Friday, July 3, 2015

Fiction Series: For Coffee: Part One


1985—Blue Mountains, Jamaica, West Indies
Selam

My mother used to tell me this story, while we picked coffee cherries on our farm. It was about a goat herder, in Ethiopia, that discovered that his goats were especially spirited when they ate a red fruit that grew abundantly among the land. She said once he noticed this, he alerted a nearby monastery and told the monks that they should use the fruit in a beverage to keep them awake for longer prayers. Once the world caught on to this beverage, they found ways to roast the beans inside the cherries for a more flavorful beverage.
“This is how coffee began,” my mother told the visiting tourists that pulled a sample cherry from the plant.
They all wanted pictures with her. They all pulled out their Polaroid and Fuji cameras and looped their arms around her neck, for the shot. The younger kids, with no inhibitions, played with her long dreadlocks and asked her how she “grew them.”
“They grow tallowah, with plenty love and water.”
I admired my mother’s patience with ignorance and the way our visitors used to treat her, as if she was something that sprouted from the ground of our coffee farm. She answered questions about the process, the way her family found the land and harvested it, the place she’d buried my father behind the house, and how a rose bush grew behind his tombstone although we’d never seen anything grow, but the coffee.
Daddy always made fun of my mother when she told this story to us, “Fana, tell us the story of the herb nuh?”
My mother always laughed and shooed him away, “You know I don’t believe in black up, unless yuh sick.”
When my father fell ill with leukemia, a year later, I remember running through the farms, using my eight year old hands to push the coffee leaves away, looking for this herb my mother and father spoke of. I could not find any. I know now that his death wasn’t my fault, but I remember a youth filled with regret that I could’ve saved my dad on his deathbed.
I watched my mother with the newest group of visitors. They were staying on the farm, and they wanted to know every little thing about our history. My mother said that as far back as she could remember, we were always coffee farmers. We took our dried beans from cloth to the market to sell, back then. Now, we had a factory, the main house, and several visitor cottages, on the property.  It was daddy’s idea to turn our space into a tourist attraction. This idea made my mother quite a wealthy woman. We lived high up, in Jamaica’s blue mountains, a huge fence, one security guard, and several dogs keeping us safe. I’d grown up pulling the pulp from the cherries, leaving them out to arid, and watching my mother do magical things with the remains.
In exactly one year I’d be graduating from upper secondary and headed to college and I wondered about what mommy would do, when I was gone. She wanted me to leave the country, but I wanted to stay here.
“Mommy, the University of The West Indies is just as good, if not better than the schools in foreign.”
My mother sipped her coffee, black, and put it back down, “You need experience girl. I spent my entire life on a farm, so you wouldn’t have to.”
I looked around at our refurnished house and the amazing mountain view, just outside of our windows, “I think you did quite all right. I think I will be just fine, too.”
“You don’t have a choice, Selam, I’ve already gone and looked about your visa.”
I was infuriated, “What? You didn’t even ask me what I wanted to do!”
“I just did, but I know what I want for you. If you go abroad and you don’t like it, you’re more than welcome to come back here. But I don’t think you will.”
My mother tilted her glasses and looked at my plate of bammy and saltfish that I hadn’t touched, I stuffed a piece in my mouth and looked out of the window, to avoid her stare.

