I have an odd assortment of good friends. Most of whom are made of flesh and bone but a few are less solid, having been penned to life. These paper friends visit me in dreams. Wang Lung, a great-grandfather (at last count he had eighteen grandchildren) still visits tea shops and is able to walk over to his beloved fields. I often find him standing at the top of an emerald hill staring down at the place where he will come to lie below his uncle and his father and not far from his devoted wife, O-lan. Having worked hard to claim for himself property and success he is still a man humbled by nature. There is so much I want to know, I say, but I dare not ask him. I wonder if he feels bad about the way he treated O-lan? I wonder if he still yearns for Lotus who was far prettier than his wife and slender as bamboo? Does he, I wonder, still bend down to scoop up earth with his hands. Does he appreciate each day on the good earth with his sons and Pear Blossom who remain faithful and attentive?
I know Huck Finn is adventuring in another world but he likes to tell me about his grand adventures in the Wild West after he and Jim parted ways. He tells me he crossed paths with Pawnee raiders and rescued more than one damsel in distress. I have Huck to thank for introducing me to the evils of slavery, robbers and conmen and to floating down the Mississippi river on a raft. Huck Finn is the reason I crave adventure. He also gave me the courage to plan my own escape when I was seven. I didn’t follow through with my childish threat to run away but I had a satchel packed and ready just in case my mother threatened to tan my hide again for something my sister did.
I once threatened to ‘tar and feather’ a bully in primary school, thanks to Huck. She stopped bullying me after that.
Reverend Stephen Kumalo and I still weep for his son Absalom who was found guilty of murder and condemned to die in apartheid-era South Africa. I wonder if he and James Jarvis have undertaken any new projects? James, who after his own son’s death was forced to face the racial issues that divided his country. James who tried to make amends. I wonder if the good reverend’s village Ndotsheni has prospered or if the men are still leaving to find work in the big cities? I think I know the answer to this question but to hear Kumalo speak of these things in person would be a precious gift.
Which book’s character/s continue to live with you?