By Troy Simon
She sashayed through the streets, strutting with her chest out, hips rocking back and forth like a skiff. The boys and I watched her. Her name was Mayann, but those who knew her called her May. She was the only child, but some said that she had a step-brother named Terrance, her father’s son. Rumor has it that her father never had a son, that he had died without mentioning it to Mayann.
To me, it was all lies. I believed that her father did have a son. I also believed that she took part in everything in the book, for there was much more beneath her black skin, hinting lust or some kind of feeling of desire, of love, of pleasure.
People said she dabbled in pornography and prostitution, that she dated men ten years her senior, that she had a tramp stamp on her back, giving away proof about her lifestyle. Most people never believed it because she never wore anything revealing in public. It didn’t surprise me that she didn’t, for those were the kind of black women I knew, or so I thought.
“It is there, the tramp stamp,” I said.
“And you are fooling yourself,” Rodney said. The boys laughed, holding onto their chairs for balance. They were sitting, lying back with their legs crossed, bathing in the summer sun as the blue skies stretched along the buildings.
“I’ve dated black women like her.” I rubbed my chin.
“Yeah, in your dreams,” Rodney said and placed his hands on my shoulder. “Mayann is not like any black woman. She has class.”
“What do you know about class, Rodney?” one of the boys interrupted.
“Too much to explain to you young fellas. A black woman like that,” Rodney said, standing from his chair and hefting his cane, “has it made.”
The boys fell out laughing. I did, too. We were all standing out in front of Rodney’s house, fundraising for the New Orleans Black Lives Matter Movement. We made an upward of $2,000 dollars over the weekend. Some people donated hundreds of dollars every now and again. Others stopped by our tables to purchase T-shirts and hats.
“Yeah, right,” I said. “Saying I can’t talk to her, Rodney?”
He looked at me and folded his arms, “You can’t.”
“Okay, we’ll see.”
“We’ll see,” Rodney told me.
I knew much more about women than Rodney did, although he was twice my age, forty-eight. He looked not yet old and always dressed as if he was going to church. The suits he wore were all black except for their lapels. They changed when he changed his suits. From what I remember, they were blue, red, orange, and sometimes burgundy. The ladies loved his flatulent style, especially when he donned his tall hat on Mondays.
The women tittered when they saw him coming down the streets. They said he was funny and had a charming smile, that he was a sugar daddy and a gentleman. I knew because Ms. Allen told me the stories, Rodney’s fiance. She said that Rodney stopped being a playa when she caught his eyes. She said she was thick fine and had a whole lot of class.
Catching Rodney was like fishing. All he wanted was good bait, she said. And I gave it to him.
“Yes, honey?” Rodney said, craning his neck.
It was Ms. Allen. She stood in the threshold of the door. Her black hair rested on her shoulders and her stomach sat out like a barrel. She stood with arms akimbo. The boys stared at her, gently tugging their collars for fresh air. They moved to the side when she stepped from the porch, doffing their caps and smiling with wide smiles of admiration.
“Kitty needs to be taken for a walk,” she said, standing before Rodney.
“Okay. I’ll go get her then.” He walked into the house. “Here Kitty, Kitty.”
The boys and I muffled laughter.
Rodney came back with Kitty in his hands, on a leash.
“She needs to be taken to the Pet Shop, too.”
Rodney stood before Ms. Allen, nodding his head.
“Okay,” he said.
The boys and I were silent.
After the fundraiser was over, I ran home. I had to make a few errands. I placed papers on my bed, setting them out neatly. They were stories I had written when I was in high school. I’d typed them again and made red markings on them. Professor Henry wanted me to come over to take a look at my progress. I had about an hour to type the pages up.
At the computer, I was changing the errors. When I was bored or tired, I walked to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I paced the floors looking back and forth out of the windows across the street at Mayann’s house. I raked the laced curtains and pulled up my blinds. There she was, standing and talking on the phone, holding a stack of papers in her hand. The way she stood reminded me of some ancient princess. Her black turtleneck sweater covered her torso and the light from the sun shone onto her face. When she moved, the sun moved with her, too, always rearranging and complimenting her beauty.