1985—Brooklyn, New York, USA
Julian

My mother was packing a barrel, again. She stuffed things she’d scoured department stores for and old, underused, items into it. When she started going through my closet, I jumped off of my bed and stood next to her. She was rummaging through my sneaker boxes.
“Mom! There’s nothing in here I don’t wear.”
“Julian, that’s a lie. I’m looking at sneakers that I haven’t seen you wear for years.”
“They might come back in style. My closet is off limits for barrel season.”
My mother dropped the boxes, back into the bottom of the closet, “You have cousins that are the same age as you and can really use them.”
“Tell their mothers to buy it! Why do we have to supply it?”
“Some of them have no mothers or anything at all. Do you hear yourself bwoy?”
I plopped back down into my bed, “I don’t know these cousins. I’ve never met them. It’s hard to feel something for people I’ve never met.”
My mother stood in the doorway of my bedroom, “Don’t worry, that’s going to change. I bought tickets for us to go down for the entire summer. We leave the day you finish school and come back the week, before you start up again.”
My jaw dropped, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I have so much planned for this summer! A Run DMC concert, ciphers in the park with Eddie and the crew, and I just got Jessica to start digging me.”
“Jessica, Eddie and the crew, and Run DMC will be here when you get back. I don’t want to hear it, your father and I have already decided.”
I followed my mother out of the room, “Of course you did! He’s okay with it, because he doesn’t have to go.”
“Your father has to work, you know that.”
“He always has to work. He doesn’t have to go to middle of nowhere West Indies.”
“Stop it! We’re staying with an old high school friend of mine. She owns a coffee farm there and it’s beautiful. You’re going to love it.”
“We’re staying on a farm? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“She’s got a daughter that’s about your age,” my mother sung this and smiled, as if she hadn’t ruined all of my awesome plans.
“So?”
“So maybe she can show you a little bit about your heritage. You know nothing about my homeland. I think it’s time.”
“Daddy is from the South Bronx. Can I visit his homeland this summer?”
My mother put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes, “We’re going to Jamaica this summer. Final.”

Laguardia to Kingston---Summer 1985
Julian & Selam

The air smelled different on arrival. Julian noticed this the moment he stepped off of the plane. It was a sweet aroma; different from the urine, garbage, and smoke he’d become accustomed to. His mother was so excited; she greeted everyone in an overt manner. You could tell that she hadn’t been home, since she’d left at sixteen.  Julian wouldn’t take off his headphones. If he was going to miss the concert, he might as well listen to RUN DMC, on his Walkman, the entire time. When they finally arrived to the taxi area of the airport, she forced him to take off his headphones and experience the hour and a half drive to the Blue Mountain area.
It was hot as hell. Julian sat next to the driver, uncomfortable that the passenger side here was the driver’s side in America. It felt weird. The breeze from the window helped with the weather, as he watched the variety of houses fly by. They passed shanties and mansions, brown folk alike sitting on porches, waiting on buses, and going about their business.
The roads stopped being smooth, after a while. Rocks rolled under the tires, as they drove higher up into the mountains, and lost sight of civilization. It was getting dark and Julian was afraid of being in the wilderness, with no streetlights. His mother sensed this and put her hand on his shoulder from the back seat, “We’re almost there.”
When they arrived, a beautiful cocoa colored woman, in a flowing red dress, stepped out from a large white house. She ran across the yard into his mother’s arms.
“Fana!”
“Julie!”
Julian stepped out of the car and started to take the suitcases out of the trunk, along with the driver, when his mother’s friend caught sight of him.
“Julie! He’s so big! He looks just like you!”
Julian and his mother were often told that they looked like brother and sister. His mother was petite and butterscotch, with huge eyes. He’d inherited her candy-coated skin and eyes, but had his father’s height standing at 6’3.
Julian shook the hand of the stranger, “Good to meet you, Fana.”
Fana laughed, “Bwoy you better hug me up. I’ve never met you, but I feel like I know everything about you. I bet you’re excited about this new rock infusion that DMC has been doing.”
            Julian was shocked, “You listen to DMC?”
            Fana pinched his cheeks and grabbed a suitcase; “You’re going to learn a lot this summer. Come on, let’s go inside.”
            Julian and his mother walked inside and put their bags down, a young woman that worked in the house took their belongings to the room they’d be staying in. Fana yelled upstairs, “Selam, come and greet our guests!”
            In a few seconds a young woman came running down the steps and stood before them. Julian’s heart thumped a mile a minute. She resembled her mother, too. Her locks were swept into a bun, with a purple tank top and flowing white skirt.
            Fana smiled, “Julian, this is my daughter Selam.”
            Selam shook his hand quickly, as if she had no interest in greeting him, and quickly turned her attention to his mother. She hugged her tightly.
            “Julie! It’s so good to meet you. I have seen so many pictures of you and my mother as kids. I want to hear all about the madness my mother did, as a teen.”
            Fana hit her daughter on the shoulder, “Chile, cut it out!”
            Julie laughed, as they all walked towards the dining room, for dinner, “You mean like the time your mother chased down Ben, after he threw a lizard down her back.”
            “Ben? You mean crazy Ben, from the market?”
            Fana cringed, “Why would you start with that story? Lawd Julie, Ben is a mad man now!”
            Julian watched the women laugh and exchange stories, as he sat around the table and took in the view outside of the window. He watched Selam flounce around the room, set the table, and immerse herself in the comfort of her home. He would never admit it out loud, but this might just be a cool summer.  


