mukul chand on It Was Her adanze1 on It Was Her mukul chand on It Was Her
(Warning: the following story has explicit and graphic material.)
She cannot possibly . . . it’s uncanny, even her mannerisms are the same: the tilt of her head, her crooked smile – the sway of her hips, it just cannot be. I have roamed this Earth and traveled to several different continents and I have never encountered a woman that even closely resembles her until now. I thought I had seen it all until this very day when she stepped inside my car, reeking of fried chicken from South Carolina.
“Honey, this is my sister Dorothy,” Edna says, pointing to a petite woman with almond shaped eyes and mahogany complexion. “We call her Dot for short.”
“Hello, my name is George Tate, but they call me Duke,” I say, leaning over the back seat with my hand extended. “How old are you little lady?”
Dot nods and shakes my hand. As soon as my hand envelops hers, I feel a surge of electricity run through me that I have not felt since my death.
“She’s only sixteen, so take your fishy eyes off her.”
“No reason to blow your top, sweetness,” I say, equivocally. “I was just looking.”
Dot’s scent tantalizes me so that I had to stop myself from drooling. “You got any kerchiefs in that purse?” I ask Edna, covering my mouth.
As I quickly dab the corners of my mouth and place the drenched material into my pocket, my mind wanders to my meal named Lucy. I cannot wait to get home to sink my teeth into her flesh. She should taste nice and sweet since I fed her plenty of strawberry shortcake today. Poor girl, she’s so strung out she doesn’t even know her own name. I had named her Lucy, because of her blue eyes and curly sandy brown hair. She’s a heroin fiend and as soon as I had promised her food and drugs, she became a willing participant and followed me home. I usually pick up my meals this way, in the dark alleys near the Bowery.
“Why do you have the windows down? Edna asks, shivering. “It’s winter, silly.”
I give Edna a sidelong glance and maneuver between the trucks, Model Ts, and 9–to-5ers I say, “You probably don’t see these kinds of cars in Rockland, South Carolina.”
Frost appears on Edna’s breath. “You could show off later, but could you please roll up your window?”
I continue to ignore Edna’s pleas, for the cold air saves me from decomposing. Luckily I had just applied a fresh coat of ointment from Nigeria before I stepped inside my car. The traffic was already bumper-to-bumper when I glimpse a rectangular sign advertising a movie that reads: “WHITE ZOMBIE: SHE WAS NOT ALIVE OR DEAD” depicting a woman with outstretched arms walking in a diaphanous gown. I shake my head and mumble to myself, “They got it all wrong.”
“Nothing Sweetness, the traffic is slow today.” Feeling a little nervous, I maintain my composure and say, “I don’t know why I imported this four-door from London. With all the money I spent on this thing one would think that it would be able to fly.”
Edna hits my shoulder. “One day in the future, but can it keep me warm first?”
Edna is my current lady friend. We’ve only been dating for a month. I know she already has betrothal plans for me, but I have no desire to marry anyone. In fact, I have other plans for her. I think she would be a lucrative component for my business. I would not dare enlighten her of such news, for I have learned many lessons through women. It has taken me four hundred years to acquire wisdom to learn the female species: I have been mocked by them; I have been beaten by them; I have been deserted by them; I have a long litany of complaints. Why, in fact, I had even died for one who now appears to be sitting in the backseat of my car.
“I can’t wait till tonight,” Edna says, applying more rouge onto her cheeks. “Chick Webb and his orchestra are gonna show this corn-of-the-cob square called the Count how music is supposed to be played.” Edna continues to prattle continuously about her hair, her new dress, her shoes . . . I tune her out. I keep watching Dot in the back mirror as she sits demurely in the red velvet seats, observing New York City. She looks just as beautiful as I had remembered even if she is clad in overalls and a straw hat.
“You listening to me?” Edna says, squinting at me.
Then I slam on my brakes to avoid hitting a cart loaded with ice blocks, merging into the lane before us.
“Watch out for that ice truck, Honey!”
The wheels of the cart creak and wobble and the two horses pulling it look exhausted and in no mood to make haste, even when the carter whips their backs. They trot along in front of me, and neigh at the rows and rows of cars.
“I saw it, darling,” I say. “I saw it.”
“I’m not sure you did,” Edna says, bracing the dashboard. “Where’s your mind?” Then she covers her nose with a kerchief, as the smell of horse manure wafts up her nose. “It’s 1938, shouldn’t they be rid of them by now?”
Moving through traffic, the carter sneers at me. “I’d give it ten years, tops.”
Driving by the Empire State building, I cannot stop my mind from wandering. Why does she appear in my life now? Is the woman in my backseat a ghost in the flesh? Is she here to haunt me? And as I slowly move in between traffic my heart surges as though it has dropped ten flights of stairs. I can hardly control myself as I stare at her reflection and think I have been catapulted to a time of naiveté, the time where I was bamboozled and hoodwinked into selling my very own soul.
“Can we visit the Savoy soon?” Dot asks. “Because I’ve heard the dance floor there is called the Track and that’s where the magic really happens.”
Ahh . . . the ghost can speak.
“Yep, that’s right,” Edna says. “The Little Giant will battle the Count tonight.”
“The Little Giant?” Dot asks. “Do you mean Chick Webb?”
