How to Wash Your Clothes

by Karen Aubourg

 

     Step one. Don’t fall off the roof, or you’ll get hurt. Sun screen is unnecessary; don’t wear it because your sister will keep calling you an American. It’s okay if the water isn’t warm, just make sure it’s clean. If you see dead flies, remove them. If you don’t see them, it means you’re not looking hard enough. There are always bugs in the water. Don’t act like you know how to wash the clothes already – let your sister teach you. She’s older, and you don’t want to risk seeming arrogant. Offer to get the soap inside. When you return, you’ll see that she has two tubs of water. Pour the soap into one of the tubs. Watch as your sister puts the dirty clothes in. Then watch as she picks up a shirt. Do the same. Watch as she starts to rub the cloth together. Do the same. Watch as she kneads it, like dough. Knead it like dough and don’t say a thing.

     Step two. Watch as she criticizes you. She’ll ask if you’ve ever hand-washed clothing before. You’ll want to say no. You’ll want to tell her about washing machines and how you just need to put a few quarters in and wait. But you don’t say a thing. Then she’ll ask you about life at home. You may start talking, but be aware of the unmerited nauseating guilt that may result as you describe how you get to go to school. As you talk, remember to keep working. She’ll start thinking that you’re too comfortable at home. You’ll find yourself defending your lifestyle. You’ll look down at all of your graphic t-shirts. You’ll remember getting them at the Salvation Army. Rinse off the shirt in the other tub.

     Step three. Wring the shirt. Fold the shirt into fourths, then hold each end. Twist. Watch as your sister does it – she’s much better at it than you are. Try to mimic her. Don’t stop when your hands start to burn. Don’t stop when your palms turn red. When your palms turn red, you’ll think of beets. You’ll remember dicing beets back at home with your mother. You mother was always talking on the phone with your older sister. It was New Year’s Eve, and the two of you were preparing beet salad. The carrots were already boiled and diced, the can of peas were already opened. It’s tradition. You’ll remember that your mother’s first step for you was to turn on the stove. You’ll wonder if your sister thinks you’re Ma’s favorite, since you were the baby of the family, born among skyscrapers. You’ll remember that you sister was born among plantain and mango trees.

     Step four. When your sister asks what you’re thinking about, just tell her that you’re not thinking about anything. Let her correct your conjugation of “to think.” You’ll find that the two of you are more than half-way done with the washing. Let her hand you a wrung-out shirt. Untwist it, open, and don’t worry when the wind thinks it’s a flag. You’ll notice that it’s your shirt. Lay it out in the sun, where there’s a large square of tin. Don’t touch the tin for long or it’ll burn you. Help your sister lay out the rest of the clothing. Now sit down next to her on the roof, near the edge. Let the sun burn you. Listen to the candle merchant shouting down below. Now listen to the children on the street play. Don’t be bothered by the dust of the concrete roof. Offer to sweep the roof, even though you know that she’ll say no. She’ll ask more questions about life back at home. You’ll pretend to fall asleep in the sun.

     Step five. When she finally visits you, take her to the Laundromat. Tell her where to put the quarters in, how to load the washing machine, which buttons to press, and where to pour the detergent. Enjoy the humming and turning of the machine. For the forty-five minutes the two of you are waiting on the plastic seats, let her tell you about how much she misses her home. Listen to her complaints about the aches and pains. Enjoy watching the machine’s window as the bright clothing tumbles. You may chuckle at your sister’s hypnosis. Now enjoy her silence.

 

Karen Aubourg is a student at Haverford College. She enjoys French, James Baldwin, and ethnographies. 

What We Remember

by Desiree Bailey

 

     We don’t remember what the sun feels like. We can see it through the window pane of the living room in the morning when the curtains are pulled back. It warms the room, but we cannot remember how it felt when the sun licked our skin. There are many things we can’t remember, or things that we remember only in a fog, the edges of images fading until we’re not sure if they were ever really there. 

