It's 1986 and twenty-one-year-old Angie continues to mourn the death of her brilliant and radical sister Ella. On impulse, she travels from Detroit to the place where Ella tragically died four years beforeNigeria. She retraces her sister's steps, all the while navigating the chaotic landscape of a major African country on the brink of democracy careening toward a coup d'état.
At the center of this quest is a love affair that upends everything Angie thought she knew about herself. Against a backdrop of Nigeria's infamous go-slowtraffic as wild and surprising as a Fela lyricAngie begins to unravel the mysteries of the past, and opens herself up to love and life after Ella.
|Publisher:||Feminist Press at CUNY, The|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Bridgett Davis ’s debut novel Shifting Through Neutral was published in 2004 by Amistad/ HarperCollins. The novel was a Borders Books “Original Voices” Selection and a finalist for the 2005 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright LEGACY Award. Davis was selected as the New Author of the Year by Go on Girl! Book Clubthe largest national reading group for African American women.
Davis’s essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in the Washington Post , the Wall Street Journal , the Chicago Tribune , TheRoot.com and a host of other publications.
She is a professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, where she is the director of the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program, and she is the curator for the popular monthly Brooklyn reading series, Sundays @.
Read an Excerpt
She found it, but Angie had hoped for more. From the doorway, she saw that the turnout was low. An aging black man with a white ponytail was speaking to the tiny crowd. He stood beneath a giant sign that read "National Coalition for Black Reparations in America." His voice was hoarse. She entered the room reluctantly, already disappointed.
"This is what we must fight for, my brothers and sisters," croaked the speaker. "They ripped us from the shores of Africa and used our free labor to build their land of milk and honey! Reparations are our justice!"
The six or seven people forming an arc around the man nodded in agreement. A woman with dreadlocks hanging down her back sat behind a table of books about revolutions. Someone had hung up against a chalkboard the Ethiopian flag with its green, yellow, and red colors. Empty chairs formed a large circle, as though a lecture had already taken place hours before.
In one corner, a wide-shouldered man leaned against the ledge, arms folded. He seemed to be half-listening. Angie hesitated, feeling shy, but after a few moments she approached him.
"Excuse me," she said. "Is this the African Liberation Day celebration?"
"It is, yes." He had a British accent, and the faintest tribal markings scratched across his angled cheeks. She was certain he was Nigerian, which made her hopeful.
"Were more people here earlier?"
He gave a faint smile. "This, I'm afraid, is our critical mass." He looked vaguely familiar. She wondered whether he'd known her sister Ella. It seemed to Angie that the handful of Africans who had found their way to Detroit had all known Ella.
She glanced back at the few attendees. "I thought it would be bigger somehow." She'd circled the date on her calendar, May 25, been excited when she'd read about the celebration in Wayne State University's campus newspaper. And for her to attend the same event that Ella had first attended when she was twenty-one had to mean something. Angie was wearing the tie-dyed caftan that her sister had brought back from Africa that year.
"They used to be very big affairs when I first came to this country from Nigeria," he said.
Angie beamed. She'd been right!
"Ah, but that was back when the idea of liberated African countries was still exciting," he noted.
The white-haired man droned on, punctuating his creaky words with a fist in the air, "We never got our forty acres and a mule, my people!"
Angie looked more closely at the Nigerian. "When exactly did you come here?"
"Nine years ago, in 1978," he said. "Back then, one hundred or more people showed up to these celebrations. We even had an after-party once, at a girl's house. Lasted until dawn. Fabulous party."
Angie nodded vigorously. "That was my house! I'm sure it was. My sister threw a lot of parties back then, Ella Mackenzie? That's whose party you went to, right?"
She vividly remembered that party because she was twelve at the time, and had found a joint under the sofa cushion, wrapped in pink paper. She'd never had the nerve to smoke it. The wrinkled joint still lay inside her little wicker basket, one of several gifts Ella had brought her from Africa.
The Nigerian stood upright and stepped back slightly. "You're Ella's little sister?"
"Yes." Angie felt a pull of disappointment when he didn't say, Of course! You look just like her. No one ever said that.
He pointed to himself. "I'm Solo. Do you remember me?"
