There aint no way to make it sound pretty ‘cause it aint pretty. It aint pretty. It aint ugly. It aint nothin’ but a story to be told. That’s what everything is. All everything is is something that happened. We always gotta make it something. Gotta make it good or bad, right or wrong. Gotta make it left or right. And for what? To fit feel good into our boxes to fit underneath our pillows so we can sleep through the night? That’s what happened to me you know. Was so caught up in savin’ face, protectin’ his image. Protectin’ mine. Lookin’ good. Who I gotta look good for? It happened. We happened.
I had been caught up in my own bout of depression for some time then. I don’t know why. Don’t nobody really know why they be depressed they just be like that that’s all. That’s all it was for me anyway. I was comfortable right there in all my sad too. Didn’t even want nobody to try to get me out of it or nothin’ like that. Just leave me right there in it. I kinda got some kinda attention ‘cause of it too. Would be lyin’ through my teeth if I told you I didn’t like it either. I played it right you know. Not too sad so folks didn’t want to be around me. Not too down folks look the other way when I come. Just enough sad that was just enough company to anybody’s misery. You know?
I met him in The Village. He was playing the piano at The Joint. I guess it was about eight/ nine o’clock because it was dark out. He was inside with the lights off so it was real dark in that little place. Just dark enough for me to look good being sad in. I went inside and sat down in the back and listened to him play. He sang some too. I sure am a sucker for a sucker who can sing. And a sucker with a story who can play the piano and sing at the same time can almost sho nuff get next to me. You know? Well that’s kinda what happened. Of course I could tell the short version right here real easy. He sang. We got together. Shacked up. Broke up. But then that’s the short version. And everybody say they like to make a long story short but they don’t. ‘Cause it’s just too much you gotta leave out. Too much.
He finished singing and someone sure enough came in and turned on the lights. Like it can’t just be that way. Quiet. Still. It’s always somebody don’t see the good in something just the way it already is. Always somebody don’t see that somebody might be havin’ a good time and just gotta mess it up. Well that’s kinda what happened. I know maybe I’m goin’ too fast for you but you just gotta keep up. Just gotta keep up with the tellin’. The tellin’ aint never the easy part. Guess the listenin’ aint either. Well, somebody turned the lights on and I saw him. In the light. Clear as day. Just sittin’ right there on that piano bench like he aint just made heaven sing. That’s what it was to me. I didn’t even feel like bein’ sad right then. It was just about the music. I’ve heard folks say that but don’t know that I’ve ever really experienced it. I’m an old woman now and he’s long gone. Well, not so long. But he gone. He gone all right.
I was a young girl. No I wasn’t. Wasn’t no young girl at all. I was thirty-one. That aint so young. It’s old enough to know. Old enough to look at a situation and make a choice. That’s what I did. I made a choice. Aint no such thing as a good choice or bad one. Just a choice is all. He was old enough to be my daddy’s big cousin and here he was comin’ on to me. Comin’ on to me like I was a woman his age. Remembering aint pretty. Remembering get you mad sometimes. Get you to feeling like you livin’ it all over again. See how the mind work? I found out somethin’ though. Only real reason to get mad at a somethin’ is ‘cause you think life and folks is supposed to fit the standards you make up. But they aint. Life is life and folks is folks. And you you. See how aint none of them the same thing? But there I go. Goin’ on and on with it.
Folks has always thought I wasn’t so smart. That was to them and what they thought. I know me better than any of ‘em and I gots plenty smarts. I just aint never been the kind that gotta always be showin’ em off all around all the time is all. It’s somethin’ to be sad about when you think about it. Folks thinkin’ that you is a fool when you know good and well that you aint. My grandmamma raised me and she knew I wasn’t no fool. She told me to gon and play like one though ‘cause I had the kinda smarts that folks wouldn’t understand. Wouldn’t understand if they really knew. So I got good at playin’ not so smart. Too good I guess.
He told me that I was real real pretty and it wasn’t like aint nobody told me that before ‘cause they have. Just the way he said it. The way he look at me and keep lookin’ at me even after he say it make me really believe it in a way I aint never really looked at it before. You ever have somebody tell you that you pretty and then you go to the nearest bathroom and look in the mirror to hurry up and see what they saw? Well that’s what happened with me. He look at me like he know my kinda smart. Like he got eyes like only me and Grandmamma. But he didn’t though. He didn’t have eyes like us at all.
