Monday, September 5, 2011

What is THEIR story?

Last week, while on the train heading towards the Chicago Architectural Foundation, we observed a most interesting scene.  Elderly twin sisters, likely African American, entered the train, dressed exactly alike, and carting a dolly that was filled to the gills with oddities, all taped together with packing tape.  When I see something like this, I like to play a game with my brain: "What's their story?"  The day after the field trip, we each shared what we thought we had seen.  Interestingly, there were some shocking variations, like that I thought they all had on long black skirts and plaid, flannel shirts and Rhubarb thought the skirts were white and they were wearing robes.  For the life of me, I do not remember the robes, though I am the only one.

Anyway, for a little creative writing exercise, we each (myself included) quickly wrote a bit to answer the question, "What's their story?"  We did no proof-reading or altering of the stories.  These are our raw responses (organized by age).

Blueberry (7):
Here is the audio of Blueberry's story; She tells a mighty tale verbally.

Eggplant (9):

The Two Sisters

     One day two women entered the train.  And I know where they were going.  They are going to a big field because they had a big cart filled above the top.  It was too much.  It was a lot of things.  And they wanted to sell all of that stuff.  They did not want to have it in their house.
     Of course, you don't want a cart filled above the top like that, do you?
     They were sisters, as you should know.
     That is the end of The Two Sisters.

Nectarine (11):

The Two Sisters

    One day two sisters named Annae and Lumu decided they wanted to move from South America to North America.  They gathered up enough money for a flight to O'Hare.
     Annae and Lumu landed and lugged all of their luggage across most of Chicago to a train station.  They took a train all the way to Evanston.  When they got on the train, they were wearing red and white head pieces, robes, and duct taped shoes.
     They really stood out compared to all of the other people.  Their luggage pack was bigger than them!  When they got off the train they went to their new home on Sandy Lane (name changed because he originally wrote the name of the street upon which I live).

Rhubarb (11):

The Day on the Train

     One day there were two ladies from Africa in their house, packing big stuff on a roller.  Their names were Lily and Ramona.  Lily and Ramona were dressed in a long robe and the robe was maroon.  They had shoes that were duck taped and they had on white shirts.  And on their heads they had white cloth with a maroon stripe.
     Lily said, Are we ready to go?"
     "Yes," said Ramona.
     They took their stuff outside and they walked to the train station and they waited for the train.  When the train came, they went on it very quickly.  They put their stuff on the train.  They were going to take all the stuff to a homeless shelter on Jackson.
     When it was Jackson, they got off and went to the homeless shelter.
     Then they got back on the train and went home.  Then they went on an airplane to Africa to their home.  They were happy to be home.

LakeMom (43):

By the time we arrived at the station, the heat was unbearable.  Manner was complaining about our shirts.  They were long, over-sized flannel button downs.  She thought we could take them off at least for the train ride. I nearly slapped her; the idea that we could be seen on the North Side out of costume.  It's bad enough that we were only drawing half a dozen people to Mosky's each night these days.  To be seen out of costume when we were working to attract a new following would be professional suicide.

Truth be told, I was sweltering myself and wanted to at least removing our turbans.   I couldn't even remember how they'd become a part of the act, somewhere near Detroit, I think.  We drew a lot of Indian immigrants in Detroit and one of them somewhere crowned us with the two most beautiful turbans.  They've been on our heads ever since.  I'd have taken them off, even here on the North Side, on such a hot day as this, but neither Manner nor I had braided our hair in weeks so we were looking a mess under those things.

Every piece of our act has been gifted to us over the years. When we first started out, it was just me and Manner, the Quinn sisters.  It was enough of a gimmick just being twins from Namibia.  We were 15 years old and had just come from Africa, our matching hair long and braided into one long spiral each close to the napes of our necks.  Manner picked her name from the dictionary, the biggest book we'd ever seen, perched on a pedestal at the entrance of the library, the first building we entered in Chicago.  I picked our last name off the store where we got our first bottle of pop the second day we were here.  I'd never seen a name with a Q in it in all the years we were taught by missionaries back home.  It seemed exotic to both of us.

Soon after arriving, we were The Quinn Twins: a Sister Act in Two Parts.  The people of Chicago thought we were the exotic ones.  Men in turtlenecks with pipes came to see us perform.  They called us poetry.  Women said we were the the face of feminism.  When they introduced us they would tell the crowd that we had escaped patriarchy and violence to become our own free, independent women in America.

At first, we liked their version of our story better than our own.  Really, we hadn't escaped much of anything, except maybe the prospect of an orphanage.  We were too little to know about the storms brewing in our part of Africa.  Both of our parents died in Namibia so we made our way to South Africa to perform in the city.  It was all we knew how to do.  The missionaries had taught us to sing gospel tunes.  All those years of chapel - every single morning before they would let us read our books.  Well, at least it got us to South Africa.

A man there said he could use us in Chicago; he said he had a nightclub and we could be the opening act.  We listened to the radio as much as we could and learned all the popular songs.  The man said they sounded "fresh" with our accents and "nouveau" with our djembe in the background.  We didn't care how they sounded; we just wanted those ship passages to America.

Since then, the man told us everything we did.  He told us to trade the djembe for a guitar.   It was his idea to wear the long black skirts.  He thought it would please the crowd if we put all those gifts into our act.  He said it made us look worldly and sophisticated.

Somebody in Iowa once gave us his crutches.  Crutches!  For nearly 35 years we danced a number with crutches!

Now, in 1995, nobody seems all that interested in us.  Nobody calls us poetry anymore.  One critic did a piece on us and called it "The New Face of Indentured Servitude."

The man died 5 years ago, just after the last time we got a gift thrown up on stage, these plaid button-down flannel shirts.  We were a little relieved, glad to finally get to keep all of our pay.  Except by then nobody was coming to see us anymore.  Maybe a few college students slumming over from Hyde Park who came for the two-for-one shots.  Other than that, we've been pretty dry.

So today we moved to the North Side, to boys town.  The boys seem to love us.  They say we are divine.  They say we look Bohemian and neo-hippie and like walking history books, with our taped up shoes and our turbans.  They say this when they come into Mosky's on the weekend because their "Underground Chicago" guidebooks tell that Mosky's is a South Side classic.

Lord, I wanted to kill the man if he weren't already dead when we had to load that damn dolly onto the train.  It was so full we had to tape everything into place.  I thought Manner was going to have a heart attack she was breathing so heavy.  But we got it on the train, all these kids staring at us like they've never seen an act before.

And now we're sitting in front of place the "Underground Chicago" calls "The Belle of Boys Town".  It doesn't open until 9:00 tonight.  Somebody told us the owners show up around seven to open up.  We figure we'll have some time to talk up our act and show off one or two numbers before they have to get moving on getting the place ready for business.

In the meantime, Manner won't eat until we get a new job.  She says she's too old to do this anymore.  She says she wants to choose her own clothes and live somewhere that is not above a nightclub.  She says maybe she'll go back to Namibia.

Me, I plan on giving it one more shot, one more chance to do it on my own, to make all our own money.

One more shot.

1 comment:

Leigh said...

What a great idea for a writing exercise! So cool!

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