Sunday, September 18, 2011

Zaire's Place--Chapter 2...Aisha

In case you missed Chapter 1 of Zaire's Place, click here
Otherwise, keep on reading.

                                                  CHAPTER TWO

“We got another one,” I whispered to Trina when I spotted the new woman walking down the hall as we made our way toward the Happy Room.
What kind of name is “the Happy Room” any goddamn way? A stupid name given by some little boy who had nothing else to do with his time. And the staff bought it hook, line and sinker.
I wondered what the new woman was going to be like. As she followed Counselor Powell, she held her head high, shoulders back, nose in the air: the signal of a bitch. I could already tell she thought she was the crème de la crème. Better than most. Better than this.
I been here three weeks and wasn’t planning on gettin’ out no time soon. Don’t have nowhere else to go. Every time I tried to get away from B, he would find me and beat my ass into submission or sweet talk me into coming back to him. Maybe now that I came here, he won’t be able to find me.
“Yeah, I saw her. Damn, it’s getting crowded around here. How many people are they gonna move in?” Trina said, wiping the sweat off her big forehead.
Cleaning up after twenty-four women and four children ain’t easy. And that number changed every day, going up and down depending on who decided to go back to their boyfriend and who decided to get help and come to the shelter.
“Look. They’re going to Roberta’s office.” Trina pointed in their direction and laughed real loud. “You think Counselor Campy is gonna try and tap that? Do some lickity lickity?”
Trina is my girl. I feel like we’ve known each other forever. She’s the only one who gets me in this place. All of a sudden, she was quiet and I knew something was wrong. Trina always had something to say.
Her next question came out of nowhere. I suppose seeing the new woman reminded Trina of her first day at Zaire’s Place where all of us had to go through the same process. I was thinking about it, too.
“Do you miss him?”
“Hell, no,” I said, waving my hand in the air as if that would shoo the thought of Buster away. It didn’t.
I couldn’t deny how much I longed to be with Brian Bailey again even though his ass put me in the hospital, my broken nose a testament to the kind of love he was ready to dish out. He thought I was using our computer to meet men and picked it up like the Incredible Hulk and threw that bitch to the ground. I ducked, but not soon enough, because the mouse got me, smacking me dead in the nose. It wasn’t over with the broken nose, though, because the fucking CPU hit the ground and splattered, one of the pieces cutting my leg. After that, I knew I had to get away. I got my shit, took my daughter, and left.
“Where’s Stephanie? That girl be disappearing all the time,” I said.
Trina shook her head. I didn’t really expect her to know where my spawn from hell was. It was a rhet … rhetor—shit, what do they call that? Anyway, I didn’t expect Trina to answer. I knew Steff couldn’t leave without telling someone where she was going because a counselor had to let you in and out of the building. The door couldn’t be opened without a key. When I didn’t see Stephanie in the Happy Room, I almost hit the fan.
Believe it or not, people used to call me AC when I was younger, the initials of my first and last name: Aisha Carter. Buster would joke me all the time, telling me that I was nothing at all like an AC. “Ain’t nothin’ cool about you, Aisha,” he would say. He said anything could set me off, causing me to fly off the handle. It took a while for me to admit that he was right. I had a temper that couldn’t be tamed and Buster saw it. Every time he’d hit my ass, I’d throw blows right back at him. When he got the best of me and I couldn’t take it anymore, I would pick up the nearest thing and clunk him with it.
“Damn, girl, your ass is tough,” he told me one night when we was lying in bed after I put a bandage on his forehead. A small piece of glass from the bottle I threw at him had just been removed.
As I cleaned the cut, I apologized. Can you believe that shit? I apologized. He was the one who started it, whaling on me because he thought I had been on the phone with another dude.
“I told your ass don’t be coming at me like that. Why you gotta get all jealous and shit? I told you I ain’t messin’ around, Buster.” I grabbed his hand under the cover as he lay on his back, his other hand draped over his forehead. “The only person I wanna be with is you, but you be acting so damn crazy all the time.” I ran my fingers through the valleys of his braids, touching his scalp, as he closed his eyes.
“Buster,” I continued, “if you keep putting your hands on me, one day I’ma have to kill your ass.” I moved closer to him because I wanted him to hold me, to spoon me like he did almost every night.
