July 15, 2009
“Why you taking your weave out so early? This is some good hair,” Tameka said, her scissors gliding through my weave as another track fell to the floor.
“You know, just trying something different,” I said, looking at the weave that cost a month’s rent surrounding me.
“You should at least save some of this hair,” Tameka said, smacking her Juicy Fruit in my ear.
“No that’s okay,” I said feeling the stainless steel blades of the scissors remove my weave, my heart, my life.
“Don’t worry, you got a cute face. You can still rock a short ‘do. So what you in for today, a relaxer, a shampoo, what?”
“Um, today I just want to remove the weave. I can wash it at home.”
“What? Girl, in the three years I’ve been doing your hair you’ve never washed it yourself. Now stop playing and tell me what you really want.”
What I really wanted was to keep rocking my weave. It was my best friend, my baby, my soul. I couldn’t live without her. It wasn’t fair that this was happening. First my job, now my weave? What else could go wrong?
“You have a lot of confidence to do this, you know. My man would have a fit if he saw me without my weave. You don’t have to worry about that though. You don’t have a man.”
Another track hit the floor and I cried.
Sweating Like a Baby Nigerian
January 7, 2009
“No, not acceptable. This is a Pulitzer-prize winning author,” I said, flipping my weave over my shoulder. “This doesn’t do him justice. Do it over,” I said, handing the review back to Cassidy Sommers, my assistant.
“Yes, Mrs. Stevens,” Cassidy said. She stood the height of a pubescent teenager, she was barely five feet.
I picked up the phone on my desk and noticed Cassidy near me, hovering. “Yes?”
“Did you want me to write the whole thing over? Or just—”
“Are you brain-dead Cassidy? I swear you are a complete waste of space sometimes. Yes, write the whole thing over. I want it e-mailed to me in an hour.”
“But Mrs. Stevens, its 6:00—”
“It’s almost time to go home.”
I gave her a withering glance. Her lip twitched and she finally hung her head. “I’ll stay.”
“Oh, I know you’ll stay. And you won’t leave until you have that book review, right Cassidy?”
I flicked my hand and she left my office. I called Bill Greenly, one of the executive editors at Spirit Magazine. As I waited for him to pick up, I twirled strands of my jet-black locks around my pinky finger.
“Bill here,” he said in his usual rushed tone.
“Bill, its Mariah. Everything set for tonight?”
“Everything’s still a go. She doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“Great. I’m leaving now. Want to get ahead of the traffic.”
“Good idea, wish I could but I’m swamped. I’ll be there, though. Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Alright see you there.” I hung up and grabbed my Michael Kors jacket from the back of my chair. I pulled off my flats and slipped on my black, patent-leather, four-inch Christian Loubontin heels and left my office.
“Goodnight Mrs. Stevens,” Cassidy said as I passed her desk.
“One hour,” I said as I stomped passed her desk, not bothering to look at her.
“Yes, Mrs. Stevens.”
I nodded at the few editors that were still in their glass enclosed offices, while their wrinkle-browed assistants scrambled to finish last-minute details for the magazine’s August issue.
I pushed the down button on the elevator and crowded in with everyone else leaving for Jasmine Cole’s retirement party. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d left this early, the sun was still up, and I had to dig my Gucci sunglasses out to block out the sun glinting across the Manhattan skyline.
“Leaving early?” Paul Shepard, one of the entertainment editors, asked me as we both exited the building.
“Yes,” I said, pushing open the heavy glass door.
“Here, let me,” he said, trying to open the door for me. I shrugged his hand away and stepped through.
“Just trying to help.”
“Didn’t ask for it,” I quipped, waving for a cab.
“You going straight to the party?”
“Need some help getting a cab?”
I looked down at him, which was easy to do. In my heels I was almost 6 feet. “Do I look like I need help?”
He backed up. “No, I was just—”
“Just what? Look, you’re new here Paul, so I’ll give you a hint.” I blew out a long hard whistle and a cab screeched up. “I never need help.”
I got in the cab and slammed the door. I laughed as his face filled with surprise.
He would get used to me, just like everyone else at work did.
I rattled off the address to the restaurant and dug my Blackberry out my purse. I checked e-mails, and fired back replies as I dug into my purse to grab a silk scarf to change my black Chloe dress to something more appropriate for evening. After finishing the last of my e-mails I leaned my head back onto the leather seat and closed my eyes.
