36th Thread: Your daughters will care if you care for me


When we went out, we would see from far an old woman in the forest who picked berries and slept at the bottom of a ravine. One day, Mama brought her back to the cave. We gave her food, she was so scrawny. We should have had less to eat, but she taught us to collect honey by smoking beehives. We put it everywhere, in goat milk, on flatbreads, we licked our fingers, we had never eaten anything so good. She knew songs, ditties, finger games. She braided my hair with flowers, as for a princess. When I asked her name, she didn’t remember, it had been too long. I called her “Whitehead”, I had never seen someone with white hair before.
– Whitehead, where did you live before the forest, did you work in the fields like us?
– There was nothing before the forest, nothing. Someone lived on an estate, married a kind overseer, someone had five sweet children, an old father, cousins, friends, neighbors, a wreath of wheat on the door.
– Oh no. No, it wasn’t. I can hardly remember her.
– Would she have cuddled me, sweet and tender, like you, when I was scared of the wolves?
– Her heart and her soul were near overflowing, they were so full of love and care. She might not have had space for you, you’re right. You filled a great gap when I met you, while I have little left to give, less than that woman who laughed, who believed in tomorrow, who taught songs to her daughters. Would you like to hear a song?
– Yes, a song, teach me another song, Whitehead.
Vieille_dame_digne_old_lady_Florine_StettheimerWe foraged in the forest in search of herbs while she sang. She even loved flowers that had no use, she loved me though I was neither her daughter nor her niece. When the old woman died, I cried a lot. She had been good to me, more than my grandmother who cared only for her own babies. Yet they soon died because she was too old to give life. She taught me everything I know. Look at the plants I picked. Sort them out, like I taught you. Those that cure fevers are going to dry out, over there, at the entrance of the cave. We will eat the others after boiling them and drinking their milk. The nuts, the grain and the chestnuts go at the back of the cave, up high where it’s dry. We have to watch out for animals. Men won’t try to take them, they’re too much work to eat. Men want our goats, and our bodies.

Whitehead told me that, a long time ago, fathers used to feed their wives and children with crops or livestock, they built temples, they agreed on laws. But nowadays, nothing lasts, everything is stolen, everything is looted. If you hear horses, you must hide. If you see a man, you must hide. Unless you want a baby. Without children, you’ll have more food, but what will you become? What about the knowledge I have passed onto you? The songs? The honey? I’ll help you raise your babies. When they cry, I’ll sweep them away from your quietness and return them to your embrace only when they are all smiles. The two of us, we’ll manage, we’ll find food, we’ll care for them, we’ll teach them the thousands of small inventions my mother and my grandmother and all the other women before came up with to make life better, because life has to be bettered. Then, when I am all bent on a stick and they are grown, you’ll take care of me. You’ll bury me deep after my death, so the dogs don’t feed on my carcass. And later, much later, your daughters, because boys leave, loot and fight, your daughters will take care of you, as they will have seen me take care of them, and you take care of me, one after the other, each in her turn.

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