“Ma, didn’t you hear me calling you?” Stephanie knocked me back down to Earth. She was sauntering from the hallway into the Happy Room where me and Trina had taken a seat on the couch to watch TV with Irene.
“Where were you?” I asked. Damn, that girl looks just like her father. That motherfucker used to beat me and love me all in one fuckin’ breath.
Stephanie sighed, her full lips twisting like she was pissed that I was questioning her. Before, a look like that would have gotten her smacked, but she was too old for that now. Fourteen. Where did all the time go? My baby girl is a teenager now.
“Ma, I told you I was going to Mia’s room. See, if you woulda listened to me, you woulda remembered.” Stephanie was about to roll her eyes, but they stopped mid-motion. Her little ass knew better.
“What did you just say?” I asked, my lips pursed, my body ready to leap, daring her to repeat herself.
“I said, uh, I went to Mia’s room so I could look at some of her mom’s DVDs.” Stephanie studied the pattern on the carpet.
          “I thought so,” I said, turning to watch TV, remote in hand, searching for something good. “Find anything you like?”
             Mia and her mother Rose had the largest collection of black market DVDs you could find, from the new shit to the oldest shit. And the quality of the movies was good, nobody jumping up in front of the camera causing you to see shadows when they walked by to go to the bathroom.
“Not really. I saw most of them. Ma, I need a perm,” Stephanie said, digging into her scalp with the balls of her fingertips. “My roots are growing out.”
I glanced over at her. “Yeah, you do. You got that kinky shit from your father, the bastard.” Trina snickered, followed by a wide grin that showed her crooked teeth. Stephanie frowned at me.
“If you want me to, I’ll relax it for you. I can relax hair something fierce,” Trina said. “
Wow, thanks Ms. T!” Stephanie tossed her pink flip-flops off and sat Indian style, her knees poking out in front of her skinny body. My baby was looking more and more like a model everyday. She wasn’t short like me, but her body was curvaceous like mine. Not a day would go by that I didn’t notice the firm mounds on her chest sticking out for the world to see. That scared me.
“You need to take better care of your skin, Stephanie. Your acne is getting worse.” My tone was clipped, matter of fact. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her roll her almond-shaped eyes. She ignored me.
“Maybe I can get Ms. Fiona to braid it for me,” Stephanie said. “A lot of women around here call her Funky Fiona behind her back. Do ya’ll know why?”
“Miss Stephanie, that’s not nice,” Trina said, playing the role of an adult, even though a grin was tugging at the corners of her mouth when she glanced at me. All of us knew about Fiona’s “problem” but I wasn’t ready to give Stephanie an explanation.
Mention of Funky Fiona caused Irene to perk up, which was no easy feat. She shook her head and looked at me like I was the worst mother around. I stared her down though, and the blank look she always had came back. Who in the hell does she think she is? I got this.
“You need to watch your mouth, Ma-Ma. Don’t go around repeating what somebody else said.” Me and Stephanie’s eyes locked. From the look on her face, I could tell she knew I meant business. Stephanie got that nickname when she was ten months old because the only thing she would say over and over again was “ma-ma.” I was thrilled because I thought she was fascinated with me, but according to Buster, kids said “ma-ma” and “da-da” because those was easy words to get out their mouths. “They don’t have any meaning, Aisha.”
“Whatever,” I had said and scooped Stephanie up, rewarding her with kisses on her chocolate cheeks. She smiled at me and I kissed my baby again. Me and Buster was seventeen at the time and he had just come over after school to see his little girl. I was a lot thinner back then. Hell, I was still slim now, but after carrying Stephanie, my body wasn’t as tight as it used to be and I had the stretch marks on my breasts, hips, and stomach to prove it.
I have to say I’m blessed, though. Even though I’m thirty, people can’t believe it. And when I tell them Stephanie is my daughter, they say, “No, you gotta be kiddin’ me.” Then most of them start examining my face for signs that I was older than I looked and I would have to hold back from telling them to back the fuck off. But even I have to admit that turning thirty was hard. Sometimes I felt like my youth was slipping away, but, no matter what, I know I still got it goin’ on.
I touched my own braids, checking to see how much new growth was there. I had gotten them put in way before me and Stephanie came to the shelter. Micro-minis. In the hood, you could always find someone to keep your head in tip-top shape. No matter where I moved, where I went, I always made friends with the girls who did hair. Those friendships came in handy.
