Photo: A. Elmi
Jesus' Carving (1/6)
By: A. Elmi
10th of November 2022
It was one of those rare afternoons when Maryan spoke. And maybe it’s because she was unused to speaking that she used her hands so much. She followed her hands with an intent gaze as they pulled things only she could see from invisible pockets in the air.
Whatever she’d pulled out appeared to be dangling from her hands, for she peered at the air right beneath her hands as if there was something there, and her face crumpled into that puzzled glower people sometimes have when they’re listening to a complicated argument. I don’t think the air spoke to her – I can’t say what was happening – but I would like to think she was making sense of her thoughts. For most people, a thought travels from the brain to the mouth, but her thoughts must’ve taken a detour, leaving her head through the ears and waiting outside in those invisible pockets until she reached for them. Whatever the case, I always imagined that speaking to Maryan wasn’t all that different to speaking to someone who constantly pauses to register strings of information through an earpiece. It involved a lot of waiting and patience while she sought communication with a source very far away. And when her face cleared at last and her eyes rose to mine, I had never felt more ready to hear a human being speak.
‘I don’t know if I should say yes,’ Maryan said in that soft, almost-whisper of hers.
I was sure I looked every bit as confused as she did when I asked, ‘Say yes to what?’
‘He proposed,’ she said, turning her left hand around and wiggling the ring finger at me.
I stepped closer to look at the ring. It was so unlike what you’d expect that I would never have noticed it had she not called attention to it. Engagement rings typically spoke in flashes of light. They were tiny messengers announcing to anyone within range what they were doing on the person’s finger. But this one was silent, secretive almost, as if it did not want to be seen, and it even camouflaged itself against her skin. I traced a finger over it. It was carved from dark wood, the surface sanded smooth and coated with some oil that gave off the barest lustre. A shade darker than her skin, it looked more like a raised scar than a ring.
‘You’re wearing it,’ I stated, stepping back and watching her with a face carefully devoid of expression. ‘Seems to me you’ve made your choice.’
She drew the ring off and held it up. ‘He made it himself. It’s pretty, isn’t it?’ she said, gazing at the thing lovingly. She pushed it back on her finger, then plucked more thoughts from the air between us. After a while, she said, ‘It seems only right I should accept, don’t you think?’
I took care to mask the note of disapproval in my voice when I said, ‘If it seems right to you, then I suppose it’s right for you. But wouldn’t it seem more right if you actually saw the man first?’
‘I don’t need to see him to know I want him,’ she said after another age of searching the air for her thoughts.
‘But eleven years. . . Have you at least seen a picture of him?’
She scanned the walls as if she’d hung a portrait of him here, in my parents’ house. ‘I’ve heard his voice for eleven years,’ she said at length. ‘I think that’s enough. I’ll see his face when I meet him.’
‘And when’s that?’
‘He says he’ll come for me when it’s time. I’m sure he means for the wedding. Many couples don’t see each other until the wedding day, anyway. So, it’s fine. It’s perfectly normal.’
‘I remember you telling me he travels a lot. Why hasn’t he come here?’
‘The Netherlands is flat,’ she said eventually. ‘There are no real mountains here, and he only goes to places with proper mountains. He likes being close to the clouds, says it reminds him of ascending to heaven. It’s. . . odd to hear him talk this way, but he died once and appreciates life more than we do.’
‘Where does he live?’
She shrugged but after a silence added, ‘He won’t call where he is now home, so he doesn’t see the point in telling me where he lives. He says he will take me to his birthplace when the time comes.’
I nodded at the ring. ‘He sent that, did he?’
She folded her right hand over her ringed hand and hugged it to her chest. ‘He did.’
‘What’s the return address?’
‘It came in this beautiful little jewellery box,’ she replied after a time. ‘It was unwrapped and unlabelled, perched on the front-door step, waiting for me. He called to tell me to go outside to collect it. A friend of his had just delivered it, which was very kind of him to do.’
I was about to ask another question when I became aware of the stench of burnt food again and was reminded of the other question I’d been meaning to ask her. ‘Have you cooked anything today?’
‘Yes. I made—Well, it doesn’t matter. I burnt it,’ she said so softly I had to lean in to catch it. ‘I don’t know why I keep burning the food,’ she murmured.
I sighed inwardly. ‘What did Awoowe, Grandfather, eat, then?’
‘I gave him a plate of banana slices,’ she whispered when she was ready, ‘some dates stuffed with nuts, and a handful of dried figs. His blood sugar level was low,’ she explained. ‘But it’s fine now.’
I pursued my lips and then said in strained but polite tones, ‘That’s all that matters. I’ll take care of Awoowe’s dinner, then.’
I left her standing with her head bowed in the hallway. I was certain it was bowed in shame, but my certainty didn’t last for long. For, sparing her a glance as I passed into the kitchen, I saw her lowered face smiling with something like satisfaction.