The Talk

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By Daki

 I thought she was trying to strangle me,

but soon learned that she wanted nothing more

 than to give me air.

                                                                                                 -Malika Knight

The Mother

Lola Knight, the life giver, who struggled to bring her only child into the world -- her girl child. She named her ‘Malika’ because it sounded beautiful and strong. She watched Malika grow like dandelions, her wild flower child, who even as a young girl loved words and admired old things. She watched as the raisins on her daughter’s chest grew into mangoes and tried to ignore the boys who licked their lips as her daughter’s body ripened before them. She tried to act as if she didn’t notice the stares of strangers as they examined Malika’s dark skin and how it drastically contrasted from her fair, almost transparent tone. Lola loved her child’s tightly coiled, thick, beautiful mane and believed it put her straight, limp hair to shame. Others thought differently, as if Malika’s skin, that was dark as the berry, was a mistake. Lola didn’t want to have a talk with her daughter, didn’t want to tell her what she really should. She didn’t want to tell her about the cancer. Not now, she thought. So, she waited. I’ll do it when the time is right. She figured she struggled with enough disease and illness at work. She didn’t want to bring the talk of sickness into her home. Lola decided, instead, to fill Malika with wisdom. She wanted her daughter to be self-sufficient -- just in case. Lord help me before one of them hormone-filled boys pump her head with lies. Lola wished she could just pour the secrets of woman-hood into Malika’s boy-filled head like water to a plant. Unfortunately, Lola knew that nothing in life is ever that simple.

The Daughter

Malika Knight, a subtle mixture of soul and sass. Unbeknownst to her, a mixture of both Lola Knight and Juniper Woods, in both looks and spirit. Juniper, the father she never knew, but so badly wanted to. All throughout her childhood, she cried for him. She watched her mother work like two men at the hospital -- her mother’s second home. Her mother was the head nurse at Holy Cross Hospital. Malika sometimes resented the sick people. They took her mother most nights, as she stayed with her Aunt Emmy, her mother’s only sister. Why does she have to fix everybody?  “Mamma Lola” is what she allowed the sick kids to call her. Malika sometimes felt a twinge of guilt as she prayed for them to get well (for all the wrong reasons). This is before her pimply skin evened out into a smooth dark chocolate. Before she begged her mother to let her get her hair pressed out straight. Before the outcome left her “heavy” hair light and flowing, falling just above her shoulders. This is before, Damien, Omar, and Tyrone -- the one with a deep grown man voice and light eyes. This is before they became nameless, just like her absentee father.  This is before they left her crying, too, and before she learned to dry her tears before they fell. And this was way before she stood over her mother’s casket, crying tears of disbelief. She had prepared for that moment for three years after her mother finally told her about the cancer. It was in her blood, and there was nothing more the doctors could do. Lola knew four years before and kept it a secret. Secretly, Malika was grateful. She didn’t think she could have taken such scary news at 18. Especially since at 25, Malika was motherless, always fatherless, man-less (by choice, she liked to think), grasping for God with both hands.

The Talk


 “Mama may have, and papa may have, but God bless the child whose got its own,”  Malika sang Billy Holiday’s classic tune to no one else but the African statutes that graced the faux fireplace mantel in her living room. She slid her bare feet across her mahogany wood floor and examined the bottom of her foot. She smiled. No dust

It took her a moment to realize that she was unintentionally mimicking her mother. As a youngster, Malika fondly remembered that every Saturday morning while cleaning her mother would play Billy Holiday’s greatest hits album. When Lola finished cleaning, her feet still feeling the pains of her night shift as a registered nurse, she would close her eyes and hum the song softly.

On one particular morning, Lola called Malika from her bedroom, where Malika usually hid to make herself scarce on cleaning days. After cleaning, it was a ritual for Lola to put her feet on Malika’s lap -- a non-verbal cue for Malika to commence massaging her feet. Malika turned her nose up, ‘Why does Mama always have to put her crusty feet on my lap?’ Back then, she hated it.

Now she would pay to massage her hard-working mother’s calloused feet if it meant being with her just one more time. Malika ignored the infomercial on her muted television as she sipped her hot tea, and allowed her mind to travel back to a time when the only thing on her mind was boys and avoiding chores. How she wished things were so simple now.


 “You know baby, things may not always be easy in this life.”  Lola looked at her child whose big brown contemplative eyes reminded Lola of her lost love, Juniper Woods, Malika’s father.

“I chased after a man who didn’t love me like I loved him. Who couldn’t love me like I loved him. Your father was a strong man, but he was a broken man. He went through some things that I don’t even feel you’re old enough to understand yet.”

Malika was listening intently now, since in her mother’s house it was always an unspoken law: do not mention your father. It made Malika uncomfortable to hear her mother speak of him so candidly after all this time. Malika noticed herself beginning to get upset with her well-intentioned mother for making him sound like a victim.

Lola continued, “I’m not trying to make excuses for him. It was cowardly for him to leave us the way he did, but I’ve never wanted you to hate him.”

Easier said than done, Malika thought. Her anger building as she wondered why her mother picked a perfectly good Saturday to talk of this man. This man who never once visited Malika, never sent a card, or even picked up the phone to ask how she was doing.

“I don’t even hate him Ma, I’m just numb. I don’t feel anything towards him at all. He doesn’t exist.”

