Aggie and the Woman, Part 5

Are you on the train yet?

Just stepped on. No seats available so I have to stand. Sigh.

Too bad. Do you see Marième?

Let me look. By the way, if we lose Wi-Fi, I’ll text you when we get above ground.

Okay. 

That Friday afternoon, Aggie looked up from her text conversation with Daniel and peered around the packed train car. As usual, there was no sign of Marième, which had been the case for the past several weeks. Interestingly enough, there was another woman sitting where Marième would normally sit, similarly typing away at her phone’s keyboard and wearing a chic pantsuit. Despite her disappointment that it wasn’t Marième, this woman quickly held Aggie’s attention. She was Black, fair skinned, and wore a long blonde wig. Yet, Aggie noticed that she was fair-skinned in an inexplicably unnatural way, as if she had packed on her makeup without realizing that she was overdoing it. But it didn’t seem like makeup, did it? It seemed like it was her natural skin, yet bizarrely not at all. Shuddering inwardly, her senses prickling at the sudden understanding of what she was looking at, Aggie’s eyes then drifted toward the woman’s hands. The hands always tell the truth, her mother used to say when they would see women like this back home. The woman’s hands were also fair…except for the dark spots Aggie saw near her wrists and in between her fingers, the areas that had been missed. The truth was clear.

Maybe she’s a burn victim or it’s a skin issue, Aggie then mechanically told herself, the same things she often whispered to her mother back then. However, she wasn’t naïve to the fact that the excuse no longer provided the same adolescent comfort it once did. It just seemed impossible to her that anyone would voluntarily cover the beauty of their skin, to bleach it like it was a stain. But the fact that skin lightening was a billion-dollar industry in Asia, the Middle East, and in her own continent of birth was enough to remind Aggie just how real it was. 

The train then lurched to a stop. As numerous riders exited the train, the seat across from the woman became free. Reluctantly, Aggie decided to take the seat. Remembering her conversation with Daniel, she glanced down at her phone and saw that her service was temporarily down anyway. Not wanting to focus on the woman, Aggie pulled a book out of her handbag.

“Agnes?”

She looked up and around her. Who knew her on the train?

“Over here.”

It was the woman across from her.

“Yes?” Aggie asked, thoroughly confused. 

The woman smiled at her. “It’s me, Marième.”

Aggie and the Woman, Part 4

“A bit hungry?” he asked, grinning.

“You could say that,” Aggie replied before taking another bite. “What are you doing up?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” He approached the refrigerator and also poured himself some milk. After warming the mug in the microwave, he sat down across from her. “Are you in the mood to share some of that cake?”

“No, not especially.”

“You’re glaring at me and you won’t share. What did I do?”

Aggie decided to confront the issue head on. “You need to explain a few things to me,” she said, pointing her fork at him. 

“What things?”

“Oh, you have amnesia now?” she asked drily. “Last night was—I don’t even know what to say about it. I have a thousand questions—”

“I’ve had a crush on you for the past six months,” Daniel said simply. 

Shocked, Aggie searched for the words to respond. “Six months—but I moved in six months ago,” she said.

He nodded. “There you were, no longer this little girl who spent every waking day with us growing up, annoying me along with my little sister. You were mature and self-assured and any guy would be an idiot not to feel like me.” He smiled at her. “Didn’t you notice me staring at you all the time and volunteering to shuttle you around Geneva when you arrived?”

Aggie shook her head. “Honestly, no. I just…never did.”

“Because I’m like your big brother,” he said. “That’s why I said what I said last night, Ags. I can’t be your boyfriend if you think of me like a sibling.”

“I just found out you have a crush on me and suddenly you’re my boyfriend?” she countered, oddly feeling less surprised about his revelation. 

Daniel nodded. “I’m 100 percent sure that I’m going to end up being your boyfriend.”

“Talk about being self-assured, Van Streck.” Nevertheless, she cut the remainder of her cake in half and pushed her plate toward him. As he ate enthusiastically, Aggie found herself leaning over and softly brushing some of the crumbs off his cheek.

Aggie and the Woman, Part 3

Later, after a hearty dinner, Aggie stood on the patio. Despite the darkness, she could make out the silhouette of the Swiss Alps in the distance. After six months in the country, she was no less transfixed by the mountains and how they seemed to touch the corners of the expansive sky. It was the kind of natural beauty that endeared her even more to Switzerland. It didn’t yet feel like home, but Aggie sensed that soon, Waldo in a sea of cookie cutter faces or not, it would. Before long, however, her mind was pulled back to Marième. The strange uneasiness she felt from earlier came roaring back. What was bothering her about this woman? 

