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The Two Women, or, Here and There

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The Intended

            I could not possibly imagine a happier woman than myself. Believe me—do—when I say that if I were any happier, my heart would go to pieces. For I am now sure that Kurtz, the man whom I hold in esteem above all other men, truly returns my affections! He proposed marriage just this morning. What my family will think, I do not know—no—I do. My father especially, but all of them, all will disapprove. Already their noses have permanently creased from wrinkling whenever my Kurtz comes around. That is because Kurtz is poor. But tomorrow he leaves for Africa to make his fortune. For me. For us. And he has other ideas, too—my Kurtz—ideas so grand, only a voice like his fittingly expresses them. Ideas for improving the people there, in Africa. Poor savages. But Kurtz plans to write a book on them, or a pamphlet perhaps, or something of the sort, something to help others see what good can be done and how to go about doing it. I am sure that he will do wonders down there—in Africa. I know of what greatness my Kurtz is capable; he will do something beautiful, and be famous, and wealthy. I am certain of it. And then we will be very, very happy.

The Unintended

            Tonight, no woman is happier than I, except perhaps my sister. Our family has at last found a man with whom Pianga can marry. His name is Igbo; although he comes from a different people, he arrived here long ago, and is as one of our own. Igbo commands respect: he works hard and respects others. Certainly, Pianga will have a blessed life with him. I, meanwhile, am content to remain as I am—unmarried priestess, maintaining the shrine of our ancestors. I share in my sister’s happiness and ask for no more. 

The Intended

            I pray for my Kurtz every evening before I go to bed and every morning when I wake up, and then after lunch I usually write him a letter. Perhaps I miss him too much—after all, only two months have passed since he left. Still, I miss him; I love him; I miss him.

            My parents still oppose our marriage. But I cannot give him up—I will not! I have never loved a human being so much, and I never will. Kurtz is my life—I need him more than food, more than water, more than air. Luckily, my sustenance may be taken long-distance: simply knowing that Kurtz lives, somewhere on this globe, is enough for me.

The Expectant

            I pray for my sister every evening before the graves of our ancestors. Two months have passed since her formal betrothal, one since her marriage, and she is now both pregnant and unwell. Oh, but Igbo is good to her, and for that I thank our ancestors. Pianga can eat and drink only with great difficulty, and she grows weaker daily. If Igbo were not so good a husband, helping her eat and attempting to keep her comfortable, I fear that Pianga would have died weeks ago. Even now, though, she seems to be slipping away. So thin—Pianga’s arms and belly have shrunk so thin; with the baby, this can mean nothing good. I must pray harder—what else could save Pianga now?

The Intended

            Today, the sun shines even through the clouds, and birds sing where no birds live—I have received a letter from Kurtz! He must have posted it from a port on his way south. In the letter, my darling explains that I will probably not receive any more mail from him after he departs down the Congo River, which, if I understand correctly, he must already have done, given that four months have already passed. I think. I really am not so good with time—how long things take. I always think that I can embroider a handkerchief in two days, for example, and then I always find I need three, and then I am down a handkerchief for a day. So silly.

            But I am rambling… I miss Kurtz, miss him to distraction. I pray to God that he returns safely so that we can begin our life together—my Kurtz. My Kurtz and I.

The Saved

            Nothing can mar my happiness today! My sister, my Pianga, has been rescued by—a strange man. This man is tall, taller than nearly any man I know. And his skin—I do not recall ever seeing skin quite like it: weird, pale skin, the color of ivory. Kurtz—for that appears to be his name, Kurtz—gave my sister some queer liquid to drink, and she vomited for two days; but now she is well. Thank the ancestors. Thank—Kurtz.

The Intended

            I sit at the window and watch the rain fall.

The Intoxicated

            I sit at his door and listen to his footfalls. Kurtz! This man! Who is he? Kurtz claims that he is a god, and my friends and neighbors believe him; after all, he saved Pianga. But—can I believe him? I do not know; and I do not care. I say that I do. I say that the ancestors have told me that Kurtz is a god. I tell my friends and neighbors that the ancestors say that we must hunt and raid for ivory for Kurtz. I organize elaborate worship rituals, tell everyone that the ancestors’ will must be done, and organize elaborate worship rituals to honor—Kurtz!

