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B, Mariama.

:
SO LONG A LETTER

So Long a Letter (1989)


SO LONG A LETTER

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Front matter

To Abibatou Niang, pure and constant, lucid and thorough, who shares my feelings .

To Annette d'Erneville of the warm heart and level head .

To all women and to men of good will .


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Main te t

Dear Aissatou,

I have received your letter. By way of reply, I am begi i g this diary, my prop i my distress. !ur lo g associatio has taught me that co fidi g i others allays pai . "our prese ce i my life is by o mea s fortuitous. !ur gra dmothers i their compou ds were separated by a fe ce a d would e#cha ge messages daily. !ur mothers used to argue over who would loo$ after our u cles a d au ts. As for us, we wore out wrappers a d sa dals o the same sto y road to the $ora ic school% we buried our mil$ teeth i the same holes a d begged our fairy godmothers to restore them to us, more sple did tha before. If over the years, a d passi g through the realities of life, dreams die, I still $eep i tact my memories, the salt of remembra ce. I co &ure you up. 'he past is rebor , alo g with its processio of emotio s. I close my eyes. (bb a d tide of feeli g) heat a d da**leme t, the woodfires, the sharp gree ma go, bitte i to i tur s, a delicacy i our greedy mouths. I close my eyes. (bb a d tide of images) drops of sweat beadi g your mother+s ochre,coloured face as she emerges from the $itche , the processio of you g wet girls chatteri g o their way bac$ from the spri gs. -e wal$ed the same paths from adolesce ce to maturity, where the past begets the prese t. .y frie d, my frie d, my frie d. I call o you three times. 1 "esterday you were divorced. 'oday I am a widow.

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.odou is dead. 0ow am I to tell you1 ! e does ot fi# appoi tme ts with fate. 2ate grasps whom it wa ts, whe it wa ts. -he it moves i the directio of your desires,

it bri gs you ple itude. But more ofte tha ot, it u settles, crosses you. 'he o e has to e dure. I e dured the telepho e call which disrupted my life. A ta#i 3uic$ly hailed4 2ast4 2ast4 2aster still4 .y throat is dry. 'here is a rigid lump i my chest. 2ast) faster still. At last, the hospital) the mi#ed smell of suppuratio s a d ether. 'he hospital,,,distorted faces, a trai of tearful people, $ ow a d u $ ow , wit esses to this awful tragedy. A lo g corridor, which seems to stretch out e dlessly. At the e d, a room. I the room, a bed. ! the bed, .odou stretched out, cut off from the world of the livi g by a white sheet i which he is completely e veloped. A trembli g ha d moves forward a d slowly u covers the body. 0is hairy chest, at rest forever, is visible through his crumpled blue shirt with thi stripes. 'his face, set i pai a d surprise, is i deed his, the bald forehead, the half,ope mouth are i deed his. I wa t to grasp his ha d. But someo e pulls me away. I ca hear .awdo, his doctor frie d, e#plai i g to me) a heart attac$ came o sudde ly i his office while he was dictati g a letter. 'he secretary had the prese ce of mi d to call me. .awdo recou ts how he arrived too late with the ambula ce. I thi $) the doctor after death. 0e mimes the massagi g of the heart that was u derta$e , as well as the futile effort at mouth,to, mouth resuscitatio . Agai , I thi $) heart massage, mouth,to,mouth resuscitatio , ridiculous weapo s agai st the divi e will. I liste to the words that create arou d me a ew atmosphere i which I move, a stra ger a d torme ted. Death, the te uous passage betwee two opposite worlds, o e tumultuous, the other still. -here to lie dow 1 .iddle age dema ds dig ity. I hold tightly o to my prayer beads. I tell the beads arde tly, remai i g sta di g o legs of &elly. .y loi s beat as to the rhythm of childbirth. 5ross,sectio s of my life spri g i volu tarily from my memory, gra diose verses from the 6ora , oble words of co solatio fight for my atte tio .

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8oyous miracle of birth, dar$ miracle of death. Betwee the two, a life, a desti y, says .awdo B9. I loo$ i te tly at .awdo. 0e seems to be taller tha usual i his white overall. 0e seems to me thi . 0is redde ed eyes e#press forty years of frie dship. I admire his

oble ha ds, ha ds of a absolute delicacy, supple ha ds used to trac$i g dow ill ess. 'hose ha ds, moved by frie dship a d a rigorous scie ce, could ot save his frie d.

.odou 2all is i deed dead, Aissatou. 'he u i terrupted processio of me a d wome who have +lear ed+ of it, the wails a d tears all arou d me, co firm his death. 'his co ditio of e#treme te sio sharpe s my sufferi g a d co ti ues till the followi g day, the day of i terme t. -hat a seethi g crowd of huma bei gs come from all parts of the cou try, where the radio has relayed the ews. -ome , close relatives, are busy. 'hey must ta$e i ce se, eau,de,colog e, cotto , wool to the hospital for the washi g of the dead o e. 'he seve metres of white musli , the o ly clothi g Islam allows for the dead, are carefully placed i a ew bas$et. 'he Zem-Zem , the miracle water from the holy places of Islam religiously $ept by each family, is ot forgotte . :ich, dar$ wrappers are chose to cover .odou. .y bac$ propped up by cushio s, legs outstretched, my head covered with a blac$ wrapper, I follow the comi gs a d goi gs of people. Across from me, a ew wi owi g fa bought for the occasio receives the first alms. 'he prese ce of my co, wife beside me irritates me. ;he has bee i stalled i my house for the fu eral, i accorda ce with traditio . -ith each passi g
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hour her chee$s become more deeply hollowed, ac3uire ever more ri gs, those big a d beautiful eyes which ope a d close o their secrets, perhaps their regrets. At the age of love a d freedom from care, this child is dogged by sad ess. -hile the me , i alo g, irregular file of official a d private cars, public buses, lorries a d mopeds, accompa y .odou to his last rest =people were for a lo g time to tal$ of the crowd which followed the fu eral processio >, our sisters,i ,law u do our hair. .y co,wife a d myself are put i side a rough a d ready te t made of a wrapper pulled taut above our heads a d set up for the occasio . -hile our sisters,i ,law are

co structi g it, the wome prese t, i formed of the wor$ i ha d, get up a d throw some coi s o to the flutteri g ca opy so as to ward off evil spirits. 'his is the mome t dreaded by every ;e egalese woma , the mome t whe she sacrifices her possessio s as gifts to her family,i ,law% a d, worse still, beyo d her possessio s she gives up her perso ality, her dig ity, becomi g a thi g i the service of the ma who has married her, his gra dfather, his gra dmother, his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his u cle, his au t, his male a d female cousi s, his frie ds. 0er behaviour is co ditio ed) o sister,i ,law will touch the head of a y wife who has bee sti gy, u faithful or i hospitable. As for ourselves, we have bee deservi g, a d our sisters,i , law si g a chorus of praises cha ted at the top of their voices. !ur patie ce before all trials, the fre3ue cy of our gifts fi d their &ustificatio a d reward today. !ur sisters,i ,law give e3ual co sideratio to thirty years a d five years of married life. -ith the same ease a d the same words, they celebrate twelve mater ities a d three. I ote with outrage this desire to level out, i which .odou+s ew mother,i ,law re&oices. 0avi g washed their ha ds i a bowl of water placed at the e tra ce to the house, the me , bac$ from the cemetery, file past the family grouped arou d us, the widows. 'hey offer their co dole ces pu ctuated with praises of the deceased. +.odou, frie d of the you g as of the old. ...+ +.odou, the lio ,hearted, champio of the oppressed. ...+ +.odou, at ease as much i a suit as i a cafta . ...+ +.odou, good brother, good husba d, good .uslim. ...+ +.ay ?od forgive him. ...+

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+.ay he regret his earthly stay i his heave ly bliss. ...+ +.ay the earth rest lightly o him4+

'hey are there, his childhood playmates o the football grou d, or duri g bird hu ts, whe they used catapults. 'hey are there, his classmates. 'hey are there, his compa io s i the trade u io struggles. 'he Siguil ndigale / come o e after the other, poig a t, while s$illed ha ds distribute to the crowd biscuits, sweets, cola uts, &udiciously mi#ed, the first offeri gs to heave for the peaceful repose of the deceased+s soul.

"

! the third day, the same comi gs a d goi gs of frie ds, relatives, the poor, the u $ ow . 'he ame of the deceased, who was popular, has mobili*ed a bu**i g crowd, welcomed i my house that has bee stripped of all that could be stole , all that could be spoilt. .ats of all sorts are spread out everywhere there is space. .etal chairs hired for the occasio ta$e o a blue hue i the su . 5omforti g words from the 6ora fill the air% divi e words, divi e i structio s, impressive promises of pu ishme t or &oy, e#hortatio s to virtue, war i gs agai st evil, e#altatio of humility, of faith. ;hivers ru through me. .y tears flow a d my voice &oi s wea$ly i the ferve t +Ame + which i spires the crowd+s ardour at the e d of each verse. 'he smell of the la h 7 cooli g i the calabashes pervades the air, e#citi g. Also passed arou d are large bowls of red or white rice, coo$ed here or i eighbouri g houses. Iced fruit &uices, water a d curds are served i plastic cups. 'he me +s group eats i
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sile ce. Perhaps they remember the stiff body, tied up a d lowered by their ha ds i to a gapi g hole, 3uic$ly covered up agai . I the wome +s cor er, othi g but oise, reso a t laughter, loud tal$, ha d slaps, stride t e#clamatio s. 2rie ds who have ot see each other for a lo g time hug each other oisily. ;ome discuss the latest material o the mar$et. !thers i dicate where they got their wove wrappers from. 'he latest bits of gossip are e#cha ged. 'hey laugh heartily a d roll their eyes a d admire the e#t perso +s boubou , her origi al

way of usi g he them.

a to blac$e ha ds a d feet by drawi g geometrical figures o

2rom time to time a e#asperated ma ly voice ri gs out a war i g, recalls the purpose of the gatheri g) a ceremo y for the redemptio of a soul. 'he voice is 3uic$ly forgotte a d the brouhaha begi s all over agai , i creasi g i volume. I the eve i g comes the most disco certi g part of this third day+s ceremo y. .ore people, more &ostli g i order to hear a d see better. ?roups are formed accordi g to relatio ships, accordi g to blood ties, areas, corporatio s. (ach group displays its ow co tributio to the costs. I former times this co tributio was made i $i d) millet, livestoc$, rice, flour, oil, sugar, mil$. 'oday it is made co spicuously i ba $ otes, a d o o e wa ts to give less tha the other. A disturbi g display of i er feeli g that ca ot be evaluated ow measured i fra cs4 A d agai I thi $ how ma y of the dead would have survived if, before orga i*i g these festive fu eral ceremo ies, the relative or frie d had bought the life,savi g prescriptio or paid for hospitali*atio . 'he ta$i gs are carefully recorded. It is a debt to be repaid i similar circumsta ces. .odou+s relatives ope a e#ercise boo$. Bady .other,i ,Baw =.odou+s> a d her daughter have a oteboo$. 2atimi, my you ger sister, carefully records my ta$i gs i a ote,pad. As I come from a large family i this tow , with ac3uai ta ces at all levels of society, as I am a schoolteacher o frie dly terms with the pupils+ pare ts, a d as I have bee .odou+s compa io for thirty years, I receive the greater share of mo ey a d ma y e velopes. 'he regard show me raises me i the eyes of the others a d it is Bady .other,i ,Baw+s tur
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to be a oyed. Dewly admitted i to the city+s bourgeoisie by her daughter+s marriage, she too reaps ba $ otes. As for her sile t, haggard child, she remai s a stra ger i these circles. 'he sudde calls from our sisters,i ,law bri g her out of her stupor. 'hey reappear after their deliberatio . 'hey have co tributed the large sum of two hu dred thousa d fra cs to +dress+ us. < "esterday, they offered us some e#celle t thia ry @ to 3ue ch our thirst. 'he 2all family+s griot A is proud of her role as go,betwee , a role ha ded dow from mother to daughter. +! e hu dred thousa d fra cs from the father+s side.+

+! e hu dred thousa d fra cs from the mother+s side.+ ;he cou ts the otes, blue a d pi $, o e by o e, shows them rou d a d co cludes) +I have much to say about you 2alls, gra dchildre of Damel .adiodio, who have i herited royal blood. But o e of you is o more. 'oday is ot a happy day. I weep with you for .odou, whom I used to call Ebag of riceE, for he would fre3ue tly give me a sac$ of rice. 'herefore accept this mo ey, you worthy widows of a worthy ma .+ 'he share of each widow must be doubled, as must the gifts of .odou+s gra dchildre , represe ted by the offspri g of all his male a d female cousi s. 'hus our family,i ,law ta$e away with them a wad of otes, pai sta$i gly topped, a d leave us utterly destitute, we who will eed material support. Afterwards comes the processio of old relatives, old ac3uai ta ces, griots , goldsmiths, laob!s with their ho eyed la guage. 'he +goodbyes+ followi g o e after the other at a i fer al rate are irritati g because they are either simple or free) they re3uire, depe di g o the perso leavi g, sometimes a coi , sometimes a ba $ ote. ?radually the house empties. 'he smell of stale sweat a d food ble d as trails i the air, u pleasa t a d auseati g. 5ola uts spat out here a d there have left red stai s) my tiles, $ept with such pai sta$i g care, are blac$e ed. !il stai s o the walls, balls of crumpled paper. -hat a bala ce sheet for a day4 .y hori*o lighte ed, I see a old woma . -ho is she1 -here is she from1 Be t over, the e ds of her boubou tied behi d her, she empties i to a plastic bag the left, overs of red
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rice. 0er smili g face tells of the pleasa t day she has &ust had. ;he wa ts to ta$e bac$ proof of this to her family, livi g perhaps i !ua$am, 'hiaroye or Pi$i e. C ;ta di g upright, her eyes meeti g my disapprovi g loo$, she mutters betwee teeth redde ed by cola uts) +Bady, death is &ust as beautiful as life has bee .+

Alas, it+s the same story o the eighth a d fortieth days, whe those who have +lear ed+ belatedly ma$e up for lost time. Bight attire showi g off slim waistli es, promi e t bac$sides, the ew brassiGre or the o e bought at the seco d,ha d mar$et, chewi g stic$s wedged betwee teeth, white or flowered shawls, heavy smell of i ce se a d of gongo , F loud voices, stride t laughter. A d yet we are told i the 6ora that o the third day the dead body swells a d fills its tomb% we are told that o the eighth it bursts% a d we are also told that o the fortieth day it is stripped. -hat the is the sig ifica ce of these &oyous, i stitutio ali*ed festivities that accompa y our prayers for ?od+s mercy1 -ho has come out of self,i terest1 -ho has come to 3ue ch his ow thirst1 -ho has come for the sa$e of mercy1 -ho has come so that he may remember1 'o ight Bi etou, my co,wife, will retur to her ;I5AP villa. H At last4 Phew4 'he visits of co dole ce co ti ue) the sic$, those who have &our eyed or have merely arrived late, as well as the la*y, come to fulfil what they co sider to be a sacred duty. 5hild, ami g ceremo ies may be missed but ever a fu eral. 5oi s a d otes co ti ue to pour o the bec$o i g fa . Alo e, I live i a mo oto y bro$e o ly by purifyi g baths, the cha gi g of my mour i g clothes every .o day a d 2riday. I hope to carry out my duties fully. .y heart co curs with the dema ds of religio . :eared si ce childhood o their strict precepts, I e#pect ot to fail. 'he walls that limit my hori*o for four mo ths a d te days do ot bother me. I have e ough memories i me to rumi ate upo . A d these are what I am afraid of, for they smac$ of bitter ess.

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.ay their evocatio 'ill tomorrow.

ot soil the state of purity i which I must live.

Aissatou, my frie d, perhaps I am bori g you by relati g what you already $ ow. I have ever observed so much, because I have ever bee so co cer ed. 'he family meeti g held this mor i g i my sitti g,room is at last over. "ou ca easily guess those who were prese t) Bady .other,i ,Baw, her brother a d her daughter, Bi etou, who is eve thi er% old 'amsir, .odou+s brother, a d the "mam from the mos3ue i his area% .awdo B9% my daughter a d her husba d Abdou. 'he mirasse comma ded by the 6ora re3uires that a dead perso be stripped of his most i timate secrets% thus is e#posed to others what was carefully co cealed. 'hese e#posures crudely e#plai a ma +s life. -ith co ster atio , I measure the e#te t of .odou+s betrayal. 0is aba do me t of his first family =myself a d my childre > was the outcome of the choice of a ew life. 0e re&ected us. 0e mapped out his future without ta$i g our e#iste ce i to accou t. 0is promotio to the ra $ of tech ical adviser i the .i istry of Public -or$s, i e#cha ge for which, accordi g to the spiteful, he chec$ed the trade u io revolt, could ot co trol the mire of e#pe ses by which he was e gulfed. Dead without a pe y saved. Ac$ owledgeme t of debts1 A pile of them) cloth a d gold traders, home, delivery grocers a d butchers, car,purchase i stalme ts.

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0old o . 'he star attractio of this +strippi g+) the origi s of the elega t ;I5AP villa, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, pi $ a d blue, large sitti g,room, a three,room flat, built at his ow e#pe se at the bottom of the seco d courtyard for Bady .other,i , Baw. A d fur iture from 2ra ce for his ew wife a d fur iture co structed by local carpe ters for Bady .other, i ,Baw.

'his house a d its chic co te ts were ac3uired by a ba $ loa gra ted o the mortgage of +Jilla 2alle e+, where I live. Although the title deeds of this house bear his ame, it is o etheless our commo property, ac3uired by our &oi t savi gs. I sult upo i &ury4 .oreover, he co ti ued the mo thly payme ts of seve ty, five thousa d fra cs to the ;I5AP. 'hese payme ts were to go o for about te years before the house would become his. 2our millio fra cs borrowed with ease because of his privileged positio , which had e abled him to pay for Bady .other,i ,Baw a d her husba d to visit .ecca to ac3uire the titles of Alha#a a d Alha#i % which e3ually e abled Bi etou to e#cha ge her Alfa :omeos at the slightest de t. Dow I u dersta d the terrible sig ifica ce of .odou+s aba do me t of our &oi t ba $ accou t. 0e wa ted to be fi a cially i depe de t so as to have e ough elbow room. A d the , havi g withdraw Bi etou from school, he paid her a mo thly allowa ce of fifty thousa d fra cs, &ust li$e a salary due to her. 'he you g girl, who was very gifted, wa ted to co ti ue her studies, to sit for her baccalaur!at . ;o as to establish his rule, .odou, wic$edly, determi ed to remove her from the critical a d u spari g world of the you g. 0e therefore gave i to all the co ditio s of the graspi g Bady .other,i ,Baw a d eve sig ed a paper committi g himself to payi g the said amou t. Bady .other,i ,Baw bra dished the paper, for she firmly believed that the payme ts would co ti ue, eve after .odou+s death, out of the estate. As for my daughter, Daba, she waved about a bailiff+s affidavit, dated the very day of her father+s death, that listed all the co te ts of the ;I5AP Jilla. 'he list supplied by Bady .other,i ,Baw a d Bi etou made o me tio of certai
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ob&ects a d items of fur iture, which had mysteriously disappeared or had bee fraudule tly removed. "ou $ ow that I am e#cessively se time tal. I was ot at all pleased by this display o either side.

-he I stopped yesterday, I probably left you asto ished by my disclosures. -as it mad ess, wea$ ess, irresistible love1 -hat i marry Bi etou1 er co fusio led .odou 2all to

'o overcome my bitter ess, I thi $ of huma desti y. (ach life has its share of heroism, a obscure heroism, bor of abdicatio , of re u ciatio a d accepta ce u der the merciless whip of fate. I thi $ of all the bli d people the world over, movi g i dar$ ess. I thi $ of all the paralysed the world over, draggi g themselves about. I thi $ of all the lepers the world over, wasted by their disease. Jictims of a sad fate which you did ot choose, compared with your lame tatio s, what is my 3uarrel, cruelly motivated, with a dead ma who o lo ger has a y hold over my desti y1 5ombi i g your despair, you could have bee ave gers a d made them tremble, all those who are dru $ o their wealth% tremble, those upo whom fate has bestowed favours. A horde powerful i its repug a ce a d revolt, you could have s atched the bread that your hu ger craves. "our stoicism has made you ot viole t or subversive but true heroes, u $ ow i the mai stream of history, ever upsetti g established order, despite your miserable co ditio .