“There you are.”

Aggie turned to find Daniel approaching her. “Here I am,” she replied. “Where is everyone?”

“About to watch a film. I was tasked with finding you.”

“All right. By the way, you have to stop teasing Marley.”

Daniel nodded. “I know. I’ve apologized profusely. It won’t happen again.”

Aggie laughed. “That part I don’t believe. Isn’t it written somewhere that older siblings have to torment and tease their younger siblings endlessly?”

“Well, yes, it is in the handbook.” He peered at her. “So what are you thinking about?”

“How do you know I’m thinking about something?” she asked. 

“People don’t usually gaze at those mountains for no reason. Plus, I’ve known you since before you were born, so I have a clue when you have something on your mind.” He gently tapped his fingers against the side of her head. “So what’s going on in there?”

She proceeded to tell him about Marième, from their first meeting to not seeing her for the past several weeks.

“So what do you think is troubling you about her?” Daniel asked. 

“I can’t figure it out,” Aggie replied, sighing. “It’s just this peculiar feeling, like something is off.”

“Well, let’s hope for the best. I’m sure you’ll see her soon.” He paused. “She’s really important to you, isn’t she?”

Aggie shrugged. “There’s something kind of amazing about seeing someone like me on the Cornavin. Silly, right, to connect so quickly to a total stranger?”

Daniel shook his head. “Not silly at all. I’m sure you miss home.”

She nodded, envisioning her parents likely gathered in their house in Accra alongside her manifold aunts and uncles from both sides of the family, almost certainly locked in heated debates about a variety of topics. The image naturally came with a lump in her throat. Aggie hadn’t seen her parents since last year, when she had traveled back to Accra for a month-long stay after completing her graduate studies. Skyping twice a week just wasn’t enough. She missed the scent of her mother’s cooking, her father’s bellowing laugh. As her eyes quickly grew misty, Aggie felt Daniel’s arm encircle her shoulders. “Thank you,” she muttered. “Maybe you are a good big brother after all.”

“But I’m not,” he replied quietly.

“Not what?”

“Your big brother.”

“Well, you’re like a big brother to me. You knew me before I was born, remember?”

He gently turned her face towards his. “Don’t think of me that way, okay? Not anymore.”

Aggie frowned. “I don’t understand.”

Without replying, he squeezed her shoulder before walking back into the house.

What just happened? Aggie asked herself. 

*

At 3:30 that morning, Aggie’s eyes flew open. After a restless, sleepless night, recalling Daniel’s comments from the previous evening had won the battle—she was officially wide awake and confused. Did Daniel have feelings for her? After all, to insist that she eliminate the “older brother” view of him had non-platonic, romantic implications, right? And how did she even feel about that? Relationships were typically the last thing on her mind, despite her mother’s mild threats about the matter. Aggie considered turning on her laptop and Skyping with her mother, who, despite the early call, would nevertheless engage in a long, undoubtedly animated conversation about the matter. Of course, the conversation would have nothing to do with the fact that Daniel was Danish and a different race; before Aggie left Ghana for school in the UK, her parents had merely expressed that she not take up with a murderer (Dad) or a poor man (Mom). If anything, her mother would be far more interested in receiving the green light to plan the wedding of her only child. In any case, Aggie abandoned the Skype plan. Perhaps it wasn’t time to discuss something she herself hardly understood.

The questions continued to overflow, enough for Aggie to throw on her robe and quietly make her way out of her room. She needed an interruption to her thoughts. Soon, she was in the kitchen and helping herself to a generous portion of the chocolate cake Diana had baked for dessert. Daniel found her like this some moments later, feasting on cake and sipping from a glass of warm milk. 

Aggie and the Woman, Part 2

Marley Van Streck, Aggie’s lifelong friend, usually picked her up from the Cornavin train station in the evenings. After accepting her new position, it went without saying that Aggie would live with Marley and her family in Geneva until she found her own residence. Of course, if it were up to Marley, Aggie would never leave.

“You should say hello to her,” Marley said that evening after Aggie told her about the woman’s acknowledging smile. “Exchange information.”

“That’s an idea.”

“Just don’t replace me. You know I’m yours forever,” Marley said, grinning.

“Without a doubt.”

