Black Short Stories : Breathe(part2-The 1970's)

Discussion in 'Short Stories - Authors - Writing' started by raymondobe, Feb 20, 2010.

  1. raymondobe

    raymondobe Member MEMBER

    Jul 30, 2009
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    Finally we arrive at the party. I can hear my younger brother Lade chatting to one of the girls, sitting on the bed over on the other side of the room. The girl has a clear dark complexion, and straightened hair that looks like it has been frazzled to death with a hot comb. She is also wearing lip-gloss and has silver braces on her teeth. I don’t say hello to anyone. I stand in the corner trying to feel the back of my trousers because I suspect that I may have split them.

    A tall boy with a full blown Afro, who looks older than all the other kids is standing by the door says hello to me and I nod back at him. Over on the bed one of the girls is playing with an Eck-To-Sketch. Most of other kids are either playing cards or chatting about the latest Pop groups. Auntie’s eldest daughter, Shola who is thirteen, but always gives off an impression that she is much older, is plaiting a little girl’s hair. The girl looks about eight or nine-years old, and is sitting on a puffee between Shola’s muscular legs, with her head to one side, gritting her teeth like she’s in plain agony.
    Keep your head still, says Shola giving her a shove.
    But you’re hurting me, says the little girl grimacing.
    I said keep still, says Shola, kissing her teeth.

    What’s your name? asks the tall boy standing by the door.
    Wole, I say shyly.
    I’m Femi, he says moving closer. I saw you come in earlier with your mum.
    Just then we hear a load of noise coming from the living room. Voices. Mainly female voices, peppered with lots of cheering and laughing.
    So how old are you? asks Femi.
    I push back my thin shoulders before I speak.
    Thirteen, I say.
    Thirteen repeats the Femi, grinning and looking me up and down.
    What about you? I ask defensively.
    Sixteen…’that your bother over there? asks Femi, pointing across the room.
    I turn round to look at my little brother Kunle, who is now sitting on the floor in the corner, playing with a plastic truck he’s found somewhere, and holding an intense conversation with somebody invisible.
    Yeah, I say. That’s my little brother.

    OK darlings. Everyone all right?
    The auntie whose apartment we are in is standing in the doorway grinning. I notice that she has some red lipstick on her two front teeth, and I’m tempted to say something, but I don’t know how to broach the subject without sounding rude. Auntie is wearing a traditional African dressed. It is pale blue with filly sleeves and she has a matching headpiece. The dress looks really nice on her and goes really well with her complexion. She is slimmer and lighter than most of the other aunties, though her daughter Shola is nearly as dark as me.
    Yes auntie we’re fine, everyone says.
    Have you got plenty to drink? asks auntie.
    Can I have another Coke please auntie? asks Femi.
    Auntie says something to her daughter Shola in Yoruba.
    Shola I’m talking to you, she says.
    In a minute, says Shola sounding irritated, as she leans forwards squinting and fumbles with the little girl’s plaits.
    Now now! says auntie smacking her palms together loudly.
    Shola makes a stupid face and some of the younger kids begin to giggling. She hands the Afro comb to the little girl and slowly gets up from the bed.
    Don’t touch it, she says. If you mess it up, I won’t redo it.

    I can’t get through, says Shola staring into her mother’s face.
    Auntie is standing in the doorway watching her daughter with one hand on her hip, and the other half raised as if poised to hit her with.
    Go on, she says. I’m not stopping you.
    Mummy! shouts Shola as she stumbles into the passage and tries to avoid the slap.
    Auntie makes a sort of guttural noise through her nose.
    What is she talking about? she says. I never even touched her. Stupid girl.

    I want to get out of the bedroom for a little while and see what is going on elsewhere, so I ask auntie if she needs any help getting the drinks.
    Thank you dear, she says. Ask Shola to tell you where to find them.
    I leave the room and auntie follows. Five minutes later I come back into the bedroom looking happy, carrying a pack of twenty-four Cokes in my arms, humming, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Shola walks in behind me with a packet of paper napkins. I put the Cokes down on the floor by the foldaway table and right away everyone starts grabbing at them and for the next ten seconds, all you can hear in the room beside the occasional disgusting burp, is a Pish! Pish! Pish! sound.

