NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 8

Without a Shadow of a Doubt: By NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O PHOTOGRAPHY BY LABUERO “RUN BOY RUN” CC BY-ND 2.0 HTTPS://WWW.FLICKR.COM/PEOPLE/9458417@N03/ My First Lesson in Art and Film. Njinjũ, my younger brother claimed he could catch his own shadow. Older by a year, I was not about to admit that I was any less able. A rivalry of sorts grew into a sibling race to be the first to achieve the feat. With the grim but eager determination of bounty hunters, we set out to capture our shadows. They proved very cunning. They would run away from us, but annoyingly kept the same speed as we did, accelerating when we did, slowing down when we did, and stopping when we did. 6 We decided to run away from them. The same pattern ensued. They followed us, doing whatever we did, literally at the same time and speed that we did it. Let us carry a load on our heads, in our hands, on our backs or drive a wheel, our shadows would come up with exact replica. On moonlight nights they were there, walking behind us, in front of us, besides us, mocking our failure to turn them into captives. We escaped them only when it became dark, initially a matter of pride at our doing, but as soon as we sat by the fireside, they were back. Alas, it was not we who had escaped them, but rather they who had hidden in the darkness only to reappear suddenly and dramatically at storytelling time. They played on the walls, on our faces, and depending on the flames, they would actually dance. Sometimes they would multiplicate themselves, and continue mocking us in moves and waves that seemed choreographed to achieve maximum mockery. Their disappearance in the darkness, however, gave us an idea on how to get rid of them. Under a big tree or thicket, the bush shadow swallowed ours; but as soon as we moved out, ours were back with us. Not sure who had tricked whom, we did not feel genuine triumph at the temporary success. We decided to study shadows. You cannot deal with an adversary you don’t know. We set about it with the meticulous care of research scientists. Trees, cows, goats, cats, frogs, insects, even wood and stones had shadows. Cars and airplanes too. Everything carried a shadow. People’s faces had little shadows under their eyes, ears, or shades that simply crossed their faces depending on how and where they sat and looked relative to the source of the light. There were a few discernible differences. While the shadow of a vehicle ran besides it, the one from an airplane in the sky ran on the earth. Same for birds; the body flew in the sky, the shadow ran on the ground, but so swiftly that we did not even think of attempting to catch them. The opposite end were the shadows of plants and stones. Unlike those of flying objects, which seemed able to detach themselves from the objects in the sky, those that belonged to plants did not move away, although they lengthened or shortened, depending on the time of day.