"Yes! I remember her talking about you." It was all rushing back to Angie now. "Solo, yes. She thought you had the coolest name ever." Ella had called him one of the finest-looking Africans she'd ever seen — chestnut-colored skin, high cheekbones, distinctly tall. Now Angie could see what Ella had meant.
He shook his head at time's passage. "You were just a little girl back then. How old are you now? Eighteen? Nineteen?"
"I'm twenty-one. I just graduated from here a week ago. From Wayne State, I mean."
"Ah-ha! I completed my PhD at this fine institution." Solo pointed his finger back and forth between them. "We are both alumni."
"One more thing we have in common," said Angie. This is what she'd been secretly hoping for — to be around someone who knew Ella, who would talk about her, not avoid saying her name. She wondered if Solo had ever dated her sister.
The aging nationalist had stopped lecturing, and the dreadlocked woman was packing up her books. Angie and Solo watched as a young man wearing a mud-cloth dashiki took down the Ethiopian flag, furled it, and tucked it under his arm. The remaining handful of people filed out the door.
"Come, let me walk with you," said Solo, placing his hand in the small of her back as he guided her toward the exit.
Cars cruised along Second Avenue as they walked side by side. Angie was nervous, wanting to seem sophisticated and worldly to this Nigerian man who'd known Ella. They passed by her favorite campus building, the historic Linsell House, with its white columns and air of distinction. She stared at its soaring Palladian window and tried to think of something interesting to say.
"So you met my sister right after you came here?" she finally asked.
"Yes," answered Solo. "She'd been to Lagos, so she and I had much to talk about, since that is where I grew up."
"I remember everything she told me about that trip," said Angie. "Sometimes I feel like I was there with her."
Solo smiled. "I am sure she had many tales. Everyone brings back wild stories from Lagos!"
It was a warm night, and people had their car windows down, music blasting. I feel good, baby I feel good all over sang Stephanie Mills, her voice potent, then fading as a car zoomed by.
"My apartment is here on campus, just a block away," said Solo. "Would you like to come over for some tea?"
His place was small, and crammed with possessions tastefully stored. Shelves lining the walls held an array of boxes and linens and books. Clothing hung neatly from a rack in the corner, and the bookcase holding the TV and stereo also served as a desk. It was evident that nine years of living had been stuffed into a campus studio meant for transient housing. Angie looked around greedily, wondering if Ella had ever visited him here. On the one free wall hung a photograph of Solo in traditional clothing, posing with a woman, and beside that was a poster of Fela, the popular Nigerian musician, his horn thrust forward in a phallic pose.
Excited, Angie pointed to the image. "I saw him perform here last year at the Fox!"
"You were there?" asked Solo. "I was there!"
For Angie, the chance to see the same musician her sister had seen in Lagos — Africa's rock star! — felt transcendent. She'd listened over and over to his one album Ella had brought back on cassette, knew the tunes well, could recite lines from the title song: Zombie no go go unless you tell am to go; Zombie no go stop unless you tell am to stop. Ella had spoken with awe of Fela's activism, his allegiance with the poor of his country. Years later, playing Fela's music in her car, en route to campus, Angie felt connected to something, if only briefly. She felt aware of a larger world in a way that her classmates were not. She longed to share this with someone. The concert at the Fox had done that for her, given her a community that shared this awareness, at least for one night. The Detroit performance was part of Fela's first US tour after Amnesty International helped free him from prison. This fact, coupled with the plethora of whites and Africans in the audience, made Angie feel part of a community, possibly the same way Ella had felt. It was her twenty-first birthday that night. Fela performed for nearly three hours; even though Angie couldn't understand much of what he sang about, she could feel the pulse of the music inside her, could feel her limbs elongate, could hear small little rhythms inside the big ones. As a finale, he performed "Beast of No Nation," the song he'd written upon his release. "When I talk about beasts of no nation," he explained, "I am talking about leaders who act like animals." It was a powerful song and throughout it, he would pause from playing his sax and direct the audience to, "Say yeah, yeah!" Angie yelled back, "Yeah, yeah!" with such repeated gusto that her throat hurt for hours afterward.
"So what did you think of that show?" asked Solo.