    The smell of food is wafting in from the kitchen and my mouth is beginning to water.
    You all want rice? asks auntie.
    All the kids apart from my brothers and me say yes. My two brothers look across the room at me in silence. I know that they are probably as hungry as I am, but like them, I’m thinking about the instruction our mother gave us earlier about not acting as if she starves us at home. Femi asks auntie if she had any Moi Moi. Auntie laughs and says something back to him in Yoruba. They walk out of the room together, and my brothers and me are left to await our fate in nervous silence.

    One of the boys in the room who’s name is Bengi and looks maybe a year older than me, starts boasting to everyone that he lives in the America.
    Where exactly? the other kids want to know.
    The Bronx, he says
    Suddenly everyone gets excited, especially the boys.
    America, says someone, like he is talking about the Lost City of Atlantis.
    Yeah, says Bengi shrugging his shoulders. I grew up over there. Check it.
    What’s it like? asked someone else.
    It’s cool man, said the kid. Ain’t like over here.
    He is grinning and I noticed that his English is becoming more and more twangy by the second.

    I could hear the sound of Nigerian music coming from the other room along with what sounds like hundreds of aunties and uncles all trying to talk at once. The women’s voices are the loudest, but every now and then I hear a deep baritone voice calling out, ‘Many Happy returns. Congrats’…Then I hear someone yelling, ‘Alijha, Alijha’ over and over again, and afterwards I hear a group of female voices singing along like an improvised choir to the lyrics of what ever song was playing.

    Auntie carrying a tray with four paper plates of steaming hot yellow rice with pepper and chicken on the top. She places the paper plates on the foldaway table and tells everyone to sit down and eat. All the younger kids make a dash for the table. The first ones to arrive study the plates, looking for the one with the biggest pieces of meat on. I grab my plate and go across to sit on the bed since there isn’t enough room for everyone at the foldaway table. The food tastes great, but the chicken is covered in hot pepper soup that makes my eyes water every time I bite into it.

    Auntie can we have some music in here please? asks one of the little girls.
    You don’t like my music? asks auntie pretending to be upset.
    A second later auntie’s husband walked into the room and wanted to know if everyone was fine.

    Auntie’s husband is tall and dark with tribal scars on his cheeks. He is wearing traditional African clothing, and holding a fat cigar between his fingers, and even though it isn’t alight, a few of the girls go into an exaggerated routine of rolling around the bed, coughing and fanning the air. I find their behaviour annoying and feel like telling them to shut up, but uncle just grins at them and then holds the cigar behind his back, as if it actually makes a difference.

    Auntie says something to uncle in Yoruba.
    Ugh ugh. Give them some music, says uncle back to her in English, with this big grin on his handsome face.
    You want English music? he asks.
    He looks around the room at us, as if the concept of us wanting English music is totally incomprehensible.
    Yes please, everyone shouts back at once.
    So you don’t like my African music? asks uncle looking dead serious.
    We can’t dance to it, someone pipes up.
    It’s Bengi, the boy from the Bronx. Only now his American accent seems to have totally vanished.
    So you can’t dance to African music, eh? asks uncle looking amused. Come on. Show me how you dance then.

    Bengi holds out his arm and bends it so that it looks as if there’s an electrical current going through his arm. Then a little boy dressed in velvet trousers, a frilly white shirt and a velvet waistcoat, starts back sliding across the room, the way I’ve seen Geoffrey Daniel, from Shalimar, do it on Top of the Pops.
    You mean like this, says uncle, standing with one leg slightly forward and doing a demented version of 'the robot.'

    Everybody falls about the place laughing and howling, and one of the little girls laughs so much that she falls off the bed with a thump and rolls onto the floor giggling. The girl’s laughter only makes uncle do his crazy robot dancing even more.

