The first thing I noticed about the boys was their eyes. Not their dark-skinned chests, arms glistening with moisture in the beach sun. Not the gold or silver teeth that winked in their smiles. Not the strange gold chains that hung around their necks, resting upon them as if they were royalty. Not even the big black fins that stretched out where their legs would have been, their scales glistening like onyx.
No. It was their eyes that drew me. So world-weary, as if they saw their future as men, and it made them men.
One of them looked at me, as if he was willing to pass that knowledge of the world into me.
We weren’t supposed to be here long. Grandma’s house and the beach is fine for a couple days, but a couple of weeks? That’s overstaying our welcome, as my Mom would say.
But Grandma would hear none of it. “What ya’ll got to eat in New York, huh? The girl ain’t got school for another month. Stay here.”
And thinking of our mundane food shopping and how much I hate her ‘frugal meal plans’, Mom agrees. Besides, staying at Grandma’s house is easier. We always have a little more money in our pockets, we have a car, and we have the beach.
I also have my friend, Charlotte.
Golden skinned with dimples and short curls that looked like a garden of the letter S had grown up and out of her head, Charlotte had grown a cup size and was ready to show it off with her bikini.
They are no match for mine but I don’t say that, because I don’t need to.
“Tell me again how you got them so big,” she says to me, as she drives us to the beach.
“It’s my aunt,” I say. “Genetics.” Most likely all the processed food I ate growing up, but I don’t say that, either. Charlotte would go to McDonald’s every day if it meant making her body juicier for guys.
She’s not unattractive—she works out her thin coke-bottle figure, for firm thighs and a perky butt. Wears makeup, crop tops and shirts that you can see through to her candy colored bras.
We arrive at the beach, and travel through the cartoon beach towels, pastel umbrellas, stiff light beach chairs. Adults in A-shirts and bikinis too tight for them, children with sand caked all over them. We were too scared to go sit where the other teenagers go last year, but this time we’re older, braver. We follow the path down near the water where younger girls with too-tight bikinis and bare-chested guys dance, chase each other around, and squirt water from oversized nerf guns.
“What about here?” Charlotte asks about a small patch of space in between two girls. But we keep walking. We’re talking about school. College. Our weird Moms. But our feet lead us through the teens, deeper into the beach.
We don’t know where we are going, but we do.
The sand grows darker, rougher. A cavern is up ahead of us, something I never noticed before because of how small it is. Two girls walk towards us, laughing, giggling, their fingers touching their lips or their cheeks. They rub the back of their thighs.
“Let’s go back,” Charlotte says. But we don’t. Not until we walk between the land and the ocean, not until we hear the laughter, the music, the small crashes of waves. Not until we walk into the mouth of the cave and we see the five of them, all laid out on the rocks while girls camp around them on the rock and in the water, their little umbrellas and blankets tossed on the few dry spots of the cave.
Their hair is thick and wild, their laughs glittering with gold and silver teeth. One of the girls has a radio, and they’re bumping to Fetty Wap’s latest, the music we blared on the way here.
One of them, with a huge belly and a ring on his nipple, notices us standing and staring. “Aye, Okon. Looks like we got some new ones.”
The other three look at us, smiling, assessing. I’m drawn to the one with the widest shoulders, his locs short but splayed all out, like the rays of the sun. I watch him watch me, as Charlotte giggles out a “Hey.”
“Come sit, ladies, come sit. Plenty of room.” This one has at least three battered gold chains around his neck, his locs short and spiky. He spreads his hand littered with rings to a sandy spot nearest to him, against the cave wall.
Charlotte and I set up our camp near the rock he’s splayed on. “We’re about to have a dance contest. Any of y’all know how to Dutty Wine?”
Charlotte looks at me, smiling but confused.
“Maybe,” I say to him. “Isn’t that old?”
He nods. “It is, it is. We don’t come up but every so often. They know how to do it, though.”
He points to the girls that stand on a rock in front of us all, their backs arched, knees bent and hips rolling along with their heads.
“Oh, that thing,” Charlotte frowns. “Who would wanna know how to do that?”
“You,” I say.
She shoots me a look; I’m messing up her game. “There are other things I can do.”
“Oh really?” He smiles with thick lips. “Come up here and tell me.”
