Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MAY07 EXCERPT - Long Walk Up

Long Walk Up
By Denise Turney

Long Walk Up tells the poignant story of a young orphan girl from East Africa . The girl, a child named Mulukan, becomes Africa ’s first female president. Mulukan’s story takes an honest look at heart tugging coincidences that become the threads in the fabric of our lives. This child’s remarkable story searches its readers’ hearts and calls them to ascension. …

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Two miles later, Mulukan’s knees buckled; she fell into the dirt. Her arms went out, her legs back, the way a bird’s legs and wings go in different directions seconds before the bird takes flight. Mulukan’s heart spoke to the sky and told it to bring relief; the pain of being a motherless child in a big world made her feel like she was drowning. To six-year old Mulukan, the sky was Yhwh and she could not suffer another step. She lay against the earth for hours, long enough for the sky to turn white with heat.

When she raised her head, a raven, its thick, black beak closed and pointed away from her, stood at her side. Because she too was small, the bird looked huge to Mulukan. She hurried to her feet and ran from the bird, up a hill. Her heart pounded in her chest; it beat so fast Mulukan thought it was trying to beat its way out of her body. The raven crowded her thoughts with fear and dread; she kept looking over her shoulder while she ran. Her eyes had widened with the expanse of fright. Then, and as if the ground had opened beneath her, she lost her footing. Her shoulders ached, her knees felt like they would loosen from their sockets while she rolled to the bottom of the hill. She almost cursed the bird. Moments later, when her body stilled, she stretched out her hands and looked up in surprise when she touched wood.

“Come along, Abayomi. Come along.”

“But, Father.”

“Come along.”

“How much for these shoes?”

Voices. Mulukan listened from where she lay behind a tall, wood produce stand, the place where she landed after she rolled to the bottom of the hill. From where she lay behind the stand, she watched feet, some belonging to children, others belonging to adults, move back and forth in front of the small open space at the bottom of the stand. Behind her was only dirt and open sky. She appeared alone except for the hurrying feet and the rainbow voices – so many voices.

“How far along in school is the youngest one? She is growing so fast.”

“I know, like a vine. She just keeps going up-up-up.”

“Special! Special! Special! Come and take advantage of these many specials we have on all kinds of fruit and vegetables. You’ll be glad you did. Don’t go home without some of these delicious foods.”

Mulukan peered up. Her thoughts were on the energy in the rainbow voices. Her eyes widened. It was so close, a market. It brimmed with people, some fat, some thin, none starving.

Mulukan crawled to the edge of the stand and peered around the corner. She watched the people and searched for an opening, a time when she could mix in with them undetected. That time did not come until nightfall. Everyone, except for one man, was gone away from the market. The juice of squashed tomatoes, melons, greens and beets sprinkled the earth. The man packed up the last supplies of his fruit and vegetable stand. Mulukan ran up to him like she was his daughter, like he’d been looking for her.

Dirt filled her matted hair and covered her limbs. Dried snot clung to her lip. Flies circled her groin. Her knees and eyes were swollen. Her stomach, protruding like an empty bowl, went out to the man and asked for food. Mulukan – as if she’d always been happy, gave him her best smile. When he smiled back at her, her jaws fattened with mirth.

“Lost from your parents?” the man asked while he searched her face for answers, for clues that revealed the reason she was at the market at this late hour alone. Despite the clues, not once did he allow himself to believe she could be one of the millions of children death had pushed out into the street absent their parents. AIDS had been the dominant disease ripping parents from their children this time. But there had always been a vicious disease ravaging parts of Africa for as long as the man could recall. Once, to distance himself from the hurt, the insanity of tragedy, he ceased reading stories about countless children roaming Africa alone, unsure of which direction to move in, roaming through life as if just by walking, they would find safety, a place to lay their heads, a place devoid of heartache. For so long, he wouldn’t look at the children. He refused their large, brown eyes.

Two years ago he and his wife of thirty-eight years lived on a large farm. The earth always pushed up produce like goodness coming straight from Yhwh, the only source in the universe that flows, the source many call love. Abandoned children showed up at their front gate each morning. A year later, the circle of starvation and desperation still revealing itself on the children’s dirty, worn, tired faces, and his wife went insane. The desperation the children brought to the gate each morning cursed her with melancholy. It happened slowly, very slowly, as if it weren’t happening at all. At first his wife, her eyes having become sullen like the children’s, begged him with, “We have to do more for them.” Weeks later she fed the children from the harvest they had planned to sell at the market, currency with which they would pay their household expenses.

“We cannot do this,” the man would tell her while light from their bedroom lamp flickered across the room. But her guilt that they lived inside the comforts of a large farm, her guilt that they had plenty to eat and wear while hundreds of children outside their home had only what she handed them through the open space in the front gate - that guilt drove her insane.

Months after the children showed up, she took to staring into space, her gaze landing on nothing in particular. She mumbled to herself; the man saw her lips moving as if she were talking to someone, but when he looked about, there was no one else. As if it would halt the onslaught of insanity that was beginning to overtake his wife, that was beginning to drown her, he went into town and bought five acres of land. Deed in hand, he opened the gate and standing amid the children like a sergeant, asked, “Who knows how to farm?” Three hands, their ends badly chewed, their palms as brown as their backs, went up. “Who would like to learn how to farm?” his voice boomed. His gazed darted and searched their faces. Every hand sprang into the air. With a jerk of his head and a swing of his arm he called out, “Follow me.” At the edge of the five acres of land, he stopped. “This land is more than enough to feed all of you.”

His wife wasn’t alive to witness the first full harvest come in. By that time she had locked herself in their barn and slit her wrists. When he found her that evening she was already dead. While family and friends and the children, some of them fat, surrounded the large hole he was soon to place her body inside and cover with dirt, the bed of the earth, the substance that helped feed the children, he talked to his wife. “See what your desperation has done for the children?”

“And where are you from?” the man asked Mulukan.

With a twist of her ankle, she pulled her hands behind her back and looked up at him. There was enough dirt on her face and body to clog a narrow drainage pipe. While he looked at her he wondered if she was ill. Her hair though dry and brittle, was dark and healthy. Her eyes were clear.

“Mother,” he tried, Mulukan yet silent. He turned and grabbed a peach. “Here,” he told her with a smile on his face and his arm extended toward her.

She took the strange fruit inside her hand.

He watched her bite into the fruit then consume it recklessly. Finished eating the fruit’s flesh she bit at the seed. When the seed didn’t crack, she stuck it in her jaw and sucked it. She stared longingly at the row of peaches behind the man.

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” he asked Mulukan while he turned and started placing the last remaining pieces of fruit onto a wheeled cart. When his stand was empty and clean, he pushed the cart close to a blue and yellow truck.

When he turned, Mulukan was gone. He’d given her a bag of peaches, a bag of green beans, corn and a jug of water. He told her to put the vegetables over fire, but because he doubted she spoke the same tongue he did, he imagined she would eat the corn and green beans straight out of the bag. After he looked over the market to insure Mulukan wasn’t hiding, he climbed inside his truck and drove to the end of the road. At the end of the road, he turned left and drove around the corner.

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