I pulled the blinds open some more and realized that the water from the faucet was still running. The water spilled over, and I turned it off before heading to the basement to snatch a mop. When I finished mopping the floor, I took another look out the window. Mayann was gone. I placed my hands on the sink and began thinking. I then walked back to my room and started typing again.
The same thing happened the other day, Mayann was sitting at the window. I had a woman over that night. The woman and I met at the bar for the first time. She asked me to buy her a drink, and I did. Next thing you know, she was in my bed, and I was boning her like a dog.
“Say my name?” I said.
“Erin,” she said.
She began to moan and wrap her legs around me. “Harder.”
“But that’s not my name.”
“Harder. Harder. Harder.”
After the sex was over, we laid in bed and smoked a cigarette. I was staring at the ceiling, blowing a ball of smoke from my mouth. The woman’s underwear and bra were still on the floor. I guessed she was sleeping over for the night.
“What’s wrong?” she asked me and rubbed my cock.
“Nothing.” I rolled over and placed my feet on the floor, stubbing out my cigarette. My alarm clock read 1A.M., but I didn’t feel tired. “I need to get a glass of water.”
“In the middle of the night?”
I ignored her and sauntered to the kitchen. Over the sink, a bar of moonlight came through the window. The blinds were up and Mayann’s lights were off. Her curtains halfway shut. I guess she was sleeping or maybe getting boned. Who knew? I took another sip of water and stared out the window again. A lamplight came on and Mayann’s curtains opened.
She was writing. The arm of her lamp reached over her. She kept writing and didn’t look up. I hid myself a little so she wouldn’t see me. I watched her move her hand smoothly across the pages. She looked angry. I placed my face closer to the window until a hand touched my shoulder.
I jumped. I turned to see that it was the woman, standing before me, naked.
“Are you ready for round two?” she asked me and kissed my chest, easing her way down to my navel. She rose back up, smiling.
I smiled, too.
“What were you staring at?” the woman asked.
I turned around and Mayann was gone.
“Huh,” she said, waiting to hear me speak.
“Nothing,” I said and sat the cup in the sink, taking one last look out the window.
“Get back in bed.” The woman kissed me, rubbing her head against my chest.
“Okay,” I said and shut the laced curtains.
I told Rodney and the boys that Mayann was a mystery. They all laughed and Rodney denied it. He said that I didn’t know much about classy black women. He said Mayann was just too precocious for me, that she was too elegant and neat to degrade herself.
“And why is that?” I asked him.
“Because you’re thinking too much with this.” He placed his cane close to my cock. “And you ain’t thinking too much with this.” He pointed to his temple and walked away. I sat there ruminating on what he had said; felt myself drifting back and forth from sex to Mayann, Mayann to sex. I guess Rodney was right. I told myself for now on I’ll think before I feel.
I sat back in my seat and shook out a cigarette from its box. I took one drag and sat the cigarette between my middle and index finger. Mayann walked by wearing a jogging bra—I think—and green spandex. She waved and smiled.
“Hello,” she said to the boys, her eyes missing me by a pinch of a glance. I wondered if she acknowledged me, too. I eyed her as my jaw dropped. Before I knew it, my cock rose, standing rock hard like a commander ready for combat.
I was embarrassed.
She stopped and took her headphones out of her ears. She asked the boys a question, were they familiar with Magazine Street. They all answered at once. She nodded as if she heard them—she didn’t. I saw it from the look in her eyes. She placed her headphones back in.
Yes, I am, I said to myself, but she couldn’t hear me. She already started off down the streets.
I watched her run. It was as if she was moving in slow motion. Her hair leaped from her shoulders. Her black skin glistened in the sun—that, when she stopped running and placed her hands on her hips, I stared in awe and began to follow.
She was standing on the banquette, looking at herself in a mirror, posing for a magazine. Ebony? Women’s Health? Or was it for some invisible camera? Was it just the mirror? Some mannequin she was so playfully trying to imitate? I wasn’t sure.
I walked toward her and stopped. She was getting in a car—with a man, perhaps? No, it was a woman ten years her senior. They both were laughing before opening the car doors. I could see the smoke from the exhaust pipe wisp in the air when the engine cranked. The car drove off, and I was standing alone, longing for Mayann and the day when she and I would meet.
At home, the image of Mayann kept flashing through my mind.