Edna sucks her teeth and says, “I thought you knew about the Savoy? Well, anyway he’s the drummer as well as the maestro.”
“He’s the best skin beater the world has ever seen,” I say.
“Chick won’t allow the Count to cream him,” Edna says, turning around to look at her sister. “Besides we have never heard of this so-called Count. Have you?”
“Oh, yes! I used to listen to the radio at Mrs. Jake’s house all the time,” Dot says. “She has a Philco radio and sometimes we could hear broadcasts as far as Kansas City, Missouri. You, ‘member Miss Jakes?”
“Miss Who? I don’t ‘member nobody but my family,” Edna says, brushing away invisible crumbs from her turquoise silk skirt that accentuates her hips. “Besides, anything ‘bout that backwards place is far from my memory.”
I look in my rearview mirror to see how Dot reacts and she just shrank like a little flower. Edna can be so inconsiderate at times.
“Now, why you had to say that ‘bout your home?” I ask.
“The sticks ain’t my home no more,” Edna says, fixing her hair in the mirror.
I cut a sharp left onto Madison. “So, the Big Apple has always been your home?”
Beneath that wide-brim hat, I can tell Dot feels confused. Staring at her sister as if she hadn’t recognized her, she hikes up her collar and sinks into the backseat.
“Make tracks, Honey,” Edna says. “I need to get home.”
“What’s the matter?” I ask and suddenly smile a broad, boyish smile. “You ‘fraid to be seen with a country bumpkin?”
Edna eyed me askance and says, “I’m the only one who could call my sister names.”
Normally I would have reprimanded Edna for such impertinence, but I am so utterly flabbergasted with her sister that I have forgotten myself. Even though it is a cloudy wintry day, I am perspiring profusely. It is quite dangerous for a zombie to sweat. That anti-decaying salve could protect me for so long, even if the cool air on my skin had kept me safe thus far, I am losing control.
Then I run a red light.
“What’s wrong with you today?”
I sit with my fingers clasped around the steering wheel, staring into rows and rows of cars and pretend I am composed. I, however, cannot stop myself from gazing at Dot. Then it feels like a hot day in July, even if the temperature is dipping to the mid-30s. How could this be? I realize that it is not the fireball in the sky that is causing me to perspire.
It is the little woman who strongly resembles the princess I was besotted with over four centuries ago in the Oyo Kingdom. Since I had come from an austere family of fishermen, I was not a suitable groom for her, my love who was also revered as a high priestess. The only thing she and I had in common was our devotion. And behind our parents’ backs we copulated in a goat barn, where I vowed to become immortal. I have never loved anyone as deeply since.
“What’s that smell?” Dot asks.
As I begin to sweat, a scent of rotten apples and flowers, the very things that were placed in my coffin in the year of 1489, bombard the nostrils of my passengers.
“Whatever it is, sis, I’m not rolling down my window.”
I think that is all Edna is going to say, and I reply, “At least crack the window.”
Edna shakes her head and laughs. “I don’t know why this dummy likes the cold.”
Such insolence, these women! Never in my day would a woman dare ridicule her beau in public. I have watched the evolution of women. They were always revered in the home, but these days they crave to work side by side with men and have the audacity to demand the same pay! Women’s rights – pure balderdash and rubbish! In my day, a woman knew her place and the woman in the backseat knows such virtue.
Frowning and pinning her peacock hat securely to her hair, Edna says, ”Why is it taking two hours to go from Penn Station to 50th Street?”
“This is the reason why I don’t like driving downtown,” I say. Then a Model T cuts right in front of me.
“Watch it, Duke!”
“What the —!”
“Honey, let’s get home in one piece, please.”
“I’m doing my best, dear,” I say. “I’m doing my best.”
At sunset, we finally reach 116th and Lenox Avenue and Dot cranes her neck out the window, staring at a six-story tenement as if she has seen the Messiah himself. “Are we going in there?”
“This here building is your new digs,” Edna says, getting out of the car.
“Digs?” Dot asks, climbing out of the car.
I cannot help myself. My nervousness becomes apparent. Could this truly be the woman that I had made myself immortal?
Placing my hands in my pockets, I feign a calm composure. “Girl, you got a whole lot of learning to do. And your first lesson is tonight.”
“Do you have amnesia?” Edna says, nudging Dot’s head. “I thought you wanted to go to the Savoy.”
“Oh, um . . . I didn’t know you really meant tonight.”
Edna shakes her head and shoves Dot onto the sidewalk. “Hurry up let’s get inside before someone sees us.”
“All right, I’ll miss you.” I say, but it was a poor equivocation. On the contrary, Edna did not notice. Like most women, they only see my money.
“Aw, Duke,” Edna laughs. “I just want to get in the house.” Then she blows me a kiss and says, “I’ll see you tonight.”
I lean against the car and fold my arms. “Yes, I’ll dig you in a few ticks.”
Edna shakes her head before walking into the foyer of the building. “Sometimes you talk so weird.” Then she runs inside the building with Dot stumbling after her, carrying a wicker suitcase.
I thought they would never leave. I return to my car and pound the steering wheel with my fists. “Why now! Why? WHY!” I say, grinding my teeth.
