Tuesday, March 24, 2009

espiritu takes a bride

I didn’t ever really feel at home ‘round here. I mean, the houses were nice enough – clean brick, concrete porches, sidewalks we could roller skate on and plenty room for jumping rope and red light, green light, but I never felt at home. Not completely. If I tried, though, I could blend in and find quiet spaces inside the house while my folks lived the way grown ups should . . . working, fucking, arguing, tending to me and whatever I might have needed, waiting for me to laugh when something was supposed to be funny, twisting their mouths up when I started to cry. But when I sat up in my room at night and stared out into the darkness, I knew that there was something else to all of it, and I had no words for it, the feeling of a sideways longing for some other place, some other time. So I took to talking to myself when no one was listening, which was pretty often since Lonnie could only come over to play on Saturdays, and my folks appreciated my silence, considering it a mark of my advanced mind. I saw things better that way.
I saw the lives of my neighbors and the messiness of people when the police had to come and get JT from off the roof of his house before he killed somebody, and in the too much too soon way the twins, Sweets and Meaty, leaned over their front yard gate with all the baby fat saying hi to old Mr. Gee. When Meaty’s belly got big before graduation, I giggled ‘cause everybody acted like they couldn’t possibly know who the daddy was, and I just stayed quiet, especially when Sweets tried to tell me that Meaty was like the Virgin Mary from the Bible having a baby immaculately. I had to try hard to keep quiet with that one, though, ‘cause even at six I knew damn well Meaty wasn’t no virgin nothing, and I had seen the too much too soon way she gave Mr. Gee hugs when he called her Hollywood. But I didn’t want to get in trouble for people thinking I understood more than I did, and I liked staying to myself anyway.
I did not feel at home, what with invisible people always talking to me and telling me way more than I wanted or needed to know.

In the quiet moments leading her restless spirit into the world of sleep where she placates the souls of the dead, her small body melts into a gentle dismemberment always beginning with the sharp taste of copper coins in the mouth and a numbing of the lips that she can only link to the feel of a rubber eraser swallowing her whole. Next, her flesh takes on a new malleability, shifting and softening into an ethereal substance perfect for traveling through the crack of her window sill. Soon, she flies through the night sky, looking down upon the slow approach of ragged days, the local warriors who will dress in uniforms of simple jeans and tee shirts, carrying semi automatic machine guns and walking up the hill next to her home, fierce and fearsome, their young bodies aged somehow by the weight of fire-arms, a suicidal mission commanded by their ripe maleness left untended and unloved. They walk in small groups to a destination she knows is somewhere close to her heart, but she must fly past them, remembering the woman from before and the promise they made. This propels her forward against the night sky and the days she must witness later until she finally makes it to the other side.
This time her guide smiles welcome and asks her to remove her shoes as she enters the small thatched hut. The dirt floor is cool on her feet, and the row of pots sitting on top of two levels of shelves remind her of something she cannot speak. There are no words between them, but within the familiar silence she knows that she must sit quietly while the woman kneels before one pot, singled out from the others, its top on the floor. Without feeling herself move, Nzinga hovers over the pot, peering inside and seeing what she could not know throb from inside. And when the woman’s face turns toward her, it is the grip of the woman’s hand that Nzinga cannot shake from her wrist. The fire in the woman’s eyes both indict and congratulate her, and they sit there, the one holding the other’s wrist and speaking through silence a secret that Nzinga can only remember as life inside a simple, clay pot, a tilting floor, and ringing inside her head. And just as the woman seems about to speak between lips slightly parted into a knowing smile, a young boy runs inside, his reddish brown skin glistening, his white teeth breaking through gasps to throw words at both of them . . . yes, both of them, laughing for them to follow.
The walk to the water is fast. Nzinga’s feet are foreign to her, a deeper shade of brown than her usual skin, more agile against the rugged terrain than she would ever be at home. She races ahead of the woman, and then looks back, smiling and looking ahead at the boy who is now almost lost to her in a group of boys, all tall and lean and crowding about an elder man with white hair. Looking down again, Nzinga sees that the ground has changed from red clay with patches of sparse grass to sand, and she hears, before her eyes can see, the sound of waves rushing against the sand, and the sound of the boys throwing themselves into it. Her heart jumps forward without her willing it, and then, those same agile feet quicken to follow them . . . into the water, and specifically, closer to the one who had burst inside the room of pots what seems like seconds before.
But there is the hand again, the deliberately jarring hand, demanding something of her again. No. She cannot follow the boys. She can only watch. And as she looks at the elder woman from before, she sees that she is watching too, her chin lifted toward the sun light and her eyes squinting to see the boy who was now so much further away. Nzinga knew him before he turned back to wave, holding what she knows must be a spear in his hand, and though there is a threat in that, it all seems like so much fun that she can only pull away from the diligent fingers and try to join him.
She looks at back the woman, and asks with eyes pleading now, for her own spear. And the woman laughs. There is no spear, just the watching and the waiting, and the what if he does not come back. And the woman laughs again, because now Nzinga is really there, and troubled, of course, by what she knows is some strange but sacred game rite the boys must play, one that seems more dangerous now that she has finally crossed over, because the other boys are jabbing the sharp ends of their spears into the water, and are, as she can see from her distance, completely reckless about how they do it. Still, the woman nudges her, chuckling deeply inside her chest so that no sound comes out. She winks. And in that single gesture, Nzinga falls in love . . . standing there so silly, eyes filling with so much of it, that she tries desperately to look away. She cannot.

She watches him walk ahead of her in the water, his shoulders angling with the spear and poised with such focus that time would not dare shift against him. A promise. And that one moment – her eyes longing for him to turn around in triumph holding the game’s reward high above his head and smiling back at her just a short distance away – is what she remembers when she crosses back over. And she looks for him everywhere – In Ms. Wiggins' kindergarten class crowded out by snotty noses and absurdly bright colored shapes, in the ridiculous slow jam blue light basement parties where Terrance grabbed her ass like she was every young girl in the city. Until finally, she gives up, soon forgetting the promise, and discovering, instead, life’s rude truths.

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