Charlotte scrambles up the rock and takes his hands, where he leads her to his black, scaled lap, wrapping one arm around her back and another with his hand on her belly. “Damn, Okon, you right. These girls are skinny.”
Okon laughs, the one with the hair like the sun. “I told you, man. Girls are skinny.”
“How else are we supposed to be?” I ask him, over the music. There are a few girls scattered in between us.
He smiles at me, then says, “Aka, why don’t you tell him how women are.”
Aka, the big one, sighs. “The women.”
“The Big Mamas!” two other boys cheer.
“Women are big,” he begins. “Bigger than you,” he says to the girl in his lap, kissing her on the cheek.
“With big boobs and bellies.” One of them reaches over and tickles a girl in between her childish breasts. She laughs and swats him away.
“Obviously, those women are no match for me,” the girl in Aka’s lap says, then whispers in his ear.
He grins, turns to the boys and says, “We’re going under.”
The girl hops off his lap, and into the water. Aka flips backward into the water, his fin arcing through the air before it whaps against the water.
The other girls smile.
“What’s under?” Charlotte asks her boy.
He caresses her cheek. “Our way of showing you a good time.”
The Dutty Wine contest continues, until someone’s iPod accidentally switches to a soca song. More girls get up and the contest becomes a dance party.
I watch the boys watch the winding waists, the popping behinds, the way the fabric of bikinis and one pieces stretches and loosens, trying to control the writhing bodies within.
Charlotte’s boy encourages her with a pat on her behind to go dance for him, but she looks at me, asking if I would go too.
“I’m fine, go ahead. You keep telling me how you learned how to dance this year, now do it.”
She squirms in his lap, whining in a squeaky voice how nervous she is.
I turn to see Okon, staring at me.
I smirk, and make my way over to his rock. He takes my hand, pulls me into his lap.
I know Charlotte has no reason not to dance now. I also know the other girls are watching me, envious that I stole a pair of eyes from their seduction.
I smile into Okon’s face. Touch the scar on his cheek. “What happened here?”
He has one silver molar. “Rite of passage.”
“Some sort of scarring thing?”
“Spear fight. All the boys have to do it, to become men.”
I look at the other ones. “How come only you have a scar?”
One of the other boys leans into our conversation. “’Cause he had to fight the baddest of them all.”
Okon’s eyes are only on mine. “I had to fight my Moms. The others only fought other warriors of our tribe.”
“What about your father?”
“That happens later.”
He doesn’t sound like the others. All of them have a strange sound under their voices, but he speaks differently, the sound ringing truer in his. They all sound like music, like base bumping trap, but his is the deeper stuff, the beats that lull me to sleep, beats and voices and words that slip under me and touch me.
I’m home now. I’m thinking of Aka and the girl and how she sparkled after they came out of the water together, like the ocean was stuck to her skin and lips. I am wondering what happened in the water when I walk into the kitchen.
A man is sitting across from my Mom. She looks at me, stunned, her hair still under her scarf, her usual t-shirt and shorts look.
The man turns to me, handsome with a bald head, and with a drawl smiles at me.
He looks back at my mom, and stands up. “I should be going. Nice seeing you again.”
“You too.” My mom’s reply is drowned by her taking a sip of her coffee.
I smile at the handsome man, then look at my mom.
“Devante. A childhood friend.” She waves her words away with her hand. “How was the beach?”
“Fun. I think I should have stayed longer.”
She hears the teasing in my voice. “That’s just Devante. Old school friend. He was inviting me to the high school reunion.”
“Charlotte said her Mom’s going to that.”
“And you should go too,” Grandma says, walking out from the living room. She grabs her cup of coffee from the table. “Lord knows how long it’s been since everyone seen you last.”
“Devante was here,” I say, keeping my eyes on Mom.
Grandma’s face lights up. “Really? He came to see you?” she asks Mom.
Mom squirms. “Just stopped by to say hey. Nothing really.”
“You know he single?”
“You know we gotta get more toilet paper?” Mom is the deflection queen.
“You should go with him,” I say. “He’d make a hot date.”
Mom’s eyes widen at my comment and I laugh. “Stop it. Don’t talk like that.”
I keep laughing. “What? You’re more old-timey than grandma.”
