And as he gazes at her, their soul-child is conceived
(Henri Michaux, Life Within the Folds)
That day as she finished weaving the few meters that would wind seamlessly around her body, she tied off the threads and eased the fabric from the loom to hold it and marvel at its lightness. Her hands beneath its sheerness had turned blue. She placed it over her face and looked through it at the softened outlines of objects. At her slightest movement it whispered, speaking to her—of what? Oh, of smoothness and heaviness, silkiness and slipperiness, richness and roughness, every possible physical sensation. It told her there was an infinite variety of caresses leading to an infinite variety of pleasures, that the different parts of the body were different kinds of fabric to the touch, and that if she wished, it would tell her . . . She didn’t blush. She knew exactly why it was telling her all this, why it was telling her the geography of her own body. The secret order it was giving her. She answered, listening to the detailed instructions of the fabric against her skin.
She saw the path of the man on his way toward her, striding out over the ground. She saw his tumbling curls, his boyish laugh, his bony ribs, his brimming eyes. She saw his hands. Just as she felt she could wait no longer nor imagine anything more, just as a warcry was about to fly free from her throat, from the darkest depths of the night there came a trickle of blue, seeping into the fabric, slipping into her body. The wind changed direction. Leaves flew free from the trees and blew against the window, clinging there like curious eyes. The time had come. She had been waiting so long for this. For this night unlike any other.
A night that eases itself over the village, so smoothly.
A brown grass snake of a night winding out from the hollows, slowly engulfing people’s minds, silencing them. Sleep takes hold of them just when they expect it least; as they lean over a plate of aubergines, as they settle into a wicker chair beneath an olive tree, the stiffness easing from their backs, in that same split second when a child’s voice calls through the torpid air. The villagers have had no time to be surprised by this drowsiness, leading to a dreamless sleep from which they will awaken rested from their fatigue. They wonder merely if this happy forgetfulness might not be a sign of something tragic to come, might not signal something harmful, or whether, on the contrary, something precious might have happened that they have allowed to get away from them. And yet this doomsday sleep that unfurled over them was greeted with relief, for they each had something to forget. A weariness that is impossible to be rid of and that grows heavier day by day; a piercing pain where the heart is, because life, and they have always known this, is a struggle. Why would they not be grateful for this miraculous forgetting in their lives, besieged by the walls of hatred?
She alone feels no fatigue. She sees night fall, another of those cloaking nights that favor lovers’ meetings, and something inside her begins to smile. Over the hills, with no other warning than the collective drowsiness of the villagers, he is coming.
He strokes the tips of his fingers across the scarf she offered him or that he took from her one day, as they were both waiting to cross, in opposite directions, the barbed-wire frontier that separates their territories. They did not know each other. Their eyes met, quite simply, and everything was said. The exchanging of the scarf is a mystery they haven’t yet plumbed: did she give it to him? Did he snatch it from her as he passed? They moved as one.
Since then, he has tried to read the mingled dreams and desires woven into the shadows and bright colors of the fabric, into the tiniest tracings of black in the midst of blue, revealing the fissures of her flesh; the silver of her saliva and her wetness; the splinters of angry red in the center of her maternal glow. She will not tolerate the slightest hesitation: if you doubt, do not come, she says. But if you are reading me with your deep eyes, it is because you do not doubt. Do not mistake any of my rhythms, because you are the one for whom this message was destined. If you hear a rushing river every time you raise my scarf to your face, to your mouth, then it is because you are the one.
She readies herself to go out.
She has taken off her clothes, her jewelry. She has loosened her braid. She takes the dream fabric and, in a single movement, like a scarcely stirring breeze, she winds it around her body. The fabric molds itself to her skin, to her curves. She is dream-blue. So light she can hardly feel it.
The door slams, the wind is heavy with muffled sounds, the silence is like a root working its way through the earth to rejoin the other root on the far side of the wall. She puts one foot on the bare earth, and it trembles. She moves slowly, she must not fall, must not lose her balance before that dizzying hole dug into her night. She is about to pass the point of no return. Outside, she feels the heat on her skin like a burn. The sweat pearls almost at once, leaving traces on everything she touches, outlining clearly along her path the rounded shape of her feet with their cushioned soles.
Outside all is still. Even the turtledoves are caught up in voiceless expectation. The olive trees spread their perfumed sap around her. She moves a little faster. Her steps become a race, then a dance. Moon, stars. Everything is there. The shadows are outraged by her brightness. Sweat keeps pouring down her back. Like insects giddily turning.
No branches, no twigs, the softness of grass under the bare soles of her feet, the suppleness of air. Tiny mouths sucking at her skin here and there. The acacias brush against her but do not scratch. Not tonight, something unique is happening, tonight.
Landing point, breaking point, she chooses the world.
She pays no attention to the tiredness of her legs as she walks, nor to the breathlessness that shakes her, nor even to the exhaustion of excessive happiness.
