Albino Alone6 October 2016
She crams both arms with dripping laundry; wet cotton sliding down across her forearm, white on white. With a thud, she drops the damp mess into the plastic basket, heaves it through the kitchen, through the living room, through the front door. The basket objects, its brittle frame creaking under the weight of sodden clothes. Outside, her section of the Tanzanian sky was, as ever, electric blue. There is an old, fraying rope tied between two branches, hung as a makeshift clothesline. She begins hanging clothes, draping wet sheets of jersey and calico. She hums under her breath, a lilting tune. She reaches upwards, presses a wooden peg onto the fabric and rope.
Across the yard, two pairs of brown shoulders glistening with sweat, exposed; her father and sister lay together on the hot dirt, playing tic-tac-toe in the orange dust. The green fibres on her long sleeved shirt are illuminated by the burning sunlight. She watches grey water drip from a sopping bed sheet.
She turns to see her mother’s dark silhouette leaning against the doorframe. They smile at each other, her mother’s white teeth bared against dark skin. In four strides, her mother crosses their front yard, a tiny section of dried mud. The red dirt cracks outwards from the back door, a network of spider web lines. Her mother bends down to help with the laundry and the pair work together in a hypnotic rhythm, draping and pegging in silence. She watches her mother’s coffee-coloured lips. Leaning down in unison, they both grab for the same shirt. Their hands touch, her mother’s dark skin lingering on her pale flesh. Blue-green veins protrude through the white of her wrists. The girl averts her eyes, to the elongated ovals of her mothers’ fingernails, to the white scar on her left hand index finger, to the bead of dirty water still clinging to the bed sheet.
Gravel and dirt scratch against one another beneath her feet, and grassy yellow oceans billow outwards from either side of her hem. She watches her white ankles peek out from under her long purple skirt in time with the one-two rhythm of her footsteps. The pink sequins that line the hem bounce rosy hexagons up the path. She swats at a fly.
In the distance, three children skip in her direction, the dark skin of their legs bared to the sun. Each skip brings them closer to her; each step brings her closer to them.
She readjusts her wide-brimmed hat, tugging at the drawstring under her chin. A bead of sweat clings to the nape of her neck. She bends her head backwards, using the motion to wipe the wet against her collar. She tucks a wad of frizzy blond behind her ear and grabs purposefully at the leaves of a low hanging miombo tree, ripping them off and throwing them amongst the tall grass. She pretends she is the flower girl walking down an imaginary aisle or a zookeeper feeding the alligators green leafy flesh. She is raining confetti down upon the crowd of grass people, who are swaying side-to-side with music that can only be heard within her mind.
The metallic clang of a can thrown against her shoulder reels her back to reality. She watches the red can roll along the dusty track, the children’s laughter accompanying the sound of tin hitting rock. She keeps her eyes downcast, staring at the scuffed toe of her sneaker. Six brown eyes stare into two watery pale ones. A single bird flies by at head height before shooting up among the clouds. Their vulpine faces smile at her with mismatched teeth and cracked, flaky lips. They spit their insults from a distance, afraid of getting too close. “Nyekundu jicho mapepo.”
Her fingertips brush against wrinkled knuckles, and she links her dainty hand into her sister’s hardened palm. The dry air sucks at their skin and the world seems still. Dust collects on the hem of her cargo pants, while her sister’s legs glow dark and fleshy beside her. Ahead, a cluster of children gather in the centre of the road, taking turns poking at the metallic cage with knotted twigs. A snake slides in circles around the cage’s base, flashing its glassy white skin between the rusted metal bars. “We caught him,” they gleefully proclaim. “We caught him!” There are eight children, ten including the girl and her sister. She hangs back. One of the eldest children rubs his hands across his shaven head. “Let’s kill it,” he suggests casually. The other’s turn to him, appalled. He justifies his proposal: “We’d get good money for him at the marketplace.” And so they take turns clapping it on the head with a gnarled branch. It hisses weakly, the fork of his tongue sliding in and out of its mouth, defeated. The broken saucer of his skull peeks out through the gash in his skin. The oldest boy opens the cage and grabs at the snake, gripping at its neck, pushing it into the dirt. A jagged rock in his other hand comes down hard against its head. Blooms of blood seep into the mud and the snake lays unmoving. The group moves off, dragging the length of white scales behind them. She sniffles and reaches up for her sister’s hand, watching the breadcrumb trail of blood they leave behind them.
