Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun
Toni Morrison once said that if you can’t find the stories you’re looking for, then you must write them yourself. Author, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, said she had not read any novels featuring older strong, black women, so she wrote one. You can here from her here.
A smooth, engaging reflection on aging, connections and loss; Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun will delight you with its humor, truth and unforgettable, fiesty protagonist, Dr. Morayo Da Silva. This book was inspired by the poem, "Donkey On", by Mary Ruefle. You can learn more and read it here.
On the cusp of her seventy-fifth birthday, Dr. Morayo Da Silva continues to live her life in full color with red lipstick, her colorful, traditional Nigerian dress and frequent trips in her vintage Porsche she calls Buttercup. Her health is good and in absence of family, she fills it with books, friends and the diverse characters in her San Francisco neighborhood.
As she plans for the big birthday, one of Morayo's considerations is the party attendees.
"I find that parties in which everyone is the same age aren’t much fun. I can’t have a party just for older people, and in any case, chronological age aside, I don’t feel old. Or at least I didn’t until I started noticing the absence of younger friends, which got worse once I stopped teaching."
Other considerations involve her annual birthday traditions - new shoes (plush red scarlet) - what to wear with them? and doing something daring (her first tattoo) - where to place it?
Before she can celebrate, a sudden devastating fall shatters Dr. Morayo Da Silva's independence. As she navigates the new territory of her life, author Sarah Ladipo Manyika tells Morayo's story, moving from present to past, and interlacing it with stories of the people connected to her.
Morayo's new vulnerability provides us with a rare glimpse of some of aging's potential realities. Stuck in a rehabilitation facillity, she loses her privacy, books, ability to choose her clothing and walk without help. She is grouped with others who have more severe disabilities.
"Madness, I think to myself. It’s madness here, madness. Madness. Old age is a massacre. No place for sissies. No place for love songs. No place for dreaming."
She desperately misses her books and their characters with whom she has developed an intimate connection.
"I no longer organize my books alphabetically, or arrange them by colour of spine, which was what I used to do. Now the books are arranged according to which characters I believe ought to be talking to each other. That’s why Heart of Darkness is next to Le Regard Roi, and Wide Sargasso Sea sits directly above Jane Eyre. The latter used to sit next to each other but then I thought it best to redress the old colonial imbalance and give Rhys the upper hand – upper shelf."
While in rehabilitation, Morayo's young friend, Sunshine, vists and tells her that she has organized her books and gotten rid of some old ones. Morayo is bereft and begins to despair about her losses - friends and more.
"And yet all these friends were so far away. They weren’t friends with whom I could share my daily life. And as for my shelf friends, as much as I loved them, they weren’t real friends either."
Her indominable spirit prevails:
"No point in wallowing in self-pity. What is done is done and I’ll wait until I get home to see how bad things really are. Consider the birds in the sky, I remind myself. Consider the birds in the sky."
Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, shines a light on the complex nature of aging. Even strong, independent women find that they need others and have to find ways to begin again and again.
Perhaps one of Doctor Da Silva's acquaintances - a neighborhood homeless woman - says it best:
"But at the end of the day we all have to ask ourselves, what did I do for myself? Each of us in on a journey, so like, did you take yourself out on a retreat somewhere, alone, and get to soul-search your own sense of self?"
Sarah Ladipo Manyika's work is a gift. She has given us character who shines the light on the path of aging for others to follow.
Morayo leaves us as she takes a drive in Buttercup exclaiming:"So where to now, Buttercup?"
Sarah Ladipo Manyika was raised in Nigeria and has lived in Kenya, France, and England. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and for several years taught literature at San Francisco State University. Read some of her suggestions for other novels about aging of diverse people here.