After all these years! Is this woman who calls herself Dot here to kill me and to give me eternal rest? Does she even know who she is? Does she know that she is a storm conjurer? Does she know that she can travel at will to the Spirit Land? Does she know that she can summon the deities? I am not sure if she is putting up an act or if she is truly ignorant of her powers.
I make a left on 118th and Lenox and then a right on Seventh to 128th Street. Out of habit, I always zigzag my route to my home in Sugar Hill. For the past five years, I have managed to elude my whereabouts. No one knows where I live not even Edna. I unlock the door to my limestone home and turn on the lights to an immaculate living room replete with a twinkling chandelier, a pure white couch, original works by Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and da Vinci. Despite being flustered, I still walk over to my Steinway piano to inspect the dust. I love living in opulence and most of all it must be impeccable.
I haven’t had an urge to get soused in quite a few years. I cannot control my shakes, as I rummage through my larder to search for a decent bottle of rum from Hispaniola. I grab three, for since my transformation one bottle would not be enough to soothe my nerves.
How dare she! How dare she show up now!
This woman had always represented all that was good and loved everyone else, but me. Once she had shunned me, I wholeheartedly loathed her for all the benevolence she extolled. She had all these psychic gifts and because of my love for her my curse was to roam this very earth until the end of its days. Yes, I am angry and resent those who can rest in the bosom of their ancestors when I am gainsaid of such privilege. When she was stricken with the sweating sickness, in the year 1540, I ensured her a quick death. I asphyxiated her with a pillow.
Many crave to live for eternity and to look forever twenty-one. I would give anyone this so-called gift that I have been cursed with. I had been a fool when I went to the Forbidden Priest, who could manipulate death. I had desired to become immortal, since her parents forbade me to be with her. I was filled with malice, for I knew I would never be revered as a suitable mate, but I did not know what I had to surrender and at that moment I did not care.
My path to the Forbidden Priest’s door was full of passion. I was a blind fool! I had forgotten at that moment whatever one asks he would, indeed, receive it swiftly. The swiftness was what I aimed for since my love was to wed in a few days to another. However, since I was discarded, I kept hatred inside my heart towards her and her family. It had been years since I thought of the Osa family and I thought I had released those thoughts until now.
Enough commiserating! I have to meet Edna and that person who calls herself Dot, but before I do I need sustenance. It is Sunday and it is time for my communion. It is time for me to eat Lucy.
I go into my soundproof basement, where I keep my offerings. My stomach is wrenching with hunger pangs and with each step I salivate, thinking of what my next meal will taste like. Some bodies have a tart taste, some are sweet and spicy, and some are bitter and pungent. It depends on the person’s diet and lifestyle.
I enjoy eating my victims alive. I make sure I anesthetize them with the narcotics of their choice. Since prohibition, heroin had been on the rise and has rapidly taken victims. In fact, it is the largest commodity that I import from Germany. I used to deal with Opium until they said heroin was the cure for morphine addicts. Ha! Imagine that. Needless to say, I have a fair amount in my basement. I am the one pulling the strings and have an organization that does my bidding and only a few of my employees have ever seen my face.
One would think that I have an unsavory reputation; it would be a preposterous notion for me to try to work in a legitimate business that would require formalities and leave a paper trail. Bootlegging, prostitution, money laundering are some of the ways I earn my money. I am the quiet partner behind the big wheels of some of the most notorious mobsters. When they see me they just see a dumb nigger. Ha! Their businesses would not remain afloat without me, for I am the cog of their machinations. There I go again, rambling and thinking. I need to eat and Lucy’s waiting.
“I prefer eating women.”
They are usually castaways or addicts of some kind. I appear to them as this benevolent knight in shining armor rescuing them from dark alleys in the wee hours of the night. Since I cannot sleep, my energy level is always at its apex. I find most of my meals in the shadows of the Bowery, begging for money or their next fix.
With each step, I wonder what Lucy would taste like. She might taste juicy or even spicy, but I wanted sweet tonight. It sends me into a frenzy thinking about it, for I cannot stop salivating.
She looks so lovely locked in my golden cage. Her sandy brown hair is disheveled and it appears as if she had been crying. “What’s the matter, dear?”
“Get me out of here!”
Somehow she is lucid. I made sure I fed her and gave her a minimal amount of drugs before I left for Penn Station.
“Would you like another hit?”
Oh my, she’s trembling.
She clenches the cage bars. “Just get me out of here!”
I’m not sure if I like her better this way or leaning into a long nod. I stand before her and study her track marks. She looks so scrumptious frantically rattling my cage.
My victims must remain alive and alert, the fresher they are the better they taste. I prefer my victims on narcotics, for after consumption I am relaxed. Therefore, I could subsist on one body per week.
“Hush there,” I say, crouching down to meet her eyes. “Want more candy?” Once I show her a syringe, her cries quiet down to whimpers – a perfect moment to inject another dose into her arm. While she slips into a nod, I turn on the radio and Martha Tilton croons “Thanks For The Memory” with Benny Goodman and his orchestra.
“Would you care to dance?” I ask, before I unlock the door.
She stares up at me with glassy eyes scratching her arm.
“Oh, there is always more,” I say, pulling the waif up to my chest.
