, sold, traded, expended, misused, discarded as a useless rag. Don’t deny remembrance for fear of sight!”. They spoke and I heard, and with my hearing, they left me, allowing the cool, calm breeze to remind me that in that pensive, nostalgic even, mood everything reminds me of something.