Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chapter 2 - Exploring Fahdamin-Ra

I shut my eyes and then opened them again, only to find my brother and me still standing in the lush, dense jungle instead of our bright and familiar kitchen. We clutched each other, barely breathing. The stone hanging around my brother’s neck returned to its normal state of looking ordinary, as if it were innocent of the changes it had thrust upon us.
            I let my breath out in a whoosh and then inhaled cautiously.
            We stood in dim light, in the exact center of a large circle, which was formed by closely fitting smooth, dark stones. No grass grew in the narrow grooves between them, and no cracks marred their surfaces. But something about the circle gave the impression that it was ancient. Everything was touched with a soft, rosy light coming from a gentle sun over my left shoulder, but whether it was dawn or sunset, I could not tell.
          Majestic, opulent trees, dense with foliage in vivid shades of green, made a thick emerald wall around two thirds of the circle. Vines and undergrowth lapped the edges of the circle, but none grew upon it. Blossoms adorned some of the branches, scenting the humid air with tantalizing perfumes. Ahead of us lay a thick mat of fresh green grass, which was parted in the middle, exposing a dirt road that led to some irregular mountains in the distance.
          My brother’s exclamation broke the heavy stillness. "Hey, what happened? Where do you think this place is?" He grabbed the stone and examined it, but it did not reveal its secrets.
          "This place has to be Fahdamin-Ra, just like the verse says."
          "No, I mean where do you think this place is? Is this earth or another planet?"
           "What I want to know is how to get back home." I refused to let the tightness in my throat reveal how close I was to tears.
          Joel rubbed his head and held the pendant up to the light. "Let’s recite the same verse, but substitute the word "home" for Fahdamin-Ra."
             Holding up the crumpled slip of paper with the chant on it, I clutched his arm as we recited the same verse, ending with the word ‘home’.
             Nothing happened. Pressing my lips together, I shoved the paper into the pocket of my shorts. "There has to be a way to get back. Maybe if we just wish to go home.” We paused, wishing intently to go home, but we stayed where we were.
            "Let’s make up something," Joel suggested. He then proceeded to chant different verses, each one becoming more outrageous than the last. He gave up trying and stood in uncharacteristic stillness. My mind went back to how happy we were, a few moments earlier, before we discovered the secret of our family’s ancient artifact. Now, I wondered if we would ever see our home or parents again. A sob pushed its way up, seeking an escape. But I shoved it back, letting anger taking its place.
            Joel started to wander away. I shouted, "Don't move!" much too loudly for the quiet surroundings. We heard startled birds fly up into the air, somewhere beyond us in the thick jungle.
          “Aren't we going to explore?"
          "I think we should stay here until we figure out how to get home."
          "No way. I want to check this place out. Sis-tine, stop worrying. We need to look around and see what’s here." Joel walked a few more feet away from me. "Let’s go see if we can find some people, maybe someone to help us. We’ll explore and figure out something.”
          Unexpectedly, there was a movement in the bushes and a sleek leopard came into view. I gasped in fear, but Joel’s face became alert with excitement and interest. The leopard stared at us for a moment, sniffing. It was a beautiful animal with sinewy muscle covered by a luxurious, vibrant coat. It was worth admiring, but not from ten feet away. The large cat growled and then slipped into the bushes to our right, as if it were changing from solid to shadow.
          Joel was elated. “Wow! Did you see that? Let’s find out where it went. I bet there are lots of exotic animals here.” He was already stalking toward the place where the wild feline had vanished.
          I grabbed the back of his shirt before he dove in the bushes to become the leopard’s breakfast. “No way! We stay together and if we are going to look for anything, we’ll search for some people. Let's not get eaten just after we’ve arrived. Let’s go down that road.” I pointed to the dirt road that led to the mountains.
          My brother was ready for a one-person mutiny. Yanking his shirt out of my hand, he said, “Sis-tine, they only attack humans if they feel threatened.”
          “I think following a leopard into the underbrush would be threatening. Let’s go.” Again, I indicated the path. Joel hesitated a second before he joined me.
           My brother never stayed upset for long. “I told you that it was a leopard carved on the box,” he said in a superior tone, swaggering along beside me.
          I smiled and kept walking. It must have been dawn when we arrived at this place, because the sunlight became steadily stronger. The jungle remained on our right as we went along, although the density diminished. On our left, the green grass gave way to scattered trees and bushes. Because the road was so straight, I could just make out a river in the distance. A dark bridge spanned it. The mountains beyond stuck up out of the ground like oversized lumps of dark brown sugar, and stretched across the land, running parallel to the river.
          I tried to gauge how long before we’d reach the ridge. I wondered if it looked close because the air was clean in this place and because it stood out in sharp relief against the vivid blue sky. I took many deep breaths, enjoying the smell of the trees and the grass. Joel and I didn’t speak as we took it all in, using each of our senses to experience everything that surrounded us. Although it was warm and the sun very bright, I did not feel hot, though I needed my visor to shade my eyes, and said so. Joel wished for his favorite lime green fishing hat.
          “Actually, this is not the outfit I would have picked to travel in." I indicated my pink shorts, and pink and orange striped tank top. "I need something more dignified.”
          "Be glad we're both wearing sneakers," Joel said, unconcerned that he was wearing a bright orange tee shirt with a surfboard-riding iguana pictured on it. He wore khaki shorts, the kind with lots of pockets. He was right about our footwear. Without our sneakers, it would have been uncomfortable to walk anywhere but on the smooth road.