She blinks and then nods. She takes my hand and I escort her off to my private dining room, where I am my primal self. Inside is where the ceiling, the floors and walls are covered in steel. Whatever mess I create inside will easily be hosed off. In this room is where I am the zombie who enjoys the fellowship of feasting on human flesh.
I always take off my clothes before entering my dining room. Then I slowly undress my meal and pretend that I am about to copulate. Many of the women, if I may say, desire me. After all, I am handsome, strongly built, and my smile seems to melt their little hearts. Just in case, I make sure I tie their limbs with rope to my steel table.
“We’re going to play a little game,” I say, holding the rope.
Lucy nods and smiles. She’s so high and agreeable.
One would think that I am perfect, but no, I have a few caveats: salt and the sun. Salt stiffens my joints and the sun incapacitates me.
Eschewing salt and the sun have become easy for me to contend with; however, living a life in celibacy has been the ultimate curse. I desire sex, but I cannot indulge in such pursuit, for my sexual organ fell off soon after I became a zombie. It had taken me at least two centuries to figure out how to contend without my member. Therefore, human consumption has become a sexual act for me.
Lucy looks up and smiles wryly as I pull off her shirt. Suddenly I inhale a whiff of her scent: strawberry shortcake.
“Mmm . . . I cannot wait to taste you,” I say, pulling down her skirt. My hunger pangs increase as I watch her tied to my oblong metal table. Her legs are splayed and I think she looks longingly at me to penetrate her. I oblige and sink my sharp teeth into her right thigh. She screams.
Once I taste her flesh, I ravage the tender meat before me.
Why do you judge? I should be able to indulge. Isn’t that my right? Everyone has to eat. Why not me?
Watching her writhe and squirm in pain excites me even more. She looks like a wriggling worm. What a lovely sight . . . and a guttural laugh erupts from me as I watch her try to fight for her dear life.
I decide to eat her from the bottom up. I pin her down to sink my teeth into her left thigh. The rest of her limbs frantically move and somehow the rope loosens. She tries to claw my face, but I take a large bite of her left quadricep. Ennui settles into her body, slowing her movements as I work my way up to her arms and shoulders, she takes her last breath. Then I flip her over and gnaw on her calves, hamstrings, and her delightful gluteus maximus. Once I am done with her backside I then flip her over.
How exquisite to save the breasts for the very last, for they are my favorite morsels. Somehow a woman’s breasts always taste sweet.
Licking the blood off my fingers, I realize how there is nothing like gulping down fresh meat. I think eating fresh meat is like eating vegetables straight from a garden. Then I look at the clock and remember I have to pick up Edna and her so-called sister.
As usual I hose the blood away and dissolve the bones and clothes in a bucket of potassium hydroxide. Then I take a shower to wash the blood away. I make sure Crown Royal pomade is handy to create that slick wavy look, but before I do my hair I apply the salve from Nigeria and rub it all over my body. It is so amazing how it works. It covers all of my gaping wounds and sores and prevents nasty maggots.
I have my own special apothecary in Nigeria that continually produces the Forbidden Priest’s formula. My employees just ship a box to my mailbox in Grand Central every month. If I were a legitimate businessman, I would market this stuff, but it would probably ruin a simple mortal’s skin. The only wound that it cannot conceal is my festering neck wound. I have tried everything. I have asked the apothecary to change the formula multiple times, but it still cannot properly conceal that area.
While I stand before the mirror, I see a tall, muscular Dahomean with piercing eyes. I marvel at how I never age. I remember I need to meet Edna and her so-called sister. Even I am affected by time and the insidious tick-tocking of a clock. Looking through my walk-in closet, I find the perfect suit and ascot to cover my neck scar.
I make sure I am there to open the car door for Edna and Dot. For approximately ten minutes, I gaze at the stars, wondering what kind of enigma Dot is. Perhaps she is a trick that has been summoned by the gods. In all my years dwelling on this Earth I have never met such entity.
“Hurry up,” Edna yells at Dot, switching up to me at the car. “Can’t you see Duke’s waiting?”
Then Edna looks at my cream-colored suit. “Digging the new drapes.”
“Why thank you, sugar,” I say to Edna. Then I scan both women: Edna is cloaked in a white-sequined dress and her sister in a satin red dress that exposes her cleavage. “And you and your sister are looking like two mighty fine dinners.”
“Aw, Duke you sure are a hep cat,” Edna says, smiling broadly. Meanwhile her sister Dot, standing in red shoes that gape at the heels, remains reticent.
How did she do it? How is she here in the flesh? I can clearly see her now. It is axiomatically her, the powerful priestess!
“That color becomes you,” I tell her. Dot nods demurely and smiles, hugging the chill away from her arms.
“Well, you are togged to the bricks,” Edna says, smiling. “But why do you always wear that neck scarf?”
“It’s called an ascot and it’s part of my ensemble, sweetness,” I say, opening the car door for her and her sister. “When have you ever seen me without it?”
It tickles me watching Dot pretending to be innocent. Her fascination with Harlem’s tenements, brownstones, bustling nightclubs, cars, shops, crowds of people, people, and more people continues to amaze me as the city lights dance upon her face.
Dot nudges Edna’s shoulder. “Does this city ever sleep?”