     When we’re bored, we quiz ourselves. “How big was the shopping mall?” or “Remember the playground in the park? How all the girls begged you to teach them to double-dutch? And they were
mad when you said you never learned?” And for a second we can feel the asphalt beneath our sneakers and see the girls scowling in disbelief. We open our mouths to ask another question but quickly close it when we hear the floorboards creak beneath mom’s feet.

     The world comes to us through the t.v. It’s our eyes and ears. The t.v. brings us Jeopardy and hip hop videos. It brings us the loud sounds of the outside, the rage of bridezillas and the crowds roaring during basketball games. It brings us old cowboy films and on nights when we can get away with it, blond chicks in bikinis with their asses pressed against the screen. The local news tells us a little bit about our town. Like how last week a lady was attacked by a raccoon that snuck through her cat flap. And how our mayor is determined to keep the peace within our town by doing everything in his power to keep strange, suspicious people out.

     The world seems like such a funny place, with its crazy rules and colors. What’s even crazier is that most of the people don’t really look like us. And the ones who do don’t really feel like us. They are like our bodies and voices but with something unfamiliar stuck inside.

     Once in awhile grandma comes into town to see us, but mainly to throw a fit with mom. She spits out questions between her tears. “Why you don’t let them go outside? Look at their skin! I’ve never seen brown look so gray.” Or “Honey you need help. Let me help you. The three of you can’t go on like this.” And mom just stares out the window and shakes her head. Sometimes she says, “I just can’t trust the world with my babies.”

     We like grandma. She brings us clothes and CDs and all sorts of gifts. But we don’t really like it when she comes. She stirs things up. She’s the cause of all kinds of yelling, so loud that we can’t hear our favorite shows. And after she leaves, mom doesn’t talk to us for weeks. She just looks at old photos of dad, with his low haircut and gap-toothed smile. She just looks and looks and looks.

     We try to block out her silence. We turn up the volume. We quiz ourselves. “Do you remember the lake down by that old house?” or “How soaked do your sneakers get when you run in the rain?” We ask long questions and short questions until mom breaks her silence with “Quit that goddam yapping!” And she throws something heavy against her bedroom wall.

     And we try to block it out but we are forced to remember. How that man got scared when he saw our father’s shoulders. The same shoulders he used to lift us on and spin us before we dove into the backyard pool. How that man got scared when he saw our father rushing to pick us up from school. How that man got scared, pulled out his gun and pointed it at our father. How that man got scared and our father was not strong enough for what was in that gun. And we are forced to remember how our t.v. didn’t say a thing.

 

Desiree Bailey is from Trinidad & Tobago and Queens, NY. She has received fellowships from Princeton in Africa, The Norman Mailer Center and Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and is a recipient of the Poets & Writers 2013 Amy Award. She is currently the fiction editor at Kinfolks Quarterly and an MFA Fiction candidate at Brown University. 

My New School

 

by Sylvia Horner

 

I can’t fink what made mum and dad believe this would be a good idea, moving out of London to this boring scenario. For a start, there’s nuffing here man – I mean nuffing  except of course nice big houses. Oh and lots of trees. And fields. How am I supposed to relate to trees or fields? To me they’re scary fings because bad people can hide behind and in them. At our flat in Kilburn (the part that’s getting nice, mum always says) we had a few trees. But no one could hide behind them see, ‘cos there’s lights in London. You could see where you was going and all that. But here it’s pitch black and scary. I like to look out and can’t see what I’m looking at. And man – these Surrey people are nosy. Always checking you out, wanting to suss out where you going, it isn’t none of their damn business. Lucky for me I got my smart phone and Skype so I can keep in touch with my mates in civilisation. Especially Verona. She’s my best friend and she’ll be coming over soon and boy are we going to catch up on what’s what.  

Mum and dad keep giving me anxious looks, wondering when I’m going to settle in. Settle in? In this dump that calls itself a village? Are you crazy? I ain’t settling down in no primitive place and soon as I got my exams under my belt I’m going back to live in London. Verona says I can doss at hers till I get myself settled.

