That She Might Dance

(Another early entry from Nathaniel’s African Journal, circa 2002.)



Perched on the arms of the sofa, spinning on the desk chair, sprawled on the floor, and just generally dangling about.  We were all in my sitting room watching a video.  Some have it memorized.  Others laugh and play in a distinct little world mysteriously inserted into this one.

Suddenly, Maria walks up and pops Deus a good one.  He instantly retaliates. Daddy moves in.

There’s an apprehension.

I pick up my little girl.  In my mind, that dreaded parental thought: What is the most appropriate response?

While I consider my options, I carry her to the porch and sit down.  Still in my arms, she begins to cry.

I know instantly, somehow, that this is not an expression of anger.  These aren’t her infamous faux-tears.  And she doesn’t want me to put her down.

Something about the dearness of her cry shows me that my little girl is healing.

Too young for a heart-to-heart.  Too tender for therapy.  No girl-talk.

Just Daddy’s arms.

She cried.  Not loudly.  Not passionately.

A precious weeping-balm of the heart.  For the heart.

I held her.  I used my voice to communicate a sense of peace.  I’m not sure I was successful.

She cried.

And cried.

“Do you want down, Baby?”

“No.”  Nearly voiceless.

More tears.

Absorbed by my shoulder.

I hope.

This person has been through so much.  Mommy and Daddy saying goodbye to her, to this life, forever.  No aunts.  No uncles.  Just her six-year-old brother and her three-year-old sister.  While a woman in their village took them in, she had eight children of her own, and a husband who resented my little ones because they were consuming his resources.  He knew that they were living with AIDS, and wrongly assumed that they wouldn’t survive to care for him in his old age.  His resentment revealed itself in physical violence.  Abuse.  Burns.  Punches.

And pain.

Little Maria has been here for awhile now.  She is processing, I think, all that her short days have seen.  She’s getting older.  She is trying to…

To what?

To get over it?

I don’t think so.

To survive?

No, more than that, I think.

She has been surviving.  So how is this different than yesterday?

I see that her heart is finally ready to replace sorrow with joy.  But inside she is frustrated.  She knows that her scabs must first become forgotten scars.

It is as if her spirit has heard the faint sound of a perfect melody drifting in from the next room.  She presses her ear to the wall.  She must hear all the notes.  Every one.  Her heart-feet finally slip into their toe shoes.  At last, she will know harmony.  Tears are the precious yield of her labor to weep-open a passage to the music.

That she might dance.