Stop it, I told myself. I tried typing on the computer, but her body kept interfering with my concentration.
“God damn it,” I shouted.
I walked to the window and raked the curtains. Looking across the street, no one was there. Mayann’s draperies were drawn and her lights were off. I wondered where she could have been at this time of the day.
My phone rang. I looked at the screen. It was the woman from last night. She must have saved her number. Her name was Nina. She took a picture of herself, smiling with me in the background. I held her panties in my hands. I didn’t remember any of it. I slid the screen and placed it on my ear.
“Hello,” Nina said.
“Hi.” I sounded awkward.
“Are we still on for tonight?” she said. I could hear wind blowing in the speaker.
“Yes, how are you?” I said and started for my door to check the mailbox outside.
“We’re breaking up,” she told me.
“Hold on.” She put me on mute.
I put the phone on speaker and rummaged through my mail. They were old rent bills. I opened them and lifted my head up as I finished reading.
“Hello. Are you still there?” Nina said.
“Yes, I’m still here.”
“The phone lost signal,” she said.
As we were talking, Mayann walked outside of her door. Her phone was in her hand, Bluetooth in her ear—was she talking to someone? I saw her mouth moving but not much. I think she was singing or maybe reciting a poem: Maya Angelou? Richard Wright? I was too busy paying attention to her clothes, white button down shirt and black slacks, gorgeous heels. She wore red lipstick. Her neck and arm frozen, bejeweled like the pharoahs of ancient Egypt. Her crown was the sun that shone over her head, reflecting the past and present of royal belonging. My mind went adrift as I mesmerized about her in exaggeration.
“Hello,” Nina said.
I was silent.
“Are you still there? We’re breaking up.”
“Give me a minute,” I said and sat the phone down and went outside my gates, approaching Mayann with the deepest interest for the first time.
She stood before her car, trying to open her door. At that moment, I saw that it was my chance to ask her out.
“Hi,” I said. I stood holding my hands in my pockets, trying to play it cool. “Do you need any help?”
“No, I got it.” She tried opening her car door again.
“Here, let me see.” She stepped to the side. I looked at the door handle. “Can I see your keys?”
I twisted it into the keyhole, gently pulling on the door.
“Watch it,” she said, touching my shoulder.
“You see,” I said, and twisted the key slowly, “my dad was a repo man, and he was very good at it.”
Mayann was silent.
“He worked almost every day. He was a faithful man and taught me most of what he knew about manhood. He always looked at me while smoking his cigarette, smoke jutting from his nostrils. He would say, ‘Son, there are two sides to life. You can either see the positive side or the negative side. The positive side,’ he told me, ‘will always out beat the negative. You just have to take things slow and twist life.’” The car door unlocked, and I opened it. “‘And it’ll give you something back.’”
“Wow, how did you do that?”
“Time and practice. Here you go,” I said and handed her the keys.
“That was so nice of you. What’s your name?” Mayann held out her hand.
“The name’s Erin.”
“Pleasure to meet you. My name’s Mayann, but everyone calls me May. How can I repay you?”
“There is no need to repay me, but I would love to get to know you.”
“Sure, I think that would be a great idea. I see you all the time, but never stop to talk to you. I’ve just been busy running errands.”
“Are you single?”
“Yes,” Mayann laughed. “And loving the independence, the power over my body.”
“I see,” I said.
“Here, take my card.” She fished through her purse. “Let me know when you want to talk.”
“Thanks.” I took the card, and without question, tucked it into my pocket. Mayann hopped in her BMW and sat, dabbing makeup on her face while looking through her rearview mirror. When she stopped, she looked at me. “Please, call me whenever you want to go someplace and talk,” she said and smiled. “Okay?”
“Sure.” I felt like a little boy. “I’ll give you a call. We can go to Deanies.”
“Alright. I love it. What time works for you?”
“I can do seven thirty-ish on a Wednesday.”
“Perfect,” she said. “That works for me.”
“Great. I’ll call you sometime,” I said, and before I could continue, she stopped me.
“Sounds good. Ciao.” She shut her car door and slowly pulled off as I began walking back to my porch.
I lay my phone on my ear. Nina was still there.
“What happened?” she asked.
“We’re breaking up.” The phone was losing its signal, and I could hear Nina’s voice drowning.