Back to Buster. I can’t believe I stayed with that motherfucker for fourteen years. That’s a goddamn marriage! It was off and on most of the time. I’d leave him whenever the hitting got out of hand. During our breakup times I had only been with one other man ’cause I was stuck on Buster’s high-yellow ass. Yep, him and Stephanie looked just alike—the only difference was their complexions. Stephanie was brown-skinned like me but tall like her dad.
“Fiona got a lot of heads to do. How much she charge again?” I asked Stephanie.
“She said she could do it for ten.” Stephanie looked eager as she waited for my response. Hope was in her face, but that disappeared when she heard my answer.
“I ain’t got ten dollars. If I had some money, do you think we would be in here?”
            I knew Fiona’s price was reasonable. Getting braids would normally set somebody back two hundred, maybe two-fifty, “in the real world.” Plus, Fiona put a hurting on the heads around here and only charged ten bucks. We couldn’t beat that shit with a baseball bat. But I didn’t have ten dollars. I felt bad for not having the money and also for jumping on Stephanie the way I did. I tried to focus on the women arguing over some man on a reality show, but that didn’t help.
“Sometimes Fiona waives the fee, Stephanie. Just ask her if there’s anything you can do for her. You know, run an errand or something. She’s pretty reasonable.” Trina’s voice was soft, like she wanted to make everything better. For someone who didn’t have kids, she was good … real good, and I felt worse.
I stole a look at my daughter out of the corner of my eye. Like me, her eyes were focused on the twenty-seven inch television, glazed over, in another world. That girl got my eyes, I thought, as I remembered all the times the kids would tease me for having eyes “like a Chink”—small, squinty. I’ve grown to love my eyes. Now I think they’re exotic.
Irene’s little girl yawned and stretched out her chubby arms, eyes wide as she went from being asleep one minute to wide awake the next. She looked around at everyone in the living room. When she saw me, she smiled.
“Hey, baby girl,” I cooed and moved in closer, taking her fingers in mine.
I remembered when Steff was that young, when she couldn’t back-talk me. Little Lu-Lu smiled again; this time dribble escaped the corner of her mouth. Lucy was her real name but Stephanie had started calling her Lu-Lu, and everyone else followed suit. Maybe Lu-Lu always smiled at me because the bandage that was plastered over my broken nose looked funny or something.
“I’m going back up to Mia’s room.” Stephanie huffed and got up from the sofa, her raspberry-scented body lotion floating past me as she left the Happy Room. I didn’t feel so happy.


Me and Buster are standing in front of the priest, and I’m grinning from ear to ear. He has on a black tuxedo, and his cornrows are fresh, sideburns shaved to perfection. I smile again as the sun hits my skin, making me feel warm. I feel like I’m glowing in my lacy, white dress, and nothing can beat that feeling. My grip tightens on the floral bouquet full of pink and white carnations with baby’s breath wrapped around them. I inhale deeply, wanting to remember the scents forever.
“Do you, Aisha Carter, take Brian Bailey to be your lawfully wedded hus—” I want the priest to get it over with. I say “I do” before he can finish his last word.
           “Do you, Brian Bailey, take Aisha Carter to be your lawfully wedded wife until death do—”
Before the pastor can finish, Buster pulls his fist back as far as he can and decks me right in the nose. My mother, who’s been dead for six years, runs over to me as the blood gushes out my nose and splatters all over my white dress and I cry uncontrollably.
“Ma, what are you doing here?” I ask through my screams. “Oh, my God, Ma. Look at me.”
Even though the veil is bloodshot red, my mother grabs me into her arms, getting blood all over her beautiful lavender dress.
“It’s okay, baby. It’s gonna be all right,” she says in her soothing, small voice as she continues to hold me.
I move away from her large bosom. That’s when I see Stephanie standing next to Buster. My friends and family stay where they are, frozen as they watch the scene unfold before them, a sea of white chairs perfectly positioned on the freshly mowed lawn. I look out at their confused expressions and feel bad. But I can’t say anything to them, I’m just too embarrassed. I glance at Stephanie and she’s frowning, standing still. Then she takes Buster’s hand.
“See, Mommy, I told you to let me get my hair braided,” she says.
Buster lets go of her hand and starts coming toward me with a strong, forceful walk. “
Get away!” I scream, backing up. “Don’t come near me!”
