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More Than the Face You Make When You Are Angry




     Written by lois-soto minah 
     Illustrated by Janaya Nyala 

     Est. Reading Time: 15 min 




Ilayda Exinor, unloved in her prime, dies fifteen years into womanhood. Born when her mother's cervix was melon wide, Ilayda made her life fostering apricot kernels in the crude earth between her legs. The cheapest ambrosia the market has ever known dies with her. Ilayda is survived by the Echoing that makes her bones sing.

-*.


During that time, girls wanted to fall in love and their parents wanted them to be married. No one ever spoke of what love felt like, what it was meant to do once it tasted blood or how it felt, exponentially growing like an invading species of fungus in the mind, but somehow every generation of young girls in their early ages devised their own ideas about what love was and how it would feel when it struck them. And no one could convince them otherwise.


There was one who was eight years into womanhood, counting from when she was still flexibly nine. They called her Perpetua. To her love would talk like the seas she’d never seen, tongue rolling over tides and pushing along currents. It would look like her shadow, perennial and virile, possessing a singular gracefulness that skipped her as it trailed her footsteps. Most important to her, it would sound like the two-beat rhythm she heard when it was dark and the creaky slumbering of the house pressed against her back so firmly she counted her breaths evenly and laid them finely atop each other in the same way she combed through her hair in search of tiny white legs, to remember that she could press back against forces stronger than her.


She was the second youngest of her parents’ brood and the only one born during the Echo season, when everything became taut and tight from coldness and made things glance off at an angle that showed them in an unfamiliar state. Her mother had spent hours braiding down her hair and telling her stories of the lancing wind that changed the taste of the air during Echo season, the wind that moved through her blood and made her spirit a tuning fork moved only by certain vibrations. Other women like her had either died young from a hunger they could not place, or grew strangely old and mad when they saw the hungers face. Their names trailed Perpetua’s in the mouths of others; Ilayda, Astara, Deia, Ursula, Myrrhine.


Perpetua was raised to be careful not to become a drowning fish in her own body.


-*.


IN SEARCH OF:


Astara Yoheshlin, Matron of orphaned flowers, goes missing eleven years into her womanhood. Astara was last seen officiating the annulment of the sea from the earth. It is rumored she has seen the hunger carried on the back of the Echoing and has sworn herself to the service of its gluttony. A reward for returning her home will be negotiated once she has been contained. Her mother has not tired of weeping beside the tabernacle.

-*-


Sandwina was the first but she was not supposed to come. Zauna was only nineteen years old and had only been married for five months. She had not consummated the marriage to Waru and it would be a while before they would bed each other. That was why Zauna had married him, he was a woodworker. He understood time and waiting was something he found pleasurable. He was a man who enjoyed knowing things but he was also a man who knew not to startle creatures. Zauna was not a fragile woman, she only believed herself to be because someone had taught her how easily penetrable a person is. Waru asked her no questions when Sandwina was born, simply sat by her bedside watching her count prayer beads as her lips moved quickly and silently. He wondered what she prayed for and if when she opened her eyes she would think she had been blessed.


Kovu was the tardy fulfillment of a wish made by a distant, infertile aunt that lived and died in Waru’s family line before even Waru came to know his own name. Zauna found them in her wash basket when Sandwina was still learning which bugs wouldn’t run from her and which ones scurried for cover under the approach of her bare and waddling feet. Zauna had just finished laying the last of the sheets along the clothesline when she heard the whining slurred by drool and there they were, larger than Sandwina in the clumsiest ways but like her in age. Most of their childhood was spent apologizing for the mess their body made of their mind before they could shape it into who they knew they were: Kalona.


2

Perpetua was born already toying with people; with Zauna creased in two like a paper doll, the story they would tell for generations beyond her own was that she had somehow managed to pull herself out from the womb. The shrill grating of her just-hatched voice falling readily from her lips. She was surrounded by a charm mostly reserved for phantasms. Her limbs, gangly though they were, captured the latent melodies of any given space and seemed to vibrate them out. That was why she was never still, her whole being was fixed in translation.


She was simply, always.


Twisting around corners, whistling thin as she squeezed between tight folds and picking up things, turning them over and folding them inside a grasp that was like water. She spoke confidently and for long periods of time, her voice always breaking against someone's ear as she wove herself into their minds and collected the parts of them they’d hidden.


Like the wind, she wore two faces, each as capricious as the other.


There were days when she was warm and filling and filtered through feet to buoy them into a heady bounce. Times when she sent a delicious tremor through the diaphragm. She was a body of arms falling over people as she built a solace around their bones. She was a coat of mail that slinked itself together with deceptive clumsiness and laid itself across the mind, alert and lucent with a fervor for defense.


