B is for Boly
Lying on my back, the sky is an I-Max theater. Children giggle and cuddle next to me. Women shuffle slow to the kitchen. Nature emerges from the fields. The sounds of settling into the night come in full surround sound. The light of the moon rolls the opening credits and a set of clouds glide in gently. The cement bed I’m stretched upon cradles me and I sway to the wind. God shakes his (or her) snow globe and the sky envelopes me.
I saw Rhoky today. The way she held my arm affectionately and spoke to me like a childhood friend, it was so comforting. I’m constantly surprised by the kindness and generosity shown to me. Not because I feel unworthy, but that it is given so easily, without demand. The way I am drawn to Rhoky now, is the same visceral reaction of love I have to my own sisters. She has accepted me as one of her own. Whenever she looks me in the eyes I feel this overwhelming desire to ask her, “Why are you so nice to me?” but all I can do is squeeze her arm – our Morse code of friendship. As if to say “I-love-you, ok?” As if to say, “I am not here because I am better or smarter or richer. I am here because the earth has shifted me towards you.”
When I was 13 I stuck my head out the car window and watched the houses pass me by. Every blink was a frame, and over a decade and a half later I continue to see this short film – a granulated loop of saying “This. Is. My. Youth.” as the patches of lush, green grass and American houses jettisoned in and out of view. Houses that held stories the old people would tell us about, from the days the neighborhood was still theirs. They pointed to all the messiness and disappointments, as if to warn us of things to come. But the sun shone bright that day as I looked out from the window. The only messiness I knew of came in finite forms like “Foster care” and “social workers” and “racism.” I can still feel it on my skin – the world starting to come into focus and being young.
I was never good at it – the being young part. Always 4 going on 40. Projecting into the future. In constant preparation to become who I was meant to be. I’m not sure that time has come yet or when it will ever arrive. I just know with each passing year, it becomes less clear to me – life and the living and where I fit in between it all. For as long as I can remember, I’ve carried an insatiable curiosity to understand and without fail it leads me astray into unknown territory and foreign places. Most recently, to my backyard with Koura where she and I sat on the ground side by side. I kept probing on a story because I needed to understand. I needed to satiate my curiosity. So she relented, telling me about her son Modou. “What was I supposed to do?” she asked me point blank. Her baby’s legs couldn’t do anything. She took him to a hospital in the Gambia, going to another country was more affordable than the health care one hour away, and even they couldn’t help her. Her village accused her of not trying hard enough. “I had never seen anything like it and I never went to school to learn how to read about it” she sighs. They told her to dig two holes in the ground and bury her baby’s legs in them to straighten them out. “He cried so loud. My other kids gathered around me and started crying. It hurt them to see him so scared.” Then she starts to tear up, the memory hurts her too. “Fuck,” I say out loud. I try to comfort her in Serere. “It’s God’s will” she says, shrugging, and shaking her head before getting up to cook dinner. I think of my favorite line in L’Auberge Espagnole, “The world is badly made.” And I am nowhere closer to understanding where this piece of the puzzle fits.
Sometimes I need to escape, though the internet is not a great companion. It tells me too much and not enough. I don’t want the feeling of helplessness as I see live footage of bombs over Ukraine, nor do I want your useless updates about food. I definitely do not want to play catch up over pleasantries and 21 questions. I want to be in your presence. To sit in a car, or on the beach, or under a moonlit sky and share with one another how confused things have gotten. And when I turn to ask you, “When did you find out the world is so beautiful, but so badly made?” I won’t have to wait for a response in my inbox, because you’re right by my side, my dearest oldest friend.
I find the best time to feel like a human being is when you are 1. Alone; 2. Naked, 3. In a flash flood of rain, and 4. Jumping into a body of water. A little alcohol helps get number 2 started, (I didn’t say it was a recipe for safety). All systems should be on, from the top-down, bottom-up, inside-out. Look. Touch. Taste. Smell. Hear the world. Float on it and the lives of the living and dead. Submerge yourself in uncertainty and emerge, gasping for air, with a renewed sense of self. Thankful perhaps. Weary, most definitely. If you cry, cry loud. Let the rain carry your tears until you are awash in your own glow.
Fireworks explode overhead. A piercing shot ascends into the clouds. The neon rockets rise to a breaking point near the center of the universe, screams POP, and then, streams of light fall, fall, fall – outward, into oblivion. Kerouac sung it once and I hum along as we watch the crescendo of light build, layers upon smoky pixie-dust layers. Doudou asks me if I’m falling asleep. Stairs appear on the ridges of the clouds.
My spirit climbs to get a better view.