That’s when I woke up. My pillow was wet. I must have been crying in my sleep.
Damn, that felt so real.
The blinds were open and I could see the full moon outside, which lit up our small room. I turned over to look at Stephanie, who was sprawled out on the twin bed a few feet away from me. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I listened to Steff’s breathing. It was uneven. That girl is so goddamn hardheaded. I told her to use her inhaler. But she didn’t want to listen to me. Said she was fine. Who the hell does she think she is? Jesus Christ?
Sometimes I would force her to take her asthma treatments and use her inhaler, but she wasn’t with me all the time now that she gettin’ older. Judging by her breathing, what I tried to do clearly wasn’t enough.


“All right, ladies, let’s go. People have to get out of here and go to work. Come on. It won’t take that long.”
That was Shelley Dubois, a.k.a. Counselor Structure, shouting orders at our seven-thirty a.m. house meeting, which the powers that be thought was necessary to have twice a week even if it only lasted ten minutes. Just enough time to get things off their minds.
Today Counselor Structure had on a black suit jacket with a bright red pencil skirt and some black pumps. Counselor Dubois always be looking good, I thought, when I spotted her from the open door before I made my way into The Hall, which served as our meeting room/dining room/kitchen. It was the size of a small auditorium and housed all the kitchen stuff and our tables.
The tables was like those rectangular tables that followed you from elementary school through high school. Except these tables was covered with white plastic tablecloths that had small fruit basket designs on them. The eight tables spread out around the room made me feel like I was back in school again. Me and the other girls would move them around whenever we needed to, the wheels making it easy to do so.
A little island separated the kitchen from the eating area. That’s where all of us prepared food when it was our turn for kitchen duty. Even though the room was big, it still managed to be homey. At Zaire’s Place, our counselors would always say they was “keen on making the shelter feel like home.”
Although nothing could be as comfortable as your own home, I bought what they was selling. It felt snug. I don’t think I’m too difficult to please, ‘cause anything is better than the projects.
When I was a kid, I lived in Lafayette Homes, the concrete jungle. Then I moved up in the world. Left the city and moved out to Glen Burnie. Me, Buster, and Stephanie had a real nice apartment out there. That was the first time I had seen so much green shit—the grass, the trees. The only problem: getting around out there without a car was a bitch.
I didn’t see Trina in The Hall. I stopped in the middle of the doorway because I wanted to go back out and wait for her. I needed to tell her something and didn’t want the other girls to hear.
“Excuse me,” one of the girls said. She touched my arm as she tried to get pass.
Damn. Don’t touch me. I snatched my arm away.
I looked over my shoulder and spotted the uppity woman that I saw yesterday and frowned at her. She backed off, looking offended. I rolled my eyes and left the room, rushing to make my way to the bathroom. I gotta wash my arm.
I turned on the hot water and tapped the soap dispenser multiple times to get a good amount of soap. When I put my arm under the water, I sighed as I scrubbed the spot where she touched me.
I can’t fuckin’ stand when people feel like they can be all up on you and they don’t even know you. That’s the same goddamn reason why I refuse to shake hands. All those germs. I don’t know what they been doin’ with their hands.
It always amazed me what a germ could do. Something so small, something you can’t see, could wipe your ass out. If I had gone to college, I probably would have studied those fuckers if I wasn’t so scared they would invade my system and kill me.
I stood at the sink and stared at my reflection. My scarf was still wrapped around my head, my braids hanging down from the opening in the back. I didn’t have no job to go to so I didn’t have to bother getting all fixed up or nothin’. Counselor Powell said she would help me find something since I had to quit my job at the bank because B knew where I worked. I felt a gust of air as the door swung open.
“I heard you was looking for me,” Trina said, holding the door open with the palm of her hand.
“Yeah.” I turned off the water and pulled her into the bathroom, scooting around her to block the door in case anyone tried to get in. “I had a dream about Buster last night. It had me crying, girl.”
As I told her about the dream, she leaned on the bathroom sink. The fluorescent light made her dark skin look blue and her eyes were watery, like she was thinking about something painful. Is she about to cry?
“Aisha, I know what you mean. I been dreaming about Abdul ever since I got here. It’s a process all of us are going through. They, Buster and Abdul, ain’t gonna leave our thoughts just like that. That’s something Counselor Lickity Lick keeps telling us.”
