Here’s a story from the the new 826 Quarterly Volume 6. In a collaboration that’s become a tradition, two freshman classes from MetWest joined us for six Fridays in a row at the beginning of the 2005–06 school year to write, edit, and publish a collection of short stories. This year, the stories were based on life experiences.
“I’m glad to have you back with me, sweetie,” Mommy says while giving me a kiss on the forehead
“Well, I’m glad to be back, Mom.”
“Baby, tell Mommy about yourself. I haven’t seen you in four years and when I did you were only eight.”
“Well, let’s just say… that I’m out of the pit of hell. I remember when it used to be so hot, even on rainy days. The only way we could cool off was when we went to the river, but even the river was hot. I didn’t like it there. Not to mention I had to be with Jude, and I can’t tell you how much I hated her. I was jealous and full of envy for her because she took the one thing that mattered to me in this stupid world, and that was you. Mom, remember? We used to go together like peas and carrots, Steve and Blue, Patrick and SpongeBob. You have to admit, I was nothing without you. Then you got pregnant with Jude and forgot all about me. You used to neglect me when it was time for my bedtime stories. I never expressed how I felt, and to be honest, I didn’t really know what type of emotion I was feeling, but it really hurt.”
“Oh, baby. Mommy is so sorry,” she says. She attempts to hug me, but I move away.
“No, don’t be. I don’t care anymore, but sometimes I wish I could go back in time and fix things that I did wrong, like Jude being born. It’s funny. I always wonder how it would be if you guys didn’t have Jude, but here’s the funny part. I can’t ever imagine it. Then I begin to think maybe it was destiny or maybe it was just made to be that way. Then when I look out the window and at the busy streets of Oakland and see the little girls playing double dutch, laughing and giggling, I wish my life could be that way. That’s when I wish that my sister and I had had that relationship from the start. But I took the hard road instead. I hated her until it became a habit, an addiction so hard for me to break. I never looked at this situation as ‘Jude is the only sibling that I have, and if something were to happen to Mom and Dad, we would have to look out for each other.’ I looked at it as, ‘You took what was mine and I’ll take your life.’”
“Baby, why did you think this way?”
“I don’t know why. I just did. Now I’m too old to go back and change things. I know that, but that is why I’m trying to make it better. Anyway, as I was saying, the world revolved around me for a very long time, six years to be exact.Then, when Jude was born, the world switched sides, and that’s when the hatred kicked in. That’s when I started to wonder about Jude, wonder about what was going on in her life and if it was as bad as I thought mine was. Not that I cared. I just wondered. Come to find out her life was worse than mine.
“In 1999, we moved to Africa and we lived in Accra, the main city of Ghana. It’s just like America, with a lot of black folks, and we were used to that since we were from Texas, Tyler to be exact, and it was full of them. Anyway, the only difference was that the women carried food on their heads. I remember the first time I tried to do that it was really hard to balance, but I got it. Do you remember, Mom?”
“Yes, I do. It was amazing to me,” she says, thinking of the time we went and how she felt so special.
“Okay, whatever, don’t get all sentimental on me. It was so crazy how people ran up to the taxi like we were gods. That kind of scared me but since some of the boys were big and sexy I wasn’t worried.”
“What did you know about sexy at eight years old?” my mom asks in a joking voice.
“Well, at that time, I didn’t know anything about it at all, but when I look back on it, dang, they were fine. Some of them were tall, some medium height, with big muscles and dark, smooth, sexy backs. Wahoo! I’m getting hot all over again.”
My mom and I take a moment to laugh.
“We thought that that would be the best place to live. It was exotic and cheap. Yet we, or should I say you, didn’t bring enough money, so that’s when you had to come back and leave me and Jude with Dad. Dad wasn’t the best father. He was always drunk and would hit me a lot. That’s why it killed me to have to stay with him for four years. It was really hard without you, Mom. We had a lot of experiences I don’t think you know about, like the time when we were homeless for two weeks. I mean, we weren’t completely homeless like living in a box or something.”
“Oh, I thought you were completely homeless,” my mom says with a sigh of relief.
“We just were threatened by the landlord all the time and we had to move from hotel to hotel. During this time, I was looking in phone books to try to find some place for us to stay that was cheap and affordable. It’s so scary knowing your family’s life is in your hands. Soon it came to the point where just as long as there was a roof over our heads, we could bear it whether it was nice or a basement. God blessed me, and I found these African-Americans who gave discounts for newcomers every two months, but we stayed for four. Then we moved to Akwamufie, a small village in Ghana, and that’s when the adventure really began. That’s when you got mad at Dad and stopped sending money because he spent it on the wrong stuff instead of food. So I had to go sell stuff on my head like the other African girls. I really got caught up in the culture. I cut off my hair, started speaking the language, and started to be just like an average African girl. No, I don’t mean I walked naked, but I took care of my heavy burdens, like the feelings that I had about having to take care of my family without you, that’s all. Dad started to build the house there after you guys made up and you started to send money again. We moved into the house before it was done. All it had was a half-finished floor, roof, windows, and ceiling, but it was pleasant to know we didn’t have to pay bills. Plus it was by this river in the woods called the Akosombo river.
