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African Writing Archives


Lauri Kubuitsile


Lauri Kubuitsile

Lauri Kubuitsile is a writer living in the Tswapong Hills of Botswana. Her short stories have appeared in New Contrasts, AuthorAfrica 2007 and Mslexia, among others. She has one published novella entitled The Fatal Payout (Macmillan 2005). Besides writing fiction, she is a freelancer for Botswana's only daily private newspaper, Mmegi, and writes educational material including radio lessons and is currently working on a series of textbooks. She is married with two teenage children.



 The Dandelion Wishers

"PADDY, are you stayin' till they come for me?" he asks for the hundredth time it seems.

"I said I would," I snap back and I'm immediately regretful of my impatience. It's only an hour, an hour and some minutes at worst. Can't I behave until then? If nothing else, at least for myself, for how I'll feel after if I don't.

He's lying on the top bunk and I'm sitting on the one and only chair in the tiny cell, a metal one, ice cold through my thin dress pants. Looking around, I wonder how he managed all this time in such a small space. I can just about touch opposite walls by stretching my arms out and standing in the middle. When we were boys together in the open, endless fields of rolling farmland, he was the one who couldn't be held. Not in the house, no matter how abominable the weather; not in the classroom, a dropout on the day he turned sixteen, or by the societal rules that defined a life he had no intention of following.

Jimmy-Ray - 'that wild one' - my mother used to call him, trying to frighten me from his side. If anything it pushed me closer to him. I yearned for his wildness. Sometimes, when I was near him, I could taste the metallic, electrically-charged bite of it on my virgin tongue. I had a physical need for him. But he didn't care one way or another. He was Jimmy-Ray, take him or leave him. I took him every way I could.

"You think her Ma'll be there?" Jimmy Ray asks, in a quiet, whispery voice. He's frightened, I think. Not frightened of what's coming. He's frightened that Silvy's mother will be there to watch him die.

"They'll let her come if she wants. Don't know if she'll want though. We'll have to wait and see," I say trying to find a way to ease his worries. Isn't that my job here? Not a time to be lying, though, I know that at least.

My mind slips to a recurring memory, a worn one I think of almost every day. It's of Silvy. She's coming around the corner at the big Chap's Supermarket in town. The sun is behind her so the details of her face are shadowed. She's wearing a thin cotton dress and the outline of her body can be seen clearly through it. It's erotic, both then and every time I've thought of it since, but the reason that it sticks in a permanent place in my mind is Silvy herself.

There she is walking, walking towards us with the sun pushing her forward, and at that moment, maybe it was the casual swing of her arms or that gangly way she threw her legs forward or the way she liked to tilt her head as if what you were saying was always absolutely unbelievable to her, I don't know, I don't know what it was, but that very moment, with the sun highlighting her body making it the permanent measure of perfection for all women in my life thereafter, that moment I knew Silvy was someone special. She hadn't even spoken yet in that deep, feathery voice she had. She hadn't licked her lips the way she always did with a quick flick of her tongue that would make my heart jump every time. She hadn't flattened me with her ideas so odd and unthought of she could have been from another country, another world. She had only walked from the sun into our lives, mine and Jimmy Ray's. It was the beginning of a path bringing us to this cell, to this day.

"Jimmy-Ray, you remember that first day, ..." I wonder now if it's right to talk about it. Thinking again I wonder when is the right time to speak about the things that have profoundly changed our lives, the purely truthful events, if not now, minutes before death? I continue, "That first day we met Silvy."

Jimmy- Ray swings his legs over the side of the bunk, jumps down and slides to the floor by my feet, stretching his long legs under the bed. "Sure I do, Paddy. Silvy was beautiful that day, maybe the most beautiful I 'd ever seen her." He smiles at me, his dark eyes sparkle when he remembers that day. "She was a stubborn one though Paddy. Even that day, do ya remember?"