          We came upon fields carpeted with vegetables, the rows remarkably straight, and no weeds in sight. Beyond them, I saw a movement, so I stopped. On the left, past a curve in the river, the gardens gave way to long, golden grass, where a herd of horned animals grazed. Joel halted and followed my gaze. "A type of antelope, I think," he said, answering my unasked question. The animals milled around, ignoring us because we were much too far away to bother them. I loved watching the elegant animals, colored in brown and cream, with twisty curlicues of horns.
          “They are so graceful and pretty that they remind me of deer.”
         "They belong to the goat family," Joel said, shattering my idyllic thought.
          "Well, so do you, but we took you in anyway." I gave him a playful shove, which he returned. When I went to shove him back, he darted away laughing. I chased after him, though I knew he could run faster and I could not catch him unless he let me. We sprinted up the road, until he halted abruptly. Startled, I stopped too, the sight ahead making me cold with fear.
          Marching toward us was a group of men. They might have been half a mile away, but they were easy to spot because the land was flat and they wore colorful clothing. I had no doubt; it was to us that they walked.
          "Should we wave or something?" Joel asked.
          "Maybe we should run," I said, feeling panicky. Our intention was to meet people, but I had imagined a quiet village with women and children, not a squad of men out in the open.
          "Sis-tine, where would we run to?" It was too far to the jungle, which was the only place we could hide.
          I took a deep breath. "Okay, we will stay here, but look calm and relaxed. I wonder how we can figure out a way to communicate with them. Do you think we can pantomime finding the stone and it bringing us here?"
          "Oh sure, Celestine. They will stand there while we do charades." Joel sneered, using sarcasm to mask his apprehension. We froze and watched the men come closer.
           It was a vivid group. Three men preceded the others, holding curved, shiny swords out in front of them. They wore identical black, red, and gold striped tunics, with triangular red hats on their heads. Four more men dressed exactly like the first three, followed. The men in the quad each grasped a pole, holding up a purple awning over a man in the center. As they approached, we could observe that the central man was dressed more elaborately, in a longer robe with pointed sleeves that extended beyond his hands. His silken garment had more colorful stripes than the others. He wore a golden hat shaped like a graduation cap, except that the flat surface had three points instead of four. It was decorated with colorful stones and large feathers. All the men wore sashes draped from their right shoulder; in addition, the guards wore one around their waists to hold their scabbards.
           I had never seen men with so much gold jewelry. They all wore earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and anklets. The man in the middle had a heavy necklace with an immense gold eagle pendant, which was studded with jewels. The sunlight flashed on the gold as they moved.
           We felt awkward as they came nearer, their bare feet thudding on the hard packed road. When they were a few yards away, the guards stopped, but the young man in the middle walked up to us. He was tall and thin, and he had skin that was a beautiful color - a deep brown that almost appeared black. He had a short nose, a large mouth, and exotic deep-set eyes.
          I did not know what to do, but I knew I had to say something.  I gave a little bow and said hello, which seemed ridiculous. I could tell by the way Joel rolled his eyes, that he thought so too. For a moment, the man stared at our clothes, and then he started talking. Whatever he said in his language, he began in a cautious tone, then became exasperated when we did not understand him. He waved his hands as he jabbered at us. Joel kept looking to me to signal our next move. Meanwhile the stranger blustered at us in his tongue, getting more irritated every minute.                
          Abruptly, he reached over and grabbed the stone pendant. Like a game of slap-jack, Joel and I grabbed the stranger’s hand. I was afraid he would rip the necklace from Joel. The necklace gave off a shock, stronger than static electricity, and the man jumped, taken aback. His guards came to his side to protect him, but he waved them away while never taking his eyes off our startled faces.
          "Who are you? Where did you get the Creator’s stone?" the man demanded to know, and we could understand every word. Startled, I gaped at Joel, who was just as dumbfounded.
          Joel recovered and started to grin, lifting one eyebrow. "I am Joel and this is my sister, Celestine. This stone brought us here this morning. It has been in our family for ages." 
          The young man comprehended Joel’s words, but I did not expect such a dramatic reaction. His mouth fell open so wide that I could see his tonsils, and then he stumbled a few steps back, pointing to the stone in amazement. "That brought you here from your world?"
           Our world? What world was this? Not knowing what to say, my brother and I nodded in unison. The next thing we knew, all the strangers folded to their knees and spread their arms, bowing their heads toward us.
          "Well," Joel said. "This is more like it."
          There was an awkward moment as Joel and I waited, looking at the men. Joel could stand it no longer and announced in a commanding voice, "You may rise." The men obeyed, and now it was their turn to stand awkwardly. "So, who are you and where is this place?" Joel continued.
        "I am the obedient and steadfast Prince Kayin from the most loyal tribe of the Harun," the young man said in a noble manner. "These are my valiant guards. Forgive us; we did not know who it was that traveled the road, so I came to investigate.” He addressed his remarks to Joel, though he glanced at me while he talked, curious about us both. "This is the land of Fahdamin-Ra that you see about you. For a long time, all have watched and waited with much anticipation for your welcome appearance.” I observed him as he spoke. He had beautiful white teeth, but I sensed that he did not smile often. Though none of the men looked at us directly, I found myself again wishing I had worn something more formal than a tank top and shorts. 
          Joel smiled at the prince. "Well Prince Kayin, we just arrived at that circle of stone. Do you know it?" He pointed down the road in the direction from which we had come. Kayin nodded, and then glanced toward the circle.
