Africa, she whispers into his ear as they cross city streets paved with crackling lights and indifference. Africa, she says before she turns off the lights and crawls into bed. Africa, she chokes as she liquor burns down her throat. Africa, she says, and does not kiss him.
Africa, she mumbles, and tosses in her sleep. Africa, she cries into the broken glass in the floor. Africa, she screams as her fingernails slide down her face. Africa. Africa. Africa. Like a heartbeat.
Africa, she says when she sees the dusty book on the shelf.
He tries to ask her once, when they are in bed, cigarette ash and lipstick staining the sheets, smelling like vodka and sin, about Africa. Her eyes flash and he can almost see something, like her soul, resonating through the years. She tells him about red sands and minarets and private beauty and a bride in white not being an irony.
She whispers into his skin about family, and love, and simplicity. She wipes mascara from her cheek and explains to him about love – you love your parents because they created you, your children because they come from you, and your family because they are pieces of you. You love God because He is what makes it all possible.
Africa, she whispers when she begs him to understand. Africa, when he can’t.
He does not ask her again.
“Don’t say that to me anymore,” he tells her once.
“Africa. Don’t say Africa to me anymore.”
And she looks at him like he’s lost his mind.
Africa, she cries when he slaps her in the face. Africa, she whispers to herself every Friday at noon. Africa, she sighs as she presses the needle deeper. Africa, she laughs when the doctor gives her the results.
“And to think we left Africa to get away from AIDS.”
And he realizes this is the first time he’s ever heard her say the word aloud.