The plot thickens
|Creature's Comfort--Part II
Nyanla ambled listlessly up the sidewalk that led to Lois Mitchell’s apartment, four doors down. The carriage of a death row inmate taking his final walk wouldn’t have seemed more piteous. This morning, the bruise on her face exacerbated the daily embarrassment of having to wear old-fashioned, used clothes to school. She turned into the breezeway that dead ended at Lois’ front door and knocked. The cold metal door, an exact replica of all the other doors in the Culver Gardens project, opened on Ms. Mitchell’s sunlit face.
“Good morning, Nyanla,” she chimed. Not waiting for a reply, Ms. Mitchell left the door ajar for Nyanla then darted away into the kitchen. The smell of burnt bacon wafted through the air. Nyanla seated herself on the plastic covered floral sofa in the living room.
“Lois’ll be downstairs in a minute,” Ms. Mitchell announced from the kitchen.”
Nyanla was relieved that Ms. Mitchell’s bacon crisis had created a distraction so that she hadn’t noticed “it.” As she waited pensively, she admired the bright, colorful living room set that Lois said came from the Rent-A-Room furniture store. She caressed the room with her eyes – decorative pictures and family photos on the wall, fancy throw rugs, sheer yellow curtains, shiny ceramic vases with fake bouquets in them and other assorted whatnots placed here and there. The Mitchells' apartment was so different from theirs with its empty puke green walls, bland off-white window shades minus curtains, scratched-up tables and chairs from the Goodwill, and a raggedy, stained sofa with springs and cotton spilling out through multiple tears.
The apartment she lived in reminded her of the hobo campsite she and Lois had happened upon on one of their excursions through the woods behind the project. But even this campsite portrayed a subtle beauty and sense of pride in the way it sat high upon a verdant mound of earth. It seemed as if its occupant had taken special care to purposely choose this spot, forsaking the flat, trampled terrain around it.
Nyanla’s eyes continued to sweep the room from one thing to the next until something on the polished dining room table snagged her attention. There on the corner of the table for six, speckled with itsy-bitsy pink and lavender rosebuds, sat a roll of paper towels. A warm feeling flooded her the way it always did whenever she saw paper towels in a home. Paper towels made her feel like she was in a real home where someone cared enough to provide something just for comfort and convenience. Something other than the things her mother constantly accused her of not be grateful for – food, clothes, and a bed to sleep in.
Her paper towel-induced utopia was dispelled by the ruckus of Lois pummeling down the stairs shouting the morning reveille to Nyanla as she came.
“We got five minutes to get to the bus stop, Ny. Let’s go!”
Nyanla sprang from the rented sofa like a jack-in-the-box and made a jaunt for the door. The moment she stepped into the foyer, Lois came barreling from the staircase and rammed into her shoving her into the metal door. After giving Nyanla a look over for blood or broken bones and finding none, Lois started cackling uncontrollably. Her silliness and her goofy laugh made Nyanla crack up too. Even in her melancholy she couldn’t resist Lois’ uncanny ability to make her laugh. They finally gathered their wits and bolted out the door. As they made their bumbling exit, Lois called out, “I don’t have time to eat, Ma. See ya’ later.”
The girls took off in a feverish sprint, backpacks and pocketbooks swinging to and fro, until they rounded a corner and saw the other children still standing at the bus stop. Downshifting to quick, brisk steps, Lois’ nonstop prattle kept pace with their unrelenting stride. Lois always talked like an automatic weapon firing. Her squeaky voice and petite size had earned her the nickname “Lil’ Bit.” A nickname in Culver Gardens meant you were an accepted member of the neighborhood clan. Nyanla’s love of books and learning had shaped her differently from her peers in Culver Gardens. Never would she make the roster of nicknames and become a validated member of this informal society. However, she and Lois had one friend that had dubbed her oddly enough, “Creature.” Not like the big, ugly, scary kind made in Hollywood movies, he said; but the precious, gentle ones made by nature, like a rabbit or a bird.
