When Sunny Gets Blue
“That’s who that was,” Jordan whispered to himself. Once again his mother’s advice proved accurate. In time all things are revealed to those who are patient enough to wait, and wise enough to look and listen while doing so.
Mister voice stood next to Sonni, tilting toward the microphone, a tenor saxophone hanging around his neck. The guy seemed average. Nothing special. In fact, was a little gaunt. That wiry build distance runners display: slightly sunken cheeks, scrawny arms whose tight weave of skin, sinew, taunt muscle and bone resemble ropes used to rig sailboats. Undoubtedly his legs were equally skinny. Even though he appeared to be in his thirties, he probably could still wear his high school clothes.
“Indigo Sol, yall. Ms. Indigo Sol. Show her some love.”
The fourteen or so people in The Jazz Room clapped enthusiastically. Jordan raised his empty glass, motioning to the waitress for another drink. When she came over Jordan also ordered her to bring Sonni — “ah, Ms. Sol, the singer — bring her anything she wants to drink. Anything. Ok?” Jordan sat back, closed his eyes and debated with himself the wisdom of coming to see Sonni.
He shouldn’t have called her yesterday. He shouldn’t have come here tonight. He should have stayed in the hotel and looked at cable or gone to a movie. Or walked around Dupont Circle to Vertigo Books.
Jordan turned in his chair to see where Sonni had gone. She was talking with the pianist, looking at a book of charts, flipping pages. Jordan turned back around, took a sip of his second drink, closed his eyes again and let his mind drift into realms of free association. Jordan started thinking about names. He knew the singer as Sonni, Mr. Voice called her Indigo Sol. Did the new name make her a different person? What was a name?
People assume I’m named after Michael Jordan, but actually I’m named after the Biblical river Jordan. Mother said my birth was her Damascus journey, when she stopped being a sinner and crossed over into Jesus’ arms. She went from one absent man to another, I would sometimes joke once I became old enough to wonder why neither my father nor Jesus every appeared before me, ever put an arm around my shoulder. Ever played…
Indigo approached quietly from Jordan’s rear, bent over his right shoulder, kissed his cheek. “Thanks for coming.”
The quickness of her kiss, light as a moth fluttering against his arm, caught him by surprise. His eyes popped open. The vividness of Sonni’s scent startled him. She was still wearing China Rain. Temporarily tongue tied, Jordan couldn’t say anything as Sonni sat next to him. In fact, caught off guard by the onrush of intimate memories that her scented kiss released, he actually momentarily lowered his gaze before looking up into the bright well of Sonni’s shining eyes.
Jordan put both hands on the table top. He gripped the edges of the table. Sonni had looked good standing at the microphone singing with her eyes closed, her head cocked to the side, and her hands frozen in front of her like she was holding an invisible newspaper or about to hug a lover.
“I’m glad to see you. I’m glad you came. You look good. How did your interview go? How long will you be in DC?”
Jordan blushed at Sonni’s bubbling enthusiasm. She smiled again. Leaning forward, eleven silver bangles jangled softly as she placed her arms on the table and waited for his response.
“I guess I’m ok. The interview is tomorrow morning.”
Jordan was slightly disoriented by her eagerness. She’s acting like we’re still friends. Like she saw me yesterday, or last night rather than… what has it been, fourteen months now?
“I know it will go well. You always make good impressions on people.”
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting opens with a story. Czech communist leaders on a balcony. Clementis places his fur cap on the head of Gottwald who is to give a speech in the cold and is bareheaded. Some years later Clementis was “charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of history and, obviously, out of all the photographs as well.”
Jordan had read many accounts of Stalinist visual revisionism, but none were as impactful as Kundera’s irony. “Where Clementis once stood, there is only bare palace wall. All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head.”
Jordan was determined to get in the picture and stay in the picture.
“Jordan, if you were ordered to kill someone…”
“Mr. Johnson, I understand the question behind the question. You want to know if I am prepared to make history.”
Surgery and history, neither was for the squeamish. Only those who could look at things for what they were, only those who could sever flesh, wipe away blood, and get on with altering reality. Those were the history makers.
“Yes, I am prepared to make history.”
After five years of close observance and six years of participation in various corporate minority outreach programs, Jordan was pre-recruited for the service. A discreet dossier had been kept. Scholarships. Summer internships. Overseas programs.
He didn’t even respond to the female decoy in Germany. “Subject resisted advances.”
When the call came to come to DC for an entry interview Jordan was ready. Of course when one is recruited to become a company member — one shouldn’t even think “spy” — it has already been decided that one is fit to make history.
Jordan didn’t know precisely what he would be doing in the future, but he was sure that his doing would be significant. It was decided that he would become a success as a freelance journalist and travel writer. The necessary wheels were turned. That Jordan didn’t know he was already part of the team made him that much more effective a player.
