Authors: Karen Lord
Small Beer Press
Copyright ©2010 by Karen Lord
First published in 2010, 2010
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed
in this book are either fictitious or used fictitiously.
Redemption in Indigo
copyright (C) 2010 by Karen Lord. All rights reserved.
Chapters two, three and four of this novel are loosely based on a Senegalese folk tale set down by Leo Frobenius (1873-1938) in
Atlantis: Volksmarchen und Volksdichtungen Afrikas
, Vol. 6, (Jena: E. Diederichs, 1921-28).
Small Beer Press
150 Pleasant Street #306
Easthampton, MA 01027
Distributed to the trade by Consortium.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lord, Karen, 1968-
Redemption in indigo : a novel / Karen Lord.—1st ed.
ISBN 978-1-931520-66-9 (alk. paper)
First edition 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Author photo (C) 2010 by Risee N. C. Chaderton.
Cover photo (C) 2010 by Corbis.
A rival of mine once complained that my stories begin awkwardly and end untidily. I am willing to admit to many faults, but I will not burden my conscience with that one. All my tales are true, drawn from life, and a life story is not a tidy thing. It is a half-tamed horse that you seize on the run and ride with knees and teeth clenched, and then you regretfully slip off as gently and safely as you can, always wondering if you could have gone a few metres more.
Thus I seize this tale, starting with a hot afternoon in the town of Erria, a dusty side street near the financial quarter. But I will make one concession to tradition?
...?nce upon a time—but whether a time that was, or a time that is, or a time that is to come, I may not tell—there was a man, a tracker by occupation, called Kwame. He had been born in a certain country in a certain year when history had reached that grey twilight in which fables of true love, the power of princes, and deeds of honour are told only to children. He regretted this oversight on the part of Fate, but he managed to curb his restless imagination and do the daily work that brought in the daily bread.
Today's work will test his self-restraint.
'How long has she been??bsent?’ he asked his clients.
In spite of his tact, they looked uncomfortable, but that was to be expected of a housekeeper and butler tasked by their master to trace his missing wife, a woman named Paama. ‘Nearly two years,’ replied the housekeeper. ‘She said she was going to visit her family, but the entire family has moved away from Erria,’ the butler explained. ‘No forwarding address,’ the housekeeper whispered, as if ashamed. ‘Mister Ansige is distraught.'
Kwame eyed the pair, then glanced down at the papers before him. These were letters from minor chiefs and high-ranking officials politely demanding his assistance. If nothing else, Mister Ansige was well connected. It was a tawdry shadow of the power he had dreamed of—was the true love of this deserted husband similarly tarnished? And what of his own honour? He was very wary of trying to find people who did not wish to be found, but the names on those scraps of paper ensured that any refusal from him would not be quickly forgotten.
Fairy tales and nancy stories
, his adult self said, trying to sneer at these scruples before he had time to question whether it was cowardice or prudence that made him cautious.
Do the work and stop your dreaming.
'I'll see what I can do,’ he sighed with a faint grimace.
He had little choice. The rent of an office, even in a town like Erria, was more than his business could support, and he needed this case to conclude his affairs honestly before he could resume his itinerant ways. He yearned for those days of walking free, with not a townman to pressure him about which case to take and which trail to leave. Leaner days, too, if truth be told, but Kwame had always found liberty more satisfying than comfort.
his conscience murmured.
Do you want to go back, or do you prefer liberty, too?
While Kwame is sniffing out the trail of Ansige's wife, let us run ahead of him and meet her for ourselves. She and her family have resettled in Makendha, the village of her childhood. Much is familiar there, little has changed except, of course, for those who return.
Paama's father, Semwe, had left when a youth, returned, then left again when a man. Now an elder, he will never leave again??t least not the mortal part of him. He had wanted this final return to be a peaceful retirement; he acknowledged with regret that it was a retreat. The townhouse in Erria had lost all peace with regular visits from messengers bearing Ansige's variously phrased demands for Paama's return. Semwe refused to argue with such a man, preferring to go to a place of quiet and safety where unwanted company could be more easily avoided. In a town, houses crowd together and everyone is a stranger, but in Makendha, a stranger was anyone who could not claim relation to four generations’ worth of bones in the local churchyard.
Semwe's wife, Tasi, was coming to Makendha for the second time, no longer the timid young wife, but not yet the matriarch. She needed grandchildren for that, and how, she murmured, blaming herself, could she get those while her daughters stayed husbandless? She had no hope that Paama's marriage could be salvaged. She had chosen poorly for her first child, and she only prayed that she might choose more wisely for the other. Paama at least had strength and experience to sustain her, but her sister, Neila, ten years younger, had only a combination of beauty and self-centredness that both attracted and repelled. She took the move from Erria as a personal attack on her God-given right to a rich, handsome husband. Tasi deplored such selfishness but silently admitted that prospects in Makendha were certainly limited.
