This piece is fan fiction, and was written six years ago as part of an undergraduate project. It takes the voice of the Blacksmith in Toni Morrison’s heart-wrenchingly popular novel ‘A Mercy’. It also holds a mirror against the Blacksmith’s perception of Florens, the young slave girl.
I sit on my staunches watching till it turned the bend and slid down the jagged, muddy rocks, disappearing into the thick green bushes. I have long given up trying to sneak behind or catch it, I’ve tried it so many times and never succeeded. I know I’d never be able to catch it; it’s not just another garden snake, it’s you.
It’s you : my Ayana, protecting me. Me and Malaik. I remember the day long gone, by the lake, the lake we so often met by; a place I can never visit again, for fear of throwing myself into it – hoping it would take me to where you are now. Seated on one of those rocks, polished smooth by the running waters when the river overflowed, and you flaccidly leaning on my side with that queer, mystified look… Im sorry, I mistook it for fear. I thought you were afraid of the snake slithering past us, its scales wet with dew and reflecting the setting sun. I wanted nothing to worry you, not the snake. So I reached out for the log, strewn carelessly on the shore, wanting to crush the head of the snake with it. I will never forget the look in your dark brown eyes, now deep and dilated – chiding me, pained… almost crushed yourself. Your hands, delicate but strong in its grip on mine. “Why?”, you ask. “What did it do to you?, it didn’t harm you. It will not. It’s the spirit of my loved ones encircling us to protect us” you told me. “If I die, I’ll always protect you”. I reached down and kissed you, not wanting you to say it again. “I’ll not let you die”, I murmured in your ears. You laughed, jerking me away, “I’ll be with you always – alive or not”, is your response. I’ve never killed a serpent after that. You’ve visited me every evening. I know you‘re here somewhere. I know you’re sad today. The sky reflects your sadness; it growls and drizzles. I’m sorry Malaik is hurt. I promise to let no one, ever again touch him. I’m sorry, it took me four years to bring him back to me. I didn’t think I could look at him and not remember what he had done to you. I thought he killed you: I was wrong. It was not his fault that you are no more. You loved him enough to give yourself up for him. Florens, that wild child. Florens does not know that love will not destroy; love will not break. She doesn’t know love. She is a wilderness. You are love. Ayana… my Ayana. The name of wild blossoms. That’s what you were… joyous and free and like them, gone with the wind by the break of day.
Ha, Florens, that wild child. Florens does not know that love will not destroy; love will not break. She doesn’t know love. She is a wilderness. YOU are love. Ayana… my Ayana. The name of wild blossoms. That’s what you were… joyous and free and like them, gone with the wind by the break of day.
I did feel sorry for Florens. She left her shoes behind and must have walked a great many deal, barefooted. But I never bothered to find out whether she reached Mistress Vaark. She would have, there has always been this hunger in her eyes – a greed to live and survive and prove to herself that she is of some worth. But I will never forgive her for hurting your Malaik… our Malaik. She will learn that selfish greed will not earn love. No one can earn my love… not anymore. Florens is in many ways, still a child. A hungry child. I saw it in her eyes when I first noticed her at Mister Vaark’s. She was always eager to learn, eager to please and more than all, greedy for me. I met Mister Vaark in a public house a few miles away from Virginia. I was after some work in the area and had just earned my salary for it. It was there that he asked whether I could help him with the iron works of his new house to be built. Work excites, keeps me occupied. I would not refuse.
I’ve always liked relaxing and enjoying a drink after a hard assignment of iron works. Iron is hard, stubborn, dark and had to be forced out from the core of the earth. It is treasure, and my job was to make art out of earth’s treasure. I spend hours watching it melt in the fire, bringing it to boil and bubble until I could easily fetch out the floating pieces. After that, the iron is pure, beautiful and stronger than anything else I know. It’s such a pleasure to bend it, mould and shape it into a beautiful piece. The process strengthens me; makes me powerful. Gives me a sense of pride. Yes, I am arrogant, arrogant about being able to bend one of the strongest elements of earth, and why shouldn’t I be? My work is my pride. I miss the way you feel the protruding veins of my arms, hardened by the iron. “Does iron run through your blood?” you ask me, teasing it with your soft kisses, its softness hardens me. Driving me delirious until I’ve had you. And then, lying in my arms; your unbridled, long ravenous hair tickling my body, you call me by my name. Only you can touch me in places no other woman can, just by saying my name: “Lencho, my Lion. My Lencho”.
