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"He loses because he never understood the game."
-- Sister Souljah, Coldest Winter Ever
Maya Gayle Hope stood in front of The Dandridge Pavilion and Convention Center on Three Birds Avenue squinting into the dim daylight. Strains of wayward poems in her head, windbeaten protest sign in her hands, "Stop police brutality now" on her lips; her life was held together by rubber bands.
"Once upon a life when I was sexy / Connected to my sweet meitude. / What a metamorphosis is this? / Shade / Sweetness / Struggle." She was feeling the beginnings of a new poem's first kiss. They usually came at inconvenient times. There was nowhere to write it down.
"No justice, no peace!" She marched the sidewalk chanting like an evening chick gone wrong. A crumbling gray Thunderbird honked an ungentle greeting as it passed. A police car slowed, trying to determine whether she was a threat or a lone crazy. They decided lone crazy and kept it moving. A corn-colored '70s Beetle rumbled by and the backseaters, laughing, tossed neon orange soda, even their music cussing her: "I'm gonna rape, rape, rape the game / Make you cream, scream out my name / I'll put it in the front and bust out ya back. / Keep pounding till your momma have a heart attack..."
"Yo, Pippi Longstocking. Take your panties off your head!" the mohawked one shouted.
Dumb ass. Good men were slim pickings in Faustus. Sistas felt with the shortage it was time to start sharing, meaning that those freaks were a catch to somebody. No brotha she'd ever met, including her pop, knew how to be good to one woman much less multitask.
While other brown girls strove for this year's version of Moschino ho or Versace hottie, Maya's gear of many layers was what a homeless person might sport if Goodwill shut down. In fact, that was where she shopped in the rare moments when saving the world created some net. Her student loans and Athena's credit card debt made for lean living. La glorious bohème it damn sure wasn't, but with her hazelnut eyes, and triple dark toffee skin she could sometimes get away with it. Curry scarf, lemon coat, pomegranate-red corduroys and vanilla pearl earrings. Maya was viewing everything in terms of food these days. Matching was clearly not on her list of priorities. Her booty coulda made JLo blush and her saggin'-too-soon D+ cups definitely would have been helped by a bra. But you know dudes. They don't care.
She caught her reflection in an old rain puddle. She was two years past the age when most people found looking bootleg acceptable. Although thirty is the new twenty, you still need to have your stuff together. Folks blamed her hyper meta colors on her Trini background. She never mentioned that although her parents walked to Tobago for school holiday, the dirt under her childhood fingernails was Yankee through and through. Ohio's own. Yellow Springs born, Faustus bred.
You know that concave spot in the small of your back that's the first to sweat when you're on the treadmill working it like you promised you would? Right above the booty, deliciously kissable when given half a chance but it usually just languishes as a repository for warm sweat? Ick. Yeah. Ick. Faustus, Ohio, just east of Cincinnati, is exactly like that spot with a large dose of small town pride heaped on top. Three things about The Faust that nobody in the real world gives a damn to know: (1) Faustus is the home of The Midwest Game Fishing Museum, a fantastic place to get some geezer to buy you lunch; (2) the best spot anywhere to get your multiculti grub on is Fillet My Sole -- be sure you try the crawfish; and (3) hip-hop music is alive and thriving high in the 513 area code.
Oblivious to only one out of three of these critical facts, Maya stood in the center of the sidewalk with her curly 'fro sweating out into plain ole naps under her pom-pommed pea-green knit cap. Her protest was supposed to be five strong, not one weak. A Dunbar grad and the daughter of Antioch professors, activism was in her blood. The parents had drilled it enough times growing up: being black is political whether you are a political person or not. Too bad she wasn't ever with them long enough to get any concrete advice besides (a) the political thang and (b) Maya, you have to work ten times as hard as anyone else because blah, blah, blah...The good thing now was that her political protests gave her an alternate identity to the "chick with the wedding that wasn't," and gave her something else to focus on besides her sucky job.
"Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Police brutality's got to go!!!!!" She kicked her pitiful pile of handmade signs. How'd it go again? Stand for something or fall for...No rest for the weary. Maya thrust a sign back into the air. "To serve, protect and break a brotha's neck!!"
A lazy shingle freed itself from the old building and crashed to the ground barely missing her. Great. If it wasn't for bad luck, she would have none.
Her cause this week? The FPD gave another Mexican kid a beatdown and everybody moved on to American Idol while the teen lay in traction. One by one, the defeated people united offered Maya, their chocolate Norma Rae, a bevy of elaborate excuses: Damali decided to get a two-year jump on her dissertation. Apparently this required MAC Lychee Luxe Lip Glass and new cornrows. Smooches! Quamel forgot that he'd signed up for animal rescue. Later Maya. Ovid's great-aunt's cousin Dee Dee had come in to town and needed a lift. Who would think that his great-aunt would have a dirty-blonde cousin that looked twenty-one? Wink-wink. And Athena just wanted to work on her music. Truth was that Ohio was witnessing an unseasonably warm St. Paddy's Day and her protest crew, a ragtag group of other locals who still cared, was probably off in Harmony Park enjoying global warming.
This was just what she needed on an Ugly Day. You know those days? When that extra five pounds becomes twenty overnight? Everybody has Ugly Days. Hell, Halle has Ugly Days. Now, it doesn't matter what you look like, it's what you feel you look like when you ask the mirror, Who the hell is that?! Homegirl must've slept on her face because that child is hid-e-ous. Wasn't nothing worse than being stood up by a crowd of people on an Ugly Day.
"Hey, cheesecake! I wouldn't mind eating you." A businessman who should have been a construction worker blew a kiss.
Maya chanted louder but except for the guys trying to kick it, passersby barely glanced. "Ugh. I'm civic roadkill." She plopped down on the building steps. So much for Justice for Juan Suarez.
An old crone who probably felt sorry to see such a young woman talking to herself threw some change, starting a trend. Monkey see, monkey doers tossed coins onto the lame pile of signs and fliers. Maya damn sure wasn't mad at this trend as she and Athena combined earned almost $500 less than their monthly budget and only made ends meet with the ancient art of bill juggling. You know, paying who is most overdue and telling the electric co that they can't cancel service because you have a resident on life support. Someone pressed a few dollars into her hand and Maya looked up.
"You got DSL?"
Well hello. Ebony man alert! Finally, a fine one. Almond and beefy. Even during her dry season she knew a hot prospect. How did flirting go again? She pulled off her cap and tried to toss her tangled 'fro. It knotted further and a dash of sediment from the crumbling roof deposited itself like a barrette.
"DSL? Online?" Maya's face was beginning to smile. He grinned back.
"No. Dick Sucking Lips. You look good. What you doing later, girl?" He threw a couple more singles and laughed. "Get your hair combed."
"I'm not your ho!" she shouted at his back as he strutted down the sidewalk, enjoying her piss-off-ity. Despite herself she loved watching a black man walk. She imagined a Zulu plume on his back. If they were Zulu her family could take possession of at least three goats for that disrespect. Maya scrambled up the change and bills and put them on the steps for someone needier. She noticed a new hole in the back of one of her old green Keds. The laces were filthy. If she didn't do such a good job, her boss would never let her into the office. She started to pack up the fliers, then reconsidered. Maybe someone with a little more gas in their engine might be inspired to take up the cause. Sufficiently humiliated for one bright shiny day, she put on her unattached earphones, hopped on her environmentally friendly purple bike and took off, wrapped in wolf whistles all the way, her helmet still hooked to the handlebars.
"Yo, shawty! You need to smile..."
"Baby, you got a big ass..."
"Your parents wasn't frontin' when they made you..."
"What? You can't speak? You black bitch. Bitch. BITCH!"