Jasmine Cole was retiring. Jasmine was editor-at-large of Spirit Magazine, a monthly glossy targeted to upscale African-Americans. I’d been working there for close to seven years (nine if you counted the two years I’d interned) and stomped my way up from measly intern to book review editor. But now with Jasmine retiring—well that opened up a whole new level for me. Editor-at-Large. I liked the sound of that.
“Here we go, Butter restaurant,” the cabbie said, pronouncing butter like budder. “$11.35.”
I handed him a ten, a dollar bill, and two quarters, and waited on my change.
He threw 15 cents at me, and I reached down on the filthy floor to grab my dime and nickel. I slammed the door of the cab, smoothed down my dress, and proceeded to walk to the entrance of the restaurant. I’d practiced my walk for years and knew how to walk hard and fast enough that I caught the wind in my hair. It fluttered behind me like a black, silk cape as I pulled open the doors to the restaurant.
“Reservation ma’am?” the maitre’d asked.
“Yes of course. Right this way.” I followed him upstairs where about 50 or so people were mingling and drinking cocktails. I noticed Jasmine right away and walked over to the table where she was sitting.
Like a vampire, Jasmine was one of those women that never aged. She was at least 65, but she could compete with any 45 year old in the wrinkle department. Her light brown hair was pulled back into a low ponytail that showcased her dark, intelligent eyes, high forehead and long, graceful neck. Her only jewelry was large gold hoop earrings and a wedding band on her left hand.
She spotted me and stood. “Mariah, I’m glad you made it. Gentlemen, I’ll talk to you later,” she said, grabbing my hand. We air kissed and she asked me to walk with her to the bar.
“Of course,” I said, trying to relinquish my hand from her grasp, but she held on tight and was still holding when we got to the bar. She ordered herself a gin and tonic, while I ordered a glass of champagne. She finally let go of my hand to grab her drink and as I watched her twirl her straw around and take a sip, I thought her eyes looked glassy. She sighed and faced the crowd that was gathered in her honor. “Phonies. All of them. A bunch of brown-nosing wannabe’s,” she said.
“Excuse me?” I almost choked on my champagne. I’d never heard Jasmine talk so freely before.
“Oh don’t be so naïve, Mariah. Half these people here are smelling around, after my job.”
I nodded and looked around the room.
“You too, huh?”
I looked down and she laughed again.
“You’re not fooling anyone Mariah, especially not me.” She took another sip of her drink. “You’re not getting it.”
She put her drink on the counter. “My job. You’re not getting it. Listen Mariah I like you—”
“But not enough to give me a recommendation?”
She touched my shoulder and I shrugged her off.
“You’re a good editor Mariah. Ambitious too. Be careful with that.”
“What’s wrong with being ambitious?”
“I created this magazine. Stayed up all night designing layouts, while my kids called their nanny ‘Mama’. I thought I was giving them the best—the best schools, the best clothes…the best of everything. Turned out all they wanted was me.” She sighed. “I just wanted Spirit to be the best. And it was. But now I’m leaving, and my kids don’t know me and my husband…” She turned and looked at me. “Ambition can be good Mariah. But make sure this life is what you want.”
“I want it.” I wanted it so bad I could taste it, already imagined myself in her office. “I don’t have anything stopping me. No kids, no husband—“
“You’re not even dating?”
I fingered my weave, and said no.
“So this job—”
“My career is all I have.”
“Job. In the end, none of us have careers. As snazzy as the word sounds, this is still just a job.” She blew out a ragged breath. “Mariah, the magazine isn’t—”
“There you are!” Matthew Ryland, the editor-in-chief, said striding over to us. “I’ve been looking for you. There’s someone I want to introduce you to.”
“Hello Matthew,” I said. He shook my hand and led Jasmine away. “We’ll talk,” she said, over her shoulder.
I scanned the crowd for a few more minutes, finished my champagne and left. I’d done my duty.
I decided to walk home. After a quick change back into my flats I walked the five blocks to my apartment, across Houston Street and another two blocks to my brownstone. A quick nod to Henry my doorman a check of my mail and then I pressed the up button to the elevator, hoping I wouldn’t have to make idle chit-chat on the climb to my 11th floor apartment. I wouldn’t be so fortunate today as I looked at one of my neighbors smiling at me.
