A Kind of Woman

She, the kind of woman who curses around other people’s children and smiles and sticks her tongue out when they tug their innocent ones away from her evil. A Sula kind of woman, collarbones jutting out threats yet to be spoken, squinting eyes and trusting of no one­– you thought you were special– the daughter that slipped through Mama Day’s hands so she could cradle the dreams of others, nurse them to health, hand them cups of punch, and candles, never got the chance to be the child that went astray, brought shame to the steps of the silver trailer

She, torturing sleepless souls she doesn’t plan to love, you the woman she left behind in Miami in the small house with yellow walls and white metal curling around the windows, veins in a vanilla-scented neck pulsing in fruitless craving for the kind of woman who never looks back– she hasn’t called in months but her hair is still knotted around your hairbrush bristles

The kind of woman who has ground up any pride you thought you had and sprinkled the powder first over her right shoulder, then over the left, she has walked away wearing your possibility of future love around her neck held high, metal pendant heating the thin skin stretched across her breast bone, she is the kind of menace you were warned to avoid and now you pay

Not Nice, Actually

I can’t quite remember the first time I heard the words “Wow, you’re actually a really nice person!” Actually. It has been repeated enough over the years, especially when I reach the point in a friendship with someone where they feel comfortable enough to reveal their surprise. Actually. It appears that being perceived as “nice” is somehow one of the most important things to which I’m expected to aspire. So, I’ve adapted. Biting back sarcasm because it could be misinterpreted as rudeness, exchanging empty pleasantries with classmates because I know that the day’s discussion is going to involve me pointing fingers at people, literally and figuratively. I’ve learnt to affect a self-deprecation I almost never feel inside myself, for fear of being seen as intimidating. I’ve considered changing my middle name to whatever the Ewe translation of “intimidating” is, instead of the name I have at present, Dzifa– “my heart is at peace.”

I’ve learnt that a woman with a “bad attitude,” one who is supposedly mean-spirited for no apparent reason and always has something negative to say, becomes an easy scapegoat in an unpleasant situation, especially when there are men involved. It’s not that a man has behaved badly, but that my reaction is rude and/or over-the-top, uncalled for. So I put another clamp on the parts of my personality that are too abrasive, clipping away at my dry humor to leave in its place a more digestible, less threatening version. An even safer option is to remain quiet. In silence there is no danger of a harsh tone or comment offending another person. There is, however room for more misinterpretation– Why are you mad? Why didn’t you say hi? What’s the problem now?

I remain, dancing on tiptoes through almost every part of my life, shakily balancing  the fragile self that I’m being forced to dash to the ground and sweep into a corner because other people’s sensitivity is more important than me projecting my self, unrestrained and unashamedly. It doesn’t matter if I try to file away the edge in my voice, or if I tease and joke the way I feel most comfortable, with sarcasm, because who I actually am and what I actually intend to say is not up to me to decide. I remain, with not a single desire to be nice, but rather to be fierce and fiercely loving, to rid myself of any stubborn strips of self-doubt that won’t let go– maybe I was a bit too harsh– to just be without the need to always explain and defend, or to use my existence as some insurance policy that whichever white person, or any kind of man, isn’t as bad as they think they are. Actually, I don’t want to be nice if that means contorting my personality, my wants and my frustrations to wind more easily around others’ needs. My mother isn’t “nice,” none of my aunts are “nice,” my grandmother is not “nice” and her mother was definitely not “nice.” They are generous and wise and hilariously funny, they break and they persevere and are many far more interesting and inspiring things than just “nice.” “Nice” is a trap. Fuck that.

(Image: I would like to take credit for capturing such a dramatic shot, but this photo really happened because my cousin –not so little anymore– was fed up and ready to get to the wedding reception. Being a flower girl is hungry work.)

All that you are

You are all quartz. Fine-tuned. Orderly. Seconds moving together in perfect synchronicity, soldiers marching in impeccably polished boots. In line. In sync. Harmonized.  A smooth casing of steel and mahogany closing over the tiniest movements, ticking away with unbelievable precision. You are all quartz.  State of the art. Masterpiece. A living legend- not sagging canvas dripping with the wan smiles of no-name ladies, but the canvas itself. And the paint, and the painter’s fingers, and the reason why the painter even paints at all. Not the girl next door- but every muse ever known to every creative mind. Perfection in repose. The silky fur of a lynx reflecting the light right before the attack. Calculated movements, painstakingly orchestrated to produce a show-stopping outcome. Not wanton, open-mouthed beauty-  but restrained  and measured out carefully, like teaspoons of precious nectar. Savor the taste; this is a never again in your lifetime opportunity.

You are all messy. Stressed out. Stressful. Traffic jams in rainy season, and tires digging themselves deeper into the muddy streets with every stubborn revolution. Constant disarray. Braids escaping from the confines of an elastic band, loose threads that unravel scarves if pulled too hard and too long. Top buttons left open accidentally? On purpose. You are all chaos. Short fuse- woman, why do you have to be so irrational? Tear-stained pillows. Not designer tears- the kind that run in perfect mascara tainted rivulets down a carefully made up face, before landing with a resigned splash in a martini glass. Real life tears, the ones that are painful, that bore into your flesh on the way down, leaving soul-deep marks of regret and bitterness, tattooing your skin with incomplete farewells and insults that should never have come from a mother’s lips. You are all too much. Feeling life in at least six dimensions, not including the ones your imagination is yet to conjure. You are all too much. Too fat. Too tall. Too selfish. Too slow. Too hard-headed. Too easy. Too holier than thou. Too beautiful even. How dare you? I think you need to tone it down a little. Maybe next time don’t give someone a taste just because they ask.

You are all quartz set in a bed of wilting morning glories. Not diamonds, but coal dust. The dust on the miner’s fingers, and behind his ears, and inside his eyes. In fact, you are the reason the mine was built in the first place. You are all so much more. More than tired images of perfect imperfections, top 40 songs whining about your dimples and freckles; look at this pageant queen with hurt in her eyes. You are all more than all that expired rhetoric. Consider this more than a gift, or a holiday greeting compressed into a meaningless package with a red bow on top. This is a burnt offering at the altar of your being, this is a plea to be let in before the gates clang shut, this is my song for you, this is the motivation to open a few more buttons, or cover your head, or pray even harder, or eat that last piece- go on- you’ve had a long week and I know you’ve been craving these forever, or spread your legs on the train- after all those thighs could also do with some ventilation, sorry if you can’t cross your legs, I can’t either, I have too much lady in the way to pay any attention to your complaints.

If you think this is about you, then it most definitely is. This one is for you. I love you.