Nyanla made sure Lois remained positioned at her left as they walked to conceal the discoloration on the right side of her face. She didn’t want to talk about the events of the morning just yet. Her mind was a hodgepodge of thoughts stewing in their own juices, and she wasn’t quite ready to go spooning around in the pot. Lois carried the stage with an animated monologue that required only minimal participation from Nyanla -- a well-placed "uh huh" or a superficial chuckle here and there. They continued like this until the stew in Nyanla's head came to a silent boil and erupted.
She blurted “I can’t take it anymore, Lois!” at the same time that Lois spotted the bus and yelled, “Run, the bus is here!”
Their travel mates were already queued to board the school bus, so they took their places at the rear of the line. When it was their turn to climb the three steps into the bus, Nyanla stayed so close on Lois’ heels that they seemed tethered. She kept her head down and no one noticed the shameful imprint of her mother’s hand. They slid into the seat immediately behind, and catty-corner to the driver. Heaving and panting from their exertion to make the bus, Lois turned to Nyanla and asked breathily, “What's wrong, Ny?”
Nyanla turned her face so that the bruise was visible to Lois. Lois’ jaw dropped as if a spring had broken and it had come unhinged. The brain impulses needed to shut her mouth were busy trying to reconcile dark shades of red and purple where they should not be.
A half whispered, half spoken, “That crazy bitch!”
Nyanla's head fell forward the way the heads of newborn baby’s do before they’re strong enough to hold them up. A deluge of tears raining down her cheeks spoke for her. Lois put her arm around Nyanla and pulled her wobbly head onto her shoulder to let her cry.
"Ny, this is getting worse," is all she said.
Lois thought back to the time last summer when Nyanla wore long sleeves and pants instead of shorts and t-shirts like all the other kids, trying to hide the evidence of Beatrice Brown's cruelty. Nyanla had run away and her grandmother took her to the police to report the abuse. The police went and talked to Beatrice Brown but told Nyanla she could either go back home or go to juvenile detention. That night Beatrice Brown threatened Nyanla with a knife and told her she would cut her goddamned tongue out if she ever told another soul what goes on in her house.
Lois’ arm was still wrapped around her beloved friend when Danny Boy, the neighborhood clownster, piped up from the back of the bus.
“Hey ya’ll, look at those two bull dykes up there all hugged up!”
Everybody on the bus started laughing and whooping it up real bad. Pint-sized, but gutsy, Lois whipped around and looked at Danny Boy like arrows might shoot out of her eyes, but instead they came flying out of her mouth.
“Shut up, Dummy Boy! Why you talkin’ ‘bout bull dykes anyway? Yo’ mama ain’t on this bus!”
A even louder waved of laughter filled the bus. Danny Boy, knowing he had been slammed on, tucked his tail between his legs and started sniffing for other prey. Petie Jones walked right into his trap when he yelled, “Ah hah, Danny Boy. Lil’ Bit busted you up!” Petie looked like a choice cut of prime rib to Danny Boy and he was about to take a bite.
Lois turned back to the front of the bus and was getting wound up on a tirade about how stupid Danny Boy was and how his mama probably was – when Nyanla interrupted her.
“Lois, do you remember one of the times we were talking to Prophet at his place in the woods when my eye was all blood shot and swollen?”
“Uh huh, I remember.”
“Remember what he said when you asked him why he had set his camp high up on that mound?”
“Yeah. Somethin’ crazy ‘bout how everything climbs higher to survive.”
“Well actually, his exact words were, ‘There comes a time when all God’s creatures have to climb to higher ground for the sake of survival.’ Prophet don’t ever say nothin’ for nothin' even if you don’t quite get what he’s saying right away. When he said that he was answering your question but looking dead at me into my one good eye. And ever since that fool drew that knife on me I been thinking about what Prophet said. I think he was talking about me, and I think the time he was talking about has come.
Lois’ eyes glazed over as if she was seeing and hearing that day in the woods for the first time. You could almost hear the switch come on when she exclaimed, “Yeah, and that was when he first started calling you Creature!”
Nyanla replied, “Yep.”