And so there I was, standing in the forest among the women's gardens, remembering my grandmothers. Beyond the trees their daughters were waiting for me. Four aunts. Asana, daughter of Ya Namina, my grandfather's senior wife: a magnificent pride flowed like river water from the mother's veins through the daughter's. Gentle Mary, from ( a ) foolish children ran in fright, but who did my hair, cared for me like I was her own, and talked of the sea and the stars. Hawa, whose face wore the same expression I remembered from my childhood ― of disappointment already foretold. Not even a smile to greet me. Enough of her. And Serah, belly sister of my father, who spoke to me in a way no other adult ever had ― as though I might one day become her equal.
They were the ones ( b ) presence filled the background to my childhood. Not my only aunts, by any means, rather my husbandless aunts. Asana, widow. Mary, who never married. Serah, divorced. The fate of Hawa's husband had never been quite clear, it remained something of a mystery. I had heard some of their stories before, though I didn't remember who had told me or when. As a child I had spent my evenings at home doing schoolwork, or trying to get a picture on the black and white TV, as a teenager I'd lain in my room fiddling with my yellow transistor radio, waiting for my favourite tunes. Without men of their own to occupy them, these four aunts had always been frequent visitors to my father's house until he left to take up a series of appointments overseas and I followed in his slipstream to university.
Coming back, I thought about my aunts and all the things that had never been spoken. And I saw them for what they were, the mirror image of the things that go unsaid: all the things that go unasked. The stories gathered here belong to them, though now they belong to me too, given to me to do with as I wish. Just as they gave me their father's coffee plantation. Stories that started in one place and ended in another. Worn smooth and polished as pebbles from countless retellings. So that afterwards I thought maybe they had been planning it, waiting to tell me for a long time.
That day I walked away from the waiting women, into the trees and towards the water: the same river that further on curled around the houses, so the village lay within its embrace like a woman in the crook of her lover's arm. Either side of the path the shadows huddled. Sharp grasses reached out to scratch my bare ankles. A caterpillar descended on an invisible thread to twirl in front of my face, as if surveying me from every angle before hoisting itself upwards through the air. A sucker smeared my face with something sticky and unknown. I paused to wipe my cheek in front of a tall tree with waxy, elliptical leaves. Along the branches hung hundreds of sleeping bats. As I watched, a single bat shifted, opened a wing and wrapped its body ever more tightly. For a moment a single eye gleamed at me from within the darkness.
Here and there scarlet berries danced against the green. I reached out, careful of the stinging tree-ants, and plucked a pair. I pressed a fingernail into the flesh of a berry and held it to my nose. Coffee. The lost groves. All this had once been great avenues of trees.
And for a moment I found myself in a place that was neither the past nor the present, neither real nor unreal. Rothoron, my aunts called it. Probably you have been there yourself, ( c ) you are and wherever in the world you are reading this. Rothoron, the dreamlike bridge suspended between sleep and wakefulness.
In that place, for a moment, I heard them. I believe I did. A child's laugh, teasing and triumphant, crowning some moment of glory over a friend. The sound of feet, of bare soles, flat African feet pat- patting the earth. A humming ― of women singing as they worked. But then again, perhaps it was just the call of a crane flying overhead, the flapping of wings and the buzz of the insects in the forest. I stood still, straining for the sound of their voices, but the layers of years in between us were too many. I passed through the ruined groves of the coffee plantation that by then was mine. Not in law, not by rights. Conventional law would probably deem it to belong to Alpha, Asana's son. But it was mine if I wished, simply because I was the last person ( d ) with the power to do anything with it.
Down by the water, under the gaze of a solitary bird, a group of boys were bathing. At the sight of me they stopped their play in order better to observe my progress, which they did with solemn expressions, bellies puffed out in front of them like pompous old men, sniffing airily through snot-encrusted nostrils. I smiled. And when they smiled back, ( e ) they did suddenly, they displayed rows of perfect teeth. One boy leaned with his arm across his brother's shoulder, his eyes reclining crescents above his grin, and on his ear the cartilage formed a small point in exactly the same place as it does on my son's ear. I had bent and kissed that very place as he lay sleeping next to his sister, before I left to catch my early morning flight.