I was livin’ in The Jungle. Had me a little studio apartment. That’s all I really needed. A space for me. A space for Koko. Just takin’ care of us by myself. Just me by myself. My grandmamma been gone. At night sometime she think she aint gone though. I don’t say nothin’ or nothin’ like that. But she gone. My neighborhood wasn’t no real real nice one if you lookin’ for clean all the time and quiet at night. It just depend on what you lookin’ for in a place to live I guess. It was sure all right to me. Had me a real nice little place to cook and eat and sell my dinner plates every night. A bed that was all mine all by myself. All mine by myself with Koko. A bathroom with a tub and a toilet and a shower and square diamonds on my kitchen floor. I really liked my diamonds. At least they was all mine.
He would come over mostly at night and eat my food and sleep in my bed with me. Then he started comin’ over more than just at night. Was over there a whole lot. Sometimes I liked that and sometimes I did not. I really like my game shows you know? He didn’t like game shows. He didn’t like Country neither. He really didn’t like Koko.
The brothas around there always was real nice to me. They bought my dinners at night and some of them even tell me I’m pretty. Not the way he did so I rush and look in a mirror to see what they was lookin’ at, but they tell me, and that’s nice too in a world like this. To say that to somebody. Don’t you think? Most of them over there hang out in front of my building just there to sell them drugs. I never did mess with none of that. Never did do that. All of them listen real good to Country. I guess he the leader ‘cause he sell the most drugs or ‘cause he got the most guns or know the most cars that pull up. They all listen to him real good and he say don’t mess with me and don’t none of them ever do. Never did. Some folks got a way of messin’ up a good thing though. You know?
I found out that he got kicked out of his place ‘cause he wasn’t payin’ the money every month. You gotta pay the money every every month or they will kick you out. They say I aint got no smarts, but I do know that. He didn’t even ask me, he just move in with me. He told me because I needed somebody to take real good care of me, ‘cause I was over there all by myself, and somebody like me don’t need to be all by they self like I was. I pay the money every month though. Didn’t nobody never kick me out ‘cause I didn’t pay the money. He came and brought his shirts and pants and drums and shoes. Brought his TV and some books. I didn’t ask for none of it. Not none of it. Besides I already got a TV and aint really no room for two. I told him aint no room for two TVs and he say we just gon sell mine. I didn’t wanna sell mine but I didn’t say so. I guess that’s the kinda smarts people talkin’ bout.
He tried to sell the TV to Country downstairs but Country said no. To this day I don’t know why my TV aint good enough for Country. He shol didn’t take it though, and he told him don’t never bring nothin’ down there to him, and stay out his face. And if he knew what was really good for him, he would move out my place and let me be me. It was just a TV. I tried to tell Country later that he didn’t have to get all mad about him tryin’ to sell the TV. It’s just because we didn’t have no room for two. I guess Country aint have no room for two TVs neither. I guess I aint never gon be smart enough for that one to make no sense. Folks use to bring Country stuff all the time, all hours of the night. Some stuff I know for a fact he already two of. TVs is different I guess.
You know it was on the count of TV we had our very first argument. You know I like my game shows. He say wasn’t no game shows gon be played on his TV ‘cause it’s other stuff going on in the world and even though I wasn’t smart enough to understand I could at least try to get some smarts. He aim to teach me some smarts I guess. I was plenty smart, I tell him all the time. I know plenty what’s going on in the world like what country shootin’ what country. How much a house go for in this part of the world. What the weather like over here and over there. Famous people that got married. A whole lot of things. I know. I just love my game shows too. I didn’t never see nothin’ wrong with that. He tell me I can’t watch it though. I shoulda known then.
Koko has been with me since I was sixteen years old. I will say this, if anyone has ever really truly loved me besides my grandmamma then it would have to be Koko. It aint what folks say to you that let you know they love you. It’s how much they let you be yourself that always tell it. That always give it right away. I didn’t never have no pretendin’ to do around her. Never. I wake up in the morning and open the blinds to see the sun. I like to sing. I know that I don’t have the best singin’ style but I do like to sing. Whatever it is that get you goin’ good early in the day gotta be some kinda good to God. Gotta be. Koko like it too I think. She never said so different. He said so.