On Friday afternoon around two-thirty in the afternoon they sat on the outside patio of UNO’s Chicago Style Pizzeria enjoying a late lunch. Jordan had taken a taxi over to the Cleveland Park area eatery. He got there early because the interview had gone faster than he expected and rather than go back to the hotel he would wait, hopefully she would be on time.
Indigo arrived thirty-some minutes after Jordan but right on time almost to the minute. She had taken half a day off, rushed home, tidied up the apartment, and lit an aroma candle in the front room and bathroom before walking two and one half blocks to meet Jordan. Indigo wished she had had time to change out of her work clothes, but there had been a delay on the metro and she knew it would have been, as they say at home, “nothing nice” if she kept Jordan waiting. For as long as she had known him, Jordan had been a stickler for punctuality.
The fall day was gorgeous, unseasonably, albeit very agreeably, warm. Jordan had removed his jacket and carefully draped it over the empty chair to his right. Once they ordered, and after a few cautious q&a’s, the conversation picked up momentum. What was planned as a quick bite turned into a leisurely hour of catching up, mostly focusing on their respective fledgling careers.
“So when does your book come out?”
“Dag, they couldn’t push it up so you could make…”
“It was originally scheduled for January, but I thought that would look too much like a Black history event in the making. So I urged them to wait until March so the book can rise or fall on its own merits.”
“And you’re saying Black History Month has no merit?”
“No. You don’t understand.”
Jordan stared at Sonni and then suddenly looked away. He stabbed at the chicken breast and pasta dish, moving small pieces back and forth, and then set his fork aside. When he looked up she was smiling at him. He sat back and brought both hands up to his chin. There was no way to tell Sonni the truth.
“What?” she asked.
“What do you mean, ‘What’?”
“I mean the way you’re looking at me.”
“How am I looking at you?”
“Like I’m not here.”
Jordan reached out, covered her hand and then gently cupped her fingers between his open palms, like he was praying and she was god.
Sonni scooted closer to him and quickly kissed him very briefly on the lips. It feel like touching a dragonfly’s quivering wing. “Let’s go.”
They got up. The bill was $16.45. Jordan left a twenty on the table. They started walking to her apartment, which she said wasn’t far down the block on Connecticut Ave. Each was thinking about the other, but what was there to say?
He desired her. She was ok with that. It had been months since she had gotten it on with someone and getting with Jordan was convenient. There would be no worrying about what comes next. Who calls whom how often. Whether we’re getting serious or whatever. Tomorrow Jordan would be gone and there would be no complications and no entanglements.
“Wait here a minute. I’ll be right back.” Indigo dashed into the convenience store and was back out in less than four minutes.
As they strolled back to her apartment, she held his arm and mischievously bumped her hip against his. Just like she used to.
Q: Why did Indigo go into a convenience store?
A: To buy condoms.
Q: Why did she leave Jordan outside?
A: She didn’t want to embarrass him.
Q: Would Jordan have been embarrassed by Indigo unashamedly asking for a pack of condoms and paying for it like she were buying chewing gum or a daily newspaper?
A: What do you think?
Q: What would Jordan have thought had he been standing next to Indigo not knowing what to do with his hands while she handed the 22 year old, female clerk a ten dollar bill with one hand and, with the other hand, blithely slipped the condoms into the mudcloth tote bag on her shoulder?
A: Indigo, thought some bridges were best left uncrossed. This is another example of why the cliché “ignorance is bliss” remains relevant.
“It is better to light a candle
than to smell the darkness.”
Jordan smiled as he softly read aloud the hand lettered sign posted at eye level above the toilet tissue rack. On top of the toilet bowl a fat, lavender candle flickered in a porcelain dish. As he rinsed his hands Jordan observed that there was only one toothbrush in the holder beneath the mirror.
A small basket of potions was on the cold water side of the sink. On the floor next to the bathtub was a larger basket of shampoos and body washes. The tub was wider than most but also shorter than most. They had bathed together once. No, don’t go there.
As he dried his hands on a purple towel, a faint scent drifted upward. He brought the towel to his nose and sniffed. Whiffs of violets burst into his nostrils. Jordan stood ramrod straight and sneezed into the towel. That was when he caught sight of himself in the cabinet mirror.
He was trying to keep himself from thinking about being in bed with Sonni, but the candle, the towel and his olfactory memory conspired against him. When he and Sonni were seeing each other, she used to mist the pillows and sheets with violet water. And though Jordan could not identify the sensation with words, his nose knew, indeed, vividly remembered the particulars associated with violet.
As he turned to exit Jordan drew in the votive candle’s warm incense. He hesitated, then backed up, and despite the vow he had made not to meddle in Sonni’s privacies, he felt impelled to investigate the trashcan. The wicker receptacle lined with plastic was empty — no bulging sanitary napkins loosely wrapped in paper or plastic. Nothing.
