Animals too Have Stories to Tell

By Melissa Hazelwood

In Ghana, Mrs. Drummer will wash her clothes by the river, like her ancestors had done centuries before, and hang them out on rocks, but not because she is poor, and cannot afford a washer. Instead it is because hers has broken down; and it will take five days for the parts to arrive from Kenya. At night, she placates herself by looking out of windows, fascinated by stars that appear to remain constant. While the nebulas and planets are shifting around them. A primary school teacher, she lives in a small hut with her bedridden mother, whose ailment was never properly diagnosed, even though almost everyone is certain about when her illness had first appeared – twenty four hours after her husband’s body was committed to the ground.

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Map of Africa – Google Search Image

Mrs. Drummer’s father was a hunter, who also liked to tell stories. His favorites always included lions and tigers and bears. A passion he shared with his daughter, who now shares it with her students, who attend All Saints Primary School. Usually, she is called upon to supervise the first years, but today being her last day, she feels privileged to be among those in standard one. Children who come from the neighboring villages, who she has grown accustomed to seeing whenever she is out, buying groceries.

“Today,” she says slowly, trying to make eye contact with each of them, “we will be crafting stories.” She says softly as though her intention is not to frighten them, her eyes searching for unnecessary movement. Something her father never did. Because what she is looking for is something innocuous, that may later prove deadly, like a cobra’s venomous sting. Anything which at this stage of their development may even seem amiss.

In the front of the room, she hands a sharpener to a boy with crooked teeth and makes a turning motion, so that he will know to add a point to a headless pencil. A farmer’s son, she smiles at him, assumes that he has many ideas about the soil and its creatures to fill various books.

“When I was your age,” she says, holding her breath as he does what she has requested, her mind going back to two months earlier and her hospital visit to see her father. “My father used to tell me these strange stories about tigers.” She watches as one or two of them pushes their books aside, and raises their heads eagerly, as though she is some puppet master, their faces attuned to hearing something pleasant. To receiving stories. While she rests her hands on the desk and holds up the latest episode of The Guardian, with its two page spread of a pair of Bengali tigers. The same tigers that have been scheduled to be executed for biting off a part of a man’s hand.

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Bengali Tigers – Google Search Image

Watching them, she ignores the small picture of the man, someone who should have been familiar to her, but now is missed in her foray of words. “In his stories, my father told me how tigers are proud and majestic creatures,” she says, passing the image around for them to stare at it. Because on her desk there are at least five or six copies, a necessary sacrifice, she had told her mother, as though she was the one who needed to come face to face with the things she most feared and once also desired. The woman had only shook her head, as though it was beneath her to be condescending towards her own daughter. As though she had felt that it was time for the past to just remain the past while the two of them continued living.

The younger woman now just sits down and takes a sip of her water, greedily watching the children, envying their rapt attention. And then she passes out the two stuffed tigers, perfect replicas, for them to peer at because at one time her father had also mentioned something about young children needing something like a simulacra to feed their imagination to dream. Or was it to prolong the story?

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Primary School children in Ghana – Google Search Image

The story continues on Friday. Do stop by again…

And thanks for reading.

Inspirational Quote # 926


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Subterfuge: The Other Side of the Law (part 2)

Glad you’re back. Now sit down and brace yourself.

The story continues…now.

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Hospice Care – (Google Search Image)

At a hospice centre in Delaware she was battling breast cancer. By then I was seventeen and hadn’t seen her in two years even though my father’s presence had become regular. When I saw her, she was as thin as a sheet and I couldn’t see anywhere for the cancer to take hold or even flourish.

My aunt was scared because the doctors had said that she had only six months to live, but to her credit she lasted two years. Closer to the end, though, the treatments of chemo had weakened her and she looked nothing like the southern belle who had headed north in search of a degree in civil engineering. And in the photographs she left for me, I was introduced to her parents, Deb and Stan, who still wanted nothing to do with her. Or me. Then there was a brother, Terry, who seemed more keen on the ladies and would try his luck in Vegas. But luck is a fool’s game; I had learned that early on when Cindy left me for some bloke who could bench press one-fifty. And as my father had shown me in the past, guys like us would always have to make our own luck.

