When she goes to the city she leaves me lounging in the swing underneath the oak tree. She visualizes me as a shadow, as her car zooms around the curves that take her rapidly down the mountain. She is listening to a music I have not heard in many years. At first I think it is Portuguese fado; then I realize it is flamenco, which is also characterized by passion and profound sadness. She moans along with the woman who is singing-wailing, her hands gripping the steering wheel to the plangent cries of the singer and the sobbing of violins. The momentum of her flight sets the old swing to rocking. Her car is old and black. It was another expression of my effort to contact her.
She was not even aware at the time of my death that she missed me. Poor child. She did not cry at my funeral. She was a stoic spectator. Her heart, she thought, was closed. I watched her looking down at me, the father who gave her life, with the passivity of one who has borne all she intends to bear. She did not even bother to smirk as platitudes about me - most of them absurd - filled the church around her. When an especially large falsehood was uttered - that I would never have hurt a fly, for instance - she merely closed her eyes. At the gravesite she clutched the arm of her Greek husband, with his hard curly hair and black mustache, and, leaning as if to whisper in his hairy ear, discreetly yawned.
She did not know of my sorrow, dying. Poor child. How could she know?
That night, eating a pomegranate seed by seed beside the fire, she did not miss me. She felt rather as if something heavy and dark, something she could never explain, had rolled away, off her soul. Shameless, curious, forsaken somehow, I watched her and the Greek husband, late into the night, make love.
The recent stirrings that intimated my presence began with her desire to know about angels. Where they come from in the imagination, why people in all cultures find it difficult if not impossible to live without them. Is the angel in the imagination a memory of a loved one who has died? Is the angel an earth spirit existing in its own right, touching us with the benign blessing and direction of Nature? Why was she dreaming of angels every night?
She and the Greek went to Kalimasa. This was before tourists exhausted the public Kalimasan spirit, and there, everywhere, in everyone's home, flew an angel. Watti-tuus, as they were called. Some of them were simply winged women, with a woman's hands and eyes and feet. But some were winged mermaids, their bronze scales dusted with gold. Some were white as apples; others as brown as shining earth. She was-my daughter, Susannah-enchanted.
The Greek, Petros, was charmed by her passion. I watched as he fed himself full meals from the store of her enthusiasm. She was radiant and sensual. I saw that first time in Kalimasa that she was, as a woman, someone I truly did not know.
Petros bought an angel for her, a watti-tuu, as a surprise. It was a dark-haired, dark-skinned, full-breasted woman, with a belly filled with small people, tiny houses, birds. Its wings were painted shimmering green. She laughed gaily, as she had as a child. She clapped her hands. Joy radiated from her eyes. This was the spirit I had not seen for decades. I recognized it, though. And drew near to it, as if to a fire. I saw her frown, suddenly, as if aware of my shadow, and I hastily and regretfully withdrew.
The second time she went to Kalimasa, Petros did not go. She had lost him back in the States. This time she traveled with a woman who dressed inappropriately for the culture, and wore her bathing suit all day long, and accepted motorcycle rides from the local village males, who were losing their modesty and learning to take whatever pleasure came their way from the shameless tourist women. This woman, though good in bed, so irritated my daughter that she remained in the guest house they shared, day after sultry day, a blue linen sheet drawn taut over her head.
Use of this excerpt from By the Light of My Father's Smile by Alice Walker may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Alice Walker. All rights reserved.
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