          “So, it is exactly as was told in the legends of long ago," he said. "The Creators will always appear to us at the stone circle. How ashamed I am for my tribe, forsaking our vigilance, and not being there to welcome you." He and the other men hung their heads.
          My brother and I were confused. Did our stone bring others here before? "What do you mean by 'the legends'?" Joel asked.
          Kayin looked at both of us, but was hesitant to speak. Maybe he was afraid that he would offend us. Taking a deep breath, he spoke, addressing Joel. "We, the proud and noble tribe of the Harun, have waited for a Creator to visit, though it has been many generations. Is it not said that with patience even the tiniest seed will grow to be a tree? We began to wonder if we would see you again. Not that we did not have faith,” he added hastily. “We remembered that it is the duty of the mortals to please the Creators, not for the Creators to please the mortals. However, I am filled with joy to know that you are here now. Please, come visit my people. They will be full of delight when they see that you have returned." He bowed down again and, puppet-like, the guards did the same.
          Joel nodded. "No problem, lead the way." Rising, Kayin turned back in the direction from which he had come, and moved to the other side of Joel. The guard assembled around us, stretching the awning over our trio of heads. With a command from the prince, we proceeded down the road toward the mountains.
           I kept looking at Kayin and the guards out of the corners of my eyes. They were all so tall, and no one spoke. It felt rather intimidating. As we walked, we saw people streaming out of the mountain, heading to the fields. They all stared at our little procession.
          I wanted answers right away, so I started asking questions. "Prince Kayin, my brother and I never knew what the stone could do until this morning, when we arrived in Fahdamin-Ra. Someone hid it inside a trick box, so my father and grandmother had no knowledge of  what it could do. When did the last Creator visit here?"
            “The Great Councilor, Baruti, was the last of the Creators to appear," Kayin said after some hesitation. "It was many generations ago when we were honored with his presence. If your family did not know about the stone, then that would explain your absence." He begged Joel to tell him the story, so my brother told him all that we knew. “I wonder what happened that kept Councilor Baruti from passing on the secret?” the prince said.
          “Who knows? We are glad to be here, now.” Joel said. “So, does anyone else live here in Fahdamin-Ra besides your tribe?”
          “The Jabulani tribe lives on the river, in a little village called Jabulan,” Kayin said, pointing to the left. “The Masamba tribe still lives deep in the jungle, over that way.” He pointed to the right.
          “Tell us, what are the other tribes like?” Joel probed, wanting to know more.
          The prince hesitated and then answered as if he were measuring his words. “I have little knowledge about them. We don’t associate with each other usually. In fact, no one has seen any Jabulani for some time, but I have heard that they are often idle. As for the Masamba, they wear minimal clothing and what they do wear is rough cloth and animal skins. We occasionally see them hunting with their leopards.” I could tell by his clipped speech that Kayin did not care for the other tribes. I made a mental note to visit them so that Joel and I could find out for ourselves. The prince seemed a little too snobbish for me to trust his opinion.
          We fell into a long silence, and I could hear the calls of birds, the flap of the awning in the breeze, and the determined slap of our feet on the road, as we got closer to Harun. We approached a formidable looking bridge. It was dark brown stone with two massive statues of solemn men at either side of the entrance. Their clothing resembled what Kayin was wearing, and their pointed hats were shiny gold, reflecting the fierce sun.  
          Suddenly, he asked, “Do the other tribes know you are here?”
          “No, we had just arrived when you and your men met us,” Joel said. “Now, please tell us what Harun is like?”
          “It is as tall and majestic as the mountains from which we carved it. We have always thanked the First Creator for giving us such a perfect place to live. You will find Harun people hard working, well-educated, careful keepers of our history, and respectful of the Creator Laws. For a man who pays respect to the great, paves the way for his own greatness.” He was then silent, perhaps waiting for our response, but I was mulling over the mention of the Creator Laws. Were we really Creators? What did Creators do? What laws did Creators make, and how would we find out about them?
          Groups of people started passing by us. Women carried baskets on their heads, men carried tools in their hands, and though they glanced at us, they did not speak. They wore striped clothing of greens, browns, and yellows and, for the men only, additional stripes of orange. The women and men alike wore narrow hats of stiff fabric, with the top folded over like a flap of an envelope. The hats were solid colored and plain, with no decoration. The men wore sashes across their chests as well, and a few pieces of gold jewelry. They went into the fields and set to work at once.
          Kayin looked down his nose as he nodded to all and called out greetings to some of the men. As we bustled up to the bridge, the workers cleared out of the way, leaving the bridge empty for us. We hurried past the watchful stone guardians and onto the span. The sides were waist high walls that allowed for a view of the brown river on both sides. Trees and bushes drooped out over the water from the steep banks on either side of the river. Along the far bank, fields stretched to the base of the mountains, which loomed ahead of us.
          Beyond the bridge, I could see that the road curved a bit, ending at a massive arch, decorated with gold writing and symbols, carved into the dark brown stone. Two guards stood at the gate within the arch, swords at their sides. At our approach, they pulled their blades out of their scabbards and raised them in what I hoped was a salute.
          “Welcome to the City of Harun,” Prince Kayin announced, as our procession came to the gate. The guards all stopped, but Kayin pushed on ahead with Joel and me in his wake. We passed through the arch, entered the city, and walked from the glaring sunlight into the dark coolness. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Travels to Fahdamin-Ra