And there were days when she was biting and ran through with the sharp points of a frozen needle. Her eyes settled like a peculiarly still lake, pupils and iris shrinking to minuscule beads floating on the surface of a milky ravine. She spoke like fog, thin and hovering like a crèche veil at the beginning of her sentences and then culminating in a suffocating wool gas that sunk into the skin, stuffed itself up noses and into the crevices of eyes when it was through.


She was the most accounted for.


Virgo came in last and evened out the imbalance amongst them. Zauna didn’t claim favorites among her children, but it was clear from when he could walk who she spent the most time giving of herself to. Virgo spent so much time within the shelter of her arms that her scent, jasmine and spiced tea, seeped into the threads of his own and changed its born composition without anyone ever really knowing there was a time not more than one person in Terroir smelled of Jasmine. For Waru, Virgo was a usurper. In the months before and after his birth, Zauna’s body and attention belonged to his fledgling human body no longer than a full-grown iguana. He morphed into a tangible tool of separation that distanced them in their bed, but even more acute was the way he occupied the words they exchanged, the way he made touching Zauna feel adulterous. Even the hollow spot of her neck, once a favorite of Waru’s because it scalloped just right to hold every promise he had ever made her, became tainted by Virgo’s thorough storming of it with the tears of his infancy.


In Terroir kin was armor.


Zauna and Waru made sure all their children walked under the protection of both their ancestral names. By the time each of them reached speaking age they could parrot the entirety of their interwoven family trees to anyone who asked, but mostly, they just said it to themselves. It became the lullaby that delivered them all into adulthood.


-*-


Deia Laert, weaver of unraveling tapestries, dies eight years into womanhood. Born to ore mining parents beside the tree that never blossoms, Deia was a war-maker without a battlefield to move men around. She built a reputation out of beating the boys that played at being hunters with her mother's banana-fall slingshot. Deia is survived by the Echoing that makes her bones sing.


-*.


Within the roughly drawn borders of Terroir people were born with as much ferocity as they died. They ached for death, the stalled rest that demanded no labor and the salons emerged uproarious and indulgent to ease that. One after the other, they sprouted like banana plants along the boulevard that ran perpendicular to the main road. During the day, the colors of the storefronts were garish under the unrelenting sunlight and a compressing, stifling silence drumming a beat against the streaked windows, the strip took on a decrepit and deteriorating lustre. Under midday glow it all turned rotten and soured like the flowers and fruit house girls were always forgetting in sitting room vases around the homes they looked after. The aubergine and carmine of the doors bloated from too much direct attention and the strange feeling of seeing all the blemishes hidden under your lover’s clothes, pockmarks and stretches of cellulite coalescing in an obscene blueprint, held itself suspended in the air.


And then.


Once starlight began to flicker suddenly you were learning to make love in a new way to a body you thought you had grown bored with. Rivers of wine flooded the streets, the gloaming light restored coy charm to the strip and the bells started their jingling from around the necks of the frogs that sang if you could help them shed their skins. In the beginning, Zauna reserved her last prayers at every meal for the patrons who frequented the roundtables throwing bills that smelled of fermentation and torn coin purses onto the velvet laid tops. Exactly how she became the Madame of the most opulent salon got lost in a labyrinthine march of news transmitted through human telephones. Everyone’s mouth was hooked teeth first to someone’s ear but that didn’t stop strings of truth from slipping through gap-spaces and spinning under feet into some corner of the dustlands. Perpetua grew into the full length of her body under the curtains of A N G E L  G A B R I E L “LA NEGRA”, gauche angles sanding down the legs of the elevated tables and flypaper eyes sticking to the movements of those betting for their chance to die. Zauna kept a house of reverence and the pleasure came from the ambiguity in worship.

She had built an altar for people to make their profane desires sacred.


-*.


The Outsider came after they brought in the harvest, when the people of the town had already begun to shutter themselves as they did after the Wombing season. They collapsed themselves and dug deep holes in their walls where the convivial temper nursed by the Wombing season curled itself into hibernation until three months had passed. Excitement was not for the cold, it only ricocheted off the ice and frost, bouncing idly until it caused injury. The season was for the shedding of worn skins, for the static contentment that settled over the town. It was unusual for someone to be travelling at the border of the seasons, and they were suspicious of anyone who did not go to their own homes when the chill swept through.


They were polite but only for courtesy’s sake, lest he leave and speak stories of unkindness into the town's name. Unless he spoke to them they uttered not a word. They watched him from under hooded brow and through the corner of narrowed eyes, each contriving their own stories for why his clothes were fine but he walked with the weighted footfalls of a poor man, as if he had yet to settle under the heaviness of wealth.


He called himself Rheon and like everything he possessed, it was something he had given himself not something he had earned. The grooves under his shoes had picked up a scattering mess of dust and pebbles that cleaved themselves to him no matter the fierceness with which he scrubbed or polished. When he walked he could feel them pulling against the propelling force of his legs, their tiny bodies congregating in ill-devised schemes to pull him back to the places he had cut through with his presence. It was not that he had a people to go back to or embraces that missed the press of him but rather that there were mouths that had never stopped calling his name even when they had forgotten the look of him or why it was their lips flapped around the particular shape of his name. There were hands that writhed and itched along bodies in their need to collect from him.


