The Job Interview

Corporate boardrooms are cold. The clear glass walls and hardwood floors, the snooty secretary who wouldn’t let me in at first, because she thinks I don’t belong here… I also don’t think I belong here. Her bare feet showing in the reflection on the opposite glass wall, ashy under the table, next to them, a pair of thrift store shoes polished to near perfection.

The backs of the chairs are high, and red and white. The man sitting in front of me is tall and confident, like he was born in the suit he’s wearing. The table is black and shiny, and I immediately become self-conscious of the color burst in front of me which is my file holder. Pink, blue and yellow flowers and paw prints I’d thought were cute at the store now seem so outlandish in this world of straight lines and sleek cuts.

“If you’re anything like your sister, you’ll be right for this job.” he’d said a whole bunch of other things before that, but I was too busy looking at the tea room in the next glass walled room.

My sister. Tall and slim. Extroverted, and resourceful, she’s the life of every party. She has a smile that makes her look kind, and gets along with everyone perfectly. Like, everyone, including Difficult Diana. She runs in the mornings, and has quinoa salads. She travels the world, and can fix anything, and has a job she actually loves. So “no”, I want to say, “I am nothing like her!” but instead, I smile and nod…or at least that’s what my head looks like it’s doing.

“Tell me about yourself.” He says, looking at the papers I’d fished gingerly from the loud folder. In a brief flash of honesty, I open my mouth. I want to tell him about how I like big storms that threaten to rip off the roof, and how butcheries have always made me dizzy. I want to tell him about the time my skirt fell in freshman year of high school, and how that haunted me to my graduation day. I want to show him my poetry, and some of the stories I’d written- lovely, but unfinished. I want to mention how the word Guam has always made me laugh, and how from since I was a child I’ve wanted to be on the West End despite being thousands of miles away in a country where theater is a hobby and not a real job but! But this is a financial institution, and this is a job, and no one says that sort of stuff, and so I close my mouth.

“I uh…I graduated university, second in my class, and I have my BA, and…” I rattle on about things that are already in the papers before him. Just like I’d practised, just like I’d been told to.

“So, what can you bring to the table?” he asks.

I want to make a joke about green ham and eggs. I want to talk about how I can make cute greeting cards by hand and how I’ve never sent anyone a store bought birthday card in years. I want to say how good I am at reading people, their little quirks and patterns. Like how I know that despite his acting like he was born in that suit, he had a tough life, from the yellow in his eyes, and from the marks on his hands.

But I talk about how I’m good at research, and even though I did not study something finance related, I can do the job because I’m a quick learner and-

“What accounts can you bring?” he doesn’t let me finish my sentence.

Accounts? A wave of panic and incredulity washes over me. I barely have a bank account of my own to speak of, I jump away at the chance of having to sell anyone anything let alone convince whole entire companies or…accounts to do anything. I am not made for this. I am not my sister. I am not sophisticated, I do not have interpersonal skills, and I cannot bring any accounts. I like painting, and music no one else understands, and still cannot bring any accounts. I like to watch foreign films in offbeat movie houses, and I prefer the company of toddlers to adults because they are more honest, and probably also because they don’t have accounts. Suits make me feel itchy, and I prefer to sit around in my pajamas, drawing ugly-cute owls on napkins. I’m not sleek, I’m not smooth around the edges, I’m not this. 

I get up from the table. The interview is over before I can even get another word out. The man shakes my hand and gives me a kind smile which doesn’t reach his eyes. I know I disappointed my sister. She set this up, because it’s safe, because the money is good and the future is set. Because it beats working for free at some non-profit, and writing bad poetry online. I want to tell him to not tell his girlfriend who’s my sister’s best friend who convinced him to set it up but I catch myself laughing at the nepotism of the whole connection.

I walk past the secretary, she doesn’t look at me, but she’s put her shoes back on. There are people in the reception area- people that look like they belong here. All beautiful, all suited, all accounts. I quickly march my beaten brown loafers across the marble floors of the main building, and make my way out.

It’s raining outside. Big, fat drops of sky water which fall down the perfectly paved stones of the office complex. German and American cars line the Zambian car park, all shiny even in the wetness. I make my way past them and to the bus stop where a bawdy conductor hollers for passengers.

I want to cry. I feel the lump in my throat like a hot potato burn through to my chest. I take my phone out and type a hasty apology to my sister. And then I call my best friend, but before she picks up, an old man gets on the bus. His pinstripe suit looks almost a hundred years old, and his gold teeth glint in the daylight. He stands in the middle of the aisle, spindly legs spread apart, hands on his hips. He proceeds to make a whole speech about how he loves his wife, and how she’s better than the rest of us on the bus- even if she slept with his friend fifty years ago.

