Mugs are for coffee. Tea is served in china cups with handles too small to get your fingers through, on saucers, with a spoon, on a tray which also holds cream and sugar and (when you are very fortunate) scones and jam. Although these things are for you, they are not yours for the taking. You are not welcome to them until they are served to you, your empty hands savoring the desire for them.
Sit still. Stop fidgeting. Put your hands in your lap. Don’t pick. Don’t mumble. Don’t look at me that way. Hold still. Hold on. Pay attention. Say ‘Please.’ Say ‘Thank you.’ Mind your posture. You’re making a mess. You’re making a fool.
“What are you looking at?” her mother asks.
“It will blind you.”
“Maybe it’s not even there.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“But Teacher said that it’s so far away that if it disappeared we wouldn’t even know for eight minutes.”
“Where would it go?”
A guest: “The garden is exquisite. How can everything always be in bloom?” The African man sweeps flower petals from the path with a palm branch. We sit at the cast iron table. The air smells of char.
The years we lived in Africa were years of revolution. Boys had long hair, women worked outside the house, and the natives formed armies that chanted deep in the jungles. Electricity guarded the white house along with dogs that were never named or let inside.
On a winter night marching feet sent tremors through blood-colored earth. Farms went unattended. The sky drained of color. The cattle fell baron. Trucks slowed and stalled beside closed petrol stations. “We can’t walk from here,” people said.
Cecil John Rhodes: b. 1853, England. Sickly as a boy. Sent to South Africa for the warm climate. Prospered in the Kimberly diamond mines. Launched the DeBeers Company. Member of Cape Parliament. Known for his ability to communicate with the Boers and maintain the policies of Britain to civilize Southern Africa. In 1895 the name of the land was officially changed from Zambezi to Rhodesia.
In her text book is a copy of a simple, black and white wood cut: Cecil Rhodes moving north to conquer the jungle. Along the path are hundreds of scantily dressed natives carrying boxes and bundles atop heads. Rhodes wears slacks, a jacket and cap. It is tea time. He sits at a set table with lush bush waiting behind him. He sips daintily from the tea cup, the saucer held in his hands. A fully dressed African servant waits with a full tea kettle.
He seems to ask: “Where are we going, Boss?”
Her text book responds through maps with unmarked spaces: according to England, what has not yet been discovered of Africa, does not yet exist.
The distance from the sun to the earth is approximately 150,000,000 kilometers 1 AU (Astronomical Unit). At this distance it takes the light from the sun approximately 8 minutes to reach the earth.
In eight minutes a heart will make 960 beats, 120 respirations will occur, the eyes will blink 80 times, the average person can walk half a mile, eat a meal, read the front page of the paper, conceive a child.
Tea must be served with a matching set. The chipped cup should be given to the youngest guest (or taken by the host). Leave the tea to seep until a dark and rich color is attained. The cup should be held by one hand only, with the fewest fingers possible, the pinky permitted to rise.
When they left her mother wrapped everything in tissue paper and packed it gingerly into cardboard boxes that created walls in the yard.
No one said: “Don’t run around, you’ll break something.”
No one said: “Don’t touch that.”
No one said: “Be quiet. Be Calm.”
She hid in the roofless cardboard rooms and stared at the sun counting silently to sixty eight times.