“Can you hear me now?” she said.
“Yes, I can hear you.”
“I said what happened. Why were you taking so long?”
“Oh,” I finally answered. “I was helping someone out with their car.”
“Who?” she asked.
“Some lady from next door,” I said and looked down the streets. “Her name’s Mayann.”
Later that week, I called the date off with Nina. I told her I had some business to take care of, that I had to run some errands for my boss. The truth was, I was preparing to meet Mayann at Deanies down in the French Quarter. I wore my finest in the closet: blue non-suede suit with black lapels. The bowtie I donned was in sync with my white button down and black snakeskin shoes. I looked in the mirror for the third time and held my hands in my pocket. Nice, I said and gave myself a pat on the shoulders. I took a visit to Rodney’s place before making it to the restaurant.
“Hey, Erin. I haven’t seen you in a while,” he said as he shook my hand. Ms. Allen sat at the kitchen table, Kitty on her lap. Rodney was cooking.
“I got a date.”
“With who, Mayann?”
“Yeah, I asked her out. She’s interested.”
“Are you going to congratulate me?”
“No,” he said. “You still have to survive.”
“Rodney,” Ms. Allen said.
“Yes, honey?” he answered.
“The pot is running over.”
Rodney began stirring the pot. Ms. Allen sat in her seat, writing papers.
“Well, I wish you the best, Erin,” Rodney said. “I need to cook for my black queen.”
Ms. Allen smiled.
I just stood there, watching.
Leaving Rodney’s place, I picked up a bundle of nosegays as I made my way to Deanies. The place was packed, filled with men and women that looked to be in their late twenties or early thirties. I observed the room in search for Mayann. She was nowhere to be found. I took a seat and looked out the window at the crescent moon. French music played and a bar of men watched a replay of the Saints game. The Saints were winning, beating the Falcons in the fourth quarter—37 to 12.
“Hi,” someone said.
I turned from the window. It was Mayann.
“Hey,” I said. She wore white heels and a royal blue wrap dress, her body fully covered except the middle of her chest, which bulged out perfectly and exposed her caramel skin. I rose from my seat and pulled out a chair. She sat and plopped her utensils on the table, laying out her cloth over her legs. I asked her if she needed anything to drink, but she said nothing, only shaking her head.
“The moon is beautiful isn’t it?” I said.
“It’ll do. It’s too light. Why did you choose to sit by a window?”
“I thought you would like it.”
“It’s fine,” she said, easily turning her head, having no qualms.
“So I bought you these.” I placed the flowers on the table.
“They are….nice,” she said in a low tone, touching them with a tender hand.
“Thank you,” I said, skeptical of her response.
She touched them and looked through her phone and then back at me.
“So,” I asked her. “What do you do for a living?”
“‘Cuse me?” she reached for the menu and flipped it open.
“I said what do you do for a living.”
“Oh,” she said, pointing to the menu. “There’s an oyster special.”
“How nice,” I said and cracked my menu open, too.
The waiter came to the table, pen and note pad in his hand. He stood before us.
“Hi,” I said, looking at the waiter. His dark hooded eyes gave me the impression that he was ready to take our orders. “We would like to have two glasses of water.”
“Um, I’m not in the mood for water.” Mayann looked at me and then at the waiter. “Would you make that a glass of red wine, please?”
I looked at her, speechless.
“Red wine?” the waiter repeated.
“Yes,” Mayann said. “Red wine.”
The waiter wrote it down without question. “Wine for you, too, sir?”
I nodded my head to confirm, watching Mayann thump through the menu.
“I ordered water because I thought you were thirsty,” I said.
“Thirsty?” Mayann said and cut her eyes. She read between the lines. “I think not.”
I gave Mayann a smile as she looked down at the menu. “But I’m thirty,” I said to her. She paid me no mind and kept flipping through the menu.
At the table, I talked the whole time. Mayann just asked me questions. I felt as if I had to answer them all. She asked me questions about my personal life, finances, experiences with women. I caught myself getting nervous. Did she see the woman I invited to the house the other day, Nina? I told her everything I knew about women, everything she wanted to hear: their needs, their wants, and their rights to be as equal to men.
“I see,” she said. “You know nothing about women.”