I liked Mister Vaark at first glance. Handsome, hardened by work and like me, proud about what he had worked for and achieved. When I first entered his farm, it was happy with an assortment of people. Nothing like the place I visited after his death; bleak, unkempt, hostile and dying. Mistress Rebekka was chirpy as a bird and full of life that when I attended to her in her sickbed, I hardly recognized her. Her white skin a mess of boils and she spoke nonsense that did not make sense. “Am I dying?” she asked and then fell into spasms of hallucination. “Give me a child Jacob, don’t go away now.. I don’t want to shit with strangers again”, she kept repeating. Poor thing, something had changed in her forever. I stopped by Mister Vaark’s grave before I left; to asked his spirit to give her rest and not taunt her, if he was.
When I first saw Lina, strong, tall and dusky like you, I wanted to talk to her. She reminded me of you and because everything that reminds me of you can only be good. But she was nothing like you, she was closed within herself, cold, hostile and suspecting me of evils. I don’t know whether she envied my freedom. But she hated me, that much I knew from the anger spewing out of her eyes. So I never spoke to her, until she did, in her reserved, suspicious tone, asking about Florens when I went to attend on Mistress. Florens was her baby, I was not going to hold her back. I didn’t need her.
The other Autumn haired girl was a mystery. I liked her carelessness, her freedom to talk to herself and often wander by the lake talking to someone I couldn’t see. I think she lost someone she loved, just like I did. I understood her pain. I wanted to be nice and was grateful to have been able to treat her when she got the pox. I wasn’t expecting to be thanked and she never did.
I also made friends in the farm: Scully and Willard. I did not want them feeling jealous. I know how it might feel not to be paid for hard work, and I don’t like being hated. When they stopped helping and began making Vaark angry, I made the first move to bring about peace. I’ve learnt early in life that to ask for respect, one must first give it. I did exactly that. Soon we were friends, especially with Willard who despised me before when he learned that I was paid for my labour. I even spent some evenings talking with Scully about his plans after his period of serving was over. He is a young enthusiastic boy. I liked them even though I could not understand the affection they shared with the other. It was strange to me, but then I never bothered to question.
The other night I closed my eyes in the dark and pretended to sleep, not flexing any muscle until Florens would at last go away. She stood there each night like a greedy child, unaware of even the candle flame burning her palm. It was in sheer fascination of her relentless tours, that I smiled at her once; she covered her face and bolted out. She was no more than an excited child around me, clumsy and hurried when serving me food. Intelligent, that I sometimes taught her about iron ore and how it is purified in a furnace. She’d sit listening intently. I should have listened when the owls warned me then. It is on one such day when she, in her clumsiness while serving me, spilt some on the floor, and stood bewildered wringing her hands, that I said “it’s ok child” and held her palm. Trying to calm her down, I kissed a burn scar on it, making her writhe. “Im not a child!”, she retorted. “Can’t you see?… I want you”. I ’ve always known and felt her desiring me, wanting me in her own childish infatuated way. Unable to take her eyes off me she slowly leaned on to me. I thought that if I gave her what she wanted, her yearning and excitement would stop and she will stop wanting me so much. And I thought of you, thought of the many women I’ve had after you. Having them and not really needing them. Allowing myself some pleasure. It is only you that I need and had and have no more for the sake of love. For the sake of my soul. My body responded to Florens, my animal instincts overpowering, finding an escape for the pent up force within me. I stifled her screams with my hand. She would come back to me with the same hunger, and I had her every time I missed you. Willing her to be you. Pretending it was you, I kissed her long and full on the mouth, but when we pulled back, she was Florens. Not Ayana. I was deeply disappointed. I realized I couldn’t give her more than that, and wanted her to stop wanting me. I didn’t need her. There is no escape from you. So I left the farm never having even told her. I wanted her to forget me, despise me if she will. My work at the new house of Mister Vaark was much admired. I imprinted you on their gate. They’d never know that you are the one etched on their gate… You are the serpent who comes to visit me every evening.. And yet, I cannot picture your face as a serpent. You are a flower, a wild flower. My Ayana.
When I came back and learned of your father’s death, I could not stop worrying about Malaik. Even though I had never had the courage to look the boy in the face, I knew it was time. So I paid a trader to bring him to me. They say he is bad luck, you died giving him birth and the trader died tragically while bringing him here. I know he’s not. You wanted him named Malaik; an angel. A messenger of our love. I must forgive Florens for hurting me but not for hurting Malaik. When I walked in and saw him writhing in pain with his dislocated arm, I could have killed Florens with my bare hands. I lost you… I cannot afford to lose him. He is part of you. His brown eyes and skin like unshined gold just gotten form the earth, is just like yours; though the eyes lack your laughter.
I promise, I’ll put laughter back into those eyes. He sleeps within and it starts to rain. Please don’t be sad, Ayana. I’ll make him free like you. I’ll make him mine like you.