Where is the orange pumpkin face with the lit candle inside? Where the wide snaggle tooth smile like the one Ma’dear used to beam at us? But she also used to bust our butts and that warm smile would turn to a grimace just like the one you got now, and just like I never pleaded with Ma’dear to slack up on whipping us, I’m not going to beg you to stay.
You used to glow radiant like you were plugged into god’s bright light when you first came here in that happy yellow dress I liked to see you wear. Although you arrived in December, in winter, your aura was so unwintery, plus you had yellow shoes with spaghetti straps. From the beginning you were always munching fruit.
“You like jazz?” I asked. You nodded. I gestured toward the sofa and dropped a record on my system. You sat listening attentively to Horace Silver blowing the “Tokyo Blues.” I don’t know why I chose that album to play to you, or why I asked did you like jazz, or even why I invited you over.
You were so thin, thinner than any woman I had ever been with at that time. I don’t even like thin women, so I mean you were already way ahead of the game. Maybe it was the geisha girls on the cover with Horace sitting between them that caused me to pause while flipping through the stack searching for suitably impressive sounds to play. Maybe your bright red lipstick, the rouge tastefully spread on your cheek, and, of course, your quietness reminding me of the way I imagine Japanese women are, and your carefully painted fingernails, and the small amber ring you wore, with matching earrings, your legs crossed listening to “Cherry Blossom,” saying you had that record in your collection.
Before the LP was over you looked up at me. I was standing tall. You smiled and then sat back and looked away briefly, then looked back and gave me a full, big eyed stare like you had already figured what you wanted out of this. I was just steady looking at you, at how small your breasts were and trying to think was this going to be worth my time. If I knew what I know now, I never would have cared about you, but I didn’t know. You let me fall in love with you, and now that I do, you don’t care.
I still remember standing in my living room the evening of the first day. It was already December dark even though it was only like a quarter to seven. You were admiring my African sculpture that my sister gave me from her trip to Ghana and I had on a cranberry colored sweater. Horace Silver was spinning exactly at 33 and 1/3 revolutions a minute. The orange lights on the turntable gauge where perfect squares standing still. I remember all that. I just kind of stood there listening to Blue Mitchell’s exuberant trumpet calls and was wondering what all this was about.
Yeah I’m a little upset. I mean I care. Yeah, I would prefer if we worked this out, if you would glow like you used to when you looked at me with your huge brown eyes telling me about some book you had read or how you liked the way I touched you, glow like you did that first evening when I was standing surrounded by Horace Silver’s hip sounds washing over us and you returned your face to me and told me, “I don’t want anything serious. I want this to be light. I want us to enjoy it. I’ll stay as long as it’s light.”
I suppose I was supposed to kiss you at that moment, but Horace was playing so beautifully I had to be more subtle than that. So I squatted in front of you, touched your knee briefly and simply said, “yeah, that’s what I want too. As long as it’s good.” I never intended to really, really love you. I mean you wanted it “light,” and I imagined this could be very convenient, us seeing each other and seeing other people too.
I asked you if you wanted something to eat and you held up the apple you were chewing and smiled. You never liked to cooked. I never met a woman like you that was so open about not wanting to cook, about refusing to cook. I cooked more than you did and I can’t cook, and my surprise to learn you were a school teacher. I guess I thought all school teachers were also supposed to know how to cook.
You never corrected the way I talked so I couldn’t imagine you an English teacher but I guess you had to be something. I never really knew you before that day you came over and right now I’m realizing that I have never really got to know you since.
It’s only a few months later. The weather has just turned to spring, nevertheless, here you are intoning in that husky voice of yours (a sexy huskiness that first attracted me to you, a voice which initially sounds too deep for such a petit body, that voice which tipped me off that maybe there was more to you than it looked like there was), here you are saying “Harold, it’s not light anymore.”
When did it stop being light. It’s still light for me. For a teacher you sure do get a lot of stuff backwards. Winter is heavy, spring is light. Look at you right now, you’re hunched into that frog position you like so much lately: your heels pulled up on the edge of the chair, your arms wrapped around your legs, your chin on your knee.
“Is this because I don’t want to drive to Atlanta to see Nelson Mandela?” You answer “no,” dragging out the short response, but it sounds like yes to me.
“Was it about that AIDS walk I didn’t want to go to and you went by yourself?” You answer me “no” but here we go again, it sounds like yes.
“Is it because I don’t want to use condoms? I mean it’s mainly you and me right…”
You slowly close your eyes.
“I mean you did say you wanted this to be light, right?”
I can hear you not listening to me.
“What do you want? You want us to live together? You already said you don’t want to be married. What, huh? I don’t understand…”
I looked at you. You are fading before my eyes. I reach out to touch you, to hold you. My hand goes right through your body and touches the back of the chair.
—kalamu ya salaam