           






Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Boroughs Apart: Part 7



Reynold could not breathe.

It'd been a week since he'd heard from Ruth. Her friends said she was here one day and then gone the next, the streets said she'd been sent away to some fancy school, his roommate said she'd ditched him.

But Reynold knew better. He and Ruth shared something different, something that couldn't be quantified or explained. If she was gone, someone took her. The days turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months. After the third month, he finally got the courage to walk over to the other side of Harlem and knock on her father's door.

It was noon and Ruth's father was flipping through investment paperwork and sipping tea, ready to put his money somewhere else they said brown folk couldn't. He heard the door and rushed to it, hoping it was a business partner who'd promised to go half on their next deal. He opened it to find Reynold, standing there, like the night in his study, indignant and proud.

"How can I help you, young man?"

Reynold looked weary, tired from working the night shift, but intent on catching Ruth's father before he went on with his day, "Good afternoon, sir. I'm looking for your daughter."

"Is that right?"

Reynold watched a smirk spread across the old man's face and he knew instantly he knew exactly where she was, "Yes, that's right. I haven't seen her in months."

"Well it sounds like she's not interested in you."

Reynold's patois broke from his tongue in anger, "I know yuh know where she is! That woman is my everything. Please, sir."

"Ruth is married, son. Go home."

He stood in disbelief, he could not fathom what he'd just heard, "Married? How is that possible?"

"She had a decision to make. She made it. She and Evan Marquis have been dating for years. I don't even know how you slipped through the cracks."

"She wasn't seeing anyone, especially him!"

Ruth's father started to close the door, "Go home, boy."

Reynold walked down Fifth Avenue, confused. How could the love of his life be married? How could she leave him for a man she claimed she couldn't stand? Her father couldn't be right.

But then the months turned into a year,
and the years into years,
and jobs turned into more jobs,
nothing too permanent, 
making it easier to look for her,

train rides, with women who resembled her,
mocked his love,
affection turned to anger,
anger turned to no reason left to stay...

So he left.



Evan paced the gallery, even after it was closed. Ella couldn't stand his privilege, in this moment. Her boss told her not to close, until he was ready to leave. She covered the pieces, one by one, preparing them to be shipped to their new owners.

When she was taking down the second to last piece, she asked, "Why are you still here, sir?"

Evan smiled, still dapper in his suit, and grabbed the other edge of the painting, helping her carry it across the room, as he did all the others.

"Because you're here."

Ella smiled, "I guess. You can leave, I can finish up here."

"No. I'll stay. This neighborhood gets rough at night. You shouldn't be hopping the train, this late."

"I bet your Grandma Ruth did, back in the day! She seems like such a bad ass."

"Man, listen. Did you see her pour her scotch on that old white woman, tonight?"

"I did! What was she thinking?"

"She was thinking that 'I'll take those three negro paintings' was a statement, that doesn't belong in the digital age."

"Or any age."

Evan grabbed Ella's hand to stop her from wrapping the last painting, "Stop for a second. Dance with me."

Ella laughed, "To what music?"

"Oh? You don't hear that? That's Count Basie playing. Big blues tune."

"Evan, I don't hear a thing."

Evan grabbed Ella's waist and started swaying her around the room, pretending they were on a dance floor.

He smiled, "Langston's ashes are interred in the medallion on the floor across the street, Maya used to dance down the block, Bruce Nugent spit poems next door, and you can't hear the soul in the wind? Stop playing."

Ella swooned, "You know your stuff."