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I repeat, beside your visible deformities, what are moral i firmities from which i a y case you are ot immu e1 'hi $i g of you, I tha $ ?od for my eyes which daily embrace heave a d earth. If today moral fatigue ma$es my limbs stiff, tomorrow it will leave my body. 'he , relieved, my legs will carry me slowly a d I shall agai have arou d me the iodi e a d the blue of the sea. 'he star a d white cloud will be mi e. 'he breath of wi d will agai refresh my face. I will stretch out, tur arou d, I will vibrate. !h, health, live i me. !h, health. ... .y efforts ca ot for lo g ta$e my mi d off my disappoi tme t. I thi $ of the suc$li g baby, o soo er bor tha orpha ed. I thi $ of the bli d ma who will ever

see his child+s smile. I thi $ of the cross the o e,armed ma has to bear. I thi $. ... But my despair persists, but my ra cour remai s, but the waves of a imme se sad ess brea$ i me4 .ad ess or wea$ ess1 0eartless ess or irresistible love1 -hat i er torme t led .odou 2all to marry Bi etou1 A d to thi $ that I loved this ma passio ately, to thi $ that I gave him thirty years of my life, to thi $ that twelve times over I carried his child. 'he additio of a rival to my life was ot e ough for him. I lovi g someo e else, he bur ed his past, both morally a d materially. 0e dared to commit such a act of disavowal. A d yet, what did +t he do to ma$e me his wife4

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Do you remember the mor i g trai that too$ us for the first time to Po ty,Jille, the teachers+ trai i g college i ;ebi$ota e1 Po ty,Jille is the cou tryside still gree from the last rai s, a celebratio of youth right i the middle of ature, ba &o music i dormitories tra sformed i to da ce floors, co versatio s held alo g the rows of gera iums or u der the thic$ ma go trees. .odou 2all, the very mome t you bowed before me, as$i g me to da ce, I $ ew you were the o e I was waiti g for. 'all a d athletically built, of course. !live,coloured s$i due to your dista t .oorish blood, o 3uestio . Jirility a d fi e ess of features harmo iously ble ded, o ce agai , o 3uestio . But, above all, you $ ew how to be te der. "ou could fathom every thought, every desire. "ou $ ew ma y u defi able thi gs, which glorified you a d sealed our relatio ship. As we da ced, your forehead, hairli e already recedi g, be t over my ow . 'he same happy smile lit up our faces. 'he pressure of your ha d became more te der, more possessive. (verythi g i me gave i a d our relatio ship e dured over the school years a d duri g the holidays, stre gthe ed i me by the discovery of your subtle i tellige ce, of your embraci g se sitivity, of your readi ess to help, of your

ambitio , which suffered o mediocrity. It was this ambitio which led you, o leavi g school, to prepare o your ow for the two e#ami atio s of the baccalaur!at . 'he you left for 2ra ce a d, accordi g to your letters, you lived there as a recluse, attachi g little importa ce to the glitter that met your regard% but you grasped the deep se se of a history that has wor$ed so
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ma y wo ders a d of a great culture that overwhelmed you. 'he mil$y comple#io of the wome had o hold o you. Agai , 3uoti g from your letters) +! the strictly physical pla e, the white woma +s adva tage over the blac$ woma lies i the variety of her colour, the abu da ce, le gth a d soft ess of her hair. 'here are also the eyes which ca be blue, gree , ofte the colour of ew ho ey.+ "ou also used to complai of the sombre ess of the s$ies, u der which o coco ut trees waved their tops. "ou missed the swi gi g hips of blac$ wome wal$i g alo g the paveme ts, this gracious deliberate slow ess characteristic of Africa, which charmed your eyes. "ou were sic$ at heart at the dogged rhythm of the life of the people a d the umbi g effect of the cold. "ou would fi ish by sayi g that your studies were your staff, your buttress. "ou would e d with a stri g of e dearme ts a d co clude by reassuri g me) +It+s you whom I carry withi me. "ou are my protecti g blac$ a gel. -ould I could 3uic$ly fi d you, if o ly to hold your ha d tightly so that I may forget hu ger a d thirst a d lo eli ess.+ A d you retur ed i triumph. -ith a degree i law4 I spite of your voice a d your gift of oratory, you preferred obscure wor$, less well paid but co structive for your cou try, to the showi ess of the lawyer. "our achieveme t did ot stop there. "our i troductio of your frie d .awdo B9 i to our circle was to cha ge the life of my best frie d, Aissatou. I o lo ger scor my mother+s reserve co cer i g you, for a mother ca i sti ctively feel where her child+s happi ess lies. I o lo ger laugh whe I thi $ that she fou d you too ha dsome, too polished, too perfect for a ma . ;he ofte spo$e of the wide gap betwee your two upper i cisors) the sig of the primacy of se suality i the i dividual. -hat did +t she do, from the o , to separate us1 ;he could see i you o ly the eter al $ha$i suit, the u iform of your school. All she remembered of you were your visits, co sidered too lo g. "ou were idle, she said, therefore with ple ty of time to waste. A d you would use that time to +stuff+ my head, to the disadva tage of more i teresti g you g people. Because, bei g the first pio eers of the promotio of Africa wome , there were very few of us. .e would call us

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scatter,brai ed. !thers labelled us devils. But ma y wa ted to possess us. 0ow ma y dreams did we ourish hopelessly that could have bee fulfilled as lasti g happi ess a d that we aba do ed to embrace others, those that have burst miserably li$e soap bubbles, leavi g us empty,ha ded1

&

Aissatou, I will ever forget the white woma who was the first to desire for us a +u commo + desti y. 'ogether, let us recall our school, gree , pi $, blue, yellow, a veritable rai bow) gree , blue a d yellow, the colours of the flowers everywhere i the compou d% pi $ the colour of the dormitories, with the beds impeccably made. Bet us hear the walls of our school come to life with the i te sity of our study. Bet us relive its i to#icati g atmosphere at ight, while the eve i g so g, our &oi t prayer, ra g out, full of hope. 'he admissio policy, which was based o a e tra ce e#ami atio for the whole of former 2re ch -est Africa, ow bro$e up i to auto omous republics, made possible a fruitful ble d of differe t i tellects, characters, ma ers a d customs. Dothi g differe tiated us, apart from specific racial features, the 2o girl from Dahomey a d the .ali $e o e from ?ui ea. 2rie dships were made that have e dured the test of time a d dista ce. -e were true sisters, desti ed for the same missio of ema cipatio . 'o lift us out of the bog of traditio , superstitio a d custom, to ma$e us appreciate a multitude of civili*atio s without re ou ci g our ow , to raise our visio of the world, cultivate our perso alities, stre gthe our 3ualities, to ma$e up for our i ade3uacies, to develop u iversal moral values i us) these
[Page 1A ]

were the aims of our admirable headmistress. 'he word +love+ had a particular reso a ce i her. ;he loved us without patro i*i g us, with our plaits either sta di g o e d or be t dow , with our loose blouses, our wrappers. ;he $ ew how to discover a d appreciate our 3ualities. 0ow I thi $ of her4 If the memory of her has triumphed over the i gratitude of time, ow that flowers o lo ger smell as sweetly or as stro gly as before, ow that age a d

mature reflectio have stripped our dreams of their poetic virtue, it is because the path chose for our trai i g a d our blossomi g has ot bee at all fortuitous. It has accorded with the profou d choices made by Dew Africa for the promotio of the blac$ woma . 'hus, free from frustrati g taboos a d capable ow of discer me t, why should I follow my mother+s fi ger poi ti g at Daouda Die g, still a bachelor but too mature for my eightee years. -or$i g as a Africa doctor at the Polycli i3ue, he was well, to,do a d $ ew how to use his positio to adva tage. 0is villa, perched o a roc$ o the 5or iche faci g the sea, was the meeti g place for the you g elite. Dothi g was missi g, from the refrigerator, co tai i g its pleasa t dri $s, to the record player, which e#uded sometimes la gorous, sometimes fre *ied music. Daouda Die g also $ ew how to wi hearts. Kseful prese ts for my mother, ra gi g from a sac$ of rice, appreciated i that period of war pe ury, to the frivolous gift for me, dai tily wrapped i paper a d tied with ribbo s. But I preferred the ma i the eter al $ha$i suit. !ur marriage was celebrated without dowry, without pomp, u der the disapprovi g loo$s of my father, before the pai ful i dig atio of my frustrated mother, u der the sarcasm of my surprised sisters, i our tow struc$ dumb with asto ishme t.

[Page 1C ]

'he came your marriage with .awdo B9, rece tly graduated from the Africa ;chool of .edici e a d Pharmacy. A co troversial marriage. I ca still hear the a gry rumours i tow ) +-hat, a 'oucouleur marryi g a goldsmith+s daughter1 0e will ever Ema$e mo eyE.+ +.awdo+s mother is a Dioufe e, a $uelewar 1I from the ;i e. -hat a i sult to her, before her former co,wives.+ =.awdo+s father was dead.> +I the desire to marry a Eshort s$irtE come what may, this is what o e gets.+

+;chool tur s our girls i to devils who lure our me away from the right path.+ A d I have +t recou ted all. But .awdo remai ed firm. +.arriage is a perso al thi g,+ he retorted to a yo e who cared to hear. 0e emphasi*ed his total commitme t to his choice of life part er by visiti g your father, ot at home but at his place of wor$. 0e would retur from his outi gs illumi ated, happy to have +moved i the right directio +, he would say triumpha tly. 0e would spea$ of your father as a +creative artist+. 0e admired the ma , wea$e ed as he was by the daily dose of carbo dio#ide he i haled wor$i g i the acrid atmosphere of the dusty fumes. ?old is his medium, which he melts, pours, twists, flatte s, refi es, chases. +"ou should see him,+ .awdo would add. +"ou should see him breathe over the flame.+ 0is chee$s would swell with the life from his lu gs. 'his life would a imate the flame, sometimes red, sometimes blue, which
[Page 1F ]

would rise or curve, wa# or wa e at his comma d, depe di g o what the wor$ dema ded. A d the gold spec$s i the showers of red spar$s, a d the u couth so gs of the appre tices pu ctuati g the stro$es of the hammer here, a d the pressure of ha ds o the bellows there would ma$e passers,by tur rou d. Aissatou, your father $ ew all the rites that protect the wor$i g of gold, the metal of the d&i s. (ach professio has its code, $ ow o ly to the i itiated a d tra smitted from father to so . As soo as your elder brothers left the huts of the circumcised, they moved i to this particular world, the whole compou d+s source of ourishme t. But what about your you ger brothers1 'heir steps were directed towards the white ma +s school. 0ard is the climb up the steep hill of $ owledge to the white ma +s school) $i dergarte remai s a lu#ury that o ly those who are fi a cially sou d ca offer their you g o es. "et it is ecessary, for this is what sharpe s a d cha els the you g o es+ atte tio a d se sibilities. (ve though the primary schools are rapidly i creasi g, access to them has ot become a y easier. 'hey leave out i the streets a impressive umber of childre because of the lac$ of places. ( tra ce i to seco dary school is o pa acea for the child at a age fraught with the problems of co solidati g his perso ality, with the e#plosio of puberty, with the discovery of the various pitfalls) drugs, vagra cy, se suality. 'he u iversity has its ow large umber of despairi g re&ects.

-hat will the u successful do1 Appre ticeship to traditio al crafts seems degradi g to whoever has the slightest boo$, lear i g. 'he dream is to become a cler$. 'he trowel is spur ed. 'he horde of the &obless swells the flood of deli 3ue cy. ;hould we have bee happy at the desertio of the forges, the wor$shops, the shoema$er+s shops1 ;hould we have re&oiced so wholeheartedly1 -ere we ot begi i g to wit ess the disappeara ce of a elite of traditio al ma ual wor$ers1 (ter al 3uestio s of our eter al debates. -e all agreed that much disma tli g was eeded to i troduce moder ity withi
[Page 1H ]

our traditio s. 'or betwee the past a d the prese t, we deplored the +hard sweat+ that would be i evitable. -e cou ted the possible losses. But we $ ew that othi g would be as before. -e were full of ostalgia but were resolutely progressive.

.awdo raised you up to his ow level, he the so of a pri cess a d you a child from the forges. 0is mother+s re&ectio did ot frighte him. !ur lives developed i parallel. -e e#perie ced the tiffs a d reco ciliatio s of married life. I our differe t ways, we suffered the social co strai ts a d heavy burde of custom. I loved .odou. I compromised with his people. I tolerated his sisters, who too ofte would desert their ow homes to e cumber my ow . 'hey allowed themselves to be fed a d petted. 'hey would loo$ o , without reacti g, as their childre romped arou d o my chairs. I tolerated their spitti g, the phlegm e#pertly secreted u der my carpets. 0is mother would stop by agai a d agai while o her outi gs, always fla $ed by differe t frie ds, &ust to show off her so +s social success but particularly so that they might see, at close 3uarters, her supremacy i this beautiful house i which she did ot live. I would receive her with all the respect due to a 3uee , a d she would leave satisfied, especially if her ha d closed over the ba $ ote I had carefully placed there.

But hardly would she be out tha she would thi $ of the ew ba d of frie ds she would soo be da**li g. .odou+s father was more u dersta di g. .ore ofte tha without sitti g dow . 0e would accept
[Page /I ]

ot, he would visit us

a glass of cold water a d would leave, after repeati g his prayers for the protectio of the house. I $ ew how to smile at them all, a d co se ted to wasti g useful time i futile chatter. .y sisters,i ,law believed me to be spared the drudgery of housewor$. +-ith your two housemaids4+ they would say with emphasis. 'ry e#plai i g to them that a wor$i g woma is o less respo sible for her home. 'ry e#plai i g to them that othi g is do e if you do ot step i , that you have to see to everythi g, do everythi g all over agai ) clea i g up, coo$i g, iro i g. 'here are the childre to be washed, the husba d to be loo$ed after. 'he wor$i g woma has a dual tas$, of which both halves, e3ually arduous, must be reco ciled. 0ow does o e go about this1 'herei lies the s$ill that ma$es all the differe ce to a home. ;ome of my sisters,i ,law did ot e vy my way of livi g at all. 'hey saw me dashi g arou d the house after a hard day at school. 'hey appreciated their comfort, their peace of mi d, their mome ts of leisure a d allowed themselves to be loo$ed after by their husba ds, who were crushed u der their duties. !thers, limited i their way of thi $i g, e vied my comfort a d purchasi g power. 'hey would go i to raptures over the ma y +gadgets+ i my house) gas coo$er, vegetable grater, sugar to gs. 'hey forgot the source of this easy life% first up i the mor i g, last to go to bed, always wor$i g. "ou, Aissatou, you forsoo$ your family,i ,law, tightly shut i with their hurt dig ity. "ou would lame t to me) +"our family,i ,law respects you. "ou must treat them well. As for me, they loo$ dow o me from the height of their lost obility. -hat ca I do1+ -hile .awdo+s mother pla ed her reve ge, we lived) 5hristmas (ve parties orga i*ed by several couples, with the costs shared e3ually, a d held i tur s i the differe t homes. -ithout self,co scious ess, we would revive the da ces of yester,

year) the lively begui e, fre *ied rumbas, la guid ta gos. -e rediscovered the old beati gs of the heart that stre gthe ed our feeli gs.

[Page /1 ]

-e would also leave the stifli g city to breathe i the healthy air of seaside suburbs. -e would wal$ alo g the Da$ar 5or iche, o e of the most beautiful i -est Africa, a sheer wor$ of art wrought by ature. :ou ded or poi ted roc$s, blac$ or ochre, coloured, overloo$i g the ocea . ?ree ery, sometimes a veritable ha gi g garde spread out u der the clear s$y. -e would go o to the road to !ua$am, which also leads to Dgor a d further o to "off airport. -e would recog i*e o the way the arrow road leadi g farther o to Almadies beach. !ur favourite spot was Dgor beach, situated ear the village of the same ame, where old bearded fisherme repaired their ets u der the sil$,cotto trees. Da$ed a d s otty childre played i complete freedom whe they were ot frolic$i g about i the sea. ! the fi e sa d, washed by the waves a d swolle with water, aively pai ted ca oes awaited their tur to be lau ched i to the waters. I their hollows small pools of blue water would gliste , full of light from the s$y a d su . -hat a crowd o public holidays4 Dumerous families would stroll about, thirsty for space a d fresh air. People would u dress, without embarrassme t, tempted by the be evole t caress of the iodi*ed bree*e a d the warmth from the su +s rays. 'he idle would sleep u der spread parasols. A few childre , spade a d buc$et i ha d, would build a d demolish the castles of their imagi atio . I the eve i g the fisherme would retur from their laborious outi gs. ! ce more, they had escaped the movi g s are of the sea. At first simple poi ts o the hori*o , the boats would become more disti ct from o e a other as they drew earer. 'hey would da ce i the hollows of the waves, the would la*ily let themselves be dragged alo g. 2isherme would gaily furl their sails a d draw i their tac$le. -hile some of them would gather together the wriggli g catch, others would wri g out their soa$ed clothes a d mop their faces. K der the wo deri g ga*e of the $ids, the live fish would flip up as the lo g sea s a$es would curve themselves i wards. 'here is othi g more beautiful tha a fish

&ust out of water,


[Page // ]

its eye clear a d fresh, with golde or silvery scales a d beautiful blueish gli ts4 0a ds would sort out, group, divide. -e would buy a good selectio at bargai prices for the house. 'he sea air would put us i good humour. 'he pleasure we i dulged i a d i which all our se ses re&oiced would i to#icate both rich a d poor with health. !ur commu io with deep, bottomless a d u limited ature refreshed our souls. Depressio a d sad ess would disappear, sudde ly to be replaced by feeli gs of ple itude a d e#pa sive ess. :ei vigorated, we would set out for home. 0ow &ealously we guarded the secret of simple pleasures, health,givi g remedy for the daily te sio s of life. Do you remember the pic ics we orga i*ed at ;a gal$am, i the farm .awdo B9 i herited from his father1 ;a gal$am remai s the refuge of people from Da$ar, those who wa t a brea$ from the fre *y of the city. 'he you ger set, i particular, has bought la d there a d built cou try reside ces) these gree , ope spaces are co ducive to rest, meditatio a d the letti g off of steam by childre . 'his oasis lies o the road to :ufis3ue. .awdo+s mother had loo$ed after the farm before her so +s marriage. 'he memory of her husba d had made her attached to this plot of la d, where their &oi t a d patie t ha ds had discipli ed the vegetatio that filled our eyes with admiratio . "ourself, you added the small buildi g at the far e d) three small, simple bedrooms, a bathroom, a $itche . "ou grew ma y flowers i a few cor ers. "ou had a he ru built, the a closed pe for sheep. 5oco ut trees, with their i terlaci g leaves, gave protectio from the su . ;uccule t sapodilla stood e#t to sweet,smelli g pomegra ates. 0eavy ma goes weighed dow the bra ches. Pawpaws resembli g breasts of differe t shapes hu g tempti g a d i accessible from the tops of elo gated tru $s. ?ree leaves a d brow ed leaves, ew grass a d withered grass were strew all over the grou d. K der our feet the a ts u tiri gly built a d rebuilt their homes.

0ow warm the shades over the camp beds4 'eams for games
[Page /7 ]

were formed o e after the other amid cries of victory or lame tatio s of defeat. A d we stuffed ourselves with fruits withi easy reach. A d we dra $ the mil$ from coco uts. A d we told +&uicy stories+4 A d we da ced about, roused by the stride t otes of a gramopho e. A d the lamb, seaso ed with white pepper, garlic, butter, hot pepper, would be roasti g over the wood fire. A d we lived. -he we stood i fro t of our over,crowded classes, we represe ted a force i the e ormous effort to be accomplished i order to overcome ig ora ce. (ach professio , i tellectual or ma ual, deserves co sideratio , whether it re3uires pai ful physical effort or ma ual de#terity, wide $ owledge or the patie ce of a a t. !urs, li$e that of the doctor, does ot allow for a y mista$e. "ou do +t &o$e with life, a d life is both body a d mi d. 'o warp a soul is as much a sacrilege as murder. 'eachers,,,at $i dergarte level, as at u iversity level,,,form a oble army accomplishi g daily feats, ever praised, ever decorated. A army forever o the move, forever vigila t. A army without drums, without gleami g u iforms. 'his army, thwarti g traps a d s ares, everywhere pla ts the flag of $ owledge a d morality. 0ow we loved this priesthood, humble teachers i humble local schools. 0ow faithfully we served our professio , a d how we spe t ourselves i order to do it ho our. Bi$e all appre tices, we had lear ed how to practise it well at the demo stratio school, a few steps away from our ow , where e#perie ced teachers taught the ovices that we were how to apply, i the lesso s we gave, our $ owledge of psychology a d method. ... I those childre we set i motio waves that, brea$i g, carried away i their furl a bit of ourselves.

[Page /< ]

1'

.odou rose steadily to the top ra $ i the trade u io orga i*atio s. 0is u dersta di g of people a d thi gs e deared him to both employers a d wor$ers. 0e focused his efforts o poi ts that were easily satisfied, that made wor$ lighter a d life more pleasa t. 0e sought practical improveme ts i the wor$ers+ co ditio s. 0is sloga was) what+s the use of tau ti g with the impossible1 !btai i g the +possible+ is already a victory. 0is poi t of view was ot u a imously accepted, but people relied o his practical realism. .awdo could ta$e part i either trade u io ism or politics, for he had +t the time. 0is reputatio as a good doctor was growi g% he remai ed the priso er of his missio i a hospital filled to capacity with the sic$, for people were goi g less a d less to the ative doctor who speciali*ed i brewi g the same co coctio s of leaves for differe t ill esses. (verybody was readi g ewspapers a d maga*i es. 'here was u rest i Dorth Africa. Did these i termi able discussio s, duri g which poi ts of view co curred or clashed, compleme ted each other or were va 3uished, determi e the aspect of the Dew Africa1 'he assimilatio ist dream of the colo ist drew i to its crucible our mode of thought a d way of life. 'he su helmet wor over the atural protectio of our $i $y hair, smo$e,filled pipe i the mouth, white shorts &ust above the calves, very short dresses displayi g shapely legs) a whole ge eratio sudde ly became aware of the ridiculous situatio festeri g i our midst.