As Jordan switched off the light and reached for the door handle, his nose pleasurably tingled again. Free floating molecules of flowered fragrances filled the air and Jordan’s equilibrium was disturbed as he absorbed into the receptive solidity of his body the vivid personality of smells he associated with Indigo.
Jordan left the bathroom, passed the closet-sized, open space that masqueraded as a kitchen and walked into the tiny living room whose far wall contained three sets of large windows. The blinds were raised, the curtains tied back. Beneath the second window, a clear vase held a spray of pink carnations.
A missed opportunity.
When Jordan and Indigo were walking here they had passed a flower stand. Baskets full of roses were on sale. Big pink roses. Tightly curled yellow roses. And magnificent blood red roses. A brief giddiness had flitted over Jordan and he had even considered buying a dozen for Indigo. But he hadn’t.
The only females many young men have lived with are their mothers. No sisters. No daughters (on the premises). No extended stays with lovers. Families of two: mother and son. All such men feel close to women. But despite all their caring, most of these men don’t understand women precisely because they see all women as mothers, a variation of the only woman whom they have ever intimately known. And, unfortunately, Jordan had never seen his mother in love and certainly never awash with sexual desire. He did not know.
Abbey Lincoln’s “A Turtle’s Dream” filled the apartment with sublime music. Jordan couldn’t identify the singer by name but the sensual music impressed him.
He stood in front of a small table full of photos in wooden frames. The ingeniously carved and layered squares and rectangles of oak, pine, cypress, cherry, and birch were art pieces in themselves. A few were even more interesting than the photographs they contained.
Jordan bent over to more closely examine a group shot. There was the voice with his hands folded over the bell of his horn looking serious as a sixties free jazz musician. Sonni was standing next to him laughing and wearing a big leather African hat like the kind Pharaoh Sanders wore on the cover of Thembi, which was one of Sonni’s favorite albums.
“That’s Ogun. The music director of my band.” Jordan stood up. “Well really, it’s ourband. We… what?”
“Nothing. I’m listening to you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“What did I say?”
“You said he was…”
“What’s his name?”
“Jordan, you’re jealous.”
“My name is Indigo.”
Jordan hesitated. His mouth hung half open. She was right. He was jealous. And this was ridiculous. They weren’t a couple anymore, what right did he have to be jealous? But he was. He closed his mouth. And looked away.
“It’s hard for me to get used to calling you Indigo.”
“It’s not that hard, you’ll get used to it.” She smiled and started swaying to the rhythm.
“Give your love, live your life.” Indigo harmonized along with the music. Her voice was lighter than Lincoln’s heavy contralto, but every bit as strong. Indigo raised her arms and twirled, flowing into the pre-evening glow streaming through the windows. As she spun her smock billowed about the leanness of her lanky legs. She swayed, haloed by butter-colored sunbeams. She angled her head, held her arms aloft and sang, “…you can never lose a thing if it belongs to you.”
The sun shimmered translucently through the thinness of African print. Indigo’s legs and the little erotic arch, the intimate gap where her thighs did not quite come together, were etched in enticing relief. Beneath the x-ray of sunlight the thin fabric hid nothing, highlighted everything. Memory and imagination embraced. Indigo’s thighs, Jordan’s eyes.
The song ended. He clapped. She bowed. Delicately extended, her arms undulated unhurriedly. The curled toes of her right foot, canted slightly to the rear of her left foot, barely touched the floor. Balanced mostly on one leg, she descended with the delicacy of a butterfly kissing a rose. The neck of her top blossomed open and invited his stare. She was bare breasted. Had nothing on other than a diaphanous dress, soft sunlight and a sensual smile.
The harder the shell, the softer the insides. Like most young Black women Indigo had deep fault lines of insecurity that always threatened to erupt and disrupt her carefully cultivated surface of self-sufficiency.
One big inadequacy was her name. Sonni was a made up name. It didn’t mean anything. It sounded a little bit like “sunny” or sometimes, depending on who said it, sometimes it sounded like “sunni” as in Muslim. But it was none of that. It was just some made up sounds her parents hung on her.
And so, as soon as she got back from her trip, she changed that. Legally. Indigo Sol. Indigo because her great-great-grandmother had been an indigo worker in Louisiana when the French paid dearly for the imported dark blue dye. And Sol, well Sol meant “sun” in Portuguese.
Rifiki said her smile was a second sun. Sometimes he would joke with her. He would bound out of bed in the middle of the night. “You smiled at me and the sun was shinning so brightly I thought it was time to get up.”
