Chloe and Yvonne (Chapter 1.0)

January 7, 2013

Once again, I am inking a new address on the envelope that contains the briefings my dad demands. It is only now that I pick up on the long-established pattern. Our frequent moves are tied to his. Every time he’s transferred, my mother relocates the family. We orbit my father like the earth does the sun. How much life-giving heat can the sun give from behind prison walls?

Soon it will be time for another visit. I don’t want to go anymore and told my mother so. I shouldn’t have bothered. A copy of Slave!, my father’s autobiography, was removed from the bookshelf and given to me to read yet again. It didn’t matter to my mother that I already knew it by heart. She just quoted Harriet: “I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves”.

It being the heart of winter, there is only one other person on the prison bus; a girl of my age and complexion but not my temperament, apparently, as she’s bobbing her head to the loud ass music coming from her earphones. Sighing, I bury my head in Slave!

An hour later, processed and searched, the girl and I sit at our respective tables and wait for our fathers. The other girl’s dad comes first and gives her a bear hug. His head was ji Jaga lean, Sam-Jackson-as-Shaft smooth and burnished like the bronze camel my dad arranged for my fifth birthday.

The Brother, as my mother calls my dad, comes next through the door. Over the years, his hairline has receded  “like Nkrumah”, he always says. He sits straight-backed. No hug. No touching.  Just his eyes on my face and four hungry hands stilled on formica.

My eyes slide over to the girl, only to catch her eye-stalking my dad and I. “The Scourge,” says The Brother, who hasn’t stopped staring. In other words, drugs; the first four letter word I ever heard. Her dad was so affectionate, though, I can’t help wishing that my dad had sold weight to an undercover or something instead of robbing a bank.

“Is that why you didn’t want to come see me?” he asks me with the West African inflections that will outlast his death. He always could read me with a glance. I just nod and watch as he retreats from the conversation but not my presence.

Dear Yain Kain,

I know you’re going to tease me again because after she visits, I always start my letters off with how much she reminds me of you when we first met.  Remember how our parents contrived to keep us meeting and engaging? The stubborn cast of your lips as you struggled to avoid what only they knew was inevitable. You remonstrated with them constantly. I still hear your voice: “Didn’t we come to this place to throw off old customs like arranged marriages? Am I going to graduate school to only be this man’s wife?” Oh, you tried and tried but in the end… Here we are, husband and wife, twenty years and counting. It was your stubbornness that came to mind after I received that affirming nod from my daughter.  I want to label her selfish but I’m not so sure after all. Where does self-determination and our daughter intersect?


Dear Sewafe,

Upon receiving your letter, I immediately went to your daughter to get her to fill in the context. It honestly gave me a headache trying to decipher her repeated references to an actress named Kerry Washington and a film about Ray Charles that we saw years ago. Finally, she stopped dissembling. She wants to be an actress! She doesn’t want to go to our alma mater. She wants to go to Hollywood! You say she reminds you of me but she reminds me of you! Did you listen when I cautioned you about that bank? No! Neither is she going to listen to any negation of her dreams. Where does self-determination and our daughter intersect? In Hollywood.

Yain Kain

Being the family secretary all correspondence passes through my hands. It never ceases to amaze me how I never have a name in my parents’ letters to each other. It is always my daughter, your daughter, our daughter, she; anything but my name. It makes no sense; especially because my parents take naming very seriously.

However, that’s standard. What’s not standard is my mother saying I can go to Hollywood after high school. That is so startling I want to take advantage of it. On Monday, when I go to school, I’m going to sign up for the drama club. I’ve got stars in my eyes.

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