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"Woowee… I haven't seen this in ages. You couldn't tell me I wasn't sharp when I put this on. Girl, you should have seen me back in the day wearing this dress!" Amina Sunyetta held up an African-print micromini dress in front of herself and did a little wiggle.
Karen Williams looked up from the dusty corner of the attic. She had been doing her best not to sneeze as she helped her friend decide what items to take with her when she moved and which items to give to Goodwill. The attic in the Prospect Heights brownstone was cramped and cluttered with so many boxes that she doubted they would be done by nightfall. And with only two people there doing the work, being done by the end of the weekend seemed like wishful thinking, as well.
Amina held up a dress that almost looked like something the super-skinny 1960s supermodel Twiggy might have worn, if Twiggy had been a black nationalist, that is.
Amina's petite frame had clearly picked up a little weight over the years, but it wasn't too hard to imagine the short, dark-chocolate woman sporting the unique minidress in the past. In fact, from what Karen knew of Amina's exciting life, Karen would have been hard-pressed to pick anything she couldn't imagine Amina doing. The term wild child came easily to mind. She envisioned the woman, who now wore a pair of cherry-red sweatpants and a long black T-shirt with red rhinestones, sporting the little minidress.
Karen moved two of her long locs, which kept escaping from the scrunchie meant to hold back her multicolored locs and hopefully keep them from getting too dusty. She didn't have time to help her friend all weekend and also wash and retwist her hair. There were only so many hours in the day. And it was really important to her to help Amina. So the soothing ritual of washing, oiling and palm rolling would have to wait until next weekend.
Most of her locs—she refused to call them dreadlocks, because there was nothing dreadful about her hair in its natural state—were a deep, rich auburn color. But, mixed in here and there, she had splashes of other brighter, vibrant colors of copper, bronze and even one lone blond loc. Looking at her hair was like looking at fire, an element she felt strangely drawn to, at least figuratively. She didn't have a desire to be too close to real flames. But she felt like fire was the core of what a person needed to have in order to be able to enact change in the world.
Karen laughed as she stood, stretched and dusted her backside off. She gave Amina a smirk. "You actually fit into that little thing?"
Amina cut her eyes playfully. "I told you I was a stone-cold fox back in the day. Neat, petite and oh-so-sweet! I had all the conscious-'bout-it brothers after me trying to get me to make warriors with them for the revolution."
"All right now! What did sista Sonia tell us? 'Fucking is not a revolutionary act,'" Karen playfully recited her favorite phrase from one of her favorite poems, Sonia Sanchez's "Queen of the Universe."
She had a deep fondness for sista poets from the 1970s, even though most of that stuff had been published before she was even born. She found the anthology Black Fire back when she was in high school and had searched out more women poets like Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni, devouring every line they ever wrote and moving on to Mari Evans, Carolyn M. Rodgers, June Jordan, Audre Lorde and countless others. A lot of times she felt like she was born a generation or two too late. At thirty years old, she often felt strangely connected to times that were before she was even born.
Amina guffawed. "And Sonia Sanchez ain't neva lied!" Amina put the dress down and stared at another box for a long time before she finally moved it over to Karen.
Karen glanced at it and knew that it must have been a box of Shemar's things. It had been six years since Amina's son and Karen's best friend, rapper Shemar Sunyetta, had been gunned down and murdered at the prime of his career. And it was still hard for either of them to deal with. That was part of the reason why Karen was there helping Amina clean out the attic. Amina still couldn't bring herself to deal with the loss of her only child, and going through his things was difficult.
"Thanks for spending part of your weekend helping me, Karen. I appreciate it. I really needed to get rid of some of this stuff before I move to South Carolina. I think I'm becoming a pack rat in my old age."
"With all this accumulation, I'm gonna go out on limb here and say you were a pack rat in your younger days, as well." Karen laughed. "Since I can't talk you out of moving to Myrtle Beach, I guess I can help you pack." She tried to keep an upbeat and playful tone.
Amina had always been like a second mother to her growing up, and she knew she would miss her. Since her only family had moved back down South to be closer to her mother's aging parents in Savannah, Georgia, she didn't have much family left in Brooklyn. She had lots of friends and a few stray cousins, but when it came to people who knew her in that way that only real family could, Amina was it. So Karen didn't want Amina to move. But she knew that Amina needed to finally get away from the house and the place that would always remind her of her dead son.
"Think of it this way. You'll have another fun place to visit. A place on the beach," Amina offered teasingly as she closed the box she'd been going through and pushed it near the other stacks of boxes she planned on donating to Goodwill.
"I just might take you up on that." Karen picked up another dusty box and started going through it. It looked like more of Amina's 1970s gear. There was a black leather jacket and a black beret along with some more funky minidresses and nice black patent-leather platform boots. The clothing appeared to be a few sizes larger than the tiny minidress Amina had been holding up. "I think I found some more of your clothes from back in the day. But they look a lot bigger than that little thing you were holding up before."
Karen picked up the red minidress with black-and-green zigzag stripes going up and down and around the material. Even though contemporary minidresses weren't her usual style at all, this retro minidress spoke to her. She could even visualize herself in it. And she had to admit she looked darn good in her head.
"This is cute. And it looks about my size. I could totally rock this! The retro look is back, you know." The dress had that classic 1970s look with the tapered waist and quarter sleeves that were flared at the end. She loved it.
Amina looked up, and a somewhat sad smile crossed her face. "That was my sister's. That must be a box of her things."
