- baba's voice mail.
apple is unable to transcribebaba's naturalized speech.
out of Africa' s lion's den he strides, to brave each stare.
npr says 40% of americacannot read. others don'treally know what the
means, what spell it casts.which flags forged,what oath sworn.
this elderly black malekeeps driving.an elderly white female, amai,steers him. a wrong turnor sudden brake wouldlaunder them,as in, shit,they'd lose the little theycare to count on. folks,obama has left the building.
she pushes play.
this hushed plea: daughter, i, eh,have not been able [End Page 641]
to get a gift for yourmother. i cannot leave without her.he does not say she clings.he does not say she grasps. or falters.
daughter listens:amai's birthdaywas last friday. they all atehome-made cake with candles:7 and 9. the frosting was store-bought.
baba says softlyall he has to say.he is too quietto be heard sometimes, sometimes too angry.his mutedmood is never blue. neverindigo, just
quiet. who fears death, he says, trapped here?his mother already laysto rest in soil her untutoredhands first ploughed, her loss histotal eclipse. his daughteris a doctor who cannotheal anyone. she speakslike an idiot child.
what must be understoodis not said with delusion's reach noras stubborn resort to the mothertongue. throat caught onenglish,this whispered anguish. hecannot get out of the housewithout amai.
say: the clutch will not release. (he should not be driving alone. or at all). [End Page 642]
they boughther a card at walgreens,on the way homefrom the doctors.a father-daughter outing.
sly guide, she walked him to a rack for wives. she suggested he hide a visa card inside, a landmine of decisions.
her mistake. still,they chose thecards together. (her wrist flickingunderhand, culling hallmarks ofexcess—trite and ugly and $7.99).
in the end, the visacard—the gift to come—mystifies him morethan amai's american tears did,years ago, that one birthdayhe forgot or slighted.even now his minddrifts like a cloud ofundyed greyfuzz
the daughter's son—his mosthoarded joy— her sonnuzzles, pulls.
is this joy, one yearin? she lets her mind wanderinto her: our son still cannot sleep. her son's father is mukwasha to her baba yet "mukwasha" feels foreign to his cackalacky mouth so he brandishes no power in that name. [End Page 643]
his spirit does not sing. missing is the limb that would turn limp into lope. his cherished phantom.
he, her ultimate joy, her first love's final envoy, their youngest. history has made more of them, by giving less. his father dreams each black son of america his equal, and names this third one so. the name of the father, tenderly, clasps last son to him, his junior.
baba strains her patience, one day's diagnosiscatatonia, the next he's all song and dance:
didn't my lord deliver dan-yell (all three times); thanking the nurse on his actual knees, clapping as if he were home ; hiiiyii, you have delivered me today!
he is always sincere, she grants.
the back of her mind taxes her – her son half fed, his father left manning [End Page 644]
a solitary post while
she (daughter,duped again) charts the wayout, again.
the old man makesher crazy. his mind is fullof old suspicions, old fears,old witness, old resentment,old expectation, old poverty,old shame, old pride.
baba's stories are like ambuya grinding groundnuts on the grinding stone that groundthe peanut butter. spreadon the bread, sold on the roadside,it paid the bus fare back toreading, writing: her mission.
a grinding machine grinds maize. you pay to use it, to turn beads of "corn" into mealie meal. which is finer than anything america has on offer.
anyways these stories are taking up time. seated in the grey living room...