    Uncle turns round and gives everyone high fives.
    You OK? I hear him say to Femi.
    Yes thank you uncle, says Femi.
    Why don’t you come and dance with us?
    I will…A bit later uncle.
    Uncle turns to leave the room, even though the youngest of the kids, in particular the little girl that fell off the bed, are screaming at him not to go.

    Shola came back carrying a Hitachi tape recorder. She slipped in a cassette of one of her compilation tapes. The first song to come on was, Chaka Kane, Ain’t no body.

    Everyone looks at each other but no one had the nerve to get up and dance. Not until Shola stands up, and then we all stand or sit there completely mesmerised by the seamless way she moves and snaps her body in time to the beat.
    Watch this, says the boy from the Bronx.
    He steps into the middle of the room and starts doing a Smurf-walk, like one of the kids in the Buffalo Gal’s video. The boy from the Bronx, (who since uncle’s departure) has managed to regain his American accent, is joined by another kid, who isn’t quite so fluid; though when the song finishes, he stands there staring at every one as he’s about to accept an award.

    The whole time I’ve been standing beside the bed, flexing my arms and my neck to the beat, and occasionally looking over at my brother Lade who I practice B boy moves with in our bedroom at home.

    I ‘m wearing a green jacket and my ugly boogie boy black chunky-heeled platform shoes. The ones that my mother bought me even though I begged her not to. I’m also wearing a horrible paisley polyester shirt with massive winged collars that makes me feel like I’m about to take off and soar through the clouds any second. And then of course there’s my chequered flared trousers, polyester again, that itched so much I’m constantly running off to the toilet to scratch myself silly. They are my party clothes and I hate them with a vengeance.

    One of the uncles walks into the room. He seems younger than all the others. He has mischievous twinkling eyes that make him look untrustworthy. He is holding a bottle of Guinness in his hand. He has an Afro like Shaft, and is wearing trousers and a green shirt, which is open almost to the navel, so that you can see his hairy chest as well his gold Medallion. He tries to talk to Shola and one of the other girl’s but they both ignored him so he comes over to us speak to us boys and tries to crack a few jokes.
    Man that’s funny, says Femi. By the way uncle do you think you could bring me a proper drink?

    We all decide to go outside for a bit. There are a bunch of girls playing on the landing. They are mostly ten and eleven year olds. They were all wearing their party dresses along with little white ankle socks. Some of them have coloured silk bows in their hair, and they all seem to know each other.

    Lade goes over to speak to one of the girls. She is tall, very dark with a thick bun of hair on her head and she has huge bulging frog’s eyes that seem to pop out of her head. I think my brother is mad talking to her, but he is always chatting to girls. They seem to like him. I’m the more reserved one out of the two of us.

    I am standing further back watching what was going on. Lade leans closer to the girl and suddenly I see her draw back her leg and kick him in the shin. Lade goes to grab the girl, who screams like she is being murdered, and runs into the doorway of one of the near by flats. Lade limps along the landing over to where I am standing. He rolls up his trouser leg, and gets down on one knee, which the rest of us boys stand about pointing and admiring the gash on his shin.
    What did you do? I asked.
    Nothing. I didn’t do nothing, he says.
    He bends over gritting his teeth and holding his leg like it was about to drop off any second.
    Come on. You better clean that up before mummy sees it, I say.
    I walked ahead of my brother, clearing the way like a personal bodyguard, while he hobbles behind me.

    We’ve all finishing eating a long time ago except for my brother Kunle. He studies each spoon full of rice carefully before placing it in his mouth, and turns the chicken around in his fingers like he can’t make up his mind which part to bite first.

    All of a sudden Kunle has a coughing fit and starts grabbing at his throat. His eyes are watering badly and I realise that the hot pepper soup is obviously far too hot for him.
    You all right? I ask patting him on the shoulder.
    My brother just looks up at me still holding his throat and I could tell he was about to start crying, which worries me because our mum might come in and I’ll be held responsible.

