Ah yes, families. The fertile ground of our growing years, the claustrophobia, the wisdom, the unexpressed love, the best intentions, the accretion of lies and small crimes, the clinging and the wrenching away. In my short fiction, the sisters have begun to talk to one another. The house, though, is falling down all around them, a dark airless box of a house shredding and dismantling itself, collapsing in on itself like a black star. Love gone sour, perhaps.
The dead parents are memory’s puppets. When I was very young I would daydream I was an orphan waiting to be adopted. Or a changeling waiting to be found. Somewhere out there was another family, another destiny. Now I am in reality an orphan and the ghosts of my father and mother follow me from room to room in the derelict house, talking of incidents and family outings of which I have no recollection. They remember it all so differently, as do my sisters and brother.
Memory is always tricky and insubstantial, as is the way we read the present, what we choose to recall, what we consign to forgetfulness. How we simplify, edit, revise our own histories.
Outside in the branching tipuana tree there is a gymnogene or African harrier hawk perched between two thick branches. Such a terrifying wingspan. In the Sahara this hawk eats the fruit of the oil palm and catches small rodents. Here it eats wild figs and hunts for smaller birds and rodents. Gymnogenes nest in trees on the mountain slopes and come down to the village for water and to hunt.
The first time I saw the Sahara desert from a plane window I was six years old and it seemed to me that most of the world was desert. A rippling world of red sand dunes below me. Somewhere in amongst the dunes would be an oasis with wells of cold water, but I could not see any palms or shady places, just the red sands stretching to the horizon. No roads, no signposts. Travellers would have to find their way by the stars at night and measure time by the sun passing overhead. Looking out of the window I began to tell myself a story of the traveller who finds an oasis after days of walking in no particular direction. He leads his camels to the well, but the well is empty. No water. Is a miracle possible? At dusk the dew falls and he collects a cupful of dew, then another cupful. Tomorrow he will lead his camels out into the desert again.
Thirst. The story of my life.