Kim had come over Monday night, without invitation, bearing gifts. I was tired and cranky when I’d come in from work so I immediately turned off the ringer on the phone and assumed my customary Monday night position on the couch, surrounded by the accumulating mess of a week’s laziness. Hank Williams Jr. was singing ‘Are you ready for some football?’ and I definitely was, when the doorbell rang. Kim had come in, gleeful as can be, presented me with a heartwarming bouquet of deep purple violets and had proceeded to clean up my filth-laden apartment, almost entirely without remark. Then proceeded to cook a meal that smelled so good it actually drew me away from the game (and it wasn’t half-time) into the kitchen to investigate the source. How could I send her home after that?
Tuesday night, she’d come over carrying a shopping bag. And, within it: sesame chicken from Kum Kau’s, my favorite take-out. She’d also picked up a bottle of my favorite Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. I didn’t even know she’d paid attention to shit like that. Man, the thoughtfulness, the love. Not only couldn’t I send her home that night, we wound up spending a good portion of the night cuddling and snuggling. And, it wasn’t so bad at that. She had candy sweet breath and a silky touch, gently stroking the nape of my neck until I’d passed out. Nevertheless, I woke up in the middle of the night with Kim snoring vociferously in my face. I peeled myself from her, like removing a Band-Aid from a scab, and rolled away.
I was a scab, in fact- a scab of a man. Without scabs, wounds would not heal. They would lay open to infection. A scab is a sign that systems are functioning properly. Band-Aids actually retard the healing process. And, Kim was a Band-Aid, wasn’t she? I was wrong to have gotten involved with her, I realized for the umpteenth time. This scab needed time and air to heal. I had to let her go. Now, Kevin, I told myself. Now while your determination is strong.I almost woke her up. She was sleeping there, with her hair standing up straight like…a chicken. A chickenhead, I laughed to myself. But, when I looked into her placid face, at the complacency of her restfulness, at her lips fluttering with every exhalation, I balked.
Later that morning on the subway, Kim fell asleep on my shoulder. The train wasn’t so crowded but standing-room only. It was mostly teenagers- High school girls, popping gum and seeing who could talk shit the loudest. There was one group of girls surrounding a pole a few feet from where I sat. One, in particular, whose name was Keisha (I’d ascertained from the others repeatedly saying, “Keisha, you’s a sick bitch), was the group’s leader. Keisha, relishing the spotlight, encouraged by her buddies, proclaimed to all within earshot that my man be eating me out, and that she used to be afraid of the Dick, but now we closer than rice and peas. She couldn’t be older than seventeen.
She was wearing a red leather jacket that came down to her waist and a mini skirt that left little to the imagination. She had the kind of body that excited me to no end: Nubile, thin and shapely. Something about young girls turned me on immensely. I could feel myself becoming aroused. This little housing project Lolita was seductive in every respect. The way she whipped her hips when she said something sassy. The way she bent over when she laughed, to the point where I could almost see her panties. The way her lips pouted when she said ‘pussy’ which she’d said several times in reference to her own. She’d had me feeling downright lecherous. Like, if Kim wasn’t there, I could see myself approaching her regardless of the age difference. But, I knew I wouldn’t. I’d be too embarrassed to do it in public.
I tore my attention away from Keisha to gauge how the rest of the car was viewing her rambunctiousness. The handful of people that even bothered to mind appeared to be disgusted. It was mostly the women. As I panned their faces I came upon one woman, sitting directly across the aisle from Kim and I, whose attention was focused on me with the same level of disgust that the other women in the car had directed at Keisha. I figured she was seeking something from me so I felt obliged to react to Keisha’s behavior. I screwed up my face and upturned my palms as if to say, kids these days, what you gonna do? The woman wasn’t moved. She just continued staring me down, pissed at something. It was like she’d found me disgusting. What the hell was her problem? Unless… had she been watching me while my eyes were dogging Keisha? I wondered how lusty had my stare been. It must’ve been pretty daggone bad to inspire such repulsion in a stranger. Then her face changed suddenly, drastically, to utter indifference.
There are some weird ass people on the subway…
“What she looking at?” Kim mumbled sleepily in my ear.
Oh, that explains it. “Nothing, Boo.”
“She wuz lookin’ at you like you stoleded sumpthin’ from her.”
She raised her head from my shoulder and straightened herself out. Her eyes never left the woman sitting across from us. The woman wouldn’t return the glare, though. She looked everywhere but at Kim.