Only a few more meters now and neither she nor he knows it. Perhaps they have been walking in parallel for many long hours, beside the wall that seals off the village, and around which an extraordinary life is awakening, rich with fluttering colors. From time to time they hear, both of them, a little cry of impatience, sharp and shrill. They think it must be a bird or a mouse, and are briefly amazed that the cry is so heartfelt. But what awaits them is inhuman, inhuman.
Of one accord, they have stopped, hearing the mouse for the tenth time and realizing it is a human voice, crying out impatience, fear, emptiness. And that stops them in their tracks.
In front of a place where the wall, shaken by such innocence, is hollowed and gapped.
He is wearing his usual expression of a guilty child. The more he smiles, the more desperate he seems. Is it from fear of seeing his heart dig a little deeper, carving out an emptiness inside his chest, a strange kind of cavity, a hole into which she will be able to reach her hand and touch, touch again, those sensitive, burgeoning places that will make him die of happiness? He trembles in real fear.
What does he want from her? Does he even know? After such a long journey, he cannot tell what comes next. Does anything come next? Should they not both drop dead on the spot, to underline the tragedy of the occasion and the despair of what they have snatched away from the daily routine and the grey lives of people chained by their useless beliefs? To defy everything that tries to make them less than they are, is that not the only solution, the only way out? But there’s nothing tragic about what he feels. He has no desire to die. Living, at this moment, is looking. And so he looks, and he waits.
She too is waiting, with astonishing patience, waiting to unfurl. She reads the hunger within him that has always cut him off from everything and brought iridescent reflections to the emptiness of his dark eyes. Dug craters into his smoothest surface. Made his bony ribs stand out, hollowed his concave belly, drawn a bilious liquid from his organs. Grooved that constant bafflement between his eyebrows.
He was not made to live with such emptiness. To walk like this along a knife-edge, in his mind already falling. And so for a long time his expression was colored by resignation. He was not made to walk along this path of smoldering fires and buried violence. The soles of his feet, she knows, are so tender. (She would take them in her hands and rub them gently with her thumb, pressing down on the painful spots, below the big toe and at the base of the heel where he once stood on a thorn, unawares: from now on you will walk on my dreams, she tells him).
She can think of only one thing now. Quickly, to fill in, fill up, fill out the hollowness dug deep into his eyes, into his body, to cover the flayed flesh and its terrible pulsating, the retching disillusionment that takes him so close, so close to death even though he doen’t know this. Such pallor, in his eyes alone. To close those eyes by pressing her lips there, so as not to see that aching emptiness anymore. And to reach out her arms even further, to go beyond the absence that has scattered its burning salt deep in his heart, locating the vein that connects him to his body and instilling there her venom of life.
In her, he sees only one thing. She is life, life. In the fabric that seems to enfold her in just an idea of blue, no, a suggestion of blue, in the shape of her, so completely exposed, entirely tangible, behind which layer upon layer can be guessed at, organic, no less living, in her mouth that receives his breath as it flows through the hole in the wall, and drinks it in, in her eyes and her forehead and her nose and her smiles, there is life, nothing but life.
Is that not enough? What else do we need, dear gods! What else do we need beside this improbable life here on this planet, the meetings that take place between the trunks of the olive trees on a night when the rainy moon casts its halo; this hole through the heart of a wall built by centuries of distrust, and that now dares to present, to offer up this face, the face of a wholesome angel, angel of flesh, angel of earth, who at this very moment is consecrating it and baptizing it with her sweet saliva?
Pressured by this gaze, the hole becomes wider and wider, cracking and groaning quietly. A little wider, just a little wider, just far enough to see a surprised face, alarmed and joyful, a little wider, just a little wider, to reveal the rest, because a head without a body is not enough for the overflow of love that unfurls from them, they must embrace even more, and still that is not enough, they each want to see the world as it is contained in the whole of the other.
When they are completely visible through the hole, now become an oblong opening as tall as a man and as wide, a tunnel dug through the wall that might be five or ten meters deep, what does it matter, even one meter would still be too much for them, they smile at each other. She knows, when she sees him, that he was the one in her heart as she wove the dream fabric, he and his youth, he and his slenderness, he and his beard-blued cheeks, he and his constellations that she cannot yet see but whose existence she guesses, that she knows must be there because she knows everything about him, immediately and in detail, with love’s wondrous intuition.
Now she understands his hunger. It is the hunger of a man who has refused barriers. The surfaces of his body are lacerated by the bitterness of the wall, and a great empty shape has grown within him, an emptiness that cries out unceasingly, that groans and moans and growls and complains, a concave shape with smooth surfaces, a double emptiness faithfully copied at this moment in his gaze. She sees it and knows what is needed, knows exactly what has the right shape and density to fill it.
Her eyes fixed on his, she barely touches the fabric that covers her, the tiniest movement, and away it slips, it slides easily, happily, created for precisely this, it falls free, flies away, swells on the wind, a cry muffled by the velvet night, in this brief moment it has dissolved, only the grass remembers it as it mingles with the threads. She has no need of it anymore, the night is enough to both cover and reveal her, the fabric that now lies spread in open folds is beyond her dreams and Here I am. The man opens his mouth, she fills it, and the miracle of his hunger reaches its peak then is satisfied, slowly, curling in on itself like a wave.
