Chapter 18 -Eloisa
You can live in a place, or know a person, for a very long time, but until you have made a commitment to be there, your capacity to see the full breadth of its beauty is limited: your hands cannot touch what your heart does not feel. Eloisa, who adopted stray cats and little plots of grass and trees, had a habit of talking out loud to herself in a way that made people wish she were conversing with them. As if she recognized, acknowledged, and validated the presence of a host of life forces, people were incidental to her conversations.
She appointed herself as a sentry of the neighborhood, every morning, greeting the day and the inhabitants of the block. Some responded, some did not. In particular, she noticed her. The look of abandonment and forlornness drew Eloisa in.
“Hey, girl, morning to you.”
“You doing okay?’ Silence, no movement, no response. Neither offended nor deterred, she needed a better look at her. Close up she was able to assess her general appearance: ashen, brown, scaly, things growing out of cracks and crevices that shouldn’t be. Eloisa thought, “I just need more contact, to sit with her for a while.” So for the next few weeks Eloisa pulled up a chair between the stillness and dawn and sat with her. She just sat until she felt some movement.
Eloisa began to gain a sense of this body as they both dwelled in the stillness. Soon, Eloisa felt that this forgotten soul trusted her to penetrate her depths. What Eloisa found was not stunning or grotesque but expected. Chards and twisted memories deposited in steely cold metal, broken glass, wires, old Tonka toys wedged throughout her body. However, beneath the surface she found rich veins indicating hope of revival. She was responding and beginning to reveal herself. The minerals of life were present but imbalanced.
Still, she lay, but Eloisa heard her call. A vacant life juxtaposed to one once valued and vibrant.
“Okay, okay, we’re going to get you together, m’fille. Lord knows what you seen, but you gotta get up. You got a lot of life to live and give. Now drink.
Every morning, Eloisa made her drink copious amounts of water until she showed signs and her old dusty body smelled of rehydration.
“M’fille, como ça va? You’re coming along. Today I could smell you before I saw you.” Cackling at her own joke. “I knew you could. Sure, we’ve got a long way to go but let’s not lean too far in the future. Look at you now. Look at your rich color. You are the cat’s meow m’ami. Let me tell you a story I heard, when I was a girl, while we work.
“A long time ago when people were still enslaved in this country and very mistreated, there were people who could fly. These folks came over from Africa. Many of them were killed or died in the crossing but some of them survived. When the night fell, these people would take to the sky looking for ways to get back home or to the promised land.”
She pulled out a small wagon tied to a piece of twine and tossed it onto a pile of other junk.
“Once the other enslaved people found there were people that could fly, they made a deal. The nonfliers protected the flying folks from being discovered by the plantation owners. Now the white people had heard about the fliers, and a few even caught glimpses of them at dawn or dusk, but none ever got caught. The fliers took many precautions to hide their pretty white wings and to be home before daylight. On one plantation, only one flying folk was left. The enslaved people had high hopes that that flier would be able to find them the way out of there. Find their way to freedom. So there was a lot of pressure on that flier. One night the flier got carried away and flew a bit too far.”
Eloisa paused to wave to some neighbors walking by. She checked the position of the sun in the sky as well.
“She returned just after day break. An ole’ mean hand of the master’s saw her. He couldn’t make out if she was a she or a he but he saw the wings and the body in the sky landing in the fields. He reported it to the master and he and the master came down to the quarters and questioned everybody. Nobody gave up any information though. The master started getting real mad and said that he was going to come down every evening to see
who was going to take flight. Fliers can’t stay put on the ground for too long. They don’t know how. After the master was gone the enslaved folks gathered to figure out what they were going to do. They were confused and afraid, so they went to visit the old blind African that lived deep in the woods.”
Eloisa chuckled as if she were coming up to something good in the story.
“He was too old for working and posed no threat to the white man, so they let him alone. His name was Lucretius. They told him what had happened and asked for his help. Lucretius told and showed them what to do and they did it. First they went around collecting and plucking as many feathers as they could. Next they got to finding several sitting-sized stumps and placed them in the fields. Lastly, and this took practice, Lucretius told each of them to imagine they had a tail that wrapped around the earth’s core; he said heart but I think we understand it better as core. That night when the plantation owner came down to the field he found all the enslaved people sitting on stumps in the field with wings on their backs in a meditative state. The flier had learned how not to fly by connecting herself to the earth. After coming for a solid month’s time the plantation owner decided that the plantation hand that reported the incident had been seeing things. He chalked up the incident to mistaking a simple slave ritual with the supernatural. Because the flier hadn’t flown for so long she was able to fly faster and farther. The first night of her flight she found a way to Ohio and led those Negroes to freedom, the whole mass of them.
“Aint’ that something? Sometimes you got to ground yourself first, before you take flight.”
By the time she finished the story, she had pulled the majority of weeds growing out from the crevices in front of the lot.
Sometimes she would sing to her when she extracted scraps she thought held delicate memories. Then sit with her, holding the extracted belongings, as the earth moaned and then closed in on the cavity.
Eloisa always started early in the morning before the drunks and pimps were up; that time of day when a veil of grey forgives ugliness, and forms are just that before discernment.