“No, this is when Harlem wakes up,” Edna says.
Parking on Strivers’ Row, a few blocks away from The Savoy Ballroom, I open my arms and say, “Welcome to the real Big Apple.”
As we walk to the Savoy, Edna points to the sparkling marquee that reads: “THE BATTLE OF THE BANDS: CHICK WEBB VS. COUNT BASIE.”
“We’re here, sis.”
Dot says nothing, but her facial expression is in complete awe. Her mouth forms into one complete “O”, as she cranes her neck to gaze at the many different kinds of people on line.
“White people dance here, too?”
“At the Savoy, honey, racism doesn’t exist,” Edna answers and then guffaws. “If you can dance, you’re in. If not, and if you’re an ofay, just sit down and have a drink with the rest of us.”
Dot laughs in glee as she studies how everyone is dressed in their very best – some are cloaked in furs, sequin dresses, and even tuxedoes.
“Hey man, I just saw Clark Gable walk into the house!” a man waiting on line behind us said.
“Girl, your eyes are as wide as saucers!” I say with a grin.
Edna sucks her teeth, “Strrrp!” and then says, “Leave my sister alone, Duke.”
Offering my arm to Edna, I ask, “So are you ready to have a ball?”
“More than ever this joint’s ‘bout to jump!” I offer my arm to her and she links her arm into mine before entering the threshold.
Behind us, Dot wobbles up the stairs in Edna’s high-heels. “Do you think Ella Fitzgerald will sing tonight?”
“Why don’t you wait and see, Dot?” Edna yells as the music grow louder and louder.
Dot nods before she stumbles up the steps.
“Get a grip,” Edna says, grabbing Dot’s arm. “Do you know where you are?”
Once we’ve reached the top of the steps, I watch Dot turn around to face the bandstand. Her awkward expression turns into utter delight, as she is ensorcelled by the ballroom. Flushed against the east wall is a double bandstand: one large for the house band and one medium-sized for the visiting band.
Dot leans over the banister and is fascinated, watching the dancing garden full of colors and rhythms known as the Track. Some of the men dressed in tuxedos or shirts and ties, twirl the women clad in floral print dresses and flared skirts. And as the arms and legs of the Lindy Hoppers twist and turn in different directions to the beat of Chick Webb’s wailing drums, Dot tries to mimic their moves.
The Lindy Hoppers, in their bobby socks and saddle shoes, stomp the mahogany and maple floor that pulse up and down to the swing of Chick Webb’s orchestra. “They’re going to break the floor!” Dot laughs. Sighing in ecstasy with her mouth agape, Dot shimmies her shoulders to the “Harlem Congo.”
“You care to ring a ding along with me?” asks a man in a bright orange zoot suit. “The Little Peach, The Shag, the Suzy Q, or The Shim-Sham-Shimmy?”
Dot squinted at the man. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re not some jeff or square, are ya?” he asks.
I watched them amused.
“I don’t-don’t under—” Suddenly the man grabs Dot’s arm and drags her to the Track. At first Dot seems to be in step with the syncopated beat of her partner, until he directs her to turn. Baffled, Dot turns the opposite direction, which causes her to collide into her partner and stumble to the floor.
“Man, you ‘bout to embarrass me up in here,” he says, picking her up from the floor. “You all right?”
Dazed and confused, she nods, watching the zoot suit disappear into the crowd.
Edna runs to rescue her sister from the Track. “You know who that is?”
Dot shrugs her shoulders.
“That was Long-Legged George!” Edna says, slapping her hip. “He’s one of the most famous Lindy Hoppers in this joint.”
“Aw, come on,” Edna says, grabbing Dot’s hand. They both follow me to a table where I place three orders of soda pop.
“So where’s the hooch?”
“Be patient, sugar,” I say to Edna, reaching inside my jacket.
As if Edna’s sucking a bitter lemon, she says, “It’s been five years since Roosevelt lifted the prohibition and the Savoy is still not following suit.”
The waiter places three filled glasses of pop on our table. I pay the bill and make sure the waiter is out of sight before I pull out my flask.
“Maybe they’re just being careful,” I say, pouring some moonshine into Edna’s glass.
“Now that’s more like it,” she says, smiling at me.
“Are you enjoying your drink,” I ask Dot.
“Don’t think ‘bout it Duke,” Edna says. “She’s too young.”
“I was just asking,” I say. “I wasn’t going to give her any juice unless she asked.” One thing I hate is for someone to anticipate my moves.
“Introducing Count Basie!” the host of the evening announces on the microphone. Then the applause ensues from the crowd who waits for the pianist clad in a white dinner jacket and black tie to make his debut. As the Count plays each note with alacrity, he mesmerizes the crowd.
“He’s mixing gut-bucket Blues with Swing!” Edna says, clapping her hands to the beat.
“Yes, he is and I—”
“Where’s my sister, Betty!” a man in an oversized brown suit suddenly appears before me, reeking of licorice. No one hears him, for Basie’s orchestra drowns out his accusations.
This man has a striking resemblance to a woman I had eaten over a month ago. Perhaps he is her twin. Why he even smells like her – licorice. I wonder how he was able to find me here.
“What are you talking ‘bout?” I ask, looking up.
“I said, where’s my sister, Mo-fo!”