I am re-releasing my first book, Travels to Fahdamin-Ra. This is a soft cover and ebook version, available on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, with a new cover! For the next week, I will download a chapter each day so that people can read the book and get to know Celestine and Joel Bridges, the main characters of the story.

Chapter 1
The Secret

Everyone loves a secret. Sometimes you keep secrets and sometimes they keep you. My secret and I held on to each other for years, but our tale is so fantastic that I have to tell it. Maybe you will believe me, or maybe not - you will have to decide for yourself.
I will start at the beginning, on June 30 - back in the summer when I was fourteen and my brother, Joel, was twelve. My name is Celestine Bridges, by the way, and our particular adventure began when my father retired from the navy and celebrated his birthday all on the same day. My mother planned a day of festivities for him, ending with a party at our house.
My Bridges grandparents drove up from New York for the special event. That evening, when most of the visitors were gone, Grandmother presented Dad with an extraordinary gift. “Raymond, this belongs to you, now that you are out of the service and will be staying in one place,” she said, handing him a round, carved block of wood. “This has been passed down through our family since they lived in Africa. I have saved it all these years in a safe-deposit box, so make sure you keep it secure.”
Joel and I leaned over Dad’s shoulder as we examined it. The wood heirloom was the shape and size of a small tin you get cookies in at Christmas. The dark brown wood was almost the color of my father’s hands and covered with intricate carvings. Etched on the top was a sun surrounded by an eagle, a fish, and a leopard. Mountains, trees, flowers, and vines adorned the sides. “All these years, Mother, and you never said a thing. Do you know what country it is from?”
“I’m sorry, dear. I don’t know much about it at all, except that when my mother gave it to me, told me to keep it safe, and to pass it down to my child with the mark. Since you are my only child, I suppose you must carry the mark, though she never explained what it was. At any rate, I hope you will put this in a safe place.”
“Don’t worry, Mother, I understand that it is irreplaceable. I will take it to the bank on Monday.” My father took the object out to the porch, where Dr. Oba Tutuola was talking to my mother, Valerie, and her sister, Lucy. “Oba, have you seen anything like this?” Dad asked, as he passed it to his friend. Dr. Tutuola held the item carefully, the light overhead reflecting in his glasses. He was Nigerian and taught history and African studies at a nearby college.
“This is an unusual box and the carvings are quite detailed. I have never seen wood quite like this before,” he commented, studying it.
“It’s a box?” Joel asked. “How does it open?”
“Well, I am guessing that it is a box, because of its size and the carvings on it. Sometimes, people hide important things in small boxes, and there is a trick, like a puzzle, to opening them. Perhaps if you study it, you will figure out how to get it open.” Dr. Tutuola held it gently as he traced a fingertip over the surface.
“May I see it?” asked Mom, and we passed the heirloom to her. Even though she is not of African descent, she worked in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin after college, and was always interested in everything African. She and my aunt exclaimed over its beauty as my grandmother hovered nearby. The only one who was not curious was my grandfather, who settled in the living room and read the newspaper instead.
When my turn came, I cradled the box with a sense of wonder. What country did it come from, and how many relatives of mine held this box in their hands? Why did they make it and want to pass it down? If it were a box, what could be in it? Diamonds? Gold? A treasure map? “Now, dear,” my grandmother instructed as she took it away from me, “this is not a toy, but a delicate artifact that has great sentimental value.” I did not say anything, but knew that once my grandmother was gone, Dad would let me study it as long as I wanted.
Our grandparents left the next day, cruising up the street in their big Cadillac. The atmosphere in the house relaxed a little, without their stern presence. Joel and I scrutinized the carved wood object, and talked Dad out of putting it in a safe-deposit box until we had a chance to figure out if it opened.
We picked it up and puzzled over it many times, but it was summer in Maine, and the secret of the box became less of a priority as each day went by. It was turning out to be the best summer ever with our parents. Dad was waiting until fall before he started his new job at an accounting firm, and Mom was taking a break from her work designing and sewing costumes. She kept sewing for the rest of us though, making Dad some new shirts, a new dress for me, and some costumes for Joel, who was still young enough to dress up as a Samurai, a genie, or an alien.
