Impossibility of Return
Impossibility of Return
Where does a memory go? Through how many generations can a memory travel?
Arriving in Accra, Ghana, my skin prickled with the sensations of memory. An insistent niggle under the skin tells me that I have left something behind. I am haunted by memories that have no name, unquantifiable and shape shifting, forever squirming beyond my reach. Without reason, I felt an unassailable conviction that even though uncountable seconds and hours, days and decades have passed, I knew, without question that I had walked this land before. Some part of me tells me that I am “returning”, but to what exactly I do not know. Half-baked tales of brothers and sisters from the Americas “returning”, seeking out a Mother in Africa remind me that this is impossible. Africa does not remember her kin, instead we metamorphosis into the tribe of “how are you”.
How can I grasp this memory that remains out of reach? Hoping to transform my body into a conduit, I set my self in motion.
I have no hard-edged memory fuh sure of Accra being a location where my ancestors toiled, laughed and loved before their capture and eventual sale into slavery. There is no blood, no skin, no semen, nor torn clothing to be found. Everything that speaks of that is gone.
Grasp as I might, through the entrails of my mind, there is nothing but indistinct facts of a past ripped from history books. Footnotes on some page, which write of miscegenation, rape, bodies being sold, families destroyed but somehow survive. But the how and the why press down upon me now that I stand before the Slave Fort in Jamestown. This place has seen boats swelling with cargo of humans and today still swells full of life, uncontainable and inexhaustible life.
Those living lives in Jamestown do not remember me. There is no mirror image here, waiting for me to see myself as I may have once been, that self is lost to me forever. My skin has grown smudged with new lines, my veins filled with the bloodlines of Massa, shards of forgotten features leaving me unrecognisable to Mother Africa.
Accra makes me think of the Caribbean. The land seems similar. Like many early British colonial outposts, we are named for King James and bear the name Jamestown. Architecture of the colonies is fortified by plantations, forts, and slave lodges pockmarking the landscape, haunted by Massa and slave. Walking through these crumbling effigies, I feel a pull from my navel to connect with my ancestors, to retrieve someone I have left behind. Maybe that someone is I.
Stones holding up the remains of these monuments to slavery are crumbling, but life perseveres, finding ways to survive amongst the rubble. Families live in the structures that may once have held their kin, chickens amble by in search of grubs. Washing hangs on lines above tunnels, and girls find quiet spots to do their makeup before an assignation.
I felt a pull to press myself into the bones of the building, forcing my DNA into the stones and the dust. Leaning backward, pressing into, fitting my chinks into the crevasses of buildings, which had no right to survive. I tried again, willing my fingers, toes, hips and spine to arch against gravity and touch the curves of the buildings that once held slaves. Tracing ancestors in the buildings that had once held them captive, I felt the imprint of their presence in the hair, skin and blood that had long since turned to dust and was now all they had left behind in the Slave Fort.
Finding my ancestors in the dust, I connected with the detritus of life.