Open Road Media is set to release Ebook editions of Two Nalo Hopkinson Titles: The Salt Roads and Skin Folk on January 27, 2015
In addition to The Salt Roads, Open Road Media will also publish Nalo Hopkinson’s World Fantasy Award-winning short story collection, Skin Folk, in ebook on January 27th.
Known for tales that cast “folklore in more contemporary terms, sometimes with science fictional elements” (SF Site), Nalo Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian author who enchants readers with tales that draw on Caribbean and other myths.
In The Salt Roads, we find the three intertwined stories of African women at different points in history. From the colonial Caribbean to 1880s Paris to Ancient Egypt, these women are connected by a mystical force that will change their lives.
Praised as “whirling with witchcraft and sensuality” by Publishers Weekly, The Salt Roads is a one-of-a-kind novel that spans hundreds of years to tell a mystical, heartrending story of self-worth and salvation.
Nalo Hopkinson has won numerous awards, including the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Andre Norton Award. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, and has taught at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop.
“It went in white, but it will come out a mulatto in a few months’ time, yes?”
I was right; the oven of Georgine’s belly was swelling up nice with the white man’s loaf it was cooking to brown. I cackled at my own joke like the old woman I was becoming, stretched my neck a little to ease its soreness. A deep breath brought me salt-smelling air, blowing up from the cliffs at the foot of the plantation. Good to get away for a few minutes from stooping over sugar cane. Sixteen hours each day they had us working to bring the sugar in, and old Cuba the driveress would still push the first gang to pluck weeds sometimes into the deep of the night.
Georgine just stared at me in fear, never mind it was she had brought herself to me by her own will. Then she whispered, “No, Auntie, not just mulatto. I’m griffonne, my mother was sacatra. The baby will be marabou.”
Eh. I ignored her, poked again at her belly, at her lolling on the flour bags that made my bed on the floor of my hut; she got to plant her behind in a softer bed nowadays—even had a mattress, I bet. I wondered if the ticks didn’t bite her when she put her head on Mister Pierre’s straw-stuffed pillows.
I knew Georgine’s type. Made her road by lying down. Lie down with dog, get up with fleas, they say. Silly wench, with her caramel skin. Acting the lady because she worked in the great house, washing white people’s stained sheets till her fingers cracked and bled from the soap.
Free-coloured Philomise had been making eyes at her; well-off brown man with his own coffee plantation and plenty slaves to work it, but no, our master didn’t want a coloured to have her. Gave her instead to that yeasty-smelling carpenter imported to San Domingue—him from some backwards village in the ass end of France. And Georgine was puffing herself up now she had a white man, never mind he didn’t have two coins to rub together.
True, she had cause maybe to be happy. Pierre was looking after her well. She might get two-three free children out of it too, and if she gave him enough boys, her Pierre might release her from slavery finally. When she was old.
But now she needed tending, and now that that flat-behind raw dough boy they called the plantation surgeon was too shy to even lay his hands on her belly to feel the baby, who did she come to? She didn’t trust him. She wasn’t an entire fool. Instead, she had found her high-coloured self to my hut.
And her carpenter had come with her too. Got time off from mending the wain carts as they burst under the weight of the cane they were carrying to the factory. Waiting outside, he was; screwing his hat into shreds between his big paws. Frightened I would poison his Georgine, his goods. All the backra round these parts were frightened of poison nowadays. Black people’s poison was showing up in the food and bad ouanga in their beds. But Mister Pierre was more frightened to see woman’s business. So outside he stayed, saying it was more decent.
Eh. What decent could mean to we with black blood? Who ever feared for my decency?
Niger woman spoiled fine as any lady. She’d best watch herself. Slightest thing she did that mispleased that backra man, he’d pack her off, out of his little house.
I went to turn up the hem of Georgine’s dress. She gasped, flinched. I sighed. “Can’t examine you with all this cloth in the way.”