She came around that corner and just stopped in front of us. We stood at our normal spot, leaning on Jimmy-Ray's car. Jimmy-Ray said to her, "Whatya doing there, Honey?" in his sweetie sugar girl voice. I couldn't have said that, but Jimmy-Ray talked like that to all of the girls and they loved it. With his dark, wavy hair falling down to the middle of his back and his heavy-lidded dark eyes fringed with thick lashes, he could have said just about anything and the girls would have come running. But for Silvy that kind of talking was not going to work.

She stopped in front of us and turned, the sun lighting up her ice- blue eyes and thick, red lips, she tilted her head and smiled and then said, "Screw you, Asshole." She was like a melt in your mouth chocolate truffle with a razor blade inside. And just like that truffle, you wanted her no matter the consequences.

Tears fill up my eyes when I think of Silvy and us so long ago. I blink them away and try to think of anything else. Jimmy-Ray is tossing a tennis ball he found on the lower bunk from one hand to the other. I watch and some minutes slip away. Minutes, one by one, slipping into history. How is it when your minutes are limited? When you know, you'll only live for 47 more minutes? Then what? Is it just blackness? Nothing. You stop. I watch the tennis ball moving from one hand to another. Hands that will stop. Those hands I've watch for so long, gone just to flesh and then soil and then nothing, gone. I won't remember them after awhile. I won't remember him.

"Jimmy-Ray, are you scared?" I ask.

"I don't know Paddy. Maybe not. I'm kind of tired. Tired of waiting, of living I guess."

I slip to the floor too, the chair scrapes against the concrete floor, the metallic sound hangs in the air. "Why Jimmy-Ray? People love you. Me, your mom. Don't you know that?"

"Sure, I know that." Though I'm crying he makes no effort to stop me, he never cared about other people's feelings, they were for them to sort out not him. "But that doesn't matter anymore, does it? You can still love me here or if I'm in a grave. Same kind of loving anyway, ain't it?"

I look at my watch, something I've been trying not to do but I don't want the time to disappear without me keeping an eye on it for Jimmy-Ray. I wipe my eyes. There's only thirty minutes left. I can hear people outside the window. They've been there for days, ever since the governor refused to waive the death sentence. They're carrying signs and singing songs begging to save a man who's just wishing to die.

Time is slipping away and I need to tell Jimmy-Ray something. The most important thing. The thing I think about every day, that fills my mind every night. "You remember that day with the dandelions," I start and immediately I'm there again. In the cold dark cell, I can feel the hot June sun on my arms, on my face. I'm lying back on the warm, musty grass along the river. Silvy's sitting next to me stringing dandelion stems together, making bracelets and necklaces one after another that she's putting on her wrists or around her neck.

"What ya gonna be Paddy?" she asks.

Jimmy-Ray's sitting on a tree branch hanging out over the slow moving river. "He's goin' to college Silvy, you know that. He's gonna be a lawyer, helpin' us sorry folks."

“I know that Jimmy-Ray. I mean what kind of person you gonna be? You're just a reflection. I wondered what kind of person you're gonna be when you start being you."

I remember how my heart was pounding high up in my throat like it wanted to choke me. I'd been hiding behind the brightness of Jimmy-Ray for so long, I felt cold and naked when Silvy pulled me out. If she could see me hiding, could she also see everything else in my mind? Could she see how much I desperately loved her?

"Silvy, you're so full of shit, leave Paddy alone," Jimmy-Ray ordered high from his perch.

Silvy picked up a dandelion gone to seed and lay back on the grass. "I'm going to wish my secret wish," she said. Then she puckered her lips and blew the downy seeds up into the crystal clear air. I watch them fly higher than I could have imagined. Whenever they tried to settle, an updraft would push them higher and higher. Silvy and I lay back, shielding our eyes from the sun, watching her wishes fly away to where they'd find a place to come true.

