In Dakar, here, these taxi are not like taxi in Shanghai. Here, they color of bumblebee. But they no move like bumblebee. Bumblebee have purpose; they serve queen bee and sting when trouble. These bumblebee here swerve in and out of lane, like they intoxicated and drunk, and give black smoke, black, like soot that sit on Yangtze on hot, humid day, like during summer. But, I never live by Yangtze. I only visit shores.
In Shanghai, taxi like these here in Dakar, no can be there. There, they green, some dark, some light, like different shade of jade you buy at street market in Shanghai. Here, there little jade on street. Really, here, I no see jade. Here, I see foot-bol jersey and dark brown sand art that artist make on square and rectangle wood and also I see scary mask from village. Our village mask, there, in Shanghai, for opera. Maybe, here, these mask for devil act, here. They too big. They too scary.
Eh, China, Nga def? I give you good price, bon prix, bon prix, pour vous, the black man, wearing Rasta cap with dreadlock stuffed inside, yell to me when I walk through Sandaga. Their clothes loose and baggy and busy, not sophisticated like Shanghai man. Psst, psst, China, come look my stuff, they say once, but never twice. They only look twice at Toubabs and follow them through the streets, and shake their hands, and give sad vendor stories, I give good price, madame, sir, do you have Senegalese wife, make me offer, life is very difficult here in Senegal, I want to go to America, can you help me get visa, I have to feed my family, good price, good price, bacc na, waaw. I hear when I walk.
That never happen, there, in Shanghai. Here, I walk fast through market, too fast. I only stop when I know I have to buy something for Shen, my baby. I only stop to bargain with my CFA I hold in pocket. It heavy, but no jingle much. It too heavy. This money, here, have large numbers – 100, 200, 250, 500 even I see. In my city, in Shanghai, we see 1, 2, 5 on our coin. Our coin have much detail. Here, I see same octopus on every coin. Every coin.
Shen, he no baby now. Now, he four year old. But, he always be baby to me. I hope he go back to Yangtze and be like sophisticated Shanghai man.
I never forget one time when he just three and half year old. Here, the day too hot and the rain no stop yet. Long time in year it no rain here. Not like there, in Shanghai. Here, in rain time, it rain two day and then stop for two day, maybe. Then, maybe it rain again. Here, you never know when rain, but local Africa man say they know. Maybe they smell. There, in Shanghai, it rain every month. There, you know for sure when it rain. Man on television tell you.
Anyway, that day I am remember about Shen, the rain finish early. Sun come out, and Shen ready to play outside. There too much sand, but sand, it good for baby. You just have to watch for worm. Worm and glass. But, if you wash feet after walk in sand, you okay. No worm. You need shoe, too. Then, no worm, I think.
That day Shen want to go play, after rain finish. I say no, but he say please, please māmā, so I say okay. But, I give him new shoe to wear. Yong, my husband, buy new-new shoe for Shen. He always buy new shoe. These shoe nice, Yong say. They have, how you say, lay-ther from cow. Here, cow walk in street and in town even. There, in Shanghai, they no walk, there. There, in Shangai, no cow in street.
So, new-new shoe I put on Shen. No sand on new shoe. No dirt on shoe. They nice. I smell lay-ther. I say Shen go play, but just outside. I cut chicken for eating later in night. I come see you just after water finish boil to take feather off chicken. Shen, he nod and say, “okay, māmā.”
Outside, okay for Shen. Children play outside. He only no black boy, but he play outside. Other boy and girl okay for Shen. They have good person. I no go inside house of black boy and black girl, but the children play okay. Shen okay outside.
Now, maybe water boil in 10 minute. Chicken too big, so I put more water in pot. Maybe 5 more minute. After boiling I go out to see Shen. He not at door, but he not always just there at door. Sometime he go further outside and it okay. I go back to chicken, but then I feel pain. It no pain like I know. Maybe it pain like when Shen born and there time when you not hear cry, but baby out, and you wonder where my baby. It was pain like that time. I not remember time like that, except like that time when Shen born, so I fear.
I go back to door.
“Shen,” I say.
He no answer.
“Shen,” I say more loud.
He no answer.
I look through door to outside and say again.
“Shen,” I say more loud than first time.
He no answer.
It only maybe 10 minute, I say myself. Where Shen, I say myself. I go outside to see the street. Shen never go that far. Sand on floor on street. Street, here, not like street, there, in Shanghai. There, in Shanghai, no sand in street, only tar road.
I see other home this way and that. I walk on road of sand and call Shen name.
“Shen,” I say loud.
He no answer.
I walk street again and again, and I yelling Shen name. Only no one really see me, like always. I call Shen name, but no one really notice.
I run back to home and look. I see no Shen in kitchen or in room of TV or in bathroom or in room of Yong and me. I go to kitchen and turn off water. I no think of chicken now.
This when I don’t know what happen. Maybe rain come back. My heart stop, I think. Maybe my heart stop.