Nosy? These folks are nosy. I told you that right? There’s an old woman and a couple who live right opposite us – and she’s always staring. Perhaps it’s because me and my mum are a different colour to everyone else in this dump. Dad’s o.k. ‘cos he’s white. Anyway, he commutes to London every day so he’s doing just fine thank you very much. Then when he comes home he goes straight to the fridge and pours hisself a drink and calls out to mum asking if she’d like one. Then they sit in the garden and sip drinks and they keep laughing. They’re always laughing these days.

 

The school’s not too bad. Because there’s a lot of space there’s lots of equipment for sports and that’s great. I beat everybody in the sprint and in the long jump. Next, I’m thinking of trying tennis. They got nice courts here. Funny that. I always fancied myself to be a tennis girl. I guess it was watching them two Williams’s sisters beating the arse off all those girls. But you got to practice. Mum and dad bought me a nice racket. I got to thank them for that. The PE teacher came up to me and mentioned representing the school in tournaments. Well yea, I said. No question, I’d love to do that. Give me something to do apart from schoolwork.

The girls, most of them are quite friendly actually. They may look snooty but they o.k. and I’d be telling a lie if I wasn’t honest about that factor. And they try to help me, bless them. Like take for instance food. They cook a different kind of stuff here, with lots of greens and tasteless stuff like that. Amanda saw me at lunch one time and she said “Try the risotto with mushrooms Angela; it’s tasty and filling especially if you have it with some of that nice salmon.” So I did. And she was right. So the next day I asked the dinner lady what she would suggest for being ‘filling and good for you and nice.’ And she said, “Try the roast dinner, roast chicken. It’s good and those roast potatoes are to die for.” Know what? She was right! So it looks as if the food is sorted or getting to be sorted. ‘Cos that was a big worry for me – ‘cos guess what, there ain’t definitely no burgher bars ‘round here. There are a couple of restaurants though and Mum and dad have frequented those and ‘were very pleased both with the quality of the food and of the service.’ The food must have been good – they’re even ‘talking proper’ now.

 

Verona, my best pal is coming for the weekend and I’m really looking forward to it. It will be good to see her. And her visit will give me a chance to be doing something for the weekend and then talk about it later. The girls in my class, well they always do something at the weekend and when everyone comes in on the Monday they stand about talking about where they’d been, what they’d done and stuff.  Like horse-riding, or going to see their grandparents or going to another house that the family owned. At least I’ll be able to say I had a visitor from London!

When I told Amanda about my plans, she said: “If you find yourself at a loose end pop ‘round to my house. There’s a tennis court so bring your racket. Does your friend play?”

“No – but I’m sure she can pick it up. She also used to be good at sports.”

“See you on Saturday then. If we have a couple of games my mother will fix us a lovely tea.” 

“Sounds great,” I said.

I told mum and dad about it and dad especially was very pleased.

“They live in that big white house on the outskirts,” he said. “They’re very rich. I think the father has his own business, computer games I think. I’m glad you seem to be settling down Angie.”

“There’s nothing else to do,” I said. “And the girls have been nice – all except Rose, who for some reason seems to have taken against me.”

“You’ll be fine,” my dad said. “You’re made of stern stuff.”

“Thanks dad.”

 

On Saturday my dad and I went to the station to pick up Verona. What a sight for sore eyes. We hugged each other and jumped about and said how happy we were to see each other.

“You have got to tell me EVERYTHING,” Verona said

So I did. We said hi to mum then headed straight to my room so we could converse in private – know what I mean?

Verona looked round my spacious well-furnished bedroom.

“This is cool man – you got all this to yourself? It’s fantastic.”

She opened cupboards and drawers, looked out of the window, looked on the landing – everything.

“You got a tennis racket,” she said. “How’re you getting on with that?”

“Not too bad. We’ve been invited to my friend’s house for a couple of games this afternoon. What you think? Want to go?”