“I’m not sure whom you are referring to,” I say and then I proceed to talk to Edna, but the man knocks the drink out of my hand. That is definitely a violation to my person.
Then I stand up and say over the din, “Let’s discuss this outside.”
“Yeah, let’s do that, Jack!”
I glance at Edna who already knows the protocol of staying cool and composed. Dot, however, is about to stand until Edna places her hand on top of hers, gesturing her to remain seated.
“Stay here,” I tell Edna. “I’ll be right back.”
We both walk out into the empty alleyway in the back of the Savoy. Looking at him closely, I then realize that he has the same crooked right eye as the girl I had feasted upon a month ago. Before he could say another word, I trip him and rip his neck open with my teeth.
One thing I am blessed with, if I could say such a word, is with speed and power. In the corner of my eye, I see red. It is Dot, the priestess.
As she stands there trembling in the cold, she watches me as if I am some kind of monster. She then reaches for the back door to get help. I drop the body onto the floor and with one leap I hover over her. I try to attack her, but to no avail. I freeze. Never as a walking dead man have I ever felt so impotent.
Staring deeply into her eyes, I remember this is the woman I fell in love with centuries ago.
How can she not know her true name? Did she not come out here to stop me? Then I stare at this little five-foot woman and try to laugh, but I am unable to move my mouth, for I feel like a suckling infant. I do not know how much time has passed, for staring into her eyes has made me travel to a place of our ancestors, where I am forbidden to go. I begin to sweat, because I feel as though I am standing near the sun itself.
“So, you . . . you . . . are the death of me.”
It begins to snow and her curly hair and the flakes from the sky make aureoles of yellow about her in the illusory dawning light, yet the snow does not touch her. It is as if she is protected by some kind of force beyond my reach.
A rat tumbles over the garbage cans, awakening me from my trance. “But not tonight!”
I pivot to the corpse and try to drag it away. In the midst of doing so, my ascot has unraveled, revealing my neck scar and tendons. I quickly realize my efforts to try to get rid of the evidence are futile. I take off my shirt to wipe my face clean of the blood. While I turn my jacket inside out, I hear Dot saying, “What . . . are . . . you?”
“Don’t you remember?” I say, staring at her coldly.
Dot does not answer and soon collapses ten feet away from me.
In the background, I hear Edna’s voice, as she tries to approach the alley. Luckily the door is troublesome to open.
“Dot, I told you to let that man handle his own business!”
Then I stand up, feeling chilled and weary. I gather my bloody belongings and place them into a garbage bag I find nearby. I peer into the murk of the impending blizzard and realize I must completely disappear; I walk away from the corpse and from my destiny called death in the guise of a woman named Dot.
A few blocks down, I pass my Manchester. Possessions have always weighed me down. Meanwhile the sirens remind me of the high notes of Louis Armstrong’s horn and I say aloud to the empty snow-covered streets, “Heard Satchmo changed the Jazz scene in Paris. Now that’s a likely place to go.”
“The Journey” found a home in an ezine from Nigeria, Omenana. Now you can read the unabridged version. Just click on the link below to read it.
Running through the thorny blonde grass, the lone hyena stops to scan the plains of the Serengeti for food and water. After traveling for more than three sunsets, she’s hungry and searching for carrion, but it’s scarce this dry season. A starling alights upon her path as she relishes the strong breeze rippling through her fur, she spots a droughty pond filled with muddy water. Her stomach wrenches tight as she drinks, for the water only incites her hunger pangs.
Source: The Journey
By Adanze Asante
I stood on the edge of a cliff ready to be born. Earth was beneath my feet and I could have chosen anywhere in the universe, but my choice led me to one woman: Titilayo Achebe Osa. Olodumare, the Supreme Being, held my hand as we watched her and the possibilities of Earth before us. Quelling Titilayo’s sorrow had been my goal, and if I were careful and listen to Olodumare closely, I would be born to her and Baba Obadele Osa on May 5, 1476 in the Bight of Benin. The brisk air fluttered my cheeks as I bent over to get a closer look at Tumora, a small village of West Africa where my future mother dwelled and walked the roads of barrenness. I so desired to become Baba Obadele’s 18th child and Titilyo’s first to survive. I had been watching her for some time now and witnessed how her 7 previous attempts bore her children who lived no longer than 12 full moons.
Olodumare offered me other parents. She tried to dissuade me not to come through Baba Obadele and Mother Titilayo. However, I chose these parents because they had powers I must inherit. My future father, Baba Obadele had the gift to summon the rain and my mother Titilayo had the gift of sight. With their blood, I knew I could continue my work and ensure happiness to their kingdom.
“If you choose these parents, you will deal with a great deal of pain,” Olodumare warned. “Yet you will be very powerful.”
My future mother, Titilayo – which means eternal happiness – enabled me to foresee evil and my future father, Baba Obadele – which means the king arrives – enabled me to manipulate nature. Besides, I knew I would get to greet those who killed me centuries ago. My father didn’t read minds, but he had a great talent with nature. If the village people needed rain, they called my father. When a hurricane was near, he smelled rotten fruit. When he tasted tamarind, a sand storm was near. When he felt unusually warm, usually thousands of locusts swarmed nearby. Sometimes he could even summon the wind and rain. Without Baba Obadele, the village of Tumora’s crops would falter.