She considered, set her mouth firmly. “Proceed, then.”
Proceed. Stupid wench. Pampered pet parrot, talking with backra’s tongue.
I touched her dress again. A soft cotton hand-me-down from some backra’s wife, and dyed a yellow pale like ripe guavas. The fabric caught on the calluses of my hands. I ruched it up around her waist, exposed her smooth legs, her pouting belly, her bouboun lips covered in black crinkly hair. She was even paler where the sun didn’t touch her. Bleached negress.
Oh, but she was thin! Meager like the chickens scratching in the yard outside. “Eh,” I muttered, on purpose as though my patient wasn’t there, “would think the hair on the little bòbòt would be pale like the skin.”
Georgine gave a small sound, made to push the dress back down with her hands, stopped. Good.
The clean salt scent of Georgine’s body came up in my nose, mixed with sweet rosewater. Me, I smelled of sweat. Her thigh under my fingers was velvet smooth like my baby’s, long lost. My body was dry wood after years of work; the brand that had got infected and nearly killed me tunnelled a ropy knot on my thigh. Her yellow dress reflected the sun back in its own eye. My one frock was a colourless calico cut from a flour sack, washed a thousand times, that Tipingee had darned for me over and over again, for my hands were impatient with needles, unless it was to sew up a wound. Georgine’s skin was steamed milk with a splash of high mountain coffee. Me, the colour of dirt in the canefields.
I poked and prodded at Georgine’s belly while she tried not to squirm. I took my time, in no hurry to get back to the fields. My back was thanking me for having a rest. “When did you get pregnant?”
“I don’t know, Auntie,” she said in a small voice. Know-nothing girl child.
“When did your courses stop?” I asked, trying another way to get the answer from her.
“Stop? They only started”—she was frowning, looking up into the ceiling while she did her figuring—“ten months ago. My first blood. Then I bled three times, three months, then pretty soon I started puking a lot, then I realised the bleeding had stopped. I thought it was going away and I was glad, for I didn’t like the pain and the blood. I felt like the whole thing was only fatiguing me. When the bleeding came every month, I didn’t have the strength to lift the washing down to the river. Marthe beat me one day, told me I was too lazy. So I was glad when the bleeding stopped, yes? It’s Marie-Claire who told me I was pregnant.” Her face got red and she smiled, glancing down. “For Pierre.”
Seven months, maybe more. But the child under my hands was too small for a seven-month baby. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m tired all the time, matant. Even more than when I used to get my courses.”
I went and looked under her eyelids. Her colour was poor. Her blood was thin. “You and Pierre are eating good?”
“Yes, matant! I’m keeping a nice garden Sundays when I have the day off. I’m growing cassava and pumpkin, plenty pumpkin. Pierre says I don’t have to take none of it to market, for Master’s paying him a wage we can both live on, if we’re careful. Pierre says—”
“Pierre says, Marie-Claire says. I’m asking about you, not about them.”
She looked chastened. “Yes, matant. What should I do, then?”
Back in my home, back in the kingdom of Dahomey, every Allada girl child and woman would know what to do if a woman wasn’t strong enough to carry her baby. Eat foods to strengthen the blood. “You have beets in your garden?”
“No, matant. I should grow some?”
“Yes. I wish if you could get liver too.”
“I get meat sometimes.”
Eh. Maybe she thought her Pierre was a fine hunter as well as all his other talents? “How do you mean, meat?”
“Sometimes Pierre gets meat left over after the great house is finished eating dinner.”
“Don’t eat that meat!”
She jumped, startled to hear me speak so strong.
“No, child,” I said, “I don’t mean nothing by it. Just that white people don’t know about food. Plenty times their meat is spoiled and they’re still eating it.”
“Oh. It tastes nice, though. Boeuf au jus with red wine sauce.”
Little bit of girl was making airs that she got to eat great house food. “You can’t stay weak and tired like this and have a baby.”
“Oh,” she said fearfully. “I’m going to die?”