“You have beautiful hair. Can I touch it?” she asked, her white wrinkled hand already out. I let her, confident that she wouldn’t feel a braid or track. At $2,000 a dollars a pop, Tameka kept my braids thin as floss. She could run her hands through my hair all day and not feel a thing.
“Soft too,” she replied. The elevators door opened and we both walked in.
“Thirteen please,” she said, and I punched in her floor and mine. I kept my head down looking through my mail, while she went on and on talking about her son.
“You sure are pretty. What did you say your name was?”
“Oh. Well I guess you didn’t. My name’s Shirley. But you can call Mrs. Jenkins.”
“You remind me of one of the girls that my son dated. She didn’t have your pretty hair, her hair was nappy.”
“She was so pretty, that little colored girl.”
The elevator doors opened. “What color was she?”
“The girl. What color was she?”
She just stared back at me.
I laughed. “Good night Mrs. Jenkins.”
“Good night, um, what did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” I said as I watched the elevator doors close. I unlocked my front door and walked in, immediately taking off my shoes so as not to scratch my Brazilian cherry hardwood floors.
Home is where the heart is.
You wouldn’t be able to see my heart if you looked around my tiny, yet expensively furnished apartment. Not one crumb lay on my black granite counters, the stainless steel appliances shone, and every pillow on my couches were fluffed with the perfect bend in the center, just the way I liked them. I examined the floors and found a single hair staring back at me. I picked it up. It was blond.
I went to the phone and dialed Kathy’s cell phone.
“Yes, Mrs. Stevens?”
“Kathy, did you come clean this morning?”
“Yes, Mrs. Stevens. I come every morning—”
“Well could you explain to me why there’s a hair on my living room floor?”
“Um, I don’t know, I dust-mopped—”
“How many times?”
“Three. Just like always Mrs. Stevens. Not everything can be perfect though—”
“For the amount of money I’m paying you, my apartment better be perfect. Let this be the last time Kathy.”
I clicked off before she could answer. My belly began to burn, as it often did after I drank alcohol, and I poured myself a glass of milk. Everyone thought my weight-loss was from plain-old diet and exercise. Only Cassidy knew about my stomach ulcer, which either had me in pain, or left me vomiting my food up after I ate. Milk seemed to help, that and my never-leave-home-without-it bottle of Maalox. I walked to my bedroom and slipped out of my work clothes and jumped into the shower. After scrubbing myself clean, I got out and pulled on a pair of red velour drawstring pants and matching tank.
The ringing phone startled me and I checked the caller ID to see it was my
best friend Norma Rodriguez.
“Happy anniversary,” I said into the phone.
“So how’s dinner going?”
“Roast? Check. Rosemary red potatoes? Check. Salad drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette? Check. Husband? Not in sight.”
“He’s late and you’re over there sweating like a baby Nigerian.”
“First of all, how do you know about baby Nigerians perspiration levels?”
“I watch the Discovery channel. You learn all sorts of things.”
“You’re a nutcase as usual.”
“That’s why you love me. Calm down, I’m sure Chris will be home soon. At least your dinner’s finished.”
“Yes, but it’s not like him to be late. Especially not today. You know three years is a long time, maybe he got in a car accident—“
“Pretty difficult considering he doesn’t have a car. He’s fine.”
“What if he cut his finger at work and he’s at the hospital right now?”
“Then someone from the restaurant would have called you. He’s fine. Calm down.”
I heard her exhale over the phone line and I laughed.
“What did you get Chris this year?”
“Nothing. He said this year we wouldn’t give gifts, just spend time together.”
“That’s sweet. Now seriously, what did you get him?”
“You know that I’m just teasing. And honestly I do think that’s sweet.”
“What are you doing home so early anyway? I thought you were going to some party?”
“I did, I left early. Jasmine isn’t going to give me a recommendation.”
“You mean the lady who’s retiring? Why not?”
“I don’t know. She says I’m too ambitious. I would think that would be a good quality.”
“In your field, yes. Maybe she already has somebody in mind.”
“Probably. She started mentioning something about the magazine but we got interrupted. It was probably nothing.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not over ‘til it’s over. You might still have a chance.”
“Yeah, maybe. Let me let you get back to it.” We said our goodbye’s and I hung up.