She was a big sister. An easy 180 pounder. She had that seasoned veteran look that some mothers take on after a while, despite her relative youthfulness. She couldn’t be over forty, but had the battle fatigued leer of a wayward teenager’s parent or a Vietnam veteran. Kim had a similar fierceness about her- a fury that lay just below her sweet surface disposition. Like a beagle that had been maliciously trained to kill.
“Excuzzze me!” Kim yelled, across the car.
Kim had nearly everyone’s attention, even the group of teenagers. Keisha turned around, her blooming breast protruding like torpedoes from her sweater. She caught me looking at them, and smiled. I acknowledged her smile with a flirtatious wince. Then I looked away, quickly, to the woman across the aisle who was, again, looking at me. No disgust this time- just a blatant coldness. Kim started to get up then but I held her down.
“You gotta problem?” Kim shouted, angrily.
The woman made a version of my expression for you don’t interest me, you don’t bother me, you don’t exist! It was a little subtler, though. It wouldn’t be taken as a challenge unless the other party was ready for fisticuffs, which, in this case, Kim was.
“Why duh fuck you lookin’ at my man like dat?”
My Man! I cringed a little to hear the words spoken aloud. But, under the circumstances, what else could she call me?
“Your man’s the one with the problem,” the woman said to Kim, finally speaking up.
This time Kim was getting up and I couldn’t stop her if I wanted to. She stepped across the car and stood in front of the woman. But, she wouldn’t get up. She just looked up into Kim’s face and twisted her mouth.
“And who duh fuck is you tuh be telling people dey problem is?” Kim asked, earnestly. “Seems tuh me, you’s duh one wit’ duh problem.”
You tell her, Kim! I sat back down. If Kim were going to hit her, she’d have done it already.
The woman stood up at that. She was shorter than Kim but robust as hell. She’d give Kim a run for her money. The other passengers started clearing away as much as they could. Cat-fights can get pretty vicious.
It reminded me of back when I was a kid and girls would fight. They’d have their faces vaseline’d up, their nails long and sharp. The objective was to rip off the other girl’s top so that while she was trying to hide her tits from the spectators the other could rain blows on her or scratch her face up. I never missed when the girls fought. Much more interesting than when the guys got down. Guys would stand around and trash talk for twenty minutes, trying to decide if fisticuffs were really necessary or if words could resolve the question of who was tougher. But, there was always at least one girl that was determined to damage the other. It would be on almost immediately!
“All I know is if he was looking at my daughter the way he was looking at that little girl over there, I’d have to kill his ass.”
WHAT!!! I wanted to say Kick that bitch ass, Kim. But I didn’t.
All eyes turned toward Keisha. She was astonished. A subway car full of eyes made her feel uncomfortable. She’d sought attention but not this sort. Then, the stares shifted my direction- including Kim’s.
I tried to remain relaxed but there was no relaxing under this kind of scrutiny. Now, everyone in the subway car felt free to judge me. My Lolita Complex, which I’d managed to keep under wraps for years, had now gotten Kim into this embarrassing predicament. And, I could feel the guilt seething in me, feel it reddening my face. There would be no denying my carnal thoughts. But, why the fuck should I? Keisha was no toddler. Little girl my ass! Shit, in some countries, including fucking America, she’s of the prime age, the optimal age. Girls her age were the mother’s of civilization.
But, Kim…God, she looked so humiliated. So utterly defeated. “Kevin?” she whimpered, meek as a whisper, sounding like she wanted to add, Say it isn’t so.
I looked out the window. The train was pulling into my station. Thank God! I got up, looking around the car one last time at the hypocrisy.
“I don’t have time for this nonsense, Kim. I got to get to work.”
I went to peck her on the cheek and she moved her face away. She looked disgusted with me. I’d never seen her make that expression before.
“Come on, Kim…You ain’t gonna trip over this, are you?”
“I…” she began but stopped. “We gotta talk.”
“Whatever…holla at me later.”
I walked briskly through the subway concourse. And, with every step, I fell deeper and deeper into workaday mode. Like schizophrenia, I was transforming into this other Kevin. The Kevin I always thought I wanted to be- sharp, successful, acknowledged, tackling the white world head-on. It’s not an easy transformation. I have to practically chant to convince myself that this is what was intended for me. Then my pace sped up, rushing to get to a job that I had no love for. Why? There had to be more to life than this.
I looked at the thousands of people around me. Sure, some were going places. Others were just moving. What did Tameeka say? On a treadmill… I was on a treadmill, too. No matter how fast I moved I was still going nowhere. I slowed down, then. Someone crashed right into my back. I’d caused a human traffic jam, a fender bender.
