Sudan: A Letter to Jennie Anne

The following short story was written by the Sudanese renowned writer and critic Ali al-Makk * and translated by Adil Babikir:

I spent considerable time today writing you this letter. Having written it time and again in my mind, I now have a final version saved in my memory and cannot resist the temptation of reciting it, first loudly and then in whisper. Before today, though, I thought my old wounds had healed, and that time had been the best cure for the most stubborn of scars. I thought I had managed to bring myself to terms with reality.

I received your letter. It occurred to me that, after travelling across airs, seas, and rivers, the letter must be extremely exhausted, eager to unload its delivery into my hands. I picked it up with great care. I always keep your letters in good care, and only read them when I am alone at home, with no witness but the earth beneath and the sky above.

The night I received your letter, the sky was engulfed in thick dust. I read and read. There was not much to read, though; a postcard invitation to your wedding! It was the first time I learned that your full name is Jennie Anne. We learn new things every day and this is at least one good reason why we should forge ahead with life.

Dear Jennie Anne,

I remember that rainy night: the sky was shelling the earth with a chilling downpour, and I was shivering from the cold and fear. I hate nighttime because it is a son of fear and grief. Sometimes, when the earth and the sky are shrouded in darkness, it seems as if that cloak is permanent, and the entire universe is suffocating and dying.

Yes, I do remember that rainy night. The cold, heavenly water was cleaning everything on earth. I was quivering from the cold, yet my eagerness to meet you warmed my soul and energized my steps as I climbed the stairs, breathless; I was a black ghost caught up in heavy rain when everyone else was taking refuge in the warmth of their homes. You know how much I hate rain - to tell you the truth, I hate all seasons! In such weather, blacks are no longer blacks, whites are no longer whites, colours fade away, and the distinction between people is no longer based on colour but rather on passion and emotion, love and hate.

We walked under the umbrella; you and I, two souls seeking refuge one in the other, evenly sharing everything, even the chilling effect of the downpour. Did I tell you that I hate rain? I was lying! At that particular moment, I actually adored it!

What is the point of walking, running or jogging together; getting scared of the same things? Of sharing passion for the same things: the Boston basketball team, the Dodgers, Sir Laurence Olivier, Ella Fitzgerald, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24, and all of Mozart's works? Why these things in particular? Now I can see why! The Boston team is an all-time winner. Lawrence Olivier is a crowned king. Ella Fitzgerald is an angel's voice accompanying the Mass, the voice of the grieved in cotton fields, and of the tormented in "Sing Sing" and "San Quentin" prisons. Mozart? Well, despite his premature death at the age of thirty-five, he contributed masterpieces and musical marvels.

But look at us, you and me! We were defeated even before we could start! Yes, we were defeated the moment we admitted that society would hate to see a white girl in the company of a black boy. We took that for granted and failed to stand up against it. "Were we in the American south," you once said, "we would have been beaten and tortured. A few years ago, you indeed could have been hanged from a tree! As for the West, it is hypocritical; smiling at us pretending to bless our relationship while secretly cursing it. Do you see the difference now?"

But I can hardly see any difference between the South and the West. It all translates to the same thing. Love could only survive, grow and blossom in an atmosphere of freedom. But here in the West or down there in the South, it stands little chance of survival. It is destined to die, and it makes little difference whether it is cursed to death or sent to the gallows.

Now I know why we were defeated. So I picked up my bags and left, heading farther than you would have expected. I landed in my homeland deep here in Africa. At this particular moment, when the entire place around me is shrouded in darkness, it is bright daylight in California, on the sandy beach of Saint Monica, tea and coffee at the Golden Crown, and a thousand other things!

I picked up my bags and left. You know how beautiful the moon is, shining on the sands of Santa Monica beach. But tonight, here in my homeland, it is totally absent. What a misery! What misfortune has put between us thousands of miles of deserts, mountains, valleys and seas!

Congratulations! Dear Jennie Anne. It's great you have picked a husband from your own folk, one who has the same complexion as you. It's great you have made up your mind about something. This is the first time I write you a short letter, ending our affair.

I tried hard to get you out of my mind. But tonight it all came back to me. Was it because of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 I listened to? Could it be that the defeat was too bitter and hard to swallow? Whatever the explanation, I decided to write you, a human being writing to another human being.

The stamps on the envelope are black - the colour of defeat is still holding! Inadvertently, I tore up my letter but almost momentarily started rewriting it in my mind, countless times. I will keep reciting it and I will keep it to myself. I will never let it reach you, lest it bring suffering on you and on itself.

Good Bye!

Ali al-Makk* (1937-1992) was a highly acclaimed short story writer and literary critic in Sudan. He published several short story collections, including In the Village, The Petite Bourgeois, The Moon Sitting in his Courtyard, Ascending to the City Bottom, among others. Besides, he published several books of literary criticism and translated samples from the Black American Literature and the Native American poetry.

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