I travelled west to Utah that day, after the treatment, with my mom to see some of her college buddies. People she no longer hung out with; but with whom she had joined the Free Indian Reserve. A group who prided themselves on the stoppage of government encroachment on reservation land. In fact, one or two of the women said that they were still members and that those days had been exhilarating. How they had managed to steal a smoke here and there between trips to the chief’s tepee to do conference. How even though the elders had held reservations they were ecstatic about my mother’s plan to embrace a tree that lay on a border.

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Google Search Image

How the day after her water broke, the land had managed to absorb her nutrients. How having me there in spirit had been a real turning point in brokering the deal that helped them keep 90% of their land because nobody wanted to encroach on anything sacred that was also seeped with amniotic fluid.

That night when we celebrated together was one of the happiest moments of my life, because even in her weakened state, my mother embraced me and I knew she was looking at me and seeing someone worthy of love. Something I had waited for, for so long. But we didn’t stay together for too long. One week later when my aunt and I left she was writhing in pain from medication that was too strong and would later cause her to go on dialysis.

I never asked my father if he had visited her although I knew that she had kept in touch with him almost as much as she had with me. That was something we had promised each other growing up: to keep the lines of communication open and the discussion going. Although with my father there was never really anything to talk about.

I remember one summer when I was getting ready to visit my father, I had taken up the habit of talking to rocks. I mean, other people skipped stones but I communicated with them in a way I couldn’t with my father. It’s not as weird as you would think, after all many people in my old neighbourhood skipped rocks. Here, I usually considered it as an unavailability of water thing. Besides, I could say more to those rocks than I could with my father, the Quiet Shaman.

One night though, I caught him writing in a journal and when I asked him about it, he challenged me to a game of arm wrestling, which I lost and was sent to bed. But I watched him, with his straggly beard and deep welts, wondering what great stories he was keeping for posterity, to share perhaps sometime when I was older and could appreciate the fabric of the yarn.


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The Fabric of the Yarn (Google Search Image)

I would have liked to say that that changed everything about how I saw him. How I searched for that journal on every outing we took and tried to get stories out of him about his relationship with my mother. But like with everything else in his life, he remained silent. I knew nothing about the degree he possessed or how he had hoped to help his people. Nothing about his side of things and that tree-hugging incident in which my uncle swore he had refused to take part. In fact, after my mother passed away, we hardly ever saw each other again. And then I moved away from the area.

I would have forgotten about my people and my heritage if it hadn’t been for my daughter, Ki (pronounced as key), whose resemblance to her mother was more pronounced than mine. Except I saw glimpses of him everywhere, especially on the streets we had once travelled together, his six shooter still glued to his hip.

I met Chi at a petrochemicals rally in Caracas, the winter my summer abroad program took effect. She was the daughter of a Japanese banker from the Tohoku region who had fallen in love with Spanish. Her roommate, Maria was the one holding a large placard that read, Venga. ¡Venga la revolución! And at the behest of her friend and the excitement of the city, Chi had rushed out of the university, forgetting her phone. Something I remember now in hindsight as the organizers of another rally instruct us to join hands and we circled another building and sing songs of freedom.

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!Venga la revolución! (Google Search Image)

In the end, after the other rally, nobody was arrested, because we were mostly international students who were for the greater good, helping the country’s economy. We were glad about our impassioned stance and the fortuitous end, and as a result exchanged telephone numbers while sipping on colas and munching on plataños. Chi and I communicating through broken Spanish and English, and crazy hand gestures, until we learned enough about how to be comfortable with one another.