Up ahead, this gorgeous woman was coming my way. She was dressed smartly, tight and organized. She had a corporate look but an entirely different feel. There was a tangible blackness to her. Put a white woman in the same get-up, and the outfit, the look, wouldn’t work. Like an invisible cloak of Kente embraced her. Thank God it was invisible. I hate Kente cloth, the way pastors and politicians and normal people throw it on to show their afrocentricity. She wasn’t on the treadmill, though. She was going somewhere. There was a pride to her stride that exuded a sense of purpose and an air of confidence.
Was it a façade?
I composed myself, erected my posture, sucked in my gut, bloated my chest, and tried to exude an air of confidence of my own. Twenty feet away I caught her eyes. Her expression softened, then she pretended to be distracted by something else and showed me the hair in her nostrils. The high-hat. That’s what I called it, the snubbing she’d just dispensed- The goddamn high-hat. I stopped in front of the window of a store and looked at my reflection. I looked good: Sharp, tall, kind of smart, fairly handsome- industrious without question. What the hell was her problem? Here I was: The Man! I had it going on. I had the brain, I had the looks, I had the job; I had it! So, why the high-hat?
I turned around and watched the sister marching away. I hadto know, suddenly. So, I took off after her, stealthily. When I was a couple of feet from her wonderfully round effortlessly switching gluteus, I called to her.
“Excuse me, Miss.” And, of course, she promptly ignored me.
Undaunted, I pulled up in front of her where she couldn’t ignore me and I said, “One moment of your precious time, darling.” I held up a single finger to indicate I knew what a moment meant. She gave me a quick once over, and stopped.
Then, with mock annoyance she said, “Yes, how can I help you?”
That’s when I noticed how truly stunning she was. She was a dime, no question: Flawless, luminous olive brown skin, without the aid of make-up. Arched eyebrows atop thick eyelashes and… amber eyes?
“I’d like to ask you a question. And, I want you to be as candid as possible with your answer, alright?”
I had her interest, now. I could tell. Her whole posture shifted from defensive to curious. She swung her leather briefcase from her side to her front. I noticed her ring finger was bare. She had to be in her mid 20’s. She was probably too busy pursuing her dreams of avarice to get serious with anyone.
“That depends. What’s your question?” she said, almost impatiently, but not quite. I was still marveling at the fact that she’d even given me the time of day. Women of her magnitude generally didn’t. And, even if they did I’d be too intimidated to be myself. Is that’s why I was with Kim? And why I yearned for young girls whom I fantasized hadn’t been tainted and corrupted by men as yet? I’d almost forgotten why I stopped her.
“When you saw me, just now, and we made eye contact, you liked what you saw, didn’t you?”
She was about to respond, and I knew it would be an egotistic knee jerk response, so I hushed her. “Don’t deny it. Don’t even think about denying it. I know, and you know that, however tiny and insignificant, there was something- A spark of attraction. Wasn’t there?”
She blushed a little, now, and a demure smile curled her brown stained lips. She had a little lipstick on her slightly buck front teeth; this flaw in an otherwise flawless façade made her even more attractive.
“So what if there was,” she said with sass inconsistent with her appearance. She’d let down her guard. “What you’re describing must happen to me two or three times a day. Am I supposed to act on every impulse I have?”
“I didn’t…” I began, but she hushed me, this time.
“No…You wanted to hear the truth, right? So, let me speak,” she said through a seriously playful smile. She knew where she wanted to go with this, now, which was more than I could admit to myself.
“Yes, I didsee you. And, from afar you reminded me of someoneI used to know.” She looked me up-and-down again, slowly though. “He was a tall, bald, fine black Adonis. And, when he put on a suit…woooo baby, stop the presses.”
The way she was appraising me made me feel a little out of sorts.
“But, as I got closer, I realized I was just projecting. And, I realized something else…”
I really liked her, now. Any woman with a working vocabulary that included words like afar and projecting was wife material.
“What’s that?” I said, unsure of where she was going but more than willing to hitch a ride.
“I realized that if I didn’t avert my attention, quick, I might find myself in this situation.”
“What situation? I just wanted to ask you a question. I didn’t…”
“Don’t deny it,” she said, mocking me. “Don’t even think about denying it.”
I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t planned on carrying the conversation this far. I’d discarded my fear of rejection in order to solicit a response to my query. Not to run some game on her because, honestly, I had no game.