Together my father and his seven wives headed the village of Tumora and ensured its greatness. Mother Titilayo instructed various villagers to make offerings to calm spirits. She would ask them to get a sheep’s tongue and stuff hot peppers in them to silence a person. Or she would ask for a live chicken to spread the blood on one’s door to ward off enemies. Mother Titilayo’s keen insight foresaw the future. Mother Titilayo needed Baba Obadele and Baba Obadele needed Mother Titilayo. I, however, would inherit both their powers and would need no one.
Receiving their gifts of inheritance weren’t the only things that mattered. I wanted to give Mother Titilayo hope and encouragement. She cried every night asking why she had not successfully borne a child. Eventually Olodumare concurred with me in my selection because of Mother Titilayo’s steadfast faith.
I knew I would be her last chance. Although she was my father’s first wife, she was also known as the woman with the sticky womb. Soon she would develop the title of Mother of Spirit Children. The medicine man had told her that the children my mother tried to give birth to were selfish. “These are the children who choose to stay on earth for a brief moment,” the medicine man said. “They come only to torture their mother.”
While I was waiting, I knew the medicine man’s words were nonsense. I had been warned of the forces against my birth and those of my siblings’ birth. Many of my past brothers and sisters never had a chance to cry their first cry, never had a chance to laugh at the sun. My last sibling had died of a violent fever. She was the only one to survive the birthing process. But after six moons, her body had been racked of convulsions.
No midwife wanted to help Titilayo, for they feared their reputation of being a good midwife. They mostly feared the rumors of the dead-womb curse seeping onto their hands and spreading to other mothers to be, or it could cause a serious life threatening illness. One midwife that worked on my mother three siblings ago, claimed she received a curse of bad luck – no matter what she did she was doomed.
The only one brave enough was a stranger named Mawuzi from Jenne, the capitol of Sudan. Olodumare summoned my mother’s midwife, Mawuzi, who was raised in Songhai to protect me. She was a beautiful woman with cocoa skin and almond eyes. Mawuzi was renowned for her healing hands. She appeared in the time between silence of the night and a dawning of a new day. She knocked three times on my mother’s door. As my 9-month-pregnant mother teeter-tottered to answer the door, she wondered to herself who would be so bold to knock on the queen’s door so early. She tried to use her gift to read who had come to visit her, but it was someone she hadn’t recognized.
As my mother opened the door, Mawuzi quickly introduced herself.
“I am Mawuzi and I am a midwife,” she said, looking deeply into my mother’s eyes. “I can help you and most of all I will not desert you in the time of need.”
My mother had heard a great deal of nonsense of midwives boasting of their talents. Even if my mother did have the gift of sight to read minds, she always took a chance on any midwife that dared to help her. However, by this time she had had enough of midwives with faint hearts. She wanted to close the door, but Mawuzi blocked the door from closing with her foot and said, “Most of all I know how to work against the forces.” And with my mother’s gift of sight, she knew Mawuzi was telling the truth.
My mother didn’t know what worked against her and why Olodumare had forbidden her to have a child. Rumors in the village of Tumora had pointed to Baba Obadele’s six wives, who were said to be responsible for Mother Titilayo’s dead womb. These women were quietly known as Owodunni’s Disciples. If only Titilayo had known that the women of Songhai celebrated her stillbirths, for they knew their powers were potent. They worked diligently for Owodunni. They had to drink blood to receive the mystical powers of animals. They carried around the bones of a powerful priestess. Within their huts and under the stillness of a black moon, many sacrifices were made. They practiced Owodunni’s twisted spells. They met with him in secret and traveled through the night wind to find him.
Walking around the village with sadness in her heart, Titilayo always rejoiced new life, yet when it was time for her to go into labor, it was a time of imminent death. There were no celebrations. Hardly any doun douns were played. No dancing or singing was heard, just silence – the type of silence that reeked of sadness.
In the midst of my mother’s sadness, happiness still emerged. My father still became a very fruitful king. Asra Begum had two children. Atira three, Durriya four, Fariah four, Hadil three, and Nuriya one. Mother Titilayo always had gladness in her heart when a new baby was born. She was always happy for her husband and knew he would be destined for success with so many children. Yet she didn’t know why she was denied motherhood. Mother Titilayo tried to use the gift of sight to discover what was wrong, but failed; Owodunni’s medicine was too strong and it veiled Titilayo’s sight. Soon Titilayo thought it was her own selfishness and pride that clouded her powers to have a child.
I had to work fast. Before descending to earth, Olodumare gave me careful instructions. “If you want her to be your mother, you must be careful,” my guide told me. “There will be forces that will work against you. The wives know how to work with those forces very well.”
Before spirits descend to earth, they take on the form of a human body. We are still in spirit form; however, our spirits are human. I could have been male. Nevertheless, I preferred the female sex. I knew I could accomplish more work with this body. Women in this society were often seen as weak and fragile, my most powerful weapon: the image of a weak woman. Men have a tendency to allow their egos to dominate them, especially when they confront women.