"Nah. Grandma Ruth knows her stuff. But I knew it'd get the attention of a beautiful woman, one day."

Evan didn't wait for the music to stop playing, in his mind. He held Ella's chin and pulled her face in for a kiss. She returned the favor, wrapping her arms around his neck.

She pulled away, "You better stop. You'll lose that little trust fund."

Evan wiped his lip, with a finger,"I'd lose anything, but you."


Ruth sat completely still on the plane. Evan put his arm across her seat, tried to kiss her cheek, whispered sweet things into her ear. She wouldn't move. 

Evan asked, "What's wrong with you?"

Ruth finally broke her silence, "Are you serious? You and daddy must think I'm some sort of product! Something to be bought and sold! I'm a woman and I have a choice."

"You didn't have a choice in this, Ruth. You want to be well off like your friends? You can't marry dirt poor."

"You don't even know him..."

"You're right. Neither one of us have to get to know him now. We're on our way to Europe. We'll build a home there, we'll have a great life."

Ruth moved around in her chair, ready to leave, but with nowhere to go, "This is like kidnapping. Daddy told me that you were escorting me to see Aunt Hilda and now you're telling me I have no return ticket? You're telling me you're staying with me? The minute I get off this plane, I'm going about my business."

Evan grabbed her arm tightly, Ruth could feel his nails pushing into her arm, "You want to end up in somebody's brothel? Go on! When we get off this plane, you can go right to the whore house. I'll have the driver take you there myself."

Ruth looked into his eyes and knew he meant business. She pulled her arm from his grip and faced the seat in front of her. 

Evan fixed his hat and smiled at the folks who were staring at the scene that just played out, "Don't worry y'all. She's being a good girl, now." 







Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ten Things To Do When That "Hey" Text Arrives, From Your Ex

"Hey."

I hate that text. It is downright seductive, a splash of innocence surrounded by devilish ways. Why not, "hey, how are you?" Why not, "hey, what's new?"

Why not?

Because you don't truly care about how I'm faring or what's going on in my life. "Hey" is a prod, a prompt, the equivalent of a Facebook poke.

& sir, you are NOT allowed to poke me.

Anymore.

So, fear not, I'm here to give you ten things to do, when that "hey" text arrives...

...from your ex:












This is only for the super strong. It's the I-don't-have-anymore-feelings-for-you (or I'm making it look that way) kind of text. This is the response that only the powerful survive. This means you must open the text with stealth, as if the small keyboard are lasers in a bank vault. You don't want to tap on anything that might show your ex, this dreaded thing:


...on the other side of the line.


Actually, I think I read somewhere that it gives the other person anxiety. Hehe, you might want to press a few buttons and then delete.


Sinister.


Wanna really hurt someone's feelings? Respond with the one-liner.
When you're asked what you've been up to, be sure to answer with one of these:
Everything.
Things.
Stuff.
You know...life.

Your ex will either go one of two ways with this. Either he'll get the hint and make an exit in the for of, "Cool. I was just checking on you." If he's one of those special folks, he might not get the clue. He'll inquire again, "Sounds good. Give me details! What's going on in your world?"

A few more one liners should so the trick:

Repeat original options:

Everything.
Things.
Stuff.
You know...life.

or...

Nothing much.
I'm chilling.
Just progressing.

If your ex significant other hasn't given up, there's always a block button.













Yup. You've got to add the New York accent "B" on the end to let them know you mean business. (Or maybe that's just me.)


I don't care if your house is up in flames and you're in the middle of grabbing your Macbook and your wallet (oops and the cat), running out of the door. Send the everything-is-amazing-in-my-world-I've-seen-your-new-girl-and-you've-downgraded text.


But make sure you say that last part, the right way:

I saw your little girlfriend, she's cute. ---- >

Just be petty. Petty as all hell. Make him feel like you've been waiting on him to come around and rectify things. Once he's pulled in and thinks all is well with you, TREAT HIM LIKE A LEGIT STRANGER.

"Oh. Sorry to hear about your job loss and rotator cuff. Have a good Friday though!"

