REMEMBERING

            I don’t remember being bathed.

            I remember many things but not that.  No bathtub.  No taps.  No water.  Only that time in a black creek at night with water snakes swimming in-between my legs and mosquitoes pinching my skin in the cool night air.  A ferry boat brought us there, into the jungle, along the giant river.  Aboard, there was a man selling sweet bananas as small as my hand.

            My mother told me to use the soap and wash myself in the creek.  But I didn’t want to put my hands under the water, afraid of what I might discover.  Things.  Touching me.

            Back in the city, I lived in a house of men.  It was my grandmother’s house.  My grandfather lived there too.  Fathers and uncles.  Brothers and friends.  Drinking men.  Singing men.  Sad men. Angry men. Scary men.

            My grandmother cooked and cleaned for them.  Washed their clothes.  Buttered their bread.  My mother was there too but mostly I remember just my grandmother.  Curling my hair with a black comb by the kitchen sink.  Wetting the teeth and making long curly locks like the orange peels that hung from the ceiling in the corner by the door.  I knew when they dried my grandmother would grate them into a cake. 

            I remember hot tea with milk.  Pancakes shaped like balls, instead of flat.  The dark, salty taste of turtle soap.  Bread and jam for supper.  More tea.  I remember cockroaches climbing on walls, getting into the flour, flying through the air.  I remember playing hopscotch, dolls, marbles, hide-and-seek.  Sometimes we hid together when no one was looking.  Underneath the back stoop or in the crawl space under the stairs.  But I don’t remember stairs or a second floor, only that small space with little boys who smelled like mud and rain and sun.  They smelled like other things too but I can’t remember.  I know they smelled like me.

            One day, outside that house my sister ran into the street chasing white ducks.  A bicycle ran over her.  When she fell, it left a cut on her forehead that needed stitches.  They left a scar shaped like a crucifix.  Years later, when I looked at her and looked at that scar, I thought it might have been put there to mark all the bad things she’d done.  But she was only three.  How much bad could she have done?  So maybe it was put there as a reminder. 

            Years later, a fancy doctor tried to remove it.  My sister didn’t want to remember.  Not like me.  I remember everything.

 

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