Dad worked on the motorboat and when it was ready, we went out on the river in the evenings, to cool off after hot July days. He also started scraping loose paint from the house, keeping my brother and me busy picking up chips off the ground. We were looking forward to helping him paint after the scraping was done, because he was going to let us stand on the scaffolding.
One night at supper, Dad announced that he would be taking the heirloom to the bank the next day, for safekeeping. After we cleaned up the kitchen, Joel went into the living room, to study the box one last time. “You know what doesn’t make sense to me?” he commented. “The eagle should be in the sky, the fish should be in the water, and the leopard should be by the trees.”
I put down my book and went to study the carvings again. To the left of the sun were some mountains, a blank area of sky above them. On the right, tall trees stood, curved along the edge of the box. Below the sun were small ridges, which looked like waves. It did not make sense that the leopard was standing on the water, the eagle was flying in the trees, and the fish was by the mountains. “Do you think those animals can move?” I asked.
Joel put the box down on the coffee table and started to shift each of the carved animals on the lid. Nothing happened. I tried pressing the sun, pushing against it with my fingertips. When I lifted my hand away, my brother put a finger on each animal. He had to stretch to touch all three, so I put my pointer finger on the fish. “Push down on all three at the same time,” he ordered. We pushed hard, and there was an almost inaudible click as the sun moved up a tiny bit. “Wow-hoo! Did you see that, Sis-tine?” He pulled on the sun, but it did not budge.
“Here, try this.” I turned the sun like a knob. It did not move, but the animals did since they were connected to each other on a circular disk. I dialed them to the right locations and when they fell into place, the whole top of the box gave a click. I rotated it around, but nothing happened. For the next ten minutes or so, Joel and I fiddled with it, until both of us stopped trying and just stared at it.
“I thought it would work like a dial and open when we got to the right place. I wonder what we’re supposed to do next,” Joel said. We sat unmoving, for several minutes and thought hard. I was beginning to think of going back to my book when my brother jumped up and grabbed the box again. “Maybe it works like a combination on a safe,” he exclaimed, moving it back into the position where the top of the box was realigned. He dialed it several ways, finally lining up some faint markings on the top and sides. He found the correct sequence and the sun popped up even more. Joel grasped the sun like a knob and the top of the box came off.
We hollered for our parents to come as we peered inside. There was a recess in the middle where a purple fabric bag lay, about the size of my fist. Mom and Dad arrived on the scene, gasping as they saw Joel holding the lid. “You figured it out. Good for you two!” Mom praised us.
Dad beamed at us as he pulled the bag out. It had gold drawstrings and gold script on the side of it. “This bag looks brand new,” my father observed. He loosened the drawstrings, opened the bag, and poured a gold necklace into his hand. “Wow! Who would have guessed that this would be in there?” As he held it up, the thick chain gleamed. There was a pendent attached to the necklace, a gold cage of sorts around an oval, brown stone. “This is strange. What type of stone is this?”
“What kind of writing is on the bag?” I asked, as Mom and I studied it.
“I have no idea,” Dad replied, “but I think I will take it to Oba in the morning and see what he says. In the meantime, you have to show me how you opened this.”
Joel and I demonstrated how it opened, which lead to an animated discussion until Mom noticed the time and sent us off to bed. The next morning, Dad hustled our discovery to Dr. Tutuola and then came home with another piece of the puzzle solved.
“Dr. Tutuola is sure that the writing is Arabic and is asking a colleague to translate it for us. While I was there, one of the geology professors looked at the rock and thought it was a type of sandstone, though its dark brown color is unusual.” Dad shook his head. “This box is a mystery. Oba said he would drop by later and tell us what he found out, so I invited him to stay for dinner.”
“Oh good, I know just what to make,” said Mom, and she went to the kitchen. Dad phoned his mother, shocking her with the news. My father explained to her, step by step, how to open the box. He refrained from telling her that Joel and I were the ones who discovered the secret.
That evening, my brother and I hung around outside, so we would know the instant when Dr. Tutuola arrived. We ushered him into the house the moment he got out of his car, then Joel asked, “So, what does the writing say?”
Dr. Tutuola smiled as he searched in his pocket for a piece of paper, which he unfolded and read. “Translated, this is what it says: ‘Take me away to my heart’s desire/ Deepest secret, my divine gift/ For me, for all my chosen descendants/ Land that we rule, subjects we love/ To the world where I am The One/ Take me away to Fahdamin-Ra.’”
“I wonder why it is in Arabic and not one of the African languages?” my father inquired. “Where is Fahdamin-Ra? I have never heard of it.”