Rifiki was silly. And gentle. And kind and loving. Three months in Brasil — Indigo always spelled Brasil with an “s” now because that’s the way they spelled it in Brasil and she wanted to respect their choice — three months in Brasil and then she returned home. Although she and Rifiki had been together for only a few weeks, if Rifiki had asked Indigo to stay she would have given it a shot. The sun may have set in Salvador for the rest of her life.
But he hadn’t and this may have been her biggest fault: Indigo couldn’t keep a man.
If she wanted a man, really wanted a man, he didn’t really want her as much as she wanted him. Indigo decided part of the reason was because her breasts were so small. Her butt was ok, her backside wasn’t really big but at least the fleshy cheeks were round and firm. She was shapely, her waist curved, her hips flared, her thighs were thin but blemishless and well formed. But her breasts. They weren’t even as large as the navel oranges the deacons used to give out in church at Christmas time. Her breasts were barely bigger than unripened peaches.
All through college she was the smallest. And now she was almost thirty and didn’t have breasts. Almost thirty. Breast-less. Man-less. Thirty.
And another thing was she was so smart. Four languages smart. An MFA and defense-of-her-dissertation-away-from-a-doctorate smart. Book smart and life stupid.
Maybe that, and not her inability to keep a man, was the big thing. Like her grandmother had said, “How can somebody so book smart be so life stupid. Girl, if you was gon sing your life away, why you stay up in them schools so long?”
Indigo came to DC to do research and found a job at the Library of Congress. So she worked with books and she sang. Books and music. What else was there?
Her books filled her head. Her singing filled her heart.
How come the men she really wanted didn’t want her? Was it because her head and heart were full? Or was it because her chest was flat? Somebody said any single woman who moved to DC was either stupid or desperate, and you got too much education to be stupid, so you must be desperate. That somebody was her brother.
Jordan wanted her to finish her Ph.D.
“It doesn’t make sense not to finish after you’ve fulfilled all the basic requirements. Even if you don’t do anything with it after you get it, it’s better to have it and not use it, then to need it and not have it.”
The old something-to-fall-back-on, petite-bourgeois crap.
One version of this story had Indigo and Jordan making love in the shower. The lubricant of boysenberry soap lather smoothing the slide of Jordan’s hand across and around and in between Indigo’s quivering cheeks. A cataract of warm water crashing onto his shoulders as he hugged her hugely and slid his fingers across the twitching tenderness of her rectum.
There was even a risquely intoxicating interlude of laughter as she shampooed her distinctive pheromone from the tangle of his beard. She had slapped the shower wall as he pressed his face into the curl of her delta and massaged her labia major with the brush of his close-cropped beard. The tang of her scent had been excitingly sharp, neither pleasant nor relaxing but instead a stimulant that caused him to grunt as he licked at her, which licking in turn caused her to emit long tones of low-pitch laughter that he could both hear as well as feel as her torso shook with each yes that leaped from her throat. And then she went down on him and sucked him until it seemed he could hold it no more and then somehow she stood up quickly, hoisted herself by wrapping her arms around his neck, placing one foot on the side of the tub and…
Another version was more conventional. They remained in the sunfilled room. He had crossed to her. Kissed her. Removed her dress. Touched her until a glistening thread of vagina effluence trickled down the inside of her thigh and then mounted her from the rear as she leaned over the side of the couch.
There were other scenarios, all of them involving unprotected vaginal penetration to the alleged delight of both parties, but what actually happened was more interesting than anything I or Jordan imagined. Both of us were thinking about a climax. But that’s not what happened.
The vicarious enjoyment of sex and the proliferation of public erotic expressions actually are the exact opposite of what they purport to represent. Could it be that an excess of public sex masks a paucity of private satisfaction? Will everyone who is happy with their sexual life please stand up — just kidding; but I did notice not many people moved.
Jordan and Indigo stood across the room and looked at each other. Just quietly looked. Each with their own thoughts and emotional resonances. They had dated for almost two years and had lived together for seven months. Seven months, when Sonni left suddenly. She never actually told Jordan why she left. She claimed that she still loved him. And that she would be back even though she couldn’t say how long she would stay in Bahia, Brazil. Nor what she hoped to accomplish by quitting the doctoral program after her thesis was complete. She had boxed a bound copy of the thesis along with her MFA-in-literature diploma and had mailed it off to her college professor father from whom she was irreparably estranged. When she wouldn’t respond to Jordan’s queries as to why she felt it necessary to hurt her father by refusing to accept a Ph.D., Jordan assumed Sonni was transferring sublimated feelings. Even though he understood what she was doing, his understanding did not make it any easier to deal with what he provocatively called “her irrationality.” No matter how much they tried to talk it out, she refused to share with him her real motivations.
If there were two things in life Jordan couldn’t understand, one was why Sonni had mailed that box to her father and the other was why Sonni had left him.