At first Verona scrunched up her nose, then she said, “Yea – why not?” That’s what I like about her. She always looks on the positive side.

“Good. ‘Cos there ain’t no burgher bars or coffee bars to spend the time,” I explained.

“What? No burgher bars. Any fish and chips shops?”

“Nah.”

“Still you got a nice view Sis. Really nice. I wouldn’t mind getting up of a morning and looking at that. I’d do a nice run.”

“I thought you liked running in the parks,” I said.

“I do – but it’s getting even more crowded. This here – it’s just you and nature.”

Well what a surprise. I never thought my best buddy would react like that – as if she could see the good points of the country side.

“Wait till you see the dark night,” I said. 

 

We had an early lunch then went across to Amanda’s house. Of course, I called her first. I didn’t want to just turn up on her doorstep – ‘cos I had my friend with me, so that’s two black girls.

“Oh, don’t be so silly Angie,” Amanda said. “And you’re not black,” she went on. “You’re a lovely coffee colour.”

If you thought I lived in a big house now, you should have seen where Amanda resided. It was nothing short of a mansion- like something you’d see on TV. It had its own huge grounds. They had horses, a swimming pool, and tennis courts – the lot. 

They also had some servants – people who helped her mum look after the place.  Angie and me played it cool. Like we was used to mixing with people who had pots of dosh.

We had four games and then we went in and had a lovely meal, buffet style so we could choose and we didn’t have to know which knives and forks to use. That was always a worry for me – and I think Rosie enjoyed watching me get confused sometimes. I caught her once or twice eyeing me in the dining room when I wasn’t quite sure about etiquette. 

Verona and me said our goodbyes to Amanda and her mum and waited for mum to collect us. We had a fantastic time – but then right in the middle of us saying good-bye I had a terrible thought. We’re supposed to bring a gift when you’re invited to someone’s home. Right?  So I apologised to Amanda and said I’d bring something on Monday.

“Don’t you dare,” she said. “I invited you over because I enjoy your company, not to receive gifts. Besides, I can see you’re going to be a worthy tennis opponent. The other girls can’t play worth a dime.”

“Thanks Amanda.”

“By the way, pay no mind to Rosie. She’s just got a personality problem. Everyone knows about her, so don’t be put off if she starts saying nasty things.”

“Oh, she has,” I said, “but I was playing it down.”

“Good,” Amanda said. “That’s the spirit.”

Just at that moment my mobile went off. It was mum coming round to pick us up! Clever mum. I bet she just wanted to suss out the mansion and all it contained. Of course when she got there, she had to meet Amanda’s mum, have a cuppa, look round the joint etc. Which is just how she planned it!

When we were driving back, we had a good old laugh at mum’s nosiness, but she said:

“Laugh all you want but me and your dad are going to dinner there week after next.”

“Blimey,” I said.

Mum had a treat in store for us. Fish and chips for supper, followed by ice-cream. What a great day we had.

 

After supper we went up to my room to talk everything through – and me to show Verona how dark it was – although I have to say, I’m getting used to it and I can appreciate the stars and what people who complain about light pollution mean.

“You better watch yourself girl,” Verona said, “You’ll be turning into a country bumpkin soon.” We both screeched with laughter.

As we stood gazing up at the heavens I thought I could smell smoke. It was coming from the house across the way.

“Hey, let’s go across to that house,” I said. “An old woman lives there. She could be trapped.” We ran across.

“Mum can you call the fire brigade,” I shouted. We managed to help the old lady and her dog out of the building and the firemen put the fire out.   

After that we seemed to be friends with the old lady. She’s not so bad really. Mum says she’s just lonely – so it’s a good thing my Gran on my mum’s side is coming to live with us. Mum said it’s necessary because she can’t manage on her own anymore – especially in London.  One thing about the countryside: It’s a good place for young and elderly but you must remember not to try and live as if you’re on an island. You need to help one another because services are a long way away.