“No one has ever heard of it though, translated, it means ‘followers of the sun’,” Oba said. “We guessed that the writer used Arabic because many tribes in Africa had only verbal languages until recently.”
“So there is no way of knowing where the writer came from originally?” Mom asked.
“No, but I find the phrase, ‘Where I am The One,’ fascinating – because in my Yoruba language, ‘The One’ is Olodumare, the Creator.”
“What are you going to do with the necklace now, Dad?” Joel looked at him expectantly. “Are you going to wear it?”
We all laughed at the idea of my quiet, reserved father wearing something so large and flashy. “No, son, I won’t be wearing it,” he said, “But I must admit that I am curious to know why my ancestors didn’t use the gold to buy their freedom.” He and my grandmother had worked for a year on our genealogy, tracing back to a farm in Maryland where our ancestors, a woman and her daughter, had arrived as slaves from West Africa.
“Perhaps they did not know what the box contained,” Dr. Tutuola suggested. “Maybe, when it was passed down to them, no one told them the secret.”
“We can talk about it some more while we eat,” Mom broke in. “Oba, you will be happy to know that I cooked your favorite, chicken and peanut stew.” We trooped off to the dining room, and discussed the box and its mysterious contents all through the meal, which we ate with our hands, Nigerian style.
After supper, we showed Dr. Tutuola how we had opened the box and then my father dropped the chain and the stone in the little bag and placed them inside. He added the translation and then closed the lid. “This box is much more valuable than I realized, so I will take it to the bank tomorrow.”
The next morning, I woke up and saw that it was raining. Disappointed, I washed and dressed, then went downstairs to the kitchen. There was the smell of bacon, and a bowl of fresh strawberries was on the counter. Mom got up from the table where she and Dad were sitting, and cooked some bacon for me while I toasted an English muffin. Joel appeared, so Mom added more bacon to the pan while he fixed the rest of his breakfast.
When we finished eating, my parents sat on the porch and sipped coffee, while my brother and I cleared the table. “Why is the box on the counter?” I asked, spying it as I loaded the dishwasher.
“Oh, I was cleaning it with a little lemon oil,” my mother responded. “I wanted to polish it before your dad takes it to the bank today.”
“We won’t see it again, Dad?” Joel asked.
“No, son, it needs to be stored somewhere safe.”
“Can we see the necklace again?” I asked. At my dad’s nod, I opened the case, pulled out the bag, and put the piece of jewelry on, feeling the gold cool and heavy on my neck. “Wow, this weighs more than I thought it would. I have to go look at myself in the mirror.” I went into the bathroom and stared at the heavy gold chain with its mysterious pendant.
“Here, I want to try it,” Joel said, and I put it on over his wooly head. He was too short to see himself in the mirror, so I got a footstool for him to stand on. Next, my brother went out on the porch to show our parents. “I look like a king.”
I called him to come into the kitchen as I picked up the piece of paper with the verse on it. “Wait, your majesty, let me sing you the song that comes with your royal necklace.” Using a theatrical voice, I sang, “Take me away to my heart’s desire, deepest secret, my divine gift. For me, for all my chosen descendants, land that we rule, subjects we love, to the world where I am The One, take me away to Fahdamin-Ra.”
I bowed deeply and then stood, grinning at my brother. Something bright caught my eye. It was the stone, which was glowing, getting brighter as I stared at it. “Joel, look, look!” I shouted, pointing at the stone.
Joel glanced down and gave a yelp, and then yanked at the necklace as he cried, “Help, I can’t get it off, it won’t move.” I grabbed the chain too, which was becoming warmer and felt so heavy that I could not pull it off either.
Seeing us from the kitchen window, my parents jumped up from the table and ran to help. The stone gave off a white light so blinding that I could not see them and did not know if they were near us. I stumbled, falling against my brother, as if a carpet had been pulled out from beneath my feet. The light isolated us and my hands could not let go of the chain, which burned like a brand in my palms. For a few moments, all I was aware of was the light and the heat from the necklace. Although I sensed only air beneath my feet, I did not have the sensation of falling. I could hear Joel panting in my ear, his breath warm against my neck.
It was a relief when there was something solid under my feet again, though the light faded away, leaving us in blackness. As I blinked my eyes and slowed my breathing, the necklace lost its warmth and I could let go of it. The darkness started to recede, and as my eyes adjusted, I was able to see again, but I was not familiar with my surroundings. Joel and I were standing in the middle of a warm, humid jungle, and we had no idea how we had arrived there.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review - Saint Peter Killed God