Grandma nods. “The girl’s right. What you afraid of? One date night wouldn’t be bad. You’ll be with all your friends at the school anyway, so if he tries anything funny—”
“I’m grabbing toilet paper from Steven’s,” she says, then mumbles some things under her breath like “whatever” and “friends”.
She stops and turns to me before walking out the kitchen. “Did you clean the tub like I asked?”
“Please, could you just—”
“I’ll do it, don’t worry.”
She sighs, the one that prickles my skin, the one that’s frustrated with me.
So I frustrate her. “I’ll go get the toilet paper, and if I run into Devante, I’ll let him know you wanna go with him.”
She rolls her eyes, and walks out the door.
“Who is he, anyway?” I ask grandma. I start playing with her long, black hair in its two braids. “I’ve never seen her this riled up before.”
Grandma shakes her head. “That’s for your Mama to tell you, not me.”
Which means I’ll never know.
Stupid Charlotte went ahead to the beach before me. I don’t dislike driving but I don’t want to worry about parking.
“Bye, baby,” Grandma says from the living room.
“Watch out for them boys.”
The drive isn’t long to the beach, but the parking overlooking the boardwalk sucks. I squeeze the car into a parking spot and barely squeeze out the door when I see the handsome bald man coming out of his car.
“Hey,” Devante smiles at me. “How you doing?”
“About to enjoy the beach,” I smile back. How can mom resist this guy? He’s fine in his airy white shirt with his brown skin. And he’s tall. “What about you?”
“Just handling some business with the boardwalk vendors.” He shrugs, then a few seconds later, “How’s your mama?”
I shrug. “She’s out with her friend, running some errand. Hiding,” I add.
“She always kept herself busy,” he says.
There’s a pause before he pulls out his wallet.
He hands me a picture from it. The woman is beautiful. Long, wavy curly hair down to her butt, she has her back turned from the camera, but her head is looking back at it, smiling, laughing, while she holds a bucket in her hands. The dress she has on is like a rosy wind that decided to dance around her forever. It takes me a moment to notice that she’s on this beach.
“We were collecting stones for some project for the after-school program,” he says, then sighs. “Looked so pretty even while she was working.”
She was. So ignorantly beautiful. I hand the picture back to him, though I don’t want to.
“She should come to the high school reunion,” he says. “Could you convince her for me? Think it would do a whole ’lotta good for her to see everyone again.”
“I will,” I say, and I watch him get in his Mercedes and drive away, thinking of the woman in the picture and how effortlessly powerful she was, and how Devante and the reunion might bring her back.
The cove is littered with gifts.
Lockets litter the dark sand, piles of silver and gold strings. My toes touch the hot metal as I walk through, passing name plates like Shenequa and Tatiana and Terri. iPod Ones, iPod Nanos, watches. Dark bottles of cologne, half used (Could you pass me that, Unwana asks about the blocky Tommy Hilfiger bottle from the nineties).
Records are here and there. CDs. Amerie’s face is smudged from my sweaty thumb, and her All I Have CD case matches the others that were probably dug up from overfilled boxes; scratched, dusty, grimy from being taken everywhere. I worry that Okon won’t know which gift is mine, but he will. He says he does.
“So don’t tell me which one is like your heart, lil’ mama,” he says to me, as I sit in his lap again, his hand on my belly. His rough scales feel so good against my skin.
“Unwana, you got the spears?” Aka is the loudest of all the boys. He reaches his hand up towards Unwana.
Unwana holds onto Charlotte’s waist and leans over to his side. He pulls out this black spear that looks like it was made from rock.
He tosses it to Aka. The girls squeal, watching it sing through the air and heavily land in Aka's grasp.
“Hey,” I shout to Charlotte. “What happened? You were supposed to pick me up.”
She ignores me.
“C’mon y’all, you gotta make up. ’Cause I wanna fight,” Unwana taps Charlotte and she slides off him and into the water.
Unwana picks up another spear that I’m pretty sure is made from coral.
“Let’s go, boy.” Aka bares his teeth at him. “I’ve been ready to fight with you!”
Both boys slide into the water, moving towards the entrance, keeping their eyes on each other as their upper bodies pace through the water, the spears in their left hands.
Aka strikes first, and it’s fast, but Unwana blocks him.
“Hey!” I grab her attention again, and she starts wading towards me. “Why the attitude?”
