from Possessing the Secret of Joy

by Alice Walker

back to Ms. Walker's novels

Negro women, said the doctor, are considered the most difficult of all people to be effectively analyzed. Do you know why? Since I was not a Negro woman I hesitated before hazarding an answer. I felt negated by the realization that even my psychiatrist could not see I was African. That to him all black people were Negroes. I had been coming to see him now for several months. Some days I talked; some days I did not. There was a primary school across the street from his office. I would listen to the faint sound of the children playing and often forget where I was, forget why I was there. He'd been taken aback by the fact that I had only one child. He thought this unusual for a colored woman, married or unmarried. Your people like lots of kids, he allowed. But how could I talk to this stranger of my lost children? And of how they were lost? One was left speechless by all such a person couldn't know. Negro women, the doctor says into my silence, can never be analyzed effectively because they can never bring themselves to blame their mothers. Blame them for what? I asked. Blame them for anything, said he. It is quite a new thought. And, surprisingly, sets off a kind of explosion in the soft, dense cotton wool of my mind. But I do not say anything. Those bark-hard, ashen heels trudge before me on the path. The dress above them barely clothing, a piece of rag. The basket of groundnuts suspended from a strap that fits a groove that has been worn into her forehead. When she lifts the basket down, the groove in her forehead remains. On Sundays she will wear her scarf low in an attempt to conceal it. African women like my mother give harsh meaning to the expression "furrowed brow." Still, the basket itself is lovely and well made, with a red and ochre "sisters elbow" design that no one weaves more neatly than she. That is all I care to think about. But not all that I will. I did not carry you to term, she has told me, because one day when I was coming back from bathing I was frightened by a leopard. She was acting strangely, and charged me. I try to imagine a leopard on the path between our farm and the village. Now there are wild dogs and jackals, but nothing so beautiful as a leopard. M'Lissa came to look after me. And was I an easy birth? But she will only look over my head, to the side of my ear. Of course, she murmurs. Of course you were. Later we discovered someone had shot and skinned her mate and her cubs, my mother sighs. And that was the official story of my birth. So that my mind too veered away from myself and my mother's ordeal and went off into the world of the leopard. Soon enough I could see her clearly, licking down her cubs, or having intercourse with her mate. There in the dappled shade of the acacias. Then, the sound of thunder cracking, and all her loved ones down tn a flash. And she, to her shame, forced to run away in fear, even as she smelled the blood and saw the bodies sprawled ungracefully. And later, coming back, she would discover all those she loved, just as she'd left them, but stiffly dead and without their skins. And I could feel the horror in the leopard's heart, and the rage. And now I see a pregnant human appearing on the path, and I leap for her throat. The other children used to laugh at me. Look at her! they cried. Come see how Tashi has left our world. You can tell because her eyes have glazed over!