The Farmer, The Man who walked the dusty road to Kampala & The year zero woman – The Way of the Farmer
October 1, 2012
“I must find out his pain. I must know his story. I must find out how did he see right through into my heart of hearts? One cannot after all read about pain – it has to be felt. What is the texture of his pain…is it smooth, undulating, rough…or could it be something else…something far worse that even what..I am able to imagine?”
She had studied the man carefully when she have accepted his invitation for coffee – they had stepped into the back entrance of what seemed to be a Morrocon French Cafe in a preamble somewhere in London. Suddenly she and the man had been transported to Algiers – she noticed the proprietor spoke in a French Provence vernacular reserved for only either family or very close friends. He had placed the verb behind. From their body language, the woman summarized they knew each other well.
So well that they even occupied a horse shoe seat on a blind corner behind the counter. Maybe they knew each other from another age thought the 41 year woman.
As the French man led the man into the kitchen animately, “something about a faulty coffee machine.” – the woman suddenly found herself alone; her eyes wandered across the many picture frames on the hidden wall behind the counter – most of them hung clumsily and listlessly like old emptied wine bottles left out just to gather dust – by this time, the man had crouched down beneath the coffee maker -her eyes began to wander, in one corner discreet wall of memories of a French man in London – she could just make out a black and white picture of the man. The first thing that struck him was he had not aged – he was still trim and lean and the dandy he was. Her eye was naturally drawn to this one – as most of the picture collage the French speaking man hung behind the counter were happy color photos – this one was sombre and grave in black and white and printed on low quality chemical film paper; the year zero woman could tell, the nitrates had began to eat at the extreme edges. A failing common to cheap chemical film paper when it fails to stabilize properly. She reckoned the photo was processed in some third world country, she was right – the typeface Kampala was faintly written with a crayon or carpenter’s pencil – the year zero woman had once dabbled in photography, she was after all an artist in her own right. And that evening, her mission was to find the pain of this man who had allowed him the insight to see her pain so clearly in marvelous completion. Such an idea may seem preposterous to most men, but not to the 41 year old women who had suddenly reset her clock of consciousness to the year zero – at year zero which began when he had decided to walk with this man – this was all she care to know about the man: where did he experience the same pain that allowed him to see mine so clearly – like a cognoscenti who sips a cellared claret – he could savor every hemisphere of my emotions. Even feel the way the days waxed and waned – even sensed it all. This was all she cared to find out that evening. Through her 50mm no aberration multi coated practiced eye of a woman who once aspired to be a photographer cum artist – the year zero woman began to peer deeply at the photo.
“I must find it…his pain…I know it’s there. On the way here, we spoke about birds. And I remember…he told me the swifts in July are usually stained reddish from the Ochre dust that blew across the Ivory Coast. When I asked him whether that was where he made his fortune to buy oil palm land. He had only smiled. But I could tell there was a lingering sadness in his eyes. Yes it’s here! I just need to find it?”
The image depicted the man wearing a soiled bush jacket walking briskly with a AK-47 slung clumsily across his back on a dusty country road – he looked pensive, with his head turned to the camera. As if someone had shouted out his name from behind and he had turned back when the photo was snapped. In the foreground there was a line of Africans, mostly women and children, some with carts and a couple of scampering goats – they had an indescriable fear written all over their faces; they seemed to be fleeing from something menacing that was on the left side of the photo – the side that the photograph did not capture. In the background, not too far from the man, a pillar of black smoke rose from a burnt out tank – the pillar of smoke scarred across the steely skies.
The man asked, “are you hungry?” She looked up, smiled and she knew he knew she was.
“Good. He suspects nothing…I have to find it….I have to find his pain. It’s here, I know it’s here somewhere….or at least part of it. If I can find this part. Then maybe I can follow like a loose thread on a jumper….it’s here. I know it’s here.”
The year zero woman zoomed in on the image of the man again. This time she looked at it sweepingly with a sense of detachment – she knew a part of her found the man attractive. And she didn’t want that part to cloud her judgement – as she peered at the image of the man again. She realized, she had made a mistake. Someone didn’t call out his name when this photo was snapped. The man had deliberately stopped and looked back. She noticed his arms had a languor about them like an athlete spent after a sprint. A smudge ran across his cheeks. A gash across the shoulder of his soiled bush jacket. She realized then those images had given a dynamic quality to the man – it seemed as if he was walking and turn back only. But that was a trick the mind played on her. As she look deep. She realized, the man had paused. He was looking at something in the far distance. It must have been faint, she thought – he was half squinting and there was a softness, yet hardness in his eyes – as if good and evil were clashing – his look suggested that whatever he was looking at, he had once loved and even cherished and now he had lost. And he had been defeated.
