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.

Adjoa on a Monday.

This post was originally  published on February  16, 2018 and updated today, February 3, 2021. The months are entirely coincidental. Or are they? Read on to learn what my dream job would be and why it remains my dream job, three years later. 

Ever since my early twenties, coffee shops have been my true love. Many a coffee shop had me inside of it; ordering a cup, listening to the beans whir in the grinder; hearing the quiet hum of conversation as patrons did everything from chat with each other to type away at their laptops for whatever projects they were working on. (I almost always think the laptop-bearers are burgeoning novelists.) When I worked at my dearly departed Borders Books (see memories here and here), one of the areas I was assigned to, other than at the register or the info desk or shelving books, was the cafe. There, I learned to make a variety of espresso-based drinks, recipes that I still remember all these years later. It was, in a way, my first foray in working in a coffee shop. And I loved it something awful.

Naturally, I’ve always wanted my own shop. So in my mind, my shop would be called Adjoa on a Monday. Adjoa is my Ghanaian day name for ladies born on a Monday. The decor would unsurprisingly be rustic-y with a French touch; the French part is me, as you know, but I’ve also grown to love the rustic idea for a while now. Funny, huh? This Square Peg, who favored not-busy, not-busy, super modern spaces now longing for burnished wood finishes and Mason jar centerpieces? Girl, people be changing…

*All images derived from my boo Pinterest.

Anyway, further details about AOAM:

  • Free WiFi. I love the idea of people inhabiting that space and working on whatever their working on.
  • Open mic nights. At Borders, I freely took advantage of sharing my poetry with audiences. That college student had plenty of spurned-love poems to share, thank you very much.
  • Themed evenings every now and again. Paris jazz spot Tuesday. Speakeasy Fridays. Etc.
  • An assortment of staffers of different ages and backgrounds. This one is important to me. When I worked at Borders, a true pleasure was working with everyone from fellow college kids to part-time History professors and everyone in between. It was amazing.
  • A mini-bookshelf/donate-a-book area. Because you know books have to be involved.

More ideas abound. Will it happen one day? Will I venture out and start my own business and finally see this coffee shop of mine with my own two eyes? *Kanye shrug* I’ve never been ashamed or shy to dream out loud. Perhaps that’s the first step?

What thing/idea/venture/adventure have you nursed for ages? I’d love to peek…share it in the comments below.

And now…

friday

altogether different and wondrous.

That’s how I describe the air in a museum. It’s just a wholly amazing atmosphere and I’m always here for it. Yesterday, my girls and I headed downtown into Dallas and I finally, finally visited the Dallas Museum of Art. I’ve lived here for two years and have been aiming to go ever since I arrived in this town, and life happened, but I’m happy to say that it all came to pass. It was exhilarating. Yes, I’m one of those people that stands in front of artwork and wildly gesticulates as she describes brush strokes and archetypes and symbols and rococo and so on and so forth.  A slideshow of my pics from the artistic afternoon await you below (look for the Ghanaian artifacts, as well).

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Bon Monday. Do you love museums and galleries and art, oh my? Let me know in the comments below…

be our guest.

welcome

There we all are, sitting in our living room in our old house in Ghana, surrounded by endless laughter and fascinating conversations. My parents are there; also uncles, aunts, various relatives, and longtime family friends that might as well be kin to us, being that I’ve known them and have been around them for as long as I could remember. Some of my earliest memories involve evenings like this, where my parents hosted friends, family, our neighbors. The joyous faces and smiles. The gentle teasing and ribbing between my father and his pals. The beautiful women I observed reverentially. And the food. Ah, the food. Without really understanding it, my parents were establishing, for their children, a blueprint of hospitality. Things didn’t change when we settled in the United States. From our little apartment to the townhouse we later lived in, there were always people. Family, friends, relatives, all part of our immediate family of six. My parents never hesitated to help friends in need; if someone needed a place to stay, he or she was staying at our home. As I got older, it was incredible to see the generosity and love my parents showed to others.

This posed a bit of a problem growing up, however. Sure, my parents could invite loads of people over because they were adults and could do whatever they, the payers of rent, pleased. But their kid inviting other kids over without telling them?

nah

It happened more than once. I’m convinced my mother had moments of stopping herself from doing permanent damage to my hind parts. No worries, though: I learned my lesson at the age of 14. We won’t get into the details, but it was the last time I didn’t check with my parents first before making invitation. Believe me.