“It just gets to me, you know? Why couldn’t he just get his shit together so we could be together?” I said. Trina shook her head like she totally understood where I was coming from. “But you know what, Trina? I’m gonna be all right. We’re gonna be all right. Fuck Buster. I can’t let that motherfucker keep me up all night by gettin’ in my head. Oh, and fuck Abdul, too, for what he did to you.”
Trina stood up straighter and laughed, looking like I had snapped her out of her funk. “Yeah, they messed up our lives enough when we was awake. We’d be some stupid bitches if we let them fuck with us when we go to sleep, too.”
“You got that right,” I said, feeling better even though I knew there was still one problem: we have no control over our dreams. I took a paper towel from the dispenser and wrapped it around the door handle. “We better get back to the meeting. We don’t wanna get Counselor Structure all riled up.”
“Everybody, I want you all to welcome our newest resident,” Counselor Dubois was saying when me and Trina made our way into the room. She waved the papers she was holding in the air, trying to get everybody to quiet down. Then she gave the two of us her death stare because we were late. I flopped down on the bench, not paying her no mind. “I want you to make her feel at home, ladies. Let’s welcome Charlene.”
So that’s the bitch’s name. Next time, she better keep her hands to herself.
When Charlene smiled, it was a smile so fake that I felt like I wanted to deck her. I folded my arms across my chest and huffed, my eyes meeting the ceiling.
“Thank you,” she said, pretending to be shy.
I could tell that was a joke. She was probably more controlling than a motherfucker. I made up my mind that I didn’t like her. That’s when I noticed the white bitch was sitting next to her. Two peas in a goddamn pod. Rebecca. That’s the white girl’s name.
I glanced over at Rebecca, her head full of brown, bouncy curls that came past her neck. She had only been here for a week or so and I didn’t like her, either. She thought she was better than other people, too. I could just tell. She had a habit of wrapping her finger around her silky hair and twirling it, almost as if she was tryin’ to make fun of our hair, black folk hair—like we was jealous ’cause we ain’t got what she got.
Stephanie was sitting next to me on my right, looking bored. I wanted Shelley to hurry up so Stephanie could get out of here and take her ass to school.
“She’s stoppin’ and startin’ and shit. My God, when is she gonna get done?” I rolled my eyes, showing my impatience. Trina poked me. “I don’t care if she hears me,” I said. Stephanie shook her head and tried not to laugh.
“Sh,” Trina whispered. And that’s when Counselor Dubois’ light blue eyes focused on us.
“Ladies, do you have something to say?” She moved to the center of the room, closer to us, one hand on her hip. A battle stance? That bitch got balls. She waited. Me and Trina didn’t say anything else. “Well, all righty, then.”
Counselor Dubois walked over to the kitchen island and pulled up one of the tall wooden stools. It seemed like she was going in slow motion as she sat down and crossed her legs at her thick ankles, placing her papers on her lap. It was so quiet that I could hear her sigh. I knew, then, that this was gonna be serious. I just hoped it wasn’t serious enough to last for more than ten minutes.
“Ladies, we got a problem. Some items have been disappearing from the residential rooms—”
“Yeah. Like my grease, for example,” Fiona shouted from the back of the room.
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Fiona was singing instead of angry. Her Caribbean accent made it hard to tell the difference.
Counselor Dubois frowned, like she was pissed off at the interruption. “As I was saying,” she continued, “some items have been disappearing from the residential rooms. I would like to remind everyone that stealing is unacceptable and grounds for immediate dismissal. When we find the responsible party, we will have to let you go. Do you hear me? I said we will dismiss you. At Zaire’s Place, we respect everyone and their things. Anyone who does otherwise, their actions will not be tolerated. Ladies, I would like to remind all of you that if you need anything, anything at all, you should come to us and we will do what we can to help.”
Whatever. Counselor Dubois, you don’t give a damn about us. I threw a frown her way as my eyes landed on her expensive pumps and checked out her high-priced suit. She only mentioned the stealing because she don’t like nobody breaking the rules. She could care less about our things.
Nobody tried to steal nothing from me. They better not. If they did and I found out, I would seriously hurt them. They wouldn’t have no hand to steal with no more. They would have to haul me out of this shelter real quick and I would be beating ass on my way out.

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