[Page /@ ]

0istory marched o , i e#orably. 'he debate over the right path to ta$e shoo$ -est Africa. Brave me we t to priso % others, followi g i their footsteps, co ti ued the wor$ begu . It was the privilege of our ge eratio to be the li $ betwee two periods i our history, o e of domi atio , the other of i depe de ce. -e remai ed you g a d efficie t, for we were the messe gers of a ew desig . -ith i depe de ce achieved,

we wit essed the birth of a republic, the birth of a a them a d the impla tatio of a flag. I heard people repeat that all the active forces i the cou try should be mobili*ed. A d we said that over a d above the u avoidable opti g for such,a d,such a party, such, a d,such a model of society, what was eeded was atio al u ity. .a y of us rallied arou d the domi a t party, i fusi g it with ew blood. 'o be productive i the crowd was better tha crossi g o e+s arms a d hidi g behi d imported ideologies. .odou, a practical ma , led his u io s i to collaboratio with the gover me t, dema di g for his troops o ly what was possible. But he cursed the hasty establishme t of too ma y embassies, which he &udged to be too costly for our u der, developed cou try. 'his bleedi g of the cou try for reaso s of pure va ity, amo g other thi gs, such as the fre3ue t i vitatio of foreig ers, was &ust a waste of mo ey. A d, with his wage,ear ers i mi d, he would repeatedly growl, +;o ma y schools, or so much hospital e3uipme t lost4 ;o ma y mo thly wage i creases4 ;o ma y tarred roads4+ "ou a d .awdo would liste to him. -e were scali g the heights, but your mother, i ,law, who saw you resple de t beside her so , who saw her so goi g more a d more fre3ue tly to your father+s wor$shop, who saw your mother fill out a d dress better, your mother,i ,law thought more a d more of her reve ge.

[Page /A ]

11

I $ ow that I am sha$i g you, that I am twisti g a $ ife i a wou d hardly healed% but what ca I do1 I ca ot help rememberi g i my forced solitude a d reclusio . .awdo+s mother is Au ty Dabou to us a d ;ey abou to others. ;he bore a glorious ame i the ;i e) Diouf. ;he is a desce da t of Bour,;i e. ;he lived i the past, u aware of the cha gi g world. ;he clu g to old beliefs. Bei g stro gly attached to her privileged origi s, she believed firmly that blood carried with it virtues, a d, oddi g her head, she would repeat that humble birth would always show i a perso +s beari g. A d life had ot bee $i d to .awdo+s mother. Jery early, she lost

her dear husba d% bravely, she brought up her eldest so .awdo a d two other daughters, ow married ... a d well married. ;he devoted herself with the affectio of a tigress to her +o e a d o ly ma +, .awdo B9. -he she swore by her o ly so +s ose, the symbol of life, she had said everythi g. Dow, her +o ly ma + was movi g away from her, through the fault of this cursed daughter of a goldsmith, worse tha a griot woma . 'he griot bri gs happi ess. But a goldsmith+s daughter4 ... she bur s everythi g i her path, li$e the fire i a forge. ;o while we lived without co cer , co sideri g your marriage a problem of the past, .awdo+s mother thought day a d ight of a way to get her reve ge o you, the goldsmith+s daughter. ! e fi e day she decided to pay a visit to her you ger brother, 2arba Diouf, a customary chief i Dia$hao. ;he pac$ed a few well chose clothes i to a suitcase that she
[Page /C ]

borrowed from me, stuffed a bas$et full of various purchases) provisio s a d foodstuffs that are dear or rare i the ;i e =fruits from 2ra ce, cheese, preserves>, toys for ephews, le gths of material for her brother a d his four wives. ;he as$ed .odou for some mo ey, which she carefully folded a d put away i her purse. ;he had her hair do e, pai ted her feet a d ha ds with he a. 'hus dressed, ador ed, she left. 'hese days, the road to :ufis3ue for$s at the Diam iadio crossroads) the Datio al 1, to the right, leads, after .bour, to the ;i e,;aloum, while the Datio al / goes through 'hies a d 'ivaoua e, cradle of 'id&a ism, towards ;ai t,Bouis, former capital of ;e egal. Au ty Dabou did ot e &oy the be efit of these pleasa t roads. 8ostled i the bus o the bumpy road, she sought refuge i her memories. 'he di**yi g speed of the vehicle, carryi g her towards the place of her childhood, did ot preve t her from recog i*i g the familiar cou tryside. 0ere, ;i dia, a d to the left, Pope gui e, where the 5atholics celebrate -hitsu . 0ow ma y ge eratio s has this same u cha gi g cou tryside see glide past4 Au ty Dabou ac$ owledged ma +s vul erability i the face of the eter ity of ature. By its very duratio , ature defies time a d ta$e its reve ge o ma . 'he baobab trees held out the gia t $ ots of their bra ches towards the s$ies% slowly, the cows moved across the road, their mour ful stare defyi g the vehicles% shepherds

i baggy trousers, their stic$s o their shoulders or i their ha ds, guided the a imals. .e a d a imals ble ded, as i a picture rise from the depths of time. Au ty Dabou closed her eyes every time the bus passed a other vehicle. ;he was especially frighte ed of the big lorries with their huge loads. 'he beautiful .edi atou,.i aouara mos3ue had ot yet bee built to the glory of Islam, but i the same pious spirit, me a d wome prayed by the side of the road. +"ou have to come away from Da$ar to be co vi ced of the survival of traditio s,+ murmured Au ty Dabou. ! the left, pric$ly shrubs bordered the Ddiassa e forest% mo $eys darted out to e &oy the light. 'hiadiaye, 'atagui e, Diouroupe, the Ddioudiouf, a d
[Page /F ]

fi ally 2atic$, capital of the ;i e. Puffi g a d steami g, the bus bra ched off to the left. 8olts a d still more &olts. 2i ally Dia$hao, the royal Dia$hao, Dia$hao, cradle a d tomb of the Bour,;i e, Dia$hao of her a cestors, beloved Dia$hao, with the vast compou d of its old palace. 'he same heavi ess tortured her heart o each visit paid to the family domai . 2irst of all, water for ablutio s a d a mat o which to pray a d to meditate before the tomb of the a cestor. A d the she let her ga*e, mar$ed with sad ess a d filled with history, roam over the other tombs. 0ere, the dead a d the livi g lived together i the family compou d) each $i g, retur ed from his coro atio , pla ted two trees i the yard that mar$ed out his last resti g place. 2erve tly, Au ty Dabou i to ed the religious verses, directi g them at the tombs of the dead. 0er face wore a tragic mas$ i this place of gra deur, which sa g of the past to the sou d of the d#ou-d#oungs , the royal drums. ;he swore that your e#iste ce, Aissatou, would ever tar ish her oble desce t. Associati g i her thoughts a ti3uated rites a d religio , she remembered the mil$ to be poured i to the ;i e 11 to appease the i visible spirits. 'omorrow, i the river, she would ma$e her offeri gs to protect herself from the evil eye, while at the same time attracti g the be evole ce of the tours . 1/

:oyally received, she immediately resumed her positio as the elder sister of the master of the house. Dobody addressed her without $ eeli g dow . ;he too$ her meals alo e, havi g bee served with the choicest bits from the pots. Jisitors came from everywhere to ho our her, thus remi di g her of the truth of the law of blood. 2or her, they revived the e#ploits of the a cestor Bour,;i e, the dust of combats a d the ardour of thoroughbred horses. ... A d, heady with the heavy sce t of bur t i ce se, she drew force a d vigour from the a cestral ashes stirred to the eclectic sou d of the oras . ;he summo ed her brother. +I eed a child beside me,+ she said, +to fill my heart. I wa t this child to be both my legs a d my right arm. I am growi g old. I will ma$e of this child a other me. ;i ce the marriage of my ow childre , the house has bee empty.+

[Page /H ]

;he was thi $i g of you, wor$i g out her ve gea ce, but was very careful ot to spea$ of you, of her hatred for you. +Bet your wish be fulfilled,+ replied 2arba Diouf. +I have ever as$ed you to educate a y of my daughters, ot wa ti g to tire you. "et today+s childre are difficult to $eep i chec$. 'a$e you g Dabou, your amesa$e. ;he is yours. I as$ o ly for her bo es.+ ;atisfied, Au ty Dabou pac$ed her suitcase agai , filled her bas$et with all that could be fou d i the village a d is dear i tow ) dried couscous, roasted grou d ut paste, millet, eggs, mil$, chic$e . 0oldi g you g Dabou+s ha d firmly i her right ha d, she too$ the road bac$ to tow .

1!

As she ha ded me bac$ my suitcase, Au ty Dabou i troduced you g Dabou to me% she also i troduced her at the homes of all her frie ds. -ith my help, you g Dabou was admitted i to the 2re ch school. .aturi g i her au t+s protective shade, she lear ed the secret of ma$i g delicious sauces, of usi g a

iro a d wieldi g a pestle. 0er au t ever missed a opportu ity to remi d her of her royal origi , a d taught her that the first 3uality i a woma is docility. After obtai i g her primary school certificate, a d after a few years i seco dary school, the older Dabou advised her iece to sit the e tra ce e#ami atio for the ;tate ;chool of .idwifery) +'his school is good. "ou receive a educatio there. Do garla ds for heads. "ou g, sober girls without earri gs, dressed i white, which is the colour of purity. 'he professio you will lear there is a beautiful o e% you will ear
[Page 7I ]

your livi g a d you will ac3uire grace for your e try i to paradise by helpi g at the birth of ew followers of .ohammed, the prophet. 'o tell the truth, a woma does ot eed too much educatio . I fact, I wo der how a woma ca ear her livi g by tal$i g from mor i g to ight.+ 'hus, you g Dabou became a midwife. ! e fi e day, Au ty Dabou called .awdo a d said to him) +.y brother 2arba has give you you g Dabou to be your wife, to tha $ me for the worthy way i which I have brought her up. I will ever get over it if you do +t ta$e her as your wife. ;hame $ills faster tha disease.+ I $ ew about it. .odou $ ew about it. 'he whole tow $ ew about it. "ou, Aissatou, suspected othi g a d co ti ued to be radia t. A d because his mother had fi#ed a date for the weddi g ight, .awdo fi ally had the courage to tell you what every woma was whisperi g) you had a co,wife. +.y mother is old. 'he $ oc$s a d disappoi tme ts of life have wea$e ed her heart. If I spur this child, she will die. 'his is the doctor spea$i g a d ot the so . 'hi $ of it, her brother+s daughter, brought up by her, re&ected by her so . -hat shame before society4+ It was +so as ot to see his mother die of shame a d chagri + that .awdo agreed to go to the re de*,vous of the weddi g ight. 2aced with this rigid mother moulded by the old morality, bur i g with the fierce ardour of a ti3uated laws, what could .awdo B9 do1 0e was getti g o i years, wor out by his arduous wor$. A d the , did he really wa t to fight, to ma$e a gesture of resista ce1 "ou g Dabou was so tempti g. ... 2rom the o , you o lo ger cou ted. -hat of the time a d the love you had i vested i your home1 ! ly trifles, 3uic$ly forgotte . "our so s1 'hey cou ted for very little i this reco ciliatio betwee a mother a d her +o e a d o ly ma +% you o lo ger cou ted, a y more tha did your four so s) they could ever be e3ual to you g Dabou+s so s.

'he griots spo$e of you g Dabou+s so s, e#alti g them) +Blood has retur ed to its source.+ "our so s did ot cou t. .awdo+s mother, a pri cess, could ot recog i*e herself i the so s of a goldsmith+s daughter.

[Page 71 ]

I a y case, could a goldsmith+s daughter have a y dig ity, a y ho our1 'his was ta tamou t to as$i g whether you had a heart a d flesh. Ah4 for some people the ho our a d chagri of a goldsmith+s daughter cou t for less, much less, tha the ho our a d chagri of a $uelewar . .awdo did ot drive you away. 0e did his duty a d wished that you would stay o . "ou g Dabou would co ti ue to live with his mother% it was you he loved. (very other ight he would go to his mother+s place to see his other wife, so that his mother +would ot die+, to +fulfil a duty+. 0ow much greater you proved to be tha those who sapped your happi ess4 "ou were advised to compromise) +"ou do +t bur the tree which bears the fruit.+ "ou were threate ed through your flesh) +Boys ca "ou too$ o otice. 'hese commo place truths, which before had lowered the heads of ma y wives as they raised them i revolt, did ot produce the desired miracle% they did ot divert you from your decisio . "ou chose to ma$e a brea$, a o e,way &our ey with your four so s, leavi g this letter for .awdo, i clear view, o the bed that used to be yours. I remember the e#act words) ot succeed without their father.+

.awdo,

Pri ces master their feeli gs to fulfil their duties. +!thers+ be d their heads a d, i sile ce, accept a desti y that oppresses them. 'hat, briefly put, is the i ter al orderi g of our society, with its absurd divisio s. I will ot yield to it. I ca ot accept what you are offeri g me today i place of the happi ess we o ce had. "ou wa t to draw a li e betwee heartfelt love a d physical love. I say that there ca be o u io of bodies without the heart+s accepta ce, however little that may be. If you ca procreate without lovi g, merely to satisfy
[Page 7/ ]

the pride of your decli i g mother, the I fi d you despicable. At that mome t you tumbled from the highest ru g of respect o which I have always placed you. "our reaso i g, which ma$es a disti ctio , is u acceptable to me) o o e side, me, +your life, your love, your choice+, o the other, +you g Dabou, to be tolerated for reaso s of duty+. .awdo, ma is o e) great ess a d a imal fused together. Do e of his acts is pure charity. Do e is pure bestiality. I am strippi g myself of your love, your ame. 5lothed i my dig ity, the o ly worthy garme t, I go my way.

Goo()*e, Ai++ato,

A d you left. "ou had the surprisi g courage to ta$e your life i to your ow ha ds. "ou re ted a house a d set up home there. A d i stead of loo$i g bac$wards, you loo$ed resolutely to the future. "ou set yourself a difficult tas$% a d more tha &ust my prese ce a d my e courageme ts, boo$s saved you. 0avi g become your refuge, they sustai ed you. 'he power of boo$s, this marvellous i ve tio of astute huma i tellige ce. Jarious sig s associated with sou d) differe t sou ds that form the word. 8u#tapositio of

words from which spri gs the idea, 'hought, 0istory, ;cie ce, Bife. ;ole i strume t of i terrelatio ships a d of culture, u paralleled mea s of givi g a d receivi g. Boo$s $ it ge eratio s together i the same co ti ui g effort that leads to progress. 'hey e abled you to better yourself. -hat society refused you, they gra ted) e#ami atio s sat a d passed too$ you also to 2ra ce. 'he ;chool of I terpreters, from which you graduated, led to your appoi tme t i to the ;e egalese (mbassy i the K ited ;tates. "ou ma$e a very good livi g. "ou are
[Page 77 ]

developi g i peace, as your letters tell me, your bac$ resolutely tur ed o those see$i g light e &oyme t a d easy relatio ships. A d .awdo1 0e re ewed his relatio ship with his family. 'hose from Dia$hao i vaded his house) those from Dia$hao sustai ed you g Dabou. But,,,a d .awdo $ ew it,,,there was o possible compariso betwee yourself a d you g Dabou% you, so beautiful a d so ge tle, you, whose te der ess for him was so deep a d disi terested, you, who $ ew how to mop your husba d+s brow, you, who could always fi d the right words with which to ma$e him rela#. A d .awdo1 -hat did +t he say1 +I am completely disorie tated. "ou ca +t cha ge the habits of a grow ma . I loo$ for shirts a d trousers i the old places a d I touch o ly empti ess.+ I had o pity for .awdo. +.y house is a suburb of Dia$hao. I fi d it impossible to get a y rest there. (verythi g there is dirty. "ou g Dabou gives my food a d my clothes away to visitors.+ I did ot liste to .awdo. +;omebody told me he+d see you with Aissatou yesterday. Is it true1 Is she arou d1 0ow is she1 -hat about my so s1+ I did ot a swer .awdo. 2or .awdo, a d through him all me , remai ed a e igma to me. "our departure had truly sha$e him. 0is sad ess was clearly evide t. -he he spo$e of you, the i fle#io s i his voice harde ed. But his disillusio ed air, the bitter criticisms of his home, his wit, which railed at everythi g, did ot i the least preve t the periodic swelli g of you g Dabou+s belly. 'wo boys had already bee bor .

-he faced with this visible fact, proof of his i timate relatio s with you g Dabou, .awdo would twist with a ger. 0is loo$ was li$e a whip) +Boo$ here, do +t be a idiot. 0ow ca you e#pect a ma to remai a sto e whe he is co sta tly i co tact with the woma who ru s his house1+ 0e added as illustratio ) +I saw a film i which the survivors of a air crash survived by eati g the flesh of the corpses. 'his fact demo strates the force of the i sti cts i ma , i sti cts that domi ate him, regardless of his level of i tellige ce. ;lough off
[Page 7< ]

this surfeit of dreamy se time tality. Accept reality i its crude ugli ess.+ +"ou ca +t resist the imperious laws that dema d food a d clothi g for ma . 'hese same laws compel the EmaleE i other respects. I say EmaleE to emphasi*e the bestiality of i sti cts. ... "ou u dersta d. ... A wife must u dersta d, o ce a d for all, a d must forgive% she must ot worry herself about Ebetrayals of the fleshE. 'he importa t thi g is what there is i the heart% that+s what u ites two bei gs i side.rs3uo% =0e struc$ his chest, at the poi t where the heart lies.> +Drive to the limits of my resista ce, I satisfy myself with what is withi reach. It+s a terrible thi g to say. 'ruth is ugly whe o e a alyses it.+ 'hus, to &ustify himself, he reduced you g Dabou to a +plate of food+. 'hus, for the sa$e of +variety+, me are u faithful to their wives. I was irritated. 0e was as$i g me to u dersta d. But to u dersta d what1 'he supremacy of i sti ct1 'he right to betray1 'he &ustificatio of the desire for variety1 I could ot be a ally to polygamic i sti cts. -hat, the , was I to u dersta d1 0ow I e vied your calm ess duri g your last visit4 'here you were, rid of the mas$ of sufferi g. "our so s were growi g up well, co trary to all predictio s. "ou did ot care about .awdo. "es, i deed, there you were, the past crushed be eath your heel. 'here you were, a i oce t victim of a u &ust cause a d the courageous pio eer of a ew life.

[Page 7@ ]

1"

.y ow crisis came three years after your ow . But u li$e i your ow case, the source was ot my family,i ,law. 'he problem was rooted i .odou himself, my husba d. .y daughter Daba, who was prepari g for her baccalaur!at , ofte brought some of her classmates home with her. .ost of the time it was the same you g girl, a bit shy, frail, made oticeably u comfortable by our style of life. But she was really beautiful i this her adolesce t period, i her faded but clea clothes4 0er beauty sho e, pure. 0er shapely co tours could ot but be oticed. I sometimes oticed that .odou was i terested i the pair. Deither was I worried whe I heard him suggest that he should ta$e Bi etou home i the car,,,+because it was getti g late,+ he would say. Bi etou was goi g through a metamorphosis, however. ;he was ow weari g very e#pe sive off,the,peg dresses. ;mili gly, she would e#plai to my daughter) +!h, I have a sugar,daddy who pays for them.+ 'he o e day, o her retur from school, Daba co fided to me that Bi etou had a serious problem) +'he sugar,daddy of the bouti3ue dresses wa ts to marry Bi etou. 8ust imagi e. 0er pare ts wa t to withdraw her from school, with o ly a few mo ths to go before the bac , to marry her off to the sugar,daddy.+ +Advise her to refuse,+ I said. +A d if the ma i 3uestio offers her a villa, .ecca for her pare ts, a car, a mo thly allowa ce, &ewels1+ +Do e of that is worth the capital of youth.+

[Page 7A ]

+I agree with you, mum. I+ll tell Bi etou ot to give i % but her mother is a woma who wa ts so much to escape from mediocrity a d who regrets so much her past beauty, faded i the smo$e from the wood fires, that she loo$s e viously at everythi g I wear% she complai s all day lo g.+

+-hat is importa t is Bi etou herself. ;he must ot give i .+ A d the , a few days afterwards, Daba re ewed the co versatio , with its surprisi g co clusio . +.um4 Bi etou is heartbro$e . ;he is goi g to marry her sugar,daddy. 0er mother cried so much. ;he begged her daughter to give her life a happy e d, i a proper house, as the ma has promised them. ;o she accepted.+ +-he is the weddi g1+ +'his comi g ;u day, but there+ll be o receptio . Bi etou ca her frie ds.+ ot bear the moc$ery of

A d i the eve i g of this same ;u day o which Bi etou was bei g married off I saw come i to my house, all dressed up a d solem , 'amsir, .odou+s brother, with .awdo B9 a d his local "mam . -here had they come from, loo$i g so aw$ward i their starched boubous 1 Doubtless, they had come loo$i g for .odou to carry out a importa t tas$ that o e of them had bee charged with. I told them that .odou had bee out si ce mor i g. 'hey e tered laughi g, deliberately s iffi g the fragra t odour of i ce se that was floati g o the air. I sat i fro t of them, laughi g with them. 'he "mam attac$ed) +'here is othi g o e ca do whe Allah the almighty puts two people side by side.+ +'rue, true,+ said the other two i support. A pause. 0e too$ a breath a d co ti ued) +'here is othi g ew i this world.+ +'rue, true,+ 'amsir a d .awdo chimed i agai . +;ome thi gs we may fi d to be sad are much less so tha others. ...+ I followed the moveme t of the haughty lips that let fall these a#ioms, which ca precede the a ou ceme t of either a happy eve t or a u happy o e. -hat was he leadi g up to with these prelimi aries that rather a ou ced a storm1 ;o their visit was obviously pla ed.