Pride made me speak to her as I did to other women. “You’ve ever seen an African live more than ten years once he set foot on this island?”
Georgine shook her head no. Too right. Sickness and torture killed most of us on the journey across the bitter water, then the backra worked the rest of us to death when we got here. Plenty more were coming on the ships to replace us.
“Well, I’ve been here twelve years. Was apprentice to my midwife mother before I came. That’s why they made me doctress. Don’t you worry. I’ve taken dozens of babies on this island live from their mothers’ wombs and put them in their mothers’ arms.”
She smiled. So I didn’t tell her how many of those mothers had died of fever soon afterwards. Didn’t tell how many of the babies had got the lockjaw, never breathed again. Didn’t talk of my little dead one, so many years ago. Returned beneath the water to the spirits before his ninth night, so he had never really existed. No name for him. Except in my head. He was so beautiful, I called him Ehioze, “none can envy you.” Should have been Amadi, “might die at birth.”
Back in my home, we cared for women when they were breeding, gave them the best foods. They rested for days afterwards with their babies, getting to know them. Here I must help starving women squatting in sugar cane whose children were fighting their way free of their wombs. Afterwards, I strapped their children to their backs and if they were lucky, they got a day’s rest in the slave hospital before they had to get their black behinds back to work.
A footfall came outside the window. A small face looked in on us, grinning. Then a shout came from outside: Georgine’s owner man. Georgine screamed, “Who is it?” and shoved her clothing down over her thighs.
“Just one of the little boys,” I told her, loud so the carpenter would hear. “Get dressed.” O Lasirèn, let him not beat the child.
I stepped outside. It was Ti-Bois, all of his skinny six-year-old soul case quivering with excitement. “Sorry, Mister Pierre,” I mumbled at the carpenter. He grunted, nodded, his eyes searching within my hut for Georgine. Ti-Bois had gotten off light this time.
I hissed at Ti-Bois, “Why did you push your face in my window? Little door-peep. If you make the backra man vexed, you and me both could get whipped. Maybe we should call you Ti Malice, hein?”
His face twitched a frightened, apologetic smile. “Sorry, matant, sorry Auntie Mer. It’s the book-keeper who sent me. You must come quick; Hopping John stepped on a centipede in the sugar cane and it bit him. He’s in the mill house, no time to take him to the slave hospital. Quick, Auntie; come!” He turned on his heel, running back for the canefields. I shouted for him to wait for me, then said to the carpenter: “Mister Pierre, Georgine’s coming out now.”
He was frowning. He really looked fretful for his Georgine. “How is her health?”
She was living; Hopping John might be dying. “She will be well, Mister Pierre. I already told her what she needs to do.”
His face cleared a little. “Good. You’re to be with her when her time comes, at our house.”
“Your master gave permission.”
“Yes, Mister Pierre. I will send her out to you now.” I dashed back into my room. “Someone’s sick,” I told Georgine. “I have to go and help.”
“You must grow beets and eat them, make yourself strong for the birth. And get ginger root and make a poultice, put it down there every night, on the opening to your bouboun.”
She got a scandalised look. I didn’t have time for that. “Not strong enough to burn, mind. It will make the skin supple so the baby will pass through without tearing it. And tell your carpenter not to touch you until after you wean.”
She gasped. “So long?”
“So long. Or your milk will be weak and your child won’t thrive.”
Georgine looked down at her big belly like she was just now thinking of all that it signified.
“Your baby is coming in two months, not more. When your birth time comes, I’m to be there with you, Master says. I have to go now.” I ran through the door, leaving her questions on her lips. Maybe they would let Tipingee come with me to Georgine’s birth.
Lasirèn, pray you a quick death for Hopping John. Pray you no more of this life for him. Even though no gods answer black people’s prayers here in this place.
Skin Folk and The Salt Road will be available from Open Road Media on January 27.
Nalo Hopkinson can be found at her website here.