By Alice Walker

CityPress - - Voices - Tak­ing the Ar­row Out of the Heart by Alice Walker

like turn­ing an in­signif­i­cant bore into a heroic lover in a ro­man­tic drama.

That’s why I sweated.

I felt that the en­tire ed­i­fice of the front page would de­pend on the word­ing of my first sen­tence. Crum­pled sheets of aborted copy filled my wastepa­per bas­ket (ev­ery desk had one).

Now I com­pleted a new open­ing sen­tence in the ap­pro­pri­ate style … and was about to add the full stop when a hand came down and ripped the copy pa­per from my machine.

The hand be­longed to The Ed­i­tor, no less. He read what I hadn’t been given time to read; humphed, and passed it to a wait­ing mes­sen­ger. Now I had to type a sec­ond para­graph, with­out be­ing sure of how my of­tat­tempted first one was fi­nally worded. And The Ed­i­tor stood there, wait­ing. Per­haps I would have frozen in that heat were it not for Philip Stohr, eru­dite se­nior writer and ex-ser­vice­man sit­ting just be­hind me, where the sun didn’t shine. He drove the ed­i­tor away.

The para­graphs be­gan to flow, until I needed to pause to light a cig­a­rette. To my hor­ror, I found I had one, al­ready lit, in my mouth. And an­other burn­ing in the ash­tray. I threw the third one into my waste­bas­ket and re­solved never to smoke again. Then I heard Philip’s voice be­hind me: “I say, old man … ” Nice be­ing called “old man” when you’re still a sec­ond-year ju­nior. “I say! Bet­ter do some­thing about that waste­bas­ket. It’s smok­ing.”

That sounded to me like a joke … until it burst into flames reach­ing up to my el­bow, and we both jumped up and threw the fire­ball out the win­dow.

It was not an eas­ily for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence. I hadn’t had time, while writ­ing the last two “takes” of the, ahem, main lead to see what hap­pened to my flam­ing waste­bas­ket as it dropped two storeys into the side al­ley.

Did the fire spread? Was any­one hurt?

Philip as­sured me there was noth­ing to worry about. Shortly be­fore I ar­rived on the news­pa­per, he said, a chap called Willy had leapt up with a roar of rage and hurled an ul­tra­heavy Un­der­wood type­writer out of that same win­dow. No one had been in­jured.

That’s al­right then, I felt; until I be­gan to won­der what would hap­pen if we were ever to work in an air­con­di­tioned of­fice with sealed win­dows.

The thought was enough to force me to give up my new non-smok­ing vows … though I’m proud to say that by tak­ing to Ernest Hem­ing­way-type cigar­il­los (shorter and thin­ner than Cuban ci­gars) I was able to kick the habit quite eas­ily on my 15th at­tempt two decades later. Orion Pub­lish­ing Group, an im­print of Jonathan Ball Pub­lish­ers

128 pages

R200 at takealot.com

Alice Walker is a cel­e­brated US au­thor, poet and ac­tivist who won the Pulitzer prize for Fic­tion in 1983. Some of her best-sell­ing nov­els in­clude The Color Pur­ple and Now is the Time to Open Your Heart.

Her work has been trans­lated into more than two dozen lan­guages, and her books have sold more than 15 mil­lion copies.

Walker has re­cently pub­lished a col­lec­tion of al­most 70 pieces, where she takes us through piv­otal mo­ments in her life.

for Sun­dus Shaker Saleh, Iraqi mother, with my love In our de­spair that jus­tice is slow we sit with heads bowed won­der­ing how even whether we will ever be healed. Per­haps it is a ques­tion only the rav­aged the vi­o­lated se­ri­ously ask.

And is that not now al­most all of us?

But hope is on the way. As usual Hope is a woman herd­ing her chil­dren around her all she re­tains of who she was; as usual ex­cept for her kids she has lost al­most ev­ery­thing.

Hope is a woman who has lost her fear.

Along with her home, her em­ploy­ment, her par­ents, her olive trees, her grapes. The peace of in­de­pen­dence; the re­as­sur­ing noises of or­di­nary neigh­bors. Hope rises, she al­ways does, did we fail to no­tice this in all the sto­ries they’ve tried to sup­press? Hope rises, and she puts on her same un­fash­ion­able thread­bare cloak and, penniless, she flings her­self against the cold, pol­ished, pro­tec­tive chain mail of the very pow­er­ful the very rich—chain mail that mim­ics sus­pi­ciously sil­ver coins and lizard scales— and all she has to fight with is the re­al­ity of what was done to her; to her coun­try; her peo­ple; her chil­dren; her home.

All she has as ar­mor is what she has learned must never be done.

Not in the name of War and es­pe­cially never in the name of Peace.

Hope is al­ways the teacher with the tough­est home­work.

Our as­sign­ment: to grasp what has never been breathed in our stolen Em­pire on the hill:

With­out jus­tice, we will never be healed.

● For more in­for­ma­tion about the in­spir­ing courage of this mother of five, visit code­pink.org

Alice Walker

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