I Love You Bessie Head

I am tired. I look at other women in the ward and I see that they are tired too. It is hot. There is nothing that I can do to escape this intolerable heat. I lie under this sheet in this hospital. The doctor said I should just rest. Close my eyes and try and get some rest. There is nothing else they can do for me. But I have come to this nothing place in this nothing district to get away from my past. This too shall pass. The woman next to me keeps looking at me strangely. Are you God? She asks me. Some days it is, ‘Do you know his son Jesus Christ?’ She has a bible. She refuses to eat. Nobody visits her. Nobody visits me but that is because nobody knows where I am. There are ancient lives under Botswana’s sky. I found when I used to be a journalist in another lifetime when I wrote about people in that distant past there used to be something urgent about it but something unfinished as well. Writing also saved my life, having a child and a man in my life. But the doctors, the nuns here say I will go out of my head if I think that way. They say that everything is for the best now. I can go and sit outside today. It’s a beautiful day. Warm and sunny. Every day there was fruit at the hospital. Yesterday we had mangoes. The mango’s flesh tasted wonderful. It reminded me of my childhood, of my sister, the warmth of a pinch of cumin offered to a supper meal, a country to call my own and the girl I was once. Not like some of those coquettish ones but a unique who suffered from anticipatory nostalgia from one moveable feast that she found from one book to the next. A woman received some avocados in the ward and she shared it amongst her friends. I spooned the ripe olive-looking flesh out of the skin and sucked the threads off my fingers. Beautiful. I asked my doctor for some pages or a notebook and a pen that I could write with. I felt I had something to say when he asked what it was for. Sometimes the heat here in Botswana smells like incense burning. It goes to my head and stays there for ever after. Lovely. Poignant. Fresh. Burning sweetly reminding me of my female intuition. This heat has saved me. It has slowed all the racing thoughts within my head and they’re all within my grasp now. 7mgg

‘Tell me Bessie do you have any friends here at the hospital. People who you can talk to.’

‘Friends? Tell me what the meaning of that word is doctor. To stay here does not mean it is a permanent residence. I will move on from here as I have done before. It is not good to remain tied down, make bonds with people, and form relationships that will probably only hurt you in the end. I have found that out the hard way. Breaking ties with people oh I’ve done that my whole life.’ manguerose

And for a long time the doctor and I sat next to each other saying very little. We spoke about the weather and poetry and bananas of all things. Yes of all things in the world we spoke about bananas. Bananas dominated the conversation when we eventually came round to speaking about it.

‘Doctor, are you happy? Are you happy with your life? If you could go back to the past what would you change?’ I ask plaintively. roomidea

The doctor looked out into the distance. There was a lovely breeze. ‘Lovely breeze Bessie, don’t you think. You’re very serious this afternoon. What has got you to think so deeply? Are you feeling morose?’

‘Perhaps I am. But there have been times when thinking morose has saved my life. I’ve either stored enough of it away or not enough. And when it comes to those times of not enough I take to my bed, spaice pull the sheets over my head. I don’t need friends. Everybody needs a friend but I don’t believe that people need friends in life. So, are you happy doctor?’

‘Don’t I look happy Bessie?’

‘I don’t know. Are you?’

‘Today this morning a nurse misplaced a file. I was not happy about that. But I had a hot cup of tea, a slice of cake, and a sandwich. Soon I will return your notebook. Perhaps you should think of going for a walk with the other patients.’

The notebook has saved my life but I don’t tell the doctor that.

‘Wake up. Wake up all you blasphemous fools. All you fools that are sinners. All you Judases that have betrayed God with a kiss. Blasphemy. Blasphemy. I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride. Speak now or forever hold your peace. Jesus wants you for a sunbeam. Michael row your boat to shore. Repent, you wicked sinner


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