[Page 7C ]

Does o e a ou ce bad ews dressed up li$e that i o e+s ;u day best1 !r did they wa t to i spire co fide ce with their impeccable dress1 I thought of the abse t o e. I as$ed with the cry of a hu ted beast) +.odou1+ A d the "mam , who had fi ally got hold of a leadi g thread, held tightly o to it. 0e we t o 3uic$ly, as if the words were glowi g embers i his mouth) +"es, .odou 2all, but, happily, he is alive for you, for all of us, tha $s be to ?od. All he has do e is to marry a seco d wife today. -e have &ust come from the mos3ue i ?ra d Da$ar where the marriage too$ place.+ 'he thor s thus removed from the way, 'amsir ve tured) +.odou se ds his tha $s. 0e says it is fate that decides me a d thi gs) ?od i te ded him to have a seco d wife, there is othi g he ca do about it. 0e praises you for the 3uarter of a ce tury of marriage i which you gave him all the happi ess a wife owes her husba d. 0is family, especially myself, his elder brother, tha $ you. "ou have always held us i respect. "ou $ ow that we are .odou+s blood.+ Afterwards there were the same old words, which were i te ded to relieve the situatio ) +"ou are the o ly o e i your house, o matter how big it is, o matter how dear life is. "ou are the first wife, a mother for .odou, a frie d for .odou.+ 'amsir+s Adam+s apple da ced about i his throat. 0e shoo$ his left leg, crossed over his folded right leg. 0is shoes, white 'ur$ish slippers, were covered with a thi layer of red dust, the colour of the earth i which they had wal$ed. 'he same dust covered .awdo+s a d the Imam+s shoes. .awdo said othi g. 0e was relivi g his ow e#perie ce. 0e was thi $i g of your letter, your reactio , a d you a d I were so ali$e. 0e was bei g wary. 0e $ept his head lowered, i the attitude of those who accept defeat before the battle. I ac3uiesced u der the drops of poiso that were bur i g me) +A 3uarter of a ce tury of marriage+, +a wife u paralleled+. I cou ted bac$wards to determi e where the brea$ i the thread had occurred from which everythi g had u wou d. .y mother+s words came bac$ to me) +too perfect. ...+ I completed at last my mother+s thought with the e d of the dictum) +... to be ho est+. I thought of the first two i cisors with a wide gap betwee them, the sig of the primacy of love i the
[Page 7F ]

i dividual. I thought of his abse ce, all day lo g. 0e had simply said) +Do +t e#pect me for lu ch.+ I thought of other abse ces, 3uite fre3ue t these days, crudely clarified

today yet well hidde yesterday u der the guise of trade u io meeti gs. 0e was also o a strict diet, +to brea$ the stomach+s egg,+ he would say laughi gly, this egg that a ou ced old age. (very ight whe he we t out he would u fold a d try o several of his suits before settli g o o e. 'he others, impatie tly re&ected, would slip to the floor. I would have to fold them agai a d put them bac$ i their places% a d this e#tra wor$, I discovered, I was doi g o ly to help him i his effort to be elega t i his seductio of a other woma . I forced myself to chec$ my i er agitatio . Above all, I must ot give my visitors the pleasure of relati g my distress. ;mile, ta$e the matter lightly, &ust as they a ou ced it. 'ha $ them for the huma e way i which they have accomplished their missio . ;e d tha $s to .odou, +a good father a d a good husba d+, +a husba d become a frie d+. 'ha $ my family,i ,law, the "mam , .awdo. ;mile. ?ive them somethi g to dri $. ;ee them out, u der the swirls of i ce se that they were s iffi g o ce agai . ;ha$e their ha ds. 0ow pleased they were, all e#cept .awdo, who correctly &udged the import of the eve t.

1#

Alo e at last, able to give free rei to my surprise a d to gauge my distress. Ah4 yes, I forgot to as$ for my rival+s ame so that I might give a huma form to my pai . .y 3uestio was soo a swered. Ac3uai ta ces from ?ra d Da$ar came rushi g to my house, bri gi g the various details
[Page 7H ]

of the ceremo y. ;ome of them did so out of true frie dship for me% others were spiteful a d &ealous of the promotio Bi etou+s mother would gai from the marriage. +I do +t u dersta d.+ 'hey did ot u dersta d either the e tra ce of .odou, a +perso ality+, i to this e#tremely poor family.

Bi etou, a child the same age as my daughter Daba, promoted to the ra $ of my co, wife, whom I must face up to. ;hy Bi etou4 'he old ma who bought her the ew off, the,peg dresses to replace the old faded o es was o e other tha .odou. ;he had i oce tly co fided her secrets to her rival+s daughter because she thought that this dream, spru g from a brai growi g old, would ever become reality. ;he had told everythi g) the villa, the mo thly allowa ce, the offer of a future trip to .ecca for her pare ts. ;he thought she was stro ger tha the ma she was deali g with. ;he did ot $ ow .odou+s stro g will, his te acity before a obstacle, the pride he i vests i wi i g, the resista ce that i spires ew attempts at each failure. Daba was furious, her pride wou ded. ;he repeated all the ic$ ames Bi etou had give her father) old ma , pot,belly, sugar,daddy4 ... the perso who gave her life had bee daily ridiculed a d he accepted it. A overwhelmi g a ger raged i side Daba. ;he $ ew that her best frie d was si cere i what she said. But what ca a child do, faced with a furious mother shouti g about her hu ger a d her thirst to live1 Bi etou, li$e ma y others, was a lamb slaughtered o the altar of afflue ce. Daba+s a ger i creased as she a alysed the situatio ) +Brea$ with him, mother4 ;e d this ma away. 0e has respected either you or me. Do what Au ty Aissatou did% brea$ with him. 'ell me you+ll brea$ with him. I ca +t see you fighti g over a ma with a girl my age.+ I told myself what every betrayed woma says) if .odou was mil$, it was I who had had all the cream. 'he rest, well, othi g but water with a vague smell of mil$. But the fi al decisio lay with me. -ith .odou abse t all ight =was he already co summati g his marriage1>, the solitude that le ds cou sel e abled me to grasp the problem. Beave1 ;tart agai at *ero, after livi g twe ty,five years with o e ma , after havi g bor e twelve childre 1 Did I have
[Page <I ]

e ough e ergy to bear alo e the weight of this respo sibility, which was both moral a d material1 Beave4 Draw a clea li e through the past. 'ur over a page o which ot everythi g was bright, certai ly, but at least all was clear. -hat would ow be recorded there would hold o love, co fide ce, gra deur or hope. I had ever $ ow the sordid side of marriage. Do +t get to $ ow it4 :u from it4 -he o e begi s to forgive, there is a avala che of faults that comes crashi g dow , a d the o ly thi g that remai s is to

forgive agai , to $eep o forgivi g. Beave, escape from betrayal4 ;leep without as$i g myself a y 3uestio s, without strai i g my ear at the slightest oise, waiti g for a husba d I share. I cou ted the aba do ed or divorced wome of my ge eratio whom I $ ew. I $ ew a few whose remai i g beauty had bee able to capture a worthy ma , a ma who added fi e beari g to a good situatio a d who was co sidered +better, a hu dred times better tha his predecessor+. 'he misery that was the lot of these wome was rolled bac$ with the i vasio of the ew happi ess that cha ged their lives, filled out their chee$s, brighte ed their eyes. I $ ew others who had lost all hope of re ewal a d whom lo eli ess had very 3uic$ly laid u dergrou d. 'he play of desti y remai s impe etrable. 'he cowries that a female eighbour throws o a fa i fro t of me do ot fill me with optimism, either whe they remai face upwards, showi g the blac$ hollow that sig ifies laughter, or whe the groupi g of their white bac$s seems to say that +the ma i the double trousers+ 17 is comi g towards me, the promise of wealth. +'he o ly thi g that separates you from them, ma a d wealth, is the alms of two white a d red cola uts,+ adds 2armata, my eighbour. ;he i sists) +'here is a sayi g that discord here may be luc$ elsewhere. -hy are you afraid to ma$e the brea$1 A woma is li$e a ball% o ce a ball is throw , o o e ca predict where it will bou ce. "ou have o co trol over where it rolls, a d eve less over who gets it. !fte it is grabbed by a u e#pected ha d. ...+ I stead of liste i g to the reaso i g of my eighbour, a griot woma who dreams of the ge erous tips due to the go,
[Page <1 ]

betwee , I loo$ed at myself i the mirror. .y eyes too$ i the mirror+s elo3ue ce. I had lost my slim figure, as well as ease a d 3uic$ ess of moveme t. .y stomach protruded from be eath the wrapper that hid the calves developed by the impressive umber of $ilometres wal$ed si ce the begi i g of my e#iste ce. ;uc$li g had robbed my breasts of their rou d firm ess. I could ot delude myself) youth was deserti g my body. -hereas a woma draws from the passi g years the force of her devotio , despite the agei g of her compa io , a ma , o the other ha d, restricts his field of te der ess. 0is egoistic eye loo$s over his part er+s shoulder. 0e compares what he had with what he o lo ger has, what he has with what he could have.

I had heard of too ma y misfortu es ot to u dersta d my ow . 'here was your ow case, Aissatou, the cases of ma y other wome , despised, relegated or e#cha ged, who were aba do ed li$e a wor ,out or out,dated boubou . 'o overcome distress whe it sits upo you dema ds stro g will. -he o e thi $s that with each passi g seco d o e+s life is shorte ed, o e must profit i te sely from this seco d% it is the sum of all the lost or harvested seco ds that ma$es for a wasted or a successful life. Brace o eself to chec$ despair a d get it i to proportio 4 A ervous brea$dow waits arou d the cor er for a yo e who lets himself wallow i bitter ess. Bittle by little, it ta$es over your whole bei g. !h, ervous brea$dow 4 Doctors spea$ of it i a detached, iro ical way, emphasi*i g that the vital orga s are i o way disturbed. "ou are luc$y if they do +t tell you that you are wasti g their time with the ever,growi g list of your ill esses ,,,your head, throat, chest, heart, liver,,,that o L,ray ca co firm. A d yet what atrocious sufferi g is caused by ervous brea$dow s4 A d I thi $ of 8ac3ueli e, who suffered from o e. 8ac3ueli e, the Ivoria , had disobeyed her Protesta t pare ts a d had married ;amba Diac$, a co temporary of .awdo B9+s, a doctor li$e him, who, o leavi g the Africa ;chool of .edici e a d Pharmacy, was posted to Abid&a . 8ac3ueli e ofte came rou d to see us, si ce her husba d ofte visited our household. 5omi g to ;e egal, she fou d herself i a ew
[Page </ ]

world, a world with differe t reactio s, temperame t a d me tality from that i which she had grow up. I additio , her husba d+s relatives,,,always the relatives,,,were cool towards her because she refused to adopt the .uslim religio a d we t i stead to the Protesta t church every ;u day. A blac$ Africa , she should have bee able to fit without difficulty i to a blac$ Africa society, ;e egal a d the Ivory 5oast both havi g e#perie ced the same colo ial power. But Africa is diverse, divided. 'he same cou try ca cha ge its character a d outloo$ several times over, from orth to south or from east to west. 8ac3ueli e truly wa ted to become ;e egalese, but the moc$ery chec$ed all desire i her to co,operate. People called her gnac , 1< a d she fi ally u derstood the mea i g of this ic$ ame that revolted her so. 0er husba d, ma$i g up for lost time, spe t his time chasi g sle der ;e egalese wome , as he would say with appreciatio , a d did ot bother to hide his adve tures, respecti g either his wife or his childre . 0is lac$ of precautio s brought to

8ac3ueli e+s $ owledge the irrefutable proof of his misco duct) love otes, chec$ stubs beari g the ames of the payees, bills from restaura ts a d for hotel rooms. 8ac3ueli e cried% ;amba Diac$ +lived it up+. 8ac3ueli e lost weight) ;amba Diac$ was still livi g fast. 8ac3ueli e complai ed of a disturbi g lump i her chest, u der her left breast% she said she had the impressio that a sharp poi t had pierced her there a d was cutti g through her flesh right to her very bo es. ;he fretted. .awdo liste ed to her heart) othi g wro g there, he would say. 0e prescribed some tra 3uilli*ers. (agerly, 8ac3ueli e too$ the tablets, tortured by the i sidious pai . 'he bottle empty, she oticed that the lump remai ed i the same place% she co ti ued to feel the pai &ust as acutely as ever. ;he co sulted a doctor from her ow cou try, who ordered a electrocardiogram a d various blood tests. Dothi g to be lear ed from the electric readi g of the heart, othi g ab ormal fou d i the blood. 0e too prescribed tra 3uilli*ers, big, effervesce t tablets that could ot allay poor 8ac3ueli e+s distress. ;he thought of her pare ts, of their refusal to co se t to her marriage. ;he wrote them a pathetic letter, i which she
[Page <7 ]

begged for their forgive ess. 'hey se t their si cere blessi g but could do othi g to lighte the stra ge weight i her chest.

8ac3ueli e was ta$e to 2a 0ospital o the road to !ua$am, ear the u iversity, where medical stude ts do their i ter ship, as they do at the Aristide Be Da tec 0ospital. 'his hospital did ot e#ist at the time .awdo B9 a d ;amba Diac$ studied at the ;chool of .edici e a d Pharmacy. It has ma y departme ts, housed either i separate buildi gs or i ad&oi i g o es to facilitate commu icatio . 'hese buildi gs, despite their umber a d si*e, do ot ma age to fill up the hospital+s vast grou ds. ! e teri g it, 8ac3ueli e thought of those go e mad, co fi ed i side. It was ecessary to e#plai to her that the mad o es were i psychiatric care a d that here they were called the me tally sic$ a d i a y case, were ot viole t, the viole t o es bei g co fi ed i the psychiatric hospital at 'hiaroye. 8ac3ueli e was i a eurology ward,

a d those of us who we t to visit her lear ed that the hospital also had departme ts for treati g tuberculosis a d i fectious diseases. 8ac3ueli e lay prostrate i her bed. 0er beautiful but eglected blac$ hair, through which o comb had bee ru ever si ce she bega co sulti g doctor after doctor, formed shaggy tufts o her head. -he the scarf protecti g it slipped out of place, it would u cover the coati g of a mi#ture of roots that we poured o her, for we tried everythi g to draw this sister out of her private hell. A d it was your mother, Aissatou, who we t to co sult the ative medici e me for us a d brought bac$ safara 1@ from her visits a d directio s for the sacrifices you 3uic$ly carried out. 8ac3ueli e+s thoughts tur ed to death. ;he waited for it, frighte ed a d torme ted, her ha d o her chest, where the te acious, i visible lump foiled all the ruses, scoffed maliciously at all the tra 3uilli*ers. 8ac3ueli e+s room,mate was a 2re ch 'ech ical 5o,operatio teacher of literature, posted to the BycMe 2aidherbe i ;ai t,Bouis. 'he o ly thi g she $ ew of ;ai t,Bouis, she said, was the bridge that spa ed the river. A sore throat, a afflictio as sudde as it was viole t, had
[Page << ]

preve ted her from ta$i g up her duties a d had brought her here, where she was waiti g to be repatriated. I observed her ofte . !ld, for her u married status. 'hi , a gular eve , without a y charm. 0er studies must have bee her o ly form of recreatio duri g her youth. ;our,tempered, she must have put off a y passio ate adva ces. It was perhaps her lo eli ess that had made her see$ for a cha ge. A teachi g post i ;e egal must have correspo ded to her dreams of escape. ;he had come therefore, but all her frustrated dreams, all her disappoi ted hopes, all her crushed revolt co ived to attac$ her throat, protected by a avy,blue scarf with white dots, which co trasted with the pale ess of her chest. 'he medicatio with which her throat was pai ted gave a blueish ti t to her thi lips, pi ched over their misery. ;he had big, lumi ous, blue eyes, the o ly light, the o ly poi t of beauty, the o ly heave ly grace i her u gracious face. ;he tapped agai st her throat% 8ac3ueli e tapped agai st her chest. -e would laugh at their ways, especially whe the patie t from the e#t room came to +chat+, as she said, a d would u cover her bac$ for the refreshi g caress of the air, co ditio er. ;he suffered from sudde flushes, which bur ed her terribly at this spot. ;tra ge a d varied ma ifestatio s of euro,vegetative dysto ia. Doctors, beware, especially if you are eurologists or psychiatrists. !fte , the pai s you are told of have their roots i moral torme t. Je#atio s suffered a d co sta t frustratio s) these are what accumulate somewhere i the body a d cho$e it.

8ac3ueli e, who e &oyed life, bravely e dured blood test after blood test. A other electrocardiogram, a other L,ray of the lu gs. A electro,e cephalogram was carried out, which revealed traces of her sufferi g. It the became ecessary to do a gaseous electro,e cephalography. 'his is e#tremely pai ful, always e taili g a lumbar pu cture. 'hat day, 8ac3ueli e remai ed co fi ed to bed, loo$i g more pitiful a d haggard tha ever before. ;amba Diac$ was $i d a d touched by his wife+s brea$dow . ! e fi e day, after a mo th of treatme t =i trave ous i &ectio s a d tra 3uilli*ers>, after a mo th of i vestigatio s,
[Page <@ ]

duri g which her 2re ch eighbour had retur ed to her cou try, the doctor who was head of the Deurology Departme t as$ed to see 8ac3ueli e. ;he fou d i fro t of her a ma whom maturity a d the obility of his &ob had made eve more attractive, a ma who had ot bee harde ed by co sta t deali g with the most deplorable of miseries, that of me tal alie atio . -ith his sharp eyes, accustomed to &udgi g, he loo$ed i to those of 8ac3ueli e i order to discover i her soul the source of the distress disrupti g her orga ism. I a soft, reassuri g voice, which i itself was balm to this overstru g bei g, he e#plai ed) +.adame Diac$, I assure you that there is othi g at all wro g with your head. 'he L,rays have show othi g, a d either have the blood tests. 'he problem is that you are depressed, that is ... ot happy. "ou wish the co ditio s of life were differe t from what they are i reality, a d this is what is torturi g you. .oreover, you had your babies too soo after each other% the body loses its vital &uices, which have +t had the time to be replaced. I short, there is othi g e da geri g your life. +"ou must react, go out, give yourself a reaso for livi g. 'a$e courage. ;lowly, you will overcome. -e will give you a series of shoc$ treatme ts with curare to rela# you. "ou ca leave afterwards.+ 'he doctor pu ctuated his words by oddi g his head a d smili g co vi ci gly, givi g 8ac3ueli e much hope. :e,a imated, she related the discussio to us a d co fided that she had left the i terview already half,cured. ;he $ ew the heart of her ill ess a d would fight agai st it. ;he was morally uplifted. ;he had come a lo g way, had 8ac3ueli e4 -hy did I recall this frie d+s ordeal1 -as it because of its happy e di g1 !r merely to delay the formulatio of the choice I had made, a choice that my reaso re&ected but that accorded with the imme se te der ess I felt towards .odou 2all1

"es, I was well aware of where the right solutio lay, the dig ified solutio . A d, to my family+s great surprise, u a imously disapproved of by my childre , who were u der Daba+s i flue ce, I chose to remai . .odou a d .awdo were surprised, could ot u dersta d. ... 2orewar ed, you, my frie d, did ot try to dissuade me, respectful of my ew choice of life.