Koko got short, curly hair and real real dark chocolate skin. Like licorice. She got pink lips and purple eyes. She got magic eyes. She can see and she can hear and talk and understand and got plenty smarts like me, even though folks think she don’t. But she do. She sure do. I made a pallet for her right at the front door ‘cause that’s where she like to sleep. Why anybody wanna sleep right at the crack of the front door I don’t know. But that’s her. I lay it out every night. Every night after folks finish buyin’ dinners from me. After I eat. After he eat. One day he come in late after I already laid her pallet out and done gon to bed myself. He told me don’t ask him where he go late at night so I don’t. I don’t even wanna know. Just when he go I shol do watch my game shows. Gotta watch ‘em on his TV though ‘cause he sold mine. Even though Country didn’t buy it somebody did, so I guess it was an all right TV after all. I never did know how much money he got for it ‘cause I didn’t go with him to sell it and he only got medicine in exchange. I didn’t even know he was sick.
He told me that night to keep Koko’s pallet away from the front door or he would throw it out if he saw it there again. Seem like everybody ought to be able to pick out where they wanna sleep in they own house. Especially if I’m the one that pay the money every every month all by myself and he don’t even help me and that’s the whole reason he say he movin’ in in the first place to help me out and he don’t do that! But me, I try to keep the peace. I guess the smarts I aint got is the mean smarts that just don’t wanna hurt nobody’s feelings by tellin’ them what I wanna say when I’m feelin’ just a little mad at ‘em. I don’t like nobody hurtin’ my feelings so I guess it’s only right. Folks shol do hurt ‘em though. Hurt ‘em all the time. Anyway, after that I just started makin’ a space set up real comfortable for Koko in my closet so won’t be no type a mess.
Diary, I’m really tired of him livin’ here with me. He don’t help me out none and he sick all the time now and when I wanna help him get better he just get mad. Mad all the time now seem like. Mad and sick sick and mad. I tell him over and over he feel a little bit better if he just eat somethin’. Just a little bit of somethin’ and lie down and get some rest. He hard headed though. Hard headed just because. He stay up late all night watchin’ TV then go downstairs and sometimes knock on Country’s door. Country don’t wanna be bothered with him though. Country don’t like him. Country like a lotta people, but he don’t like him. He say it’s ‘cause Country just jealous ‘cause he get to live up here with me. He say Country kinda gotta feelin’ for me in a sweet way. I don’t know, maybe he do. I mean he do buy my dinners every night and buy some for a whole buncha kids in the neighborhood too. Maybe Country is kinda sweet on me and just was always too scared to tell me ‘cause he know I know he sellin’ them drugs and I’m a good girl.
After I found out about Country bein’ sweet on me I started lookin’ kinda cute when he come at night to get the dinners. I never let on that I know. I just smile a lot. Put lip gloss on a lot. I kept it cool though ‘cause I didn’t want him to find out I was looking cute for Country.
Diary, Yesterday was my birthday and me and him went out on a date. We haven’t been out on a date in a real long time. We went to a restaurant to eat. I didn’t know the name of it. I ate meatloaf and he ordered some chicken and he ate it too. All of it. Maybe he’ll put on some more weight now that it look like he back to eatin’. He told me that he was real real sorry that he haven’t been takin’ good care of me like he said he would but he just needed to test me out to see if I could really really handle myself ‘cause he aint gon be around forever. I asked him where he goin’ he say home to be with the good Lord one of these days.
He told me he need to talk to me about a big job he got comin’ up out in Dallas. It’s a real real big job and we gon be rich. He just gotta be trained real real good to do the job. He gotta leave soon so he don’t miss no part of the teachin’. He only gon be gon a week and I keep thinking’ about watchin’ my game shows every every night for a whole entire week. He need money for the trainin’ class and he gon pay me back every single penny with the money from the job. He promised me we gon be rich. I’m scared to give him the money for the trainin’ ‘cause it’s the money for the apartment. All of the money for the apartment. I always pay all the money every month. Every month. He got mad when I told him I can’t give him the money for the trainin’ and I always get scared when he get mad. We caught the bus home from the restaurant and he didn’t sit with me. He was cryin’. I saw him cryin’. I never saw that before ever. Right then I knew how much that trainin’ meant to him. He cried the whole way home but he didn’t want me to see him. I pretended that I didn’t.