If there was one thing Indigo didn’t understand it was why she even cared what any man thought.
Indigo perched on the arm of the couch.
Jordan turned and pretended he was interested in three pictures on the wall.
Her voice startled him.
“You want something to drink? Juice?” Jordan looked over his shoulder at Indigo. “Herbal tea? Water?” He shook his head from side to side. “Coffee?”
He turned to face her. He loved coffee. She knew that. When they had been together, even though she never drank coffee herself, she would always buy freshly ground coffee beans and brew small pots of exquisite dark roasted Jamaican coffee. “Yeah, I would love some coffee.”
“What kind? Kenyan, Turkish, Colombian, Jamaican?”
“What kind you got?”
“What kind you want?”
“I want what you got.”
Indigo jumped up. “I ain’t got none, but I’ll get whatever you want.”
Jordan looked confused. Indigo walked to the door and slipped on the sandals she kept on a little red rug beside the front door.
“Where you going?”
“To get your coffee, silly.” Indigo hoisted her tote bag to her left shoulder. “Now what kind do you want?”
“No, you don’t have to do that.”
“I know, but it’s ok.”
“I’ll take some tea.”
“Jordan, don’t even try it. You know you don’t like no tea.”
Jordan smiled inwardly hearing her use the double negative that was a linguistic remnant of her New Orleans upbringing.
“It’s ok. I don’t need anything.”
“The coffee shop is just one block down Connecticut.”
“Indigo.” She looked over to him. “It’s ok. You don’t have to go.”
“But suppose I want to go. Suppose I want to go and get you some coffee.”
“Suppose I want you to stay.”
“Why do you want me to stay? Why don’t you want me to go get you some coffee.”
“Probably for the same reason you want to go and get me some coffee. Probably because we’re both trying too hard to make up for whatever went wrong before.”
There was a long silence.
Then Indigo lowered her bag and turned so she was facing the wall. She slipped off the sandals and, with her bare foot, arranged the sandals side by side. The material at the back of her dress was bunched up slightly atop the protrusion of her behind. As minimal as it was, her steatopygia was nonetheless attractive.
When Indigo turned around her face was contorted in what Jordan perceived as an obvious effort to hold back tears.
If there was any moment to do something, to go to her and hold her, this was it. Jordan sensed that. Indigo had no idea how difficult this was for him. She stirred up all kinds of sediments in the stomach of his soul.
Damn it, he liked Sonni. And it hurt that Indigo wouldn’t give him back the Sonni he knew and loved. Instead, she continuously stepped back one step, just out of his reach, like a giggling child playing a cruel game of you can’t catch me.
Jordan grew more and more pessimistic. He should have left bygones be bygones. But there was still something there. All them damn candles. She must be working some voodoo on him or something.
No, that wasn’t even funny. She was just being herself and he liked her. Go hug her, fool. Go ask her to get back together. Go do something. Don’t just stand here like a bump on a log.
Jordan convinced himself to risk rejection.
But when he looked up, she was gone.
He had not heard her leave the room.
Stung by what he perceived as rejection, Jordan started to leave. He went back into the front room to retrieve his jacket. His eye was drawn again to the three pictures and to the poems inscribed on them. The first read:
at dawn the seed of
life enters — at midnight the
fruit of life exits
The color palette for this picture was red, orange, gold and yellow with the haiku in blue-black lettering at the bottom and two near-identical color photos of Indigo in the middle (in one photo her eyes were open and she was looking up into a camera positioned above her, in the other photo her eyes were closed and her head was bent downward toward the camera positioned below her).
The second picture was in black and midnight blue with lettering in silver and with two black and white photos that seemed to be extreme close-ups of hair. Jordan assumed they were close ups of Indigo’s head except that the texture of the hair in the photo on the right was visibly different from that of the photo on the left. This one read:
only our dark depths
ego empty can contain
the vastness of light
The third picture was green and gold with lettering in dark green and a trio of nude color photographs: Indigo sitting, shot from the back, the side, and the front, her legs drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her knees and she looking straight ahead. This one read:
thinking is dry dust
feeling is moist mud — we are
more water than dirt
All three of the pieces had some sort of abstract design across the top in a faint goldish color. They hung side by side, obviously meant to be viewed as component parts of a singular statement. As agitated as he was, Jordan was nevertheless mesmerized by the complexity and the mystery of the triptych.
Before he realized what he was doing he was studying the photographs, peering closely at the details in each shot, and also, in a hushed voice, unhurriedly reciting each word of the poems as though he was a non-typist searching for and painstakingly using a rigidly extended index finger to peck at the keys of an out-of-date but still functional manual typewriter.
