Getting acquainted

The following is an excerpt of my new novel to be published in Paris next year.

Kate was pretty, even beautiful with feathered chestnut brown hair, and large lips often parted as she chewed gum. At twenty-four, her nose somewhat flat and her slightly receding chin seemed to enhance, rather than degrade, her average visual. She was clad in weekend clothes: tight denim blue jeans, a sleeveless, white, T-shirt and blue tennis shoes. Kate stood waiting for a cab with several brown bags full of groceries at the local Safeway. She did not notice the black man in blue shirt stained with grease until the cab driver parked his vehicle on the curve near her. With a sappy grin on his face, the unknown man politely offered to help load the bags of grocery even before the driver stepped out of the cab. “Thank you so much,” Kate said, with a grateful heart, as she tendered a five-dollar bill to the stranger. But the stranger in blue shirt declined the money with a gallant nod of his head, opened the cab door and closed it after Kate had boarded the vehicle. “You take care now,” the stranger said as the cab took off, and Kate forgot about him and proceeded to her apartment.

At her apartment, Kate was placing her grocery inside the refrigerator when the phone rang. She picked up the receiver and placed it against her right ear.

“Hi girl, what you doin’?” Kate heard and instantly recognized her best friend’s voice, Phyllis.

“Just got back from the store,” Kate said. “Getting ready to do some laundry after lunch.”

“You seen George lately?” Phyllis was asking about Kate’s latest pretender, a man from the Island.

“Forget about George,” Kate said. “Those guys from the Island are all so clingy. I don’t know what it is in me that attracts them type anyway. Another islander was trying to pick me up at the store earlier as he presented to help place my grocery in the cab.”

“And you sent him packin’ right?” Phyllis probed.

“You bet!”

“Remember the African guy I mentioned to you?”

“The one you met on the boat?”

“His name is Amara. Well, he invited me to look at some African jewelry at his place. Wanna chaperone me?”

“Where does Amara live?”

“Park Hill.”

“Want to meet at your place? It’s closer to Park Hill.”

“Sure. Two o’clock?”

“See you in a bit.”

Kate remembered entering Amara Baren’s living room in Phyllis’ tow and was immediately hit by the green eyes and pinkish hair of a black man whom Amara introduced to her as Baine. On a Sunday afternoon, Morie was clad in a dark blue blazer, light blue shirt, and red tie with white stripes, and he was relaxed in an armchair, reading from a book. Kate noticed his corrective lenses too, and wondered why he was all dressed up. She became conscious of her own pair of washed out jeans and T-shirt that hung right below her bust in such a way that her belly button was visible. Self-consciousness made her feel nervous, a nervousness induced by the contrast between her informal outfit and the clean-cut, smart-looking attire of the black man who hardly noticed her even though she resolutely stepped in his direction, nose wide open and agape with the kind of attraction she was unwilling to control.

The man did not appear to have heard Kate’s name when Phyllis introduced her to Amara who in his turn introduced his guest from Paris, “Morie,” adding “Baine for friends.”

“What are you doing?” Kate asked as she sat on the chair next to Morie and tried to figure him out.

Without a word, he exhibited the cover of a novel by James Baldwin, Another Country. Meanwhile, Amara put on his favorite hit Try It Baby, by Marvin Gaye, the lyrics of which altered the mood in the room.

Now Amara was dancing with Phyllis, who was on the hunt for a new boyfriend. She pretended to be interested in Amara’s speech promoting his jewelries. Phyllis appeared to be somewhat older than Kate but rather sloppy like one that had a hard time taking care of her appearances. Neither her obesity nor her unruly, curly black hair enhanced her looks, nor her nondescript denim skirt, nor her dirty tennis shoes nor her purple shirt which buttons were cracking under the pressure of her bulging breasts. Phyllis had neglected her looks and grown grouchy ever since she started dating Rick whom she had met at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. She left Rick when she tired of his endless nightmares. She had to leave him before he drove her insane. Phyllis had found out she could not help Rick recover from post-combat trauma syndromes induced in Vietnam.

