Winnie was happy. Life was good. She felt safe. Most of her family had survived the dark times, and her village had started to prosper. The stultifying drought, which had seemed to last forever, had been broken for some time with the rains now reliable, and the land producing ample crops. The national army had come and cleared the area of the remnants of a warlord’s militia, a machete-happy ragtag group of thugs who had terrorised her village on several occasions. She knew many of the women surrounding her today had been raped and otherwise defiled by them. She also knew in a few hours she would be escorted to her hut by her man – a good man of perfect teeth, skin as dark as the night and plans as big as the blue savanna sky. He had a small truck and brought in supplies from surrounding hamlets and farms to sustain the village market. His grand plan was to ‘poach’ the lucrative run into the coastal capital, and his plan included her.
Now that it had been stable in her region for some time, six months or so ago a white man the village respected had come for a visit. He set up a small garment making concern off to one side of the market place. It was little more than a few whitewashed walls covered by a rusty corrugated iron roof to protect the workers from the blazing sun, but for the first time in their lives many village women had a steady income to supplement their previous hand to mouth existence. A generator provided power for a dozen or so antiquated sewing machines, no longer required by a factory in a rich country. The white man had taught her co-workers and her how to use them, and the other skills needed to make this village industry a viable business. They cut and sewed woven cloth ferried in from the home weavers of the district on her man’s truck, and then dyed the results in the vibrant colours of Africa for selling across the seas.
A radio played the latest hit songs from down in RSA as she and her colleagues happily worked away at the allocated tasks, gossiping and singing along. Her job today was the dyeing. She had three vats of vivid colour to choose from – orange, red and purple. She knotted up the dresses of various sizes, bound them with twine, followed by the dunking in the vats. She then unwound them, laying the garments out to dry in the sun to produce the desired effect. She often thought of where they would end up. She knew wealthy western women on the other side of the ocean would buy them for far more than the few coins of local currency she received for her weekly labour. But she didn’t pine for anything more than a life with a man who soon hoped to be the contractor taking the finished apparel to the warehouses in the port – a plan that included her.
In her hand now was the smallest of small dresses. Being so tiny she took special care with it. She chose the purple for it, tied and scrunched it, dipped and placed it out with all the others. It took up very little room.
The ageing man wandered into the little shop on Gertrude Street, in Melbourne – one of those rich cities Winnie had vaguely heard of, but had no desire to see. The ageing man was on the lookout for something very special, for something very special had recently happened in his life. He had actually spotted another retailer’s window from a tram, had hopped off at the next stop and dashed, as much as his old legs could do that, back to it, hoping it would contain the prize he was seeking. He’d know it when he saw it; he knew that, but what exactly it would be he had no idea. Within the shop’s doors he looked and looked, but anything that remotely would express what he was feeling about this special event in his life was way too expensive for his limited means, and he left disappointed, a tad saggier than he had entered. He looked around him, and nearby there was a smaller shop, but one filled with exotica speaking to the ageing man of faraway places, objects the selling of which helped support people like Winnie and thousands like her. It was Sankofa Fair Trade. He saw within its walls much to like, all reasonably priced. He went to and fro, pondering on many wares, taking his time. This was so important. He had to get it right in his own mind. He knew whatever he purchased would be more than adequate in the eyes of others, but he wanted it to be the perfect conveyor of his emotions, his feelings for her – that special development.
It was Christmas Day, a sunny, delightfully warm day, not always the case for December on his island lying to the south of the big city on the brown river. His daughter had informed him that he would see something incredibly special on that day, and the ageing man was beside himself with expectation.
2012 had been a tough and wonderful year for his beloved daughter – and the toughness just would not seem to go away no matter how hard his heart wished it would all become easier for her. Still she had given herself, her man and him, something indescribably awesome. It was something just as precious as when, all those years ago, freshly minted, that same daughter had lain in his arms, mutely looking up into his eyes, as his did down on hers, and he had been infused with a feeling beyond love. He wasn’t so aged back then, but that feeling had lasted, and now it was being repeated.
The pregnancy to produce that precious imp had not gone well, but the ageing man’s daughter struggled so hard and by sheer willpower had made it happen. Tessa Tiger came into the world. The ageing man tended to call her the Poppet, after a painting he saw in a gallery on the same trip across the stretch of water to the city. As his daughter lived in another place, he didn’t get to see her or the Poppet as often as he wanted, but as each new image of Tessa came to him from cyberspace, he marvelled at how bonnily she was growing, how beautifully expressive was her face, especially those glorious blue eyes. He was joyous he now had someone else to love unconditionally till the end of his days.
Towards the rear of the shop the ageing man saw a rack of small garments, dresses and the like, for little people. He worked his way through them, eventually coming across a little tie-dyed number of purple hue. The aged man stared at it for a long time, trying to work it through in his mind. Tessa was a tiny mite back then. When would it fit – it would seem useless for a hoary Tasmanian winter. Being a mere male, he had no real notion of such matters. He placed it back and went on to contemplate other items, but nothing now seemed to gel. Soon the ageing man was back to the little purple dress. He retrieved it again, held it up, seemingly transfixed. Its price was a fair amount to pay for such a tiny scrap of material that may only be worn a few times over the course of a single summer, but still there was something in his mind that meant he’d give it a second chance. He took it to the counter where a woman, a womanly woman of certain years, served. The ageing man explained his conundrum, and knew in his heart of hearts that this particular woman would tell him straight, not fib and gloss for a sale. She reckoned, based on what he told her, it would be just right for the summer of that year.
The Christmas Day luncheon was to be held at the new home of his daughter’s in-laws, a couple whose company the aged man enjoyed immensely. He was especially grateful to his son-in-law’s mother, whose gentle ways and worldly advice had helped comfort his daughter so much in her travails. He was also drawn to her partner, a man of whimsy and knowledge who, like him, loved to smell the roses, glass in hand. The development of their new surrounds was only in its infancy, but the ageing man knew it already to be a place of warmth and peace he’d love to return to over and over again.
After arrival, he went inside the wonderfully wrought new abode and eventually the aged man’s daughter emerged with her. As was right the daughter’s mother had first dibs, and the aged man waited patiently for Poppy S’s turn. Eventually it came. At first she wriggled and wormed, arms a-flapping, chortling cherubically. Then she settled, looked up into his ageing eyes, and he into hers, and again he felt that wondrous feeling beyond love. She was perfect; every bit of her was perfect. It seemed to the ageing man that she had grown into a perfection far beyond his ability to describe with the written word, although he knew he would try over and over again. The ageing man felt that if he lived for another day, or for decades more, that, at the moment of their eyes meeting, his and the Poppet’s, another cycle in his life had been completed. And the little purple dress was the perfect fit for a perfect moment on a perfect day.
Thank you Winnie, and untold others like you.
Sankofa Fair Trade = http://www.sankofa.com.au/