Saint Peter Killed God by K J Kron star star star star star 
This is one of the most thought provoking books that I have read in some time. Even though I am not Catholic, it makes me want to get out my bible and read the New Testament, to understand what Jesus was teaching. The author drew me in with the story of Peter, a priest who wakes up in a psychiatric hospital. Peter reads his diary, in which he wrote about himself as Saint Peter, and his plan to reform the church. The reader learns about Peter's life at the same time as Peter, who has amnesia and has to rely on his diary to tell him how he ended up in the hospital. All during the story, I wonder if Peter is insane or a visionary, and I like the way that the author lets the reader decide. A must read for anyone who wonders about religion or how our past shapes us. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Remembering Amanda

My younger sister, Amanda Jill Hoppe Clamors, died on August 8, 2011. She was only 46 years old. I wanted to write a poem about her, but I can't express my feelings that way right now. I realized this morning that I have been thinking about my life lately, and the following is some of my musing:

I was thinking how nice it would be if we could make an appointment with God when we are about to face changes in our life. He would hand us a little summary of what we could expect, depending on what choices we made. We could choose which plan we would like to go with, (like the other day at work, when we had to choose what insurance plan we would like.) Would we be happy if we knew what to expect? The answer is 'no' for me, once I thought about it. I would drive myself crazy wondering if I would be happier if I had chosen a different scenario. Besides, life would not be as enjoyable if I knew what was coming. The lows in our life make us thankful for the highs. I would not be as happy and grateful for the good things in my life if I did not have the bad to compare them to.
I was thinking this morning (walking to work puts my brain in a philosophical mood) that life is like going on a boat. My life feels like it is rushing along most times, like I am kayaking on a river that has white water rapids. I have energy and feel exhilarated. Other times, it feels like I am on my grandfather's old lobster boat, out on the bay, stuck in heavy fog. I don't know where I am going and I am afraid of running aground on ledges, so I stop and listen for the fog horn to guide me and move slowly toward its sound. The fog horn, as you might have guessed, is God's voice. I have to turn the motor off and listen, because the fog muffles the sound and makes it hard to determine what direction it is coming from. The good news is that fog does not last forever, and the sun will eventually come out and burn it off. My life will move on. 
I will remember happy memories that I shared of people that are not in my life anymore. It helps me to accept my sister's death when I think that when she arrived in heaven, my grandfather, grandmother, and a bunch of other relatives and friends were there to welcome her. Until I join them, I will appreciate my life a little more, play a little harder, love those around me a little more, and feel a little closer to God.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yes, That's My Husband ~ Starting a Family

First of all, I want to thank the wonderful readers who have left comments. I wanted to thank you, but I cannot leave a comment on my own blog. I am trying to figure that out.

I am from Maine and it was kind of a culture shock to live in San Diego. When my husband was getting ready to return home from his first deployment, I left Maine and drove to Norfolk, Virginia, where we lived for the next seven years. I found an apartment without much trouble, unpacked, and was ready for Buzz to return home. He took some leave time so we spent it exploring the area. I noticed that some people did not just stare - they glared at us openly. I suddenly became aware of how many Confederate flags were around. Perhaps people who like the Confederate flag like black people too, but it has been my experience that most do not.