At that very moment – the year zero woman recalled the same bitter sweet expression that she had seen in the man’s eyes that evening fleetingly like a passing meteorite; when he had suddenly appeared before her from nowhere – she saw the same aching yearning mixed with resignation in the man who had finally made peace with a good thing that had finally come to an end. Yet beneath it all, like an under current, there was an unmistakeable hint of defiance of the man in the photograph – eyes that suggested blood had been spilled – a line had been crossed – right and wrong rubbed out – amid it all, the woman now saw the charred tank, the terrified expressions of scampering natives, the chaotic and frantic rush that the photo had captured so well, it all culminated to convey a complete understanding to the year zero woman that she was looking at the name and face of a man who simply bore the tragic expression of knowing what it means to LOVE a thing with all one’s heart and to suddenly LOSE it all.
“Yes. I see it now. I see what he once saw….the man had paused on the dusty road to Kampala and looked back at his beloved Cocoa farm when the militia had razed it all to the ground. He was fleeing….”
She began to reflect deeply and even grew sullen – from the horse shoe seat where the year zero woman sat – she had a clear view right through into the kitchen. She could make out the lean V cut shape of the man. He had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to cook. His hands moved swifly, precisely and purposefully. He flashed her a mischevious smile. It said, “Wait till you taste this.” She flashed him back, “I can’t wait to try it!” And she returned to the image of the lone man again in the photo – as the year zero woman began to look at the image one more time – She couldn’t but help wonder whether perhaps this same man who was simply a farmer at heart, as he had always only insisted on been called farmer and nothing else – whose only goal it seems in life is to happily plant row after row of palms – this man who she now saw in the present. This man who was now cooking for her. As the year zero woman looked on at the man. She understood. Not completely, but, she understood nonetheless – a least a part of how the man had seen right through into her most private thoughts.
From that moment, the year zero woman was now reincarnated into the one minute twenty second woman – like the start button of a stopwatch being clicked into motion – the third hand of time had began it’s inexorable journey forward – she had begun to live that other yet to be written chapter of her life. Till then she had merely existed, but now she was living – as that evening as the five minute and ten seconds woman looked at the man from her horse shoe seat who she insisted on calling the gentleman planter – she realized only a man who had suffered as much as her could possibly have understood how she felt – he had after all walked the same plains of desolation as her where every passing minute slices like a knife; felt even every hemisphere of what it means to covet and lose along with reconciling himself with the finality of the realization, it would never return ever again – only such a soul could ever love her. As to love the by then ten minute fifteen seconds woman – the mythical lover had to mirror the same shattered dreams as the newly reborned woman and along with all her missed hopes – he even had to edify her by creating the illusion that he was as much part of her pain and that she was not alone.
This the twelve minute one second woman knew he did so very well – she had seen in it all, the depths of his frevent hopes being crushed that day in the faint black and white image of the man with fiery eyes walking with the sub machine slung over his back with his head turn ever slightly on the long dusty road to Kampala.
And deep down in the heart of heart’s of the twenty three minute and fifteen second woman – she realized the man who was walking towards her smiling with a bottle of Pinot and a dish filled with colorful delights that would make passionate love to her taste buds – was none other than someone who had betrayed himself to transform himself into a weapon against her – a perfect imitation of love. She did not hate the man despite this. She even loved him for it in a perverse way (that I shall reveal latter).
However, had she still been the 41 year old woman maybe she would have just splash wine over him, slap him and walk right out of the door. But as the newly reborn twenty three minute and fifty two seconds woman – she knew that she could never turn the man away. Never. The man who had after all seen deep into her privatest thoughts. And she for her part as the now twenty four minute and two seconds woman simply smiled supremely as the man sat across her. As she too had seen deep into the man’s heart of heart’s – the were after all kindred spirits. And all other differences were truly details that could be negotiated. Love after all can always be trusted to find a way…..