River, Oh River, Flow Gently For Me
₪҉₪My life is not perfect.My life is not easy.My life is not good.But then again, since when has life been any of those things?If my life was perfect, if it was easy, if it was good, I would not be me. And despite my flaws, I love being me.I love being myself, because it’s what I am best at. More than that, it is what I must do. I must love being me and I must be me because nobody can love my little sister the way I do. She is only four years old, and she needs love. She needs taken care of.I may only be ten years older than her, but I’m the one who takes care of her. Mother has been gone for almost two years now. Father is working, working, always working. I’ve come to accept that, though. We need the money, for the rent and food and to pay taxes. I’m not old enough to get a job yet, and even if I were, my little sister still needs me. My little Christina needs me.I doubt Christina even remembers Mother. Her parents, my grandparents, came over from Somalia when she was in her late teens. The town they moved in to, Drovensburg, had a large immigrant population, so they fit right in. But Mother never liked where we lived. There were packs of large, dangerous boys that roamed the streets from dusk ‘til dawn. And she was right to fear them, because they ended her one drunken night.“Nali?” Christina’s tiny voice rouses me from my trance. We are sitting on our old couch, watching our small television. “Nali, can we go outside? I don’t want to watch telly anymore.”I glance at the battered clock on the wall as I point the remote at the TV to switch it off. It’s lunch time, but there isn’t food to spare for lunch. We usually save it for a big dinner with Papa.“It’s too hot out, ‘Tina,” I tell her distractedly. Usually, the children’s pastor from the local church came around with food handouts in the summer. A lot of us in the low income neighborhood didn’t have enough food for three meals a day, and the church went to grocery stores and collected their extra foodstuffs and tried to make the world a better place by sharing.“Are you hungry? I can boil some rice for you,” I say, gazing at her thin frame. Too thin. If anyone needs the food, it’s her. Not me, not Papa.“Yes please,” Her adorable face with huge eyes lights up at the mention of lunch. “Thank you, Nali!”I unfold myself from the couch and pad into the kitchen with my bare feet. I hear Christina fiddling with the volume on the TV as I automatically start setting up the stove to make rice.And I catch myself singing softly, and out of habit. My mother never knew much English. But she did have one lullaby that she always sang to us.
“Hush now, my babyBe still love, don't crySleep like you're rocked by the stream”The white, fuzzy noise of the TV from the other room clicks off. I expect Christina to come and join me in the kitchen soon, like she usually does.
“Sleep and remember
And I’ll be with you when you dream”I turn away from the sink with a pot full of cold water and yelp as I almost slam into Christina. She’d been standing right behind me.“Christina!” I’m about to scold her gently, but I stop when I see her face is wet. “Did I spill water on you?” I ask, reaching for the hand-towel that needs washing.She shook her head, and I peered closer. “What’s wrong, ‘Tina? Why are you crying?”“I…I know that song, Nali,” She whispered.“I sing it to you all the time, you should know it,” I smooth her hair that’s woven into tight corn-rows that end in pig tails as I walk towards the stove. “No, Mommy sang it to us. I remember,” She told me with surety beyond her four years, following me to the stove.
Drift on a riverThat flows through my armsDrift as I'm singing to youChristina was barely two and a half when Mother last sang that for us. “You can remember that?”She nodded. “She was singing in my dream last night, Nali.”
I see you smilingSo peaceful and calmAnd holding you, I'm smiling, tooI pour a small helping of rice from the old plastic bag into the water and fiddle with the dials on the stovetop. “Nali, does mommy still love us?”How can I answer something like that?I stand with my back to Christina, watching the rice cloud up the water, which is only just beginning to bubble. My inability to form words, to explain things like this to her, weighs heavily upon me. The silence is even heavier.I don’t know how much she remembers of our mother. I don’t know how much she understands about the forces that turn the world, like life and love and death.
Here in my armsSafe from all harmHolding you, I'm smiling, too“Nali?” I can still hear the tears in her voice.I take a deep breath, and turn to face her again, my pent up frustration welling up in my eyes. I want to give my little Christina the world, I have always wanted to. But how can I, if I can’t even explain a thing as universal as love to her?I let out the breath in a ragged exhale, and sink down to the dirt-stained off-white tiled floor with my back against the cool oven door below the stove. I pat the floor next to me, taking another deep breath.My voice is too hoarse to sing the beautiful lullaby justifiably, but I sing anyways.
“Hush now, my babyBe still, love, don't crySleep like you're rocked by the stream”Christina scoots from the floor next to me and wriggles her way onto my lap. She blinks at me, her eyes still asking the question. Does Mommy still love us?“Christina, you know what a river is?” She nods at me. “Mother loved rivers. She could compare anything to a river. And that’s why she loved the lullaby so much, the River Lullaby.”
Sleep and remember this river lullaby
And I'll be with you when you dreamI'll be with you when you dream“She liked to think of existence as a life-long love song. Like a river, she told me once,” I said. Mother had also told me that she saw death as a waterfall. It’s inevitable, but you just continue on existing afterwards, but on a different plane. But Christina wouldn’t understand that.I fall into silence again, trying to simplify things for her again, then speak, “Christina, can you pretend we’re on a raft? A raft floating on a river that doesn’t end? You have yours, I have mine, can you see it?”“I can see it, Nali. In my head,” She smiled. “We’re right next to each other.”I return her smile, and continue, “Okay, now I want you to picture a trail of rose petals on the river ahead of us.” Rose was Mother’s name. “You can pick them up out of the water, if you want. It’s a calm river.”“What are the flower petals for?”“You see, mother got swept up in a current and was whisked ahead of us. Very far ahead of us on the river. But as she was carried along, she left a trail of promises, the petals. And her trail of petals is her promise to wait for us, wherever she is.”“So she does love us?”“What do you think?”“Yes,”
Here in my arms
Safe from all harm
Holding you, I’m smiling tooI gently heave Christina off of my lap and stood to check the rice.“Your lunch is almost ready, ‘Tina. Go sit at the table,” I tell her. The sound of the chair scraping on the floor mingles with the clinking of dishes as I fish one out for her and then grab a spoon as well. “Nali, are you eating?”“No, I’m not hungry,” I tell her, and the lie tastes sour in my mouth and churns my stomach.
Sleep and remember
This river lullaby
And I’ll be with you when you dreamI place the shallow dish of rice in front of Christina and sit down next to her at the table.But she doesn’t move to pick up her spoon yet. The expression her face is one of a perplexed four year old. “Do you need your booster seat?” I ask her. Her booster seat is last year’s telephone book, naturally.“Nali, what about for real?” She wants to know.“I’m sorry?” I do not understand what she is asking.“The river is ‘magination,” She explains. “So the petals and promises are too.”“Oh, no! No, no, that’s not how I meant it,” I insist. “The river and petals represent something very real. The river is being alive.” Mother and her endless metaphors in her beautiful and exotic native language had made that clear to me. I’m not sure how much of this Christina understands.But bless her heart, she wants to know, “Then what do the promise-flower-petals mean for real?”“Well, they’re still promises. But instead of flower petals on a river, they’re dreams, like the one you had last night, where Mother was singing to you.”
Sleep and remember this river lullaby
I’ll be with you when you dream“She loves us very much, Christina. You need to understand that.”“I know,” she says to me. And then something that wrenches my heart. “I love you too, Mommy.”
I’ll be with you when you dream
₪҉₪A/N-Disclaimer: Lyrics are from the movie 'Prince of Egypt', they are not original. The story was inspired by two little girls I met IRL and had a chance to talk to.
Edited by Aderia, Jul 02 2012 - 03:55 PM.