[Page <A ]

I cried every day. 2rom the o , my life cha ged. I had prepared myself for e3ual shari g, accordi g to the precepts of Islam co cer i g polygamic life. I was left with empty ha ds. .y childre , who disagreed with my decisio , sul$ed. I oppositio to me, they represe ted a ma&ority I had to respect. +"ou have ot fi ished sufferi g,+ predicted Daba. I lived i a vacuum. A d .odou avoided me. Attempts by frie ds a d family to bri g him bac$ to the fold proved futile. ! e of the ew couple+s eighbours e#plai ed to me that the +child+ would go +all a,3uiver+ each time .odou said my ame or showed a y desire to see his childre . 0e ever came agai % his ew fou d happi ess gradually swallowed up his memory of us. 0e forgot about us.

1$

Aissatou, my dear frie d, I+ve told you that there ca be o possible compariso betwee you a d you g Dabou. But I also reali*e that there ca be o possible compariso betwee you g Dabou a d Bi etou. "ou g Dabou grew up beside her au t, who had earmar$ed her as the spouse of her so .awdo. Ksed to seei g him, she let herself be draw towards him, aturally, without a y shoc$. 0is greyi g hair did ot offe d her% she fou d his thic$e i g features reassuri g. A d the she loved a d still loves .awdo, eve if their i terests are ot always the same. ;chool had ot

left a stro g mar$ o you g Dabou, preceded a d domi ated as it was by the stre gth of character of Au ty Dabou, who, i her rage for ve gea ce, had left othi g to cha ce i the educatio she gave her iece. It
[Page <C ]

was especially while telli g fol$ tales, late at ight u der the starlit s$y, that Au ty Dabou wielded her power over you g Dabou+s soul) her e#pressive voice glorified the retributive viole ce of the warrior% her e#pressive voice lame ted the a #iety of the Boved ! e, all submissive. ;he saluted the courage of the rec$less% she stigmati*ed tric$ery, la*i ess, calum y% she dema ded care of the orpha a d respect for old age. 'ales with a imal characters, ostalgic so gs $ept you g Dabou breathless. A d slowly but surely, through the sheer force of repetitio , the virtues a d great ess of a race too$ root i this child. 'his $i d of oral educatio , easily assimilated, full of charm, has the power to bri g out the best i the adult mi d, developed i its co tact with it. ;oft ess a d ge erosity, docility a d polite ess, poise a d tact, all these 3ualities made you g Dabou pleasa t. .awdo used to call her +fi ic$y+, with a shrug of his shoulders. A d the , you g Dabou had a professio . ;he had o time to worry about her +state of mi d+. I charge of fre3ue t shifts at the +:epos .a del+ .ater ity 0ome, o the outs$irts of the crowded a d badly serviced suburba areas, all day a d several times over she would go through the same gestures e ge deri g life. Babies passed agai a d agai betwee her e#pert ha ds. ;he would come bac$ from wor$ raili g at the lac$ of beds that led to the discharge, too early i her opi io , of the ew mothers% worried about the lac$ of staff, i ade3uate i strume ts, medici es. ;he would say, with deep co cer ) +'he fragile baby is let loose too 3uic$ly i to a hygie ically u sou d social e viro me t.+ ;he thought of the great rate of i fa t mortality, which ights of care a d devotio ca ot decrease. ;he thought) -hat a thrilli g adve ture it is to tur a baby i to a healthy ma . But how ma y mothers are able to accomplish that feat1 I the midst of life, i the midst of poverty, i the midst of ugli ess, you g Dabou would ofte triumph with her $ owledge a d e#perie ce% but she sometimes $ ew heartre di g failure% she remai ed powerless, faced with the force of death.

[Page <F ]

"ou g Dabou, respo sible a d aware, li$e you, li$e me4 (ve though she is ot my frie d, we ofte shared the same problems. ;he fou d life hard a d, bei g a fighter, had ot the least i cli atio for frivolities. As for Bi etou, she had grow up i complete liberty i a e viro me t where survival was of the esse ce. 0er mother was more co cer ed with putti g the pot o the boil tha with educatio . Beautiful, lively, $i dhearted, i tellige t, Bi etou had access to ma y of her frie ds+ well,off families a d was sharply aware of what she was sacrifici g by her marriage. A victim, she wa ted to be the oppressor. (#iled i the world of adults, which was ot her ow , she wa ted her priso gilded. Dema di g, she torme ted. ;old, she raised her price daily. -hat she re ou ced, those thi gs which before used to be the sap of her life a d which she would bitterly e umerate, called for e#orbita t compe satio s, which .odou e#hausted himself tryi g to provide. (choes of her life would reach me, amplified or muted accordi g to the visitor. 'he seductive power of mature age, of silvery temples, was u $ ow to Bi etou. A d .odou would dye his hair every mo th. 0is waistli e pai fully restrai ed by old,fashio ed trousers, Bi etou would ever miss a cha ce of laughi g wic$edly at him. .odou would leave himself wi ded tryi g to impriso youth i its decli e, which aba do ed him o all sides) the graceless sag of a double chi , the gait hesita t a d heavy at the slightest cool bree*e. ?raceful ess a d beauty surrou ded him. 0e was afraid of disappoi ti g, a d so that there would be o time for close scruti y of him, he would create daily celebratio s duri g which the bright you g thi g would move, a elf with sle der arms who with a laugh could ma$e life beautiful or with a pout bri g sad ess. People tal$ed of bewitchme t. -ith determi atio , frie ds begged me to react) +"ou are letti g someo e else pluc$ the fruits of your labour.+ Jeheme tly, they recomme ded marabouts , sure i their scie ce, who had proved themselves by bri gi g husba ds bac$ to the fold, by separati g them from evil wome . 'hese charlata s lived far away. 5asama ce was me tio ed, where the Diola a d .ad&ago e#cel i magic philtres. 'hey suggested
[Page <H ]

Bi guere, the cou try of the 2ulba, 3uic$ i ve gea ce through charms as through arms. 'hey also tal$ed of .ali, the cou try of the Bambara, with faces deeply scarred with tribal mar$s.

'o act as I was urged would have bee to call myself i to 3uestio . I was already reproachi g myself for a wea$ ess that had ot preve ted the degradatio of my home. -as I to de y myself because .odou had chose a other path1 Do, I would ot give i to the pressure. .y mi d a d my faith re&ected super atural power. 'hey re&ected this easy attractio , which $ills a y will to fight. I loo$ed reality i the face. :eality had the face of Bady .other,i ,Baw, swallowi g up double mouthfuls from the trough offered her. 0er hu ch about a gilded way of life was bei g proved right. 0er u steady hut, with *i c walls covered with maga*i e pages where pi ,ups a d advertiseme ts were placed side by side, had grow dim i her memory. ! e motio of her ha d i her bathroom a d delicious &ets of hot water would massage her bac$. A other i the $itche a d ice cubes would cool the water i her glass. ! e more a d a flame would spri g from the gas coo$er a d she would prepare herself a delicious omelette. 'he se ior wife hitherto eglected, Bady .other,i ,Baw emerged from the shadows a d too$ her u faithful husba d bac$ i tow. ;he held valuable trump cards) grilled meats, roasted chic$e a d =why ot1> ba $ otes slipped i to the poc$ets of the boubou ha gi g i the bedroom. ;he o lo ger cou ted the cost of water bought from the 'u$ulor haw$er of the vital li3uid draw from public spri gs. 0avi g $ ow poverty, she re&oiced i her ew,fou d happi ess. .odou fulfilled her e#pectatio s. 0e would thoughtfully se d her wads of otes to spe d a d would offer her, after his trips abroad, &ewellery a d rich boubous . 2rom the o , she &oi ed the category of wome +with heavy bracelets+ lauded by the griots . 'hrilled, she would liste to the radio tra smitti g so gs dedicated to her. 0er family reserved the best place for her duri g ceremo ies a d liste ed to her advice. -he .odou+s large car dropped her a d she emerged, there would be a rush of outstretched ha ds i to which she placed ba $ otes.

[Page @I ]

:eality was also Bi etou, who we t from ight club to ight club. ;he would arrive draped i a lo g, costly garme t, a gold belt, a prese t from .odou o the birth of their first child, shi i g rou d her waist. 0er shoes tapped o the grou d, a ou ci g her prese ce. 'he waiters would move aside a d bow respectfully i the hope of a royal tip. -ith a co temptuous loo$, she would eye those already seated. -ith a pout li$e that of a spoilt child, she would i dicate to .odou the table she had chose . -ith

a wave of her ha d, li$e a magicia , she would have various bottles li ed up. ;he was showi g off to the you g people a d wa ted to impress them with her form of success. Bi etou, i co testably beautiful a d desirable4 +Bewitchi g,+ people admitted. But whe the mome t of admiratio passed, she was the o e who lowered her head at the sight of couples graced with othi g but their youth a d rich i their happi ess alo e. 'he couples held each other or da ced apart depe di g o the music, sometimes slow a d coa#i g, sometimes vigorous a d wild. -he the trumpet blared out, bac$ed by the fre *y of the drums, the you g da cers, e#cited a d u tiri g, would stamp, &ump a d caper about, shouti g their &oy. .odou would try to follow suit. 'he harsh lights betrayed him to the u pityi g sarcasm of some of them, who called him a +cradle, s atcher+. -hat did it matter4 0e had Bi etou i his arms. 0e was happy. -or out, Bi etou would watch with a disillusio ed eye the progress of her frie ds. 'he image of her life, which she had murdered, bro$e her heart. ;ometimes also, despite my disapproval, Daba would go to the ight clubs. Dressed simply, she would appear o her fia cM+s arm% she would arrive late o purpose so as to sit i full view of her father. It was a grotes3ue co fro tatio ) o o e side, a ill, assorted couple, o the other two well,matched people. A d the eve i g created a e#treme te sio that opposed two former frie ds, a father a d his daughter, a so ,i ,law a d his father,i ,law.

[Page @1 ]

1%

I was survivi g. I additio to my former duties, I too$ over .odou+s as well. 'he purchase of basic foodstuffs $ept me occupied at the e d of every mo th% I made sure that I was ever short of tomatoes or of oil, potatoes or o io s duri g those periods whe they became rare i the mar$ets% I stored bags of +;iam+ rice, much loved by the ;e egalese. .y brai was ta#ed by ew fi a cial gym astics.

'he last date for payme t of electricity bills a d of water rates dema ded my atte tio . I was ofte the o ly woma i the 3ueue. :eplaci g the loc$s a d latches of bro$e doors, replaci g bro$e wi dows was a bother, as well as loo$i g for a plumber to deal with bloc$ed si $s. .y so .awdo 2all complai ed about bur t,out bulbs that eeded replaceme t. I survived. I overcame my shy ess at goi g alo e to ci emas% I would ta$e a seat with less a d less embarrassme t as the mo ths we t by. People stared at the middle,aged lady without a part er. I would feig i differe ce, while a ger hammered agai st my erves a d the tears I held bac$ welled up behi d my eyes. 2rom the surprised loo$s, I gauged the sle der liberty gra ted to wome . 'he early shows at the ci ema filled me with delight. 'hey gave me the courage to meet the curious ga*e of various people. 'hey did ot $eep me away for lo g from my childre . -hat a great distractio from distress is the ci ema4
[Page @/ ]

I tellectual films, those with a message, se time tal films, detective films, comedies, thrillers, all these were my compa io s. I lear ed from them lesso s of great ess, courage a d persevera ce. 'hey deepe ed a d wide ed my visio of the world, tha $s to their cultural value. 'he ci ema, a i e#pe sive mea s of recreatio , ca thus give healthy pleasure. I survived. 'he more I thought about it, the more grateful I became to .odou for havi g cut off all co tact. I had the solutio my childre wa ted,,,the brea$ without havi g ta$e the i itiative. 'he lie had ot ta$e root. .odou was e#cisi g me from his life a d was provi g it by his u e3uivocal attitude. -hat do other husba ds do1 'hey wallow i i decisio % they force themselves to be prese t where either their feeli gs or their i terests co ti ue to reside. Dothi g impresses them i their home) the wife all dressed up, the so full of te der ess, the meal tastefully served. 'hey remai stolid, li$e marble. 'hey wish o ly that the hours may pass rapidly. At ight, feig i g fatigue or ill ess, they s ore deeply. 0ow 3uic$ they are to greet the liberati g daybrea$, which puts a e d to their torme t4

I was ot deceived, therefore. I o lo ger i terested .odou, a d I $ ew it. I was aba do ed) a flutteri g leaf that o ha d dares to pic$ up, as my gra dmother would have said. I faced up to the situatio bravely. I carried out my duties% they filled the time a d cha elled my thoughts. But my lo eli ess would emerge at ight, burde some. ! e does ot easily u do the te uous ties that bi d two people together duri g a &our ey fraught with hardship. I lived the proof of it, bri gi g bac$ to life past sce es, past co versatio s. !ur commo habits spra g up at their usual times. I missed dreadfully our ightly co versatio % I missed our bursts of refreshi g or u dersta di g laughter. Bi$e opium, I missed our daily co sultatio s. I pitted myself agai st shadows. 'he wa deri gs of my thoughts chased away all sleep. I side,stepped my pai i a refusal to fight it. 'he co ti uity of radio broadcasts was a great relief. I gave the radio the role of comforter. At ight the music lulled my
[Page @7 ]

a #iety. I heard the message of old a d ew so gs, which awa$e ed hope. .y sad ess dissolved. -ith all the force I had, I called eagerly to +a other ma + to replace .odou. Distressi g awa$e i gs succeeded the ights. .y love for my childre sustai ed me. 'hey were a pillar% I owed them help a d affectio . Did .odou appreciate, i its full measure, the void created by his abse ce i this house1 Did .odou attribute to me more e ergy tha I had to shoulder the respo sibility of my childre 1 I adopted a sprightly to e to rouse my battalio . 'he coffee warmed the atmosphere, e#udi g its sweet fragra ce. 2oami g baths, mutual teasi g a d laughter. A ew day a d i creased efforts4 A ew day, a d waiti g. ... -aiti g for what1 It would ot be easy to get my childre to accept a ew masculi e prese ce. 0avi g co dem ed their father, could they be tolera t towards a other ma 1 Besides, what ma would have the courage to face twelve pairs of hostile eyes, which ope ly tear you apart1 -aiti g4 But waiti g for what1 I was ot divorced ... I was aba do ed) a flutteri g leaf that o ha d dares to pic$ up, as my gra dmother would have said.

I survived. I e#perie ced the i ade3uacy of public tra sport. .y childre laughed at themselves i ma$i g this harsh discovery. ! e day, I heard Daba advise them) +Above all, do +t let mum $ ow that it is stifli g i those buses duri g the rush hours.+ I shed tears of &oy a d sad ess together) &oy i bei g loved by my childre , the sad ess of a mother who does ot have the mea s to cha ge the course of eve ts. I told you the , without a y ulterior motive, of this pai ful aspect of our life, while .odou+s car drove Bady .other,i , Baw to the four cor ers of tow a d while Bi etou strea$ed alo g the roads i a Alfa :omeo, sometimes white, sometimes red. I shall ever forget your respo se, you, my sister, or my &oy a d my surprise whe I was called to the 2iat age cy a d was told to choose a car which you had paid for, i full. .y childre gave cries of &oy whe they lear ed of the approachi g
[Page @< ]

e d of their tribulatio s, which remai the daily lot of a good ma y other stude ts. 2rie dship has sple dours that love $ ows ot. It grows stro ger whe crossed, whereas obstacles $ill love. 2rie dship resists time, which wearies a d severs couples. It has heights u $ ow to love. "ou, the goldsmith+s daughter, gave me your help while deprivi g yourself. A d I lear ed to drive, stifli g my fear. 'he arrow space betwee the wheel a d the seat was mi e. 'he flatte ed clutch glided i the gears. 'he bra$e reduced the forward thrust a d, to speed alo g, I had to step o the accelerator. I did ot trust the accelerator. At the slightest pressure from my feet, the car lurched forward. .y feet lear ed to da ce over the pedals. -he ever I was discouraged, I would say) -hy should Bi etou sit behi d a wheel a d ot I1 I would tell myself) Do +t disappoi t Aissatou. I wo this battle of erves a d sang-froid . I obtai ed my drivi g lice ce a d told you about it. I told you) a d ow,,,my childre o the bac$seat of the cream,coloured 2iat 1/@% tha $s to you, my childre ca loo$ the afflue t mother,i ,law a d the fragile child i the eye i the streets of the tow . .odou surprised, u believi g, i 3uired i to the source of the car. 0e ever accepted the true story. Bi$e .awdo+s mother, he too believed that a goldsmith+s daughter had o heart.

[Page @@ ]

1&

I ta$e a deep breath. I+ve related at o e go your story as well as mi e. I+ve said the esse tial, for pai , eve whe it+s past, leaves the same mar$s o the i dividual whe recalled. "our disappoi tme t was mi e, as my re&ectio was yours. 2orgive me o ce agai if I have re,ope ed your wou d. .i e co ti ues to bleed. "ou may tell me) the path of life is ot smooth% o e is bruised by its sharp edges. I also $ ow that marriage is ever smooth. It reflects differe ces i character a d capacity for feeli g. I o e couple the ma may be the victim of a fic$le woma or of a woma shut up i her ow preoccupatio s who re&ects all dialogue a d 3uashes all moves towards te der ess. I a other couple alcoholism is the leprosy that g aws away at health, wealth a d peace. It shows up a i dividual+s disordered state through grotes3ue spectacles by which his dig ity is u dermi ed, i situatio s where physical blows become solid argume ts a d the me aci g blade of a $ ife a irresistible call for sile ce. -ith others it is the lure of easy gai that domi ates) i corrigible players at the gami g table or seated i the shade of a tree. 'he heated atmosphere of rooms full of fie dish odours, the distorted faces of te se players. 'he giddy whirl of playi g cards swallows up time, wealth, co scie ce, a d stops o ly with the last breath of the perso accustomed to shuffli g them. I try to spot my faults i the failure of my marriage. I gave freely, gave more tha I received. I am o e of those who ca reali*e themselves fully a d bloom o ly whe they form part
[Page @A ]

of a couple. (ve though I u dersta d your sta d, eve though I respect the choice of liberated wome , I have ever co ceived of happi ess outside marriage.

I loved my house. "ou ca testify to the fact that I made it a have of peace where everythi g had its place, that I created a harmo ious sympho y of colours. "ou $ ow how soft, hearted I am, how much I loved .odou. "ou ca testify to the fact that, mobili*ed day a d ight i his service, I a ticipated his slightest desire. I made peace with his family. Despite his desertio of our home, his father a d mother a d 'amsir, his brother, still co ti ued to visit me ofte , as did his sisters. .y childre too grew up without much ado. 'heir success at school was my pride, &ust li$e laurels throw at the feet of my lord a d master. A d .odou was o priso er. 0e spe t his time as he wished. I well u derstood his desire to let off steam. 0e fulfilled himself outside as he wished i his trade u io activities. I am tryi g to pi poi t a y wea$ ess i the way I co ducted myself. .y social life may have bee stormy a d perhaps i &ured .odou+s trade u io career. 5a a ma , deceived a d flouted by his family, impose himself o others1 5a a ma whose wife does ot do her &ob well ho estly dema d a fair reward for labour1 Aggressio a d co desce sio i a woma arouse co tempt a d hatred for her husba d. If she is gracious, eve without appeali g to a y ideology, she ca summo support for a y actio . I a word, a ma +s success depe ds o femi i e support. A d I as$ myself. I as$ myself, why1 -hy did .odou detach himself1 -hy did he put Bi etou betwee us1 "ou, very logically, may reply) +Affectio s spri g from othi g% sometimes a grimace, the carriage of a head ca seduce a heart a d $eep it.+ I as$ myself 3uestio s. 'he truth is that, despite everythi g, I remai faithful to the love of my youth. Aissatou, I cry for .odou, a d I ca do othi g about it.