"Amazing!" said Angie. "Just to see Fela in person was riveting! And I loved that first song! Remember? It was called 'Just Like That.'"
Solo laughed heartily. "It's true what he sings, O. In Nigeria, you can just be going about your business, reading a book or a newspaper, riding in an elevator, and they take away the power," — Solo snapped his finger — "Just like that."
Angie laughed easily as she followed him into the compact living room. "I actually like his older songs more," she noted, loving that she could show off her Fela knowledge. "The songs from the seventies?"
"I am the same way!" said Solo. "When I was growing up, I used to go hear his band, Africa '70, at the Shrine all the time, I am telling you! And it was fun music, man! You could dance to it and all of that. Now, he is, I must say, very political. And I like it. But I miss the old music."
He headed to his stereo and put on a Fela album. Dissonant, joyous music tumbled out. Angie sat down on the worn, corduroy couch. "I'd love to go to his club some day."
"I'm afraid it's gone," said Solo.
"It's gone?" She felt a pang of loss, of having missed out on something special.
"That one, yes. It was in the courtyard of the Empire Hotel." Solo paused. "But they say he built another one, in a place we call Ikeja."
"I'd like to go there," she said wistfully. "Before that one's gone too."
"Maybe you will," offered Solo.
Angie nodded. "I remember how Ella came back talking about the Shrine, how incredible it was."
"Ah yes, I think she played Fela's music at that after-party."
"She even met him!"
"Really?" Solo whistled. "Well, take heart that in her life, your sister did something quite extraordinary. She met the great Fela Kuti."
Hearing that made Angie smile. She was comforted to think Ella's life had been spectacular in its brevity, like a meteor rushing across the sky, fast and brilliant. She swayed to the deeply sensuous music, grateful to be here, in Solo's apartment, listening to the sounds of Afrobeat. She'd once hoped college would be like this, a life full of culture and music, spent hanging out with folks from the diaspora, her universe expanding. It hadn't turned out that way. She'd gone to the University of Michigan for one semester, but ended up attending Wayne State after It happened, heeding her mother's grief-stricken request to stay close. Her days became routine: classes each morning, then to her job at Northland Mall, where she worked at Lane Bryant, and back home. By the time Ella was Angie's age, she was deep into the struggle, a dedicated Pan-Africanist, believing in something bigger than herself. Now it was 1987, and there was nothing to believe in anymore. Angie felt like a throwback to another era, like she hadn't evolved at the same rate as her classmates and friends. Oddly enough, she felt both old beyond her years, and stunted in growth.
Solo opened the cabinet of his little kitchen, and returned with two glasses and a bottle of Cointreau. "Join me?" he asked.
Angie took a glass, grateful he hadn't invited her to get high. She'd managed to get through college never having smoked marijuana. She hadn't even touched that joint hidden in her little wicker basket — so old it was surely dried out by now. She'd read in advanced psych that addictive personalities are set: once you start something, you can't stop. Ella was clearly an addictive personality. Angie never tried drugs because she didn't want to know. She worried about finding out that she wasn't an addictive type, which would make her fundamentally different from her big sister.
She sipped the drink Solo poured for her. She'd never had Cointreau and right away, she felt a dizzying warmth move to her head. She recalled that she'd barely eaten all day, only rice cakes and peanut butter with herbal tea.
Solo sat down next to her on the couch. "I didn't see Ella much after that party."
"She didn't see much of anybody after that party," said Angie. Ella had moved out of the house that very night.
"Yes, drugs will do that," said Solo.
Angie gave him a how did you know look.
He sipped his Cointreau. "Oh, I remember a lot of ganja being passed around at your sister's party. And a few other mind-altering substances."
"Yeah, I guess there were." She hated the conversation's turn. She spun it around. "But Ella went to rehab and got clean," she said. "Completely. That's why she went back to Nigeria, as a kind of celebration, a reward."
Everyone had thought it was a good idea. And for the first time in years, Angie wasn't afraid for Ella. She relaxed, hung out with her big sister the night before, waved goodbye at the airport. As Ella waved back and entered the plane, Angie panicked, just briefly. She calmed herself down. Ella had gone to Nigeria before and returned. Why wouldn't she this time?