And later, inside my grandfather's house, I pushed open the shutters of a window, finely latticed with woodworm. The plaster of the window sill was flaking, like dried skin. The clay beneath was reddish, tender looking. In the empty room stood the tangled metal wreck of what was once a four-poster bed. I remembered how it was when my grandfather lived and I came here as a child on visits from the city on the coast where my father worked. Then I sat confused and terrified before him, until somebody ― a grandmother, an aunt ― picked me up and carried me away. It was only the fact that my father was the most successful of his sons, though still only the younger son of a junior wife, ( f ) made him consent to have me in his presence at all.
In the corner a stack of chests once stood, of ascending size from top to bottom. Gone now. Fleetingly I imagined the treasures I might have found inside. Pieces of faded indigo fabric. Elegant gowns crackling with ancient starch. Letters on onion-skin paper. Leather-bound journals. Memories rendered into words. But, no. For here the past survives in the scent of a coffee bean, a person's history is captured in the shape of an ear, and those most precious memories are hidden in the safest place of all. Safe from the fire or floods or war. In stories. Stories remembered, until they are ready to be told. Or perhaps simply ready to be heard.
And it is women's work, this guarding of stories, like the tending of gardens. And as I go out to them, my aunts, silhouetted where they sit in the silver light of early dusk, I remember the women returning home at nightfall from the plots among the trees.
A story comes to mind. A story I have known for years, it seems, though I have no memory now of ( g ) it was who told it to me.
Five hundred years ago, a ship flying the flag of the King of Portugal rounded the curve of the continent. She had become (1) becalmed somewhere around the Cape Verde Islands, and run low on stocks, food and water. When finally the winds took pity on her, they blew her south-east towards the coast, where the captain sighted a series of natural harbours and weighed anchor. The sailors, stooped with hunger, rowed ashore, dragged themselves through shallow water and on up the sand where they entered the shade of the trees. And there they stood and gazed about themselves in disbelief. Imagine! Dangling in front of their faces: juicy mangoes, bursts of starfruit, avocados the size of a man's head. While from the ends of their elegant stalks pineapples nodded encouragingly, sweet potatoes and yams peeped from the earth, and great hands of bananas reached down to them. The sailors thought, (2) they had found no less a place than the Garden of Eden.
The sailors saw what they took to be nature's abundance and stole from the women's gardens. They thought they had found Eden, and perhaps they had. But it was an Eden created not by the hand of God, but the hands of women. And I wonder what they would think if they came here now. Of all the glorious gifts the forest had to offer ― fresh coffee.
[From Aminatta Forna's novel Ancestor Stones, published by Atlantic Monthly Press]
1 ) Choose FOUR statements which agree with what the author says.
A Five hundred years ago, Portuguese sailors came to an African coastal village and stole fruit from native gardens.
B I brought my son with me when I came back to Africa.
C In my grandfather's house, I found a stack of chests full of fabric, gowns, letters and journals.
D In recalling my childhood memories, I have become a storyteller to pass on the memories of my aunts.
E My four aunts frequently visited my father's house because they had no husbands.
F My grandmother was one of the younger wives of my grandfather, and she gave birth to my father and my aunt Serah.
G The coffee plantation was mine because I was the last person still alive in my family.
2) Choose the best word or phrase to put in each space(a)~(g). No answer can be used more than once. Choose H if no word is needed.
A that B what C which D who E whoever F whom G whose H (no word)
3) Answer the following questions.
1 A (1)becalmed ship is one that
A has been sent on an exploration by a monarch.
B has come upon undiscovered territory.
C is low on supplies for its crew.
D is stranded because winds have died down.
2 The clause (2)they had found no less a place than the Garden of Eden means that
A it was better than the Garden of Eden.
B it was not as beautiful as the Garden of Eden.
C it was not smaller than the Garden of Eden.
D it was undoubtedly the Garden of Eden.
3 Which one of the following best summarizes a key point of the passage?
A An appreciation of women's role in maintaining oral history
B Recognition of religion's impact on us through references to Eden
C The author's return to Africa to claim her inheritance
D Understanding how we exaggerate past events when we're young