Authors: Nikki Woods
But even di' softest skin gets rough after six months, then the romance starts to flap.”
“Bianca,” I said, my brain too tired to translate.
She sucked her teeth and gave it to me in English, her hands dancing with every word. “ All I'm saying is when a man is courting a woman, in the beginning he's very gentleman-like, with lots of promises of eternal love. But even the softest skin becomes rough after a timeâthat same passion waxes and wanes after months pass. The sunshine fades away. It always happens. In the first week of dating, he opens the door for her, pulls out her chair, picks her up from work and drops her off. He would take her to the hairdresser and return to pick her up. By week three, she has to open her own car door, draw up her own chair and take taxis to and from work.âHoney, I would pick you up, but the work pressure is holding me.' It's just funny to me, Kingston. The work pressure wasn't there before, only the pressure between his legs.” The bitterness wafted from her pores. Too many love situations gone sour could leave a nauseating stench that was hard to wash off.
“Come on, Bianca, it works both ways. It's not only men who seem to work on this six-month schedule. When a woman first meets a man, she's well groomed, she buys new outfits and shoes, her hair is done, she smells good, make up is fierce. All his boys are jealous. At the beginning, she cooks for him, sets the table with candles and fine china. She greets him at the door in a thong and high heels. Then after the first few months, she greets him with curlers in her hair, a torn housedress, slippers on her feet, and a frown. If he dares asks her about the warm meal, the reply would be, âSomething wrong with your hands? It's in the fridge, just take it out and put it in the microwave. I worked just as hard as you today.'
"Whatever happened to the well-groomed woman he met, who greeted him with a warm meal and a smile? The six-month calendar catches her, too. The same way you got him is the same way you keep him. Men need to be loved and cared for just like a woman.”
Bianca drew her legs into her chest and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees. “So if men are all that great, where's your man?”
I readied my laundry list of reasons why this was not a good time, my hectic schedule, wanting to just enjoy me, etc., etc., etc. But even to my own ears, my reasons sounded like pitiful excuses. And to tell her the story of Randy seemed too much like admitting failure. So once again, I sucked up the pain and humiliation and didn't answer.
Sometime later, we both tumbled into the back room and fell asleep on the small twin bed in my roomâconversation unfinished. Sometime during the night, Bianca returned to her own room. I didn't even stir when she left, but I knew she was gone and I missed her presence.
The stirring sounds of people preparing for their day and the bright sun refused to be ignored. I looked at the clock. Seven was late for me. I usually got up earlier than this on Saturdays. I stretched long and lazily like a cat, flipped over and pushed my face deeper into the pillow. But I knew I wasn't going to be able to go back to sleep. I had been twisting and turning for the past half hour anyway. The buzz from the wine had long worn off and all the thoughts that had been absent for a few fleeting moments were once again racing around in my head.
Insomnia had been a problem for me ever since I was little. My mama used to say that I was the only five-year-old who walked the floors when the only thing I had to worry about was which Ken doll was going to ride in Barbie's Corvette. I just worried. I'd gotten better with age, but would still zoom into the panic mode at the first sign of trouble, then have to work myself out of it.
I reached for the shorts that I'd worn yesterday. I pulled Mama Grace's letter out of the back pocket and skimmed the contents again. I had no idea how to handle this situation. Having been surrounded by strong women since birth, I didn't know what to do except carry on. I had strong blood running through my veins. There was no need for Mama Grace to tell me that. My motherâthe master of “carrying on”âtaught me the fine art of “Making it on the broken pieces”
as she called it. “Everybody got hard times, baby. You just mix it all together and either make something sour or something sweet. It's up to you.”
I wanted to make something sweet from my grandmother's passing, but there were two big situations that I had to face. This whole business of my grandmother's will and how Damon figured into the equation. He was back in Jamaica, I knew that, but why in this city and why was he hanging around my family? It had to be a ploy just to get next to me. He's too arrogant to do anything without an ulterior motive. He may have fooled me once but, I wasn't about to let it happen again.