I got pregnant right away and things went smoothly. Before Buzz came home, his sailor friends on the ship liked me because I made baked goods and sent them in care packages to Buzz, which he shared. No one on the ship acted like they disapproved of our marriage. I suffered through the hot Virginia summer in a car without air conditioning, and being quite pregnant, I was sweating a lot.

I met a wonderful woman named Shirley, and I started attending her church. She was very supportive when Buzz had to leave on another deployment at the end of July. I had some complications and my daughter, Callista was born a month early, when Buzz was on his way home.

I had no idea what color Callista would be. She was only a shade or two lighter than me, though after she was born, the doctor asked me what race my husband was, so he must have seen brown babies before born to white moms. My roommate at the hospital was black and her baby was almost twice Callista's size and a lot darker. When I walked down the hall to the nursery, Callista was the only brown baby there. All the rest were white and black.

When Callista was two weeks old, I took her to church, and the members met her and Buzz at the same time. I think that many people were curious to see what color she would end up, because Buzz is rather dark brown. She got darker until she was six months old, and has stayed her lovely caramel color ever since.

I thought that she was beautiful. However, some people did not agree with me. More than once, white people saw us and said "Nigger baby" to my face. When she was about six months old, I was looking for a daycare person so that I could drop her off a couple of times a week, and a black woman told me, "I don't take mulatto children, only black kids." Strangers would ask me, "What is she?" wondering about her race. My reply quickly became, "She is a human being. What are you?"

I said something at church because the person hired to take care of the infants ignored Callista while doting on a white baby about the same age. She propped up Callista's bottle in the crib and my daughter spit up a huge amount, which could have suffocated her.

In the end, I found a nice Hispanic lady whose husband was in the Navy. She did not care what color Callista was. A lot of people at church loved the fact that an interracial family had joined them. My minister told me that I had to figure out who I wanted to ignore, and then ignore them - God is colorblind.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Maine Step Son" Poem

Our Nigerian friend, Philip Oyok, is a writer and a poet. He just sent this touching poem about his recent visit to Maine-

Maine Step Son

I have a picture in my mind of Maine, 
And I feel it's a picture that's never going to wash away 
Ever till the day the Lord takes me away:

Walking down the streets of Bath
Sitting by the riverside
Staring out at the Carlton Bridge
The sight of the Bath Iron Works building the ships
While on the river, luxury boats went by and by.

Walking down the streets
Ogling the old homes, picturing the lives of the old folks
Of past sea captains and boat builders and Maine-ish wives
Proud of the New World they had
Were they happy?
Were they proud?

There's a quietude here I never discovered elsewhere:
Old folks shuffling by
Some waving a hand, going Maine-ish when they spoke: "Hi stranger. Care for a bee-ah?"
Some foreign it sounded to my ears
I often had to laugh and cry
At the sound of their happiness
At the sound of their years.

Driving through Woolwich
Admiring the rich, old homes out on Pleasant Cove
Venturing into a Borders' shop in Brunswick
Too bad their doors won't stay open for long;
The splendour of the Androscoggin River,
Stopping at a drive-in to munch on lobster roll
Listening to Eagles on the radio
'Take it easy' while we cruise along the turnpike road.

Entering Cape Elizabeth
Stopping to see the famous light house at Fort William's Park
Looking at the giant elm trees in Sebago Lake
The water so blue, looking invitingly new
Old and the young jumping into the water
The zenith of summer
We fry marshmallows and eat them with chocolate
Being around a family, the love permeates the tide. 

We visit the Wildlife Park
Take pictures standing beside a carved out bear just before seeing the live ones
The eagles all stay quite in their caged homes
Turtles bask in the shade away from the sun
Look! There's a moose, acting like we aren't even there
A porcupine sticks it head out of its hole, but hurries back inside
A trail of kids walk by, marveling the sight.

Sitting in front of the bath City Hall
watching tourists snap photos
buying ice cream and listening to the quite music of the street
the air tingled my nostrils
from Granite Street, the wind ruffles the hairs on my skin
Since arriving here, my glands hardly broke a sweat
Though my sleeping hour overdue, sweetest dreams always came too soon.
The evening comes but late
We sit out in the front porch, feeding on lobster
I wear an apron on, knife and fork in my hand
Grinning at the camera
Moments such as these are forever.

It is too late to answer the question
But I will return again
This land, this part of the world
Will be a second home
This beauty, I take home with me in pictures
In dreams ... 

This Maine state of mind.