[Page @C ]

18

"esterday I celebrated, as is the custom, the fortieth day of .odou+s death. I have forgive him. .ay ?od hear the prayer I say for him every day. I celebrated the fortieth day i meditatio . 'he i itiated read the 6ora . 'heir ferve t voices rose towards heave . .odou 2all, may ?od accept you amo g his chose few. After goi g through the motio s of piety, 'amsir came a d sat i my bedroom i the blue armchair that used to be your favourite. ;tic$i g his head outside, he sig alled to .awdo% he also sig alled to the "mam from the mos3ue i his area. 'he "mam a d .awdo &oi ed him. 'his time, 'amsir spea$s. 'here is a stri$i g resembla ce betwee .odou a d 'amsir, the same tics do ated by the i e#plicable law of heredity. 'amsir spea$s with great assura ce% he touches, o ce agai , o my years of marriage, the he co cludes) +-he you have Ecome outE =that is to say, of mour i g>, I shall marry you. "ou suit me as a wife, a d further, you will co ti ue to live here, &ust as if .odou were ot dead. Ksually it is the you ger brother who i herits his elder brother+s wife. I this case, it is the opposite. "ou are my good luc$. I shall marry you. I prefer you to the other o e, too frivolous, too you g. I advised .odou agai st that marriage.+ -hat a declaratio of love, full of co ceit, i a house still i mour i g. -hat assura ce a d calm aplomb4 I loo$ 'amsir straight i the eye. I loo$ at .awdo. I loo$ at the "mam . I draw my blac$ shawl closer. I tell my beads. 'his time I shall spea$ out. .y voice has $ ow thirty years of sile ce, thirty years of
[Page @F ]

harassme t. It bursts out, viole t, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes co temptuous. +Did you ever have a y affectio for your brother1 Already you wa t to build a ew home for yourself, over a body that is still warm. -hile we are prayi g for .odou, you are thi $i g of future weddi g festivities. +Ah, yes4 "our strategy is to get i before a y other suitor, to get i before .awdo, the faithful frie d, who has more 3ualities tha you a d who also, accordi g to custom, ca i herit the wife. "ou forget that I have a heart, a mi d, that I am ot a ob&ect to be passed from ha d to ha d. "ou do +t $ ow what marriage mea s to me) it is a act of faith a d of love, the total surre der of o eself to the perso o e has chose a d who has chose you.+ =I emphasi*ed the word +chose +.> +-hat of your wives, 'amsir1 "our i come ca meet either their eeds or those of your umerous childre . 'o help you out with your fi a cial obligatio s, o e of your

wives dyes, a other sells fruit, the third u tiri gly tur s the ha dle of her sewi g machi e. "ou, the revered lord, you ta$e it easy, obeyed at the croo$ of a fi ger. I shall ever be the o e to complete your collectio . .y house shall ever be for you the coveted oasis) o e#tra burde % my Etur E every day% 1A clea li ess a d lu#ury, abu da ce a d calm4 Do, 'amsir4 +A d the there are Daba a d her husba d, who have demo strated their fi a cial acume by buyi g up all your brother+s properties. -hat promotio for you4 "our frie ds are goi g to loo$ at you with e vy i their eyes.+ .awdo sig alled with his ha d for me to stop. +;hut up4 ;hut up4 ;top4 ;top4+ But you ca +t stop o ce you+ve let your a ger loose. I co cluded, more viole t tha ever) +'amsir, purge yourself of your dreams of co 3uest. 'hey have lasted forty days. I shall ever be your wife.+ 'he "mam prayed ?od to be his wit ess. +;uch profa e words a d still i mour i g4+ 'amsir got up without a word. 0e u derstood fully that he+d bee defeated. 'hus I too$ my reve ge for that other day whe all three of them had airily i formed me of the marriage of .odou 2all a d Bi etou.

[Page @H ]

19

Aissatou, eve i my mour i g clothes I have o peace of mi d. After 'amsir, Daouda Die g. ... "ou remember Daouda Die g, my former suitor. 'o his maturity I had preferred i e#perie ce, to his ge erosity, poverty, to his gravity, spo ta eity, to his stability, adve ture.

0e came to .odou+s fu eral. I the e velope that he gave 2atim there was a large sum of mo ey. A d his loo$ was i siste t, sayi g a great deal,,,of course. -here he is co cer ed, I believe to be true what he used to tell us &o$i gly, whe ever by cha ce we met agai ) o e ever forgets a first love. After 'amsir, elimi ated that memorable day whe I 3uelled his lust for co 3uest% after 'amsir, the , Daouda Die g, a ca didate for my ha d4 Daouda Die g was my mother+s favourite. I ca still hear her persuasive voice advise me) a woma must marry the ma who loves her but ever the o e she loves% that is the secret of lasti g happi ess. Daouda Die g had $ept himself well, compared with .awdo a d .odou. 8ust o the threshold of old age, he had resisted the repeated attac$s of time a d e#ertio . 0e was elega tly dressed i a suit of embroidered brocade% he remai ed the same well, groomed ma , meticulous a d close, shaved. 0e wore his social success boldly but without co desce sio . Although a deputy at the Datio al Assembly, he remai ed accessible, with gestures that le t weight to his opi io s. 0is lightly silvered hair gave him u 3uestio able charm.

[Page AI ]

2or the last three years he had comma ded atte tio i the political race through the sobriety of his actio s a d the precisio of his words. 0is car, with its disti ctive coc$ade i the atio al colours, was par$ed o the opposite paveme t. 0ow much I preferred his emotio to 'amsir+s co fide t arroga ce4 0is trembli g lips betrayed him. 0is loo$ swept over my face. I too$ refuge i ba alities) +0ow is Ami ata =his wife>1 A d the childre 1 A d your cli ic1 -hat+s it li$e at the Datio al Assembly1+ .y 3uestio s came u i terrupted, as much to put him at ease as to re ew the dialogue that had for so lo g bee cut off. 0e replied briefly. But my last 3uestio provo$ed a shrug of the shoulders, to sig ify +It+s all right,+ said challe gi gly. I we t o ) +It must be all right, that male Assembly4+

I said it teasi gly, rolli g my eyes rou d. (ter al woma ) eve i mour i g, you wa t to ma$e a stri$e, you wa t to seduce, you wa t to arouse i terest4 Daouda was o fool. 0e $ ew very well that I wa ted to relieve him of his embarrassme t a d to draw bac$ the curtai of sile ce a d co strai t that separated us, created by the lo g years a d my former refusal to marry him. +;till very critical, :amatoulaye4 -hy this iro ical stateme t a d this provocative epithet whe there are wome i the Assembly1+ +2our wome , Daouda, four out of a hu dred deputies. -hat a ridiculous ratio4 Dot eve o e for each provi ce.+ Daouda laughed, a ope , commu icative laugh, which I fou d stimulati g. -e laughed oisily together. I saw agai his beautiful set of teeth, capped with the circumfle# acce t of a blac$ moustache, combed a d very slee$. Ah4 those teeth, set close together, had wo my mother+s co fide ce4 +But you wome , you are li$e mortar shells. "ou demolish. "ou destroy. Imagi e a large umber of wome i the Assembly. -hy, everythi g would e#plode, go up i flames.+ A d we laughed agai . -ri $li g my brow, I comme ted) +But we are ot i ce diaries% rather, we are stimula ts4+ A d I pressed o ) +I ma y fields, a d without s$irmishes, we have ta$e adva tage of the otable achieveme ts that have reached us from
[Page A1 ]

elsewhere, the gai s wrested from the lesso s of history. -e have a right, &ust as you have, to educatio , which we ought to be able to pursue to the furthest limits of our i tellectual capacities. -e have a right to e3ual well,paid employme t, to e3ual opportu ities. 'he right to vote is a importa t weapo . A d ow the 2amily 5ode has bee passed, restori g to the most humble of wome the dig ity that has so ofte bee trampled upo . +But Daouda, the co strai ts remai % but Daouda, old beliefs are revived% but Daouda, egoism emerges, scepticism rears its head i the political field. "ou wa t to ma$e it a closed shop a d you huff a d puff about it.

+Dearly twe ty years of i depe de ce4 -he will we have the first female mi ister i volved i the decisio s co cer i g the developme t of our cou try1 A d yet the milita cy a d ability of our wome , their disi terested commitme t, have already bee demo strated. -ome have raised more tha o e ma to power.+ Daouda liste ed to me. But I had the impressio that more tha my ideas, it was my voice that captivated him. A d I co ti ued) +-he will educatio be decided for childre o the basis ot of se# but of tale t1+ Daouda Die g was savouri g the warmth of the i er dream he was spi i g arou d me. As for me, I was bolti g li$e a horse that has lo g bee tethered a d is ow free a d revelli g i space. Ah, the &oy of havi g a i terlocutor before you, especially a admirer4 I had remai ed the same :amatoulaye ... a bit of a rebel. I drew Daouda Die g alo g with my ardour. 0e was a upright ma , a d each time the situatio dema ded, he would fight for social &ustice. It was ot love of show or mo ey that had drive him towards politics, but his true love for his fellow ma , the urge to redress wro gs a d i &ustice. +-hom are you addressi g, :amatoulaye1 "ou are echoi g my speeches at the Datio al Assembly, where I have bee called a Efemi istE. I am ot, i fact, the o ly o e to i sist o cha gi g the rules of the game a d i &ecti g ew life i to it. -ome should o lo ger be decorative accessories, ob&ects to be moved about, compa io s to be flattered or calmed with promises. -ome are the atio +s primary, fu dame tal root,
[Page A/ ]

from which all else grows a d blossoms. -ome must be e couraged to ta$e a $ee er i terest i the desti y of the cou try. (ve you who are protesti g% you preferred your husba d, your class, your childre to public life. If me alo e are active i the parties, why should they thi $ of the wome 1 It is o ly huma to give yourself the larger portio of the ca$e whe you are shari g it out. +Do +t be self,ce tred i your reactio . 5o sider the situatio of every o e of the cou try+s citi*e s. Do o e is well,off, ot eve those of us who are co sidered to be secure a d fi a cially sou d, whe i fact all our savi gs go towards the mai te a ce of a avid electoral clie tele which believes itself to be our promoters. Developi g a

cou try is ot easy. 'he more respo sibility o e has, the more o e feels it% poverty brea$s your heart, but you have o co trol over it. I am spea$i g of the whole ra ge of material a d moral poverty. Better livi g re3uires roads, dece t houses, wells, cli ics, medici es, seeds. I am o e of those who advocated that i depe de ce celebratio s should be rotated a ually amo g the regio s. A y i itiative that e ables regio al i vestme ts a d tra sformatio s is welcome. +-e eed mo ey, a mou tai of mo ey, which we must get from others by wi i g their co fide ce. -ith &ust o e rai y seaso a d our si gle crop, ;e egal will ot go far despite all our determi atio .+ Dight fell 3uic$ly from the s$ies, i a hurry to dar$e me a d thi gs. It came through the ve etia bli ds i the sitti g,room. 'he mue%%in +s i vitatio to the Timissprayer was persuasive% !usma e stood o tiptoe a d flic$ed o the switch. 'here was a sudde flood of light. Daouda, well aware of the co strai ts of my situatio , got up. 0e lifted !usma e up towards the lamp, a d !usma e chuc$led, arms stretched. 0e let him dow . +'ill tomorrow,+ he said. +I came to discuss somethi g else. "ou led me i to a political discussio . (very discussio is profitable. 'ill tomorrow,+ he repeated. 0e smiled) eat rows of good teeth. 0e smiled a d ope ed the door. I heard his footsteps recede. A mome t later the hummi g of his powerful car carried him homewards.

[Page A7 ]

-hat will he say to Ami ata, his wife a d cousi , to &ustify his late ess1 ... Daouda Die g did i deed come bac$ the e#t day. But u fortu ately for him, a d fortu ately for me, my mater al au ts were visiti g me a d he was preve ted from e#pressi g himself freely. 0e did ot dare to stay too lo g.

!'

'oday is 2riday. I+ve ta$e a refreshi g bath. I ca feel its revitali*i g effect, which, through my ope pores, soothes me. 'he smell of soap surrou ds me. 5lea clothes replace my crumpled o es. 'he clea li ess of my body pleases me. I thi $ that as she is the ob&ect of attractio for so ma y eyes, clea li ess is o e of the esse tial 3ualities of a woma . 'he most humble of huts is pleasi g whe it is clea % the most lu#urious setti g offers o attractio if it is covered i dust. 'hose wome we call +house+,wives deserve praise. 'he domestic wor$ they carry out, a d which is ot paid i hard cash, is esse tial to the home. 'heir compe satio remai s the pile of well iro ed, sweet,smelli g washi g, the shi i g tiled floor o which the foot glides, the gay $itche filled with the smell of stews. 'heir sile t actio is felt i the least useful detail) over there, a flower i bloom placed i a vase, elsewhere a pai ti g with appropriate colours, hu g up i the right place. 'he ma ageme t of the home is a art. -e have lear ed the hard way, a d it is still ot over. (ve decidi g o the me us is ot easy if o e thi $s of the umber of days there are i a year a d of the fact that there are three meals i o e day.
[Page A< ]

.a agi g the family budget re3uires fle#ibility, vigila ce a d prude ce i performi g the fi a cial gym astics that se d you from o e more or less da gerous leap to a other, from the first to the last day of the mo th. 'o be a woma 4 'o live the life of a woma 4 Ah, Aissatou4 'o ight I am restless. 'he flavour of life is love. 'he salt of life is also love. Daouda came bac$. A outfit of blue brocade had replaced the grey outfit of the first visit a d the chocolate,coloured o e of the seco d. 0e bega right at the doorway, i the same to e of voice as I had used at our first meeti g, without stoppi g for breath) +0ow are you1 A d the childre , a d your Assembly1 A d what about !usma e1+ 0eari g his ame, !usma e appeared, his mouth a d chee$s covered with the chocolate he mu ched all day lo g. Daouda grabbed hold of this little slip of a ma , who struggled a d $ic$ed his legs about. 0e let him go with a frie dly tap o his buttoc$s a d a picture boo$ i his

ha ds. !usma e, shouti g with &oy, ra to show his prese t to the household. +Do visitors1 I shall lead the discussio today ... I from the male Assembly.+ 0e laughed maliciously. +Do +t thi $ that I critici*e &ust for the fu of it. !ur i cipie t democracy, which is cha gi g the situatio of the citi*e a d for which your party may ta$e much credit, appeals to me. ;ocialism, which is the heart of your actio , is the e#pressio of my deepest aspiratio s if it is adapted to the realities of our life, as your political secretary claims. 'he ope i gs it has created are co siderable, a d ;e egal offers a ew prospect of liberty regai ed. I appreciate all that, especially whe all arou d us, to our right a d to our left, o e,party systems have bee imposed. A si gle party ever e#presses the u a imous view of the citi*e s. If all i dividuals were made i the same mould, it would lead to a appalli g collectivism. Differe ces produce co flicts, which may be be eficial to the developme t of a cou try if they occur amo g true patriots, whose o ly ambitio is the happi ess of the citi*e . +But e ough of politics, :amatoulaye. I refuse to go alo g with you, li$e the other day. I have had my fill of EdemocracyE,
[Page A@ ]

EstruggleE, EfreedomE a d what have you, all those e#pressio s that float about me daily. ( ough, :amatoulaye. Biste to me, rather. 'he bush radio has i formed me of your refusal to marry 'amsir. Is it true1+ +"es.+ +I, i tur , a d for the seco d time i my life, have come to as$ for your ha d ... after you are out of mour i g, of course. I have the same feeli g for you as I had before. ;eparatio , your marriage, my ow , o e of these has bee able to sap my love for you. I deed, separatio has made it $ee er% time has co solidated it% my adva ce i years has purified it. I love you dearly, but with my head. "ou are a widow with you g childre . I am head of a family. (ach of us has the weight of the EpastE to help us i u dersta di g each other. I ope my arms to you for ew,fou d happi ess% will you accept1+ I ope ed my eyes wide, ot i asto ishme t,,,a woma ca always predict a declaratio of this $i d,,,but i a $i d of stupor. Ah yes, Aissatou, those well,wor words, which have for lo g bee used a d are still bei g used, had ta$e root i me. 'heir sweet ess, of which I had bee deprived for years, i to#icated me) I feel o shame i admitti g it to you. Jery reaso ably, the deputy co cluded) +Do +t give me a a swer immediately. 'hi $ about my proposal. I shall come bac$ tomorrow at the same time.+

A d, as if embarrassed by his ow revelatio s, Daouda we t away, after flashi g a smile at me. .y eighbour, 2armata, the griot woma , dashed i after him, e#cited. ;he was always tryi g to see i to the future with her cowries, a d the least agreeme t of her predictio s with reality thrilled her. +I met the stro g, rich ma with the Edouble trousersE see i the cowries. 0e gave me five thousa d fra cs.+ ;he bli $ed her deep, pierci g eyes that were always tryi g to probe i to mysteries. +I have give the recomme ded alms of two white a d red cola uts,+ she co fessed to me. +!ur desti ies are li $ed. "our shade protects me. "ou do +t fell the tree whose shade protects you. "ou water it. "ou watch over it.+ Dear 2armata, how far from my thoughts you were4 'he
[Page AA ]

restless ess with which I was struggli g a d which you had foresee did ot i the least sig ify the a guish of love.

!1

'omorrow1 -hat a short time for reflectio , for the decisive commitme t of a life, especially whe that life has $ ow , i the rece t past, the bitter tears of disappoi tme t4 I still have a visio of the i tellige t eye of Daouda Die g, the pout of the stubbor lips, which co trasted with the ge tle ess ema ati g from his profou dly charitable perso , who saw o ly the best i people a d ig ored the rest. I could read him li$e a ope boo$ i which each sig was a symbol, but a easily i terpreted symbol. .y heart o lo ger beats wildly i the whirl of the spo$e words. I am touched by the si cerity of words, but I am ot carried away by it% my euphoria, bor of the hu ger a d thirst for te der ess, fades away as the hours da ce past.

I ca ot put out a y flags. 'he proposed celebratio does ot tempt me. .y heart does ot love Daouda Die g. .y mi d appreciates the ma . But heart a d mi d ofte disagree. 0ow I should have li$ed to be galva i*ed i favour of this ma , to be able to say yes4 It is ot that the memory of the deceased lies heavy withi me. 'he dead have o ly the weight co ceded to them or the weight of the good they have do e. It is ot that the prese ce of my you g childre poses a problem% he could have filled the role of the father who had aba do ed them. 'hirty years later, my ow perso al refusal is the o ly thi g that co ditio s me. I have o defi able reaso . !ur curre ts are opposed. Daouda Die g+s reputatio for serious ess has already bee established.

[Page AC ]

A good husba d1 "es. Public rumour, so wic$ed a d thirsty for gossip where perso alities are co cer ed, has ever me tio ed a y goi gs,o of his. 0is wife a d cousi , whom he married five years after my marriage out of his duty as a citi*e a d ot out of love =a other male e#pressio to e#plai a atural actio >, has bor e his childre . -ife a d childre , placed by this dutiful ma o a pedestal of respectability, offered him a e viable refuge, the outcome of his ow effort. 0e ever accepted a y ho our without associati g his wife with it. 0e i volved her i his political actio s, his umerous travels, the various spo sorships for which he was ca vassed a d which i creased his electoral co stitue cy. Before leavi g, 2armata, the griot woma of the cowries, had said) +"our mother was right. Daouda is wo derful. -hat guer 1C gives five thousa d fra cs today4 Daouda has either e#cha ged his wife or aba do ed his childre % if he has come bac$ loo$i g for you, you, a old woma burde ed with a family, it is because he loves you% he ca loo$ after you a d your family. 'hi $ about it. Accept.+ All the trump cards4 But what do these cou t for i the u co trollable law of attractio 4 ;o as ot to hurt him u der my roof, I se t 2armata, the griot woma of the cowries, with a sealed e velope for him, with the followi g i structio s. +'his letter must be give to him perso ally, away from his wife a d childre .+ 2or the first time, I was tur i g to 2armata for help, a d this embarrassed me. ;he was happy, havi g dreamed of this role right from our youth. But I always acted alo e% she

was ever a participa t i my problems, o ly i formed,,,&ust li$e a y +vulgar ac3uai ta ce+, she would complai . ;he was thrilled, ig ora t of the cruel message she was beari g. Daouda+s cli ic was ot far from the Jilla 2alle e. 'here was a stop for the cars rapides &ust a few metres from his doorstep. 'his cli ic, set up with a ba $ loa gra ted by the state to those doctors a d pharmacists who e#pressed the desire for it, e abled Daouda Die g to co ti ue practisi g his professio . 0e had u derstood that a doctor could ot aba do his call) +A doctor+s trai i g is slow, lo g, ta#i g, a d they are ot two
[Page AF ]

a pe y either% they are more useful i their professio tha a ywhere else% if they ca combi e their &ob with other activities, so much the better% but what i se sitivity, to give up loo$i g after others for somethi g else4+ 'hus would Daouda e#plai himself to our mutual frie ds, such as .awdo B9 a d ;amba Diac$, his colleagues. 2armata, therefore, patie tly waited her tur a d, o ce i fro t of Daouda i the co sulti g room, she ha ded the e velope over to him. Daouda read)

Daouda,

"ou are chasi g after a woma who has remai ed the same, Daouda, despite the i te se ravages of sufferi g. "ou who have loved me, who love me still,,,I do +t doubt it,,,try to u dersta d me. .y co scie ce is ot accommodati g e ough to e able me to marry you, whe o ly esteem, &ustified by your ma y 3ualities, pulls me towards you. I ca offer you othi g else, eve though you deserve everythi g. (steem is ot e ough for marriage, whose s ares I $ ow from e#perie ce. A d the the e#iste ce of your wife a d childre further complicates the situatio . Aba do ed yesterday because of a woma , I ca ot lightly bri g myself betwee you a d your family.

"ou thi $ the problem of polygamy is a simple o e. 'hose who are i volved i it $ ow the co strai ts, the lies, the i &ustices that weigh dow their co scie ces i retur for the ephemeral &oys of cha ge. I am sure you are motivated by love, a love that e#isted well before your marriage a d that fate has ot bee able to satisfy. It is with i fi ite sad ess a d tear,filled eyes that I offer you my frie dship. Dear Daouda, please accept it. It is with great pleasure that I shall co ti ue to welcome you to my house. ;hall I hope to see you agai 1

Ramato,-a*e

[Page AH ]

2armata, who had smiled i ha di g over her letter, told me how her smile soured o her face as Daouda read. 'he i sti ct a d observatio brought a loo$ of sad ess to her face, for Daouda wri $led his eyebrows, creased his forehead, bit his lips a d sighed. Daouda put dow my letter. 5almly, he stuffed a e velope with a wad of blue otes. 0e scrawled o a piece of paper the terrible words that had separated us before a d that he had ac3uired duri g his medical course) +All or othi g. Adieu.+ Aissatou, Daouda Die g ever came bac$ agai .