She strips naked and lies down in the bathtub, cold porcelain against her back. She lies flat, turns on the water and allows it to creep up over her, enveloping her fingers one by one, plugging her ears, covering her nose until she is entirely submerged. Stinging water fills her eyes. She pictures herself from above: milky skin, a still face flickering under a film of water.
There is a satisfying whulp as she pulls herself upwards. Hunched over in the tub, the water embraces every crevice and fold of pale skin. Knees pulled to her chest, she picks at flecks of black and brown with bitten down fingernails, the raw skin on her knee bubbling with blood. Asphalt has left lines like bloody lightening bolts, zigzagging down towards her shin, a new addition to her collection of scars. She counts them, the skinned elbow she obtained climbing a tree at eight years old, the scraped shin from a sister’s push at seven, the caterpillar scar crawling across her hairline, which she was too young to recall acquiring.
She straightens her leg, allowing it to drop into the lukewarm water, watching the blood dissipate under the surface like red smoke. She fingers the dirty grout that peeks out amongst shiny peach tiles, absentmindedly tracing each square. Her legs, boney and long, are distorted under the lukewarm water. With a tug, she pulls the bath plug. When the water gets low she stands, watching it swirl like a cyclone down the drain.
Across the room, a grimy basin sits beneath a dusty mirror. She can barely see her forehead in it, just a tuft of unruly hair escaping from one of several tight braids. Each white cornrow loudly proclaims I don’t fit in! She steps up onto the edge of the bathtub, wobbling slightly. Here, teetering on the porcelain, she can just make out her chest. Translucent skin and pointed pink nipples reflected back at her, neon lights flashing I’m not right! Tears cling to her silver lashes. She wipes at them angrily.
Her legs lay outstretched on the ragged blue carpet as discoloured pixels dance across the screen in front of her. She is watching a nature channel, a narrator droning on about fig trees. “The strangle fig, or ficus thonningii, begins as a small vine-like plant that climbs the nearest large tree and then thickens, producing a set of aerial roots and strangling its host tree.” The screen shows a gnarled tree with tangled vines. Its upper half is smoothed out like an old stone. Bored, she mutes the channel, sketches the tree’s twisted shape into the threadbare blue beneath her with a bitten down fingernail. She glances out the window and the blue sky beckons her. But it is midday. Her eyes follow her sister around the yard.
She changes channels. When she redirects her attention to the television, a newswoman is staring into her living room. A tightly slicked ponytail pulls back a lined forehead. Her mouth is downturned, dark brown lipstick smeared just a little too far outside the natural lip line. The square television box flickers, signal lost for only a moment. When it returns, a whitewashed body flashes onto the television, splashed in shades of dark red, the newswoman’s voice inaudible over images of the albino body. With a flush of recognition she grabs for the remote. The picture switches again, a camera sliding through a forest track, branches and leaves strangling the pathway. A root knots out from the base of the tree, bumping up from the ground. Ficus thonningii. The camera zooms in on a spider’s web. She unmutes the television, flicks back to the news with a fearful curiosity. The newswoman reappears. “Some even believe that the witchcraft ritual is more powerful if the victim screams during the amputation, so body parts are often cut from live victims, especially children.” She covers her ears.
The girl absentmindedly pushes her dinner across her plate, scraping at the mess of congealed rice and cold snapper with her fork. Conversation permeates the air: “How was school? How was your walk? Are we all enjoying dinner?” The girl is not listening. She picks through pink flesh to reveal the white porcelain beneath. It stares back up at her like a mirror, sharing her milky complexion, sharing her fragility. She dances her fingers around the lip of her plate. It wouldn’t take much of a push to send either one of them careening off the edge. She looks up into her mother’s face, mirror image features against contrasting skin, a contradiction bound by walls of flesh. Her father asks her what is wrong. She glances across the table at her sister. Without looking down, she pushes her plate onto the ground below. The ceramic circle shatters against the hardwood floor. Her mother looks up from her dinner. The girl stares at the shards silently, scattered around the floor like fragmented eggshells.