*

The following afternoon, Aggie leaned across the aisle and handed the woman her business card. “I’m Agnes,” she greeted. “I thought, since we see each other so often, that we might as well know each other’s names.”

The woman smiled brightly. “Yes, I completely agree,” she replied in a French accent. “My name is Marième.”

“Do you work in the city? Perhaps we can meet one afternoon for lunch.”

“I do work in the city, and I would like that very much. I am out of business cards, but I will definitely send you a message.”

“Wonderful. One last question: where are you from, Marième? I’m from Ghana.”

“Senegal. We are neighbors, of sorts.”

Aggie smiled and nodded. No, she had hardly inherited her father’s skills. 

*

Several weeks later, when she didn’t hear from Marième, Aggie chalked it up to the reluctance to reach out to a stranger. Fellow African or not, they simply didn’t know each other. However, she was also missing from her usual spot on the train. Was she all right? Aggie wondered. Did something happen to her?

“You said she wore an engagement ring, right?” Marley asked as she pulled into the driveway of the Van Strecks’ home that evening. “Maybe she had her wedding.” 

Aggie nodded. “I forgot about that. Highly probable.” Satisfied with the possibility that Marième was celebrating her wedding, Aggie decided to put it out of her mind. Nevertheless, she couldn’t deny the puzzling feeling that consumed her. 

The aroma of food instantly greeted them when they entered the house. Moments later, the two sat in the airy kitchen and watched Diana Van Streck, Marley’s mother, carefully place a tray of just roasted Cornish game hens on the counter. “A few more minutes to cool and they’ll be ready,” Diana said.

“But I’m starving,” Marley said melodramatically, closing her eyes and slightly groaning for effect. 

“I say if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” announced Daniel Van Streck, Marley’s older brother, as he entered the kitchen.

Marley shot him a withering glare. “I have a job, thank you very much.”

“Going to the playground with the kids? Is that working?” he asked. “I was told you spend more time on the swings than they do.” He quickly winked at Aggie. She shook her head disapprovingly at him. 

Marley shot up from her chair. “Let me tell you something—”

“Enough, you two,” Diana said. “Daniel, kindly apologize to your sister. Being a nanny is indeed employment.”

“I was just teasing. Please accept my apology, Marls.”

“Revenge is mine.”

“Marley,” Diana warned. She then rolled her eyes, glancing at Aggie. “29 and 32 years old and they still argue like toddlers. Be happy you’re an only child, Agnes.”

“She’s not an only child,” Marley said, still glaring at her brother. “We’re sisters. I’m an honorary Boateng, remember?”

Aggie laughed and nodded. “That she is.”

Aggie and the Woman, Part 1

I spoke in my previous post about the transformative short story I wrote about a woman who had more in common with me as a person than I’d ever known in my own written fiction before. Happily sharing that short story with you in daily excerpts. See below for Part 1.

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Aggie and the Woman

For the past four months, Agnes Boateng found herself sitting across from the same woman on the train. It was a feat to notice the same face in an endless sea of people, much less to end up seated adjacent to one another every day, but she guessed that they left their jobs around the same time. The woman was clearly a professional; typically clad in a smart pantsuit and tapping away at the keys on her mobile phone like most of the other commuters. But there was something else. When she first saw the woman, the excitement that ran through Aggie was undeniable: she had found another brown person.

Having moved to Switzerland six months ago and subsequently starting her new job as an economist at an international banking firm in Geneva, it was rather easy to pick Aggie out of the commuting (and general) crowd; she was usually the only person of color, a quick-to-find Waldo in a scene of cookie cutter people. That first afternoon when she saw the woman sitting across from her was a moment worthy of celebration, especially since the woman also appeared to be African like her.

One afternoon, while once again studying the woman seated across from her on the train, Aggie wondered if she was East African. The woman’s distinct, angular features seemed to point that she was either Kenyan or Sudanese. If her father were there, he would of course know. She certainly hadn’t inherited his uncanny ability to correctly guess the ethnicity of just about every African person he saw. (When she was 14, her raging curiosity about the accuracy of one of his guesses inspired Aggie to race back to an elderly woman they had passed at Makola Market to ask where she was from; to her infinite shock, the woman had confirmed that, yes, she was indeed from the nation of Chad as her father had presumed.)

