As a writer, I have been trying to explore new forms throughout my career; I’m excited by taking risks with form and media. As such, I’ve looked to publish my words through music, film and in performance. The Tapestries below in this blog are an early attempt at digital storytelling. One of the stories I used in the recent work in progress of my new show ‘Superheroines I Have Known & Loved’, and also as a Tapestry (below on this blog), was that of a story called Saffron; I include it here as text.
Though, in my opinion, the piece works better when performed as spoken word (we juxtaposed it with music well recently, and I’ll be looking to record the piece as audio and video in the next month, which I hope to incorporate into a form of digital storytelling).
Her name was Saffron. She was lush. From lash to blush, with bee sting lips you screamed to kiss, her voice buttery, sweet liquorice, dark honey – gyal was crisp. A witches brew. A kind of blue. A darker hue. A velvet sheen more commonly seen in kings and queens of Eritrea. Sand dunes rippled and spooned in her triple dip; a sliver of a Shiva moon tucked into birds nest hair. She dressed her “irregular” body type however-the-focaccia she liked, be it bowler hats, baseball caps, silk tights, or the snakeskin boots in which she loved to dance. She was a buffalo girl in a buffalo stance.
And despite her chocolate skin, her hair was ninja, touched with a tinge of the ginger.
Called Saffron on account of her red top. She was the sun; a matchstick. And the name stuck. She carried it with her through all of her days, heart ablaze, fiery mane cradled by the same rays that once saw Icarus tumbling down from the sky, for daring to fly without listening first.
And like that mythical son, she too was filled with unquenchable thirst from a tender age, which saw her drink books, forgo TV, and even leave her family, for she was intent on learning, and they were content as they were. Spending her life as a caged bird, filled with the burning that emerges if your yearnings rage unheard; this was never gonna be good enough for her; and so aged sixteen she scarpered. Got on a bus out of town; call it a magic carpet.
Over the course of her migration, developed an awareness of her status as an an immigrant, learning to straddle that gulf which lies in between songs of experience , and those of innocence. At first she was galled, wounded, appalled at the names she was called. Painted lady. Witch. Black bird. Dyke. Ginger bitch. Such is the power of words; such is the nature of spite, fear, jealousy, disdain and anger. They crawl under the skin, a cancer eating us from within.
Ah, Saffron. If only you could have had known at that tender age that what we focus on grows. That sometimes, all of us feel alone. That each of us struggles under the burden of troubles which even the people who love us know nothing about.
That though some things in life are indeed bittersweet, you were the heart of a beetroot, beat of a drum, drum of a stick, pick of the catch, star attraction of that travelling circus of freaks proud… proud of the idiosyncracies which them apart from the crowd.
Saffy built a thorny fence around her tender molten centre; necking pills to dull the senses, weekends spent on whisky benders. She’d consider it a success if evenings out ended with her getting laid. But often she’d lie in her bed, curled up and afraid, scribbling love letters to herself on her arm with a blade. Endorphins coursed with every cut. With each puncture wound, she deflated, turmoil escaping her skin in a gaseous breath, a slice of enlightenment rising from the ashes of every self-inflicted little death.
One downcast day – the sky a concrete slab, a single shade of grey – a bolt of lightning lanced the boil that housed her pain.
That was the day her daddy left without saying goodbye.
She choked on the words which stuck in her throat when her family wrote that her leaving was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Stricken with remorse at the loss of his daughter, Jack had slowly slipped away, consumed by entropy and decay, until a final, fatal, heart attack.
Saffron and Jack cut were magnets. Put them together and they’d repel. Neither realised that what they despised in each other, they nurtured in themselves. She questioned why he couldn’t be more loving; he dismissed her as judgmental and stubborn. She tolerated him at a distance; the odd phone call at Christmas, or Father’s Day; but she loved him with the passion that one can hate a man, so her heart split apart when she heard he had passed away.
And so, on the evening before his cremation, took a swig of vodka from the bottle as libation, poured a drop to the earth to wet the teeth of the ancients, and caught a bus back home.
