When I saw Taliyah in her tutu, I couldn’t help but smile. It was Halloween and the children at ZP were going door-to-door in the shelter trick-or-treating. I had gone to the supermarket and stocked up on some candy because I knew those critters was coming, and I didn’t mind at all.
“What’s the difference between me having a Ouija board and us celebrating Halloween?” Stephanie asked me earlier that day when I came home with M&M’s, Snickers, and all the things I knew the children would like.
“There’s a big difference. Girl, don’t start with me.”
To be honest, I didn’t know what the difference was; I just knew there was one. Stephanie poked out her lip like she wasn’t satisfied with my answer, walked over to the bed and picked up a bag of candy, opening it to take out a miniature Snickers bar. I didn’t stop her.
“Well, don’t you look beautiful, Miss Taliyah! Lord, look at all that gorgeous, pretty hair,” I said.
Taliyah’s long, brown hair was down, coming to the end of her back. Jennifer beamed at the compliment, her shoulders going down, looking more relaxed. I guess she was worried about bringing Taliyah to my door.
Taliyah giggled and said, “Trick-or-Treat” in her little girl voice, her front tooth missing. Then she twirled around and bowed down. At that, I let out a loud laugh, which must have gotten Stephanie’s attention because she came up behind me to see what the fuss was about.
“Cute Halloween costume,” I said.
“It’s actually her ballet uniform. She used to go before we came here,” Jennifer volunteered. “We had to stop going because … well, you know.”
I looked down. I did know. “She’s gorgeous. You’d better watch out, ’cause all them boys gon pay attention to that one when she gets older.”
Stephanie grunted. Then she said, “Miss Jennifer, that’s nice that you put her in ballet. Extracurricular activities are good. I wish I had been able to participate in some.”
Now where in the hell did that just come from?
I turned to look at her, but she had already left my side. From her reflection in the mirror, I could see her flop on the bed, reading her textbook again.
“Here, baby,” I said, giving Taliyah six treats; she looked like she’d just hit the jackpot.
“Mommy, look at all this candy!”
Jennifer smiled at me and turned to Taliyah. “Now what do you say?”
“Thanks, Miss Aisha.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie.”
The two of them turned to leave, making their way to the next door. Taliyah skipped down the hall.
“What’s wrong with you now?” I asked, closing the door. Come on, Stephanie, please don’t be a pain in the ass.
“Nothing’s wrong.” She got up from the bed and went over to the dresser, opening the pack of face paint I bought.
That’s when it dawned on me. But, no, it can’t be.
“Stephanie, look at me for a second.” She stopped painting her face and turned around, looking like she didn’t want to be bothered. “Are you jealous of a little girl?”
I saw a flash of shock on her face. It wasn’t the shock that said, “No, Ma, of course I’m not jealous of a little girl.” It was the shock that said, “Wow, how did you figure that out?” She inhaled the air around her and pressed her lips together—her sign of surrender.
“It’s just that ya’ll pay so much attention to Taliyah. ‘Oh, look at that pretty hair’, ‘Oh, doesn’t she sound cute’, ‘Oh, look at her missing tooth,’” Stephanie said, mocking all of us at ZP. She was really good at doing imitations, something I hadn’t realized before. I laughed.
“Why are you laughing at me, Ma?”
“I ain’t laughing at you. I just realized how good you are at imitations.”
She grinned, her face relaxing. I walked up behind her, our reflections staring back at us.
“Baby, I love you. Your hair is just as gorgeous as Taliyah’s and you’re just as beautiful. Don’t ever forget that.”
And I meant it. Her hair was just as beautiful. It was coarser than Taliyah’s, but it was thick and long, something I wish my hair was. Besides, her hair ain’t what makes my baby my baby. She’d be my baby even if she had a thimbleful of hair on that head of hers.
I gently put my arm around Steff’s neck, pulling her close. I could smell her scent, the scent that I had known for fourteen years now. It changed slightly once she got her period and began to perspire, but it was my baby’s scent—none of that raspberry lotion could hide it. Her eyes looked watery and she smiled at my reflection, the world stopping for just a second.
“Come on, Ma. I gotta finish my face.”
And just like that, the moment was broken.
“You ain’t say ‘I love you’ back.” I refused to let go of her neck until she said it.
“I love you, Mama,” she said, laughing real loud.
And I could tell she meant it.
It had been so long since I heard those words that I teared up. I let her go and was about to sit on the bed when I heard another knock. I walked over to the door.
It was Tristan’s bad ass. He was wearing a large cowboy hat that covered his egghead and there was a woman’s scarf tied beneath it—probably his mom’s. I wondered where Bianca got the hat from. It couldn’t have come from the store. Only women and children’s things was down there. Tristan’s glasses looked like they was about to fall off his nose, probably because his little ass was running through the halls before coming to my door.
“Hi, Aisha,” Bianca said like we was the best of friends.
I ain’t have no beef with Bianca, just her bad ass boy. Today is Halloween. Be nice, Aisha. Tristan was staring up at me, like he was wondering when I was gonna hand down his treats. Maybe I should play a trick on his ass, turn this Halloween thing around.
“Hi, Tristan,” I said. “Nice hat.” I gave him two pieces of candy and wished them a Happy Halloween, sending them on their merry way.