My Visit to the Marble Room. A Dialogue with Selves.

Université de Montréal
20 décembre 2019

EMEZI, Akwaeke. Freshwater. New York: Grove Press, 2018.

A hardcover book. An unusual python. Birds holding threads. Some green plants.

That triggered me.

I opened the book and entered a space of “in-between-ness” (Seigworth, Gregg, 2010: 1). I didn’t knock; I just entered, turning one page after another. I can’t explain why, but I found myself in “the marble room of Ada’s mind […]. There was a window in front of her face” (Emezi, 2018: 61). Ada was in a corner, huddled up, hiding herself. Her body was like a dot in the brightness of the marble room. I walked towards her slowly. I felt I was disturbing. I didn’t know where to put my feet on this marble flesh.

I sat next to her and from her perspective I saw them. Asụghara was standing tall, a shadow in the brightness. Saint-Vincent, with his long limbs, was facing Ada and so, me. Was he sitting, was he not? I couldn’t tell. We were all around. No faces, no arms, no legs. They were “[ọ]gbanje [who] are as liminal as is possible – spirit and human, both and neither.” (Ibid.: 225-226). You could sense them as they were here physically and yet not.

I gathered my courage and asked Ada: “How can you deal with that?”

While my voice was echoing in the marble room and getting stronger at each reflection, everyone looked at me. They seemed to finally notice me. Ada, her head still on her knees, was about to answer me back when Asụghara spoke: “How can you deal with your body?”

Frowning, I tried to understand the meaning of her question, but it was difficult to think in the marble room. I managed to say: “What do you mean?”

We stepped in and uttered: “The worst part of embodiment is being unseen.” (Ibid.: 92). I was, indeed, unable to see them.

“We have to protect her. I have to protect her. ‘I ha[ve] to use the body first, before they d[o] [again].’ (Ibid.: 84) You come here and enjoy the show, sha. Sex here and there. But you know, ‘I [am] a child of trauma; my birth was on top of a scream and I was baptized in blood’ (Ibid.: 73),” Asụghara revealed. Was she telling about Soren, Chima, the neighbor and his son, or others? Was she implying Ada’s ex-girlfriend Donyen, who helped her as much as Hassan, her ex-boyfriend? Or was it about Ewan? I was having a headache, trying to recall all the names. They were on pages…

I jumped. A ghostly voice resonated right in my ears. Saint-Vincent was holding Ada tightly in his arm. Stroking her hairs, he said: “[…] Ada felt like a trickster, which felt right. She could move between boy and girl, which was freedom, for her and for us. But when she turned twelve and started bleeding, everything was ruined. The hormones redid her body, remaking it without consent from us or […] Ada.” (Ibid.: 123).

“Embodying is the problem, that’s what you’re trying to say? So, you are various selves, fooling around, reshaping, and asking for offerings. This fragmentation of identity, is it not actually Ada’s very identity? Identity seems to be corporeal. I mean, I would love to question Ala. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t let me though,” I claimed, pressing my fingers on my forehead in the hope of getting rid of this headache.

“Ala is the first mother. You can’t reach her, you’re too human,” we replied.

“Embodiment is beautiful. Unclear shaping is better. ‘And with [me], [Ada’s] little grace, taking the front more than [I] used to, the body, as it [is], [is] becoming unsatisfactory, too feminine, too reproductive.’ (Ibid.: 187) It is my response to the biologically coerced shaping. Not to what they did and are doing to her,” said Saint-Vincent, lifting Ada’s chin up with his long and cool fingers.

“I tried to fight back. Against Ala, against you all, against myself,” whispered Ada. “Because of them, I guess.”

“‘It’s fine,’ [Asụghara] said. ‘As long as you remember that we can’t be separated, Ada. Without us, you’re nothing – you won’t feel anything, you won’t see anything, you won’t write anything. You have to be at peace with us, you hear? We’re you.’” (Ibid.: 159)

I looked up at Asụghara. She was not that quiet usually. What happened that made her remain silent? Her shadow was grey now, blurring the brightness of the marble room. The pain was sticking right through my head as I remembered she loved Ada. They all loved each other. I wasn’t ready to let it go though. “Recognition. You accept who you are and what made you in order to live or survive. It’s like acknowledging yourself. Sorry, I meant, yourselves.”

Asụghara rolled her eyes. “We told you already, sha. You can’t understand. Ala is above. Everywhere.” She paused and suddenly raised her voice: “And you are here. Why? What’s the point of coming here? You didn’t cross the gates.”

I pondered over her question. The marble room began to become distant to me. I was feeling cold. The pain was getting unbearable. I felt my head could explode. I was disappearing. I didn’t belong here. That’s what she was saying. Hesitating I answered: “Well, I was reading.”

We stepped in again: “Understand this if you understand nothing: it is a powerful thing to be seen.” (Ibid.: 213)

Ada’s eyes met mine. I was so absorbed by the deepness of her eyes which softened my headache somehow, that I wanted to dive in those eyes when I noticed that my clothes were wet. I gave a look to the marble room. Walls were seeping, slowly forming a puddle. I was in the middle of it. The window was closed. “What’s happening?” I cried out. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t use my nervous system, my head was locked up. The water was too thick. Saint-Vincent reached out for me, offering his hand.

Biko, you have to leave,” said Asụghara calmly now.

“But I still can’t see you,” I replied.

We were enveloping me. My hand in the hand of Saint-Vincent, I lost sight. Too bright, too dark – that’s what I was wondering when Ada stated in a deep tone: “I am here and not here, real and not real, energy pushed into skin and bone. I am my others; we are one and we are many. Everything gets clearer with each day, as long as I listen. With each morning, I am less afraid.” (Ibid.: 226)

I didn’t say goodbye; I just left, turning the last page. The book was resting on my desk like a stone drowning in the wood as its hardcover was too heavy.

The light was on. I rubbed my eyes. A familiar python was staring at me.

Fluid whistle through my ears:

“‘Nwa anwụna, nwa anwụna’: nwa nwụọ ka anyị mara chi agaghị efo.”[1] (Ibid.: 162)



[1] My approximate translation from Igbo to English: “‘Child do not die, do not die’ as we know the sun will not rise”.