By Amran Gaye
It is the first night at his new house, the one where she is to live after he is gone, after the wedding and the heww, after all the guests and assorted relatives have returned home.
He takes off her clothes, starting with the dress she wears, making her lift her arms so he can pull it off from the top. The cloth-shaded parts of her body are a milky chocolate, and she has a shy smile on her face where she lies looking up at him. At the beginning, after she had come back from getting ready in the bathroom, he had offered to turn off the lights. But thought she would have preferred that, she felt it her obligation that they should stay on, on this the first night of him seeing his wife’s naked body.
He brings his face down close to hers now, and looks into her eyes, only the tips of their noses touching. And then he kisses her, so deeply she draws a breath and holds it, her eyes closed, her hands coming up to cradle his face, one on each cheek. When he draws away from the kiss she breathes out a heavy sigh, and when she opens her eyes he is looking at her, a smile on his face.
He kisses her again on the mouth, but this time he does not stay, moving on down to her chin and then her neck. Everywhere he goes he deposits a fresh kiss, taking his time, as if attempting to memorise her body, to be able to recall it at a moment’s notice later, when he is away. Then he is at the tops of her breasts, and the space between their falling curves. She raises her shoulders and he unhooks her bra with one hand, while the other pulls it down and off, the silk cups peeling away to reveal even lighter flesh that ends in dark nipples already hardening. When he takes each in turn in his mouth she moans, a soft sound unlike any she has made so far in their time together, or in her short history with other men.
Then he continues on his journey, cupping each breast in hand as if to weigh it, seeming satisfied before letting it fall again. She sighs again, then stiffens as he arrives at her tummy, her stretch marks still visible. But he kisses those too without hesitation, his finger tracing out the lines they make. When he reaches her waist and his hands reach for her panties, her legs close automatically, barring the way. He lets it go, and instead strokes her thighs, soothing her until her legs part again. When he attempts to take them off this time she gives no resistance, lifting her wang so he can wiggle the panties down to her feet and off her body. And then he begins, first with his tongue and fingers and then going back up so his mouth can meet hers…
Afterwards they lie together in the dark. Her head on his shoulder, her arms around him. His right hand lies on her bare wang, where it will occasionally stroke its way up to her bin bin. There is a smile on her face, and though she is not asleep her eyes are closed, her breathing slow and even. All she can feel in the world is his presence: his chest rising and falling, his fingers leaving little tingles where they touch her wang. She thinks this is the most perfect her life has ever been, and even as she savours that thought it is replaced by another: his impending departure, all the time that he will be away from her and this place, reachable only by phone, and the thought makes her open her eyes again, and now her sigh is not a sign of pleasure but a heavy breath of air, a release. He seems to detect it, turns to face her and she him.
– I will come every year, he says, his voice barely above a whisper. – And once I have my papers I will arrange for you to come, and then we can live together and I’ll never leave again.
She smiles at him. But she cannot shake off the feeling of heaviness, of future loss, no matter how temporary. He kisses her on the forehead and hugs her close. She wraps her arms around him, her body settling into his. It is in this position that they fall asleep finally, the fan whirring overhead, the darkness gradually replaced by the oncoming dawn.
– No it wasn’t like that, she explains later to Jahou on the phone.
– What do you mean? There was no pain?
– No – I mean there was, a little – but it seemed so small compared to everything else going on.
– Everything else like what?
– Heyyy jangha – you know better than me di, with all your experience. He knew what to do, where to touch. He used his fingers, and his mouth. And always the feeling would grow and grow, until I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, that it would overwhelm me so I lost complete control. But always he stopped right at the edge of that line. I don’t know how he did it, but he could detect something in my movements, knew when to rush ahead and when to slow down, when to pause and when to begin again.
She sighs involuntarily. On the other end of the line there is a smile on Jahou’s face.
– Finally, she says with a laugh. – Now you can let your inner chaga out.
She laughs with Jahou, and listens with half attention as her friend catches her up on gossip, imagining his return later that night, the two of them finally alone once more in bed. She thinks of a life spent waiting for him in this way, and the possibilities thrill her.
They are in bed on the second night, the room light off but moonlight coming in through the window still leaving forms visible up close. He props himself up on his shoulders, so he is positioned looking down at her. With his index finger he begins to trace out the lines of her right ear, starting at the lobe. His face is so close she can feel his breath on hers.
– What is it like?, she is asking him. Living amongst the toubab?
– Well, let’s see, he says, his finger almost at her hair now, still tracing its way up. – There is the cold. It descends without warning and seeps into everything, freezing it from the inside. Luckily there aren’t many electricity problems.
– So you stay inside, close to a heater.
– Yes. And layer up when going out.
– OK. And what else?
– Hmmm – well then the cold leaves, and just as you’re starting to celebrate the heat arrives.
