18 Oct 2018

Eyes that speak

She sits across from me.

Her eyes will occasionally meet mine, then travel. At first, they will look at her feeble fingers wringing on her lap, then to the side as her head cocks as if to listen to a voice far away. Like a weary traveler, those eyes that have seen more than language could ever express, finally rest on the notebook in my hands.

I follow those eyes.

                                                                                    pic source

They beg to be followed. They promise to tell, promise to show. It's a nondescript notebook. But in it holds questions that reduce her life to a series of answers. Suddenly, I want to throw it away. It seems to generate heat, too much. It's a Moleskine. Nothing much. But as I look at it through her eyes, its the window in which her past is displayed. It's the epitome of all things evil, all things inhuman, all things she has been working so hard to forget.

I find my hands putting the moleskine down. I am surprised by this move, more than she is even. We both look at the object of her disdain and my new-found bane.

I have been asking her questions for the past 15 minutes. It feels like we have been talking forever.
Talking insinuates we have been discussing how healthy her goats are, or how fat the chicken are becoming. Talking makes you think we have delicate china in front of us on checkered table cloths with steaming tea and biting on finger sandwiches.

I doubt she even knows how to make finger sandwiches. I doubt she ever owned a china set. Her cups are old cylindrical tins that have hints of the colour they were when she first got them. That is what she offered me tea in.

I do not like tea with little milk. Yet, norms dictate that I never refuse such an offer from a woman such as this one. Now my tea sits on the ground next to my chair, flies covering the rim of the cup. I see them fight for a spot on that rim. I assume that spot is the least hot for them to perch on.

She clears her throat. I look up. Those eyes again. Now they are imploring. Asking me what I am thinking. If I am judging her.  I hold her gaze, trying to push back the current thought. Which goes like this - 'I am stupid for shifting my attention to flies, instead of what you are telling me. I am sorry.'

I pick the moleskine again. I have forgotten what my next question is. Shameful really. Because I have been asking the same questions to women in this area for a few days now.

'Are you afraid of dying?' I ask

Stupid question. Who isn't?

Eyes that speak answer me. No.

Why?  I ask her.

The cameraman who has been quietly filming this interview interjects.

She did not answer, he says.

I sit up and shift in my seat. Of course she did not. Her eyes did. She has barely moved.

I ask her again.

She bites her lower lip, and chews it slowly.

The woman in front of me is 40 years old. She looks 70. She is frail. Too thin. She is dying of AIDS. Because she was raped and infected during the post-election violence. She has 6 children, all under 15 years. No husband. She is alone. She is all her children have. They have no idea she is dying.

I seek out her eyes. And hold them.

No. She says.

I have been here before, just not here.

I had what most would call a dream job for about 5 months this year. I was excited. I talked about it constantly. It was like being paid to be on holiday. But then it wasn't. I could not grow creatively and I had to make the hard decision to quit. Now that I am trying to unpack what exactly about that job did not work out for me, one thing is hazily manifesting. I need to work with people, I was not doing so on that job. I was not creating. I was processing created content. I create for a living. I weave stories and spin tales. Real human tales mostly. I need it. I cannot live without it.

Barely 3 weeks after saying goodbye to God's playground in the African wilderness, I was on another project. I had no time to regroup and gather my thoughts. What did I want to do? What was my next project?

So I packed my bag again and caught a flight to one of the remotest parts of the country. To tell a story. It's not my story, I am working with a group of filmmakers who conceptualised it. But it could as well be mine, it's the sort of thing I would do. It is my first time here, but not new to such a setting. I have been here before, just not here.

Everything looks the same. One road looks like next road, the trees merge into one. It's sun and sand; and not the holiday type. It is the beach without the ocean. I could take a million pictures and it wouldn't matter where I took them.

There's despair in the air. Pungent. Strong. A feeling of not belonging. For me and for the people I meet. Like we are all drifting. Except I get to leave. I get to live.

I am here to tell a story, one that I don't think I am even qualified to tell. Not professionally, but as a human being. What makes me the right person? As a filmmaker, I struggle with my self appointed duty to tell others' life stories. But its like a drug. I feed off their life challenges to drive me. It's a sick relationship. And yet. I am still here. Doing this. I am telling others' stories. Of things I will never experience, of a life I will never know, of tragedies I will never imagine, even with my overactive imagination. 

I have moments of incredible fear. Paralysing. Moments where I feel insignificant, worthless. Moments that I feel like a fraud. Like I deserve no paying attention to. Moments that I want to disappear and hope no one ever notices that I am gone. These moments that I question my purpose; if this - telling stories - is actually my purpose. Moments that I wonder if I am making a difference. 

I get to go back home. To my warm house, to snuggling with quilts on the couch and hot chocolate mugs with bits of marshmallows. To a life where my biggest challenge is figuring out whether I want to cook or order take out for dinner. To a life of a fully stocked fridge and claim to have nothing to eat. I sat down under a tree and listened to a girl my age tell me of horrors she has lived through. I was there with her. I was re-living the moments with her. My heart broke. But my broken heart is hardly an issue. That is my problem, not hers. Her heart broke along time ago, she no longer cares about her heart, just her hurt.

I will tell your story, I thought. And from this, your life will change. But will it? Or will I tell her story to people who only want to see others' pain so that theirs can seem insignificant? Can I look her in the eye and tell her that her opening up to me and to my camera will make her life a little easier? But that is the unspoken promise between a filmmaker and her/ his subject. Tell your story and hopefully,  someone somewhere will do something. And I hate to walk away with this promise hanging over my head, knowing that I might never fulfil it.