It was the month of October and the sky groaned. Trees mourned to the breeze, their leaves on fire, blazing. Blushing. Peach and plum, cherry and ruby, auburn, gold. Suburbs set alight, in a prelude to the night of Halloween, when the veil between angels and demons is diaphanous, gossamer, thin as a dream.
Saffy stood on the verge of a familiar threshold. Surprised that it still fit, she turned the key in the lock of her family home. A prickling of skin. The past came flooding in. She felt all of her yesterdays unfold. Climbing the stairs, she passed pictures on the wall. Her first day at school, pig tails, big smile, dressed in a pressed uniform. A Polaroid of her learning to walk. On a windswept beach, her in a mock fur coat, hugging Jack’s leg, freezing cold.
First floor; she passed her parent’s bedroom, and then hers. She rested her hand on the knob of the door, but as she started to turn it, changed her mind. There was something to be done before; someone else she’d come home to find.
She opened the hatch to the attic. Same as it ever was, bar a film of dust; static, born from the charge of memories untouched.
A lamp. Two armchairs. An ampl. Two fat wooden speakers. A pair of headphones; two turntables and a microphone. Each wall in the room stacked with records. Each disc a map of charcoal black, and every track a journey back towards that sacred place where music marries feeling to thought.
It was the one thing over which Saffy and her dad had never fought. It was him that introduced her to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and many more men she’d fallen in love with. You might say that they’d seduced her with their sound. Remember hearing your parent’s voice as a child, and how it made you feel at ease, how it calmed you down?
She thumbed through her father’s spells. Her heart began to race every time she pulled another memory of his face from the shelves. It was like holding her ear next to a sea shell; the smell of his aftershave, cool water drawn from a deep well. A half forgotten wave. A kiss. His stroking her hair. It was almost as if he was there, singing the song he’d sung to her as a child.
For hours, she retraced needle and stylus through dusty grooves of lacquered vinyl. That night, she travelled back through time and realized that she wasn’t alone.
As the music played, she cried and swayed in her father’s arms. She found him drowning in the sound of Sylvia Stryplin and Grace Jones; in Fontella Bass and Nina Simone.
Encoded in the static were patterns; bruises emphatically rendered by the musings of sirens who conjured the map of a territory she now began to recall. That night she discovered others whose lives had been scored with salt; others who’d feathered their arms with tiger stripes. In her father’s record racks she found a family who had, in their turn, been called bitches, birds, queers, nerds and other more insidious words.
Janis Joplyn, Joni Mitchell, Lauren Hill, Billie Holiday. Ani de Franco, Patti Smith, Alice Coltrane.
That night Saffy and her father re-acquainted themselves with outcastes, nasty girls, mistresses, hidden pearls;
And as she uncovered the bed-time lullabies which had taught her, as a child, to break free from the-tree-of-who-she-was-supposed-to-be, Saffron and her dad danced.
They rocked the bells to the break of dawn. They shook it like a Polaroid picture. They found the key to the part of their heart which unveils magic and mystery not only in love and in life, but also in loss and in grief;
For the passing of time teaches us so much. There is so much to learnt from living with pain. In watching our loved ones slowly slip away; in quietly sitting while daylight changes into dusk. When we die, we never really go away. Our love is transformed into sunlight and storms, and our memories charge the dust.
Last Friday, I presented a work in progress of a new piece of work ‘Superheroines I Have Known & Loved’ at Rich Mix in London.
Funded by the Arts Council, directed by Hetain Patel, featuring actress Delia Remy and a string quartet led by Amy May, the show was sold out.
As a work in progress, key to development for the future is listening to feedback from trusted others; A good (though heated) Q & A after the show was the beginning to this process.
All members of the audience received a book I published to accompany the show, which featured illustrations by Eugenia Loli.
One of the dilemmas surrounding the creative team was what to focus on, and to build the show around; should the show be for adults, or children? In the end, we reached a compromise which wasn’t perfect, but adequate for this stage in the process. The book was filled with children’s poetry, and the most well received parts of the show were spoken word pieces for adults, set to Amy’s brilliant score.
I look forward to speaking to many of the trusted friends who came to support the show, to receive their feedback on the presentation.