| Creature's Comfort -- Part III
Tiki and Junie came home from school and pulled their schoolwork from their backpacks before their sister even asked to see it. Nyanla hardly glanced at the offerings they placed on the altar for their goddess’ good graces. Junie shoved his spelling test right up to her nose, proudly displaying the gold star he earned for getting all the words right.
“That’s good Junie,” was all she managed to say. She didn’t pick him up and plant a gazillion sloppy kisses all over his face and have him wiggling around like Jell-O, and put his paper on the wall with all the others. That’s the kind of thing she would have normally done.
Like everyday, Tiki was jabbering a mile a minute about what happened at school that day with Anthony, the boy she liked in her class. She was going through all the juicy details because Nyanla always wanted to hear everything. She told her older sister how Anthony had embarrassed her by bringing her a cookie from the cafeteria, then getting down on one knee at her desk in front of the whole class and saying, “Sweetheart, would you eat my cookie?” Nyanla just answered, “Ahh, that’s sweet.” At least that's what her mouth said. Tiki could tell her heart didn’t have a thing to do with it.
Tiki had never seen Nyanla so distant and far away and it frightened her. When it was time to go to bed she didn’t want to leave her sister’s side. She leaned against the doorframe of Nyanla’s bedroom and asked, “Ny, can I sleep in your room with you tonight?”
Nyanla answered, “No,” without even glancing up at Tiki. She just kept right on folding the clothes on her lap, taking great pains to turn each piece into the tightest, smallest parcel she could, then stuffing it into a brown paper bag from the A&P grocery store.
“Why not?" Tiki asked. You always let us sleep with you when it’s raining so we won’t be scared.”
“Because Junie is already asleep in his bed and he’ll be scared in there by himself. Besides, it’s not raining that much.”
Tiki didn't understand why her sister was being so mean. She just knew that her insides felt as if someone had moved everything around and put things back in the wrong place. Just as she was about to sulk off, Nyanla glanced up at the pitiful picture she posed standing there.
“Tiki, come ‘ere.”
Tiki wanted to run to her bawling, but instead she sauntered over to her sister, nonchalantly. She had already used her wild card for one babyish act today and wasn’t about to play another. They were both going to great extremes to hide the holes in their armor – Tiki trying to be a big girl and not let this feeling make her cry; Nyanla, trying to hide the pain of knowing her heart was about to be ripped from her chest and left in apartment #221 at the Culver Gardens project. In spite of all their posturing, when Tiki walked into her sisters arms, they both wailed like there was no tomorrow – each for her own reasons, and neither knowing the others.
After a few moments, Tiki stepped back arms length from her sister and looked her square in the eyes. Then suddenly proving herself to be the big girl she had been trying to be, she asked matter of factly, “Ny, you’re leaving aren’t you?”
Nyanla stared at this alien who stood in place of what used to be her baby sister in awe of the strength she saw. She explained to Tiki that as much as she loved her and Junie she had to leave.
Tiki listened, and although there was a voice in her screaming, No! You can’t go!, there was another one – one she had just found that had the maturity and gumption to understand. She let her tears flow freely because it doesn’t make you a baby if you cry for a reason and you know what it is.
By the time Nyanla finished packing, the rain had stopped, but a hard wind had begun to blow. The digital clock radio showed the hour and minute as 11:17. When Beatrice Brown worked the night shift Nyanla knew she usually arrived home between 11:30 and 11:45 p.m. She wouldn't leave until she got there so Tiki and Junie wouldn’t be left alone.
In the bathroom, on the back of the commode Beatrice Brown kept a Maxwell House coffee can where she stored grooming items along with packets of soap, band aids, and lotion that she took from the hospital. Nyanla stood on the edge of the bathtub while Tiki handed her a fingernail file from the can. She used it to remove the screws securing the screen to the window frame. Tiki picked up the bulging bag leaning against the pink tiled wall and hoisted it into Nyanla’s poised hands. The makeshift luggage made an easy escape through the roll-out panes. Nyanla peeped out of the window to see how her cargo had fared the two-story drop. Below the window, a silhouetted form, coattails flapping at the calves, retrieved the bag and the few pieces that lay strewn across the wet, patchy grass.
Eleven twenty. Nyanla and Tiki sat knee to knee, one on the side of the tub, the other on the lid of the commode. The big sister instructed the little sister on how to make the oatmeal she and Junie loved -- how long to let it cook; how much brown sugar, and how much Carnation milk to add. The digital clock radio was passed on to Tiki now since she would have to learn to get her and Junie up for school. Nyanla told her she could look at it whenever she missed her and know the time was passing until they would see each other again.
Eleven twenty eight. They hugged each other and then walked across the hall together. Junie’s raspy snore almost started Nyanla to crying again as she brushed his cheek with a light, feathery kiss, so as not to wake him. Tiki passed her own twin bed and crawled into bed with her brother, cleaving spoon-fashioned to his languid, sleeping body.
Eleven thirty two. In the bathroom, with the door closed and locked, Nyanla turned on the bathtub faucet and waited with her ear pressed to the door. Three minutes passed before she heard the muffled noise of the metal door slamming downstairs. Perched on the edge of the bathtub she lifted one leg up and through the window…
“Nyanla, get up and clean this damn house! I’m gonna whup your…”
…then the other leg.
She shimmied her thin body through the narrow opening between the panes, carefully avoiding the sharp metal edges, then let go.
The coat-draped, silhouetted figure helped her to her feet and planted the bag squarely in her hands. They walked along the rear side of the apartments with the wet grass making squishy sounds under their sneakered feet. When they reached the backside of Lois Mitchell’s apartment, Nyanla tilted her head to look at an upstairs window. There was Lois’ face, illumined by her bedroom light, watching and waiting. She called down to Nyanla in a hushed voice, “Call me and let me know you’re all right.” Nyanla promised she would and Lois promised her she'd look out for Tiki and Junie.
The light from the window cast down a beam that enshrined Nyanla and her companion who was no longer veiled in darkness. His unkempt beard and tattered coat had collected beads of rain. The raindrops reflected in the light like so many fine jewels adorning him. He pressed an envelope with a Greyhound emblem on it into Nyanla’s palm, then removed his coat and laid it across her shoulders. Then Prophet turned in the direction of the woods, muttering to himself as he went, “Keep climbin’, Creature. Keep climbin’.”