A couple of years ago, I wrote a fascinating blog post about the contents of my handbag. Don't worry, this isn't quite the same rant as last time, re civil liberties, chocolate wrappers and tampax.
This is about something I have been carrying around in my handbag for the last week as I wonder what to do with it – a copper circle, bent and green with age, something which would have fitted around the ankle of someone with very thin bones,or possibly around their wrist.
It is something that was given to me very many years ago, in Liberia, and it has been languishing in a cupboard in my parent's house in Hemel Hempstead ever since.
When we lived in Liberia, my sisters and I used to walk, nearly every day, to Russwurm Island - The Island, as we called it - to swim. We walked past the Kru village, past the Grebo village, hurried past the Fanti village, where the women, with their long frilled dresses, their faces ridged with patterned scars, watched us with stony eyes, calling their children away if they came too close. Then, past the Masonic Temple, with its huge globe on the top, and its evil concrete breath, past the creamy walls of the Tubman villa, with its riot of tumbling pink bougainvillea and its stories of ritual murder and cannibalism; onwards through the warm, most air with its perfume of flowers and smoke and fish, past more crumbling villas, surrounded by gardens exploding with mango and paw-paw and Frangipani trees, past the screaming abuse of the chimpanzee, chained to its wall and its desperate grief; past the house of the Baptist missionary and our Filipino friends, the Africas. And then, finally, past the Lighthouse standing sentinel on the edge of the red-earth cliff and down the hill to the causeway and over to The Island. Here there was a sheltered, sandy beach and a myriad rock pools, encrusted with brown-spotted-blue cowries, like duck eggs, star fish, sea urchins, octopus, gazing at the sky with wistful eyes.
The owner of the motel on The Island – the Sea View – was Mrs Grey, a large woman with a queen-like bearing and, appropriately enough, a fuzz of grey hair around her head. I always got the impression that she disapproved of us – or of me, at any rate, but one day she gave us each one of these bent copper rings. Apparently, when she first came to The Island, the rock pools around it were full of such things – slave bangles, copper rings that the American slaves sawed off their limbs when they finally arrived in Liberia – the Land of the Free.
So I now have one of these bangles, in my handbag. I wanted to bring it home to our new house, because it was mine, it was given to me, and it represents a link to a country which has a very strong hold on my heart.
But what do I do with it now? Do I display it on the mantelpiece, next to the carved heads from our honeymoon in The Gambia and the procession of camels from Riyadh? Do I put it on the window sill, hang it on the wall? This piece of twisted metal which once marked a human being out as the the property of another? Or do I keep it in my handbag with the dead receipts and empty chocolate wrappers? How on earth do you deal with something like this?
Maybe I should write a blog post about it.