 

So, I’ve got my life in the countryside sorted out now. I study, play a lot of tennis, go for runs, visit with the old lady. Verona visits often and I’ve become good friends with Amanda. The old lady has become my friend now. Turns out she’s partially blind from having diabetes. She loves Raymond Chandler – so do I, so it’s no hardship.  My Gran will be here in two weeks’ time. I hope she and Mrs Williamson, the old lady, get on – which I think they will.

 

 

Sylvia Horner was born in Zimbabwe but lives in London where she works as a tutor in English. She's been writing since 2002 when she completed her MA in Creative Writing.

A Prayer for Mona

by Darlene Taylor

 

I tried to sleep by the river but the sound of running kept me awake. It reminded me of feet kicking my body, of dirt in my mouth. Rain fell like my sister Mona’s tears - still it was not enough to wash away my family’s shame. My shame. I collected water in a gourd and covered it with sticks.

I sat by the river where no one could see me. I heard the sound of children’s laughter moving towards me. Their voices made me happy. I listened and watched, looking for my sister Mona’s face. I always think of Mona, a girl, just two years younger than me, waiting her turn to grow up, to be married. 

The last time I saw Mona I was bleeding. She wiped my legs clean with her headscarf. She sniffled: Sister, you will be fine. Her eyes were red and tears ran down her cheeks. Mona loved me. She protested when a crowd of angry men shouted at me. It was rape, she screamed, waving a balled fist. Still the men spat and dragged me away. Their hands were rough, their words dirty. Haram, they said to each other. Sinful. It sounded like one voice, a chant. I couldn't tell who was speaking. Was it two men or six? Their voices grew loud as a giant bell. Dahlia, Mona cried, doubled over, her shoulders shaking. Standing between the two trees that led to what used to be home; she hung her head as I walked away. With every step, I coughed to clear the dust out of my mouth and remembered Mona’s sad shoulders. 

By the river, I followed the children’s laughter until they reached the boaboa tree. They reminded me of the games that Mona played as they swung their arms and spun in circles. As I came closer, one nearly fell against me losing control of her spin. The others bent over giggling. I laughed with them. When they raised their hands to get at a bird’s nest they couldn’t reach, I brought the nest down closer and showed the littlest one a speckled egg, hardly bigger than a pea. I rolled the egg gently with my fingertip. The shell was thin and my hands, clumsy. The egg fell next to my feet. I kicked dirt over the sticky yolk and returned the nest to the tree.

Someone called out: Sarah! The first girl to whip her head around and wave was also the smallest. Moments ago, the end of her floral scarf briefly brushed against mine while we looked at the egg. Mother, she said, running to a woman carrying a basket on her head. A baby boy’s brown face peeked around the woman’s shoulder. Sarah touched the baby’s fingertips and walked off holding the woman’s hand; she did not say goodbye before leaving. 

When night came I made my bed by the river and tried to sleep. A nomad, I recited the names of my ancestors, counted stars, and asked for forgiveness. I asked for Mona.

 

Darlene R. Taylor is a writer and public affairs professional committed to helping communities and individuals thrive. She heads a national cultural heritage nonprofit and lovingly cares for a 1860s home. As a fiction writer, she applies that skill in storytelling. Darlene recently completed Eve’s Eyes, a work of fiction set in 18th century France and is a former writing fellow of Callaloo, the Zora Neal Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation and the North Country Institute for Writers of Color at Medgar Evers College. 

The Summers of Our Youth

by Bernice Afriyie

 

I skip to the end of the sidewalk, my feet skidding as I smile at my mom. The sun beats down on my unshielded head and I squint at an approaching figure, the haze disfiguring Mom’s outline. “Hurry up mom you’re so slow. Did you see how fast I went?” I jump up, arms reaching for a yellow butterfly. It flutters up and out of reach. I stand impatiently on the stained, cracked pavement waiting for my mom and brother Elvis to catch up. 

