Excerpt of Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga
(Page 4 of 10)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
His daughter. He knew it was a daughter because of the last letter
he had received from Étienne Rameau, but he didn't know her name. The letter he sent to Étienne to read to Sibaku came back five months later stamped DÉCÉDÉ. Étienne, not Sibaku.
He couldn't make contact because none of the Mbuti could read or write, and they didn't have addresses. He couldn't call up a friend, because there were no telephones in the Forest.
He told himself that it was too complicated. But his daughter
had come to him in his sleep. In his dreams she looked like her
mother. Four feet tall. Bronze. Anthropologists often sleep with
the natives, but they never talk about it. It was unprofessional.
Regrettable. Always a mistake. That was the official line. But Sibaku
had been a museka - ready for sex but not yet married - and
could sleep with anyone she liked without being reproached, as
long as her lover made appropriate gifts to her father, which Jackson
was happy to do, presenting the old man with his second-best
knife, a C harmonica, and a pocket compass. The Mbuti practiced
exogamy, and Jackson was the only one in the whole band who could
have married her.
He wasn't worried about his daughter. She'd be taken care
of - mothered, fathered, uncled, aunted, cousined, loved. Soon it
would be time for her elima, time for her to become a woman.
In his dreams she was not unhappy. He didn't have to worry
about her. But she worried about him. Was he happy? Did he have
enough to eat? Did the forest where he lived give him what he
needed? Did the molimo come to wake up the forest where he lived?
In his dreams he could hear the molimo (grunting, growling, singing,
whistling, farting), waking him up just as his alarm went off .
But was getting married in the United States any less complicated
than going back to Africa? And would marriage off er what he was
looking for? And whom would he marry?
Actually there was no shortage of single women on campus, attractive
women his age who'd pursued careers instead of marriage
and family, who'd written books and secured grants and received awards and done all sorts of remarkable things, and who were ready to settle into companionable marriages. He'd enjoyed nondangerous liaisons with a number of them, before the Lyme disease, and his old pal Claire Reynolds was bringing another one over tonight. Claire, whom he'd expected to marry back in his early days at TF, had married a priest instead, an Episcopal priest, and had lived the sort of life Jackson had expected to lead himself, at least at the time, in an old balloon- framed Victorian monster with a porte cochere, two children, a dog. Well, he had a dog: Maya. Claire was always fixing him up. She saw her role as looking after Jackson. As an adult might look after a grown- up- but- not- quite- responsible child. She wanted him to live the life she was living and was always inviting
him to this or that special service at Grace Episcopal Church.
Jackson didn't mind, didn't mind that she'd invited herself and
her priest husband over for supper so that he wouldn't be alone on
his birthday. He didn't mind her priest husband, though he was a
bit of a dry stick. High church. The sort of priest who might have
gone over to Rome if an attractive young woman like Claire hadn't
turned to him for spiritual guidance.
Claire was bringing along a friend, someone new in the English
department who had the cry of the loons on her answering
machine. Jackson should call her, Claire said, just to hear it. But
he didn't call. Claire had offered to bring the meal, too, but she
thought her friend Pam would be more impressed if Jackson did
the cooking, which he would have done anyway, as Claire knew
So, there was Claire's friend in the offing. And there was Warren's
niece, Willa Fern. Jackson had promised Warren to look after
Willa Fern when she got out of prison. At least to keep an eye on her.
And Warren had hinted openly that she'd make a good wife, and
that he'd already spoken to her about the possibility of marrying
Jackson, though the reason she was in prison was for shooting her
husband, and as far as Jackson knew, her husband was still among
the living, still her husband, in fact. Warren had hired a lawyer to
help her file for a divorce, but then Warren had gotten sick, and the
divorce- and- remarriage plan had been put on hold.
Excerpted from Snakewoman of Little Egypt
by Robert Hellenga. Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hellenga.
Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.