Acirfa Rethom, the earliest memory I have of her has been glossed over by the passage of time and yet the sensations of our first meeting still come to mind. The warmth of her embrace was like the sun coming through a gap in the curtains on a lazy Sunday morning. Her laugh was infectious, and sparkled like the early evening sun reflecting back off the rippling waves of Lake Victoria. Her eyes deep and seemingly fathomless, held promise of understanding that endeared trust. Her smell was like the damp earth just after a rainstorm.
Like a child I loved her completely. Like a child, understanding was not a prerequisite for love.
Time passed and I grew up. I was exposed to others who though beautiful in their own right could never quite measure up to the adore with which I held her. With time and appreciation, her smile had taken on a more mischievous glint. Her hair fell over her eye, like the reeds on a riverbank, hiding the mystery that lurked therein. The mere mention of her name sent shivers down my spine and had me puffing out my chest, strutting around like a young buck on the Savannah.
I had begun to hear whispers though. She was broken. She was twisted. She was not who she claimed to be. She was a plaything for the highest bidder. She was a bad apple that simply knew how to dress up nice.
I paid them no mind. What did they know? How could they doubt the realness of what we had between us? Could they not see that ours was a love that little could break? With a flippant attitude, I rattled off the list of whisper to her, confident that like myself she would pay them no mind. That we would laugh at the haters and carry on where we had left off.
She didn’t laugh though. She simply smiled as I came to the end of the list. It was a different smile. This one tinged with sadness, robbed of the warmth that I had come to know and expect.
A tear worked its way down from her left eye as she raised her hand to pull away the hair from the right side of her face. That is when I saw the first bruise. Like a blemish on a Sunday dress, prominently unmistakable. I sat there in horrified silence as she continued to strip away the rest of her clothing, revealing with each layer scars both new and old. Some scabbed over while others festered. Purple bruises, old burn wounds replete with purulent discharge. The sickeningly sweet smell of liniment washed over me where once there were only sweet fragrances.
How could I have not noticed? How could I have been so blinded? My mind spinning, my heart filled with thoughts of betrayal, I ran as fast and as far as my legs could carry me. The last sound I heard as my frantic feet cleared her doorstep was the anguished sobbing that would be the only noise that she made that night.
Silence had been the last thing we shared and it was with silence that I would bury her.
I left her there and sought love elsewhere. I was determined never to be duped again; my heart was lined with cynicism and sharp wit. Of my old love, I never spoke.
I heard stories passed around over time. She had fallen in with the wrong crowd. She now stalked the streets; shunned by those she once called friends.
She was seen once holding out an alms bowl, a cheap distraction for those rushing by.
My heart had calloused over by now though. My sense of betrayal and shame had long since detached me from her. Out had gone understanding and love. In had moved bitterness and resentment.
But like the old ones say, the heart will always remember long after the mind has tried to forget.
I started to remember the good times. The happy moments that we had shared together. The plans we had made under the light of the moon. The hopes that we had for each other that were whispered over the pillow lest they be heard and somehow robbed of their vitality by sharing. We had glimpsed the future together and so the present lacked the lustre of the past.
So I set out to find her. Through half remembered stories from people long since gone. In the frantic fanfare of a football match. In the songs on the radio charged with relentless rhythm. In the convoluted web spun by those masters of intrigue that once called her their own. In the anger of the young, the knowing and the ambivalence of the in-between, I searched for the whisper of her. My mind franticly searching, fearing the worst and projecting dismay. My heart steadily beating, hoping for the best and reflecting hope.
I found her. The same deep eyes. The same captivating smile. The new and old scars. The mischievous smile. The horrifying bruises. She was there in her entirety. A haunting crossroad of hope and horror. Truth personified.
I stood there before her, questions swirling in my head. Wild accusations and desperate apologies made their way across my face like the riot of color on a peacock’s feather. How to start? How to fill the silence that had grown to create a cavern between two hearts that were once one? It was my turn to cry this time as frustration won out.
Then she laughed and the spell was broken. Just like that I was a child again. We sat and talked for hours till there was naught but companionable silence to keep us company. The questions would be answered with time, solutions there for some if not all. I was not anxious to answer them all, having only just been reunited with someone I feared lost.
I had known her all along.
Acirfa Rethom I called her.
That day I learnt her real name.
Mother Africa she prefers to be called.