“What was that?”
“Anyway,” she ignored me. “What do you think about sex?”
“‘Cuse me? What about sex?” I said, smiling a crooked smile on the inside, pretending that I wasn’t interested. I was. I was thirsty again. I drank from my glass, watching her.
“I think it’s sacred,” she said and took a sip from her red wine and ordered another.
“Sacred?” I was a bit dumbstruck, flummoxed. “Explain.”
“I don’t have to explain anything.” The waiter stood before her, taking our plates and glass cups.
“And why is that?”
She said nothing and slid the bill across the table, drinking her wine.
I looked at it and placed my card down on the receipt.
Looking back up, Mayann was ready to leave, slipping her purse onto her shoulder.
“Where are you going?” I asked her.
“‘Cuse me?” she said. “What was that?”
“Are you leaving?” I said.
“Yes,” she said and started for the door. “See you tomorrow, Erin. It was good talking to you.”
I held the pen in my hand and signed the bill. The waiter looked at me and asked if I needed some tissues.
“‘Cuse me?” I said and stood up from my seat, flowers still on the table. I picked them up and went out the door. The wind blew hard, and the French Quarter looked packed. I started for Bourbon Street. I wanted to forget the date and find another woman but something touched me.
I couldn’t go any further, for Mayann lay on my mind. I envisioned her smile and caught glimpses of her Mars-colored eyes. I desired her, and I felt the need to talk to her again, to see her once more. I held the flowers in my hand and smelled them, holding them closely to my chest like a box of chocolates as I savored the moment of an infatuated love I’d never known in all my years of adulthood. I realized that my heart was stolen, taken by the woman that I knew next door, a woman who took me by surprise, who was not blinded by my gentleness. I looked down the streets again and started for home, untying my tie and holding the flowers closely in my arms, thinking of Mayann, spellbound by her charm.
I lay in my bed. The sun was rising and a bar of light penciled its way through my diaphanous curtains. It had been a few weeks since Mayann and I gone on a date. I kept thinking where I went wrong. Was I not attractive? Was I not good enough for her? I talked to Rodney about it. He told me that I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t believe him. We sat out talking on his steps, the boys and me. Kids were playing freeze tag across the streets in their yards while pedestrians took their children for a walk to enjoy the summer breeze.
“I mean, I bought her flowers, paid for the bill,” I said.
Rodney listened. The boys did, too.
“She is the first woman that took me by surprise,” I said.
“Why you say that?” Rodney replied.
“Because she is different. She has me confused.”
“Rodney,” Ms. Allen called.
“Coming, honey,” Rodney said and looked at me one last time. “I told you, the woman has class.”
“What does that even mean?” I asked him
Rodney walked into his house and said nothing.
I sat on the porch, thinking. Mayann was coming out of her door. She held papers in her hands. I walked up to her.
“What’s your name again?” she stared at me for a minute.
I cringed at the question. I didn’t want to answer, but I did. “Erin.”
“Oh, that’s right. Hey, Erin. How are you?”
“I am doing well.”
“That’s good. What’s up?”
“I was wondering if we could go on a date again,” I said, waiting for a reply. There was an awkward silence. Then she answered.
“Sure,” she said. “Can you cook?”
“Yes,” I lied. “Yes, I can cook.”
“My place Saturday.” She hopped in her BMW.
“Okay,” I said. She drove off and disappeared in the distance. The way Mayann handled the situation made me want to reconsider, but my feelings could not resist, although I felt as if I was the woman taking orders and she was the man giving them to me without hesitation. It was clear that Mayann was more than the woman I thought she would be. Maybe it was her appearance that made me develop a misconception about her. The figure of her body and the way it moved, like cognac in a half-filled Barcardi glass bottle, made me think she was a woman beyond her experiences in the sex world—I wasn’t sure, or at least I thought I was.
The opinion I had of Mayann didn’t matter now. It all faded away like a tornado after a dust storm. The thoughts I had about her were new, developed and contemplated concepts about her blackness as a woman and her status. She was mature, like Rodney said, but mature in a sense that made me think about what type of a man I was or was raised to be. A savage in bed or a deceptive beast behind closed doors? I wondered. The thoughts came and dwindled away when I found myself picking at the root of the ideas. I was changing as a black man. I was changing for the better. I was changing to be with the woman that decoded my life’s answers and gave me a definition of what it means to be a gentleman.