We walk towards a rectangular patch of cement with a silver pole plunked in the middle. Mom stops beside the gleaming pole, leaning in its slim shadow. The shadow darkens her red blazer and deepens her faded blue jeans. Minutes pass and we three remain standing there. School buses, trucks, taxis and cars zip by, the occasional driver chances a look at us, some passengers throw us a smile, but none stop at the bus stop with the shiny poll. The day’s heat and humidity quiets any thought of sighing or groaning in me. Our stiff necks turned towards the east and feet planted to the ground, we are human replicas of the erect pole. A flash of yellow breaks the sun’s medusa-like hold on me. I look impatiently around, trying to see the bus mom is waiting for. I sigh, tugging at her arm and instantly begin to sweat. 

“Stop that Bernice,” she pulls her arm free and looks up the road. She holds bus fare enough for one adult and two children in one hand and a bag of books in the other. 

“You have to be patient, right Mom? You have to be like me,” he straightens up and smiles as mom pats his sticky shoulders. 

I pick a dandelion from the side of the road and tickle my chin with its yellow petals. I turn in circles, my dress fluttering in the summer wind as I chase the crazed butterfly. "Ring around the Rosie."  

“Mommy look,” I call to her, “look at my yellow chin and the yellow sun and the yellow butterfly!” She turns her back to me. A red bus with blue lettering approaches us slowly.

“Elvis,” Mom says stepping on to the bus, “take your sister's hand.” She drops the coins into a glass box beside the driver. She pulls out a piece of paper that I strain to see and shows it to the driver, his blue and red uniform vibrant against his milky white skin. They talk, but their words float above my head, carried away by the wings of a hundred butterflies before my strained ears can catch them. I move forward and overhear the bus driver telling Mom that he can’t let us on. I take another step forward. “Why can’t—” I start, but Elvis holds me back. 

Mom shakes her head at the driver and opens her mouth to protest but thinks better of it. Instead, she slips the paper back into her pocket and shuffles Elvis and me off the bus. The driver puts the bus in park and follows us out. 

The passengers on the bus gape at us openly, impatiently, waiting for the scene to pass and the bus to start moving again. Some stomp their feet and mutter, wagging angry fingers at Mom, stopping only when we hear a blaring police siren growing louder and louder as it approaches us. I pull Mom’s shirt but she pays me no mind, tucking me behind her. An officer walks towards us, his face a dark red except for the white tan line left by his sunglasses. 

The bus driver, officer, and my mom talk, and I hide behind Mom’s back, catching snippets of her argument with bus driver. Mom pointed out that she paid our fare but he would have none of it. “If they’ve paid their fare, arrest me!” He shouts to the approaching officers, pinning his wrists together as though they were already cuffed. “Please calm down,” Mom says, reaching for me behind her back, making sure I am still there. 

The driver flails his arms, steps farther away from the loaded bus. “Arrest me,”he insists for the last time.  

I don’t know for what offense the driver has committed or why we have been denied entry. My lips quiver and my body stiffens with the effort of suppressing tears. 

“Elvis,” Mom says, gently releasing my grip on her shirt, “take your sister and go home.” 

I let the dandelion fall to the ground. “Mommy?” I whisper. 

“Go with your brother,” She says with finality. 

Elvis and I take slow steps down the street toward home. He clutches my hand firmly and tugs at my arm, forcing me to match his pace. I make myself look at them, the adults and the bus and the passengers, and try to make sense of the situation, but the street ends and the passengers shrink before I know what to think. I turn and look back at the road. Shifting street lights, green yellow and red, decorate the sky, crumpled wrappers litter the asphalt and every passing van, truck, bus, bike, taxi and pedestrian slows down to watch Mom and the driver with curiosity and confusion. Elvis makes me stop looking when more officers approach the scene. Mom remains calm at the bus stop, her back against the erect silver pole. 

 

 

Bernice Afriyie lives in Canada  pursuing a specialized honours in English at York University. She enjoys reading, writing, drawing, cooking and traveling. Her blog touches on all things artistic, creative and political at http://thebackwords.wordpress.com/.