‘But Moirema,’ Jhanni cried, and drew her to him, ‘I did not guess you, too, were an embroiderer – just like my own nonna. Sit,’ he said, drawing her to the wooden bench in the alcove, ‘and tell me.’ So holding his hand, like a child, and leaning against his longed-for frame, she began.
‘Dark-skinned like my black sea-faring father, green-eyed like my Irish grandmother, before I was three, I learnt to sew at the feet of mother and grandmother, as they sat like all the other women in the town, in high-backed wooden chairs, leaning against the white walls of their dwellings working the blouses and cloths our island is famous for.
‘But, though the bright colours filled me with delight and the figures I learnt to pick out in the shining silks drew praise, I would watch my mother carefully. Always her own beautiful pictures of men and maidens, donkeys and dogs would be wet with tears. I would see them slip down the inside of her cheek and fall on the white cloth. “Tcha, Frida,” my grandmother would say. “Too much crying for that worthless one. I will make us some tea,” and she would rise and go into the little house clicking her tongue. “Why do you cry, Mama?” I asked and she would say: “For your Papa, Moirema, for your Papa.” Then, one day, when I was ten, grandmother told me mother wasted her tears. “Your Papa, the black bastard, my child, will never return. Everyone on the island knows he sailed away for good when you were three months old, the day before he and your poor mother were to name you in the church on the square. Not even for that day could he wait.”
‘I swore then,’ Moirema said, turning to Jhanni, I would not embroider and weep, I would use my feet instead to dance. I danced in street festivals, you remember, and then, at sixteen, I began dancing for money at the inn for all of the sailors, who went, like my father, from port to port. I could not draw Papa to me, I thought, but I would draw all other men, whose strong, brown bodies smelling of salt and sweat excited me, into the threads of light and movement that I would weave to delight and sometimes to destroy.’
‘And,’ cried Jhanni, ‘where you bewitched me again tonight, when I walked back into the inn after twenty years; the same green eyes, in the dark face, the same flying feet and the beautiful weaving body, there, still dancing, just as you were when I left with my father and mother all those years ago. Moirema, it is Moirema? I thought. Can it be? Now, Jhanni, you must jump up on the table and claim her, as you could not, dared not, that night of your nineteenth birthday. And so tonight I dared. And you – dancing, your eyes flashing – I knew, in that moment, you knew me. But how? And the embroidery, Moirema? When do you do all this?’
‘In the daytime usually, sometimes at night, when the inn is closed, I work. Always, embroidery has been a delight,’ she said ‘and a calming influence – it is as if, in its presence, I feel the company of mother and grandmother and all the female community in the town, though now many will not talk to me, some even shouting insults and hissing “promiscuous” as I pass in the street.’
‘Mostly,’ said Moirema, tossing her dark head, ‘I give little thought to them. But today even the yellow and orange pineapple shapes I had marked out with the bright gold and orange threads could not lift my thoughts. Today, Jhanni, I felt somehow more deeply linked to pain, perhaps because it is a year since my mother’s death, perhaps because my feet and hips ached from last night’s dancing, but perhaps because my heart ached, too, such a longing I had for deep, lasting connection.
‘The high tide that brought you caused me to lie listless on my little balcony, my needle idle, pinned through the cloth stretched here on grandmother’s large embroidery frame. I thought of our growing up in the same town, our innocent connection and of how our eyes caught each other’s that night so long ago at the inn. But then your father came with your uncle and they edged you out into the dark. The next evening, I heard you were sailing, at first light, for Portugal, where your father’s father lay dying.
‘As the sea washed further up the shore, and pounded the breakwater raising the harbour wall, I decided, as I lay on my daybed, I would dance tonight for the last time. I would choose, for the last time, the most arresting man in the circle of admiring faces, lead him up the street and into my room, ply him with pineapple wine and, when we had made love and he was asleep, I would drain my last beaker of intoxicating golden liquor to the dregs, move down onto the beach and walk in my swirling skirts out into the sea.’
‘Moirema, beloved,’ Jhanni said, drawing her to him. ‘We can be here together now. You will dance for me alone, and embroider for joy, for our home. And we will travel together to Portugal when I must go there for business, to Spain and to France. Will you be with me?’
And the dancing embroiderer, pain forgotten, pain draining from her, moved across the room, poured two glasses of the golden liquid and they stood close, surrounded by the tales of the island, all portrayed in smoothly stitched, glowing silk, drinking to the bright, newly interwoven threads of their own two lives.