I remember her hands holding mine as I had held my mother’s on the day she died, in my aunt’s basement, finally at peace with the choices she had made, hopefully grateful for what she had been given. Nobody outside our immediate circle came to the funeral, except a few of my friends who acted as pallbearers. Not her parents who had flown in for a christening or her friends from FIR, who had sworn that her quick-thinking had helped the organization. Or any other member of the Chippewa Indians. So in the end, I donned the official headdress of a chief that I borrowed from my uncle and gave counsel with the spirit elders, telling them to be as gentle with her as she had been with me. I hoisted her body up and helped position it in its grave; because she had borne me up and deserved better.

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One of the lights of my life    (Google Search Image)

Now, when I talk to my daughter, I try to tell her what I know about life on the reservation. Things I had probably never fully understood. How the Native Americans had lost so many of their people before the country was fully formed. And how now even though some of them still subsisted on the land, they maintained old practices which were somewhat safer. And when she is five I will probably take her back there to meet her great uncle, Six Shooter, so that she can explore parts of her roots as my father had tried to do with me.

Only I promise not to remain silent. To not let the world take everything that I have away from me. And I promise to let every moment count, as it does when I am digging into the ground, on my search for artifacts.

And she will know with every beat of my heart, that she was wanted and planned for. That she and her mother are the keys of my life. That we can subsist together, even if we are in the South American jungles searching for natives in a strange land. Or fighting against big oil companies in Canada and Norway. That the race to go green has not outrun its course and that we will always have a purpose; even if sometimes we are on the other side of the law, engaged in subterfuge.

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Go Green (Google Search Image)

I hope you have enjoyed Subterfuge, come back next Wednesday for another story!

Subterfuge: The Other Side of the Law

By Melissa Hazelwood


I should tell you that my parents were protestors, that I became one too even before I emerged from the womb. How my mother placed a blanket around my shoulders after they chained her to a tree, and workmen threatened to cut the chains with a power saw. How in the end both sides agreed to call the paramedics and re-negotiate the distribution of land to the Chippewa Indians. How my mother hadn’t been crazy, only passionate about civics and the law. And how when they rushed her to the emergency room for a C-section, after her water broke, she considered only one name: Geronimo; before her professor changed her mind and she accepted Luke. Like the name of one of the apostles, someone to right the wrongs of the world. But back then I wasn’t even a freedom fighter – because I didn’t carry a gun as a principle and had no extraneous flight plans. Anyone who knew me back then would have sworn that I hated to fly because I did. Men like me didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton to get MBA’s and law degrees because on principle we were too busy wondering where the next meal was coming from and how to clothe our kids. Because even though I might have admired her tree-hugging days; my mother was too sporadic even to be considered a mother. She shipped me off across state lines to live with an aunt, her sister, another woman who had no idea about what it took to raise a man. Because I was the half-breed everyone whispered about at thanksgiving. Everyone except my father, of course; he loved me the only way a good father could love his son.


Blast from the Past: My Mother’s Tree-Hugging Days (Google Search Images)

He would come around at Christmas and birthdays bearing gifts that seemed too industrious for the likes of me. An astronomy kit at nine, a doctor’s bag with utensils at twelve – that only he could explain – and a lawyer’s briefcase a few years later. Each time, my aunt would ooh and ahh as though she was really impressed because this wasn’t anything like the cheap shit they sold in stores. No. They were tools of the trade that regular practitioners used. In fact, I remember how Cindy from two doors down let me cup a feel of her A cups after listening to her heartbeat. My father’s tricks had their moments of soothing the uncertainty that others saw when they looked at me. Sure my uncle, the cop referred to me as just another bastard Indian, but people like him only observed surface texture. Him and people like my mother’s parents who refused to take her back after college so eventually we ended up in a shelter.

That was probably why she got the idea to send me to my aunt’s. I mean, when you have to sleep on a cot with ten or twenty other people looking on and then wake up and find that your shoes and jackets have been stolen, it does little to appease someone whose notion of the greater good spreads from collecting empty bottles to speaking out against domestic violence. I remember some nights when my mother joined the Mormons and went door to door to spread the word.