“Don’t act like you don’t know why.”
I don’t wanna leave Okon, but I climb off him and wade next to her.
“You called me a bitch.”
“That’s because you wouldn’t shut up about Unwana and all the secrets of their people he told you, and then when I asked, you wouldn’t tell me.” I shrug, then sigh. “You were being one, you know.”
She looks away.
“I’m sorry. I just wanna know what he told you. Okay? Will you give me that?”
“You’re lucky I’m your best friend.”
You’re lucky that I don’t—
She leads me towards the sandy end of the cove towards all the gifts.
“They’re never here at night. Know why?”
“’Cause it’s dark? ’Cause we’re not here?”
She whispers. “They get legs.”
I don’t respond.
“Crazy, right? Their people probably afraid they gone run off with us if they stay.”
I look back at the boys fighting. I look back at Okon, who found an iPod to listen to.
“Thanks,” I smile at her, then head back to Okon.
“You’re not gonna fight?” I ask, as I climb up and almost slip on the wet rock. He takes my hand, then uses the other to pull out his earbuds. I think I can hear Kendrick.
“Nah. I don’t fight unless I need to.”
I smile. “So noble.”
“Fighting is serious. It’s not fun, a thing you just do when you bored.”
“So when do you fight?”
“For territory. For when—” the words roll around in his mouth. “For when ... ” he shakes his head. “Can’t say it. We can’t speak our language here.”
“Our words don’t work here.”
I lean my head on his shoulder. “I wanna hear them. Speak them to me.”
He looks at me, grins. “I’mma have to take you under for that. You ready?”
I smirk, climb off the rock and splash into the water. The boys are still playing with their spears. I look at Okon, expectantly.
He laughs, and it’s loud. The other girls turn towards us. He acts like he only notices me while he makes a small dive into the water, splashing me, but I know he’s keeping his eyes on the other girls, watching their envy.
I know because I do it too, while I laugh at the spray of water that hits my face. I gasp when I feel his hands wrap around my waist, and his fin, with scales softened by the water, bump against me from behind.
“Ready, mama?” he asks, and he doesn’t wait for my reply before pulling me down into the water with him.
It is strange. I thought the water was shallow here, I thought my feet were touching the pebbles and sand. But he holds onto me, and I keep my eyes open as he pushes us through the water and out into the ocean.
He slows down and we stop. He turns me from my side to facing him, and that’s when I notice how deep we are.
Everything is blue around us. The sun trickles in. I see fish glittering in the distance.
He smiles at me. We are too deep for me to feel the pressure for me to rise up, to go to the surface. I’m floating in cool water, with his hands around my waist and mine pressed against his fin.
Okon opens his mouth, speaks. It’s the beat to the beginning of a song, a base, a rhythm that I want to hear over and over again. He laughs when he sees my face of awe, and I smile, and my mouth opens a little and I remember I need to breathe.
His lips careen into mine, and the breath that I forgot I was holding is taken away.
I jerk. I’m scared for a split moment, of losing that breath, of all the water that surrounds me, overwhelming me and entering me, but he holds it. His lips, his mouth, give me what I need to stay down there, with him. To stay against his hard body and gentle lips that speak music to my heart.
I wrap my legs around his waist, locking his fin against me. He makes a noise as my fingers run through his locs, soft and springy in the water.
His hands grab my butt and I finally get excited but I feel him guiding me sideways, propelling us back the way we came, back into the cove.
He pushes me up into the water and I open my mouth and grasp air again, and cough.
“What y’all been doing down there, huh?” Unwana teases. Charlotte is at his side, and another girl, staring unhappily at Charlotte.
“What you think?” Okon says, popping up against me, kissing me on the cheek before swimming back to his rock. I see the other boys on their rocks with their girls watching me, smiling, whistling.
“Mama, you shining!” Aka teases. “Okon must’a done a number on you.”
I smile, climb up back onto my spot on the rock, but see that Okon has popped his iPod back on, listening.
He doesn’t talk to me the rest of the day. I dance with the girls, I touch Aka’s spear, try to grasp it in my hand.
“You almost got it.” Aka grins at me, eyeing my lips. I smile up at him, look back at Okon, who watches, but looks away.
I walk away from Aka and wade to Okon. I straddle his fin, reach over and pull out his earbuds.