“It was a Sunday, and I was about to cook the Sunday dinner as always. I had told Jude to bring me the chicken to kill. She mumbled under her breath and said she was scared. When I finally got her to bring the stupid chicken, she went somewhere and I didn’t really care. I dug my hole in the ground and I tied the chicken’s wings behind his back like he was under arrest. I plucked the feathers on his neck so I could make a clean slit. I sharpened the knife on a rock beside me and then I slit the chicken’s throat. Then all of a sudden, Jude crept up behind me and said, ‘Mmm-mmm-mmm… you have a way of killing things,’ in a disappointing tone.”
“‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I asked with curiosity.
“‘I mean you destroy everything,’ Jude said with a body movement that was like, I should know.
“‘Shut up, before I destroy you,’ I said with a flinch at her.
“‘Too late, because you already have.’
“Then Jude walked away with limp, sad body language. For some reason, I had tears in my eyes. I wiped them really hard and puckered up as if I was Muhammad Ali’s daughter and had just gotten knocked out and then gotten up like it wasn’t a problem, but then something calmed me down. I was wondering why Jude would say that. Why would she keep it inside if I was hurting her? Then it occurred to me that that was my whole plan from the day she was born. I felt really bad, but everybody and their mama knew I was too prideful to say I was sorry, especially after all these years. That night at dinner I watched my sister really carefully. She didn’t look four at all. She had bags under her eyes and you could tell that she had been crying.”
“She looks just like you when you were her age,” my mom says, remembering.
“Anyway, after dinner she went into the living room by herself and after I washed the dishes, I went in to purposely bother her, but when I walked in she had the saddest face. Her face said, ‘please don’t, Mary Lee. You’ve done enough.’
“So I just said, ‘Hey,’ acting like nothing had happened.
“‘What do you want,’ Jude said quietly.
“‘See, I was trying to be nice.’
“‘No, you were trying to start something,’ Jude said.
“I knew I was being immature, Mom.
“‘Hey, you wanna know what your problem is?’ Jude said. ‘You just won’t let things go.’
“‘What are you talking about?’
“‘You’re just mad because I took your precious mommy,’ said Jude in a teasing, provoking voice as she circled me.
“After that it was all over. I felt like I had lost my mind. I grabbed for her neck, and she wiggled her skinny self out and bit my tummy since that was the only place she could reach. I wanted to kill her like I had mercilessly killed that chicken, but my dad split us apart.
“After our fight we were not speaking. When it was time to get ready for school, I poured water on her, and when it was time for dinner, I silently put her food at the table where she normally sat. This was bound to change when Dad was at his sickest. I remember coming into the bedroom. It smelled like must and like alcohol had been seeping through his skin. He was just lying there. As I saw my father struggling for breath, like a fish who had jumped out of the water, I knew it was time to step up, but I was too stubborn. I didn’t want to talk to Jude, but then I didn’t want my father to die. As I watched his chest go down lower and lower after each gasp, I couldn’t take it any more. ‘Jude, quick! Call the 511 and get me water. And step on it!’ The 511 was like 911, only they came a lot slower, but as fast as they could, and since we lived in the woods, that was thirty minutes later. My father was still alive, but in the worst condition ever. He looked as pale as a ghost when he held my hand and said, ‘Everything will be alright.’ He felt like cold wood and his smile looked like skeleton bones. “I left Jude with one of the villagers who was really sweet and reliable while I checked Daddy into the hospital. The doctor said all that he could do was give Dad a shot, but the rest was up to God. This really scared me and I went home terrified and stressed. When I got back to the village, I picked up Jude and took her home. I fed her and put her to bed. She told me she was too scared to sleep by herself, so I let her sleep with me. For the first time in my life, I held her close to me and I kissed her on the forehead to let her know she was safe. I felt like it was easier to love her than to hate her, and she was not so bad after all. I noticed all the positive things about my sister in those two weeks. She can sing and dance and is an excellent artist.
“When Dad got home, we tried not to fight or argue because he didn’t need any more stress. Now here we are, the best of friends. We’re both older and we realize we need to take good care of each other because when you and Dad are long gone, we will need each other. I’m working on being a better sister to Jude. I don’t want her past to form her future, and I’m doing all I can to fix things, like reading her bedtime stories and taking her to the park. When I don’t feel like talking, I don’t yell at her. I just tell her, ‘Mary Lee is not here at the moment so could you please leave a message after the beep?’ She really leaves a message and I really get back to her. I’m getting better at it, Mom, little by little, day by day.” As my mom looks at the family picture on the wall,with me and Jude under a tree, our heads together, hugging each other, she says, “Yes you are, baby, yes you are.”
Written by Akeya, age 15