    The uncle that we spoke to earlier with the Shaft Afro is standing by the door. Trying his best to look cool, he sort of stumbles into the bedroom. He absolutely reeks of alcohol.
    What’s wrong with him? he asks, trying to focus on my little brother, who had tears streaming down his face.
    I think the peppers too hot for him, I say.
    Here, says the uncle holding out his glass. It’s all right it’s only Coca Cola. I’m sure you like Coca Cola?
    My brother takes a huge gulp from the glass, and then just sit there, with his cheeks swollen.
    So you don’t like Guinness, says the uncle breaking into a fit of laughter.
    My brother looks like he’s about to throw up but this only makes the uncle laugh harder. I give him a dirty look but he doesn’t notice. He grabs an empty paper cup and holds it under my brother’s chin so he can spit into it. Then he reaches into his pocket, takes out a five-pound note, and hands it to my little brother.
    Buy yourself something for Christmas, he says stumbling out of the room.

    Femi is standing in the passage having an intense conversation with one of the auntie’s.
    So bring her, I can hear the auntie say.
    You sure auntie?
    Of course.
    Femi stands there looking awkward. Finally he says:
    But she’s white auntie.
    One of the other aunties says something in Yoruba and the auntie that is talking to Femi laughs at what she’d said, but then turns back to Femi and repeats that he should bring the girl.
    Bring her? repeats Femi as if maybe it really isn’t such a great idea.
    Of course, says both aunties. Why not?

    Femi leaves the flat and the next time we see him he was walking along the landing to the flats with a white girl. One of the kids spots them and the rest of us rush over to the window to see what she looks like. The girl is wearing a tight red dress and has shoulder length curly blond hair.
    What d’you think? says one of the boys.
    Oh my God she’s white, exclaims one of the little girl’s.
    Dhur! says the boy frowning. Somebody give her a peanut.

    I am walking down the passage towards the toilet when the front door opens and Femi and his white girlfriend walk into the flat. She is smiling and she doesn’t even seem that nervous. A few of the aunties stare at her. One or two smiled and say hello and some of the older ones just looked the other way, like she isn’t worth the effort.

    I go into the bedroom to tell Lade.
    That guy’s got guts, says Lade grinning.
    You’re telling me, I say shaking my head.

    It is a first for us. Most of the people we came across in our daily lives are white. But when we are out with our parents things are different. In short, we’ve never seen a white person at a Nigeria party before.

    I am sitting on the corner of the bed with the other kids and we are all talking about Femi and his white girlfriend. Everyone is speculating about what they thing is going on next door.

    In the end we all sneak out to the passage and crowd around the door to the living room to watch. They were right in the middle of the room so we get my little brother Kunle to go inside and report back to us.

    Kunle says that, Femi and his girlfriend are dancing English style in the middle of the room. Femi has toned it down, but his girlfriend is really grooving to King Sunny Ade, like she’s one of the female dancers in the movie, Saturday Night Fever.

    What’s happening now? I ask.
    Everyone was laughing at first, said Kunle. But now they’re just dancing.
    After a while we all get bored and go back to the bedroom.

    Let’s get some more chicken, I say to Lade.
    We flipped for it. Whoever loses is supposed to go and get the chicken, which will mean having to walk through the living room and risk being spotted by our mother.

    I’m walking into the main room, trying to sneak past the adults to get to the kitchen. There are Christmas decorations on the ceiling, Christmas cards hanging from a string taped to the wall and a small tree in corner with the lights flashing off and on. The auntie whose birthday everyone is celebrating is dancing in the middle of the room surrounded by a troupe of women. She has lots of five and ten-pound notes stuck to her forehead, after having just been sprayed by the other partygoers. The auntie and the troupe around her are all wearing identical wrappers and they are all bent over with their arses sticking out, moving slowly in time to the music. Then all of a sudden I hear someone calling out my name and after the third or forth time I turn around.

    My mother dances towards me, wearing a silly grin on her face. Her eyes were glassy and she looked tipsy.
    Why don’t you answer when I call you? she asks.
    I didn’t hear you, I say.
    One of the uncles begins shouting out my name in a way that always got on my nerves.
    Wole, Wole. Ugh ugh! Come and say hello to your uncle.
    So you can’t answer me when I call you? my mother continues. And what are you doing in here by the way?
    I looked over at the uncle that had just shouted my name, but my mother grabs my arm and gives it a tug.
    I’m just getting of water, I say looking back at her.