He heard movement in the kitchen and what sounded like a microwave. A timer chirped and then, shortly after the mechanical beep, Indigo returned into the room and sat cross-legged on the couch. She was sipping from what Jordan assumed was a mug of herbal tea.
Jordan stood with his left arm folded across his chest and his right hand spread over his chin. “That’s deep.”
“Who did the artwork?”
“When did you start painting?”
“I don’t paint. I mean those are mixed media collages over monoprints.”
“What’s a monoprint?”
“A one of a kind print. Most prints are run in batches, but a monoprint is just one of a kind, so I guess it is something like painting.”
“So, how did you do that.”
“I can’t… ummm.”
“Oh, it’s a secret technique or something, huh?”
“Then tell me how you did it?”
“You really want to know?”
“Yes. I really want to know.”
“OK. I’ll give you a clue.” Indigo unfolded her legs, placed the mug on the floor, and then walked over to a short bookcase next to where Jordan was standing. As she bend down to pull out a book from the bottom of the bookcase Jordan noticed that she was now wearing a bra.
“Page 130.” Indigo handed a large hardback to Jordan. Featuring a nude study on the cover, the book had a one word title: Eros.
As he flipped the pages looking for 130, he saw that it was a book full of nudes. He gave Indigo a bemused glance. On 130 there was a short poem and on the facing page a woman’s butt. The model seemed to be kneeling back on her heels and she had her hands between her buttocks and her feet, her fingers were spread open covering her rectum.
Jordan looked up at Indigo’s artwork and back to the book. He read the poem on page 130. It was about a Chinese woman who won a best picture of a peach contest by sitting in pollen and then sitting on a piece of paper. “I don’t get it.”
“Look on page 151.”
Another butt shot, a woman in bed, she must have been laying on her side in a fetal position or something, the fleshy folds of her vagina were exposed, bulging between the back of her thighs. It did look like it could have been a peach between her legs, not literally, but sort of. Jordan closed the book, looked up at Indigo’s artwork one more time. Rubbed his jaw again.
“Ok, the monoprints at the top of each piece were made by me sitting on paper draped over the bathtub edge.”
“You mean, that’s…” Jordan’s voice trailed off.
“Yeah, that’s me. It’s about the mystic power of the female. Power in the sense of birth and being the spirit gate humans pass through to begin life’s journey.
Jordan didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. A pussy monoprint. He wasn’t sure whether it was clever or freaky. Or maybe a little, or a lot, of both.
Indigo removed the book from Jordan’s hand.
“Now, you know.”
“I’ll take you up on that juice you offered.”
When Indigo went into the kitchen, Jordan closely examined the right-hand photo of the second picture. He wondered if that was a close up of her pubic hair. He tried to remember detailed specifics of how she looked down there; most likely it was. Damn, this was wild. He would never have thought of that. He…
“I’ve got apple-mango and carrot juice.”
“I don’t have just apple.”
To keep from shouting over the music, Jordan walked around the partial wall into the kitchen area. “Well just water then.”
“Try the apple-mango.”
“I don’t like carrots.”
“There’s no carrots in the apple-mango, silly.”
“I thought you said apple, mango and carrot juice.”
“Apple-mango is one choice. And carrot juice is another choice.”
“Well, I’ll try the apple-mango.”
Indigo turned from the refrigerator, grabbed a heavy, very tall and narrow rectangular glass from a cabinet and poured it half full. “There’s more if you like it.”
Jordan took a sip. “It’s good.”
“Great.” Indigo held up the carafe of juice silently asking if he wanted more. Jordan nodded yes, and held the glass out to her. She topped it off and then put the carafe back into the refrigerator. When she closed the door she noticed that Jordan was staring at her.
He rubbed his jaw. “I wish you had come back to New Orleans when you returned from Brazil.”
“I wish you had come to DC when I came here.”
Jordan started to say, I wanted to but you told me not to come, remember? But he didn’t say anything. He wanted to kiss her. He took another sip of juice. Then he thought to say, “well, I’m here now,” but he didn’t. Instead he took another sip of juice.
He put the glass down on the counter top.
“Is your glass half empty or half full?”
This was typical Sonni. This was her way of getting inside his head.
“It’s both. Half is half. Half empty, half full, that’s just an abstract semantical argument. The glass is both half empty and half full.”
“I don’t believe it’s both, I believe the answer lies in the context. It depends on whether you’re drinking or pouring. If you’re drinking it’s half empty because you’re in the process of emptying the contents down your throat. And if you pouring it’s obviously just half full because you still have half a glass more to fill up.”
“So what’s the point?”
“The point is I believe this society is half empty and you believe it’s half full.”
“And…” Jordan made a circular motion with his hands, “help me here. You said that to say?”
“I have very strong feelings for you and I think you feel the same way, but we’re not good for each other.”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe what I mean is that we want different things in life and we end up making each other unhappy.”