Solo took her hand in his. "I am sorry that something so tragic for you took place in my country." He paused. "Do you know exactly what happened?"
"She got hit by a car," Angie said, her voice flat.
"Yes, I'd heard that. I just wondered if you knew any specific details."
"Not really. They say she was alone, crossing a busy road on foot, and that's when she was struck." Angie looked at Solo, eyes pleading. "You grew up in Lagos. Does that sound right?" He nodded solemnly. "There is no word in any Nigerian language for 'pedestrian.' I'm afraid that every day people who cross main roads on foot risk their lives — so yes. The roads in Lagos are especially dangerous."
"Only, apparently no one saw her cross," said Angie. "Even though it was supposed to be a busy road."
"Do you think there is another explanation?"
"I don't know," admitted Angie. "We never got any clear information. The State Department, the embassy, they were all useless."
"Well, perhaps there's no more to know," said Solo. "The explanation you were given is quite probable."
His words saddened her. She drank more.
"You don't really look like her, you know," said Solo. "She was a big girl. You're so much thinner."
Angie felt a familiar discomfort. She wanted to seem more like her sister, not less. People who saw pictures of Ella tended to point out their dissimilarity in physique, and always with an unspoken assertion that Angie was the lucky one.
The percussive horns and relentless drums of Fela's music swelled, as Angie drained her glass, riding the top of the notes, floating along. "I'm thinking of going to Nigeria," she blurted out, overcome with a need to show just how much she and Ella actually were alike. "Soon."
"Is that so?" asked Solo, as if he didn't believe it.
"Yes." She felt woozy. "And maybe to a couple of other West African countries too."
He nodded. "Well, I'd say that's a perfect graduation present."
Her mother had said something similar. She'd suggested Angie take a trip this summer, encouraging her to consider Europe, or Brazil perhaps. She'd read an Ebony article about Bahia. There was some life insurance money — several thousand dollars — from the policy her mother took out on Ella in the early days of her addiction. A family friend, Dr. Benjamin, assisted in securing the policy by administering a lenient physical exam, given that Ella couldn't pass a drug test. Her mother wanted Angie to use the money to travel. "Get away from here for a while," she told her. But Nigeria? Her mother would never, ever approve of that, which made the fantasy more appealing.
"I have figured it out." Solo slid closer to Angie, put his finger under her chin. "What is different about you and Ella. It's not just your size. She looked like a Yoruba and you look like one of my people, a Fulani." He rubbed her cheek. "A beautiful Fulani."
He moved in to kiss her, and Angie let him. His mouth tasted like oranges. She had always wanted a Nigerian boyfriend, someone to impress with her knowledge of his country. But her only real relationship had been during her semester at U of M, where she'd fallen in love with Romare, a black American engineering student. But then, after It happened, she and Romare parted ways and there'd been no one else since. Still hopeful, she'd kept taking her birth control pills.
"Did you and Ella ever do this?" she asked Solo.
"Do this?" he repeated.
"You know, did you two ever ... get involved?"
He smiled and his dark eyes became slits. She saw that he had dimples. "I am not the type to kiss and tell," he said, guiding her down gently onto the couch. As his tongue pushed through her mouth, she tried to feel something, but nothing moved inside her, even when she felt Solo's erection against her leg. His smooth palm slid up Ella's caftan, cold against Angie's naked thigh. She shivered as his hand moved to her panties, fingers slipping inside.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Into the Go-Slow"
Copyright © 2014 Bridgett M. Davis.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Praise for Into the Go-Slow,
Table of Contents,
About the Author,
Also Available from the Feminist Press,
About the Feminist Press,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the acknowledgements, Ms. Davis mentions that she was encouraged by many to finish this novel, and I am so glad she did. Into the Go-Slow was a journey back in time, seamlessly incorporating history, politics, and pop culture into its storyline. Angie wants to know everything she can find out about her sister, Ella. She tells Ella's story here in a way that brings her to life in the mind of the reader. But later, you will be right there with Angie when others bring Ella to life for her in a similar way. For me, this book is not simply Ella's story, it's Nigeria's story. It will take you to all the highs and lows and you won't soon forget it.