Page 61. My eyes wander to the tip of calloused skin. The whole picture comes together. Feet. A pair of dark feet: salt scarred at the toes, bandaged with saffron cloth, standing on a sea of ivory rock. I stare, confused, at the glossy page of National Geographic. The caption reads “Mali. Worker mining salt.” Window to the underworld I whisper.
Mali, like a secret on Africa’s lips, is tucked beneath Niger. Unknown to American eyes, she was once a land of promise. Traders from even the Orient craved her spices and teak wood. Mali of the antiquities. Now we look at her, reduced to shards of salt blocks that glisten in African sun like silver mackerels in a sea of boys who call themselves men. Such is the way of history: cities of stone chip in pieces until they are reduced to dust. But when we finally take notice, we see crumbled cities in which the very feet of men seem to decompose. Mali of the fallen.
I wriggle my own feet, plum skin waxing and waning. What of them? Aren’t these as human, as fleshy as the man’s in Mali? I realize that we never see the face. We see broken feet, a novelty of the third world. Bandages cause us to sigh, Mali of the stone feet. Where does humanity lie?
I have found humanity creviced between our toes. I realize that those feet will one day be mine, and mine, his. One and the same, such is the nature of humanity: reversal. A primordial wave of heat beginning in my chest washes over me as I stare. We often haphazardly glance through photos, not realizing the subject is real. It has been for eternity; we simply forget to lift the page. Such is the era. The era of ignorance.
But it is soon to be over. The rush now floods through my limbs and out my toes. The picture becomes more than a picture, and I become more than the self. We blink, our memories, once remiss, is aroused. And it makes me want to throw fists in the air and shout “in the name of Humanity!” I pine to speak of his struggle at the pulpits, rousing the next generation to grow angry. We will grow in numbers! Wait. I halt and sigh.
I look down at those feet. Oh how they taunt me so with their walnut appearance. I have approached this all wrong. What of the boy? Blinded by oceans, a generation grows upset, but what of the face we never see? I lean in. Who will massage the wounds cut deep through decades? Humanity begins in my fingertips. I trace the outline of the bandages. Change begins in my land: across a bed of sharpened salt crystal, in the contours of his mind, in the warmth from my hand in his, in his weak smile, responding to me, yet a smile nonetheless. Humanity of the uplifted.
I fall in.