Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
[Billie Holiday 1939]
It’s evening in my dream. The Kitgum sun has disappeared behind the hills. Dry leaves crash under my bare feet as I race among the yaa trees at the foot of Kidi Guu hills, looking for Mwaka. Burnt tree stumps and thorn bushes let me through their sheltered trunks with a few scratches and cuts. The looming night falls upon the lush and short shrubs inch by inch. I am alone and frightened. I need to find my husband. I need to sniff that familiar fruity scent in his breath. I need to touch his unblemished face.
Mwaka pulls closer. My head feels like a roaring flame of eucalyptus tree logs. I bury my face in my palms and close my eyes tight. His footsteps hasten away, over the dry leaves. I open my eyes and scan the darkness. There is no sign of him.
“Mwaka!” I call out.
His brisk strides fade faster than a sigh. He melts into the night. My cry spatters into the air.
Mwaka’s motion is steady like a straight-line. He descends into the wilderness. I am left with no husband. No petal of mirth to call my own. No wind to carry my weight. My risen hope evaporates. My frail arms hash forward. I crash to the ground. I start to sink. At the end of this tunnel, the glimmer of light becomes a pencil point, and blinks to black. It leaves me with nothing, except Piloya’s hand at my feet and her scared voice, “M-a, wa-ke up! Wake up! Maaa, Maaaaaaaa…”
Piloya’s voice plunges me into her world. I stretch my hands and legs. Piloya kneels at the foot of my bed. She has left hers at the other corner of the room. Her little hands pass rapidly over my feet and make their way upwards searching for my hands. I release my fingers into her open palms. She squeezes gently. I read the words buried in her motion. I bend over and bring her off her knees into my bed. We say nothing. I swallow hard and pass my fingers over my arms. The roughness of the goose pimples settling upon my skin teases my fingertips. Piloya curls her body. She searches for my hand again. She finds it and leans her head upon my elbow. Her soft breathing comes through the darkness, tender and pure like rainwater.
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