My mother would tell me this story, a fable, a legend of sorts as I sat on her kitchen floor; the broken linoleum was cool under my crossed legs. I remember tracing the torn bits of the floor with my finger tips; slowly I’d follow the sharp lines, the broken lines like a map that led me to my mother’s stove.
As she cooked, I played with one of her wooden spoons and I’d pull all the pots and pans from out of the open cupboard door beside her bare legs.
As she stirred, I stirred
and I’d watch her saute the onions and garlic; the smoke would rise in an alchemic cloud to the ceiling and disappear; I’d watch her as the steam made her face turn like a ghost as she lifted the lid from the jasmine rice.
And she would stir.
It was a crazy legend, this story that she would tell. It made no sense to me at all but I do remember liking the word “volcano” … even as she told the story I would repeat the word – volcano – over and over sometimes without making a sound: only my lips would move: vol cane oh.
“The volcano,” she would begin as she tamped the spoon on the edge of her iron pot, “was made by a daughter, a meisje, who, to win the love of her mother, had to dig a sea around the sand upon which she stood — in one night. This would not be an easy task, for you see the sand stretched out for as far as the girl could see until it slipped out over the edge of the world. And all she had, all this girl could use was half a coconut shell, a klein kop – like this. And so the girl began to dig; she made a circle, a wide circle. She dug deep for she knew the sea was running beneath, and as she dug she piled the sand in the centre of the circle to make the volcano; she dug, and she dug,
and she dug
so deep that she stood hip deep in a water of sea and the sand pile had grown into a mountain so great that when she would hold her breath for a moment … she could hear a fire growing in its belly, and its groan beneath her feet. The girl, you see, was doing very well, but she was doing so well that the gods got angry. So angry because you see, meisje, they wanted her to fail.
It is here, in the story, that my mother would always look at me; her green eyes so clear and sharp that I thought I could hear them speak, “Meisje, what you must remember is that the gods were only afraid. They were afraid that this girl, the daughter would make what couldn’t be made by mortals.”
“So the gods began to pound and POUND … pound seed between mortar and pestle. The sound of stone grew so great, so fierce that the dark sky shook.” And my mother would have her stone and pestle resting in her hands, its centre still with bits of cumin husks. “Like so … the stone against seed against stone. It was this sound of pounding, the sound of girls in the morning preparing meals around a fire and water boiling hot for washing as the sun would cut the night horizon with light, softening the dark … but you see, it was a trick. It was still dark. The girl still had time but she did not know the trick that was being played.
and the roosters, they too were fooled; they thought the sun, the morning, was rising, ready to come up — so they began to crow
So, the girl, the daughter stood up, climbed out of the sea, her hand over brow. She looked at her mountain and then to the east. The empty cup in her hand. The sky was still dark and filled with the sounds of cocks crowing and gods pounding. It was then the girl knew the gods were fucking with her. The gods were always always fucking with her. The shape of the sky told her that much. But by then it was too late.
And so the girl never completes the task. And the daughter dies … longing, a half cup in her hand. A broken sea of sand and an unfinished mountain was all that remained.
And my mother would stir. Silent. And I would follow the lines on the floor like a map, a map that led to my mother’s stove. And I would for a moment hold my breath, like the girl, the daughter in the story … and it seemed as if the floor moved from somewhere below me and I could hear a fire from somewhere as I looked up at her, the steam rising and then disappearing into nothing.
I never knew what that word meant; the name she always called me: Meisje. No clue. But the funny thing is my body knew. My arms, my legs, my face, my mouth all knew the meaning better than anything else I have ever known. It felt — warm. Like the heat from her oven. Steam from her rice. Her skin in an August garden. Even though I never knew what it meant – I always went to her – always went to her — no matter what.
And I remember the two of us standing across from each other, each facing one other; our hands on our hips wanting to know more than anything else in the world the answers to the questions that could only be found in legends, the truth that could only be found in fables of sea and sand that were told to us.
— excerpt from my play “red bridge”