Playing Jazz in the Rainy Season: Stories from Africa!

The rains have finally come.

Loud.

Ferocious.

Torrential.

It startled me early this morning and practically threw me out of bed as it pounded against the windows; wailing through the seams of the sliding glass door; demanding to be let in.

It’s midnight now. The lights flicker across the river like murmurs of another world whispering — come to me.  Take off your shoes; leave your hair entangled from the night before and skip across the dark waters.  Come play with the happy children; hold my hand; let me look into your eyes. I will tell you everything.

Tord Gustavsen is playing on the stereo.   Jazz – that exquisite other worldly music that washes over me when I am covered with the dust of this potholed city – my very own secret passageway to a parallel universe where people sip vintage wine, keep their virtual wealth in their digital portfolios; debate the existential paradigms of life and death over pretty food and later ponder while savoring Italian espresso; why do they hack limbs in Africa?

Did you know that the skies are starless here? Opaque, unrelenting and sealed shut.  Not a shooting star. Not a glow of light. Not a breath of hope.  Just the moon at times rising up to take note of who was taken away in a wooden box earlier that day and tell the child witches sleeping in the cemetery on the Avenue of Independence to hush up before they are dragged away.

Smoke-filled heat choking by day.

Darkness gripping by night.

It’s the rainy season and the mist slowly descends on invisible lines of trapeze laying out warm, delicious beds for those elusive winged creatures. Wake up; they say in a muted buzz. Its time to multiply. Soon more will rise from newly hatched eggs to feast on the sun-scorched bodies of men, women and children whose bellies are half full of the same thing they had two days ago, black beans soaked up in dough. And that’s on a very good every other day.

They say God is Congolese.  But if this is his home, then surely he must have lost his keys.

Crystal drops from another world run unexpected up and down the piano, then holds to let the music breath; and I hold to listen through the colors of the open voicings. It has started to drizzle.  One. Two. Three. And suddenly the skies erupt like a madman and the flickering lights across the river drop into the mist and vanish in a blink. The heavens crack and a deluge is released breathless into the night; unleashing a mad rush upon the city, washing over the dust, washing over the disease, the cracked garbage strewn lives, washing away the enclave of squatters I see day after day in that eternally unfinished construction across the way; kicking over their rusted pots and those rags hanging in the gaping holes staring through the half mortared bricks in the exposed frames of their lives; washing away the gawkers, peddlers and the hangers-on sleeping in bundles; knocking over the phone card salesmen and the fixer uppers nodding off in their plastic chairs down on each street corner. This must be how the unwanted get recycled on this continent.

The sliding glass door to my balcony shimmers – then shakes violently; rumbling through the floor — a stern warning, a small reminder of my insignificance.

The music drowns in the steady drone of the deluge and a violent lash of lightening sends me cowering behind the kitchen counter for fear that the gods may shatter the glass and come for me. Thunder lashes again and again against the window and I am completely deafened to everything but its existence.

The parallel universe of those exquisite harmonies is light-years away; far, far in another time, another place where man is the master of his destiny and rules his world.  Even the illusion of control breeds hope I am told.

Here – in the heart of darkness – under the starless skies I am invisible and nature is the daily reminder that it holds all the cards.  Be silent and obey, it thunders.

You are nothing.

As much as man is dominant in that otherworldly plane, nature is the master here, reminding man of his insignificance every day; until finally — he knows it to be true.

When I leave I will cry and miss the rains.

Finally, I understand the quiet resignation in their eyes.

It has been a whole year.  And Africa is creeping inside me slowly … slowly… every day.


 

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