Kate remembered reading excerpts of Baldwin’s novel as part of her English composition assignments at Richmond Community College; but literature was the last thing she wanted to delve into with the silent guest from Paris, even though she eagerly wanted to get acquainted with him. Kate dismissed a fleeting thought about her Trinidadian husband and went on fantasizing about a relationship with Morie. She guessed rather than knew his kind. She guessed he was the opposite of everything she had known and was used to. He might be a daddy’s son of some kind on a study-in-the-United States program. She decided that Morie was neither a politician, nor a diplomat, but an actor. He just sat there with his book on his lap, looking conceited.

Obviously, he was either reluctant to quit reading or not at all interested in women. She felt like hitting him with a sledgehammer to awaken his interest. Perhaps he needs something, Kate said to herself. Something to shake off the square-shaped box inside his head. She remembered reading somewhere that it does not take a sledgehammer to drive a nail. She saw stacks of geometrical figures, mathematical formulas, and philosophical quotations fighting for space inside Morie’s head. His cosmopolitan style reflected modern, urban America. She knew his kind — an intellectual, a nerd perhaps, or a theorist. She disliked theorists. Theorists like Darwin were accountable for much of the confusion that prevailed in the world especially within academia. Without rhyme, forgotten names of her sociology class crept into her mind, names like Talcott Parsons, Bruce Barton; books like The Man Nobody Knows, a discovery of the Real Jesus. There was a time long past when socialism had appealed to Kate. Perhaps it might have had something to do with the injustice that under-lied the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti who were condemned for their belief in socialism and pacifism. She thought of Ameringer’s account of what the social landscape looked like during the depression. She thought of the social context in which Franklin Roosevelt came to power with his New Deal program of recovery. Was it not during the Great Depression that Talcott Parsons developed and published his Structure of Social Action? Kate rejected the leading voice of feminism, Shulamith Firestone who argued that motherhood was at the core of women’s oppression. Even though she was determined not to replicate her large family, Kate disagreed with the idea that the “biological family — the vinculum through which the psychology of power can always be smuggled — the tapeworm of exploitation should be annihilated,” as Firestone write. Kate remembered taking side with those reviews that excoriated Firestone’s ‘Dialectics’, a book in which she bluntly depicted pregnancy as ‘barbaric’; childbirth as ‘like shitting a pumpkin.’ Even though Kate’s politics was more liberal than conservative she was not ready, as Firestone suggested, to “question not just all of Western culture, but the organization of culture itself, and further, even the very organization of nature.” Firestone was a little too extreme for Kate’s taste, and like many women she gave up in despair much of feminism ambitions.

Kate was suspicious of actors like Morie for if they could neither think nor figure they could easily adjust to different situations, or blend and operate into any environment like a chameleon. She wondered what role Morie was playing, who influenced him, and what were his passions. Kate disliked the attraction she was the object of as much as she knew that she had to take the lead here and do the seducing, but how do you go about seducing a black man from Paris who reads a novel in English by James Baldwin, especially one who expresses no interest whatsoever in the woman who sits next to him?

“You wanna dance?” She asked surveying Morie’s face and immediately realized she had never done this before — ask a man for a dance.

“I’m not really in a dancing mood right now, I’m just enjoying the music.” Morie replied in soft-spoken, halting English, and stopped. She knew he had stopped because he could not grammatically parse all of his English words as fast as he wanted to.

“I’m Kate,” Kate said, raising to her feet and dancing all by herself right in the face of the silent man from Paris. “This is America, baby,” she went on. “Better get down and dance with me.”

Morie did not move from his seat. Try it Baby stopped playing, and Kate sat back down next to him.

“What are you doing in New York, anyway?”

“At the moment I’m working for the Burundis as a driver,” Morie shared.

“Oh yeah? How do you like driving in the city?”

“I can drive in the city. Anyone who has earned a drivers license in Paris can drive anywhere in the world with ease. Actually, my dream-hobby is to get ahold of the wheels on a professional racetrack like Daytona. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a claim analyst.”

“You work for an insurance company?”

“That’s right! We have an office in a high rise on Battery Park near South Ferry.”

“I know where that is.”

“Of course! You ride the Staten Island Ferry every day, right?”

“And the train to Grand Central station.”

“What time do you get off from work?”

“Five o’clock.”

“I get off at four thirty.”

Kate chewed gum, a detail that made her appear sloppy to Morie. The compliments she lavished on his appearance annoyed him because he was not used to women praising his look; in Paris the women he knew had criticized Morie’s ‘bourgeois’ look. They referred to him as a bloody petit bourgeois.