– But you’re used to heat di. Or you’re not even African anymore? she teases.
– No. That’s what you would think. When they told me that’s what I thought too. That there could be no heat worse than that of the Jollof Sun, and I am from Jollof. No toubab heat could ever faze me. But this heat has a different quality that makes you long for the return of the cold, a humidity that will not let your sweat dry. It is as if the air itself is sweating, and wiping it off on the skins of the people who walk through it. All day long you feel uncomfortable in your clothes.
– And how about the people?, she asks, – Are the toubab the same as they are on TV?
– Even crazier, he chuckles, – they walk with their animals leading, and when it poops they stop and pick up the poop, put it in a plastic bag. I’ve gotten used to a lot of things but that will never cease to amaze me.
– Well, she says thoughtfully, – Isn’t that how they keep their streets clean?
– Yes, there is that, he says, – But it does not stop there. In the supermarkets there are shelves upon shelves of special foods for the cats and dogs, more expensive than anything you would buy here for a human to eat. And some dress them up in clothes and parade them around…
In this way they lie awake talking for half the night, and when she finally falls asleep on his chest her dreams are filled with his voice and his presence, assured of her place in his life and a future filled only with him.
On their last night before he returns they decide not to go out, to not let other people intrude on the precious little time they have left together. They lie together talking in bed, their bodies divested of clothes, outside the hooting of owls and the rumbling of late night traffic.
– Do you have a favorite song?, she is asking him.
– Of course I do, he says, his hands playing with her hair. – Doesn’t everyone.
– Let me guess, she says, – It’s a reggae song.
– No. Not even close, he replies, sounding mysterious.
– What then? Rap?
– No not that either, he replies with a laugh, – It’s a song by Viviane.
– Heyyy, she says, turning to look at him, surprise in her voice, – Which one?
– It’s called Shama.
– As in shama lama ding dong?
He nods in reply, and she laughs, but his face remains serious. She tickles his cheek and for a moment a smile shines through the seriousness. She smiles back, and raising her head kisses him, once, on the lips, lingering for a moment, her eyes closed. Then she lies back down, and opens them again, looking into his where his head has stayed.
– Mmmm, she says. – I know it. It’s on her second album.
– Yea you probably know the studio version, he says, – But there’s another version, this one on a live album, performed at Bataclan Cafe. It is much longer – the song has room to breathe and grow, like the love it is about…
– Mmm – who knew you were so romantic.. No don’t think I have heard that one.
– Really? Well good thing about the Internet…
He turns to the night stand, retrieves his phone. A minute later the song is playing in the room, its sound filling the darkness around them, making it soft and cuddly. He lies on his back now, and she moves her head to his chest, under his chin, her right ear on his heart, one of his hands lying free, the other placed gently on her wang, the slightest of pressures – yet she can feel it there, and knows she will remember and long for its touch when he goes back.
The sabarr begins, laying the path on which the singer’s voice will travel. As the rest of the instruments join in Viviane’s voice enters, at once in charge as she becomes the foreground, layered above all the other sounds her band is producing. There are no words at first, only her voice crooning, as if what she were feeling here, at the beginning of the relationship, lay too close to her heart to be constrained by speech, to take the form of syllables that had any meaning in any language. And then she begins to sing, the love now gained fluency and purpose, each word separate and distinct yet all together forming a whole greater than the lines of the song, greater than the song itself or the music or the people listening.
“Cause I’ve been dreaming about what we can do…”, she sings, and Ous begins to explain.
– It’s right there, he says. – That’s what makes the song for me. She is trying to say I’ve been dreaming about what we can do. Y the Senegalese accent gets in the way, and she says but we can do. But instead of about, and that changes the whole line.
– Hmmmm… How?, she asks, her hands now on his chest, her index finger tracing out a line around his nipple.
– Because in the first one she is only dreaming about the things they are going to do, he says – But in the second one she’s dreaming, but chey when they finally meet…
She laughs, and he laughs with her, and when her laugh settles into a smile on her face he bends and kisses her again. It starts out intended as a quick peck but when he makes to raise his head she will not let him, a controlling hand on each of his cheeks, holding him in place. And so the kiss changes, and now his eyes are the ones that are closed, his breathing slowed. Finally she lets him go with a sigh.
– I am going to miss you so much, she says, – These past few days have been like a dream, the best one I have ever had, and now tomorrow I will have to wake up….
She trails off into another sigh. He hugs her close, first from the side and then bringing her body to lie on his, so his arms are wrapped around her. She closes her eyes, and lets her full weight lie on him. They lie like this for a long moment, neither of them speaking.
– I’ll call every day, he says finally, – And soon it will be time for me to come again. It will be almost like I never left – the time will pass by like that.
The next day he leaves.
(To be continued…)