This will straight up hurt the person on the other end of the line. Be sure you're prepared for the argument or the "oh, word" that ensues. Make sure you're ready to CTRL + ALT + DELETE.


BRUH. The ultimate ex text and follow up text. I salute you, if use this. *gives you dap* 

Ah, the good ol' hit-em-with-the-G. This is only for absolute boredom, filler, pure entertainment. When you're hit with the "hey", hit them back with the "I was just thinking about you." Your ex will be thrown off, they will NOT expect this. Instantly, their mind will be filled with the gas that is I'm-the-man. Flirt. Send Emojis. Keep it cute. When he tries to step over the border of text message into real life, do The-Dream and shut it down.

This was fun. 
Hope all is well. 
I have plans. 
Take them on a journey. Travel, all the way to feel-bad town. You know the ex that dipped and never gave you a chance to talk it out or closure? The only reason he's saying hey is because he feels bad and wants to mend things. He wants to make things right, so HE can feel better about HIMSELF. 
Screw that. 
Rub it in. 



Let them think your phone is off. Smile. 



This is my favorite. Send your ex a screenshot of their name in your phone, with the text they just sent. 

Potential Names:

A-hole. 
Jerk.
Waste of...
DO NOT ANSWER. 

They'll get the picture...


The most important advice of all? Don't regress. Your ex is your ex, for a reason. Remember that. :) 





Monday, June 8, 2015

Perspective: Episode 1: The Unanswered Call/Text Message




I write a dating series. It's become quite popular, all the narratives of he-done-it and he-hurt-me. But was I ever wrong? Did I ever take it too far? These are the analytical questions that run through my mind, when it's all said and done. I never write this into my work. I mean...who wants to own up to sabotage, stereotype, and the like? Exactly. 



But what if I did? Would you be interested in reading it?





Cas is the type of man you take home. He is debonair, witty, and always on cue. He walks into the diner, suited up, and smiling. He admits he’s nervous, even though it doesn’t show. I’ve asked him to meet me here.



He asks, “So, where do we start?”



I’ve chosen him, because he’s the type of guy that I usually chase. He’s put together and passionate about everything that he puts his mind to. I want to understand him, I want to know what makes him tick, what makes him answer his phone, ask a girl out, and send him packing.



I respond, with a smile, “We start with the truth.”



I press record on my iPhone and he starts to tell his story.


Every week, a gentleman friend of mine and I will attack a “myth”, a stereotype that we’ve (women) tucked, in order to justify our part in everything falling apart. When I first pitched the idea to Cas and a few of my friends, they were ecstatic about it. Cas didn’t think there’d ever come a day where a woman would come to terms with the role she’d played in the ending of a union. He asked me how I felt about being called a traitor. I laughed. I told him I expected this. Don’t get me wrong; all the men I’ve loved and lost have played huge parts in our demise. Sometimes it was their entire fault.

However, there are other times that it’s been mine.


Jesus, I can’t believe I just wrote that.

It’s true.

I’ve sabotaged things, unknowingly and knowingly.

I’ve taken on more jobs, feeding the growing space between us.

I’ve avoided confrontation, by refusing to communicate.

I’ve held on to arguments, when they were long over.

There’s so much.


My anxiety gets in the way of things that should be simple. There are past occurrences that I’ve

let get in the way of new opportunity.


Cas asks, “What prompted this column?”

I tell him a story, the same story I’m about to tell you:

My friend and I were in a business meeting, for three hours. He and I often curate performances together and spend a lot of time in coffeehouses, trying to bring our ideas to life. During our three-hour meeting, his phone rang once. Immediately after it rang, he declined the call and sent one of iPhone’s default messages to the caller. It was probably the “I’m in a meeting” default. I thought this was appropriate. I heard his phone vibrate a few times, but he was so excited about the innovation that he ignored it.


After our meeting, he walked me to my car. His phone rang again, this time he answered it.

Although the caller was not on speaker, I could hear her loud and clear.


“I’ve been calling you all night! Where the hell have you been?”

He pulled the phone away from his ear, due to the unexpected screaming, “I’ve been in a

meeting. I told you that I had one, tonight.”

