Sometimes brown girls can wear black. Not the colour, but a mood, a presence, a halo. I hold my aunt’s hand as she struggles with the chain. I want to tell her there’s no use, it can’t cage her spirit, but I stop myself.
The Ward smells of grudges and longing. What is madness, if not a pile of lost love and mercy? There is something about blue that’s retrograde. It’s the colour of sky fading into evening, the colour of hospital bedsheets the severe cases lie on. Scratch on the walls suggest a previous occupant might have had claws. Blue is the look in my Aunt’s eye that means a vacuum, the hotness of tears rolling down her caramel onyx face.
The perfume of catarrh and puss-filled wounds is close to disinfected avocado. These markings on the wall remind me of history class. After this no one can convince me cavemen were completely sane. Everyone here is brought in with a sense of urgency, like preparation for a carnival. Their escorts try to make sense of the nonsensical, to explain how the patient went from drinking coffee to grabbing their niece’s collar bones and picking dirt off the ground. Suddenly dust tasted like coca and stones turned to bread, their grin turned to the devil’s.
This is a home of monologues. Here, the self is both actor and spectator; the protagonist, an extra, a prop forever tied to insanity. My aunt is still struggling, she is remembering objects. Says we should bring her the basin of eggs she bought decades ago. Says I should return the bus fare she gave me for school. She wants to microwave a can of water.
I know beauty can distort the truth. That evening she wore a mustard top and grey shorts. Her curls blew out bouncy like springs. I should have sensed her stream of consciousness when she climbed onto six-inch stilettos to go to the market?
I can’t forget that evening. The phone rang nonstop. When I picked up, a stranger described her nakedness. Said she stood sulking like an offering, ready to bolt at the sight of clothes or a helping hand.
Emergency is an efficient teacher. The first time I got behind the wheel of a car, was to drive my aunt to the hospital. I buckled the seat belt and evaded turns like the plague. A doctor pulled her from the backseat; she believed it was a kidnapping. He assumed my novice driving was from shock, but any ignition will start when a vein of worry inserts a key.
The nurse pumps liquid into her bloodstream and she lays sly like a toad. She wakes up a wilding, hence the chain. She calls for the husband who swallowed her sanity as sleeping pills, the one who murmured ‘I do’ on the altar with his diseased mouth. She asks for her purse, the one she left at the mercy of the road, the one waiting there for thieves.
Maybe new memories will grow when we abandon the old ones.