Here’s the thing (if you’ve experienced it or are experiencing it, you’ll agree with me): living alone is glorious. There’s really nothing like being the queen/king of your castle of one; laying about, doing whatever strikes your fancy. I moved out of my parent’s house and lived on my own in my first apartment when I was 24 years old. It was amazing. It was eye-opening. It was frustrating. It was the best. After that, there was an interesting journey of roommates and housemates and then moving back home when Dad got sick and then, a year and six months ago, leaving VA and moving to the Lone Star state and living solo once again. All that said, I’m happiest in the company of my own solitude. But I’m also the daughter of two people who kept that open-door policy we discussed above, and so it’s necessary to tell you I love a house filled with people.

I’ve hosted gatherings, game nights, movie nights, come-over-and-chill evenings (my personal favorite), girls-just-talking-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-early-morning events, etc. It’s thrilling to look around my living room and see people, to hear the laughter, to go deep into conversation. Last night, I hosted an impromptu dinner with friends. I actually cooked dinner–chili a la Square Peg–and we ate and watched movies and had a smashing good time. You can’t beat that on a Sunday evening. (But it was also nice when everyone went home and I resumed my relaxing spot on the couch and watching cheesy Hallmark movies.)

Can’t thank my parents enough for showing me how to love people, how to be generous, and how to say welcome.

What say you? Loner or lover of guests or both?

 

💯

If you’ve been here for a while or recently stopped by to take a look at my little corner of the Internet, you know that I am Ghana-born, partially Ghana-raised, birthed by a Ghanaian woman and man, product of Ghanaian ancestry. Honestly, I’ve never wondered if there was anything else in my blood. I just never have. But one sees ads for Ancestry dot com and one gets curious. Even larger: I never met my paternal or maternal grandfather. Would a genetic test perhaps reveal a few things about them? Would genetics speak of them in some way?

I decided to find out. There was a sale on Ancestry so I took advantage of it and signed up to receive the at-home DNA kit to send back to them for testing. When the kit arrived, I was disappointed to learn that no, this wasn’t a Law-and-Order type of DNA test with a Q-tipped cheek swab. No, I would have to–ugh–spit into a vial. Side note: I believe, with all my heart, that spitting is ugh. So, yeah, the kit sat there for a while, ignored by me. Eventually, however, I got the nerve to re-open the kit and just do it, already. Conveniently enough, Ancestry sends you return packaging so I put everything together and sent it off.

The results came back to me a few weeks ago. Shall we discuss?

Pic

  1. Cote D’Ivoire, Benin, and Togo, oh my. Like I said earlier, This Square Peg never doubted the presence of Ghana running through her veins. But I’ll be for real: seeing Cote D’Ivoire and Benin

    yesss
    Girl, please. She knew she was 100% African.

    and Togo…WOW. WOW. So very cool and and intriguing all at the same time.

  2. 100 percent of something. A friend of mine remarked that she’s never seen results where someone is 100 percent of something. “You are 100 percent African. That’s really amazing.” Hearing that gave me life. Because it is amazing. I never needed confirmation of my genetic makeup, but seeing “100% Africa” above was just the coolest thing.
  3. French. Is it any wonder, dear reader, that I’ve been attracted to everything French since I was 12 years old? For reasons I’ve never quite understood? Could the presence of Cote D’Ivoire and Benin and Togo, all officially French-speaking countries, have anything to do with this longstanding amour? Can genetics determine devotion?
  4. Mama. When I informed my mom about the results of the genetic test, she responded with the following: “We don’t know anyone from there.” I laughed and replied that this wasn’t a list of people we knew, but rather what my ethnic heritage is.  She was silent for a bit, seeming to marvel over this information. I wondered if she was thinking about which one of our ancestors perhaps emigrated into Ghana

    Africa Map
    Photo courtesy of Africa Guide.

    from the three places, primarily Cote D’Ivoire. After all, if you glance at the Western side of my continent, Ghana is flanked on both sides by the other three countries. Anyway, I then mentioned to my mom that this could explain my abiding love for the French language (even though, real talk, I I speak Frenglish), a statement that she quickly agreed could be true.

  5. In the End…Other than wondering about genetics and DNA and the past and my forebears and on and on, life went on after learning my results. My curiosity was assuaged. I didn’t gain a wealth of understanding about the stories of the men and women I didn’t have the opportunity to meet. Nevertheless, it was just plain cool to add this new piece of information to the mosaic of me.

Have you ever done a test like this?

Feel like talking about it?

Can you hear the comments area calling?