“All right, Kingston, get yo' lazy behind up,” I said, but didn't move. Only an image of squeezing my impending large posterior in a bikini forced me out of the bed and in search of my running shoes. Running would clear my mind.
I knocked out a few jumping jacks and like Rocky Balboa, imagined myself dancing in victory atop the steps facing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. I thought briefly about waking Bianca to see if she wanted to run, but then remembered, Bianca's allergic to sweat. I stretched again, snapped my sports bra into place and when shrugging into my Howard University Homecoming T-shirt, started to feel something come alive. My limbs shed that early-morning molasses feeling; so encouraged, I went through a half-hearted routine of Tae-bo.
The beaming sun was already smoldering hot as Toy escorted me to the gate, then, barked pitifully when she realized she was not going to tag along.
The first fifteen minutes I concentrated on settling in, getting the feel of the road, perfecting my form and working the remaining kinks out of my joints.
Running had been both a foe and a friend. I hated it, always had; but running has helped me out physically, making my legs my best feature, especially when I threw them in some black three-inch spiked heels. They were long, well-defined, and strong enough to wrap around a man and keep him just where he was supposed to be.
My stomach was toned, but it retained a pudge of softness. Men may stare at the women in those
Abs of Steel
videos, crunching their lives away to maintain their six-pack tummies, but they preferred to curl up next to women like me and lay their heads on my belly like a pillow. My breasts are just the right size; shape and I love the weight of them in my hands. They have dropped a notch since I was twenty, but still enter the room before me even without a bra. My god-sister, Amber, said they are pre-baby stage, but she was just being spiteful. With three kids and working on the fourth, she needed a harness to hold her puppies up.
Most intriguing about my anatomy though is my faceâlike an artist took a mixture of features from various ethnic groups and blended them together. My almond-brown eyes are fringed by thick black lashes and sit above high cheekbones that called to mind my Arawak Indian ancestry. My head is full of thick, wild and curly hairâthe in-between kind of hair that is testimony of the master dipping in the slave shack when he thought people weren't looking. It wasn't quite that good kind of white people hair. Mine begged to be tamed, but I refused to put any chemicals in it. The haphazard crinkles: waves and occasional naps soothed me and drove men crazy.
One hour later, I jogged up to my grandmother's gate and headed straight to the shower. I turned the heat all the way up to insure against any muscle tightness and I massaged some Ben Gay into my calves and the back of my thighs. Securing my wet hair with a clip, I checked on Bianca; but she was still asleep, curled in the fetal position, humming softly through her nose.
I walked into the open kitchen that used to be a back porch. Pa-pa had enclosed it to make more space. The ceiling was made up of slated wood and the floor was a maroon marblesque swirl, which was typical of a lot of Jamaican houses. Two ceiling-length metal gates made up the outer wall. A bit of morning fog still lingered and birds hummed in the distance as I fixed myself a cup of Starbuck's Dark Blend that I had brought from home and settled in Pa-Pa's easy chair. But even the shot of caffeine wasn't enough to keep me going because the next thing I knew, Queenie was calling my name. I hadn't even heard her arrive. When I looked at the clock, almost two hours had passed.
“Kingston! Hello! Kingston! You have any clothes you want me to wash for you? Kingston! Oh, there you are!” she exclaimed as she rattled the metal gate door. All of this said in a slow cadence while she swept at the leaves with a rusty rake. “Come chile, ya still sleep as hard as when you were a little bitty pickney. Did you get something to eat? I know there isn't much to choose from, so Ima go to de' store in a bit to fetch more groceries. Let me know if you want something special.”
When I didn't respond, Queenie poked her head back around the corner. A brown-patched threadbare dressâworn in spots from too much washingâdraped her slight frame. My grandmother had probably passed it on to her so it wouldn't get thrown away. She wore no bra.
Thin shoes, patched together with duct tape, sans socks, pinched her swollen ankles. A combination of white tufts and tiny plaits peeked from beneath the blue scarf on her head. She had worked for my grandmother since she was sixteen years old. Her hands told the tale of a hard life and all this together made Queenie look much older than her forty-four years.