He chuckles. “You got my attention.”
“Why did I need to get it in the first place?” I ask. “What’s up?”
He shrugs. “Nothing.”
“Tell me.” I lean into his face, kiss him.
“Aight, aight,” he says, after I tug on his lip with my teeth. He sits up and grabs my waist. “It’s just … you didn’t look like you liked it as much … you know.”
“I did like it,” I say. “It was over too fast.”
He sucks his teeth, looks away. “Girl, that’s the longest I ever brought anyone down there. You coulda died.”
“Then,” I say, “How about you make it up for me by staying tomorrow all day …” I kiss his earlobe, “and all night.” I kiss his other earlobe.
He sighs. “You makin’ it real hard for me, Mama.”
I cough again.
“Aight, fine. We can make it a party so everybody can come. How about that?” He nudges me aside. He shouts out, “Party tomorrow night. Everybody come.”
Unwana almost drops his spear. “Tomorrow? Night? Okon, you know—”
“I know what I said, and I said we having a party tomorrow night. Unless y’all want your girls out here only having me to party with, I suggest you come too.”
“Course we in there!” Aka shouts.
I kiss Okon on the cheek. “You won’t regret it.”
I’m in the car, coughing. The air is still dry and annoying. Charlotte is driving too fast with her top down, shouting about how lit tomorrow is gonna be and how she’s gonna wear her favorite pink wrap without her bra so you could see her nipples. I calm her down by reminding her that this could have happened sooner if she told me what Unwana said the first time.
“Whatever. It’s happening now.”
I walk into the house to see a girl in her chair and three other women across from her on the couch. She’s smiling down at a book. Her hair is out of its braid and wavy, framing her face like in Devante’s picture.
She looks up at me. It’s Mom.
“Is that her?” One of the friends, with a long straight weave and tips, gawks at me. “She is so beautiful! Nice to meet you, honey!”
I’m not able to greet because the other women ignore me and turn back to Mom. “So you coming tomorrow night, right?”
Mom nods. Smiles shyly.
The women squeal.
“Finally got you to come to something while you’re here. You gonna have such a good time, you won’t regret it!”
The women leave off in a flurry. I look back at them, then at Mom, who starts packing the book away. “Friends?”
“You could say that.”
“What’s in the book?”
She shoves it in a box. “Memories. Nothing.”
“Me and Charlotte wanna go see a movie tomorrow night.”
She nods, paces.
I watch her. “What’s up with you?”
“Nothing. I just ... don’t know what to wear, how to do my hair ...”
“How about leaving your hair like that? Just out?”
She touched it, nods. Bites her lip. “I think I still got that dress,” she smiles to herself, nods again, her eyes browner and wider. Lighter. “Yeah, right in the closet.” She floats away from me.
Grandma passes Mom as she walks into the living room, unnoticed.
Grandma sees my confusion. “She ain’t walk like that in years. That’s what Devante will do to you. Make you like a girl again.”
“He was over?”
“Well,” Grandma flips back her hair, braided by me. “I needed some flax seeds, and you know the natural food place is over in Greenville. You had the car, your Mama was busy keeping her books ... so I asked him if he could pick up the seeds for me.”
I grin at Grandma.
“So he came over. She was so mad at me, but when he asked to talk, she listened.” Grandma looks past me, smiling. “She finally listened.”
So the next morning Mom is running around the house, getting ready. More people stop by, other women and men who knew Mom when she grew up here. They smile at me briefly, then ask for her. They would catch a glimpse of her briefly walking from the kitchen to the stairway and their eyes would light up when she stopped, hair all disheveled, a pencil in her mouth and papers in her hand. They’re seeing that powerful girl.
I see her again when Mom puts her dress on. It’s an old piece, a pale blue A-line dress that fits her perfectly.
“You look great,” I say to her, as she fluffs out her hair in the room, the curls dark and defined. She tosses her hair over her shoulder, picks up her purse. She smiles at me and I tell her, “Have a great time.”
“I will.” She smiles at me, so different from Mom’s smile, so inviting and open. “Okay. I’ll be back tonight!”
It’s not long after she leaves that Charlotte pulls up. I tell Grandma that I’ll be back soon. She just nods and continues to talk to her friend over the phone, telling her “it’s finally happening” and “I think she’s back.”
