Tea with Atlanta stories by Jaha Zainabu
Call me what you wanna call me but all I knew was I wasn’t gon look my baby girl in the face and not know where we was gon stay the night. Not me. Not never. I had friends who made a game of twenty-four hour diners, laundry mats and spending the daytime at parks and beaches. No way. No how. What’s a kiss anyway? What’s a hug when you really break it down? A place to stay that’s what. And so we moved in. Me and Tanisha.
She had her very own room and was warm and safe and happy and both of us ate every night. And what’s the use of stories like these and why do folks care anyway and mine aint nothin’ special. All people wanna do is make some kinda case where aint no case really to be made. It happens every day, why look at me? But if you wanna know I’ll tell you. What I care if you know or if you don’t? So ok, here it go.
Me and Tanisha was livin’ over by the Park and things was goin’ ok. Ok like not too bad not too exciting, nothin’ to complain about or nothin’ like that you know. I was rentin’ a room from Janie for four hundred dollars a month and I could afford that well enough on my hustle. I sold stuff. Whatever stuff. Clothes, purses, art, some earrings I useta make. I should go back to makin’ earrings. I was real good at it. They useta call me the earring lady you know. I didn’t make that up. Somebody else did. I woulda come up with somethin’ way more clever than that, but somebody called me that and it stuck.
Anyway, Tanisha was only three years old. And it’s true what they say. Time sure does fly by real fast. You gotta cherish those moments when they real little like that ‘cause you don’t get ‘em back you know.
I met him at a coffee shop not far from the apartment and he bought me some peppermint tea and I sat on down and drank it real slow. Tanisha was with her daddy that night. Or my mama. I don’t remember which one that night but I was walkin’ around by myself tryina figure things out ‘cause I knew I couldn’t just keep goin’ on sellin’ earrings and stuff no matter how good I was at it. I had bigger plans than that. Bigger plans than to be rentin’ a room from Janie and everything like that. Mr. Walker bought me some tea and some more tea. The next week he did too. After a few weeks it got to be that’s what we did on Friday nights. Meet at the coffee shop and drink tea. I take Tanisha down to my mama’s and she always happy to see her when the week end and I gon over to the coffee shop. To drink tea.
I found out the hard way that Janie had been sellin’ dope out of the apartment and I just couldn’t have my baby around that kinda mess. If her daddy found out, he would try to take her from me for sure and never let me see her again and I just couldn’t have that. I came home from tea one night and Janie was sittin’ on the couch lookin’ like she had been cryin’. I’m thinkin’ it was one of her boyfriends dumped her again and wondered why she wasn’t use to it it happen so much. But she tell me that BigBaby come by and wanted more than what she could pay for and call herself just gon take it. Well, she did take it. BigBaby a pretty big girl and it didn’t take much to push her way into the apartment. She took all the stuff, my purses I was sellin’, Janie’s grandmama’s silver chains and my money I was savin’ up to get me and Tanisha our own place, plus the rent for next month. Seventeen hundred dollars of my cash money.
Mama didn't really have no room and plus I didn’t want her to know all of what was goin’ on. I didn't really want her to think she was gon have to help me out all the time. My whole life helping me, helping me, helping me like I ain't got no kinda way to help myself. No. Anyway, Mr. Walker said we could just move in with him ‘till I get on my own two feet and so that’s what we did.
We moved out to Carson with Mr. Walker. He was renting a two-bedroom house that he told me he owned. I didn't find out that he was renting until one day I got home before he did and found a three day pay or quit notice taped to the door. But I guess that’s another story. Anyway, we lived walking distance from the mall and the bus lines. That worked for me because my Ford Escort was dying a slow death fast. He was a sweet enough guy I guess. Was real good to Tanisha. He had six grown daughters of his own who was all back east so I guess that’s why he knew how to treat Tanisha so good. As for me, he treated me all right too. I guess. Things don’t never come without a price though. Especially things like gettin’ a place for you and your three about to turn four year old daughter to stay for free. Things like that don’t never come cheap at all.
I knew that I had to hustle harder than I had ever before because no way was I gonna be some old man’s prisoner. Nice guy or not. Free rent or not. I knew I needed my very own money and sooner than later, my very own place to stay. My very own place with Tanisha. Just like I thought, things sure did pick up with my sales. I would go out to a little thrift store in Corona on the weekends and buy fancy purses for only a dollar or two, sometimes three or four, and I would sell them for twenty, maybe even thirty. I thought Mr. Walker would be proud of me makin’ my own money. Thought he’d be glad to know that I wasn’t just tryina take advantage of him and everything like that. Seem like he got madder and madder the more money I made. He didn't like it at all when he found out I was makin’ more in two weeks than he did on his social security check for a whole two months. The more I made, the more I had to pay. Mr. Walker never would take no money rent though. That’s ok. I said to myself all the time. That’s ok. Just two more months maybe three and I would have enough for a place of my own with Tanisha. Just me and her.