She wore a gray pantsuit with a bright pink blouse underneath the blazer; her coily hair sat atop her head in a large bun. The enormous diamond ring on her left index finger sparkled underneath the train’s overhead lights as her fingers rapidly moved across the phone’s keys. Naturally, as a result of Aggie’s open, fixed gaze, the woman suddenly looked up. Meeting Aggie’s eyes, she flashed a broad smile at her before peering back down. Despite Aggie’s slight embarrassment at being caught staring (“your eyes can be too much,” her mother liked to say), she took the woman’s smile as a gesture of solidarity. We’re in this together, her smile seemed to say to Aggie. You and me and our dark skin and our giant Afros.

[Not] Writing.

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Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

I haven’t written anything creatively in a long while. Fiction is my thing, my jam. You know that. But it’s been excessively hard for me to hunker and write. I have some suspicions as to why. Let’s talk them over.

  1. No inspo. Like most artists, inspiration is so huge for me. I need that flow, that impetus, that spark that leads to me wanting to sit down and work on something. I haven’t had that in a while. For the record, I personally gain inspiration from the people around me, from visual art, from music, and really anything that germinates into the desire to storytell. And although those things are still around me, nothing is really germinating.
  2. No patience. Lest you believe I’ve abandoned my passion altogether, however, there have been times when I’ve worked on stories…and then I’ve quickly let them go. I don’t know. Something comes over me. I’m moved to action and then the flame quickly goes out. If I understood why that happens, dear reader, perhaps it wouldn’t happen so much.
  3. No… You know how difficult this year has been for me. Maybe this is the fallout. Wanting to find catharsis through writing but not being in a place where I’m ready to go there. I think this particular reason is a strong possibility.

My intention is to find a quiet place somewhere and just allow the muse to do what she does. Maybe a trip to a museum. Or a few days out of town, alone, armed with a notebook and a pen. Something. Because at the end of the day, I miss writing creatively. I miss the excitement that comes from creating. Gotta get back.

Blogtober #18: Keep That Same Energy.

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Photo by Rodolfo Clix on Pexels.com

I’ve said it a million times over: when it comes to writing and creating, I seem to burst with ideas and projects in the fall. It’s the electricity in the air. It’s the leaves. It’s the absence of mosquitoes. Ideas have been coming at me nonstop (like legit novels, dear reader; me, who looks at the commitment of a novel with the side-est of eye), and I’ve actually not allowed them to languish in the cushiest, warmest corners of my mind, never to see the light of day. I’ve actually been working on them. It’s kind of amazing.

But it’s short-lived, y’all. This creating high will last as long as autumn lasts, which doesn’t last long at all.

Here’s the thing: I get writers laziness and/or block every month of the year. These have been pervasive problems since this writing thing took chose me all those years ago. Which also meant that the most isolating of passions chose me and brought with it, on the downside, inaction, inertia, and times when my particular muse just doesn’t want to deal with me. It’s a writerly thing. (Writing is like, that’s all you, sweetheart. Don’t be blaming me for everything.) Anyway, that’s OK. No passion is 100 percent perfect. It’s the conflicting, fluctuating nature of it all. I get it. It’s just that I want that electric, thrilling, creative push for more than a month or so.

A random voice in my head: yeah, so what are you going to do about that?

I don’t know. Just keep writing, I suppose, regardless of the season. Oh, were you expecting a grand denouement to all of this blog chatter, a remedy for this constant struggle? See below.

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Onwards.

“i was reborn when i was broken…”

As promised. Yesterday, when I heard the opening lyric of my boyfriend’s masterful song, “Lifetime,” I was immediately reminded of a conversation I had with Laura. Essentially, we discussed how pathos inspires our fiction. Creation comes from chaos. And to be honest, to paraphrase my boyfriend, some of my best work has come from being/feeling broken.

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Don’t get me wrong–personal distress or being blue or working through stuff is root canal business. It stinks. Nevertheless, since I began writing seriously, I recognized that the catharsis that came from writing seemed to make what I was going through endurable. And for some reason, it made the process of writing, dare I say it, enjoyable.

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Can good times inspire? I can’t say. Actually, yes, I can. Good times, interesting times, head scratchy times, funny haha and funny weird times–these inspire blogging. I find blogging to be the outlet I need when life, in its many facets, intrigues me. But my fiction, my poetry…it’s 90% born from those moments when the blue tint of life needs to be wrangled by way of creative writing.

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Fellow writers, what are your thoughts? While you think about it, enjoy the sweet sounds of my beau, won’t you?