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Hearth

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It snowed, without stopping, for over nine hours. That was a number of years ago. Today it has rained all day. Then, the streets were empty and an unusual silence sat where the car tyres normally swished by. It was white everywhere. Although it was nighttime, the air was bright and clear, silvery blue, and every leaf and branch was frozen still, immobilized as in a picture.

The road home

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We sat in front of a log fire, working, curtains drawn, wood smoke and ash in the air. This was a brief spell, a cold snap, and the picture was sharp and clean, not yet the slush brown of melting snow.

 

That morning our sitting room was bathed in light. It faced the early morning sun and on a day that was crystal clear, the sun shone like a strong beam of light and the room was ablaze with a brilliance that was at once liquid and hard.

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The focal painting at the north wall of our sitting room is a market scene, colorful with dazzling yellows, reds and pinks that flourish like petals but are really scarves or headgears. Many of the women, in the painting, carry umbrellas and their goods or baskets are tin or brass bowls  on the floor beside them. It was as if the light that flowed into our room flowed straight through into this scene in Lagos, a Mavua Lessor painting.

 

The log fire was burning in our fireplace. The flames were wrapping their tongues round a slender log, kissing and licking it and then dancing upwards, pointing towards the chimney. Odd and infrequent flakes of red hot ash flickered and died as suddenly as they rose. A low hum, and a quiet swirl of air, and the crackling and snapping sound of burning wood intermingled to say what couldn’t be said in words- It is hot, it is heartwarming, a hearth encloses the feeling of life, of joy, of closeness and family.

 

That morning, a new, previously unknown creaking of the floorboards started in a corner of the bedroom. It was surprising. That corner had never, previously, shown any inclination to draw attention to itself in 10 years. Usually, the floorboards underneath the radiator creaked as it stretched its length and width, pushing against the joists, limbering to the task of supporting our feet as we woke up to another morning. Then, there would be the low, thrumming, that rumble of the heater as the boiler started, far in the undergrowth of the house. But, this morning it was an alien creaking sound, perhaps of ghosts or spirits visiting, perhaps it was our own presence well ahead of schedule moving about whilst we lay in bed. Who knows?

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The wall behind the head post of the bed separates us from our next-door neighbor. At the unearthly and magical hour of 3 in the morning, strange whirring noises, machine-like, buzzed (not exactly), more like a rotatory metallic sound came forth. What could this noise be? Doors opened and shut and then the lavatory flushed. The first time we heard this noise, we wondered whether it was a drill. Could our neighbor be a DIY fanatic, waking far before dawn to fit a picture hook or hang a mirror? But, the noise that had gone on for over 5 years, with no plausible explanation, suddenly ceased.

 

This same neighbour woke to start his motorbike at 4 in the morning for a ride that lasted 10 minutes at most, if that. Was he a drug pusher taking delivery or delivering? Was he an insomniac? Was he a spy, of the old school, making a drop? And the drilling noise, the clanking, the flushing of lavatories, what mysterious nocturnal activities did they signify? He has now changed from a motorbike to rattling the chains of a pushbike at the same unearthly hour (why exactly unearthly?), for the same brief, inexplicable ride before dawn.

 

The trace of imagination in the wake of snow arches upwards and inwards fueled by the warm fires of the hearth.

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Photos by Jan Oyebode

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