‘even the poorest of us
will have to give up something
to live free’
Diane di Prima, ‘Revolutionary Letter #17’
She refused to make a sister of pity. Unlike others, she owned land and was still in control of her mind and body. How many people, trapped by cycles of work and platonic obligation, could say that? She’d staked her claim before anyone else. This particular patch of grass was under her care and protection, it was hers to expand and foreclose without the debtors and creditors. There was no residual fear of loss. There was little risk of squatters descending and she was confident no one would mount a counter claim because they didn’t understand the value of the soil. It had been a while since anyone had visited her bit of the world; it was carefully guarded for obvious reasons. She depended on herself but was not a misanthrope; she loved other people and when they let her, she’d sit close to families and young children in parks. She liked living, most would say, in spite of her circumstances.
She was always writing towards the future; one day it met her. It did not look like what she thought it would look like. It met her at eye level and stood perpendicular to her body. Despite years spent orientating herself in its direction—she was surprised to be implicated in its arrival. When people talk about the future, they talk about it as if it is a fluid, amorphous blob that might be hard to hold in your hands. Hers had sharp lines and a defined shape; it offered no surrender. When she reached out to touch, it ran away, leaving floating green streaks in the air. It did not slip through her fingers more than it ate them up—she blinked, looked down and her right hand had disappeared. It grew back stronger and blacker than it had been before, a taste of what is to come. She’d dreamt about the women in this future, the labour relations, spent hours imagining the iterations of possibility. Men pretending to be wise had told her the future was being picked up and put down somewhere better. Standing in its wake proved them wrong.
When Olive returned that afternoon, she tried to write down what happened. She knew talking to her mother would be pointless—she never took her encounters seriously, blaming drugs and dehydration. She took out the broken mirror wrapped in newspaper and stood it up on the grass. She’d expected, having met the future, that her appearance would change. Shaving her head was a good decision. There weren’t many occasions to wash her face, hair or body. Sometimes she wanted to ask people not to buy her food but lipstick. Lipstick might have left her feeling beautiful and beauty was a currency with meaning.
Shortly after she met the future, things changed.
In the worlds she travelled to, she put on mantle after mantle, abolishing the kings, the capital-G-Gods and the chains of exploitation that brought everything into existence. The future wrapped her in green, swallowed her whole and thrust her into the palm of the otherwise. It gave her back the spatial memory that had been stolen in the undertow. The future promised to scoop up this afterlife and then to abolish it, pushing and pulling at her in all directions. She could never get the feeling to linger because it escaped through the gates she had erected to KEEP this world OUT.
(When you enter the world with a strike through your name, you are no stranger to disaster. Land might be all you have left, so you protect it as if your life depended on the fencing. Call that the home, the family, the nation.)
How she came to meet the future was of little consequence; all she knew was it made her property and by extension her being, indefensible. She had nothing in earthly terms; by way of the world she was nil, everything but the ground beneath her feet belonged to someone else. She still resolved to let the land go.
Lola Olufemi is a black feminist writer, organiser and researcher from London. Her work focuses on the uses of the feminist imagination and its relationship with futurity. She is co-author of A FLY Girl's Guide to University (2019), author of Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power (2020) and a member of 'bare minimum', an interdisciplinary anti-work arts collective.
TENANCY is a MAP project in twelve parts, presenting new work considering what it means to occupy somewhere–or something–temporarily. The project is curated by Helen Charman, MAP Commissioning Editor.