“Sonn… I mean, Indigo. You don’t really believe that.”
Indigo bristled visibly, her shoulders squared and she leaned back slightly as though preparing for a fight.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to tell you what you believe.”
They looked at each other. Between them they were replaying old fights and old joys, misunderstandings and passionate moments. Indigo remembered how possessive Jordan was, how she felt trapped and had no way to explain to him what was up. Jordan was fixated on the satisfaction of holding her and the frustration of her leaving him. Finally, Jordan picked up the glass, chugged down the rest of the juice, put the glass down and drifted out of the kitchen.
Indigo bit down on her bottom lip. He was always afraid to confront her, and the more she confronted him, the more he backed away. She stopped thinking about it. This wasn’t healthy.
Indigo followed Jordan into the front room. “You know how much I pay for this apartment?”
Jordan looked around as though he was surveying the space. “It’s one bedroom, right?”
“Oh, I don’t know. What, five, six hundred a month?”
“Try seven-fifty a month and about to go up to eleven hundred.”
“Eleven!” Jordan whistled. “For this?”
“Yeah, now that Berry’s not running for reelection, the white folks are reclaiming the city.”
Indigo pushed her hand against the small of Jordan’s back as he backed toward the couch. He stopped and looked over at her. She picked up her mug of tea, held it up, and then flopped down onto the couch motioning for Jordan to sit.
“But they can’t just raise the rent like that.” Jordan sat down, “Don’t you have a lease?”
“It’s up in three months and they’ve told me either pay the new rates or leave. I can’t afford a fifty percent increase, I have to find something else.”
“I guess so.”
“And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“You’re moving to New York, that’s worst than DC.”
“Brooklyn, baby. Brooklyn, not Manhattan.”
Then they sat in awkward silence, each waiting for the other to say something.
“So how is it living in DC?”
“It’s good, in general. You know it’s a funny place because it’s so international but so stratified. It’s like you go from the absolute center of power to the absolute center of poverty in an eyeblink and everybody in one center pretends that everybody in the other center is not there. You know what I mean?”
“You mean the gap between the haves and the have nots?”
“No, it’s more than that. I’m talking about power, not money. I mean I understand that money is behind power, but there is a certain arrogance of power…”
“And Bill Clinton.” Indigo smiled impishly, “But, it’s systemic and not simply a matter of individual weaknesses. In DC we get to see the reality and the attitudes in their most concentrated forms.”
“And you don’t like it.”
“You can’t love power and love people at the same time.”
“Oh, whatever happened to ‘power to the people’.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Look at what happened to the Panthers.”
“Way a minute, I thought you believed that the government, cointelpro and all that stuff.”
“Yeah, they did but we also did some stuff to ourselves and that’s what I’m talking about.”
“Power corrupts and absolute power cor…”
“Jordan, it’s not that simple, not that one dimensional. “
“Ok.” He held his hands up in mock surrender. “We’re about to start clashing again, aren’t we?”
“But Jordan, this is where we’re at. This is where the world is at. Look at us. College educated and can’t figure out how to live a satisfying life.”
“You know, you’re right.”
“Don’t patronize me.” Indigo glared at Jordan and then quickly turned her head. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair. You weren’t patronizing me you were just stating your opinion.”
Jordan didn’t respond. A foul silence sullied the air.
Just as Jordan glanced at his watch, Indigo looked over at him. “So what time is it?”
“Almost four. No, it’s almost five. I didn’t change my watch, I’ve still got New Orleans time.”
“You know you never told me how the interview went. Who was it with?”
“It went ok. I was just taking it to see how I would do. You know now that this book is coming out, well, I’m not really looking for a job.”
“Jordan…” Indigo started to tell him he didn’t tell her who the company was, but he knew that and she knew… Just let it go. Indigo looked away.
He read the agitation in the way she cocked her head and looked away. Jordan paused and then softly blurted, “It’s a State Department job.”
Indigo instantly turned to face him, “So, you’re not going to take it, are you?”
“Well they haven’t offered it yet, but even if they do… I don’t know. I’d really like to just write but you know, man can not live by books alone.” He smiled at his own joke.
She couldn’t take it any longer. How could he even consider going into the State Department. Indigo drained her mug of tea and jumped up. “Excuse me a minute.”
Indigo went into the kitchen and then into the bathroom, as she closed the door, her phone rang. She shouted through the door, “Jordan, answer that please.”
The phone was in the kitchen.
“Sol residence. Hello.”
“Hotep. This is Ogun. Let me speak to Indigo.”
“Ah, she’s indisposed right now.”
“Well, tell her rehearsal is for seven. I’ll pick her up at six-thirty.”
“Rehearsal at seven, you’ll be here at six-thirty.”
“Right. So did you enjoy the show last night?”
