When a Character Tells the Story
I have been going round in circle in my brain. A couple of reasons why I feel like my grandfather’s clock…you know the one that stopped working on the day he died. Remember that song? If you are from my side of the street, you might get where I am coming from. I did say I was going to use this blog to hold conversations. I never really asked you what you thought of that either.
You know this monologue thing is not going to get me anywhere. Used to think if I just ignored the gnawing fear that rides my back sometimes I might just see past my fears. It is like giving birth to a baby and you assume there cannot possibly a baby just like yours. Those tiny perfect fingers could only be just that of your baby.
When I wrote Numen Yeye, she started out under different names really. First it did not have a title just a collection of stories and cultures and then I met the lady one evening. I was actually writing a poem and suddenly in my mind I heard the first sigh and looked around wondering who was so sad.
Then she whispered in the nicest way possible. “Can I tell you about me”? I stayed my hands on the keyboard and waited for the voice to come again and without warning she changed the subject.
I have been in love too you know, though in my time we did not understand it the way you have done. My skin not the hair on my neck stood on ends and suddenly it was very cold in the room. My children were doing their home- work and there was no husband in sight. I had just started living in my state capital, one hour’s drive away from my village
No thanks; I did not believe in ghosts, folk tales and any of that ‘barbaric’ stuff I used to tell my mother. “So who was talking?”
“You really have no need to know my real name just want to chat, isn’t that the word you say in these parts’?
In those days, 1981, I was a scriptwriter more than a writer. So in one night, in long hand I wrote the manuscript. By the morning when my son came to ask me what was for breakfast, my fingers were stiff. My character (I did not know her name then) talked. Just soft whispers, she had a soft voice, and would occasionally pause if I indicated doubt and then I would sense her shrug, so I would ask her to continue or ask a few more questions, like clarifications.
One time during the long night when she sensed I was tiring she would break her story and tell me bits about the village gossip. She seemed to know everybody. I remember asking her if she was an old lady and she gave a small laugh and said it would make no difference if she told me her age but she painted a picture of herself.
“Just think of Woman as she ought to be and you would have an idea what you look like” she had answered in that voice that was beginning to be familiar.
“What I look like”? I asked taken aback, looking round the empty silent room.
“I am young, middle aged and very old like from time” she said a small laugh in her voice.
“Yes, I can sense you so please continue” I invited knowing she could just stop talking and I was having an experience that I wanted to feel to its last conclusion.
She gave that soft laugh again and said she would be back the next morning or night as she was most times confused by our times and levels.
Then my mind went blank and I looked up. My son was staring at me in bewilderment.
“Yes dear, go back to sleep” I replied absently as I looked on the sheaves of paper in front of me
“Mum, it is morning. I left you here writing last night.”
“So what can we have for breakfast I am hungry” he looked at me strangely.
I stared at the manuscripts, the long hand that had gone in different directions and tried to picture if I had been writing in my dream. I had talked to a character all night. I had more than 300 pages of longhand writing and sighed as I pictured another day typing them. I did not have a computer then and I knew she was coming back.
I gave my sister money to buy something for breakfast. I started typing.
It was my first my conversation with Numen.