“I'm okay for now, Queenie. How is everyone?”
“Everyone's fine, thanks.” She leaned the rake against the house.
“Glad to hear it. I brought you some Baby Ruth Candy Bars and some books for your grandkids. Don't make me forget them.”
“No, Miss Kingston, thanks for thinking of me.”
“Is Bianca up?”
“Up and gone, Miss. I passed her on my way in. She said she had to take care of some business in town. Shopping, I'm sure. She said she didn't want to wake you, that she would meet you back here for dinner.”
“Okay.” I said with a slight pout. “I don't want to go through my grandmother's stuff alone. I didn't realize I was sleeping so soundly.”
“You know how she is. Sneaky at best is what I say.” Queenie shook her head causing one end of her scarf to flap like a wounded bird. “I'll be out back if you need me.”
“I'll be fine.” I smiled at her awkwardly. In her eyes, there was hesitation. I had assumed the role of her employer. While growing up, Queenie had assigned me chores that I had to complete under her watchful eye. She had spent as much time raising me as Mama Grace when I spent the summers here. Now things were reversed and I wasn't too sure how comfortable I was with that.
Queenie just accepted it as life. People marched to a different drummer here. Where in the United States you had the rich, the poor, and the people that fell somewhere in between; in Jamaica, you were either at the top or at the bottom. Most of the people who had risen to the top had done so not by their merit alone, but with the help of their family's name. Those on the bottom, tended to stay on the bottom. It felt awkward watching others clean my house, cook my food, and wash my undies.
Once when I was about eight or nine, my great-aunt, Aunt Bea, was having some work done on her house. It was a particularly hot day and one of the workers had knocked on the back door where I was playing.
“Miss Kingston, I was wondering if I could bother you for a cool drink.” A grown man addressing me as Miss impressed me, and I went into full hostess mode. I might have even put some delicate soda crackers on the fine china if Aunt Bea hadn't caught me. She chastised me for serving the worker a drink in the good glasses. Now she was going to have to sterilize it. Didn't I know that the plastic, chipped, dented glasses were for the workers? I could still hear her ranting.
I had quite a long moral discussion with my dolls later that night. I knew in America that sometimes white people didn't like black people, but that some guy named Martin had made things a bit easier. Never had I heard of black people not liking other black people. When I posed the question to Mama, she said that if you hated someone else who looked like you, that meant you hated yourself. I would ask the same question at the late-night tea parties. My blonde-hair, blue-eyed Baby Alive would just stare at me in silence.
I stood up, pushed my chair back and took my dirty dishes to the sink. Queenie fed the dogs and then started to sort the clothes. After washing the small cup and plate and setting them in the dish rack to dry, I headed to the front to check my e-mail. Two were from Jonetta. The first was to let me know that Scooby's manager had tried to return my phone call. Apparently, the celebration had been even bigger than I thought and was in no danger of stopping anytime soon. They wanted to schedule a meeting for early next week. The other was to let me know that Mr. Mansini wanted me to come to New York as soon as I returned and that he had sent a huge bouquet of roses in honor of my grandmother.
When I called my grandmother's attorney again, I was informed by the secretary that he would be busy all day, but that the reading of the will had been scheduled for the day after the funeralâtwo days away. I couldn't help feeling like I was gearing up for showdown at the OK corral. Not only with my family, but also with Damon.
There were still too many questions bouncing around in my head so I ventured off in search of the truth and the one person who would give it to meâQueenie.
I found her bent over the gray cement sink, washing my bed linens by hand. I'd only spent one night on them. A clothesline was pulled straight as a ruler across the yard, one end tied to the mango tree, the other to the willow. Dangling from the line attached by dull gray clothing pins were an assortment of my finest lace panties and brassieres in every color from mustard yellow to mustang red. My cheeks warmed from embarrassment. I watched Queenie's hands as she squeezed and scrubbed the clothes with powdered soap. Squeak, squeak. Squish, squish.