+Bissimilai4 Bissimilai4 1F -hat was it you dared to write a d ma$e me messe ger of1 "ou have $illed a ma . 0is crestfalle face cried it out to me. "ou have re&ected the messe ger se t to you by ?od to reward you for your sufferi gs. ?od will pu ish you

for ot havi g followed the path towards peace. "ou have refused great ess4 "ou shall live i mud. I wish you a other .odou to ma$e you shed tears of blood. +-ho do you ta$e yourself for1 At fifty, you have dared to brea$ the wolere . 1H "ou trample upo your luc$) Daouda Die g, a rich ma , a deputy, a doctor, of your ow age group, with &ust o e wife. 0e offers you security, love, a d you refuse4 .a y wome , of Daba+s age eve , would wish to be i your place. +"ou boast of reaso s. "ou spea$ of love i stead of bread. .adame wa ts her heart to miss a beat. -hy ot flowers, &ust li$e i the films1 +Bissimilai4 Bissimilai4 "ou so withered, you wa t to choose a husba d li$e a eightee ,year,old girl. Bife will spri g a surprise o you a d the , :amatoulaye, you will bite your fi gers. I do +t $ ow what Daouda has writte . But there is mo ey i the e velope. 0e is a true samba linguere /I from the olde days. .ay ?od satisfy, gratify Daouda Die g. .y heart is with him.+ ;uch was 2armata+s tirade o her retur from her missio .
[Page CI ]

;he thoroughly upset me. 'he truth of this woma , a childhood compa io through the lo g associatio of our families, could ot hold good for me, eve i its logic of co cer . ... ! ce more, I was refusi g the easy way because of my ideal. I we t bac$ to my lo eli ess, which a mome tary flash had brighte ed briefly. I wore it agai , as o e wears a familiar garme t. Its cut suited me well. I moved easily i it, despite 2armata. I wa ted +somethi g else+. A d this +somethi g else+ was impossible without the full agreeme t of my heart.

'amsir a d Daouda havi g bee re&ected, there were o more barriers betwee the suitors a d me. I the watched fili g past a d besiegi g me old me i search of easy reve ue, you g me i search of adve ture to occupy their leisure. .y successive refusals gave me i tow the reputatio of a +lio ess+ or +mad woma +.

-ho let loose this greedy pac$ of hou ds after me1 2or my charms had faded with the ma y mater ities, with time, with the tears. Ah4 the i herita ce, the fat share ac3uired by my daughter Daba a d her husba d a d put at my disposal. 'hey had led the fight for the distributio of .odou+s estate. .y so ,i ,law laid dow o the table the adva ce for the ;I5AP villa a d five years+ re t. 'he ;I5AP villa we t to my daughter, who, with the bailiff+s affidavit i ha d, listed the co te ts a d bought it. 'he story of the Jilla 2alle e was easy to relate) the la d a d buildi g represe ted a ba $ loa gra ted te years ago o the security of our &oi t salaries. 'he co te ts, re ewed two years ago, belo ged to me, a d to support this claim, I produced the receipts. 'here remai ed .odou+s clothes) those that I recog i*ed because I had chose a d cared for them% a d the others ... from the seco d part of his life. I fou d it difficult to imagi e him i this get,up of a you g wolf. ... 'hey were distributed to his family.

[Page C1 ]

'he &ewels a d prese ts give to Bady .other,i ,Baw a d her daughter were theirs by right. Bady .other,i ,Baw hiccoughed, cried. ;he was bei g stripped, a d she as$ed for mercy. ;he did ot wa t to move out. ... But Daba is li$e all the you g, without pity. +:emember, I was your daughter+s best frie d. "ou made her my mother+s rival. :emember. 2or five years you deprived my mother a d her twelve childre of their breadwi er. :emember. .y mother has suffered a great deal. 0ow ca a woma sap the happi ess of a other1 "ou deserve o pity. Pac$ up. As for Bi etou, she is a victim, your victim. I feel sorry for her.+ Bady .other,i ,Baw sobbed. Bi etou1 I differe ce itself. -hat did it matter to her what was bei g said1 ;he was already dead i side ... ever si ce her marriage to .odou.

!!

I feel a imme se fatigue. It begi s i my soul a d weighs dow my body. !usma e, my last bor , holds out your letter to me. !usma e is si# years old. +It+s Au ty Aissatou.+ 0e has the privilege of bri gi g me all your letters. 0ow does he recog i*e them1 By their stamp1 By their e velope1 By the careful writi g, characteristic of you1 By the sce t of lave der ema ati g from them1 5hildre have clues differe t from our ow . !usma e e &oys his fi d. 0e e#ults i it. 'hese caressi g words, which rela# me, are i deed from you. A d you tell me of the +e d+. I calculate. 'omorrow is i deed
[Page C/ ]

the e d of my seclusio . A d you will be there withi reach of my ha d, my voice, my eyes. +( d or ew begi i g+1 .y eyes will discover the slightest cha ge i you. I have already totalled up my ow % my seclusio has withered me. -orries have give me wri $les% my fat has melted away. I ofte tap agai st bo e where before there was rou ded flesh. -he we meet, the sig s o our bodies will ot be importa t. 'he esse tial thi g is the co te t of our hearts, which a imates us% the esse tial thi g is the 3uality of the sap that flows through us. "ou have ofte proved to me the superiority of frie dship over love. 'ime, dista ce, as well as mutual memories have co solidated our ties a d made our childre brothers a d sisters. :eu ited, will we draw up a detailed accou t of our faded bloom, or will we sow ew seeds for ew harvests1 I hear Daba+s footsteps. ;he is bac$ from the Blaise Diag e seco dary school, where she has bee represe ti g me i a swer to a summo s. A co flict betwee my so , .awdo 2all, a d his philosophy teacher. 'hey clash fre3ue tly whe the time comes to retur corrected essays.

As you $ ow, there is a substa tial age gap betwee Daba a d .awdo 2all, the result of two miscarriages. 'his clash, which Daba is tryi g to resolve, is the third withi si# mo ths i this form. .awdo 2all has a remar$able gift for literary wor$. :ight from 2orm ! e, he has bee top of his class i this sub&ect% but this year for every capital letter forgotte , for a few commas omitted, for a misspelt word, his teacher $ oc$s off o e or two mar$s. Because of this, 8ea ,5laude, a white boy who has always come seco d, has moved up to first positio . 'he teacher ca ot tolerate a blac$ comi g first i philosophy. A d .awdo 2all complai s. 'his always e ds i a 3uarrel a d a summo s. Daba was ready to tell the teacher off, a d o o se se. But I calmed her dow . Bife is a eter al compromise. -hat is importa t is the e#ami atio paper. ... 'his, too, will be at the mercy of the mar$er. Do o e will have a y say over him. ;o why fight a teacher for o e or two mar$s that ca ever cha ge the desti y of a stude t1 I always tell my childre ) you are stude ts mai tai ed by
[Page C7 ]

your pare ts. -or$ hard so as to merit their sacrifices. 5ultivate yourselves i stead of protesti g. -he you are adults, if your opi io s are to carry weight, they must be based o $ owledge bac$ed by diplomas. A diploma is ot a myth. It is ot everythi g, true. But it crow s $ owledge, wor$. 'omorrow, you will be able to elect to power a yo e of your choice, a yo e you fi d suitable. It is your choice, a d ot ours, that will direct the cou try. Dow our society is sha$e to its very fou datio s, tor betwee the attractio of imported vices a d the fierce resista ce of old virtues. 'he dream of a rapid social climb prompts pare ts to give their childre more $ owledge tha educatio . Pollutio seeps i through hearts as well as i to the air. +Phased out+ or +outdated+, perhaps eve +old fogies+, we belo g to the past. But all four of us were made of ster stuff, with upright mi ds full of i te se 3uestio i gs that stuc$ withi our i er selves, ot without pai . Aissatou, o matter how u happy the outcome of our u io s, our husba ds were great me . 'hey led the struggle of their lives, eve if success eluded their grasp% o e does ot easily overcome the burde s of a thousa d years.

I observe the you g. -here are those bright eyes, prompt to react whe scor ed ho our dema ds redress1 -here is the vigorous pride that guides a whole commu ity towards its duty1 'he appetite to live $ills the dig ity of livi g. "ou ca see that I digress from the problem of .awdo 2all. 'he headmaster of the school certai ly u dersta ds the .awdo 2all,teacher co flict. But you try to side with a stude t agai st his teacher4 Daba is here beside me, lighthearted, smili g with all her teeth at a missio successfully accomplished. Daba does ot fi d household wor$ a burde . 0er husba d coo$s rice as well as she does% her husba d who claims, whe I tell him he +spoils+ his wife) +Daba is my wife. ;he is ot my slave, or my serva t.+ I se se the te der ess growi g betwee this you g couple, a ideal couple, &ust as I have always imagi ed. 'hey ide tify
[Page C< ]

with each other, discuss everythi g so as to fi d a compromise. All the same, I fear for Daba. Bife holds ma y surprises. -he I discuss it with her, she shrugs her shoulders) +.arriage is o chai . It is mutual agreeme t over a life+s programme. ;o if o e of the part ers is o lo ger satisfied with the u io , why should he remai 1 It may be Abou =her husba d>% it may be me. -hy ot1 'he wife ca ta$e the i itiative to ma$e the brea$.+ ;he reaso s everythi g out, that child. ... ;he ofte tells me) +I do +t wa t to go i to politics% it+s ot that I am ot i terested i the fate of my cou try a d, most especially, that of woma . But whe I loo$ at the fruitless wra gli gs eve withi the ra $s of the same party, whe I see me +s greed for power, I prefer ot to participate. Do, I am ot afraid of ideological struggle, but i a political party it is rare for a woma to ma$e a easy brea$,through. 2or a lo g time me will co ti ue to have the power of decisio , whereas everyo e $ ows that polity should be the affair of wome . Do) I prefer my ow associatio , where there is either rivalry or schism, either malice or &ostli g for positio % there are o posts to be shared, or positio s to be secured. 'he headship cha ges every year. (ach of us has e3ual opportu ity to adva ce her ideas. -e are give tas$s accordi g to our abilities i our activities a d orga i*atio s that wor$ towards the progress of wome . !ur fu ds go towards huma itaria wor$%

we are mobili*ed by a milita cy as useful as a y other, but it is a healthy milita cy, whose o ly reward is i er satisfactio .+ ;he reaso ed everythi g out, that child ... ;he had her ow opi io s about everythi g. I loo$ at her, Daba, my eldest child, who has helped me so admirably with her brothers a d sisters. It is Aissatou, your amesa$e, who has ta$e over from her the ru i g of the house. Aissatou washes the you gest o es) !mar, eight years old, a d !usma e% your frie d. 'he others ca ma age well e ough o their ow . Aissatou is helped i her tas$ by Amy a d her twi sister Awa, whom she is trai i g. .y twi s are so similar that I sometimes co fuse them. 'hey are mischievous a d play tric$s o everybody. Ami ata wor$s
[Page C@ ]

better tha Awa. Physically so similar, why are they so differe t i character1 'he up$eep a d educatio of you g childre do ot pose serious problems% washed, fed, cared for, supervised, my ow are growi g well,,,with, of course, the early daily battle agai st sores, colds, headaches, i which I e#cel, simply from havi g had to struggle. It is .awdo B9 who comes to my aid duri g the serious ill esses. (ve though I critici*e him for his wea$ ess, which bro$e up your relatio ship, I praise him very si cerely for the help he gives me. Despite his frie d .odou+s desertio of our home, I ca still wa$e him up, at o matter what hour.

!"

.y grow childre are causi g me a great deal of co cer . .y worries pale whe I recall my gra dmother, who fou d i popular wisdom a appropriate dictum for each eve t. ;he li$ed to repeat) +'he mother of a family has o time to travel. But she has time to die.+ ;he would lame t whe , despite her sleepi ess, she still had to carry out her share of the duties) +Ah, if o ly I had a bed o which to lie dow .+

.ischievously, I would poi t to the three beds i her room. I irritatio , she would say) +"ou have your life before a d ot behi d you. .ay ?od gra t that you e#perie ce what I have go e through.+ A d here I am today, +goi g through+ &ust that e#perie ce. I thought a child was bor a d grew up without a y problem. I though o e mapped out a straight path a d that he would step lightly dow it. I ow saw, at first ha d, the truth of my gra dmother+s prophecies) +'he fact that childre are
[Page CA ]

bor of the same pare ts does ot ecessarily mea that they will resemble each other.+ +Bei g bor of the same pare ts is &ust li$e spe di g the ight i the same bedroom.+ 'o allay the fear of the future that her words might possibly have aroused, my gra dmother would offer some solutio s) +Differe t perso alities re3uire differe t forms of discipli e. ;trict ess here, comprehe sio there. ;mac$i g, which is successful with the very you g o es, a oys the older o es. 'he erves daily u dergo severe trials4 But that is the mother+s lot.+ 5ourageous gra dmother, I drew from your teachi g a d e#ample the courage that galva i*es o e at the times whe difficult choices have to be made. 'he other ight I surprised the trio =as they are popularly $ ow >, Arame, "aci e a d Diey aba, smo$i g i their bedroom. (verythi g about their ma er showed that they were used to it) their way of holdi g the cigarette betwee their fi gers or raisi g it gracefully to their lips, of i hali g li$e co oisseurs. 'heir ostrils 3uivered a d let out the smo$e. A d these you g ladies i haled a d e#haled while doi g their lesso s a d their homewor$. 'hey savoured their pleasure greedily, behi d the closed door, for I try, as much as possible, to respect their privacy. People say that Diey aba, Arame a d "aci e ta$e after me. 'hey are bou d by their frie dship a d willi g ess to help, as well as by a multitude of similarities% they form a bloc$, with the same defe sive or distrustful reactio s, before my other childre % they swop dresses, trousers, tops, bei g early the same si*e. I have ever had to i terve e i their co flicts. 'he trio has a reputatio for hard wor$ at school. But to gra t themselves the right to smo$e4 'hey were dumbfou ded before my a ger. 'he u e#pected ess of it gave me a shoc$. A woma +s mouth e#hali g the acrid smell of tobacco i stead of bei g fragra t. A woma +s teeth blac$e ed with tobacco i stead

of spar$li g with white ess4 "et their teeth were white. 0ow did they ma age the feat1 I co sidered the weari g of trousers dreadful i view of our build, which is ot that of slim -ester wome . 'rousers acce tuate the ample figure of the blac$ woma a d further
[Page CC ]

emphasi*e the curve of the small of the bac$. But I gave i to the rush towards this fashio , which co stricted a d hampered i stead of liberati g. ;i ce my daughters wa ted to be +with it+, I accepted the additio of trousers to their wardrobes. ;udde ly I became afraid of the flow of progress. Did they also dri $1 -ho $ ows, o e vice leads to a other. Does it mea that o e ca +t have moder ism without a loweri g of moral sta dards1 -as I to blame for havi g give my daughters a bit of liberty1 .y gra dfather did ot allow you g people i his house. At te o+cloc$ at ight, with a bell i his ha d, he would war visitors of the closure of the e tra ce gate. 0e pu ctuated the ri gi g of the bell with the same i structio ) +-hoever does ot live here should scram.+ As for myself, I let my daughters go out from time to time. 'hey we t to the ci ema without me. 'hey received male a d female frie ds. 'here were argume ts to &ustify my behaviour. K 3uestio ably, at a certai age, a boy or girl ope s up to love. I wa ted my daughters to discover it i a healthy way, without feeli gs of guilt, secretive ess or degradatio . I tried to pe etrate their relatio ships) I created a favourable atmosphere for se sible behaviour a d for co fide ce. A d the result is that u der the i flue ce of their circle they have ac3uired the habit of smo$i g. A d I was left i the dar$, I who wa ted to co trol everythi g. .y gra dmother+s wise words came to mi d) +"ou ca feed your stomach as well as you please% it will still provide for itself without your $ owi g.+ I had to do some thi $i g. 'here was a eed for some reorga i*atio to stop the rot. .y gra dmother would perhaps have suggested, +2or a ew ge eratio , a ew method.+ I did ot mi d bei g a +stic$,i ,the,mud+. I was aware of the harmful effects of tobacco, a d I could ot agree to its use. .y co scie ce re&ected it, as it re&ected alcohol.

2rom the o , rele tlessly, I was o the loo$out for its odour. It played hide,a d,see$ with my watchful ess. ;ly a d iro ic, it would tease my ostrils a d the disappear. Its favourite hidi g place was the toilet, especially at ight. But it o lo ger dared to e#pose itself ope ly, with &au ty shameless ess.

[Page CF ]

!#

'oday I was ot able to fi ish my eve i g prayer as I wa ted to) cries from the street made me &ump up from the mat o which I was seated. ;ta di g o the vera da, I see my so s Aliou e a d .alic$ arrivi g i tears. 'hey are i a pitiable state) tor clothes, bodies covered i dust from a fall, $ ees bleedi g be eath the shorts. 'here is a large hole i the right sleeve of .alic$+s sweater% the arm o the same side ha gs dow limply. ! e of the boys supporti g him e#plai s to me) +A motorcyclist $ oc$ed dow .alic$ a d Aliou e. -e were playi g football.+ A you g ma with lo g hair, white glasses, amulets rou d the ec$, moves forward. 'he grey dust from the road covers his de im outfit. .auled by the childre for whom he has became the target, a red wou d o his leg, he is visibly ta$e abac$ by so much hostility. I a polite to e a d ma er, which co trast with his slove ly appeara ce, he offers his e#cuses) +I saw the childre too late while ma$i g a left tur . I thought I would have a clear road, si ce it is a o e,way street. I did ot imagi e that the childre had set up a playi g field. I vai , I tried to bra$e. I hit the sto es mar$i g the goal post. -he I fell, your two so s also fell, alo g with three other small boys. I am sorry.+ I am pleasa tly surprised by the you g motorcyclist. I railed, but ot agai st him. I $ ow from e#perie ce the difficulty of drivi g i tow , especially i the .edi a. 'he tarred surface is a favourite area for childre . ! ce they have ta$e possessio , othi g else cou ts. 'hey will da ce arou d the
[Page CH ]

ball li$e devils. ;ometimes the ob&ect of their passio is a thic$ rag ball, all tied up. It

does +t matter4 'he driver+s o ly recourse is his bra$es, his hor , his composure% a small, disorderly ope i g is made for him, 3uic$ly closed up agai i the hustle. Behi d him the shouts begi agai , eve louder. +It+s ot your fault, you g ma . .y so s are to blame. 'hey slipped away as I was prayi g. !ff you go, you g ma ,,,or rather, wait a mome t while I get you some spirit a d cotto ,wool for your wou d.+ Aissatou, your amesa$e, bri gs methylated iodi e a d cotto . ;he ta$es care of the stra ger a d the of Aliou e. 'he little boys of the area disapprove of my reactio . 'hey wa t the ma +at fault+ to be pu ished% I give them a tic$i g,off. Ah, childre 4 'hey cause a accide t a d, i additio , they wa t to pu ish. .alic$+s ha gi g arm loo$s to me as if it is bro$e . It droops u aturally. +Nuic$, Aissatou4 'a$e him to hospital. If you ca +t fi d .awdo, go to 5asualty. Nuic$, go, child.+ Aissatou dresses 3uic$ly a d speedily helps .alic$ to clea up a d cha ge. 'he dried blood from the wou ds leaves dar$ a d repulsive stai s o the grou d. 5lea i g them up, I thi $ of the ide tical ature of me ) the same red blood irrigati g the same orga s. 'hese orga s, situated i the same places, carry out the same fu ctio s. 'he same remedies cure the same ill esses everywhere u der the su , whether the i dividual be white or blac$. (verythi g u ites me . -hy, the , do they $ill each other i ig oble wars for causes that are futile whe compared with the massacre of huma lives1 ;o ma y devastati g wars4 A d yet ma ta$es himself to be a superior bei g. I what way is his i tellige ce useful to him1 0is i tellige ce begets both good a d ill, more ofte ill tha good. I go bac$ to my place o the mat decorated with a picture of a mos3ue i gree , reserved for my use o ly, &ust as is the $ettle for my ablutio s. Aliou e, still s iffi g, pushes !usma e aside so as to ta$e his place beside me, loo$i g for co solatio , which I refuse him. ! the co trary, I sei*e the opportu ity to tell him off) +'he road is ot a playi g field. "ou got off lightly today. But tomorrow, watch out4 "ou will have some bo e bro$e , li$e your brother.+

[Page FI ]

Aliou e complai s) +But there is o playi g field i the area. .others wo +t let us play football i the compou ds. ;o what do we do1+

0is comme t is valid. !fficers i charge of tow pla i g must ma$e provisio for playi g fields whe they are developi g ope spaces. ;ome hours later Aissatou a d .alic$ retur from the hospital where, o ce agai , .awdo has ta$e good care of them. .alic$+s plastered arm tells me that the droopi g arm had i deed bee bro$e . Ah, how dearly childre ma$e o e pay for the &oy of bri gi g them i to the world4 8ust as I thought, my frie d) it ever rai s but it pours. 'his is my luc$) o ce misfortu e has me i its grip, it ever lets go of me agai . Aissatou, your amesa$e, is three mo ths preg a t. 2armata, the griot woma of the cowries, very cleverly led me to this discovery. Public rumour had spurred her o perhaps, or her $ee powers of observatio had simply served her well. (ach time she cast her cowries to cut short our discussio s =we had divergi g poi ts of view o everythi g>, she would breathe a +0m+ of disco te t. -ith heavy sighs, she would poi t out i the &umble of cowries a you g preg a t girl. I had certai ly oticed your amesa$e+s sudde loss of weight, her lac$ of appetite, the swelli g of her breasts) all i dicatio s of the child she was carryi g. But puberty also tra sforms adolesce ts% they grow fatter or thi er, taller. A d the , shortly after her father+s death, Aissatou had had a viole t attac$ of malaria, chec$ed by .awdo B9. 'he disappeara ce of her plump ess dates from this period. Aissatou refused to regai weight, i order to $eep her sle der figure. I aturally ascribed her light i ta$e of food a d her distaste for certai foodstuffs to this ew ma ia. Dow thi , she swam i her trousers a d, to my great &oy, wore o ly dresses. Bittle !umar did tell me o e day that Aissatou used to vomit i their bathroom every mor i g while bathi g him. But Aissatou, whe 3uestio ed, de ied it, said it was the water mi#ed with toothpaste that she spat out. !umar o lo ger spo$e of vomiti g. .y mi d focused o somethi g else.