Dark bodies bustle up and down the aisle, the smells of fish and rotten fruit mingling in the hot air. A mother walks ahead, busty and fat, as a group of small children trail behind her. The littlest of them turns to stare at her, wide eyed. His mother angrily tugs at his skinny arm. The spaghetti strap on her dress falls off her shoulder. Her breasts wobble as she tugs.
Her father leads her to the fruit aisle, rows of lychee and papaya piled on either side. Merchants shout into the air, all offering the same “bargain,” the same “low, low price”. She runs her hand over the orange and yellow, picking out an overripe mango. She squeezes it between her pale fingers, watching the skin burst to release orange flesh. She drops the squashed fruit to the ground before the shopkeeper notices. Her father pulls her along steadily. Stringy orange is caught under her blunt fingernail.
Above her, silvery hooks suspend ribbons of raw, red flesh. A wooden plank holds rows of rabbits, stripped naked to reveal moist, pink skin: a visceral scene. A stallholder trails her with his dark, veiny eyes. She reaches up for her father’s hand. Her palms are transparent, fingertips dissolving. Someone with eggy breath asks for a leg of lamb. The stallholder’s eyes stay on her as he packages a fatty hunk of flesh. She tugs at her father’s arm, her heart beating fast, a grey fish with beady eyes occupying his attention. The stallholder whispers to another man. Her stomach turns, doing oily flips. Her father talks to a man with rotten teeth and a greasy upper lip about the price of meat. A silver cleaver rests between a bag of melting ice and the man’s calloused brown hand. Three flies circle a wilted whitefish with yellow eyes. She stares at the dirt floor, rusted with years of meaty blood.
She lies in her bed, under eyes pooling with dark blue, eyes burning dry in their sockets. But she does not let them slide shut. Bloodshot lines tell tales of the nightmares that have made her too wary to close her eyes. She stares at the ceiling of her darkened room, a crack creeping outwards from the wall. The use of children is likely linked to the pursuit of innocence.
Across the room, her sister’s chest rises and falls in a lazy rhythm. Her own breath comes out syncopated and heavy. She does not pretend to be a flower girl anymore or the zookeeper feeding the alligators. She does not throw imaginary confetti to imaginary crowds. When she closes her eyes all she sees is the neon price tag on her forehead.
There is a rattling outside, a rusted can blowing across the front path, jerking over the pebbles. She wonders if perhaps it was kicked out of the way. She pulls the covers up under her chin, trying to blend in with shades of white bed cloth. Her eyes are dry because she is too afraid to blink. They stare still locked on the crack in the ceiling. Children are more vulnerable to attacks.
The moon lights her room, casting the shadow of a commiphora tree across cracked floorboards. Its branches are like limbs, reaching into her room, towards her rickety bed. They are easy to find and capture.
A cricket sings its song on the windowsill. She is certain she can hear whispered plots, a bang against her window. Something outside flashes in her eyes like an SOS. She envisions strands of her gossamer blond hair tangled in passing brush. They do not have the physical strength to fend off their captors.
She walks blindly through the night, the stars burning cold and noiseless above her. Heat lingers in the air, engulfing her. Grass tickles at her bare feet and green blades swallow her ankles. She limps barefoot through the bushes, branches and rocks shredding her soles, bushes clawing at her shins, prickles clinging to her ankles. She follows an overgrown track to her destination.
Balanite trees reflect in the stillness of the watering hole. Long, wet grass reaches upwards to brush against her scabby knees. Mud wriggles up between her toes. She folds in half, plunging her fingers into the filth, letting them stew there momentarily. Then she drags the thick mud up her legs; tiny rocks scrape against her shins, calves, and thighs. Cupping the dark sludge in her pink palms, she buffs it into her arms, her fingers leaving jagged lines in her naked flesh. Aggressively, she rubs the dirt into her bare chest, across her arrowed nipples. She scrubs with a poignant conviction. Tears and blood mingle with the mud. She smears soil onto her chin, rubs it across her forehead and into her cheeks. A mask. She stains her skin dark. Above her, there is nothing but the empty void of space.