Of Grand Buildings and Studio Apartments by Edith Knight Magak

Of Grand Buildings and Studio Apartments

Of the billions of issues in the universe, Mother and I agree on only six things. 

One, we both agree that we should watch our weights, and the numerous back and forth links we forward each other on the new tips to lose weight without sweat can attest to that fact. Two, we also agree that we are yet to lose any weight despite the several materials we have. Three, we do not like to admit this, but we both know that we can’t walk in stilettos for the life of us. And for this, we apologize to the sisterhood. Forgive us, we have failed you. 

Four, we believe in Jesus, and heaven and hell and judgement day. FYI, we can recite the apostle’s creed to the last word. Five, we both approve of women that do not disclose all their finances and monies to the men in their lives. Lastly, we agree that hair weaves are meant for all other women but for us. 

Let me explain to you why. Weaves age us, they add gazillions of years to our faces. We have tried different styles, from the short bobs to the long ones, the curly ones – all of them. Yet, somehow, we always manage to look like popcorn. A lot of people say I look very ‘mature’ with weaves on. Thank you very much, but I’d rather look mature when I’m seventy. For mother, every time she wears a weave, everybody calls her grandma, which is not bad, except I’m yet to produce any grandchild for her and she’s only forty-five. PLEASE weave! Life starts at forty; give Mother a break. She’s only five. 

So, that’s it. Those are the only things in the entire universe that mother and I agree on. 

Of the billions of things we argue about, top of the list would be buildings. Mother is convinced that Black women should be grand buildings; of many rooms – some open to the public, others rooms with restricted access, others firmly shut with only the woman having the keys, etc. She says the mind of a Black woman should be very different from her soul, body and spirit. ‘As a Black woman, you don’t have the luxury of directness. You need many rooms to store all the injustices, shame, pain, anger and hate that the world gives you. It’s hard enough that you are a woman. To make that worse, a Black woman’ she always says. 

I disagree. I believe that women, Black, White, Brown or Purple, should all be studio apartments; ‘who has time to go through all those rooms, mother?’ I always ask her. I believe that what you see should be what you get. Personally, I don’t have any rooms or locks. I used to, but I broke them all down. She knows that too, my mother, and, like every other mother, has been trying to relentlessly rebuild them for me.

I demolished my grand house when I was eleven. That’s when I refused to lock in humiliation in its room. His name was Lameck, a tall lanky pimpled boy who used to insult and play pranks on the girls in the class – pull out our chairs just when we were about to sit, stick gums on our seats, make fun of our debuting breasts, and if we stood up to him? He would shout to everyone that we smelled like period blood. And so, all we did was swallow the shame and, when it was too much, we cried. Our mothers had told us that we were now ladies, who had to act proper.

But that day, I refused to do either; after he announced to the class that I was the ugliest Blackest girl in school, I kicked him in the stomach. Maybe not too hard, for it was my first time to kick someone. He punched me in the face, very hard I must admit, my cheeks felt hot and, for a second, I was dizzy. I punched him back; there was no reason to stop now that I had started. He pulled my newly straightened hair, which, looking back, I think was rather girlish of him, and when the cheers brought the teacher in, I grabbed his shirt and ripped it off. That was the day I bulldozed all my rooms. 

Over the years I’ve continued to do the same thing; not fighting people, no. Though more often than not I feel like doing so. But more like an eye for an eye. I give pain for pain, love for love, and I say what I think when I think it. What can I say? I have no spare rooms to store feelings, much to the disappointment of my dear mother. 

I must confess, though I would never admit this to my mother, that in my studio apartment, there’s a place I would appreciate a blind on since locks are out of the question. I would call it the stereotype section. In it, I would unload all the lost opportunities and lost love. Because, well, I occupy too much space, talk too loudly, appear difficult to work with, and question everything. And maybe the weave thing too. Going around with big kinky afro hair as opposed to shiny slick weaves has certainly cost me some things. Hey, I am not my hair. But I guess India Arie doesn’t sing anymore.

I can hear mother’s voice in my head right now saying ‘hush girl, the oilskin of the house is not for rubbing into the skin of strangers’ and yet here I am, sharing my oilskin with the whole world. But I refuse to lock in my feelings. No, I am as much a woman as the next White or Blue one. And look, here I am, at the end of the essay and I’ve only mentioned the first thing we disagree on. I was going to tell you about the second thing, clouds. Another day, I guess.

Edith Knight Magak is a writer, editor and also serves as a CNF interviewer for Africa in Dialogue. Prior publication credits include Brittle Paper, Urban Ivy, Critical Read, Flash Fiction Magazine, Voice&Verse, Jalada, among others. She has been previously longlisted for the commonwealth writers prize. She currently lives in Nairobi. Twitter: @oedithknight 

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