I was ready and standing at the edge of a crag, before Olodumare ordered me to open my mouth. I obeyed. I never question her. She placed something on my tongue. I could not taste anything. Then she ordered me to swallow. I wanted to do whatever it took to return to Earth. I had a great deal of work I needed to do. I had unfinished business.
“This should ensure your birth,” she continued, “There are two pathways. Be careful, they both are light. One will excite your keenest pleasure.”
This is when I looked at my guide a little strangely. I didn’t want to leave her; her strong arms always comforted me. Her muscular stature signified strength and endurance. Her long think coiled hair twirled around her body. She is a woman of all women and of course man. No one would exist without her.
“Darkness is the gift of birth,” she said.
“This is how your other siblings became confused. They thought the pretty light, the dancing one, was the way. You must not be tricked. It is very enticing. You have to feel the light, not see it.”
Remembering this, I jumped down the winding tunnel. I knew I would cause my mother a great deal of pain by being careful. I had to make sure I would not be attracted to the other light. I had to wait to feel the light. It took a great deal of time. I thought we would both die in the process. But somehow my mother’s determination would not let her quit. She tried too many times before and she gave everything to see me walk this earth.
“Push! Push! Mother Titi!” Mawuzi, yelled. She touched the crown of my head between my mother’s legs.
My mother was in labor with me for 24 hours – 24 grueling hours. I had to make sure the pathway was clear. A great deal of darkness awaited me – the curse I had to avoid. The curse I had to work with. There were two pathways. I had to choose one. One was very alluring. If I wasn’t careful, I could choose the pathway my late brothers and sisters had chosen. I knew I had to be wiser.
The attractive light visited me. It was so alluring and bright. It danced from side to side. It spun quickly and I looked at it with awe. It exploded into many different colors and then merged into one huge light. I wanted to reach out and grab it. It tried to make me follow it. It tried to lure me in. But I remembered my guide’s words, “You have to feel the light, not see it…” This light I did not feel. So, I shut my eyes tightly and let go.
Soon I felt a warm pulsating light upon my skin. It felt warm and safe. I felt loved. I knew this was the correct choice. I slipped between my mother’s legs and Mawuzi screeched, “Eeee—eeeee – eeee!”
“You have a very special one Mother Titilayo,” Mawuzi continued, “She is born with the gift.”
My mother was so exhausted. And when she turned her perspiring face toward me, “Aaggghhh!” she yelled uproariously. “What’s wrong with her face!”
“Oh, this?” Mawuzi asked. “This is just a Caul. It’s like an onionskin. As soon as I cut it off, she would look like a normal baby. Don’t you worry.”
“But why – does she have that on her face?”
“Oh, because she will be able to see the other side.”
“Ha, ha, hee, hee,” Mother Titilayo laughed, because she too remembered she was born with a Caul. She wasn’t as powerful as the other wives, but she knew with me she would be the all knowing. She held me in her arms and knew I would be the one to laugh at the sun. She named me Orishabiyi, The Deity Brought This One.
“Baby, baby you are the one,” my mother sang, rocking me gently in her arms.
“The silk lands into your hands.”
I heard her strength and I felt safe and warm. I had succeeded in my first task on this earth. I awaited my next task in my father’s village of Tumora.
Three months had passed. And when my father’s wives visited me, I saw their hidden fangs beneath their smiles. I knew who they were before I met them. When I looked at them for the very first time through my earth eyes, they scurried away. Many of the wives came up with excuses of tending to household duties or making special meals as opposed to visiting me. The truth was that they couldn’t stay around me for too long, because they felt a terrible sense of guilt.
“Oh, Mother Titi what a lovely child,” Atira feigned. “I wish I could stay, but I must skin a goat. You know how Baba loves curry goat!”
Atira was the only one who dared to visit me without her sisters. The others decided to send gifts.
Luckily Mawuzi was there to receive those gifts. The woman from Jenne felt an evil presence that lurked around our home. She knew the Songhai sisters were there and she had to work fast. And when the gifts arrived, especially from the Songhai women, Mawuzi performed strange rituals.
One gift she licked then spat into a fire. The fire roared a red flame, and she immediately threw the gift into the fire. With the other one, she poured a libation of palm wine, and the gift completely dissolved into acid. She knew not to give these gifts to Mother Titilayo. If Mother Titilayo had met Mawuzi earlier, I would have had four brothers and two sisters. After three months, my father walked into our hut to see me for the very first time. I knew that he would change my name to Fulasade, because that was the name of his grandmother, the one who told great stories. And as soon as he saw my face, I reminded him of her.
“She would be the one that leads directly to my heart,” my father said, holding me in his arms. “She is the gift I’ve been asking for.”
Bowing before Baba Obadele, Mawuzi beseeched the great Babalawo to allow her to stay in the village of Tumora.
“Why, of course you can stay here,” said my father, as he bounced me in his arms.
“We have plenty of room for anyone who could protect my loveliest wife and daughter.”
“Fulasade, you and I have so much to share and learn,” he exclaimed, looking deeply into my eyes.
“Her name is Orishabiyi,” my mother said indignantly.
“Oh yes, I believe she is directly from Olodumare herself. But when she gets older I will rename her Fulasade, because she has dancing eyes like my Nana.”
My mother laughed and together they laughed and hugged each other in joy while the other wives of Songhai cringed inside their cold huts.