Silvy turned onto her stomach and leaned over me. She held a full white dandelion to my lips, her hand lightly touching my face. "Paddy wish for your world," she said softly so only I could hear. And I wished for every one of those seeds to make Silvy love me, love me not Jimmy-Ray. I saw us one day married, and she was as beautiful as ever and we were happy and we were in love. I blew as hard as I could. The cottony seeds flew up like rockets, up and up and Silvy lay back down and took my hand in hers. And I knew then, I knew for sure and certain that my dream would come true. Those dandelion seeds would touch the sun and come back carrying warm sun kissed dreams. I needed only to wait.

I continue, "That day Jimmy-Ray. That day was the best one of my life."

Jimmy-Ray tosses the tennis ball a few times then stops and looks at me. "Yeah, it was nice, that day."

I turn and look at him and say softly, “I loved her Jimmy-Ray. I loved her my whole life, even now. And that day, that day I thought she loved me too."

Jimmy-Ray holds the ball, his eyes looking down at it. "You know when you went off to college she cried. Cried the whole day. “

I'm shocked to hear those words. I never knew. They had both seemed so happy to me, standing next to my car loaded down with everything I owned, them holding hands and smiling. I had promised I'd be back for their wedding in the fall and they said they'd be looking forward to it. They looked so happy together and my heart was breaking as I drove away. How could my dandelion wish come true if Silvy married Jimmy-Ray? I had thought as I drove further and further away from them.

I thought of me gone, disappearing down the road and Silvy turning back into the house, locking herself in her bedroom crying the whole day. Crying the whole day for me. If I'd have known, what would I have done? Come back and married her instead? Betraying Jimmy-Ray? Giving up my hopes of graduating from college? Would I have done that if I'd known it then?

Jimmy-Ray tosses the ball again, back and forth, back and forth. "How much time left?" he asks, as if he's waiting for a train.

"Fifteen minutes," I answer. The time is going so fast. First Silvy gone, then Jimmy-Ray. What will I be without them, without him? What happens to the reflection when the object goes away? It disappears. Will I disappear as well?

I look at Jimmy-Ray and tears are rolling down his face, the ball still passing from one strong hand to the other like it's counting off the seconds. "You know she always loved you Paddy, don't you?"

I don't know what to do. I answer honestly, "No."

"That day, that dandelion day, Silvy also thought about it a lot. I think she was hopin' you'd believe it all and come and rescue her. Rescue her from me."

I keep quiet wanting to hear more. To hear every detail of Silvy's thoughts, every word she'd ever spoken in my absence.

"That day, Paddy, " Jimmy-Ray holds the ball. He's crying proper now. "That day I killed her, Paddy. She was leaving me. She was coming to you. I couldn't let her go."

I can't think. I react only. Reaching out for his neck, I grab it with all my might. I want to kill him. I want him to stop saying what he's saying. How could it be that as I waited my whole life for Silvy, she waited her whole life for me? Could life be so cruel?

Jimmy-Ray doesn't fight. He holds my hands like a lifeline, firm and loving, hopeful for relief. I can kill him, I know it. I can kill him for denying me Silvy, just as he had killed when he was to be denied her, but I let go and fall back against the concrete wall, breathing hard, exhausted from the effort, from the pain.

Seconds, minutes pass. Only the sound of my breathing becoming regular, and Jimmy-Ray's sniffling, drying up his tears, fill the dank air. I can hear footsteps, I look at my watch and I know they are coming for him.

I leep forward and grab Jimmy-Ray in my arms. Holding him tight, I whisper in his ear, “I love you Jimmy-Ray. I'm sorry, I should have saved us, saved us all."

The keys clank in the lock and I hold on to Jimmy-Ray. "We have to go now, " a voice says, pulling Jimmy-Ray to his feet. I sit listening as their footsteps disappear down the hall.

I lie back on the cold concrete floor and close my eyes. The sunlight dries my tears while Silvy holds my hand. The sky is littered with the flying cotton, thousand of them filling the air, their black seeds hanging at the bottom waiting to land somewhere far where they will take root and grow again. As I watch, my eyes squinting against the sun with Silvy's small hand, warm and firm in mine, the seeds fall back to earth, one by one, and lay still in the green summer grass around us.


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