“I could have been dead and you wouldn’t know! I forgot about your stupid meeting. YOU

WERE PROBABLY WITH SOME GIRL!”

She was right.

She was also wrong.

He smiled at me nervously, and looked down at his feet, “I was with Erica. We were working on

the next show. I’m sorry.”

“Oh. Nah, nah. Put her on the phone.”

I took his cell reluctantly, “Heyyy, Jessica.”

The phone grew silent for a moment, “It is you. Hey.”

She sounded relieved.


My business partner made sure I made it into my car safe and walked towards his own. I could hear him yelling the entire way there. I’m assuming he was telling Jessica about herself. (I don’t condone anyone yelling at anyone, FYI.)


The moment left me in shock. I sat in my car for a few extra minutes and thought about what just happened. Had I ever been that girl?

I admitted it to myself, after a few.

I’ve been that girl.

I probably haven’t been as loud or aggressive.

(Okay, maybe once.)

However, I have certainly been that girl.


Cas is smiling hard, after I finish my story. I ask him why. He states that it’s the first time he’s ever heard any woman admit that sometimes they take it too far.


“It gets a little crazy, you know?”


Cas explains that he’s a good guy. I raise my eyebrow.


“No seriously! I mean, I’m single; I date multiple women. But when I’m committed, I’m committed. I don’t cheat, I open doors and pull out chairs. I understand that those things are a given, but I’ve got to put that out there. It’s a rarity, in this day and age, and it’s disgusting.”

I ask him what else he has to offer.


Cas is an environmental engineer. He says that he understands that a woman’s milieu, with the man she’s interested in, must be cultivated and cherished.


“Nothing can grow from stagnancy.”

I am impressed with his vernacular, his application of his occupation to how he treats women.

I ask, “Good guy...why don’t you answer text messages? What’s the deal with the long hour gaps and general inconsistency?”


He answers in variety:

Disinterest.

Naptime.

Meetings like the one we’re in.

Sports games.

Avoidance.


I stop him here, “Let’s talk about that. Why don’t you just state that you’re just not into her?”

“I try. Sometimes it’s just difficult. I feel like either way I lose. If I’m honest about my disinterest, I’m an a-hole. If I’m dishonest, I’m an a-hole that led her on. If I say nothing at all, I’m still an a- hole.”


He’s right.

I respond, “I’d prefer to know the truth.”

“That’s you. Not all women know what’s good for them.”

I take a sip of my coffee; push my recorder closer to him, “What’s good for you?”


He’s right to the point, no hesitation, “A woman that knows exactly what she wants. She can be from any walk of life, I don’t judge. I just need someone who’s confident in who they are and who they aspire to be. I need trust and I have a difficult time getting that from women who don’t trust themselves…”


I finish his sentence, “Or women that rehash their existent trust issues on you.”

“Exactly.”


We spend the rest of the time talking about other commonalities in dating culture: Things women sometimes assume, things they might be right or incredibly wrong about. He admits to his flaws, the ones he’s cognizant of. We finish our brews, he helps me concoct a list of things I'll meet weekly to talk about.


His phone buzzes, he glances at the screen. He shows me the text, one similar to the call we’d discussed via my story.


It reads: WHERE ARE YOU? I’VE CALLED YOU TWICE.

I ask him, “Are you interested in her?”

“We’ve been on three dates. Yes. But she lost a few points for this.”

“Are you going to tell her where you were?”

“I am. The question is: Will she believe me?”

“I mean...many men aren’t doing what they say they are.”

“Will you end up with a man that says he is, if you continue to project that on to him?”

This is the question.

Is he napping?

Is he with the boys?

Did he forget his phone at home?

Is it dead?

Or is he just an a-hole?

Cas and I shake hands and leave the restaurant together. I ask him if he thinks other guys will be interested in continuing the weekly column. He glances down at the text, as his phone reminds him that he’s received it.

“Yeah. I think it’ll bring some folks...perspective.”


Hey Readers! 

I'd love your feedback and suggestions for upcoming columns. Have you ever been that girl? Were you being unreasonable or did you have every right? Spill below!