“Yes. Sure. It was pretty good. Yall are a good band and you know Indigo can sing.”
“True that. Don’t forget to tell Indigo I’m coming by. Have a safe trip back home, brother. Peace.”
Jordan hung up the phone. He would always remember that guy’s voice.
“Who was that?”
Jordan turned around to face Indigo.
“That was Ogun. Rehearsal at seven, he’ll pick you up at six thirty.”
“Thanks.” She moved to the sink and rinsed out her mug and then washed Jordan’s juice glass. He watched her dry her hands.
“Well, I guess, I should be going.”
“Ok. You have my number. Keep in touch.”
Jordan walked into the front room, picked up his jacket off the couch armrest and started slowly to the door. Indigo was waiting at the door.
“Thanks for lunch, Jordan.”
As they simultaneously reached for the door, their hands touched and quickly recoiled. Not knowing what else to do, Jordan held out his hand to shake. Indigo made a fist to exchange a pound. Jordan grinned as Indigo dapped him up.
Then she embraced him warmly. “May trouble never find it’s way to your door and may love never leave your heart. Stay black and you’re always welcomed back.” She kissed his cheek with a lingering intensity that warmed his jaw.
Indigo opened the door. He stepped through and that was the last time they saw each other.
Of course life goes on. After three years of checkered accomplishments as a singer and one independently produced cd, Indigo focused entirely on her research project on the role of women in Black music of the African diaspora. She also chose to remain single and childless. After her mother died, the last anyone in the States heard from Indigo she had hooked up with Susana Baca and was somewhere in Peru.
I wish I could tell you more details about Indigo’s life after DC, but I don’t know those details. Her story is still unfolding in inconspicuous ways, in remote places. Indigo is living a life of intimate contact with people whom most of us know of only as statistics. People whose histories are not minutely documented; no birth certificates or death certificates, no social security numbers and no driver’s liscenses. Nothing we would recognize as I.D. Indigo has chosen to become one of the mysteries of life, an uncelebrated unknown whose work is done on the periphery, intentionally set far outside the withering purview of the power centers.
Jordan, on the other hand, became well known. His career soared. A book on Black American involvement in international voting rights campaigns won a Freedom’s Foundation Award. His byline was sought by editors of respected journals. He drew assignments from the Sunday New York Times Magazine and was frequently commissioned to do overseas stories. Jordan Haydel was particularly good at profiles and interviews. He won a Pulitzer for a three-part series “What’s Going On: Life In Exile For Black Radicals, 30 Years Later.”
Things went swimmingly, as his British colleagues would say. In Germany he met a basketball star when he was working on an article on American athletes who were stars overseas. His twist was focusing on the careers of female athletes. Barbara “Flow” Collins was one of six interviewees for that feature.
Jordan never forgot his first interview with Flow in Barcelona, no it was in Munich. Technically, the Barcelona interview was the first but that had only been a short, making-contact, getting-acquainted phoner. Munich was the first face-to-face interview. One of Jordan’s throw away questions had been what did she do with her free time. She said, “I go to museums.” He asked could he watch her go through a museum. She said, “what?”
“I’d like to watch you watch art.”
They went to a Max Beckmann, German Expressionism exhibit; Jordan was previously unaware of the sensitivity and accomplishments of German visual artists. They stayed in the museum for four hours, had dinner afterwards and stayed up all night talking about art. Jordan almost missed his early morning plane flight.
Before either of them could figure out what the attraction was, they found themselves rendezvousing in European capitals, visiting every museum they could find. Flow was captivated by Monet and Jordan was profoundly moved by the intensity of Van Gogh.
It didn’t take Jordan long to realize that this was the relationship he needed, he wanted, and he wasn’t going to let this one slip away. Indigo had taught him a valuable lesson and though he never saw Indigo again, he also never forgot her.
He used his contacts to get her gigs, even arranged for her to be invited to a festival in Barbados, which was partially underwritten by USIA. Indigo never knew about Jordan’s intercessions on her behalf. But he knew and that gave Jordan a measure of quiet pleasure.
Only once did he try to reach Indigo. He wanted to tell her he was getting married. What made him think about calling was that Flow was from Baltimore and they were going to be married there and, well, it would probably be in the paper, especially since he had done a few features for the Washington Post and, well, you know, he didn’t want Indigo to read about it in the paper and he not have said anything to her. Trying a long shot, Jordan called the old number but, predictably, it was no longer good. Then, hoping her mail would be forwarded, Jordan added Indigo’s name and old address to the list for invitations. The invite was returned. He could have found her, there were ways, but he let it go.
Jordan and Flow lived, as the cliché goes, happily ever after, although Jordan never told Flow that he worked for the CIA. But then, that’s how history is made.
—kalamu ya salaam