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City of Banjul
Friday, June 24, 2022

The Gayna

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By Amran Gaye

In a corner of the kitchen the gayna sits.
It came with the bride, a gift from an aunty. It is a small wooden gayna, its bark chipped and chiseled, and the woman set to using it at once, the day after the night of the jaybaleh.
She uses the gayna everyday. It is her first gayna – she is its first woman. They discover each other gradually – she uses it for only a few minutes a day, while the oil hisses over the fire and the sun is hot in the sky and the children chorus verses in the local daara. Her grip slippery at first, but growing firmer with time, as the gayna and her hand learn each other.

After a while the gayna begins to be able to tell what mood she is in, from the way she pounds it. When she is in a hurry, when she is irritated. When she is angry. When she is distracted, her mind on other things than the cooking.

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And over many months the gayna finds too that it can penetrate deeper than this, to where her first feelings reside. And the gayna finds there a sadness, the gayna finds there a hunger, a need. A space in her that she grows increasingly desperate to fill. And the gayna begins to understand the rhythm of her pounding, sees this need portrayed in the way its pacing slowly begins to go awry, to lose its metronomic tick.

The first crack comes when the woman is pounding a mix of tamateh and kaani bu dija, for a chu. The insides of the gayna are slippery, and the mortar sloshes around, unable to find hold. The woman grows increasingly impatient. The sun is at its hottest, there is sweat on her brow, that falls into her eyes and stings them. Her hands are dirty, and she cannot wipe her face.

A mispounding, a squirt of red mixture from the gayna jumping to her eyes. She utters a sighing exclamation, and then reacts to the pain by hitting at the contents of the gayna with a sudden stab of anger. The pestle does not make it inside – it hits the side of the gayna.
The gayna falls to the ground. A crack in its surface that has not been there before.
The woman rushes to the tap.

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In a moment she will be back, but in her absence the gayna lies on the floor, and it thinks about how now the woman has marked it. And the gayna wishes to spend its life being pounded only by her hands, and the gayna desires no other life but this.

Time passes. Feast days – when the gayna is at constant use, and the kitchen is twice as busy. Days of lack – when barely anything is put in the gayna, wood pounding against almost-bare wood. And the woman begins to grow, her stomach swelling so she has to place the gayna farther away from her, when she pounds, sitting with it in between her legs. The place of her need is filled with a hopefulness.
Then a bad thing happens. There are murmurings of sorrow in the house this week, whisperings of grief. There has been a death – its odour hangs heavy in the kitchen, so thick even the flies move to neighboring houses.

The woman does not come to the gayna, for an anxious week, two weeks. Other women come – girls, old women, even one time a young boy who keeps trying to run off and play. Their poundings are not as firm as the woman’s, they do not fill the gayna with such satisfaction, in the woody exploration of its interior.
Each day the gayna waits expectantly – each day the hands that retrieve it from the corner are not those of the woman.
And then she returns, finally, one overcast day with sporadic bursts of sunlight, and a rain that will neither start nor stop.

Her pounding lacks a certain vitality, has gained a certain freneticness. She is filled with a fury, tightly controlled, swallowed and bit down on. She cannot sit – one moment she will stand, and put the gayna up on the stone table, and then the next she will get on her knees on the hard ground and kneel before it.
And the gayna wishes she would return to the woman she was before, but it tries its hardest to yield itself, to be an even more patient gayna, so the pounding is not as hard, on the woman’s hands. The gayna makes a rock of itself behind the ingredients, so they are reduced even at the woman’s lightest touch.
After that she changes, becomes someone else. There is still a need, there, when the gayna looks, but it is of a different kind. It is a hole, still, but one that has now been filled with sand and rocks, and another feeling the gayna cannot understand.

And then one day, just like that, she is gone, along with everything else in the kitchen. It is two men who come to take the kitchen implements. They are in a hurry and do not see the gayna where it stands, under the stone shelf. And so the chum-waar goes, and the sijehr goes, and all the pots and pans and bowls and spoons.
But the gayna is left behind.

Ages pass, time shuffling her little brood of chicks – the years – past where the gayna sits. People come and go, strange people who remain strange even as they remain and the gayna meets them again and again.
A new gayna has been brought in – a light wood affair, all smooth and finished. The gayna sits in a corner of the new kitchen, and has only its thoughts for company.

It thinks back to when it was a tree in the forest, the taste of rainwater sucked up through deep roots in the earth. And later, being carved out of wood and brought into creation one day at a time, slowly, the gayna-maker an expert at his job, not to be hurried. It thinks of the smooth steel of the knife against its back, it thinks of how much of itself it lost, to become what it is now.
The gayna thinks all these things as it sits under the stone shelf.

And the gayna thinks, too, of the woman. Of where she is now in the world, of what became of her. Does she pound other gaynas? Does she think of them as her gayna? Has the old rhythm of her hands returned, or has she gained a newer, harsher one, molded of time and experience? And the thing she wanted so badly, that carved such a need within her, did she ever get it?
The rainy season and the dry season chase after each other, across the skies, two children at play.
Tobaskis come and go, rams die, the street sewers filled with their insides.
The gayna grows old, even in gayna years.

Two families move in and out of the house, one with eleven women, the second with only two.
And then a third. On the second day two new women come into the kitchen, a young one and an old one. The old one looks about for instruments to use for the meal, and under the table it sees the gayna. She sends the younger one to fetch water, and soap. She washes the gayna carefully, methodically, and dries it out under the Sun.

And then she takes it into the kitchen and puts netehtu in it, and begins to pound.
And the gayna is filled with a trill of excitement, that it has never felt before, a vibration through its wood.
It is the woman!
But a few more pounds and the gayna realises it is not. The rhythm is almost the same, but not quite: it seems to have developed new themes, pauses where there were no pauses before, hurryings where the woman would have slowed.

And the gayna is filled with a disappointment now, it feels age and how it has filled its darkened hollows, sitting in the kitchen alone night after night, abandoned to cobwebs and dust and the chirping of cockroaches.
And in the depths of its disappointment the gayna notices that there is something else about this new pounding, that is familiar. It is a thing it has seen, in another form, assuming another shape…
And the gayna remembers the woman, and it remembers her need.

And in a flash it realises what this new pounding is: it is the need of the woman, from so many years before, become flesh – the gayna recognises it. This new woman is of the old one, her creation, what she wanted all along.

And the gayna is filled with a satisfaction, suddenly the hours under the stone table do not seem so long, the nights do not stretch out so, in the dark. The new woman finishes pounding, and carefully puts the gayna off to a side, leaning the pestle against its wooden body. And it leaves it there, and the gayna waits for the next day, when it will be used again.

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