/ Fiction /
As a kid, I didn’t like to play with other kids my age. In fact I didn’t even like kids my age. They whined and cried. They had no grit and needed adults for even the smallest of tasks. I disliked the boys the most. They would try to kiss me and touch me in inappropriate places behind abandoned buildings after we sat for hours burning ants with our magnifying glasses. They would often pull my hair which made me hate them even more. I was considered tender headed by my mother who found pleasure in the pain of our nightly ritual of hair braiding. I would sit between her legs eating either a popsicle or lollipop, tears forming at the corners of my eyes at the roughness of the comb and her hands. Rites of passage I guess. I hated both the boys and the hair braiding ritual. Both caused unnecessary pain and suffering.
My mom and grandma were often tired of me occupying places in our home where I didn’t belong. But I always made my presence known. They claimed I was being too grown by intruding on private moments of gossip and conversation with the women of my grandmother's church who said they didn’t need no man because they had Sweet Baby Jesus. These women treated Jesus like a husband, carrying him around in their pockets, like a charm to ward off the imaginary men that didn't want them anyway. They would cackle loudly at the stories my grandmother told of her world travels and three alcoholic husbands. She would always preface the story with this was before I got saved. I always wondered what getting saved had to do with the story but declined to ask, lest I be popped on the hand with a wooden spoon for being in grown folk business. I never had a chance to hear the real juicy gossip because they would force me to go outside so they could cuss and not feel guilty about it. This was often done right before they spilled the good stuff.
Instead of going outside to play with my peers, I would walk aimlessly around the neighborhood trying to find something productive to do. I would usually end up at the library to take a nap, read or chat with the librarian, who always had a stack of books for me to read waiting at her station. I don't remember her name, only that she smelled like Jean Naté and had a lot of long bushy hair. On some days, I would re-shelve books. On others I would sit at her station and greet guests, check out books for patrons and empty the trash cans. After a few hours, I would walk back home and sneak back into the house and make my way to my room, unnoticed by the women cackling loudly in the kitchen.
In my room I would write stories and draw pictures on the walls of the closet, much to the exasperation of my mother who everyday grew more and more weary of my budding creativity. She was also becoming increasingly more concerned with my aloofness and disinterest in other children my age. This eventually landed me in the office of a therapist who himself seemed to loathe children, scrunching his face at me whenever I walked into the room. The joy I felt being Black and carefree was, I suppose, too much for him to bear. After a few sessions, and to the therapist's delight, he concluded that I had anger issues because I told him about the boys in my neighborhood that touched me in places that I didn’t like. He shared with me that my response to the touching, kicking them in the balls, was abnormal, violent and inappropriate. Little did he know I wanted to kick him in the balls too. In between my trips to therapy, school and my “job” at the library, I spent even less time outside. I even stopped talking to the adults that I loved because I believed that by sending me to this man, who seems to hate my very existence, they somehow betrayed me. I now only responded to them when asked a question. My teachers called me quiet and polite while the adults in the neighborhood called me “special.” I hated them all because I just wanted to be me. This is why I adored my friend Lady.
One day, Lady wasn’t at her usual spot on the bench to wait with me for the bus that would take me to school. I walked up and down the block looking for any sign of her but she had vanished. This was not like her and I was afraid that someone, who hated her for being free, had hurt her. She would never miss one of our morning chats. The other kids that waited at the bus stop with me were not always kind and sometimes the adults weren’t either, but Lady made sure that under her watch I was safe. To see her sashaying down the block in her leather skirt and high heels meant they would stay away from us, as they were deathly afraid of her foul mouth, her long, strong legs and the knife she kept tucked away neatly in her worn down brown handbag. “I was a classy lady once,” she told me. That was before her mother and her dreams died in a fire. While Lady’s hands were vicious, her heart was fragile. I saw the black eyes and the swollen nose that often accompanied our morning meetings. She would usually pass them off as something that came with being a hooker but even as a kid, I knew that there was something more. Her eyes seemed to be swollen more from crying than from the punches she took. And while she spent late nights and early mornings making some straight man’s fantasy come true in order to keep the lights on in her home, she was more than just some common whore to me. She was my friend.
I met Lady through my grandmother. Gram had first seen Lady when she was walking home from her shift at the hospital early one morning. Lady was in the middle of an argument with a man in a car about how much he owed her. My grandmother, hearing the commotion from across the street, stopped just shy of the vehicle. He stopped yelling at Lady once he saw my grandmother appear from the shadows. He eyed her angrily and threw the money he owed at the both of them. He spit a wad of gum on the concrete, slammed the door of his expensive car and drove away. Lady hurriedly picked up her meager earnings and straightened her wig that hung low to her shoulders.
“Now you know you shouldn’t let people throw money at you like that!”
“Well. I better not see you with him again. You hear me? If he can’t respect you as a
woman, no matter what you do, then you don’t need to serve him anymore.”
“Why don’t you come on by and get yourself cleaned up and have a cup of coffee with me.”
“Now I am gonna warn you. I gots my grand baby and my daughter there. If you bother them or steal anything, I got a shotgun with a bullet in it that has your name on it. We clear?”
This was the beginning of my grandmother and Lady’s friendship. When my grandmother mentioned that she still felt uncomfortable about my having had to take public transportation to school alone at such a young age, Lady stepped up to make sure that I made it to and from school safely. While she didn’t actually ride the bus with me, her presence was enough to make me feel safe and protected. We made it a point to meet a few minutes early before school to talk, laugh and finish my homework. She always checked my math homework. I hated math. She would wait for me to board the bus to school and at 3:00 wait for my return. She heard me when I talked about the mean therapist and how I hated the boys in my neighborhood. She listened as I cried because my father stole my birthday money and disappeared again. To make me feel better, she bought me a heart-charm necklace, the kind where you could snap the heart in half so one friend could have one half of the heart and the other friend could have the other. She took time to wrap it real pretty and presented it to me one morning with blood-shot eyes and a weary gait. I took one half of the heart and she kept the other. I didn’t ask how many men she had to sleep with to afford something so nice.
Lady never showed up the day I waited for her. Nor did she show up the day after that. She didn’t come to my grandmother’s house for her morning coffee or a warm shower and the flowers we purchased for her birthday had long died. I was devastated. While I wanted to see Lady again, I knew that I wouldn’t. Lady, my friend, was gone. It wasn’t until a few months later that my grandmother told me that Lady was killed. She was found in an abandoned building, around the corner from our home, her body bludgeoned to death at the hands of a dissatisfied customer. I thought about all the times I walked by those abandoned houses on my way to school. All the times I played there, burning ants with magnifying glasses and sucking on honeysuckle stems. She was probably lying there on one of those occasions, waiting for someone to save her. I was told not to feel guilty. That I was too young to really understand the magnitude of such a loss. I wasn’t to worry, I would see Lady again in Heaven, wherever that was. So with my aching heart, I grabbed my blanket and pillow and burrowed myself in the closet where I drew pictures and stories on the walls, to read and dream and cry and to remember my friend. My best friend who wore leather skirts and lace stockings and kept a knife in her worn leather handbag.