Pick a person, pick a cause, they used to say in one of the halfway-houses where a group of nuns used to come every Saturday, trying to make the less fortunate feel good about themselves and helping others because when you had skills, all you had to do was seek out new opportunities. My mother ended up learning to sew and after one of her creative bursts, I looked like a cross between Rambo and a cabbage patch doll. Luckily when the matches arose, I could give as well as I got.


Giving More than You Get (Google Search Image)

All because of my father, who had thrown in a pair of boxing gloves one Christmas and gone one on one with me in the ring behind my uncle’s house where my uncle played poker every other Wednesday after work. My aunt would sit by his side, warming a bowl of chips and nursing a beer as if some sort of magic was about to happen. Me, I knew better. My uncle wasn’t worth much, his good luck often outran his bad. I could see that even though my grey eyes didn’t match my broad face or fit in with the straight black hair I had inherited from my father. Because I’d convinced myself that I was part Shaman and a spirit walk would cleanse me; and also because I could see things.

The week I turned sixteen my dad came back and carried me to see his mother. An old woman whose face, I suspected, was older than Father Time, and whom I would have called beautiful but then I would have been lying. When my father came, he appeared like an apparition. Carrying a bag that resembled an army duffle and when I asked him what he did for a living, he slapped me across the face and told me to mind my own damn business.

In the end, we hitchhiked half the way to the reservation because my uncle was being generous and had dropped us off by a bus depot. But my dad was one of those old-school Indians so we rode when we got a chance and walked when we didn’t.

There was this mysterious aura about him, when he talked, people listened. Observing his steel tipped boots and the antique gun on his hostler, I couldn’t help but be amazed. The permit for which he’d shown my uncle once, still in his wallet. It was made from genuine leather that matched his belt. Something I hoped he would give me in time.

When I was growing up, I always imagined the kind of man my father would be. My mother had said that he was good with his hands and that when they’d roomed together in college, he’d wooed her by strumming open chords on his guitar. She said how he’d always gone home for the holidays and that his parents were the head of a tribe. Said, she’d only gone there once before the tree-hugging incident and that they’d made her feel welcomed, even though she had to sleep with his sisters. How, on the reservation, his parents weren’t comfortable with the idea of them frolicking under the stars in a makeshift tepee. That some of the elders had said that he was dishonoring the tribe but he had insisted, because he wanted them to meet his future wife. How others had laughed and called him foolish, but still my father persisted because by their senior year things had indeed gotten serious.


The Quiet Shaman (Google Search Image)

Or so my uncle, Six Shooter had said, that one time I’d managed to get him alone for a game of cards. He was younger than my father and like him, he had gone to the city to be educated. But, unlike my father, he hadn’t mixed with the locals. He said that that was the reason why most tribes had gotten into trouble. For the most part, he seemed rational, called me ‘sport,’ told me I wasn’t so different from them, and that he could see traces of my father in me although he hadn’t been specific. He told me to go out into the world and live my own life.

When I met la vieja though she was less than gracious; she told me to go back to my own kind because here I’d be nothing but trouble. I tried to tell her about the old Indians I had studied in school and show her medals that I had collected from winning small prizes at the science fair and boxing. But she refused to acknowledge them. Me. She said real men listened to the land. Used their heads instead of their fists and that I’d be a disgrace just like my father.

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La Vieja                          (Google Search Image)

But I refused to listen to anything else that she had to say. Told her that she was too old to be in charge of the nation and that someday soon, my father would replace her. In the end, we were gone that same night. My father begging reprieve but I remained adamant. Refused to apologize when she was being hostile. And in school, I pummeled anybody who looked at me funny so that my aunt ended up having to home school me for two whole semesters before the news of my mother’s illness reached us.

To be continued…

I hope you like what you’ve read so far.

Tune in on Friday for the conclusion of this short story.