He then bursts into song- an original piece he plans to sing to her when he gets home. His voice is croaky, and hard to listen to, and some people shout for him to stop and sit down. But he only sings louder, rocking from side to side. Some people start to clap, others are laughing.

I too, start laughing. Because in that moment, I realize something. We are all living our stories, and they are not perfect, but they are real.

They are lovely, and unfinished.

Holding on

Your absence had a way about it. It reached from its distance to tear at my lungs, clawing until for fight of breath I would weakly gasp those words. I. Miss. You.
You were an artist. Painting yourself bit by broken bit into the scene before erasing yourself from the narrative- always leaving empty holes in different places of my heart you’d decide to only for a time settle.
But my sisters had too loved artists. And I remember watching as they got sucked into the canvass of lies and guilt and the shame traced by he that was far too gone for far too long but too had a grip on their lungs.
And then I knew that about you there was nothing new. It was you that was weak, from my lifeblood you drew your identity. Holding on to what you didn’t think you wanted but afraid of what you would be if you didn’t.
Do you not know who you are?

Heroes

Here’s to the heroes of their tales
The underdogs, the ones ever forgotten. The ones taking steps unsure but determined to keep moving.
Here’s to the ones that saved themselves
After waiting for their prince who took too long to not show up, they held their heads firm and battled their dragons and snakes.
Here’s to the ones who didn’t need a cape
The ones that through struggles and battles others couldn’t see and so deemed unreal, still marched through
Here’s to you, here’s to me
Here’s to all of us
That we may be, and teach those that will come after-
You, my dear, are the warrior inside

Seven Years

I am seven.
Wiry little person whose once neatly pulled bun is now a rowdy afro with a small pulled tuft in the middle where the ribbon still holds on for dear life. My girlish mary-janes are brown with dust, buckles undone sometime between break-time and now. One once-white school-sock pulled up while the other is in restful slumber around my ankle. I am outside the school gates, laughing with my friends, as we slap our hands together in rhythm to the sacred made-up game passed down to us by the Big Kids.
And then. She walks past us. This woman, tall and beautiful, skin the color of caramel, and hair flowing down her back. Is it real? Is she real? Like an angel, she and her red bag walk past us, and in that moment, none of us speak- but we all know we want to be her.

I am fourteen.
Standing in front of a the blank-faced auditorium of grey uniformed people slouched in the backs of their seats, hoping silently that this be over. As we, myself and the three girls on my right, screech adamantly the words of Maya Angelou. Words we only memorized because she said what we believed we also ought to say.
We regurgitate stanzas of an oppression that we in our fourteen years could never understand. We, on that stage, embrace a Blackness, an Afrikanness which we will immediately after go off and shed like a costume, as we get back into our straight hair and color contact lenses.

I am twenty one.
The words of Angelou are no more than an echo of a past life as I obsessively hold onto the fist-sized rolls on my sides, willing them to disappear. My popular boy tells me I am beautiful, and that is enough for me to forget about them and smile. The world seems perfect; this small campus community, this world in which doors open at a single touch and existential fears are overrated, and your life…your life is the best life you can live because you are guaranteed that out there- the world will be yours. I’m doing an artsy course because I tell myself I don’t want to wear monkey suits, and silly shoes, and I want to work on my own schedule. I plan my four years to perfection, and all goes off without a hitch. I graduate magna cum laude, and the world is just waiting to know my name. I am perfect. Everything is perfect.

I am…I’m not sure anymore.
I’m in a grey monkey suit, and on my feet are silly shoes I can barely walk in. I smile effortlessly- like I’d practiced in the mirror before; today is the first call of two hundred applications- an unpaid position with potential to grow. I don’t care, I need it, even if for the papers. I continue to hold the effortless smile as they say to me in the best possible terms that I’m just not the right look. And nod in the most understanding fashion- like I’d also practiced in the mirror. And I walk away, feeling angry, wanting to punch the world in the face for its fake promises.
And then.
On the street corner, in front of a school gate, a group of girls playing that hand game passed down by the Big Kids. Their hair an afro mess half pulled up by ribbons. They stop their game. They are staring at the woman in the grey suit and the red bag. And that woman? She smiles at them and waves, hoping these seven year olds will do it differently this time.

Suitcase.

