Braider's Hands

We chased the sun nearly two thousand miles to Portugal

and it was everything

melting yellow in the blue

it was heat and it was hope


Like the others we beat a path to the beach

like the others sand fell from our hair when we shook our heads

like the others we felt our skin tighten as the salt water dried

the roar of the waves

the gentle sea breeze

a good day

a very good day


Leaving the beach, we came upon an anchor’s graveyard

dozens of huge anchors were set into the land

all facing the same way

stark against the blue horizon

I wondered where they had been

about the lives they had led until

a squeal

my daughter


There was a small poster for hair braiding outside a shack

it was dark inside

there were no windows

the door was normal size

though we stooped as we entered nonetheless


There were two girls, separated by a few years

their relationship, a mystery

mother, daughter…



They did not look Portuguese

their black faces were lit by bright smiles

and sad eyes

both wore colourful dresses

and were surrounded by spools of coloured thread


My daughter took a seat and chose the style of her braid

the braider’s hands moved quickly and mechanically

she did not speak but left a fine silence

looking at her frame

as narrow as I have ever seen

I wondered where she found the energy

for braiding

for anything


My daughter was transfixed

as she watched in the mirror

the centre of the universe


It didn’t take long and when I asked

how much

the braider said, “eight”.

I gave her ten and

when I saw her face change

for that half moment

I felt an eel stir in the pit of my stomach



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