Yong, my husband, come home some time soon after this. Now, Yong tell me he come home and find me with big black lady in house next to us. He say I only cry and put my face on her blue dress that look like woman dress here. Here, dress too pretty, but no look soft. Dress look stiff, but when you cry, it make soft and you fall in it, like mother arm.
Yong not know what to do. Big Africa lady, Khady, say she know. Yong say help us. Yong talk they talk, but I know only word or two. Yong say help us, si vous plait and jerejef.
Khady, she call man with nice sound. He big in village. Everyone know him. He make nice sound and he carry tom-tom. I learn that word from Yong. This man tom-tom not sound deep, like boom boom, but it make you look him. It have sound like I never hear. There, Shanghai not have sound like this tom-tom and, there, Shanghai not have man like this man. His face glow, like sun in morning time before it hot. The heat of day here is hot, but it not like, there, in Shanghai. Here, you hot, but your heart warm always. There, in Shanghai, it hot, it cold, but your heart is not warm, not like here. Your heart always warm here.
So this man and he tom-tom go up and down street. This man sing nice and play nice sound. This man call children, all black and smiling. They come him and make sound with him. Yong say they sing song in they talk about a yellow boy who is lost. That man he sing so loud, my heart warm then. It still warm when I see Africa children in street.
That man go far with children. Every street they walk and sing and make that sound very loud. Yong and me and Khady no see them after time, but we hear them. Khady say no go with them. She say she happy to be with Yong and me and then she always say alhamdulillah. I ask Yong what she say, but he just hold my arm.
After more time that man and the children come back and then I see Shen. He come back with children and in arms of the big black man with tom-tom. Shen shine like sun. Shen shine like man, only man is black. There, in Shanghai, I never see black shine, but, here, black shine.
Then, Shen happy again and Yong and me cry. Shen not know why we cry. Children sing with man and he tom-tom and man talk with Khady. They talk they talk and talk fast. I see white teeth of Khady.
Yong say man and children find Shen in different neighborhood. That woman in different neighborhood she say she see yellow boy and never see yellow boy before and she say that yellow boy, my Shen, look lost. Yong say that man say that woman in different neighborhood care about children and care about yellow boy. Woman ask my Shen if he want food. Yellow boy, my Shen, say yes. Woman say she feed Shen and then he sleep. Then, after rain come again and then leave, woman say she hear children singing, our village lost our friend, our little yellow boy, help us find our little yellow boy, in they talk. Woman say she know she have little yellow boy. Woman take Shen to singing and children hug their little yellow boy, my Shen.
Shen okay. He no hurt. He no hungry. He okay. He happy here.
But, me and Yong see that Shen have no sand on new-new shoe.
“Yong,” I say, “there much sand here in street. Shen go far and on street there too much sand. But, why no sand on Shen new-new shoe?”
Yong not know.
Yong wonder same.
Yong and me ask to Shen.
Shen too little to make talk free.
Shen say he not know, but he know he go far.
You go far to woman with black person, I say to Shen.
No, he say.
You go with yellow person, Yong say to Shen.
No, he say.
How you go, Yong and me say to Shen.
I not know, Shen say.
Yong and me go back to Khady. She so big and warm. Her house sandy, but warm. She warm like griot man with tom-tom. I know that word now, too. Yong and me ask Khady about why no sand on Shen shoe, but he go far.
She talk they talk. Big black Khady, she too warm. I only want to feel her warm skin. Her teeth white and smile big, like her dress. She too warm.
She say bo guissé mbonalé thi kaw poteau, khamal ne´dagne ko dimeuli(1).
Yong say what she say in our talk.
Who, I say to Khady, again? Who put Shen, my baby, in other neighborhood, I say.
She suck teeth and shake head.
She say guy dana jur i dég(2).
I not know what she mean, but I think maybe it bad man, maybe devil, maybe Satan, evil spirit, who put Shen far away.
There, in Shanghai, bad man there. Here, bad man, here, but, here, this people warm. They know bad, but they see bad, and they help people with the bad. They make cold turn warm in mystery way, like the ancient man of my Shanghai and my people. There, in Shanghai, they no have warm like here, in Africa. There, in Shanghai, they lose that warm. It too cold there.
Now, when Yong ask, when do we go home to Shanghai, I am cold. I no want cold feeling in Shangai. My skin make bump, like when my body cold. I want warm of life here in Africa, in Dakar, with street of bumblebee taxi. I tell Yong I no want to go. Then, I go to see Khady and she make tea. It not taste like tea, there, in Shanghai. Here, the tea, it sweet, too sweet. We sit and drink and she shine. I touch her skin. So soft, like her. I warm again and bumblebee taxi pass on sandy road. Shen smile and go outside with Africa children who smile warm like people, the people here.
(1) Wolof proverb meaning if you see a turtle on top of the post, you know someone carried him there
(2) Wolof proverb meaning sometimes a baobab tree has thorns
Bradford Philen teaches high school English in Beijing. He is the author or the novel Autumn Falls. He is currently working on a collection of short stories about the people, places, and cultures of West Africa.
© 2012, Bradford Philen