You know how brothas get. They didn't care that she was wearing headphones. Oh, you're wondering why she was wearing headphones with no iPod, right? Well, her Discman wore out a chip a while back when she was overdosing on Wayne Dyer's motivational words and earphones were a reasonable form of protection. They cut down the hoots and hollers by at least 60 percent. Proven sociological fact: when most guys think you can't hear them, they shut up. Unfortunately, most is not all. The barbershop TV blared a music vid with a dude and naked chicks rapping about something boring. Maya rode faster.
The fresh smell of buttercream frosting summoned as she tried to pass Desi's Desserts. Well, it was already an Ugly Day, might as well earn it. Desi's wife, Salma, smiled as Maya parked her ride in the front door of the adorable neighborhood hot spot. Salma wore her overdyed auburn hair in a flip and sported short rainbow nails that matched her sweet creations.
"Trini gyal! One Strawberry Supreme, right?" Salma's singsongy lilt felt like home.
"Make it two," Maya answered. She used to jump into her own Trini accent whenever she saw Salma. She hadn't in a while. "How's the baby?"
"Teething already." Salma's eyes filled with new-mom tenderness. "Out with Poppa."
Desi and Salma's relationship had moved quickly and Maya was a witness to it. Desi was Indian from India and Salma was Indian from Trinidad. Maya discovered the sweetshop just before TBB -- The Big Breakup. Salma started coming in at the same time and found Desi's every word fascinating. While Desi was a pleasant man, sofa-tan and 5' 7", fascinating he was not. Salma whispered to Maya that she needed to be married before she turned thirty-one or she was dead to her family.
When Maya first found Salma and Desi, she was delightfully engaged herself and about to be married, briefly considering personalized cupcakes instead of the standard tiered cake. Maya loved the word fiancé and drove Athena crazy with "my fiancé this" and "my fiancé that" during the engagement. Salma cooed over Maya's ring loudly every time the gentleman behind the counter was in earshot. Months after meeting Salma, Maya was single, the rock was in hock and Salma and Desi were promised. Now Salma was nursing her firstborn and Maya was stuck in the same exact place.
Their eyes met again and Salma put an extra cupcake in the bag. Maya wanted to tell her not to bother. She hated being pitied but the Strawberry Supreme frosting was heavenly and they only had the whipped confection at odd times.
Maya hummed "My Favorite Things" as she rode along, turned on by the sugary cakes burning a hole in her bag. Diabetes in a paper sleeve, her mother would say.
Emmaline Carpenter and Delroy Hope missed meeting each other as kids in Port of Spain, Trinidad. They even managed to miss meeting each other at the University of The West Indies. Both affi rmativeactioned into teaching at Antioch, Danceman Delroy and Disco Queen Emmaline met in the 70s and instantly got pregnant. They regretted that they hadn't enjoyed each other alone first before pushing out the kid and tried to remedy that with boarding school. Her father told her once that they were planning to send her to Trinidad to be raised by Granny Ruby when Bob Marley's death made them reevaluate their lives. Instead, they convinced Granny Ruby to sell one of her homes, and they sent Maya to Miss Beardsley's Academy for Young Ladies with the proceeds.
The premature sunshine stroked Maya's face and made her feel as if she were coming out of a nervous breakdown. Hmmm. The funny thing was she didn't realize she'd had one in the first place.
A leggy butterscotch crème in a royal blue parka and miniskirt sashayed across the walk arm-in-arm with her prince. Maya's bike just missed them but they didn't notice. Leggy was a glorious swan. Maya was a shapely baby elephant. In her favorite Dali painting she didn't see Swans Reflecting Elephants. She saw swans looking down on elephants. Judging them. Elephants were cute, handy in a pinch, but not the jungle's most desired daughter. Or maybe she was a frog. Either way, she couldn't understand how the same universe could create swans and elephants, butterflies and frogs. And if that all-knowing power could make swans and butterflies, then why did it bother with the frogs? Shade. Sweetness. Struggle. Ribbit.
Copyright© 2007 by Abiola Abrams