Karen picked up the jacket and tried it on along with the beret. "She must have been about my size. Was she a revolutionary back in the day also? What are you going to do with her stuff?"
Amina walked over. "Yes, my big sister was the one who brought me into the Black Liberation Army. I miss Karla something fierce! She passed away many years ago, but sometimes it feels like yesterday."
"Karla? You mean she didn't change her name like you did, Becky?" Sensing the sadness creeping into Amina's voice, Karen teased her friend and playfully ducked the swing of Amina's arm that she knew was coming.
"My name is Amina. Didn't nobody get off the boat from the motherland named Becky or Karen for that matter. And no, Karla never changed her name. She kept it in honor of our father. His name was Karl, and she had been named for him."
Karen noticed the sadness that was starting to overcome Amina and tried to lighten the mood. "I think this minidress would look nice on me." She held the dress up in front of herself and gave a little shake. She was right. The dress seemed like it was made for her. She had never had one of those experiences her girlfriends talked about where an article of clothing or a fierce pair of shoes supposedly "spoke" to them from a catalog or store window and said "take me home" or "buy me." But that was the only way she could describe how she felt about the retro minidress. She wanted it. It was hers.
Karen smoothed the material of the dress and smiled. "As a matter of fact, this leather jacket looks nice on me, too, now that I think about it."
Amina started looking through the box. "You're welcome to anything you want in here. I still can't fit in Karla's clothing. She was always taller and thicker. As a matter of fact, she was about your size. But I have never seen you in a minidress. As a matter of fact, you rarely wear anything short. You wear those long crunchy granola crinkle skirts all the time or jeans and them damn Birkenstocks and those political T-shirts. I swear you must have a T-shirt for every political cause known to man." Amina rolled her eyes dramatically.
Karen looked down at the black T-shirt she was wearing that had her favorite Rebecca West quote from 1913 on it in purple letters. The T-shirt read "I have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat." She smiled because she was also wearing her favorite purple Converse sneakers, not Birkenstocks.
Karen held up her leg and wiggled her foot.
"Oh, yeah, I forgot to add your collection of colorful Converse sneakers to your wardrobe selections. Oops." Amina laughed. "This should be good though… Make sure you take a picture of yourself if you ever wear that minidress out someplace. This is something I have to see!" Amina started laughing.
"How you gonna call my clothes crunchy granola, and I'm helping you clean out your attic?" Karen sucked her teeth in feigned outrage as she put the minidress, leather jacket and black beret in her keeper pile along with an old sterling-silver name ring of Shemar's from back when they were in high school and neither one of them could afford the nice flashy gold ones with diamonds in them. She remembered when she and Shemar purchased the name rings the summer before her freshman year.
She kept digging through the box to see if any of the other clothes caught her eye and pulled out a book wrapped in kente cloth. The cloth was nice and thick and had an authentic feel to it. It felt old, not like the mass-produced stuff she purchased from the Harlem Market when she was feeling particularly ethnic. She unwrapped the cloth and found an old, worn, leather-bound book inside. It seemed to be older than the cloth. She flipped through it and noticed various handwritings throughout. It appeared to be a diary of some sort but one that different people had used.
She ran her hands across the leather. It had that soft, smooth, buttery feel that only really used leather could attain. She wanted to just put it in her keeper pile and not say anything. But something as personal as a diary or journal was probably not something Amina was going to want to get rid of. And it was really too bad because something inside of her was telling her to take the journal, to just put it in her keeper pile and take it home.
"Man, I haven't seen that thing in years! I remember when my sister, Karla, found that thing at a rummage sale. It was right before she met the man she called the love of her life, her soul mate." Amina gave a sarcastic chuckle. "As if such a thing even exists. And if they do exist, I'm doubly pissed off because I haven't found mine yet."
Karen laughed at Amina's suddenly disgusted expression. "So this journal belonged to Karla?"
"Yeah, she found it at a rummage sale at one of the churches where we held our free breakfast programs. I can't remember which one, though. I just know she started writing in it all the time after she met Daniel." Amina smiled and smacked her lips. "Now that was one fine man! He was one of those hustlers with a heart. Used to give money to the Black Liberation Army, give away turkeys in the hood to needy families during the holidays, toys to kids at Christmas, that kind of thing…
Real smooth brother… Used to say he couldn't get all the way down with the revolution because those berets would cramp his style."
Karen smiled and tilted her head to the side. "Um, seems like you had a little crush on your sister's man."
"Girl, every woman with blood pumping through her body had the hots for that man. But once he met Karla, he only had eyes for her. I'll tell you what, if soul mates do exist, those two were certainly soul mates. Once they got past their differences, they were inseparable. Heck, they were damn near magical. Made me sick!" Amina started laughing again.
"Sounds romantic. I'd sure like to find me a superfine, supersmooth brother to be my soul mate." Karen realized that her voice was getting wistful, and she actually meant the words she was saying.
Where the hell did that come from?
She frowned and rubbed her hand across the soft scuffed leather again. The last thing she needed was a soul mate. A soul mate would mean a relationship. And a relationship would mean time away from her beloved youth center. And all her time and energy was wrapped up in her "hood work," making the neighborhood a safer and more productive place for the youth. She didn't have time for love or a relationship. And she certainly didn't have time for any kind of soul mate.
Perish the thought!
So why did she all of a sudden want one more than she wanted the money to buy all new computers for the technology room in the Shemar Sunyetta Youth Center?
She scrunched up her face as she continued to rub the journal and let the leather lull her into thoughts of finding the one. "What are you going to do with her journal?"