There are bags full of snacks and probably alcohol in the back seat.
“My Mom had some stuff hidden in the cabinet,” Charlotte grins at me. “Aren’t you excited? This’ll be the hottest party of the summer!”
The sun has already gone down but it left a residue, making the sky violet and pink.
That doesn’t stop the boys. Their skin still glistens while they crawl out of the water and onto the shore, completely naked. The other girls squeal, seeing things they’ve never seen before. But none run away. All watch the boys as their hard bodies and long, lanky legs flop onto the sand. Okon crawls his way over to me, turns over and laughs. He sighs, then looks up at me. “Can I have some help?”
They get legs, but they act silly. No need for them to drink. After Okon gets his bearings, he tackles me and tickles me. One of the girls puts the music on and another lights a bonfire. Two boys try to dougie but it looks more like wimpy swimming strokes. They all do it then, laughing.
We laugh too, their vulnerability adorable.
There’s more dancing as the night sky darkens and the ocean crashes onto the shore. I leave Okon and join the girls that dance around the fire. He stands back with the other boys, too afraid of the flame but eager to watch us. An old one, Tempted To Touch, comes on and we all get excited.
We sing the words, even knowing what they truly mean; we dance, knowing that we deeply care about how big our behind is, how perky our breasts are. How our body parts can seduce and confuse and incite anything. We learn about the issues behind this, shake our heads at the rappers and the vixens who grind on them, but in our rooms, we listen, we learn, and in the darkness of the parties we dance and sing the words with all our hearts, because we want them all to look at us like that. Like we’re everything.
And they do. I see it in Okon’s eyes as I saunter over to him. He kisses me, I take his hand, and we walk away from the other naked boys and half naked girls and find a dark spot behind a rock.
I lean against the rock, knowing that the light of the fire will allow Okon to see me untie my bikini top and let it drop in my lap, my breasts hanging out.
He laughs, buries his head between them, mumbles, “That’s it, mama.”
I see that he’s excited. I lead his kissing from my breasts to my lips.
I can still hear the music. I can still hear the ocean crashing against the shore, far enough to not be a threat. I watch Okon’s face twist in pleasure as I climb on top of him, feel him ready under me.
Yes. This is it. I can hear my heart pound in my ears as my thumbs dig into the back of my bikini bottom, tugging down, and—
He pushes me back. My half-naked behind lands on the cold sand.
Then I hear him. “What are you doing to me?”
I see the fear in his eyes. I see it in the way he breathes, the way he curls up, hugging his legs to his chest.
I chuckle. “What do you mean?”
“You—you …” He gets up, sways. Stares at me with a coldness I’ve never seen before. Begins to lumber towards the water.
Me, me. That’s all I’m left with after he jumps into the water.
I go back to the party, at all the boys dancing naked, chasing girls, tackling them. Children, playing with children. I’m almost angry that I didn’t see it before. But I’m not. I dance, with a smile on my face, my clothes back on.
Aka comes up to me, swings an arm around my neck. “What happened to Okon, eh?”
I grin up at him. “You know what happened.”
He moves his arm from around my neck to my waist, caressing my belly. “Is it my turn?”
I know this means nothing. I know that he doesn’t know what he’s asking. But I smile and play along, make out with him behind the same rock. Even though Aka is bigger than Okon, his legs make him weak, and as he cuddles me from behind, fondling my breasts, I tease myself by gently rubbing against him from time to time. Close my eyes and imagine him running scared into the ocean from me, and sigh.
Charlotte is too drunk to take me home so another girl drops me off. When I walk into the dark home, I hear, “Where have you been?”
It’s Mom, walking out of the kitchen, turning the light on. She has her hair braided back, her sleepshirt on. I see makeup smeared against her eyes.
“Why are you still here?”
“I didn’t go.”
“It doesn’t matter why. What matters is why you’re home so late. Where were you?”
“I was out with Charlotte.” I’m seething. “Why didn’t you go, Mom?” I gesture towards her. “I don’t understand why you want to be like this.”
Her nostrils flair. “Don’t you talk to me like that.” She looks me up and down. “You were on the beach.” She cocks her head. “Messing with those boys, huh?”
I walk past her, going up the stairs.
“Listen to me, okay? Don’t mess with them boys. That’s how I got you in the first place.”