Life is a journey. You’re always on the move, best foot forward, and a suitcase packed up with memories of the time way back when.
We stroll with acquaintances, lightly taking in the weather, and we wave cheerily as they bend down the next road.
Our friends, they come a bit further, until a crossroads, a reckoning. An argument about a life choice, a transfer to another state, a baby, a new life maybe, and so we part, and readjust our load.
Our lovers, they stay and sometime leave, at which point? we don’t know. Maybe at a fountain, maybe at a street, maybe they up and vanish the moment we bend to lace the ribbon at our feet.
But still we keep moving, dragging that suitcase along. As pit-stop to milestone, it gathers more and more. Baggage. They call it with an accent and a sneer to the ‘b’. Through the rain, through the snow, through the sand that gathers at the shore, we keep dragging, lugging it along.
In it, our precious belongings, the smiles of our parents, the laughter of friends we lose to find, and the sweet, sad echoes of those we left behind.

Typewriters

You made typewriters sound like music to my untrained ears.

The rusty key-tops as they banged unceremoniously against the lever of the decades-old machines, the triumphant sliding of the carriage release as the girl in the yellow shoes humble-smugly let the rest of us know that she was done with her lines. The dark pink paper folder which the instructor insisted we all have clutched against my chest as I walked out of the second floor room to see you- in your white shirt, and blue jeans and smile at my hair telling me it looked…different, but nice.
My hair; short black braids cut sharply, strictly, almost religiously at the jawline. The practical, near-domestic look which stood out of place in a sea of Brazilian hair weaves cascading down the graceful backs of the beautiful girls in their patent leather pumps.
You made a joke about typewriters, and I laughed. You’d been from your French class, and I resisted the urge to spout out all the French words I knew because I had been pronouncing hors d’oeuvre and chef-d’oeuvre wrongly my entire life, mixing them up as I went along, and butchering sentences even Google Translate couldn’t figure out.
And so I only smiled, and you held my hand and guided me through the current of people as we poured out of the building; you with your white shirt and me with my strict hair. We talked about music, about art, about life. Your observations fresh, un-ironic, and original, my nodding and taking in every single word. You looked at me with such a concentration that I thought you feared that the memory of my face would disappear once you looked away.
And so we bred our habit; you’d wait for me, always, and I for you. And we would walk, me to my typewriting, you to your French, and when it was over we would walk back, and sit under the ‘Congolese’ tree- reveling in the revelations we’d make to each other that we’d never let anyone else know.
Everything was musical; the wind was a song, the footsteps a march, the tap-tap-tap of the key-tops a melody from the libretto of the type-wheel producing a symphony with each line I wrote.
And then, one odd afternoon as the trees played a suite, you were there, under the Congolese tree, five feet away in reality, but on the music you had gone five pages in;- page five system three right at the point where the key switches to D-Minor. With you, a beautiful girl with long flowing Brazilian hair, and patent leather shoes, a girl I could never- even if I tried all the hair, skin, weight and height treatments in the world- be.
I looked at you, and you at me…no, you looked through me. The girl looked up and smiled, in her eyes I saw the music which I’d been hearing echo through her too. She smiled kindly, I knew her, she was a friend. And I smiled back.
Maybe I should have screamed in coloratura pitch, and stomped my feet. Maybe I should have marched across that green grass and ripped the tree from its roots. Maybe I should have burst out in aria at your betrayal, calling to me an audience of onlookers, and grabbing the patent leather shoes girl so we could walk away together in triumphant solidarity.
But they would have never come, she would have never listened because what could I, me with the domestic hair, possibly have to do with you- o most popular one on campus? And so I only smiled.
The typewriters still sounded like music. A requiem for a time once spent in your glorious light, a dirge for the identical girls in long Brazilian hair and patent leather shoes whose hearts you broke, and a capriccio for the girl in the domestic hair.

and She was God

I had seen God, and it was Mrs. Moyo.
The way her long limbs moved gracefully, as if willing the air around her to stop and bend to her command.
Her dark skin which she adorned with gold bracelets, necklaces and earrings, the way in which they caught the sun, absorbing its light, drinking it and shining out of her dark, almond shaped eyes.
Her hair hung around her head like a halo- no, a crown. Soft like wool, dark interwoven with grey, like a storm about to break. It stood high and majestic, defying gravity, rejecting custom, embracing the glorious coils in which it sprung.
She wore cloths which hung on her frame like air, like the water, like the sky at dusk and at dawn. They flowed behind her like blazing trails of the softest, most beautiful fire I had ever seen.
Every step she took was as if the earth below had sighed underneath her caress. She smiled like she knew the beginning and the end, the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning. Her voice felt like velvet, yet like silk, like thunder and yet like the softest brass bell. She laughed in symphonies, melodies written by each heave she took.
In her delicacy, she was firm. She stood strong in her willowy frame. She made us laugh and cry, she brought with her a tragedy in joy one could not describe but sang out with all their heart.
She was the wind, the waves, the soil, and the flame. She was SHE, she was Woman, she was God.