Lola didn’t believe Malika for one minute. She knew all too well that any child of hers felt deep and was a sensitive soul. She also knew that the scar of not having a father was still visible on her only child’s face.

Malika felt a knot form in her stomach as she remembered the single tear that fell down her mother’s cheek, and how she never saw Lola Knight shed a tear before that day.

“Malika, I want you to be whatever you want to be. You are an intelligent, creative, and beautiful girl. I know that you can do anything you set your mind to. I never want you to depend on any man for your needs. Remember, God is your provider, and He has given you the abilities to care for yourself.”

At the time, Malika didn’t see the connection between this advice and the talk of her father, but she knew better than to interrupt her mother. Malika finished rubbing her mother’s tired feet, got up to hand her the slippers, and took a seat on the floor to continue listening.

“Your father is out there somewhere in this world living his life, I suppose. So we have to live ours. Remember this, never let a man, or anyone, distract you from your goals. Don’t let anyone stop you from living your life to the fullest potential.”

With that last remark, Lola got up and went into the kitchen. Looking at the state of the space, she immediately told Malika to wash the dishes before she even thought of going anywhere with her friends.

Malika said, “See Ma, already you’re stopping me from living life to the fullest.” Lola playfully hit Malika’s bottom with a dishtowel as Malika filled the sink up with soapy water, knowing better than to defy her Lola Knight.

“Just remember, God is your provider, but so am I, little girl. Just think of me as his assistant where you’re concerned.” Malika plastered a phony, angry frown on her face, and the two of them laughed whole-heartedly, seemingly putting the heaviness of the previous conversation aside. Underneath it all, Lola’s words of cautionary wisdom hung silently amongst the mother and daughter pair for quite some time thereafter. 


The doorbell rang. Back to reality, Malika thought as she made her way to the door. Malika wasn’t expecting any company, and since it was a Saturday, she would chalk it up to being a Jehovah’s Witness, or a salesperson. Though something in her gut told her to answer the door anyway. She stood on the tips of her toes to reach the peephole. At that moment, she knew her ‘mind was playing tricks on her’ like the old Geto Boys classic. She hesitantly opened the door, and there he stood.

It was her ex, Adrian.

The one that you never even have to recall by name to your friends because he was the one: the one that broke your heart, the one that smashed it, spit on it, and told you to pick it up, and eat it. The one that did all this while smiling at you with the softest lips, the prettiest teeth, and the silkiest brown skin you’ve ever seen.

The one that put Tyrone, the little boy with the deep grown man voice and light eyes, that you thought you would love forever, to shame.

The once-upon-a-time couple looked at each other, both equally stunned.

What does he want that he hasn’t already taken? Malika thought, standing there one-third dumbfounded, one-third annoyed, and one-third aroused.

She looked in Adrian’s brown, lazy, bedroom eyes and only saw the latter. She was convinced that he wanted her. Why else would he be here, by kismet?  She was thoroughly convinced that he did after he gently pushed her out of the way and stepped into the living room. Adrian slowly unbuttoned his white collared shirt, removing his undershirt that exposed his honey colored flesh, with a rippled stomach to match.

Malika brought her hand to her mouth to reassure herself that she wasn’t drooling. She heard Adrian call her name.

“Malika? Malika, are you OK?” He looked worried.

Damn, she felt her face turn warm as she looked at him and nodded yes. Still outside of her door, fully clothed, handing her a flier, about something she could not possibly care about more than her fantasy.

“I’m fine, but Adrian I have to go.”

“No problem. Maybe we can get together someday. You know, catch up.” He winked at her, and smiled, exposing all his pearly whites. It used to be all he had to do. This thought, of her former naivety, and all the consequences of it, made her slightly nauseated.

Her body no longer yearned for him. It was just a relapse, but he waited for a response that let him know otherwise. Her body was no longer hot from lust, as she replied.

“You didn’t even come to my mother’s funeral. Matter of fact, you broke up with me the day after I lost her. You sent me a freaking email. We were together for two years, and you emailed me! I was too distraught over her death to think about the messed-up-ness of that. But my therapist pointed it out.”

Malika laughed. Adrian offered his signature confused look. This wasn’t the Malika he remembered. A therapist?

She read his thoughts.

“Yes, a therapist. Unfortunately, no one else was around. She encourages complete honesty. So let me say this. I wanted you. I never needed you. Even just now, I wanted you. What can I say? You were blessed with looks, and you can be charming, but inside, you’re empty. Selfish. Lastly, just to appease any guilt you may have felt --though I doubt it -- I was done with you way before you were done with me. But the sex was good, so I hung on in there.”

Adrian stood there with his gorgeous mouth hanging wide open in disbelief.

“That felt great. Thank you.” With that, Malika closed the door in Adrian’s face and returned to her cleaning. She somehow felt renewed. She felt like dancing. Nevertheless, she decided to do the second best thing she could think of. She continued cleaning.

With duster in hand, she looked up to the ceiling, seeing nothing but heaven. Malika spoke to Lola as she often did: eyes and mouth shut, heart open.

“See Ma, I was listening. Sorry about the swear words and the sex part.”

Malika heard her mother’s laughter, and it made her heart smile. She wondered if her mother stuck with their Saturday tradition. Malika could just imagine Lola Knight trying to sweep her cloud up in the sky.


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