[Page F1 ]

0ow could I guess that my daughter, who had calmed my a ger duri g the cigarette affair, was ow i dulgi g i a eve more da gerous game1 .erciless fate had surprised me agai ,,,as usual, without a y weapo s with which to defe d myself. (very day 2armata would i sist a bit more o the +you g preg a t girl+ of her cowries. ;he would show her to me. 'he girl+s co ditio was ma$i g the woma suffer. ;he was elo3ue t) +Boo$, I say, loo$4 'his separate cowry, hollow side tur ed upwards. Boo$ at this o e, ad&usti g itself to the other, white side up, li$e a coo$i g pot a d its cover lid. 'he child is i the belly. It forms o e body with its mother. 'he two groups of cowries are separated) 'his i dicates a u attached woma . But as the cowries are small, they i dicate a you g girl.+ A d her ha d threw dow , agai a d agai , the gossipy cowries. 'hey fell away from each other, collided, overlapped. 'heir tell,tale chi $ filled the wi owi g fa , a d the same group of two cowries always remai ed separate, to reveal distress. I followed their la guage dispassio ately. A d the , o e eve i g, a oyed by my aivetM, 2armata said boldly) +Nuestio your daughters, :amatoulaye. A mother must be pessimistic.+ -orried by the rele tless repetitio , a #ious, I accepted the propositio . .ovi g li$e a ga*elle with delicate limbs, she swept i to Aissatou+s bedroom, afraid that I would cha ge my mi d. ;he came out, a triumpha t gleam i her eye. Aissatou followed her, i tears. 2armata se t away !usma e, who was estled withi myboubou , loc$ed the door a d declared) +'he cowries ca ot always be wro g. If they have i sisted for so lo g, it mea s there is somethi g there. -ater a d sa d have bee mi#ed% they have become mud. ?ather up your mud. Aissatou does ot de y her co ditio . I have saved her by e#posi g the matter. "ou guessed othi g. ;he did ot dare co fide i you. "ou would ever have got out of this situatio .+ I was dumbfou ded. I, so pro e to chide, was sile t. I was flushed a d breathless. I closed my eyes, ope ed them agai . I g awed at my to gue. 'he first 3uestio that comes to mi d o discoveri g such
[Page F/ ]

a co ditio is) who1 -ho is behi d this theft, for there has bee a theft1 -ho is behi d this i &ury, for i &ury it is. -ho has dared1 -ho1 -ho1 Aissatou me tio ed a certai Ibrahima ;all who, as she tal$ed, very soo became simply Iba.

Bewildered, I loo$ at my daughter, so well brought up, so te der with me, so ready to help i the house, so efficie t i every way, so ma y fi e 3ualities allied with such behaviour4 Iba is a law stude t at the u iversity. 'hey met at a frie d+s birthday celebratio . Iba sometimes we t to meet her at school whe she did ot +come dow + at lu ch time. 0e had i vited her o two occasio s to his room i the u iversity halls of reside ce. ;he co fessed her li$i g for him4 Do, Iba had ot dema ded a ythi g, had ot forced her. (verythi g had happe ed aturally betwee them. Iba $ ew of her co ditio . 0e had refused the services of o e of his mates who wa ted to +help+ him. 0e loved her. 'hough he was o a scholarship, he had decided to deprive himself for the mai te a ce of his child. I lear ed everythi g at o e go, from a bro$e voice accompa ied by much s iffi g but without a y regret4 Aissatou be t her head. I recog i*ed the u var ished truth of her story. I recog i*ed her i her whole,hearted gift of herself to this lover who had succeeded i u iti g i this heart my image a d his ow . Aissatou lowered her eyes, co scious of the pai crushi g me% I remai ed sile t. .y ha d supported my tired head. Aissatou lowered her eyes. ;he heard my i er self give way. ;he was fully aware of the serious ess of her actio , co sideri g my rece t widow,hood, followi g upo my aba do me t. After Daba, she was the oldest of the successio of daughters. 'he oldest should set a e#ample. ... .y teeth g ashed i a ger. ... :ememberi g, li$e a lifebuoy, the te der a d co soli g attitude of my daughter duri g my distress, my lo g years of lo eli ess, I overcame my emotio . I sought refuge i ?od, as at every mome t of crisis i my life. -ho decides death a d life1 ?od, the Almighty4 A d also, o e is a mother i order to u dersta d the i e#plicable. ! e is a mother to lighte the dar$ ess. ! e is a mother to shield whe light i g strea$s the ight, whe
[Page F7 ]

thu der sha$es the earth, whe mud bogs o e dow . ! e is a mother i order to love without begi i g or e d. 'o ma$e my bei g a defe sive barrier betwee my daughter a d a y obstacle. At this mome t of co fro tatio , I reali*ed how close I was to my child. 'he umbilical cord too$ o ew life, the i destructible bo d be eath the avala che of storms a d the duratio of time. I saw her o ce more, ewly spru g from me, $ic$i g about, her to gue pi $, her ti y face creased u der her sil$y hair. I could ot aba do her, as pride would have me do. 0er life a d her future were at sta$e, a d these were

powerful co sideratio s, overridi g all taboos a d assumi g greater importa ce i my heart a d i my mi d. 'he life that fluttered i her was 3uestio i g me. It was eager to blossom. It vibrated, dema di g protectio . I was the o e who had ot bee e3ual to the situatio . ?lutted with optimism, I had ot suspected the crisis of her co scie ce, the passio of her bei g, the torme t of her thoughts, the miracle she was carryi g. ! e is a mother so as to face the flood. -as I to threate , i the face of my daughter+s shame, her si cere repe ta ce, her pai , her a guish1 -as I1 I too$ my daughter i my arms. Pai fully, I held her tightly, with a force multiplied te fold by paga revolt a d primitive te der ess. ;he cried. ;he cho$ed o sobs. 0ow could she have lived alo e with her secret1 I was traumati*ed by the effort a d s$ill employed by this child to escape my a ger whe ever she felt fai t or whe ever she too$ over from me beside my troublesome you gsters. I felt sic$. I felt terribly sic$. I too$ myself i ha d with superhuma effort. 'he shadows faded away. 5ourage4 'he rays of light u ited to form a appeasi g bright ess. .y decisio to help a d protect emerged from the tumult. It gai ed stre gth as I wiped the tears, as I caressed the bur i g brow. "ou g Aissatou shall have a appoi tme t with the doctor, ot later tha tomorrow. 2armata was asto ished. ;he e#pected waili g) I smiled. ;he wa ted stro g reprima ds) I co soled. ;he wished for threats) I forgave. Do doubt about it) she will ever $ ow what to e#pect from
[Page F< ]

me. 'o give a si er so much atte tio was beyo d her. ;he had dreams of sumptuous marriage celebratio s for Aissatou, which would compe sate her for my ow meagre uptials whe she was a you g girl, already tied to my steps li$e a shadow. ;he used to si g your praises, Aissatou, you who would give her a lot of mo ey at the future weddi g of your amesa$e. 'he story of the 2iat whetted her appetite a d credited you with fabulous wealth. ;he dreamed of festivities, a d here was this girl who had give herself to a pe iless stude t, who would ever be grateful to her. ;he reproached me for my calm) +"ou have mai ly daughters. Adopt a attitude that you

ca $eep up. "ou will see. If Aissatou ca do EthisE, I wo der what your trio of smo$ers will do. ;mother your daughter with caresses, :amatoulaye. "ou will see.+ I will i deed see whe I as$ to meet Ibrahima ;all tomorrow. ...

!$

Ibrahima ;all e tered my room at the appoi ted time. 0is pu ctuality pleased me. 'all, simply dressed. Pleasa t features, o the whole. But with remar$ably beautiful eyes, velvety, te der i the caseme t of his lo g eyelashes. ! e would li$e to see them i a woma +s face ... the smile as well. I let my ga*e rest o the set of his teeth. Do treacherous gaps. -ithout bei g self,co scious about it, Ibrahima ;all was i deed the embodime t of the roma tic you g lover. 0e pleased me, a d I oticed his clea li ess with relief) short hair combed, ails cut, shoes polished. 0e must be a orderly ma a d therefore without deceit. It was I who had summo ed him, but it was he who started the co versatio ) +0ow ma y times I have wa ted to arra ge
[Page F@ ]

this discussio , to let you $ ow. I $ ow what a daughter mea s to her mother, a d Aissatou has told me so much about you, your close ess to her, that I thi $ I $ ow you already. I am ot &ust loo$i g for e#citeme t. "our daughter is my first love. I wa t her to be the o ly o e. I regret what has happe ed. If you agree, I will marry Aissatou. .y mother will loo$ after her child. -e will co ti ue with our studies.+ 0ere the , co cise a d well said, was all I wa ted to hear. 0ow to reply1 ;hould I agree readily to his propositio s1 2armata, who was prese t duri g the discussio , was loo$i g out for s3ualls. ;he as$ed) +"ou were really the first1+ +"es,+ co firmed Iba ;all.

+'he , war your mother. -e or I shall go to see her tomorrow to a ou ce your crime. ;he had better save a lot of mo ey to compe sate my iece. A yway, could +t you have waited u til you had a good &ob before ru i g after girls1+ Ibrahima ;all heard the griot woma +s remar$s without showi g a y irritatio . Perhaps he already $ ew her well e ough by ame a d character to remai politely sile t. .y ow preoccupatio s were very differe t from those of 2armata. -e were right i the middle of the school year. -hat was to be do e to preve t my daughter+s e#pulsio from school1 I told Iba ;all of my fears. 0e too had give some thought to the problem. 'he child would be bor duri g the holidays. 'he esse tial thi g was ot to pa ic, &ust to let the mo ths go past, a d for Aissatou to dress i loose clothes. At the begi i g of the followi g school year the baby would be two mo ths old. Aissatou would the &oi the fi al,year class. After this fi al year, marriage. .y daughter+s boyfrie d had wor$ed it out logically a d remi ded me of Daba+s clear ess of mi d. Ibrahima ;all himself ra o ris$ of bei g e#pelled from the u iversity. A d eve had he still bee at school, who would i form the school of his positio as father,to,be1 'here would be o cha ge i him. 0e would remai +flat+ ... while my daughter+s swolle belly would poi t a accusi g fi ger. -he will there be a le ie t law to help erri g schoolgirls whose co ditio is ot camouflaged by lo g holidays1

[Page FA ]

I added othi g to all this careful pla i g. At that mome t, I felt that my child was bei g detached from my bei g, as if I were agai bri gi g her i to the world. ;he was o lo ger u der my protectio . ;he belo ged more to her boyfrie d. A ew family was bei g bor before my very eyes. I accepted my subordi ate role. 'he ripe fruit must drop away from the tree.

.ay ?od smooth the ew path of this child+s life. "et what a path4

!%

Aissatou, reassuri g habits regai asce da cy. .y heart beats mo oto ously u der my blac$ wrappers. 0ow I li$e to liste to this slow rhythm4 A ew substa ce is tryi g to graft itself o to the household. Ibrahima ;all comes every day a d gives each of us what he ca . 0e offers .awdo 2all his logic a d clarity i discussio s of the topics of his essays. 0e provides chocolate regularly for !umar a d !usma e. 0e is ot too proud to play with .alic$ a d Aliou e, who have give up the street for my compou d. .alic$+s arm is still i plaster. 8ust as lo g as his leg, which ca ot $eep away from the ball, does ot brea$ i its tur 4 But the trio =Arame, "aci e a d Diey aba> refuse to accept this +i trusio +. 'he trio greet him correctly but without e thusiasm. 'he trio are hostile to his i vitatio s. 'hey begrudge him for havi g. ... Ibrahima ;all urges Aissatou o i her lesso s a d homewor$. 0e has his girlfrie d+s success at heart. 0e does ot wa t to be respo sible for a y regressio whatsoever. Aissatou+s mar$s improve) there+s a silver li i g i every cloud4 2armata fi ds it difficult to accept Ibrahima ;all, whom she
[Page FC ]

describes as +coc$sure+, +shameless+. ;he ever misses a opportu ity of hitti g out at him) +0as o e ever see a stra ger u tie a goat i the house1+ K perturbed, Ibrahima ;all tries to adapt. 0e see$s out my compa y, discusses curre t eve ts with me, sometimes bri gs me maga*i es a d fruit. 0is pare ts, i formed some time ago by the vigila t 2armata, also come rou d to see us a d are a #ious about Aissatou+s health. A d reassuri g habits regai asce da cy. ...

I e vy you for havi g had o ly boys4 "ou do +t $ ow the terrors I face i deali g with the problems of my daughters. I have fi ally decided to broach the problem of se#ual educatio . Aissatou, your amesa$e, caught me u awares. 2rom ow o , I will ta$e precautio s. I address myself to the trio, the twi s bei g still too you g. 0ow I had hesitated earlier4 I did ot wa t to give my daughters a free ha d by offeri g them immu ity i pleasure. 'he world is upside,dow . .others of yore taught chastity. 'heir voice of authority co dem ed all e#tra,marital +wa deri gs+. .oder mothers favour +forbidde games+. 'hey help to limit the damage a d, better still, preve t it. 'hey remove a y thor or pebble that might hi der the progress of their childre towards the co 3uest of all forms of liberty4 I apply myself pai fully to this ecessity. All the same, I i sist that my daughters be aware of the value of their bodies. I emphasi*e the sublime sig ifica ce of the se#ual act, a e#pressio of love. 'he e#iste ce of mea s of co traceptio must ot lead to a u hi dered release of desires a d i sti cts. It is through his self,co trol, his ability to reaso , to choose, his power of attachme t, that the i dividual disti guishes himself from the a imal. (ach woma ma$es of her life what she wa ts. A profligate life for a woma is i compatible with morality. -hat does o e gai from pleasures1 (arly agei g, debaseme t, o doubt about it, I further stressed. .y words fell u easily o my female audie ce. !f us all, I was the most vul erable. 2or the trio+s faces registered o surprise. .y chopped se te ces aroused o special i terest. I had the impressio that I was sayi g the obvious.

[Page FF ]

Perhaps the trio $ ew already. ... A lo g sile ce. ... A d the trio disappeared. I let out a sigh of relief. I felt that I had emerged i to the light after a lo g &our ey through a dar$, arrow tu el.

!&

'ill tomorrow, my frie d. -e will the have time to ourselves, especially as I have obtai ed a e#te sio of my widow+s leave. I reflect. .y ew tur of mi d is hardly surprisi g to you. I ca ot help u burde i g myself to you. I might as well sum up ow. I am ot i differe t to the irreversible curre ts of wome +s liberatio that are lashi g the world. 'his commotio that is sha$i g up every aspect of our lives reveals a d illustrates our abilities. .y heart re&oices each time a woma emerges from the shadows. I $ ow that the field of our gai s is u stable, the rete tio of co 3uests difficult) social co strai ts are ever,prese t, a d male egoism resists. I strume ts for some, baits for others, respected or despised, ofte mu**led, all wome have almost the same fate, which religio s or u &ust legislatio have sealed. .y reflectio s determi e my attitude to the problems of life. I a alyse the decisio s that decide our future. I wide my scope by ta$i g a i terest i curre t world affairs. I remai persuaded of the i evitable a d ecessary compleme tarity of ma a d woma . Bove, imperfect as it may be i its co te t a d e#pressio , remai s the atural li $ betwee these two bei gs. 'o love o e a other4 If o ly each part er could move si cerely towards the other4 If each could o ly melt i to the
[Page FH ]

other4 If each would o ly accept the other+s successes a d failures4 If each would o ly praise the other+s 3ualities i stead of listi g his faults4 If each could o ly correct bad habits without harpi g o about them4 If each could pe etrate the other+s most secret

hau ts to forestall failure a d be a support while te di g to the evils that are repressed4 'he success of the family is bor of a couple+s harmo y, as the harmo y of multiple i strume ts creates a pleasa t sympho y. 'he atio is made up of all the families, rich or poor, u ited or separated, aware or u aware. 'he success of a atio therefore depe ds i evitably o the family.

-hy are +t your so s comi g with you1 Ah, their studies. ... ;o, the , will I see you tomorrow i a tailored suit or a lo g dress1 I+ve ta$e a bet with Daba) tailored suit. Ksed to livi g far away, you will wa t,,,agai , I have ta$e a bet with Daba ,,,table, plate, chair, for$. .ore co ve ie t, you will say. But I will ot let you have your way. I will spread out a mat. ! it there will be the big, steami g bowl i to which you will have to accept that other ha ds dip. Be eath the shell that has harde ed you over the years, be eath your sceptical pout, your easy carriage, perhaps I will feel you vibrate. I would so much li$e to hear you chec$ or e courage my eager ess, &ust as before, a d, as before, to see you ta$e part i the search for a ew way. I war you already, I have ot give up wa ti g to refashio my life. Despite everythi g,,,disappoi tme ts a d humiliatio s ,,,hope still lives o withi me. It is from the dirty a d auseati g humus that the gree pla t sprouts i to life, a d I ca feel ew buds spri gi g up i me. 'he word +happi ess+ does i deed have mea i g, does +t it1 I shall go out i search of it. 'oo bad for me if o ce agai I have to write you so lo g a letter. ...

Ramato,-a*e

. Le+ No,/e--e+ E(ition+ A0ri1aine+ 198' . 2n tran+-ation Mo(,34 Bo(45T6oma+ 1981

NOTES 7 [2oot ote 1

A i vocatio that i dicates the serious ess of the sub&ect to be discussed. 7 [2oot ote / 2orm of co dole ce that also e#presses hope of moral recovery. 7 [2oot ote 7 ;e egalese food prepared from roughly $ eaded millet flour, which is coo$ed i water a d eate with curds. 7 [2oot ote < It is the duty of the husba d+s sisters to buy his widow+s mour i g clothes. 7 [2oot ote @ A dri $ prepared by mi#i g sugared curds with well, $ eaded millet flour% it is coo$ed i steam. 7 [2oot ote A Blac$ Africa , of a y atio ality, who is part,poet, part,musicia , part,sorcerer. 7 [2oot ote C ;uburbs of Da$ar, capital of ;e egal. 7 [2oot ote F ;weet,smelli g a d stimulati g powder. 7 [2oot ote H Buildi g society i the 5ap,Jert departme t of ;e egal =Da$ar a d e viro s>, which co structs houses for sale or re t. 7 [2oot ote 1I Pri cess of the ;i e. 7 [2oot ote 11 K dergrou d river. 7 [2oot ote 1/ I visible compa io s. 7 [2oot ote 17 A ma i -ester ,style clothes.

7 [2oot ote 1<

;omeo e who comes from the hi terla d% i -est Africa ( glish, +bushma +. 7 [2oot ote 1@ Bi3uid with super atural powers. 7 [2oot ote 1A 'he statutory visit that every polygamous ma must ma$e to the bedroom of each of his wives i tur . 7 [2oot ote 1C Doblema . 7 [2oot ote 1F Begi i g of the first sourate of the 6ora , which has passed i to ge eral speech% the e#pressio de otes surprise. 7 [2oot ote 1H !ld frie dship. 7 [2oot ote /I A ma of repute.