“I am certain of my power.”

Today I go back to work on my novel The Girl in the Road. As per the wisdom I received from prospective agents, I’ll be adding topography and plot, pulling up the mountains and deepening the valleys and swirling them all around in concentric circles. Just in the last few weeks, three images have come to me that seem not only important, but essential: Meena lying down in the path of an autorickshaw. Meena having disturbing thoughts of doing violence to pregnant women. Meena’s fantasy of her Gujarati mother as a goddess in the innermost of innermost chambers. And isn’t the anti-Indian sentiment much more acute in Ethiopia during Mariama and Gabriel’s courtship? And aren’t there many more settlers on the Trail, with multitudinous innovations for surviving, than I have so far described? Where do I stop deepening?

When I do, to celebrate, I’m going to commission my amazing artist friend Danielle Durchslag to make something for me. Long ago I decided what the template would be—the image above, which I ripped out of (!) a BUST magazine years ago. The caption names her Atim, a former captive of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Something about the look on her face absolutely arrested me. Just: “I am certain of my power.” I wrote Yemaya Obanje on the scrap (though it’s a name with Yoruba and Igbo origins, Atim’s expression fit the character); and since this issue dates all the way to 2004, it seems this character predates even the image of the Trail. (For those who’ve read the manuscript: Yemaya became Mariama. Then, when Mariama got to Dakar, the real Yemaya appeared as a mirage at the outskirts of the city…)

As for Atim, I’d love to get in touch with her to tell her how much this image means to me. I looked up the name of her son, but there are a lot of Komakech’s of his age (I’m guessing he’d be 11-12 now) in Uganda, even on the Internet. If anyone has any tips on how to source a photo, please let me know.

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