NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire V. 16.1 - Page 9

But there was a less soft side to shadows, we soon realized. One day my brother and I met a man on a bike. He wore glasses with aluminum rims. He decorated his bike with aluminum-lined mirrors and gadgets that made strange noises against the wind. My mother was alarmed when we reported our encounter. Next time we sighted him, we should run into the shade of the nearest bush and make sure our shadows were fully covered by those of the bush. We soon learnt he was the most feared figure in the region, because of his command of shadows of humans. The man was employed in a nearby shoe factory, but, on the side, he worked as a consulting magic worker, and, for a fee, he could capture a client’s enemy by trapping his shadow, and then scratching it with a knife. Wherever the evil doer resided, he would bleed to death, that is, if he did not give up himself or give up his evil ways. Some even claimed that the captive shadow in the mirror would bleed blood. My mother did not think we were evil doers but she could not rule out an accident or sheer malice on his part. This confirmed what we already knew: there was, indeed, something to shadows. But we also wondered and argued about this, the ontology of the shadow. Was the shadow in the mirror or under the water the same as the ones that followed us? No, no, they could not be the same, I argued. The ones in the mirror looked exactly like our faces; the shadows that followed us were not an exact replica. The same for the ones under a clear water. My brother said they were really the same: water and mirrors were their real home. When we didn’t see them in the dark, it was because they had jumped inside their mirror and water residency. We did not see eye to eye over this, but we agreed we should try out the magic ourselves. Instead of trapping them in a mirror, we would go at the shadows directly. We borrowed a knife, but we did not want to stab a human shadow, least of all, ours, not even those of animals, because really we did not want anybody or any animal to die. Shadows of insects proved impossible to stab; they moved too fast for our hands. But we reckoned that those of plants and trees were fair game: their shadows were stationary, and really plants did not feel pain, although we had heard some trees scream, as they fell after adults cut them down with axes. To a mix of disappointment, and also relief, no amount of stabbing would make the shadows or the plants bleed. Well, trees and plants differed from humans and animals: they did not have blood to bleed. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE It was not only telling the time and its divisions. When it was very hot, we sat under the shade of trees, and it felt cool and good. When my mother roasted some potatoes in open fields, we preferred to eat under the shades of Mbariki plants. We soon realized other aspects of the shadow, the artistic. Storytelling was more profound and more enjoyable against the background of the playfulness of the shadows. Shadows created a magic softness around us. Sometimes we made our shadows wrestle with each other, obviously in imitation of our own wrestling. We tried other games with shadows. We turned our calico sheets, our sole items of clothing, into some sort of curtain by tying them between two poles against a light. One of us would stand stark naked behind the curtain, make faces, try many poses and posture, while the other, again stark naked, sat in front of the curtain and enjoyed the antics of the other that came across as shadows. We would change places, and continue the show. 7 We changed tactics or rather, our attitudes. Instead of capturing or escaping them, we found uses for shadows. We demarcated the passing of time by the length of our shadows. In the mornings, they were long on the ground. After the noon of day, they lengthened again, almost in the opposite direction. They were at their shortest in the noon of day. Rain and clouds ruined it for us, otherwise, when the sun shone evenly throughout the day, we were nearly always accurate about the time of day. We even made appointments accordingly. Let’s meet when the shadow is shortest. That meant noon. Let’s meet before or after the big shadow has swallowed all the other shadows. Really, we did not miss the fact that we had no watch on our hands or clocks in our house. Amazingly, we carried divisions of time, day and night even, in our shadows.