He gazes at her, dreams her, contemplating this infinity that he could scarcely contain in the palms of his hands, knowing that the shape of her is perfectly matched to his, the opening of her mouth, her hollowed belly, her coiled tongue, the bowl of her wide palms, they will fill him as no vase has ever been filled, will press against him, penetrating deep into his every crevice until there is nothing left of the desolate notes that have forever played in his head the music of absence.
She is there, brown-skinned, vast. The picture of womanhood. Ochre smell of her skin, mingled with sweet perspiration, reaching him. He drinks in the wind and turns himself inside out like a glove to show her the inside of his body, all those surfaces waiting to receive her, his flesh stripped bare, his naked being. He slides over her like oil. From a distance, from a distance. In the openng in the wall, the impossible awaits. Will he be able to reach it? He doesn’t know, doesn’t yet dare. She hasn’t yet beckoned to him. She waits, the woman.
The man’s eyes cannot take it all in. Bit by bit, he murmurs, piece by piece, and that way each second will last a lifetime, and each separate part will be a world to discover. She smiles, says ‘yes’. Raise your arms, he says. She raises her arms. Turn around. Dance.
He shines bright, so bright that the moths awaken.
From a distance, the gaze is everything, it replaces the other organs, unites all the senses and crosses the chasm. They need nothing else. They know instinctively that it is pointless to try to go through the wall. As soon as they look at the hole, they see the uncertainty and doubt that would contaminate them if they tried to go beyond. Their passage would be a lifetime: their lifetime together, at first explored by the joys of its beginnings, then tortured by knowledge, then come to grief on the reef of misunderstanding. They do not want to follow this way. The moment is enough. I am here, right here, now. Noone else. At this precise moment, you are the world. No past, no future. Present. That is enough. In the present I am entirely yours, I offer myself to you in this present that has become eternal because it contains all of me. The resolution of time, of every second of my existence, of everything I have been and will be, the resolution of all my beings. Into one, here and now. Present.
The gaze is plunging water. She is large, calm, open, he is sinuous, viscous, able to infiltrate, able to examine the tiniest fragment of her shadows.
And from now until morning comes, he has all the time he needs to examine the immense nakedness of this woman.
When it rains in the night like showering heat, they will roll in the mud loosened from the riverbanks and laugh.
The rest of the rain will wash them and make them glow like burnished copper.
In the morning, he will tell her he can wait no longer. By what miracle he did not find release the moment he first saw her, he will never know. But in the morning, he will be able to wait no longer. She will gaze at him, missing nothing, not a sigh, not a shiver, not a grimace of pain, not a teeth-baring laugh, not an enfolding hand. And at the exact split second, she will reach out her hand, she will say, give it to me. The hole in the wall, narrower. He reaches out. She doesn’t yet know if she has the right. If her hand will be crushed by the forbidden passage the way she senses their bodies would be if they tried to go through. No, their arms move forward, sensing that it is time to cross over. A thick, spongy fog, a cloud of unreality and impossibility. Their hands travel toward each other. Their bodies remain separate on either side of the barrier. The hands arrive, they touch. One tips into the other the night’s offering. The other withdraws and carries the substance to the place where it should have been, to the place where, still living, it will move to meet its maternal space, to the place where she will finally create for him his soul-child.
Rain, for a long time. The two of them, lying peacefully on either side. Listening to the leaves beating out a thousand silences, listening to the strange absence of life inside the wall, sensing that there is where everything is pouring out that could have saved them from disaster, that the wall is soaking up and breathing in all the living burning energies, and that everything has been said, already: one day, there will be nothing left, and its inhabitants will have been wiped away so completely that it will be as if they had never existed.
She knows this. The man too, he knows this now. They were made for this one meeting, there will be nothing more. Taut threads still attach him to the path he followed to come here and to the uniform he cast aside and that he will refuse to ever wear again. And she . . . The evidence of the wall that surrounds her cannot be denied. It has stood between them for generations. It hurts him deeply, but he can do nothing about it. The threads, elastic, pull them back. Their time is over.
He sits up, still gazing at her. Her eyes are open, but she seems to be sleeping. Even without the fabric, her flesh looks blue in the pale light. Dream-blue, the color of her. Do you exist? Or not? No, he knows that his body did not dream this upheaval.
He too has received something that fills him. He will never hunger again, as he leaps to his feet and sees the hole closing slowly, slowly, crushing his heart, but he is not really saddened because what he has received is forever. The gift will not be taken back.
He breathes in, smelling such a strong odor of femaleness that it makes him dizzy. Then he goes on his way, troubled by that perfume of bursting ripeness.
The wall trembles, defeated by so much love.
© Ananda Devi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 Jean Anderson. All rights reserved.