And what of Paama herself? She said little about the husband she had left almost two years ago, barely enough to fend off the village gossips and deflect her sister's sneers. She didn't need to. There was something else about Paama that distracted people's attention from any potentially juicy titbits of her past. She could cook.
An inadequate statement. Anyone can cook, but the true talent belongs to those who are capable of gently ensnaring with their delicacies, winning compliance with the mere suggestion that there might not be any goodies for a caller who persisted in prying. Such was Paama. She had always had a knack, but the promise had come to full flower through constant practice. It was also a way for her to thank her family. Life, even life without grandchildren and a pair of rich, handsome sons-in-law, could be sweet when there was a savoury stew gently bubbling on the stove, rice with a hint of jasmine steaming in the pot, and honey cakes browning in the oven. It almost cured Semwe's stoically silent worry, Tasi's guilty fretting, and Neila's bitter sighs.
Besides, it kept Paama busy enough to ignore the nagging question of how she was going to tell Ansige she was never coming back. She will have to consider that question soon, for efficient Kwame has already traced her whereabouts and, not without a qualm, reported to Ansige.
And Ansige, in his desperation, will not be sending messages or servants this time. He is coming to speak to her, face to face.
'Is that the one?'
'It is. She is.'
'I don't see it.'
There was a meaningful silence. It said a lot about what might not be seen by such minor beings as the first speaker. The quiet rebuke was absorbed with equal quietness, and then the first speaker tried again.
'Ansige is on the way. He is coming to fetch her back.'
'Delay him. She will be strong enough to deal with him by the time he arrives, and she will only grow stronger from there on. Then, when they meet, watch, and you will see. She alone can safely wield the power that I shall take from our??ormer colleague.’ The last two words rode on the breath of a regretful sigh.
'Will you really? I mean, to involve a human! Are you certain?'
'I am certain that Paama can wield it, and I am equally certain that
must not. Isn't that enough?'
Another pause, then, ‘He is going to be very angry. He will try his utmost to get it back.'
The reply held a subtle glimmer of a smile. ‘That is indeed my hope.'
These two unknown figures have plans for Paama, fate like plans in which Ansige, if he is not careful, will be brushed aside like a fly. It is the pause point of the wave at its crest, the rumbling of a distant storm, the thrill in the backbone when the eyes of the predator glitter in the moonlight from the darkness of the trees and tall grass. Something is going to change, and it is for you to judge at the end of the tale who has made the best of the change and of their choices.
Why did Paama leave Ansige?
There are men of violence. There are men who drink. And then there was Ansige, a man with a vice so pathetic as to be laughable. He ate; he lived for his belly. No one would believe that a woman could leave a man for that, but before you scoff, consider this. With his gluttony, he drew in other sins—arrogance complicated by indolent stupidity, lust for comfort, ire when thwarted, avarice in all his business dealings, and a strange conviction that always, somehow, there was some undeserving person who had more food than he did.
I can hear some of you complaining already. ‘A woman who cooks and a man who eats should be a match made in heaven!’ Do you really think so? Then you have not grasped that Ansige was not an epicure, but a gourmand. Paama's talents were wasted on him.
Whatever his faults, he was not yet so far gone in discourtesy as to try turning up unannounced. Unfortunately, the messenger who brought the tidings to Makendha made sure that everyone knew, and wherever Paama went, she heard this half query:
'I hear that your husband is coming to Makendha.'
Paama's usual response to this was to breathe deeply, gather herself, and beam forth a brilliant smile. ‘Isn't it marvellous? When I visit my family he gets so lonely. He cannot do without me.'
Any gossip thus treated would then tilt her head doubtfully, smile uncertainly, and go away dissatisfied. The village longed for word on just what was the situation with Paama's marriage, but no-one could break past Paama when she decided to be earnest. She had the talent of speaking many things with little meaning, the gift of red herrings.
Fortunately she did not have to red-herring the gossips about the date of his arrival. Ansige was one week late, turning up all but unexpected, looking around for his welcoming committee. But no, before we describe his arrival, it would be worthwhile to relate the event that caused the delay, for it was rather unusual and makes a good story in itself.
Ansige had set out with an entourage as grand as any minor chief. He had a veritable herd of quadrupeds—eight mules for his baggage and one horse for him to ride. Amid the baggage were bundled sections of wood which, when assembled, would become the light carriage in which he would make his grand entrance into Makendha.
He couldn't help himself. His mother had been the daughter of a minor chief, and she had carefully instilled in Ansige an understanding of the importance of importance. Dutiful son, he followed this instruction to the letter, for the longer the baggage train, the more of his favourite foods he could carry with him.