Jonathan Rowe's short story 'Bride of Quietness' was the winner of March 2014's short fiction contest.
Bride of Quietness by Jonathan Rowe
Let me tell you, Aïcha of the Diallo, tears are salt. This is an elek I make for you. This is the funeral dance I will tread for you to the rhythms of Tiriba. It is good, is it not? It is beautiful.
I hold your face before me as I work. My knife makes its subtle way across the wood. Your eyes are like almonds and my eyes shall look through them, as once they looked back at me in yours.
A face emerges from the senseless wood. Your chin is thin, narrowing to the sweetest point where I once held it between thumb and forefinger. It shall jut forward, fiercely, as you did when you taunted me. Clumsy, you called me. That was just, but you have instructed me better. My touch has learned delicacy under your tuition. I learned to hold you tightly, but laid no mark on your shining skin.
The face will be lacquered. Yes, it shall shine. The men of the simu will say it is tears of grief that shine there, but I only will know. It is a son, you told me and wept. It was to be a son.
Let me tell you, Aïcha, I will not work while you disturb me so. You must be quiet, spirit. You must languish in the prison of memory. You must not dance, for then the earth will shake and I may not stand.
My knife returns to you and no longer shakes. Your lips will be parted. They parted for me. First they parted in rebuke when the glazed pot shattered and the water spilled on the hem of your skirt, then in laughter. Aïcha of the Diallo, where did you learn to laugh? Why did the world stop to listen? The shrieking baboons were stilled and the blue-headed doves ceased their cooing. These lips part again under my knife. Each thrust of it makes them wider. How you gasped with delight. What music you made of my name. It is good, is it not? It is beautiful.
You were scarred, Aïcha of the Diallo. The wood must bear it too, submitting to my knife patiently and bravely. The scars of womanhood crossed your breasts and brow and cheeks and each scored line is a pilgrimage taken by fingertips. To touch the scars of Aïcha of the Diallo, that was no little thing. A man might trace those journeys and be well-pleased. I have touched them. It was good, was it not? It was beautiful.
The elek is complete. The men of the simu are ready. The drums begin. They play the rhythm of your kin. Your face will press once more against mine, Aïcha, as I tread the funeral steps. My eyes will look through yours, my almost-wife, my son's almost-mother. For you I will behold the sunset and the night and the interminable dawn.
It is good, is it not? It is beautiful.