Okay, another writing prompt, this one from a fellow African, “The Gypsy Mama.” Write for five minutes on the word “Roar.”
I’m lying on a narrow bunk–in that tight “V” in the front of the boat my just-married son’s South African in-laws commissioned for the entire family for the honeymoon–alongside is my husband on another bunk. Separated by the walkway, our feet almost touch at the tip of the “V”. I can’t sleep. It’s only the third day of our week-long trip on Lake Kariba, Zambia, where I’d spent many a holiday back when the country was still called Northern Rhodesia, when I lived in Nkana as a kid and then when I was married to my sons’ father.
Now, I’m an American citizen, living in the States with another husband, an American, who’s freaking out. Mr. Amiable is not admitting this. Instead, he seems to have shut down, barely functioning, shunning me. This is the first time I’ve seen this side of him. At least to this extent.
He spent the entire day on the top deck, sitting uncovered in a chair under a punishing African sun nursing a single beer, despite my pleadings, my two sons’ at first jokey jabs– that’s how he’s always communicated with them; they know him as Mr. Sardonic Wit, with a disarming self-effacing side–and then hey, Mom, what’s up with him?
I will realize years later when he starts disappearing for weeks at a time without explanation after twenty-five years of marriage, before bailing altogether, that this along with a lot of other things weren’t my fault, that his attacks (oh so witty, yet oh so punishing) were defense mechanisms, a way to distance people, until he couldn’t keep up the facade anymore. But I hadn’t caught on yet. I was still throwing pieces of myself out of the basket beneath the hot air balloon that was our marriage to keep it afloat.
I toss and turn on the hard bunk, wanting to reach out to him, to comfort him. Off in the distance, a lion roars, a sound unlike that you’ll find up close on a safari or in a zoo; this sound is deeper, like it’s coming from the soul of the animal, mournful and true in the night air.
I lie there succumbing to the sound and remembering those days when me, my mom and dad and little brother lived on Kantanta Street, when it didn’t go all the way down to the pump station and the Kafue river, when I could hear lions roaring in the bush at night as I lay on my bed wishing I was someone else. And then all those trips with my parents up to East Africa along dust ruts that passed for roads hearing the lions’s soft grunts as they padded around our rondavels at night.
I relax, comforted by the sound of the lion’s roar, feeling a deep kinship that brings tears to my eyes, that makes my heart soar and I am comforted.