The police came one night. A whole lotta police. They came the night before he was supposed to get back from Dallas. I was scared that night and I wished he was home with me. There were about twenty of them and they all came in the stairwell screamin’ and yellin’ and all that. They went into Country’s place and took him out wearing his robe and house shoes. He was in the back seat of the police car and was sad sittin’ back there. I could tell. Just then it came to me that with Country gon things would be a whole lot different for me. I mean folks had not been buyin’ my dinners as much since he moved in and Country said that would happen. A lotta folks didn’t like him, not just Country all by himself. Turns out he was mean to folks comin’ round just to get my dinners. Country started buyin’ more and more. Sometimes it was ‘cause of Country I had all the money I needed to pay all the money every month and I didn’t never have to get none from Koko. No no I didn’t want them to take away my Country. I took to callin’ him that. My Country. All of a sudden it came to me to tell the police that I needed Country to stay ‘cause he was a real real good guy and even though he sold them drugs he didn’t make nobody buy ‘em or nothin’ like that and let him know how good he been to me. Buyin’ my dinners and all and lettin’ all them other guys around there know not to be messin’ with me. Yeah, I knew that if I told him they would understand and let Country out that car and out them handcuffs.
I put my robe on and ran out fast as I could. “Don’t take him! Don’t take him!” I started bangin’ on the windows. “Don’t you take my Country!” Then one of the police grabbed my arms and tell me to go get back in the house before he take me away too. I told him I don’t wanna go away I just want Country to stay here. “Leave him here! Leave my Country here!”
I saw him just then, runnin’ up the street. Runnin’ real fast too. I didn’t even know that he could run so fast. I guess he saw the police cars and all of that. He grabbed me from the police and held me right by my shoulders shakin’ me and everything. “What you talkin’ bout ‘my Country’? That aint yo Country! You look like one fool. I’m gonna teach you something real good. You get inside that house right now!”
My Country was sittin’ in the back of that car and heard him yellin’ at me like that and then started screamin’ himself. “Don’t you touch her! Don’t you put your hands on her you hear me!” But I don’t know if he heard him or not ‘cause he was still yellin’ at me. Yellin’ and draggin’ me up to the apartment.
We got inside and he closed the door and threw me down on the floor. He stopped screamin’ real sudden and stood real still. Just stopped right there in front of the TV. He stopped and stared at the game show on the TV. My game show. His TV. How did I know he was gon come back a whole night early? I didn’t that’s how. He turned around and I saw a fire in his eyes I aint never seen in nobody before. And then there was me always tryin’ to help a situation out when sometimes it aint no good to be brought to it. It just gotta play its own bad self out.
“Come on baby you just upset right now about something aint got nothin’ to do with us. Lemmie make you some food and pour you a drink, ok?” Yeah, he had took to drinkin’ more than usual round that time. “Lemmie gon and start fixin you a bath too.” He didn’t say nothin’ so I got up slow and went into the kitchen. I went and hurried up and fixed him a dinner plate. Took some greens out the fridge and some corn and I had some bread from the day before. Didn’t have no meat ready so I went and microwaved some frozen fish sticks and I hoped that would do. I put the plate down real quick to run into the bathroom and start fixin’ his bath. I passed the living room and saw him just sittin’ there in the big chair with the same fire in his eyes starin’ off into space. I didn’t know what was wrong with him but I was shol scared. The white part of his eyes was red and the black part of his eyes was real big. Real big. He was sittin’ there rockin’ back and forth. That wasn’t even no rockin’ chair he was in either. But there he was. Just rockin’ rockin’ rockin’.
“What is she doin’ in here?!” I heard him screamin’ from the chair. I was still in the kitchen fixin’ his plate. I brought it into him real fast. I wanted to see what he was talkin’ bout. “You heard me! What is she doin’ in here?!”
Then my whole heart just stopped. There he was holdin’ Koko by the neck. Squeezin’ real hard too. “Please don’t hurt her. Please. I didn’t know you was comin’ back early and I had to give her just a little break from that closet. She don’t like it in there. Besides I was so lonely with you gon’ I needed some kinda company.”
“She aint no company you stupid gal! She aint even real!”
“She real to me though. She like my very own baby.” And what I say that for? He come chargin’ at me so fast my own two feet froze. I sat the plate on the table so I wouldn’t drop it to the floor, except I spilled his drink at his feet. The glass slipped right out of my hand before I even knew it and shattered on the wood floor. “I’m sorry Baby! I’m real real sorry! I shol didn’t mean to do it!”
Then he started laughin’ real hard at me. Real hard laughin’. I don’t like nobody laughin’ at me but it was shol better than him chokin’ me like I thought he was gon do. Like he was doin’ to Koko. So I start laughin’ at me too. Laughin’ and cleanin’ up all the glass. He turned around and go into the bathroom I guess to take his bath. I heard him get in the tub talkin’ loud. I don’t know what he was sayin’ but the words sound like laughin’ words not killin’ words so I don’t pay it no mind. Then I heard the cats and I knew.
