Anjumon Sahin has an M.Phil degree in literature and teaches at the University of Delhi. She collects stories in pictures, prose and verse. Her work has been published in national and international journals and anthologies, including The Blue Hour, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology, Nether, Efiction India, Literary Matters and The Four Quarters, among others.
THE MAPMAKER’S WIFE
Excerpts from the Diary of Isabel Godin*
The leaves are darker here, like raw blood mixed with green. The forest cuts into my skin, and vampire bats suck my blood as I starve, lost. The sky resembles sorrow and flattened into eternity is time.
My hair is gray now, I haven’t seen my face in months, my hands tell me it is blotchy and unhappy. I dreamt of little Joquain last night. His face, clear of the pock marks that took him away and remembered the day I first heard about the Portuguese galley you sent for me.
I knew you would come for me. Papa too agrees though he has never been one to favour my love for a Frenchman. You weren’t there but it was there waiting for me.
I am older now, not fourteen anymore. Will you recognize me when I see you again, Jean? I lost the map you drew for me before La Condamine after carrying it for nineteen years and twenty three days. Will you draw it once again?
The water rolls and laps announcing its hatred for you, making your countenance look distorted even when still. (I saw an Indian drown the other day trying to pick up a Frenchman’s hat. The water bubbled for a while and then it was calm again. They die almost every day now with skin blue or eyes bloodshot with high fever.)
It is dark on the ship, even during the day the sun screams only in its absence. The insects are bigger than my palm, they cry till dawn and bite till you are sore and then bite some more.
I am not young anymore. I have counted years at the steps of my door. Come to me, I will be waiting or maybe in the end I will come to you I had told you. This is as close as one gets to the end.
I left home to follow your trail but the Andes retains not even a hint of your presence. On days when the trek is particularly rough, I imagine you walking beside me, asking me to take care and holding me when we reached a spot, particularly steep.
By the bank, I sit alone. Thirty two Indians, the four Frenchmen, my brothers, our Joachim- all gone. I almost wished to die myself and disappear like I was never there at all. I never did. I followed the moon and bore the bites like a cross for my sins, even the leaves bruise you as if they despise your very presence.
I walked for days, talked to the trees, cursed the skies and shouted till my voice turned hoarse. The leaves were too bitter to swallow. There is a loneliness so great in the world that even loss is not enough to fill the void.
The Indians who saw me lying delirious and tearless thought I was a witch before they knew I was just unfortunate, alone and lonesome. They gave me food and talked among themselves as I sat and waited.
I wash myself in the river and think of a time when our love was new, my gown was bright and you promised never to leave. When you did go to measure the earth, you gave me the map, told me the earth is round and promised you will always come back for me. That’s what lovers do. They always come back for each other you said.
Yes, that’s what lovers do.
I drew a map on the bank which resembled the Amazon carved at the soles of my feet and my soul. With smiles and rags they sent me to the church mission. They thought I was crazy.
I wait for you at Cayenne and pray for no one ever to be lost or to lose so many in one lifetime (and if they did there should always be someone waiting for them at the end) I ache for you like the burden on my soul, the scars on my back and the insects that crawl inside my skin. But will you recognise me?
I have been the mapmakers wife for twenty years. How do I depart as anyone else?
Today, you came to Cayenne—
*Isabel Godin des Odonais was an 18th-century Peruvian woman who became separated from her husband Jean Godin and was reunited with him over 20 years later after taking the long journey, from western Peru through the Andes to the mouth of the Amazon River.