Tell the Lady on the Bench

Photo by Amy Muhoro

Tell the lady on the bench in the church gardens that I like her hair. When she turns to look at you, confused and about to ask you who, tell her I am the lady who saw the fire of Friday the 27th. Tell her I was the one that saw that the fire was not just a fire, the one who saw how her boyfriend gripped the matchbox in his hands, squeezed it tight when he thought no one was looking. But she and I were looking. We looked, and boy, didn’t we see. Tell her I know we both saw the anger in his eyes when he saw her, standing outside with me, realizing that it was only their house that had burnt down after all. Tell her the chill ran down my spine, too, when we saw the failure register in his eyes, and determination rise again in its place.

Fix the sleeve of her blouse as you tell her that I, too, saw how his smile could carry everything. I, too, loved how he laughed when he came to my shop for the buns he bought for her. He always smelled good. He was always so good. Do you see him—her boyfriend is the man from House No. 40—with Nancy’s baby? Hold that wonderful lady and tell her that no, this is not enough. Remind her to look at her wrists and see that they are not bound, tell her to shake them and realize that they have always borne freedom, and that even marriage would be no excuse.

Tell her that we cannot sleep when she screams. Tell her we all go to our windows, look at hers for a moment, and then let the cowardice win. Tell her we do not like to know about the demons beyond our doors. Even so, we know of the silence that might one day follow the scream, and somewhere in our hearts, in our own weak ways, we are thankful for that nightly sound, familiar and shrill, because it tells us that she is still with us, that she still has a chance.

Tell that lady not to be afraid of what she means. Tell her not to be afraid that she carries intelligence and grace and religion. Tell her not to be afraid to let these mean something, to raise her chin when she speaks. Remind her that souls are not sold for love. Ask her what is so frightening about standing without a man – wouldn’t she rather stand? Make sure she doesn’t think she can rely on us—no—I will not lie that I am here for others.

Will she listen to you? Will she listen the whole way through? I don’t know, but we need only try.

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