The cats in the alley under my window always let me know when she comin’ ‘fore she get here. She wasn’t gon like what she saw not one bit. I stopped cleanin’ the floor and go over to the big chair and grab up Koko and just sit there. She a let me know what she want me to do. Maybe she don’t want me to do nothin’.
I saw her come in shortly after I’m good in the chair. She come right through the door singin’ just like she did when I was a little girl. She always did have a focus on her eyes. Even when she happy about somethin’ there was always a focus there. She walk in and don’t even look at me that night. She usually look at me and sit with me a minute then sometime she say somethin’ and sometime she don’t. But she always sit with me a minute. Not then. She go straight over to the window where he keep his drums and start playin’ ‘em real loud. Now me, I didn’t even know she could play no African drums but there she was. She had on a long white skirt. A real long one with a white scarf on her head coverin’ her long pretty gray hair. She sittin’ there just a playin’. Bang a di bang a di bang a di bangadibandadibangadi bang bang bop bop bop bopbopbop! She just a goin’! Her head bobbin’ back and forth and elbows movin’ everywhere and breast saggin’ and swayin’. I don’t know what it mean that she come with no shirt on but she always got her own way of doin’ a thing.
“Gal, what you doin’ in there? Did I tell you to never touch my drums?!” He yellin’ from the tub. “You hear me gal, I know you do!” Grandmamma look at me as if to say I bet not say a word. So I don’t. I sit there with Koko. Now the bangin’ just get louder and louder. And she got her focus right there on the door. She know he comin’ through it any minute. Sure enough he come. Screamin’ loud before he get in the room. He had a red towel wrapped around his waist and his eyes was the same color red. He get to the door and just stopped. She don’t stop though. She goin’ on and on. Louder and louder with her eyes focused right on his. Right then his eyes aint red no more. They white. Scared white. He walkin’ over to her like he aint scared but I know scared when I see it. Then his feet start movin’ toward her real slow like he aint even controlin’ ‘em. She playin’ hard and he walkin’ slow. Then before I even know it he right there in front of her and she stop. Just stop. She get up real slow and I’m thinkin’ it somethin’ real dramatic gon happen like in the movies but it don’t. She look up at him and hold his face in her old hands. Just held his face. Seem like for a real long time.
Then she start laughin’. Laughin’. Laughin’! He so scared he don’t know which to do so he start laughin’ too. I know that kinda laugh. Then I see her hands start holdin’ his face hard. Squeezin’. Squeezin’ like he was doin’ to Koko. She still laughin’ hard. He aint laughin’ no more. He cryin’. Ugly cryin’. Like the kind when you know you done somethin’ wrong and you think don’t nobody know but then you remember that God see everything. Then blood is comin’ out of his eyes where the tears should be. By now she lay him down on the floor and he still cryin’. Blood cryin’ and lookin’ up at the ceilin’. She take the scarf off of her head and her long pretty hair fall down over her shoulders. She give me the scarf and tell me to tie it around his head coverin’ his eyes so I do like she tell me. I tie it real tight. Too tight ‘cause I’m still kinda sore at him for squeezin’ Koko and laughin’ at me. I don’t like folks laughin’ at me.
I get back in my chair with Koko and Grandmamma start rubbin’ her hands together real fast. I feel sorry a little bit for him now. He cryin’ like he was that night on the bus. Like he really sorry for his whole life. Grandmamma stop rubbin’ her hands and hold ‘em up high and start singin’. I never heard no song like that before and I don’t know what language it was in. She was lookin’ up at the ceilin’ and so was I ‘cause what was she lookin’ at? But me and Koko just do what she do. Look up. I think Koko look down at him first so I did too. And there he was. All burnt completely up. Grandmamma blow the ashes all in one pile together and hold it in the cups of her hands.
I look down at my own clothes and see blood on my shoes. I thought it was from his tears but it wasn’t. Koko was cryin’ blood tears too. I look at Grandmamma but she was just lookin’ in the mirror into her own eyes. Koko gettin’ wetter and wetter by the minute so I take my stash out her stomach for it get wet too. When Grandmamma died she left me some money but I don’t trust no banks and no banks don’t trust me so I put it in Koko. If anybody can keep a good secret I know Koko can. Grandmamma still lookin’ into her own eyes and finally say “I’m goin’ home.”