Mayann, I whispered, in the middle of the streets, and there I knew, that she was the woman for me. A fleece of clouds drifted in slow motion above my head and the heat from the asphalt rippled in mid-air as a school of pigeons stretched their wings along power line wires for balance.
Rodney called me when I made it to the sidewalk. I held my head up and saw that the boys were gone and the chairs were now empty. Rodney said that he was cooking for the night and asked me if I wanted to stay. I rubbed my hair when he mentioned it to me. I understood the question, but I did not understand what had happened. I was still moving back and forth between thoughts of Mayann and reality. I didn’t catch most of the words he said, but I could hear his voice, which was stern and impossible to understand.
“What was that, Rodney?” I said and he shook his head.
“Never mind,” He told me. “Please stay if you want to.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t. I have to head home,” I said.
I told Rodney I would see him later. We parted ways without any words being exchanged.
The days went by quickly and Saturday was already there. It only took me ten minutes to take a shower. I slipped into a button down shirt and blue jeans. I fished around in my pockets and fumbled across two five dollar bills and one twenty. I sat the crumpled bills on the table and pulled a book from my bookshelf, in which I placed the bills inside the hardcover book and let them mash between the pages to even themselves out into crisp form. I then let the book sit on the mahogany desk while I walked to Mayann’s place. I rang her doorbell, but no one answered. I waited at the door, and Mayann opened it, welcoming me into her place—she was smiling, red lipstick, pearl earrings and all.
“Take your shoes off,” she told me.
I untied my shoes and placed them behind the door. I observed the walls. They were decorated with flower patterns and baby blue jays. The air smelled of Gumbo Seasoning and Cajun Shrimp. Mayann ushered me to the living room where I sat admiring the decor and the fancy wine bottles that shot out from the wine shelf.
“Water?” she asked me.
I nodded my head. My mouth was dry. I was thirsty.
“The food would be ready in just a minute,” she said. “And please, let me know if you need anything.”
Wasn’t I supposed to cook, I said to myself, but thought nothing of it.
Mayann sat down on the sofa and we talked for a few minutes. She told me how she was professionally involved in sculpting and a big fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. Mayann surprised me, of course, for she talked of her past and how her father died of lung cancer. She even corrected the negative rumors that people spoke about her. I caught myself biting my tongue because I was one of those people. Did she know that I have been telling the boys I could have her in bed? Did she know that I was thirsty for her? I believed she did, especially the way she looked at me, head cocked and eyes on mine. Or was it me who desired her, but thought she desired me? My male body was a bell jar of emotions. I didn’t know what to believe, for I was ambivalent about her and our conversation. When I tried talking, she would move from the sofa and saunter to the mantel piece, looking at pieces of papers in a manila folder.
“Are you a writer?” she asked me.
“I wouldn’t say I am a writer, but I love to write.”
“Would you be interested in reading a piece of mine? It’s titled ‘My Body, My Blackness.’ It’s a spoken word poem.”
I stared at her and repeated the title. Then I answered. “I would love to.”
“Okay,” she said and positioned herself, setting the bundle of papers in her hands. She handed them to me. “I’ll be back. I have to check on the food in the kitchen.”
“Okay,” I said and looked down at the paper. I read the title and crossed my legs.