I stop. Turn around to look at her from down the stairs. “So that’s how it happened.” I laugh, tears in my eyes. “Finally! You finally fucking said something about it.”
Mom calls me but I walk into my room, lay on my bed. I conjure up the feelings from earlier, and they lull me to sleep.
I wake up to feel a weight on my bed. It’s Mom. She speaks her words softly.
“She was beautiful,” she says. “Dark as onyx, precious just like it. People always told her how pretty she was. How long her hair was. How much trouble she would make when she got older. They were partially right. She messed with Jimmy a bit,” she chuckles. “Stopped when things got too hot ’cause she wanted to stay a virgin. Sometimes she would side-eye other girls who wore afro wigs, knowing that all she had to do was pick hers out. She liked the way the men looked away from her pretty skin and growing body. And when she was grown, she liked the way they smiled, the potential for what could happen. But she was Devante’s girl.”
She sighs. “Devante, the genius. Devante, the one who ran the after-school program that kept kids from being beach vagrants and led them to prestigious schools. The man who went to a prestigious school and rejected it to come home. To work. To marry her.”
“Being who she was and Devante’s girl was powerful. Oh, she had so many friends! So many other women who envied her, wanted to be like her. None of the church mothers bothered her cause she was Maybel’s daughter, and Maybel was the most devout.”
She pauses. Her voice changes into a strange somber tone. “She heard of the men from the ocean. Saw one. When she was walking along the beach, passing the cove. She heard his singing, high-pitched.” I can hear her smile, almost whispering this. “Like Earth, Wind and Fire. Soft. Soothing. When he noticed her and stopped she told him, she said she wouldn’t hurt him. That she just wanted to listen. And she did. Every day, Devante’s girl would come to the beach and stay in the cove, sitting at the base of the rock, listening to this man with a black fin sing. She wanted him.”
“It was after they kissed for the first time. She convinced him to come at night, knowing what could happen. He did, and his fin turned into legs, and she …. she climbed on top of him, led him into her. Her first time.”
“Yes. That was it. What she wanted, what she ached for. Letting manhood inside of her, leading it in.”
I get a chill.
“He was scared, but she said it would be okay. It was natural. He only … he only looked at her before jumping into the water. She never saw him again.”
“But a piece of him stayed with her, you best believe. His face full of fear, of dread, of—of not knowing what could happen to him, and not understanding what did. It stayed with her. That, and the baby.”
“She didn’t hide it. Told Devante she cheated and she was pregnant. Told her Mama too. Soon everyone knew, and everyone wanted to keep it secret.”
“The wedding was planned. The church mothers would make the food, her high school friends would decorate and organize. Her Mama would make the dress. Devante gave her the money to deal with what was inside of her.”
“She understood. It wasn’t their baby, wasn’t the perfect she and Devante clone that he wanted. That everyone wanted.”
She sighs. “So I had to get out of there.”
Her normal voice is back. “You see? That’s why I couldn’t go there. Even though Devante apologized, I can’t be with him because I’m not her anymore. Understand?”
She touches my shoulder. “Please say something, baby. Please understand. No one should be her. She’s made up by everybody. She’s not real.”
I say nothing.
I wake up the next morning. Grandma and Mom are in the kitchen. I kiss Grandma on the cheek. I smile at Mom, mumble, “’Morning.” She looks me in the eyes and she knows.
I decide to take a long walk to the beach. The sun doesn’t hurt that much. The air is still dry and disgusting, making me cough. I make it there, eventually.
Everyone’s back in the cove. All the girls are placing more gifts and talking about the dopest party they ever had last night. The boys are perched on their rocks as always, laughing, joking, bumping to music.
I decide to sit near Aka. Watch Okon from afar. He looks at me and looks away. No girl sits with him.
I decide to leave him alone, to allow Aka to tease me and kiss me.
It gets late. Charlotte is here somehow. She looks pissed because I left her last night but she offers me a ride home anyway.
“I’m good,” I say to her. “If you see my mom, tell her I understand.”
She frowns, but agrees, before walking away.
There are a few other girls still here as the sky darkens. The water has risen higher in the cave. Aka leaves early. It’s only me on the rock.
I stand up on the rock. I hear the ocean waves, the music of the boys, the music that beats in me, full of desire.
I dive in.