to be rewritten on banana leaves

Ada M. Patterson, Untitled (Shamsa & Nuru), digital collage, 2022


Your name tells me you are full of light. It tells me you are an illumination.

Your name arrives before gender. And to arrive before gender is also an illumination.

You raised us in the company of banana trees and we aspired to catch all that light you were throwing. Why must I mention them here—those banana trees huddled in our yard? Well, your house has always had them and their leaves remind me of you. I raise them here to remember you. To wrap your memory in their leaves.

When I was a child, I spoke with the plants around me. I felt close to them. Some girls want their hair to grow like willows while others survive in manchineel. And I love all of that for them. As for myself, I want to let all of me unfurl in banana leaves. For girls like us, gender grows on trees.

Banana trees can grow quite tall. Their leaves first curl to trumpets. They will shoot up and soon unfold in sheets. These trumpets can catch rainwater and the sheets glisten with the droplets. Like this, they are a sunlit beaded textile and the glamour is here. The trunks are sturdy but still delicate. Soft, fibrous. A refined effort of layers. And their flowers and fruit, a gnarly hanging stem ending bulbous in magenta. But this is just the outside. Hidden in these purple layers are buttery horn blossoms. These will form bananas, bursting out in rings. Bracelets of green fruit that brighten with age. So many layers, so many multitudes. They are trees of infinite growing. Infinite yearning.

There was something of a modest and understated glamour about banana trees which I’ve always wanted to feel close to. And in my memory, there was something of a modest and understated glamour in you. A light within the layers. From their leaves, I think of head-ties. And again, from their leaves, I think of you. Let me remember you in pieces of light.

Tiny glimmers of memory. Fragments in the middle of things. No beginnings. No ends. Just a warmth that can be held. Evening sunlight leaking through the shutters. Gold all around. What can I hear? Dogs barking. The low pulse of a bassline in the distance. Some parked car radio lending rhythm to the world. And here, inside, the sizzle of onions frying. The clop-clop-clop of your chopping board. The slap of slippers on wood floors. These are the sounds you make while you’re busy making magic. You will resurrect Mombasa in our living room.

And throughout this spell, you wrap your hair in head-ties to catch sweat like a banana leaf catches water. You wrap your hair in head-ties of dazzling patterns like silver rain on green. You wrap your hair in head-ties because sometimes a blessing must be hidden.

You are where kanga come from in my life. And you wrap kanga around your waist, around your chest, around your hair, like banana leaves. Always a gift, kanga is a cloth that speaks volumes. Its name can be a wish and even a vision. And kanga can be a vision you give yourself. And, like your name, this cloth arrives before gender. And so, we wrap ourselves in it to keep our blessings safe. To keep them hidden.

What is happening beneath these layers? What is the vision that I am trying to unfold here? Spirals of curls growing longer. Delicate hips curving out. A humility of breasts swelling in secret. The kindness of fat hugging us with warmth. Cellulite that shows we have lived-in bodies. Woolly, kinky hair that has greyed to a sacred ash. Wrinkles as reminders of our innermost ripenings. And hands calloused from every labour of love.

From these wrappings, let our bodies arrive in the fragrance of banana. From these wrappings, let our bodies illuminate inside and out. I pray for you, Nuru, she who is full of light. I pray for me, Ada, she who is still on her way. I pray for both of us, we who wear kanga that give us visions before gender. I pray for both of us, giant women wrapped in leaves.