After my car broke all the way down I knew I had to come up with a hustle on top of my hustle. I couldn't keep going down to Corona no more ‘cause Mr. Walker wouldn't let me use his car to get down there unless he went too and that was out of the question. It seemed like everything I did he wanted to do too. Which woulda worked fine if we made any kinda team. But he was always competing with me. Tellin’ me I didn't know what I was doin’, down talkin’ me in front of my customers, tellin’ me I should just give him my bags and he would sell them for me ‘cause he knew he could get a better deal and he would give me twenty percent. No thank you. I would borrow my cousin’s car once a month and get down there and sell them on my own, that’s what.
Paying rent. Paying rent. Paying rent. Every night after I put Tanisha to bed. Paying rent. Free rent. I was tired. Real tired of free rent. On top of free rent he started talkin’ down to me all the time. Even when nobody was around. Out of the blue. It would seem like things was goin’ ok then he would just come in the room and tell me that wasn't nobody gon ever love me like him or treat me like him. That I should be glad that somebody would put up with a dark, fat girl like me with nappy hair and had a baby with nappy hair too. I never said anything. Just looked at him and felt sorry for him. I wasn't no fat girl. Thick. In all the right places thick. But wasn't no fat girl in no kinda way. There was plenty of men lookin’ at me who wanted me real bad. I wasn't lookin’ for no man though in the situation I was in. No way. No how. When I got me a man again it was gon be when I was in my own place with Tanisha. When I had my own car. When I had my own money. I felt real sorry for him ‘cause I could see through all them insults and everything like that. He was old and couldn't hide from me no more. I wasn't some young girl he had been buyin’ tea for on Friday nights no more. I was in his house and I knew that he wasn't some rich retired play writer. He was an old man living on the little bit that social security paid. He had some government job a long time ago and had retired.
He didn't have an Italian mother or a South African father. He had a fair skinned mother with two black parents and a black American father born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile. Alabama.
He knew that I was on my way out and did everything he thought of to keep me there. Except he never seemed to think of just being good to me. I asked him one morning after free rent if I could just money rent the extra bedroom and he could just do what he wanted to do. Even have some other young girl in there payin’ free rent. Way I looked at it it was a win for everybody. Me and Tanisha would still have a place for a while longer and I could be payin’ money rent and he would have some more in his pocket to pretend with while he took his free rent girl out for tea. But what do I know?
It turns out a girl’s got a limit to free rent and when she reach the limit it just ain't no more free rent to give and whether she got a place yet or not or got some money or not just don’t matter one single bit. When I pulled up in my cousin’s car, he thought I was on my way out to Corona. Nope. Wasn't on my way to get no purses. Not that day. I thanked him for everything but I had to leave right then and there and I just came to get me and Tanisha’s stuff. He didn't like that one bit and told me that I wasn't nothin’ but a dark, fat, nappy headed girl who wasn't gon never be nothin’ but somebody sellin’ purses on the street teachin’ her baby girl to be nothin’ but the very same thing. He didn't mean for me to like that but I sure did too like the sound of that.
I didn't know where I was goin’ but I was leavin’ there. I tell you. When free rent run out then free rent run out and no man nor woman knoweth the day nor the hour. I had the car for the weekend ‘cause my cousin was out in Vegas with her friends. I loaded the car with Tanisha’s clothes, my clothes, purses, art stuff, books, a chair or two and some more books. I put a big blanket over everything and went to Mama’s house. She was used to seein’ Tanisha on Fridays so I knew I wouldn't have no explaining to do that day. But still, what was I gon do? I didn't know. I stayed the night at Mama’s that night and turned the TV off and prayed and prayed in the house all by myself. Tanisha and Mama had gone to dinner and to the movies. I didn't go. I needed to pray. I never did tell Mama none of what was goin’ on. I had just made up in my mind to work it work it out without doing that.
The next morning I woke up and called Vanessa first thing. It musta been God answered my prayer ‘cause I was shol prayin’ for a miracle and that’s what I got. Vanessa and I hadn't spoken in over seven months. I exhaled hard when she answered on the third ring. I told her my free rent run out and she understood ‘cause she had paid free rent before too. She said that she was on her way out to Atlanta to see her new man and would be gone for the whole summer and I could stay at her place and just pay the rent there, only catch was that she needed a ride to the airport ‘cause her ride had just flaked on her and I had to be there in an hour. I kissed Mama on the cheek and woke up Tanisha.
In a mustard seed, that’s what happened.