Please listen, and listen carefully, black man
I am a black woman and this blackness that you see carry a long past
My blackness is a past filled with dark histories
Mysteries of a black woman trying to figure out if her tar body was meant to be
Oppressed since the beginning of American history
And these hips you see are mine and mine to keep
Don’t be fooled by the way they sway
Several men like you try to have their way
I paused and felt a shock through my veins. The sound and the rhythm of the piece touched me. Was Mayann trying to tell me something? I looked around the room and back at the paper. In my head, I could hear a booming voice coming from the page, but I couldn’t hear a drop of a pen when I stopped reading. Was I going through the motions of telepathically communicating with my inner self? I wasn’t sure. I read on:
I am highly intelligent and articulate and don’t need a King to be crowned Queen
This woman that you see has class and mean business and do not settle for a joke and a smile
My skin makes me above average, and my belief in it makes me a goddess. Please don’t be surprised because being a goddess is how I got it–made
Now stop and think—My body
My body is much more than what historians can explain
I am filled with wisdom
And these thighs, they are not to please
Marked and scarred, but tall I stand like the ancient pyramids of Egypt
Yes, I’m free
Free at last
And I am a black woman and my blackness on this earth was meant to be
I walk with purpose, wild and mighty, with a script to preach
You see these hips—these bulging thighs—cannot be contained
Devoured or swallowed
Please let me explain
I am an ocean and deeper than any blue sea
And my blackness is my own, and I let that be known
They are mine to keep
And not afraid to lose control
I am strong, a sanctuary of a million
Loud and clear I speak without any words to spare
So listen up
I am a womanist and refuse to hold my tongue
My blackness is bold
It runs through the Nile
East to West—my blood, my pain stains this earth
Cursed but blessed
I am a strong woman, Black Man
And this is My Body, My Blackness
When I finished reading the poem, I held my head up to see Mayann walking from the kitchen. She had a glass of water in her hand, handing it to me. I told her I wasn’t thirsty anymore. I gave the poem back to her and stood up from the sofa. It had spoken to me. I didn’t tell her that, of course. But I could feel on my face that she already saw it, the guilt. She stood before me and asked if I was hungry. I nodded my head as she made her way to the kitchen. She didn’t ask me anything about her work, but took the papers and sat them back on the mantel piece.
Mayann, I tried calling out to her, but felt as if I were still going through the motions after reading. I kept quiet and sauntered to the kitchen, still stuck between the limbo of the world and Mayann’s piece.
After dinner, Mayann and I talked over the table. She shared with me her thoughts about our friendship and how she was not interested in dating. I wanted to tell her that I was changing and that I thought she would be someone I could spend my life with. I changed my mind when she told me the stories of her past and how dating didn’t really go so well. She told me that she was focused on law school and looking forward to graduating from Loyola in New Orleans. She told me she was always focused on school and nary a man.
As I sat back listening to her, I began to see that I no longer knew myself. I was letting Mayann get the best of me. Although I didn’t like it, I respected her and the decision she was making, not wanting to be in a relationship until marriage. I began to realize that I was divested of power, that I was a boy dressed up in some grown man’s clothing. Mayann was the adult in the room and I was her son—nay, her student. My thoughts were torn apart by Mayann, shattered and battered by some overwhelming force. Everything I knew about black women dissipated into thin air, spiraling someplace remote and unknown. I felt as if a vitrified glass wall had been broken, and I was free to live and appreciate them for their bodies, for who they were, for who they are.
When Mayann finished talking to me, I wished her a good night at the door. She handed me a plate she made earlier. It was still warm at the bottom, so she placed it in a bag. I thanked her and tried kissing her on the cheek. My body was stiff, but somehow I drew closer. My lips almost came into contact with her flesh.
“No.” She stopped me and turned her head, exhaling.
I nodded and took two steps back, picking up my shoes. She reached for my hand and brushed the edge of my fingers against her face. Her eyes closed and opened. She looked at me and kissed me on the cheek.
“Good night, Erin,” she said and eased back into her door, closing it slowly.
I stood there for a while and made my way down the hall. A lamplight sputtered and a bowl of cat milk sat abandoned. The air-conditioner hummed as the exit sign flashed on and off. I opened the doors and went home. I stood before my porch, stargazing, holding my face up to the crescent moon. I then made my way inside. I walked to my room and clicked on the TV. I looked at the book that sat on my mahogany desk, remembering the two five dollar bills and one twenty that sat between its pages. I picked the book up and turned to the page where the money lay. They were clean and fresh again. The creases were no longer there, for they were flat and changed. I slipped the money in my pocket and went to my kitchen to drink a glass of water.
I looked outside my window. Mayann sat at her desk, writing. Poetry? I thought. Maybe she was. I closed the curtains and leaned against the sink. I was changing. I could feel it. I could feel myself moving and twisting, shape-shifting into blackness, changing for the better. It was as if my body was regenerating itself into a new shape. I felt it. I was becoming a man, a black man, and Mayann knew it, except the world, Rodney, and the boys.
(featured photo by Sky Otero)