- The Place beneath Falling Stars
My grandmother stood differently after she saw the world end. Those who remember say before, my grandmother looked as though she were a fairy merely alit upon the earth who might be blown away by the next breeze. Only one foot would anchor her—the other seemed always to be drawing patterns in the dirt. Her fingers even fluttered a little as they hung at her sides as though the wind had the power to stir them.
But since then, she stands solidly in place, both feet flat against the ground, both hands at her hips, her head always raised; eyes watching the horizon. She looks to the distance then looks at me, looks off to the wayfaring sun then back at me, considers the quickening moon and studies my face. For sixteen years, I’ve grown up watching her gaze move fluidly from tender, when I’m its subject, to fiercely alert when she looks off into tomorrow.
She presses her fingertips more firmly into her pelvic bones, wrinkling the symbols woven into her robe, and looks down to where I am kneeling on the forest floor in my farm plot. I have intercropped twenty plants, and I seek the last sown. They await me under sallow gold night-bloomers clenched tightly as sullen mouths against the evening light. They have risen, their slender stems a green barely more opaque than the iris of an eye, covered with fine hair like mammalian skin. Mbuya’s Flower. They are named for my other grandmother, my Grandmother Nour’s slain co-wife, who created them. Unaltered, they spring up a mass of sharp double-triangle petaled flowers, fair blue diamonds that look like the stretched open mouths of baby birds. You see them and think you hear cries. I’ve always imagined a series of “whys?” But these here in my plot are my transformed version of her creation, hybridized until six times the original amount of petals form a circle around the calyx. My flowers suggest sound, too: a revelation’s “oh.”
Brewed into tea, Mbuya’s Flower gives you an energy slow to kindle and slow to fade. I’m trying to create a version whose effects are [End Page 150] concentrated within the span of a day. I push the nightbloomers farther back, so Grandmother can see. She nods down at me.
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“That’s good, Yaa. They came up. That’s the first thing, little girl. Now you’ll just have to test them and see if they work the way you want and if they’ll reproduce.” She turns her attention from me back to the far off. [End Page 151]
“Thank you,” I whisper to the soil that nourished my flowers to the forest, hooking my index finger around the stems of several close grown plants and snapping them free.
I go with Grandmother out of the woods back to her home. Grandmother survived the deaths of both my grandfather and my other grandmother—the co-wife with whom she shared him—and death seems to render stark and over-bright the round, white-resined, earthen walls of her one-room home. The hard dirt floor is swept rarely, its smooth darkness little troubled by footprints. There is an expectancy within her eight-hundred-year-old walls as though the air is poised for a call and a reply. Grandmother opens her carved ebony door, and I prepare to build a fire for the experimental tea. I lay the flowers on the floor. Too casually gathered to be a bouquet, they seem like wilted sky fallen through the smoke hole of her thatched roof. Grandmother looks at them for a moment, then goes to retrieve a portrait from where it lies face down on a small hibiscus wood table.
My grandmother holds the sepia photograph of my other grandmother delicately, without touching the surface. “She would have loved you,” my grandmother always says. In the picture her hair is in squash blossoms, bordered...