            But I lie. The ancestors tell me nothing; Kurtz tells me everything. And I do not care.

            Because now, I would do anything—anything—to hear his voice. The deep, resounding tone of his voice. I dream of it at night; I wake to hear it ringing in my ears. I have heard nothing so beautiful in my life. I would lie, say anything—give up anything—for Kurtz.

            My Kurtz.

The Intended

            Rumors reach us that Kurtz gets on remarkably well in the ivory business. I am glad.

            But I want him home! Kurtz must know how I miss him—must feel it himself. I miss him so; I miss him so—

            I write him four letters a day now. And I pray before and after each letter. I cannot stop; no matter how tired my hand, I must keep writing—the writing distracts me.

            At any rate, due to my Kurtz’s rumored success, my parents feel somewhat more willing to accept the match—a relief. But nothing compared to the relief of having Kurtz home once more. Oh! How I miss him!

The Drowning

            Too much! This man wants too much!

            This man wants all of the ivory, in tusks or buried in the ground.

            This man wants all of our time, for him, for him alone.

            This man wants our enemies' heads—on stakes—before his home—

            This man wants me, wants me in the night.

            I do not want to give him so much.

            But his voice—his beautiful voice—

            I cannot stop listening.

The Intended

            Today, I talked with a pastor and felt much better. This lovely old reverend told me, bless his heart, that God will carry Kurtz safely through, and I must not worry. Kurtz does God’s work down in the Congo, helping those poor benighted savages learn the ways of civilization. Praying, the reverend told me, works wonders, so I must keep praying. But I must not worry. As if I could stop! But I must. If I worry too much—this is my mother’s advice now, not the reverend’s—I will lose my looks, and then Kurtz may not want me any more after his return. I believe that Kurtz’s love for me would stand the shock of seeing me look a tad more care-worn, but I suppose that it’s best to prepare oneself with the worst in mind.

The Resentful

            He has been ill. My Kurtz. And some buffoon with rags for clothes presumes to nurse Kurtz back to health. My Kurtz. This fool even stole some of our cloth to patch his clothing. What nerve! But I cursed him at the graves of our ancestors.

            Our ancestors…

            Kurtz tells me that our ancestors cannot truly communicate with us or help us. That the dead are simply gone. I do not believe it. I would refuse to listen to him—but his voice…

            But Kurtz has been ill, very ill. I do not know how long the voice will keep talking.

            I do not think that I care.

The Intended

            I had a terrible nightmare last night. Kurtz stood in the center of a large field, and all around him sprouted up horrible flowers with spiked human heads for petals. Retching, I turned away, only to see a horrible black woman standing behind me, shaking a spear at me. I turned back to Kurtz.

            “Protect me!” I cried.

            Kurtz smiled sadly, and said, “I can only offer you this…”

            And then—the horror! the horror!—he reached into his chest and pulled out his heart. But it was not red—it was black, black and leaking darkness, seeping darkness. A heart of darkness.

            I do not know what the dream could mean, and I do not want to know. But I cannot stop crying! I do not know what to do… I am so frightened… my Kurtz!

The Betrayed

            Today, a steaming devil came for him. A steaming devil filled with pale flabby devils with powerful weapons.

            I tried to stop them. I ordered everyone to attack the boat, claiming that Kurtz had given the order. But to no avail—they took him.

            And he left me. He told me he did not want me. And left me. In that boat. With those flabby devils.

            I went to the boat once to raise my arms in farewell. I received no signal in return. I left.

            Now I stand and raise my arms once more. In farewell? In condemnation? I murmur a blessing with my curse.

            A whistle shrieks. Over and over again, it shrieks. My arms remain outstretched. I cannot move. I cannot be moved. I cannot move.

The flabby devils remove their weapons—they point them at me—

The Intended

Kurtz is dead! My poor Kurtz—dead! Now I must die as well; no true lover can live when her love dies… I must die… Sorrow must crush my head, and I shall die…

 

The Dead

 

The Intended

            A year has passed, and I live on.

            A nice man came and visited me today—one of Kurtz’s friends from Africa. This nice man let me ramble on about my grief—I cannot talk to anyone!—and then he told me my Kurtz’s last words—my name. Faithful to the end.

            My Kurtz.