Togo, je t’aime

on

You meet the Togolese nurse in a small café on the piedmont slopes of North Carolina. She swirls stories out of her coffee and onto your hand, places and people long forgotten. Animists animated from memory, voodoo curses, and the way black magic can determine the fates of men and nations. She tells you of child merchants plying their trade, un-hagglable, fierce at what they do these children. Of women dipping their babies gently into whorling ocean, surf clinking their anklets and reflecting dazzling light. She speaks of pre-med days caring for the old, the light that appears in the eyes of those so close to death, the way it changes you to see that. You tell her stories of unincorporated life on the edge of Chicago, swinging across creeks on strung-up rope, sledding down hills on the lids of trashcans. Of food trucks and the vendors who sell elote en vaso. Of skaters skitching behind cars, faded white Adidas running black from the tar they kick up.

You walk with her down to the mural carved out of an old tobacco factory’s broad wall, brick chimneys reaching up to black clouds now bleached white, white brick lettering to spell out the old company’s name, all of it condemned. You sit on the grass beside these paintings and run your fingers over the roughness of the brick made smooth. Take her hand in yours and guide her to the mortar. She tells you she hasn’t felt a man’s touch in years, since she left her little land in the west of Africa. Had forgotten its simple roughness, the firmness of it. She colors her stories with dabs of French, and you keep pace with what you remember. She smiles at your pronunciation and you want to kiss her forever.

She tells you she wants to take you to Lomé, wants to live there with you. You consider this great going away, this leaving everything behind, the homes you’ve settled before left like anthills abandoned on the cracks of a sidewalk, the cultures you’ve collected, languages half-spoken, as if in a dream. You study the stitching of her dress, form fitting, red and green and yellow with black trimming each edge where the colors meet, like mortar on a brick wall.

She goes with you to your house. You collect your things into suitcases and bags and trunks, crickets calling out into nothing, to a sky that grabs the stars and pulls them down to where they can be seen. Dew sits on grass blades and red clay earth sinews down gravel road where the woods line the boundary of your land. You take her onto the suitcases, sliding onto the floor, dress rising over hips as you do this thing together.

You picture the way your family will react when they see pictures of her, after you post them to your feed, her royal cheekbones and skin the color of the coffee she swirled onto your palm. Of the confused smiles and words muttered just out of earshot. Of this body she’s been given, and the one you’ve been given, as shells housing soul, and the millennia of hurt done to bodies by other bodies, l’extase et l’agonie, all for remediation of generational hurt that’s unfounded, passed through the ages, a taxonomy. And now, alleles of hate giving way to love, all of it sliding past and out of view, to the Buddhist concept of Pure Land, the animists giving wind and shape to the same thing, hard Chicago Catholicism and its state of grace, none of it different. Of joining together as you’ve done now, on top of the suitcases, and getting your ticket out of here. Of leaving your land, red clay kicking up under the tires, gravel after it, her hand in yours. Of going. Of arriving, having never left.

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