There was a certain type of woman that had always had a dizzying effect on me. I called them the NBA. Kwame and I had coined the phrase years ago. It meant the New Black Aesthetic sister, like this amber-eyed beauty before me. Identifying the NBA can be tricky. Any sister could physically look as good, but as soon as they opened their mouths the disparity would become self-evident. There was much more to the NBA than just their intelligence and outward appearance, though. It was in the way they carried themselves, the vibe they put out there. The NBA was blessed with a combination of beauty, intelligence, and a spirituality that was both rare and intimidating. And they all have a little Je ne sais quoi on the side. When I encountered one I knew it because I’d be immediately infatuated and transform into a babbling imbecile. I don’t picture them naked or knelt before me like I do most women. I picture them standing beside me, veiled, in a long white gown with a ten-foot train. I don’t want to sleep with them. I want to breed with them.
This situation with this woman was one I hadn’t encountered in a while. I’d actually approached a woman I thought to be out of my league and been given leeway. What to do, what to say, how to be? Being myself didn’t seem a feasible option. I’d long since given up on trying to approach black women as myself. I feared I would be classified, categorized, and stereotyped, all in a single glance, before I could even open my mouth. And, I hated that with a passion. So I’d decided long ago to focus on fabricating a more attractive self, superficially, in order to attract the caliber of woman I desired. I worked on the pecs, the abs, the wardrobe, the wallet; my outer shell. This tactic backfired, of course, because the women that had come to desire my company I naturally resented because it wasn’t my company they were desired. It was my pecs and abs and clothes or wallet. I’d fuck them, of course, but mostly as punishment for being shallow enough to fall for a shallow façade and for snubbing me previously when I tried to come as myself. It was a vicious cycle.
But, the NBA’s were different. For years I’d only dealt with them vicariously through my boy, Kwame. Kwame Gaines never settled for anything less than stunning, resourceful women. I called him the luckiest motherfucker in the world. He was that guy that women wanted in their sexual portfolios, if only for a night. The one they hadto have. NBA’s would forget they were NBA’s for Kwame. And, it wasn’t so much that he pursued them exclusively. They just seemed to gravitate his way, and he’d have his choice of them and his way with them. That is, until the spell was broken and they’d tire of his trifling. Kwame had a potent and diabolical ability to reduce women to their lowest common denominator. His modus operandi was to lure them in with his build and good looks. Then sell the dream of the two of them building something together. Then, he’d whip them romantically and sexually, uncover their deepest, fondest desires, and then, finally, either abuse their trust or casually discard them in favor of the next pursuer. And, if he was in a particularly malicious mode, he’d take an NBA with an MBA from UVA, twist and convince her that her entrepreneurial ambition and social climbing was just a mask she’d donned in order to hide her deep-seated insecurities about black men and her participation in our ultimate destruction. Kwame didn’t believe this, of course. Not all the time, anyway. But, it was an intellectual challenge for him, having met and overcome all of his sexual and financial challenges long ago. He said he did it for fun, called it psychological sex. But, I knew the real reason. Kwame was your garden variety misogynist, plain and simple.
I stood before this beautiful creature unable to contrive a single thought, so I let impulse take over.
“What’s your name?”
She grinned, knowingly, and said, “Zola,” with a Brooklyn accent I hadn’t noticed before. I played with the pronunciation in my head. Zola. Zola. Zola.
I wanted to say Shaquan, or rename myself on the spot. I hated the name Kevin. I never felt it suited me- too commonplace, too plain, too damn European and meaningless. Whenever I introduced myself as Kevin Jackson to someone significant I’d feel like I was lying, like it was my working title, a work in progress. But, I was stuck with it for the time being, so…
“Kevin,” I said, with very little enthusiasm.
“Well. Kevin…” she said looking at her watch and then back at me like, It’s been real. “I gotta run. Maybe I’ll see you, again.”
It wasn’t quite a brush-off. Not a perennial one, anyway. Say something, Kevin. Don’t let it go at that. Speak up. But, everything that came to my mind sounded like game:
Here’s my business card…call me.
You gotta card?
What’s your number?
Where do you work?
I’d like to see you, again.
How about meeting me at Nubia after work? Yeah!
“How about meeting me at Nubia after work?” I asked. I was meeting Kwame there that night, anyway. There wasn’t a black person in the city that hadn’t heard of Nubia. Not hip, anyway. And, Zola was nothing if not hip.
“That’s sounds good to me. I’ll see you about seven?”
“I’ll be the bar. I mean, at the bar.” Stupid. Now she’ll think I’m a barfly.
“Well, OK then. I’ll see you tonight,” she said, an unsung promise in her smile.
“Alright, cool, great, wonderful…” Then, with my best French accent, I said, “Superfantastique.”
Zola laughed as she walked away, glancing back at me every few paces. I didn’t move a muscle until she was out of sight.
Coming soon- Chapter 6: This is Kevin
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