• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 09
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(for Khadija Saye)

They haunt me! Your eyes
that expose much more than flesh.
Aren’t you scared, namesake?

Dress, lips, ears, eyes — closed
under sacred words sewn up.
Yet you see, everything.

You have seen, but do not want to see.
Gis nga waye goumbo

You wear tééré like
a scholar hides precious words
in miniature books.

Body, nose, cheeks — Black.
You see colour we can’t see.
You are still, namesake.

Speak the unspoken; show the unseen.
Wahh lou kendoul wahh, won'neh lou ken gissoul

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You breathe the fire of a dragon with your art. Measured and far reaching.

You can feel the heat of it on your own neck, drawing in deep breaths to gather the smouldering fire in your heart, bring it forth into the world, to be viewed by others. You wonder often if they know that this fire, right here, is yours. It simmers when you’re sleeping, stirring you awake with a new idea. You jot down a note, or two or ten, never quite returning to slumber. Instead you gather the things around you, the artefacts that others might call props. The things of your heritage, they beckon you as you try to connect with them, make a sense of them that translates, somehow. And sometimes lost in your own thoughts, you forget about the heat in the flat, from outside or in, that London summer swelt that wraps you up and leaves you soaking, droplets over your eyes, intermittently blurring your view of your own creation. Most times you ignore it, let the fire inside your own belly be the thing that you focus on.

This picture would be one of many, a series, developed over time, so that you as the image, is no longer just you. It’s Gambia. And Britain. And the silence that lives between the two. You wanted closed eyes and a serenity that didn’t distract from anything else. The ancient look of the photograph, the photograph itself. And when all was done, you let the work speak, shout, scream from a tower. It was and wasn’t you, standing atop, mouth open, fire making billowing exits from your throat, your mind, your heart.

You wondered if everyone could breathe fire like this. Even sleeping, dreaming, waking to hot, hot heat and smelling smoke that wasn’t yours. You thought creative, mustered a vision of luminous scales, webbed feet and wings that could fly you and everyone around you, out of the tower.

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All day I’ve been working, with the antimusic of the city at my ears, and now I’m tired and doubtful. Looking for a landing place, hoping when I get there it’ll be warm and soft. At least there’s home, and this is the end of the day so I raise myself and say my till-tomorrows and transit.

              The city channels your body as it wants; it streams you up and down and around, all the time promising space to be yourself, space to be yourself. Then I’m narrowing and closing and there’s the door with my last name in biro by the bell.

              I throw my bag down in the place I throw it. Heat water and fill a cup without putting the light on. I sit in the me-dent of previous sittings, take a cushion and hold it against myself. I sit with my doubt. The vertigo of not-knowing keeps my eyes open.

              Your eyes are closed, going inward, into the glow of the glory that drives you. The hyphenated layers of yourself. Though the city tells you every day that you’re not at home, your camera says no, here I am, here we are; this is my light.

              I sit all night tonight, for some reason, staring in the rickety mirror of what I see through the glass. All the lit-up window squares, the stories beckoning. Come on over. But it’s an invitation to risk. All you have to do is pack yourself in and come down, honey. Come down and see what’s up. Promising a landing place, warm and soft if your money’s good.

              But you are already at home, and you owe the city nothing. All the lit-up window squares, not enough to blunt the stars.