He spent his nights in Terroir mostly soothing himself in the room he rented out, and trying to recall the name of the God his mother had sworn by. It wasn’t that he harbored any real fear for the things that marked him, no. It was that an unchecked and untrained part of himself had gotten loose some years back and threatened to consume him, organs first before settling in his heart.


It was sorrow quite unlike anything he knew tears fell for. It was a sorrow that wanted everything and the maggots that crawled in the carcass after that as well. The sorrow made the story of his life no longer about him but about a baby.


A baby who was never born but lived.


He had taken a wife when he still had to coax his facial hair to grow. She was lovely in the learned ways and in some ways that were all her own genius. They called her Fae and that perhaps should have been a warning, but the old stories had long since stopped being told and though everyone felt uncomfortable by their marrying, no one could speak their unease into reason, let alone words.


When she grew with child it was first refulgent and then a quick dimming. When the baby was still a half-formed fetus, Fae’s heart stopped beating. In his grief, The Outsider had the midwife cut the baby from Fae’s still warm body and bury it in the bush after he had dug a hole coin-wide and mind-deep. In it, he placed the baby and had the hole covered. And then he cut a lock from his wife’s head, pressed her eyelids closed and set fire to the house and the soil.


He could not have known that as he had buried her the baby’s body was nestling between the soft persistent heart of the deep earth and the liquid salve of roots that had lived for years and times before that one. But it was there that the baby's veins, as her body reached out for a host, linked themselves to a fortified thicket of matured roots and began the symbiosis of fostering new life.


And so she plagued him, but for all the wrong reasons.


-*.


The Outsider did not court her, none of the townspeople have ever been able to say they saw them ever huddled conspiratorially, their bodies releasing the static, unbridled energy of lovers. Perpetua’s siblings – all twelve of them – swore to their graves that she never talked of him in sotto voice. None would testify that she had ever looked in love. This could perhaps have more to do with the fact that there was no unanimous expectation of what a girl in love was supposed to look like, after all, there was no unanimous expectation of what love was in the first place. Everyone carried their own ideologies about it in their minds and never shared it with anyone. It was love. It was meant to be intimate and therefore, personal.


They all agreed though that it came as a surprise when the sun flung itself into the sky one morning and Perpetua had disappeared. And she had taken The Outsider with her (even after they found her succinct letter relaying in plain terms that she was very much in love and she was going to marry him, whenever they speak about it today they say The Outsider took her with him). Her mother took a vow of silence until her daughter – her youngest child and now suddenly her most treasured – returned. Her father spent many nights in a vigorous argument with himself, caught between his desire to go save her and his belief that children too, must find their own sorrows. Her siblings simply rejected the letter. It was a wicked lie, like the games of their youth. However, they weren’t in agreement about which of the runaways was the ringleader.


As the town rippled through with whispers, the weight of it threatening the calm and security which had been sown since the first of them wandered into the flatness they’d built their homes up from, the Echoing prepared itself to fall over them.


~*~


Perpetua watched the fading press of the moon in the sky. She had finally decided there was no part of herself she was willing to part with to be the lover.


The Outsider's body lay in a tangled and still heap inside the room behind her, his pants tangled at his ankles. He wanted from her what she was prepared to give to no one. And so she took what he was prepared to give to no one, and it had been so easy. His heart drifting from his body simply because she called out to it to pick up its legs and walk boldly from its cage. She had simply wondered if he had one to begin with.


This was the thing she was never supposed to yield to. They had never told her why and now she wondered why you wouldn’t say that lives were at stake. That it was something in the flesh and blood of our matters.


She watched the moon and she heard the song, faintly off but still there, thrumming on the sweet night wind like a thrashing bull coming out of the fog to eviscerate her. It would impale her, run her through completely, and split wide open like a coconut halved by rock. She would grow mad, yes. She would go frightfully mad with hunger, swallowing herself whole on gorging meals to satiate herself until she could feed again. She would go blind with grief at never having loved back, never once extended herself. And she would be delirious with joy for never splitting herself in two to accommodate the whole force of another.


As yet it did not hurt.


But it would come, it told her.


I am coming to eat you and be eaten by you. I am coming to be an echo wombed in flesh. And in you I will be born and we will be kin.

We will be kin.


--

Published August 31, 2020
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.





Author’s Bio
lois-soto is a gender-non conforming nigerian born writer by way of america. their work explores the realities of living in displacement, womanism as religion, dissonance in identity & other things she should have saved in her diary. they are rooting for everybody Black.
︎ @interruptinggirljoke

Artist’s Bio
Janaya Nyala
Surrealist painter & muralist from New York
︎ @NYALABLUEE




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︎New York City, NY
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