    All the adults around me are talking Yoruba to each other. I can’t understand what they’re saying but I can hear my name being mentioned repeatedly. My mother keeps turning to look at me, and gesticulating with her arms. Then my mother starts laughing, but I still don’t have a clue what all the excitement is about.
    Come. Show the aunties and uncles how you dance, says my mother grinning at me.

    I ‘m so embarrassed I want to die. I look around the room at all the adult faces. They are all staring at me, waiting for me to perform. They have drinks or paper plates and plastic spoons in their hands, and they look as if they are expecting something really special. I see my father sitting in a corner oblivious to what’s going on, chatting to another man. Then the uncle that initially called out my name speaks up again and starts arguing with my mother.
    Can’t you see he doesn’t want to dance, says the uncle.
    I’m only asking him to dance, says my mother. He’s my son. I have the right, don’t I?

    All of my mother’s friends are backing her up and after a while it’s pretty clear to me that there was no way for me to avoid the humiliation. I crouch down like I’ve seen the adults do. I stick out my bum and slowly shuffle around the room trying to look comfortable. One of the aunties grabs my hand and begins dancing in front of me.
    He’s trying to steal your wife, someone shouts and everybody laughed.
    Idiots, I think. What’s funny about that?
    I wipe the sweat from my face. The room is crowded and seems much hotter than the bedroom. For a while I seem to be doing okay. Then for some reason everyone starts pointing at me and laughing. I turn to look over my shoulder and realise that by bending over the rip in my trousers has got much worse. I can feel air coming up between my legs.
    King Wole, says the uncle from before placing his head on my head. What are you doing. stripping for us?
    I turn around utterly embarrassed and run for the door, where my brother Lade is waiting for me. We wait a few minutes, during which time I psyche myself up again, and then sticking close to the walls I make my way to the kitchen.

    I ‘m standing by the sink bending forward, poking a finger through the ripped seam of my trousers. I know that when I get home my mums going to kill me. My chest begins to feel tight and I take a quick blast from my asthma inhaler. I shake it listening to the rattle sound take another blast. After a few seconds I feel much better. There are four really big pots on top of the cooker. I lift one of the lids off to see what’s inside. This particular pot is almost filled to the brim with chicken pieces. I go to grab the spoon when I hear one of the aunties coming into the kitchen behind me. I cover the pot and step back looking guilty. The auntie is chewing gum and has gold bracelets coiled round her wrist which rattle when she moves.
    Let me get you something, she says smiling. Sit down and I’ll serve you.
    She grabs a paper plate and fills it with so much rice I wonder how I’m going to be able to sneak it back to the bedroom without spilling it. I consider going back to get my brother.

    The auntie opens the pot with the chicken inside, takes out a giant piece and places it on top of my rice.
    What about Moi Moi? she asks.
    Yes please auntie, I say licking my lips and grinning.

    I sit down and immediately began stuffing my face. I decide I’ll take my brother something later. I’ve been sitting there eating for a few minutes when I hear my mother and my father’s voices just outside the kitchen door. My mother sounds angry.
    Stop shouting, says my father.
    My mother let’s out a garbled moan.
    I don’t know what you’re talking about, says my father. I’ve never met the woman you keeping talking about.
    I hear my mother kiss her teeth.
    So my friends are making it up? I hear her say in English before resuming the quarrel in Yoruba.
    I begin eat faster, hardly stopping to take a breath. I’m shovelling down the rice quickly as I can when some grains get caught in the back of my throat and I start to choke. Auntie rushes over to the sink and brings back a glass of water. I gulp at the water while auntie pats my back.
    Breathe, says auntie rubbing my shoulders. Relax. Just take your time my dear and breathe.
  2. $$RICH$$

    $$RICH$$ Lyon King Admin. STAFF

    United States
    Mar 21, 2001
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    great story keep it going